Monday, May 31, 2010

The Jewish People

Someone once said that the fact that there are still Jews is proof that there is a God.

Six million Jews, including a million children, were massacred in the gas chambers and crematoriums during the Nazi Holocaust of World War II, which was a systematized program to eradicate an entire people, using all available technology and mechanized processes.

Jacob's twelve sons became the first Jewish family. Their offspring left the land that would later become the Holy Land, and settled in Egypt, where they eventually were enslaved for 430 years, after which they were miraculously delivered from Egyptian captivity.

Later, Jews were exiled, settling around the globe, experiencing two thousand years of forced separation from their homeland. Sometimes they were slaughtered, forcibly converted, and expelled. They were frequently targeted and scapegoated. They were the convenient people to blame for the Black Death in medieval Europe. When Bogdan Chmielnicki's Cossack hordes in the Ukraine fought their nationalist struggle, they wiped out a third of the Jews in the region. Jews were expelled - sometimes multiple times - from Portugal, Germany, England, France and other lands. The most famous expulsion - from Spain in 1492 - sent 200,000 Jews desperately seeking any place that would take them. Many did not make it, being killed along the way. Survivors went to Turkey, Amsterdam, and in following generations, to North and South America.

The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple, Solomon’s Temple, in 586 B.C. The second Temple was built and later destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Jews as a whole have produced fewer serious criminals than other groups. For example, the prison population of the United States is about 1.5 million, of which about 1700 are Jewish, approximately one in a thousand.

In two dramatic airlifts, Israel brought over 36,000 penniless black Jews from Ethiopia to escape famine and political upheaval.

Misinformation about Jews is plentiful. If all the conflicting claims about Jews were assembled, the result would be ridiculously comical, if not for the tragic consequences to Jews who suffer because of them.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Christian philosopher wrote, "It is certain that in certain parts of the world we can see a peculiar people, separated from the other peoples of the world and this is called the Jewish people.... This people is not only of remarkable antiquity but has also lasted for a singular long time... For where as the people of Greece and Italy, of Sparta, Athens and Rome and others who came so much later have perished so long ago, these still exist, despite the efforts of so many powerful kings who have tried a hundred times to wipe them out, as their historians testify, and as can easily be judged by the natural order of things over such a long spell of years. They have always been preserved, however, and their preservation was foretold... My encounter with this people amazes me..."

"Most of our best words, in fact - new, adventure, surprise, unique, individual, person, vocation, time, history, future, freedom, progress, spirit, faith, hope, justice - are the gifts of the Jews." (Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews, pg. 240-241)

"The Jews gave the world ethical monotheism, which might be described as the application of reason to divinity. In a more secular age, they applied the principles of rationality to the whole range of human activities, often in advance of the rest of mankind…. The Jews have been great truth-tellers and that is one reason they have been so much hated…To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice… (Paul Johnson, History of the Jews, pg. 582-585)

In the area of medicine, Israeli scientists developed the first fully computerized, no-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer.

An Israeli company developed a computerized system for ensuring proper administration of medications, thus removing human error from medical treatment. (Since every year in U.S. hospitals, 7,000 patients die from treatment mistakes.)

Israel's Givun Imaging developed the first ingestible video camera, so small it fits inside a pill. Used to view the small intestine from the inside, the camera helps doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders.

Researchers in Israel developed a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood, an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with heart failure. The new device is synchronized with the heart's mechanical operations through a sophisticated system of sensors.

In the area of technology, with more than 3,000 high-tech companies and start-ups, Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world (apart from the Silicon Valley).

In response to serious water shortages, Israeli engineers and agriculturalists developed a revolutionary drip irrigation system to minimize the amount of water used to grow crops.

Israel has the highest percentage in the world of home computers per capita.

Israel leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce, with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in the U.S., over 70 in Japan, and less than 60 in Germany. With over 25% of its work force employed in technical professions, Israel places first in this category as well.

The cell phone was developed in Israel by Motorola, which has its largest development center in Israel.

Most of the Windows NT operating system was developed by Microsoft-Israel.

The Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel.

Voice mail technology was developed in Israel.

