Sunday, September 20, 2009

Alone with a Jihadist by Aaron D. Taylor

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Alone with a Jihadist

Foghorn Publishers (October 1, 2009)


Aaron D. Taylor was raised in a Midwestern charismatic church with the belief that Christians had a duty to take up arms in defense of their government and the ideals of freedom. He supported our actions in Iraq and asserted that only one political party was the appropriate home for true believers of God. After a meeting in London with Khalid, a militant jihadist, Taylor came away with a deep questioning of the ideals that, up to that moment, formed a cornerstone for his theology. In Alone with a Jihadist, Aaron Taylor shares his personal revelation that Christians are not to be supporters of military or other violent solutions to the world’s problems.

Visit the author's website and blog.

Product Details:

List Price: $18.99
Publisher: Foghorn Publishers (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934466123
ISBN-13: 978-1934466124


What have I gotten myself into this time? Here I was sitting across the table from Stephen Marshall, the director of a feature length documentary film called Holy War, a film examining the role of religion in the post 9/11 clash between the West and Islam. Stephen and I were sitting in an underground café in London discussing what I was about to do the next day. In less than 24 hours, I was about to be stuck in an abandoned warehouse for several hours with a radical jihadist who wanted to destroy me, my country, my religion, and every- thing else I held dear.

As a 28 year-old evangelist born and raised in Jefferson County Missouri, a rural county outside the suburbs of St. Louis, the idea of representing Western Civilization in an epic debate seemed a bit far-fetched. I imagined what the cultural elite in Europe would think if they knew a Christian missionary from the Bible Belt was their de facto representative for defending their civilization over and against Islamic civilization. The thought suddenly struck me as humorous. How in the world did I get here?

It all started when I was a young child attending a missionary conference at my charismatic mega-church. As long as I can remember, I’ve always had a knack for adventure and a zeal for the things of God. When I was between the ages of 8 and 10, my church invited missionaries from all over the world to display exhibits and share about their ministries at an event they called the World Harvest Conference. Seeing the missionaries dressed in exotic costumes and hearing their stories made me want to “abandon it all for the sake of the call” just as they had done. For a young child who rarely traveled, the prospect of spending my life in a far away place and learning another language captured my imagination and gave me a vision for the future. By the time my uncle Charlie took his first trip to Africa, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a missionary too.

My first missionary trip was in 1993 to the country of Poland. A missionary from our church named Jack Harris was scheduled to conduct an evangelistic crusade in the town of Wroclaw, so he decided to take a group of select young people from our church’s youth group to help advertise the meetings during the day, and most importantly, get a taste of the mission field. For days our team did mimes on the streets and invited people to come to an evangelistic crusade at night. One afternoon as we were all resting in our hotel rooms, I read a book by evangelist Mike Francen called A Quest for Souls. Francen was personally trained under the legendary T.L. Osborn and saw many of the same miracles that T.L. and his wife Daisy had seen throughout their 50-years of ministry together. For a 15 year old raised in the charismatic movement, looking at pictures of 100,000 people lifting their hands to receive Jesus as Savior was like an adolescent baseball player looking at a picture of Babe Ruth knocking the ball out of Yankee Stadium. For me, the choice was very simple. How could I stay in America and preach the gospel to those who have already heard when there are millions of people around the world who have never had a chance to hear the gospel once? From that day forward, I decided to dedicate my life to becoming a world evangelist.

As soon as I graduated from high school, I was out the door and ready to change the world. During my formative years, my parents made tremendous financial sacrifices to put my brothers and me through Christian school, so we never really traveled much. But now that I had the freedom to determine my future, I found myself traveling to places far and wide. Places I never in my wildest imagination dreamed I would ever go. Places such as India, China, Tibet, Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Grenada, and Laos. Some of these countries were places where those who decide to follow Jesus often pay a terrible price of suffering and persecution and, yet, the joy on their faces reinforced to me that following Jesus is worth the cost, no matter what the cost may be.

In October of 2000, I met my beautiful wife Rhiannon in Dallas, Texas while we were attending the School of Missions at Christ for the Nations Institute. My wife and I were married on October 6th, 2001, approximately three weeks after 9/11. Shortly after we were married, we decided that we wanted to put our missionary training to use by taking the gospel to those of the Muslim faith. We wanted to minister in a country that has a Muslim majority, but also enjoys religious freedom; so after a year and a half of quiet and peaceful suburban living, we packed our bags and moved to the country of Senegal, located in West Africa.

While in Senegal we labored, we cried, we prayed, and we met a lot of fascinating people along the way. Most of our family and friends thought that we were crazy evangelizing Muslims, especially since this was shortly after 9/11, but the fact is our interaction with Muslims was entirely peaceful. Not once did we come across someone who hated us and wanted us out of the country. Although God allowed us a measure of success in Senegal, sometimes life throws curve balls. After 16 short months of missionary living, my wife and I moved back to the U.S. to help my mother-in-law who eventually died of cancer in March of 2005.

