Earlier this month I was invited to speak at a formal dinner of a secular association on the subject of Islam and its relation to the West. I have expanded my presentation and am posting it in three parts. This is part 3 – to read parts 1 & 2 go to:
In the first part of this article I addressed three areas of tension between Islam and the West. I then wrote of three areas of Western concern. I’d like now to turn to some signs of hope that I see for change in the Muslim world that may help to mitigate some of the tensions over the next generation.
My first sign comes from the comments of those, both secular and Christian, who have long observed the Muslim world.
Theodore Dalrymple is a pseudonym of an atheist British doctor who worked in Muslim communities in several Sub-Saharan nations before practicing psychiatry in London. His observances of Muslim culture include many of the plight of women forced into arranged marriages. Commenting in 2004 he wrote: The Iranian refugees who have flooded into the West are fleeing Islam, not seeking to extend its dominion, as I know from speaking to many in my city … fanatics and bombers do not represent a resurgence of unreformed Islam buts its death rattle. 
The Pew Research centre has researched the attitudes of Muslims toward that brand of radical behavior defined as Islamism. They surveyed over 14,000 respondents in fourteen Islamic nations and found that the more the average Muslim has become familiar with Islamism, the more he has rejected it. In the Middle East, concern is growing. Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago. 
My last quote comes from the late Dr. Tom Little. Tom was an optometrist and a Christian who lived for over thirty years in Afghanistan. He trained Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive Officer of the Afghan government, former Afghan foreign minister and an eye doctor. Tragically Tom and his team members were murdered by persons unknown upon their return from what was to have been Tom’s last mobile eye clinic in the mountains of Nuristan province in August 2010. In a conversation with Tom just five weeks before his death I asked him what changes he saw coming to the Muslim world. He said: The Muslim world will be a very different place in twenty years’ time. Education, literacy and access to the internet in remoter areas will have broken the hold of the village mullah on the mind of the community.
A second sign of hope concerns the increasing scrutiny which the Qur’an is coming under. Islam has never undergone the kind of reformation that the Christian faith experienced in the Middle Ages, nor have its texts undergone the kind of critical scrutiny to which the Bible was subjected beginning in the late nineteenth century. Partly this is due to the perceived unchallengeable nature of the Qur’an. Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the Word of God that has been eternally kept in heaven in Arabic, transmitted to earth, and protected for all time against falsification. Muslims are so certain of this that criticism within Islam is rare. An argument by a non-Muslim about the inconsistency of a quote from the Qur’an is not defended with logic, but with the statement that the argument is trumped by the miraculous inerrancy of the Qur’an. Where a Christian puts his faith in his Lord Jesus Christ as the revealed Word of God, the Muslim puts his faith in the Qur’an regardless of its logical inconsistencies.
Debate often focuses on the origins of the Qur’an and the reliability of the current text as a record of what Muhammad actually believed was communicated to him. Modern scholarship, mostly non-Muslim, has examined the oldest examples of the Qur’an and highlighted the discrepancies between the versions. In 1972 workers renovating the great mosque in Sana’a, Yemen, found an ancient Qur’an. The parchment upon which it had been written has been carbon dated to around 670 AD. Two versions of the Qur’anic text can be found on the material. The lower text had been erased and written over, however the presence of metals in the ink meant that the lower text had resurfaced over time. The upper text conforms to the standard version of the Qur’an however the lower text, obviously written before the upper, contains many variants, clearly suggesting that the Qur’an that we have today is not the same as some of the Qur’ans that were written down by earlier scribes. Gerd Puin, a German expert in Arabic calligraphy and Qur’anic manuscripts who examined the texts stated in 1999: These manuscripts say that the early history of the Koranic text is much more of an open question than many have suspected: the text was less stable, and therefore had less authority, than has always been claimed. In the same publication he also stated concerning the reluctance of Islamic scholars to acknowledge the research being done with the Sana’a texts: They don’t want it made public that there is work being done at all, since the Muslim position is that everything that needs to be said about the Koran’s history was said a thousand years ago. 