Both Microsoft and Cisco built their only R&D facilities outside the US in Israel.

Four young Israelis developed AOL Instant Messenger in 1996.

A new acne treatment developed in Israel, the ClearLight device, produces a high-intensity, ultraviolet-light-free, narrow-band blue light that causes acne bacteria to self-destruct - all without damaging surrounding skin or tissue.

An Israeli company was the first to develop and install a large-scale solar-powered and fully functional electricity generating plant, in southern California's Mojave Desert.

All the above was invented while engaged in regular wars with an implacable enemy that seeks its destruction, and an economy that is continuously under strain by having to spend more per capita on its own protection than any other country on earth---this from a country just 55 years young, having started off on a very frontier-like basis, whose population had mostly just emerged from the devastating World War II years.

Here are some Jewish achievements:

Levi Strauss: Jeans (1873)
Maurice Levy: Lipstick (1915)
Lazlo Biro: Ballpoint Pen (1938)
J. Robert Oppenheimer: Atomic Bomb (1945)
Edwin Herbert Land: Instant Photography (1947)
Denis Gabor: Holography (1948)
Peter Carl Goldmark: Long Playing Record (1948)
Robert Adler: Television Remote Control (1950)
Edward Teller: Thermonuclear Bomb (1952)
Paul M. Zoll: Defibrillator (1952) Cardiac Pacemaker (1952)
Gregory Pincus: Contraceptives (1950s)
Charles Ginsburg: Videotape (1950s)
Gordon Gould: Laser (1958)
Stanley N. Cohen: Genetic Engineering (1973)
Jason Lanier: Virtual Reality (1989)
Sigmund Freud: Psychological innovations
Edward Land: Polaroid Camera
Abraham Stern: Adding Machine
Charles Adler: Traffic Light
Leo Sternbach: Valium
Emile Berliner: Microphone
Morris Michtom: Teddy Bear
Benno Strauss: Stainless Steel
Abraham Levis: Hot dog bun
Joe Friedman: Flexi-straws
Niels Bohr: Work on the structure of the atom.
Emilio Segre: Nobel Prize for his part in the discovery of antiprotons.

Scale-Model Train -- Joshua Lionel Cowan
Disc Records -- Emile Berliner
Sound movies -- Isador Kitsee
Telephone -- Jacob Reis
Kodachrome -- Leopold Mannes & Leopold Godowsky

Also see:

Israel's Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace

How and why have Jews survived through the ages? - The Big Picture

How the Jews Survived

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Message for Muslims: Qualities of a Disciple

What qualities do you admire in people? Do you look at the color of their skin, their physical shape and appearance, or what type of clothes they wear? Does your opinion of people depend on their health, whether or not they are confident, how honest they are, how popular they are, or whether or not they make a good leader? The Qur’an gives a guide regarding these things. There are two special qualities that the Qur’an commends. God has given these qualities to Christians, though the Qur’an admits that some Christians do not express them.

Let me share a few teachings written by three of Jesus’ disciples. In the following several verses, can you guess which two qualities the Qur’an attributes to Christians?

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:9-16)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

“Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13b)

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Now that you have considered these passages, written by three of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, Paul and James), which two qualities do you think the Qur’an mentions about Christians? You can check your answer by reading Sura 57:27:

“Subsequent to them, we sent our messengers. We sent Jesus the son of Mary, and we gave him the Injeel (Gospel), and we placed in the hearts of his followers kindness and mercy. But they invented hermitism [another translation says, “But monkery, they invented it"] which we never decreed for them. All we asked them to do was to uphold the commandments approved by GOD. But they did not uphold the message as they should have. Consequently, we gave those who believed among them their recompense, while many of them were wicked.”

We see that the two characteristics mentioned in the Qur’an about Christians are kindness (compassion) and mercy. When we think about people who are famous or rich or powerful, these are not qualities we usually notice. Compassion and mercy do not seem to elevate people who possess them. We tend to link compassion and mercy with weakness rather than strength; with women rather than men; with unheroic people rather than statesmen and politicians. This is because we do not understand God’s ways.

