Though he is little known in the West, Coptic priest Zakaria Botros â€” named Islamâ€™s â€œPublic Enemy #1â€ by the Arabic newspaper, al-Insan al-Jadid â€” has been making waves in the Islamic world. Along with fellow missionaries â€” mostly Muslim converts â€” he appears frequently on the Arabic channel al-Hayat (i.e., â€œLife TVâ€). There, he addresses controversial topics of theological significance â€” free from the censorship imposed by Islamic authorities or self-imposed through fear of the zealous mobs who fulminated against the infamous cartoons of Mohammed. Botrosâ€™s excurses on little-known but embarrassing aspects of Islamic law and tradition have become a thorn in the side of Islamic leaders throughout the Middle East.
Mass conversions to Christianity â€” if clandestine ones. The very public conversion of high-profile Italian journalist Magdi Allam â€” who was baptized by Pope Benedict in Rome on Saturday â€” is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, Islamic cleric Ahmad al-Qatani stated on al-Jazeera TV a while back that some six million Muslims convert to Christianity annually, many of them persuaded by Botrosâ€™s public ministry. More recently, al-Jazeera noted Life TVâ€™s â€œunprecedented evangelical raidâ€ on the Muslim world.
A third reason for Botrosâ€™s success is that his polemical technique has proven irrefutable. Each of his episodes has a theme â€” from the pressing to the esoteric â€” often expressed as a question (e.g., â€œIs jihad an obligation for all Muslims?â€; â€œAre women inferior to men in Islam?â€; â€œDid Mohammed say that adulterous female monkeys should be stoned?â€ â€œIs drinking the urine of prophets salutary according to sharia?â€). To answer the question, Botros meticulously quotes â€” always careful to give sources and reference numbers â€” from authoritative Islamic texts on the subject, starting from the Koran; then from the canonical sayings of the prophet â€” the Hadith; and finally from the words of prominent Muslim theologians past and present â€” the illustrious ulema.
Typically, Botrosâ€™s presentation of the Islamic material is sufficiently detailed that the controversial topic is shown to be an airtight aspect of Islam. Yet, however convincing his proofs, Botros does not flatly conclude that, say, universal jihad or female inferiority are basic tenets of Islam. He treats the question as still open â€” and humbly invites the ulema, the revered articulators of sharia law, to respond and show the error in his methodology. He does demand, however, that their response be based on â€œal-dalil we al-burhan,â€ â€” â€œevidence and proof,â€ one of his frequent refrains â€” not shout-downs or sophistry.
More often than not, the response from the ulema is deafening silence â€” which has only made Botros and Life TV more enticing to Muslim viewers. The ulema who have publicly addressed Botrosâ€™s conclusions often find themselves forced to agree with him â€” which has led to some amusing (and embarrassing) moments on live Arabic TV.
Botros spent three years bringing to broad public attention a scandalous â€” and authentic â€” hadith stating that women should â€œbreastfeedâ€ strange men with whom they must spend any amount of time. A leading hadith scholar, Abd al-Muhdi, was confronted with this issue on the live talk show of popular Arabic host Hala Sirhan. Opting to be truthful, al-Muhdi confirmed that going through the motions of breastfeeding adult males is, according to sharia, a legitimate way of making married women â€œforbiddenâ€ to the men with whom they are forced into contact â€” the logic being that, by being â€œbreastfed,â€ the men become like â€œsonsâ€ to the women and therefore can no longer have sexual designs on them.
To make matters worse, Ezzat Atiyya, head of the Hadith department at al-Azhar University â€” Sunni Islamâ€™s most authoritative institution â€” went so far as to issue a fatwa legitimatizing â€œRidaâ€™ al-Kibirâ€ (shariaâ€™s term for â€œbreastfeeding the adultâ€), which prompted such outrage in the Islamic world that it was subsequently recanted.
Botros played the key role in exposing this obscure and embarrassing issue and forcing the ulema to respond. Another guest on Hala Sirhanâ€™s show, Abd al-Fatah, slyly indicated that the entire controversy was instigated by Botros: â€œI know you all [fellow panelists] watch that channel and that priest and that none of you [pointing at Abd al-Muhdi] can ever respond to him, since he always documents his sources!â€
Incapable of rebutting Botros, the only strategy left to the ulema (aside from a rumored $5-million bounty on his head) is to ignore him. When his name is brought up, they dismiss him as a troublemaking liar who is backed by â€” who else? â€” international â€œJewry.â€ They could easily refute his points, they insist, but will not deign to do so. That strategy may satisfy some Muslims, but others are demanding straightforward responses from the ulema.
All in all, the article is interesting reading on the way one Christian (with a $5MM bounty on his head) has decided to take up a peaceful AND effective mission into a world that needs to know Jesus…
UPDATE: I meant to include the concluding paragraphs, as well, and must not have pasted them over:
But the ultimate reason for Botrosâ€™s success is that â€” unlike his Western counterparts who criticize Islam from a political standpoint â€” his primary interest is the salvation of souls. He often begins and concludes his programs by stating that he loves all Muslims as fellow humans and wants to steer them away from falsehood to Truth. To that end, he doesnâ€™t just expose troubling aspects of Islam. Before concluding every program, he quotes pertinent biblical verses and invites all his viewers to come to Christ.
Botrosâ€™s motive is not to incite the West against Islam, promote â€œIsraeli interests,â€ or â€œdemonizeâ€ Muslims, but to draw Muslims away from the dead legalism of sharia to the spirituality of Christianity. Many Western critics fail to appreciate that, to disempower radical Islam, something theocentric and spiritually satisfying â€” not secularism, democracy, capitalism, materialism, feminism, etc. â€” must be offered in its place. The truths of one religion can only be challenged and supplanted by the truths of another. And so Father Zakaria Botros has been fighting fire with fire. [emphasis mine]