Lastly I offer as a sign of hope for change in the Muslim world the thousands of reports of people who have had dreams and visions of Jesus Christ. These are not the only reason for the news of people in many places in the Muslim world confessing a new-found faith in Jesus, however they are a significant factor. More Than Dreams  is a series of carefully researched dramatized stories of Muslims who had a life-changing experience following the appearance of Jesus to them in a dream.
The revival of Christian faith in the Kabyle region of Algeria has been well documented. Starting in the early 1980s many people had dreams and visions in which Jesus Christ appeared to them. As they began to learn that others had had similar dreams momentum began to build and today there are congregations numbering several hundreds of worshippers in that region of an otherwise strongly Muslim nation.
I have collected many stories of these dreams and have interviewed some of those who had the dreams. I even met a Lebanese Muslim who put his trust in Jesus Christ after he dreamed that Jesus played a game of basketball with him. I also met a Christian who did not himself have a dream but while minding his own business in a café in Tunisia was approached by another man who said: I saw you in my dream and I came to you and you told me the words of life. Now that I have found you, please tell me the words of life!
I’ll conclude this short series of articles with a comment that sets the stark contrast between the rules of a fundamentalist construct of Islam and one of the principles that, even if not adhered to by many, lies at the foundation of the Christendom which has influenced the development of Western society.
In 2012 Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, wrote his fellow jihadists that at least half of his budget in Yemen was funded by ransoms paid for western hostages. He described these, along with other sources of income as spoils of war.  Islamic opinion upon what may be done with the spoils of war focuses on a passage in the Qur’an recorded at Sura 8:69 So enjoy what you have gotten of booty in war, lawful and good. Theft in Islam is forbidden but enjoying the spoils of war is permissible because taking booty: is a means of responding in kind, because the Muslims … have had their wealth taken from the … So this is a means of … giving back that which has been taken from them. It is in the nature of restitution of their rights. For Allah says: “And indeed whosoever takes revenge after he has suffered wrong, for such there is no way (of blame) against them. The way (of blame) is only against those who oppress men and rebel in the earth without justification” Qur’an 42:41-42 . Just as the July 7th bombers in England justified their actions on the basis of a Western war against Islam, so, extremist views of Islam justify the taking of spoils of war as taking back that which has already been taken from the Muslim by the oppressor. Islamic State propagates the message that: War booty is more lawful than other income for a number of reasons. It is seized from one who does not deserve it, because he uses it to aid himself in disobeying Allah and associating others with Him. So if it is taken from one who uses it contrary to the obedience of Allah, … then such wealth becomes the most beloved of wealth to Allah and the purest form of income in His sight. 
What a stark contrast this point of view presents in the face of the words of Jesus, which, whether the reader adheres to them or not, have influenced the lives and actions of many down the centuries: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 
 http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_2_when_islam.html – Accessed October 24, 2014
 Pew Centre – Concerns about Islamic Extremism on the Rise in the Middle East, July, 2014
 Toby Lester – What is the Qur’an – The Atlantic Monthly, January 1999
 See for example George Otis Jr. – The Last of the Giants – Chosen Books, 1991 – p.157
 Rukmini Callimachi – Paying Ransoms, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror – NY Times, July 29, 2014
 Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid – Islam Question and Answers – http://islamqa.info/en/7461
 Dabiq – the official magazine of Islamic State Issue Number 4 – Dhul Hijjah 1435 (September/October 2014) – p.11
 Luke 6:27-28 NIV
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I have read many books and articles on Islam, and yours is a wonderful piece which puts so many streams and themes into understandable context. I learned new points from it, as well as gaining new insights into familiar points. Andrew, I value your committed, authoritative, and irenic voice — a rare combination in this field.
Thanks Fritz – I appreciate your encouragement