Why does the Qur’an value compassion and mercy? These qualities describe people who truly care about the needs and wants of others. According to Islam, these qualities are used to describe God (i.e., ir-rahman ir-raheem, etc.). A man whose character reflects the personality of God is truly a blessed one.

Much of what unbelievers admire and strive for is really useless and selfish. It is the person who is able to concentrate on others, caring for their needs, who comes closest to truly pleasing God. Perceptively, the Qur’an affirms that compassion and mercy are basic Christian beliefs and practices. The Bible says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) It is a great challenge for Christians to live up to this marvelous lifestyle.

(Most of the above information is from "Jesus Gives Peace: Jesus In The Qur'an and the Bible," written by Yusuf Abdallah)

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Message for Muslims: Jesus and Commitment

A leader needs people who will follow him through thick and thin, who will not fall away when the going gets tough. A leader needs people who are committed and faithful.

As we study Jesus in the Qur’an, we see that Jesus invited people to be committed to him and to his message.

Sura 3:52-53 says: “When Jesus sensed their disbelief, he said, "Who are my supporters towards GOD?" The disciples said, "We are GOD's supporters; we believe in GOD, and bear witness that we are submitters." "Our Lord, we have believed in what You have sent down, and we have followed the messenger; count us among the witnesses."

Sura 61:14 says: “O you who believe, be GOD's supporters, like the disciples of Jesus, son of Mary. When he said to them, "Who are my supporters towards GOD," they said, "We are GOD's supporters." Thus, a group from the Children of Israel believed, and another group disbelieved. We helped those who believed against their enemy, until they won.”

Jesus asked the crowds a question: ”Who will be my helpers in doing the work of God?”

Those who had already committed themselves to Jesus and his teachings did not hesitate to speak out, even though unbelievers surrounded them.

“We are God’s helpers,” they said. “We believe in God. Count us among your faithful.”

About those people who spoke up promptly and bravely, the Qur’an calls Jesus’ disciples---students or followers of Jesus. They were committed to Jesus.

Commitment is very important. But commitment is not automatic. Commitment is not just a sudden emotional response of loyalty. Commitment requires steadfastness. Our commitment grows as we experience greater and greater trust, and as we grow in understanding God’s commitment to us. In the Bible, Psalm 37:5 says, "Commit everything you do to God - trust Him to help you do it and He will."

The Bible also mentions how the disciples became Jesus’ committed ones. Multitudes of people followed Jesus to listen to his powerful teachings and to see his great miracles. Jesus’ twelve disciples had been personally invited by Jesus, and had left their families, their homes and their jobs in order to be with Jesus. They had left everything for the sake of following Jesus.

As Jesus’ popularity grew, the political and religious authorities began to fear him. They knew that he could easily organize his followers and start a rebellion against their authority. Spies were sent to watch Jesus and to report his every activity.

In such a delicate situation, it became dangerous to be too closely allied with Jesus. Although people still eagerly volunteered to join him, Jesus warned them that they had to be totally committed. Nothing must stand in their way of following Jesus. He must become more important to them than their security, their friends, their family or their property. He must be more important to them than their whole life. No sacrifice really means no commitment.

“Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

It’s amazing that people would still follow Jesus under such circumstances. Of course, there were many who turned back as the situation became more and more difficult. But of the twelve men that he personally invited and commissioned to be his apostles, 11 were with him when the authorities arrested him, 2 were nearby during his trial, and 1 saw every detail of his crucifixion and death. Several women were on the scene also, including his mother, Mary. After the resurrection, the 11 disciples and the women renewed their commitment to him.

Both the Qur’an and the Bible teach that Jesus demanded commitment from his disciples. The power of evil and sin are so strong that only persons who commit everything are of use in forming God’s Kingdom.

(Most of the above information is from "Jesus Gives Peace: Jesus In The Qur'an and the Bible," written by Yusuf Abdallah

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Message For Muslims: Jesus as a boy

What things do you remember when you look back on your childhood? Do you remember times of being sick, or times when you were hurt, or do you remember things like birthday parties and celebrations? Do you have mostly good memories or bad memories? Can you remember your first day of school? Can you remember games that you played as a child? As a Muslim, do you remember your first prayers at the mosque? There are usually quite a few memories we retain from when we were children.

