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Monday, June 25, 2012

An Islamic awakening?

In a historic election that could shift the balance of power in the middle east, Islamist Mohamed Morsy defeated former general Ahmed Shafik, by nearly 900,000 votes, becoming the new president of Egypt. Egypt has been a land of turmoil and violence since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last February. There have been riots, numerous deaths and standoffs between protesters and the military. Now finally, in the words of Morsy, "there is now a victory of the national will and a stepping stone toward national democracy." Really?
Morsy's victory at the polls transforms the social and political culture of Egypt from a moderate, secular state to an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. There will be radical changes that will mandate new social regulations for both men and women under the rule of the Muslim brotherhood. Women will now most likely not be free to in choosing whether or not to wear their hijabs publicly. Sundays' election is a grim reminder of how radically a culture will change under Sharia law. In 1979 The rule of the Ayatollah's ousted the Shah and brought a fundamental change in the political and social structure of Iran. Freedom became a thing of the past. If you doubt this, feel free to ask my Iranian friends. They will tell you bluntly how drastically their lives have changed. Upon hearing of the results of the election, Iran congratulated Morsy on his victory and hailed the event as an "Islamic awakening."
An awakening? Really?
Since 1979 Iran has had quite an awakening. No freedom of the press, no freedom of religion, no freedom to protest and assemble, a mandatory public dress code and the list goes on and on.
I have a friend named Nada who lives in Cairo, Egypt. In a message to me after the results of the election, she lamented Morsy's victory saying, "It is so sad." Nada realizes that now her freedoms will be challenged under Sharia law.
If Islam is the final, true religion, than why are the rights and freedoms of individuals oppressed and disregarded? My friends in Iran have asked this same question over and over. Where is the love and compassion? Where is the freedom?
In contrast, there is real freedom and compassion in Christianity. From a social standpoint of view, William Wilberforce, a leading member of Parliament and a committed Christian, took up the cause of those in bondage and was instrumental in abolishing the British slave trade. He fought long and hard until the passage of the Slave trade act of 1807. Wilberforce is a prime example that there is true freedom and compassion in the hearts of those that are committed to Christ.
Christians are called to demonstrate love and compassion to everyone. Therefore we need to pray for President Morsy and people of Egypt to experience a "Christian awakening" where there is true freedom for everyone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"The Rose is Gonna Live again"

"The sun is gonna shine again.
  The rose is gonna live again."

Dreams, hope and freedom are the themes interwoven in the my next book, "The Rose of Nowruz."
Bahareh is a young concert violinist who is the lead actress in a stage play called, "The Rose of Nowruz" which takes place in the turbulent and troubled capital of Tehran, Iran. The play opens with the celebration of Nowruz, the Persian new year when everyone in Iran are hopeful for a new beginning and a better life. Bahareh is a compassionate and talented violinist who adopts the symbol of the rose, a symbol of beauty and hope, and all throughout the play, she comforts and cares for her friends who are suffering in a culture of oppression. The play is filled with music and rich symbolism that is deliberately done so that the theater is not shut down by the government.
In one magical and dramatic scene, Bahareh is finally silenced by the Iranian police and dies at a violent protest rally. Devastated and saddened, her friends gather around her and pay tribute to her activism by covering her body with rose petals.
Suddenly, the audience is mesmerized by a beautiful sunrise on a video screen. A group of Bahareh's friends gather around her body laying on the stage and begin to sing, "The sun is gonna shine again. The rose is gonna live again."
The lights go out and a single blue light shines down on Bahareh's body and to everyone's astonishment she rises up from the rose petals and begins to once again play her violin.
While the Rose of Nowruz is rich with meaning and symbolism, there is a beautiful parallel that shines through the play pointing to one of the greatest events in history, the resurrection of Christ.
Like Bahareh, Jesus was the rose, a rose of great beauty and compassion. He spent his life giving hope to the hopeless and speaking out against those who would oppress them with great burdens of false religion. Ultimately, Jesus, like the rose of nowruz, was crushed and trampled by evil men and put to death on a wooden cross. Yet at the cross, "the rose" exchanged his life of beauty, bearing all of our guilt and shame so we could have hope and freedom. Like Bahareh, the rose was crushed and silenced but came back to life. Jesus rose from the dead. He was victorious, breaking the power of sin that kept us in bondage and setting us free to live out our hopes and dreams.
The Rose of Nowruz is a book of hope and freedom to my dear friends in Iran. There is no power or evil government that can ultimately triumph over the beauty and compassion of the rose.
The sun is shining once again, shouting out to the whole world, "There is hope and freedom, because the rose is alive!"

Monday, June 4, 2012

"Is this what Islam has brought us?"

Recently, my special friend Atefe, who lives in Tehran, Iran, shared a frustrating experience with me. It was a very hot day and she was on her way to buy a special present for Father's day. Sitting on the crowded bus, Atefe began to sweat profusely and wanted desperately to remove her hijab in order to be comfortable in the sweltering heat. Looking around the bus, Atefe watched the men sitting on one side of the bus separated from her and the other women by a horizontal bar. Annoyed by the heat and  oppressive conditions of her culture, Atefe asked herself a very important question, "Is this really fair? Is this what Islam has brought us?"
Atefe's question is a question that must go through the minds of many women living in Iran."Is this really fair? Is this what Islam has brought us? I have a question. What has Islam done for the rights and dignity of its women?
When I chat with my Iranian friends online they tell me of the horrors and humiliation the Ghaste Ershad does to women. If a woman has on nail polish, she will be confronted and fined or arrested. If her sunglasses are inappropriately placed above her headscarf or she is revealing too much skin, the Ghaste Ershad can fine or arrest her. My friends have told me in tears that in some situations, they have witnessed the Ghaste Esrhad physically beating women!
What kind of society would allow its "morality police" to physically abuse women in order to enforce an Islamic dress code?
I have a question. In observing my culture and looking in the Bible, "What has Christianity brought us? What does it do for the freedom and dignity of women?"
When I look through the pages of Scriptures, I see Jesus showing compassion and respect to the Jewish women of his time. He traveled into Samaria, a city despised by Jews, and sat down and talked with respect to a woman who was considered an unclean outcast by her piers. On one occasion Jesus confronted the religious leaders who were ready to stone a woman caught in adultery and declared, "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone!" Everyone dropped their stones and walked away.
Jesus healed a woman with an issue of blood, raised the dead brother of his dear friends Mary and Martha, and showed kindness and respect to those despised by a male-dominated culture.
"What has Christianity brought us?" Love and forgiveness, respect and freedom! It is easy to see why so many women are attracted to the character of Christ and are leaving their religion of oppression to find true freedom and self-worth in Jesus.
Atefe's question is one of the most important questions that every person, both male and female, need to ask themselves living in Iran. "Is this what Islam has brought us?"
How do you answer that question?