It wasn’t long before I was off traveling the world again. This time I found myself traveling to Pakistan—a place largely overrun by radical jihadists sympathetic to the likes of people like Osama bin Laden. Neither my wife nor I wanted to be a prime target for kidnapping or execution, so we decided to concentrate our ministry primarily on the Christian minority, encouraging them in their faith and equipping them with Bibles and other tools for witness and evangelism.

It was shortly after my first trip to Pakistan that I met Stephen Marshall. One day as I was checking my e-mail, I noticed an ad I had previously overlooked in a mass e-mail for missionary mobilizers. The headline read, “Hollywood Production Company looking for a young missionary who travels the world to participate in a feature-length documentary.” A few days before I saw the e-mail, I already felt I had a direction from the Lord to begin engaging secular media with the gospel, so when Stephen responded to my reply a few days later, I was pleasantly surprised—and overwhelmed. Representing a Christian perspective to the secular media is a tall order, especially when you don’t have any control over the editing process. Almost immediately after I got off the phone with Stephen I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I can chew.

Unfortunately for me, there was little time for second-guessing. Within a few short weeks, Stephen came to my home to interview me and ask me just about every question under the sun regarding my faith, family, and political views. The last thing I wanted to do was to isolate myself unnecessarily from those outside the conservative evangelical fold, so I tried to be as diplomatic as possible when Stephen asked me questions about 9/11, the Iraq War, free-market capitalism, George Bush, and the Republican Party. Little did I know that the microscopic examination of my faith, on that weekend was only the tip of the iceberg. There was still much, much more to come.

Within a few short months, Stephen traveled with me to Pakistan to observe my preaching and to get a first-hand look at the oppression of Christians in a nation largely populated with radical Muslims. It was during the trip to Pakistan that Stephen began speaking to me about a very outspoken jihadist who lived in London named Khalid. I had seen Khalid on CNN and knew that he was an Irish convert to Islam who had grown up in a Catholic family. After the trip to Pakistan, I honestly thought my role in the film was over. In my mind, I had behaved like a good Christian and had a rare opportunity to expose the plight of the Pakistani Christians to the world.

Little did I know that a few months later, after delivering a sermon at a Pentecostal church in Brazil, a man would walk up to me and tell me that I was supposed to go to London before the end of the year and that, if I would go, then God would give me a great victory. Taking this as a word from God, I thought that maybe I could go and talk to Khalid, find out how he thinks and see if I could persuade him to accept the way and teachings of Christ. It wasn’t long before the producers caught wind of the story and decided to set up a meeting between the two of us for the purpose of capturing the conversation on film.

I don’t think words can describe the pressure I felt during the two days of what turned out to be an intense debate with Khalid. Not only did I have to make my case for Christ to Khalid, I also knew that I had to be a faithful representative of Christ to the average non-Christian watching the film, many of whom are already convinced in their minds that those who hold to a fundamental belief in Scripture are destined to drag the world into a premature Apocalypse. To top it off, I knew there were American soldiers in Iraq in harm’s way and the last thing I wanted to do was to dishonor their service. The fact that the weather was unusually cold and gloomy, and that we were meeting in an old abandoned warehouse, made the atmosphere tense from the start. When Khalid walked into the room with his fiery eyes, intense gaze, and a grey t-shirt with the words “Soldier of Allah” written on the front, I knew the next few hours were not going to be a picnic.

The meeting didn’t quite go as I expected.

It took all about two minutes for me to realize there wasn’t going to be the Dr. Phil moment I had imagined with me helping Khalid to see that deep down inside there’s an inner child waiting to be loved. Within no time, Khalid began venting all of his anger, frustration, and rage against my religion, my country, Western Civilization—and me. In the beginning, I did my utmost to keep the conversation on a theological level. Having lived in a Muslim country and studied the basic tenets of Islam, I knew how to engage Muslims in friendly conversation regarding the merits of Christian belief. Most Muslims I had met up until this point were surprisingly generous about their view of the Bible and the fate of Christians on judgment day. Khalid, on the other hand, made no apology for his belief that every single Christian who has ever lived is heading straight for hell. The way Khalid raged about Iraq, Afghanistan, George Bush, and Tony Blair, I was sure that, in Khalid’s mind, the hottest flames in hell are reserved for those who put them in office.

The most frustrating part for me was the more I tried to shift the conversation to theological matters, the more determined Khalid was to condemn the evils of Western Civilization and, in particular, U.S. foreign policy. After sitting and listening for what seemed like hours, besides the occasional interjection here and there, I finally decided to engage Khalid on one of the primary moral objections to political Islam, and that’s the issue of religious freedom. For years I’ve felt that there’s a double standard in the liberal media when it comes to the issue of religious freedom in the Islamic world. I always get annoyed when I read news- magazines or hear cable news commentators herald a country like Malaysia as an Islamic paradise for democracy when I know full well that ethnic Malays who decide to switch their religion from Islam to Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) have historically faced imprisonment, torture, and the threat of execution.