There is a story about Jesus, as a child, making clay birds, which he then proceeds to bring to life, which is not found in the Bible, but is recorded in a book called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the absolutely different sayings Gospel of Thomas), which is a non-canonical, pseudepigraphical, apocryphal work attributed to "Thomas the Israelite" (in a medieval Latin version), about the childhood of Jesus that dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Sura 3:49 says, “As a messenger to the Children of Israel: "I come to you with a sign from your Lord - I create for you from clay the shape of a bird, then I blow into it, and it becomes a live bird by GOD's leave. I restore vision to the blind, heal the leprous, and I revive the dead by GOD's leave. I can tell you what you eat, and what you store in your homes. This should be a proof for you, if you are believers.”

Sura 5:110 says, "GOD will say, "O Jesus, son of Mary, remember My blessings upon you and your mother. I supported you with the Holy Spirit, to enable you to speak to the people from the crib, as well as an adult. I taught you the scripture, wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospel. Recall that you created from clay the shape of a bird by My leave, then blew into it, and it became a live bird by My leave. You healed the blind and the leprous by My leave, and revived the dead by My leave. Recall that I protected you from the Children of Israel who wanted to hurt you, despite the profound miracles you had shown them. The disbelievers among them said, `This is obviously magic.'"

The Bible, in the book of Luke, records an account of Jesus as a boy, where Mary, Joseph and Jesus went to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem:

"When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you."
"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (Luke 2:42-52)

We learn from this story that, even as a boy, Jesus knew a great deal about God. He felt the temple was his “home,” and he called God his “Father.” Even as a boy, Jesus was thinking deeply about life, God and his responsibility to God.

These stories help us understand that Jesus was a unique, very special boy with exceptional knowledge about spiritual truth.

Now, back to Sura al-Maidah 5:110, where we read, "And when thou createst out of the clay, by My leave as the likeness of a bird, and thou breathest into it and it is a bird by my leave."

And once again, the same is claimed in Sura al-'Imran 3:49, "I have come to you with a sign from your Lord I will create for you out of clay as likeness of a bird; and it will be a bird by the leave of God."

Al-Tabari (7:127) says that Christ created birds out of clay when He was a child. Christians, on the other hand, believe He is the Word of God and that all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made (John 1:3). Yet, they believe that, after He was born, He waited 30 years before starting to preach and work miracles (Luke 3:23).

The Bible affirms, definitely, that the first miracles He worked was at Cana in Galilee when He turned water into wine (John 2:11).

A book not found in the Bible, The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, Chapter 15, a non-canonical book (a gospel that was not accepted into the canon) that is also known as The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour, which was written around 400 CE., says:

1. “And when the Lord Jesus was seven years of age, he was on a certain day with other boys his companions about the same age. 2. Who at play made clay into several shapes, namely, asses, oxen, birds, and other figures. 3. Each boasting of his work and endeavoring to exceed the rest. 4. Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys, I will command these figures which I have made to walk. 5. And immediately they moved, and when he commanded them to return, they returned. 6. He had also made the figures of birds and sparrows, which, when he commanded to fly, did fly, and when he commanded to stand still, did stand still; and if he gave them meat and drink, they did eat and drink. 7. When at length the boys went away and related these things to their parents, their fathers said to them, Take heed, children, for the future, of his company, for he is a sorcerer; shun and avoid him, and from now on never play with him.”

