A Little Ecumenical Discussion

From an e-mail we got last night comes something worth throwing out there for everybody to chew on over the weekend…

This is a true story and the author, Rick Mathes, is a well-known leader in prison ministry.  The man who walks with God always gets to his destination.  If you have a pulse you have a  purpose.

Last month I attended my annual training session that’s required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths who explained their belief systems. I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say.

The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video. After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and sked, “Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world and, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in heaven. If that’s the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?”

There was no disagreement with my statements and without hesitation he replied, “Non-believers!”

I responded, “So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?”

The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, “Yes.”

I then stated, “Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Pat Robertson or Dr. Stanley ordering Protestants to do the same in order to go to Heaven!”

The Imam was speechless.

I continued, “I also have problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question! …would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and wants you to be with me?”

You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame.

We did a little research on this one and it’s legitimate. Mathes and his wife, Trish, are the founders of Mission Gate Prison Ministries, an outreach to those who are incarcerated and their families. The essay above was offered in the ministry’s subscription newsletter in 2004. It has made its way out into the virusphere and there are usually changes here and there to the story. We went out and found the original version before posting it here.

The website BreakTheChain.org did some digging on the event in question, though, and disputes some of it. Decide for yourself whether Mathes’ account is an accurate presentation…

Third-party accounts of the events in question paint a significantly different picture than the one offered by Mathes. Tim Kniest, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, told the Lee news service that the training session in question was for prison volunteers and took place in a corrections facility in Fulton, MO. However, according to Kniest, prison officials’ recollection of events that day differ from Mathes’ in several aspects:

  • Religious leaders representing faiths followed by current inmates were invited to present.
  • The presenter on Islam was not an Imam, but rather a Muslim inmate who was pressed into presenting after no Imam could be arranged.
  • Prison officials confirm that the Muslim inmate was asked a few questions that he was unable to answer, but none along the lines of those suggested by Mr. Mathes.

Mathes, however, maintains that his is an accurate account, using the facts he knew at the time, and did go into some more detail making the encounter seem less antagonistic than his original account:

“…the inmate was introduced as an ‘Imam’. Mr. Kneist was not there to know what was said or not and cannot disprove that what I wrote wasn’t said. In fact when I said, ‘I have a hard time being your friend when your faith says to kill me to go to heaven.’ everyone burst out laughing. When his presentation was over and it was time for a break, we all felt sorry for the inmate including my self. In fact I gave him a sign and said ‘Salaam’ and he responded with a knowing smile. Knowing that there wasn’t any animosity between us.

“I really asked the questions I needed to know the answers to and he did not respond as I thought he would have. I expected him to defend this “jihad” thing as rebel Muslims using religion to cloak their evil deed in.

“His silence leads me to conclude that either he was ignorant of his faith, was caught off guard and speechless, or agreed with my premise and conclusion (which I think he was).

“I am getting 24 emails in favor of the article to 1 against. We all agree that there is a “simmering volcano” in the Muslim community. Give me an Imam that will sing “God Bless America” or will say the “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag” and I will listen to them discredit the fears we have about the Muslim community and all that we see and hear in the media. Until the American Muslim community speaks up, I have my doubts about those who join them.”

BreakTheChain.org says the story doesn’t prove anything about Islam. We’d say that, in context with everything else we see coming out of the Religion of Peace, they’re wrong. But by all means, make your own decision.



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