Another book that was not accepted into the canon of the Bible, The Second Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, Chapter 1, which is also known as The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, written around 140 CE., says:

1. “I, Thomas, an Israelite, judged it necessary to make known to our brethren among the Gentiles, the actions and miracles of Christ in his childhood, which our Lord and God Jesus Christ wrought after his birth in Bethlehem in our country, at which I myself was astonished; the beginning of which was as follows. 2. When the child Jesus was five years of age and there had been a shower of rain that was now over, Jesus was playing with other Hebrew boys by a running stream, and the waters ran over the banks and stood in little lakes; 3. But the water instantly became clear and useful again; they readily obeyed him after he touched them only by his word. 4. Then he took from the bank of the stream some soft clay and formed out of it twelve sparrows; and there were other boys playing with him. 5. But a certain Jew seeing the things which he was doing, namely, his forming clay into the figures of sparrows on the Sabbath day, went presently away and told his father Joseph, 6. Behold, your boy is playing by the river side, and has taken clay and formed it into twelve sparrows, and profanes the Sabbath. 7. Then Joseph came to the place where he was, and when he saw him, called to him, and said, Why do you that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day? 8. Then Jesus clapping together the palms of his hands, called to the sparrows, and said to them: Go, fly away; and while you live remember me. 9. So the sparrows fled away, making a noise. 10. The Jews seeing this, were astonished and went away and told their chief persons what a strange miracle they had seen wrought by Jesus.”

Now, some Muslims say that the original Bible contained the apocryphal story of Jesus making and animating clay birds, and that the Qur'an was merely correcting a wrongful exclusion of these apocrypha from the canon. However, this is erroneous, as the sira tells how Muhammad, far from receiving these stories from Allah (via the angel Jibreel/Gabriel), heard it from three Christians:

“[Those who talked to Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, were Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id.] They were Christians according to the faith of the king with differences between them; they say: He is Allah, and say: He is Son of Allah, and say: He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] and these are the claims of Christianity. [They use as evidence for their claim that He is Allah the argument that] he used to raise the dead, cure the sick, create from clay bird-like structure then breathe into it to make it a [living] bird. All this was by the leave of Allah, the Praiseworthy the Exalted {to appoint him as a sign for men} (Maryam:21). They also argue for saying that he is Son of Allah by saying he had no known father and spoke in infancy which is something never done by any human being. They use as evidence for their claim that He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] the argument that Allah says: We did, We commanded, We created and We judged [i.e., by using the plural for Himself], and whereas if He was one, He would say: I did, I judged, I commanded and I created; but it is He, Jesus and Maryam. The Qur'an was revealed addressing all these arguments.” (Abu Muhammad `Abd al-Malik Ibn Hisham al-Ma`afiri, Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyyah, 1998, Volume II, Dar al-Hadith: Cairo (Egypt), p 181-182.)

“The names of the fourteen principal men among the sixty riders were: `Abdul-Masih the `Aqib, al-Ayham the Sayyid; Abu Haritha b. `Alqama brother of B. Bakr b. Wa`il; Aus; al-Harith; Zayd; Qays; Yazid; Nubayh; Khuwaylid; `Amr; Khalid; `Abdullah; Johannes; of these the first three named above spoke to the Apostle. They were Christians according to the Byzantine rite, though they differed among themselves in some points, saying He is God; and He is the son of God; and He is the third person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity. They argue that he is God because he used to raise the dead, and heal the sick, and declare the unseen; and make clay birds and then breathe into them so that they flew away; and all this was by the command of God Almighty, 'We will make him a sign to men.' They argue that he is the son of God in that they say he had no known father; and he spoke in the cradle and this is something that no child of Adam has ever done. They argue that he is the third of the three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded, We have created and We have decreed, and they say, If He were one he would have said I have done, I have created, and soon, but He is He and Jesus and Mary. Concerning all these assertions the Qur'an came down.” (A. Guillaume, The Life Of Muhammad: A Translation Of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, 1998, Oxford University Press: Karachi (Pakistan), p 271-272.)

According to the sira (biographies of Muhammad used to develop the hadith), the purported sources of the story are three Christians who spoke to Muhammad. These “Christians” were either heretics or they were unsure of doctrine. These errancies include Jesus animating clay birds, the talking baby Jesus, and the Trinity comprising God, Jesus and Mary (Father, Son and Mother). No true, informed Christian believes that the Trinity is composed of the Father, the Son and Mary.

(Most of the above information is from "Jesus Gives Peace: Jesus In The Qur'an and the Bible," written by Yusuf Abdallah and from Infancy Gospel of Thomas and also from Parallelism: Jesus Christ and Clay Birds)