Ready for a good debate, I finally stopped Khalid in mid-sentence and blurted out, “Freedom of religion in Islam is a façade. There is no such thing as freedom of religion in Islam.”

Expecting to hear a rebuttal, I was genuinely taken aback when Khalid so nonchalantly replied, “No there’s not. We don’t believe in freedom and democracy. We believe democracy is just a manifestation of man-made law.”

Freedom and democracy equals man-made law? As an American culturally conditioned to think of the words “freedom” and “democracy” as inalienable rights endowed by our Creator, the idea that another human being could consciously reject these values was intriguing to me. The association of democracy with man-made law also had a ring of logic to it. After all, we all know that the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament don’t wait for a heavenly finger to write on tablets of stone before passing legislation. Still trying to keep the conversation on a theological level and with little time to think, I responded, “You see that’s the difference, because the Bible says in the New Testament, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Wasting no time, Khalid replied “Yes, but what does that mean? Nobody knows what that means. Not very clear.”

Not very clear? What’s not clear about living in freedom from legalistic rules and regulations? I thought perhaps I needed to state it another way.

“If society is going to change, then hearts have to change,” I said.

Khalid wasn’t buying it.

“You still haven’t described how you would implement the Bible as a way of life or in government. I’ll be honest with you. I’m gonna pin you down. I don’t think you can. I don’t think you can, because you can’t. With the Bible, how would you address the pedophilia, the prostitution, and the homosexuality from a governmental point of view? How would you address that? You’re in charge tomorrow all right? You are the president of the United States, how would you address these problems?”

How would I implement the Bible from a governmental point of view? Now that was a good question. In my mind, I could hear the calm reassuring voice of my senior pastor saying something like, “Now, Aaron. Remember that Christianity isn’t about trying to regulate society by setting up earthly governments. It’s about forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God.”

“That’s right pastor,” I thought to myself “but that doesn’t really answer his question. If I’m going to make the claim that my faith is the right one, certainly I need to show that if everyone, or at least the vast majority of people, embraced my faith, then society would be better off. After all, there are moral implications to living out the gospel, and these implications aren’t limited to the private sphere.”

In my heart I knew that Khalid’s question was far from insignificant. Even though I knew the standard answer that the purpose for Jesus coming to earth was to die on the cross for our sins. Even though I knew that the gospel is about God’s love for sinners, not about sinners striving to achieve moral perfection. Even though I knew that the theme of the Bible is grace and redemption, not condemnation and legalism, there was something in Khalid’s question that caused my heart to sink. I knew that Khalid’s challenge wasn’t something I could dismiss lightly.

“First of all, as Christians, we want godly government.” I responded. Perhaps it was a lame answer, but it was all I could think of at the moment.

Unfortunately, Khalid didn’t have time for introspection. He wanted an answer right then and there.

“What is godly government? I don’t understand. What is godly government? How about a punishment system? Let’s pin you down. How about a punishment system? For example, what kind of punishment would you have for homosexuality?”

“That’s a good question because Jesus said, ‘He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.’ Jesus was going more for the heart on that one. Jesus showed that you can have law, but then what’s law without mercy?” I replied.

Khalid didn’t have time for moral philosophy. He wanted an answer.

“So you really don’t know what to do about it do you? That’s okay. I don’t expect you to know because the reason why you don’t know is because the answer is not in there. I wouldn’t expect you to know. Let me tell you what we do with homosexuals, okay? They are to be taken to the top of a mountain and thrown off and killed. It’s capital punishment. For the one who is an adulterer, if they are unmarried, a hundred lashes. If they’re married, stoned to death. This is Islamic Sharia. It’s comprehensive. I don’t expect you to know. I’m not trying to expose you. I’m trying to be honest with you because you are holding a completely corrupted message that doesn’t tell you what to do in these situations. So you shouldn’t know.”

At this point I was thinking Keep going Khalid. You are really hanging yourself here. As an evangelical Christian frustrated at how the media so often lumps my people into the same category as radical Islamists by throwing around the word fundamentalist, I wanted the potential audience to see what a real fundamentalist looks like, so I calmly replied,

“You say that homosexuals should be stoned and killed.”

“I didn’t say that. God says it.” Khalid replied in a matter of fact manner.

“I think that’s nuts because Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

Khalid took the bait.

“That’s why you are going to hellfire and I’m going to Paradise if I die as a Muslim and you die as a disbeliever. In Islam, you have to follow the message of Mohammed. I don’t want you to go to hell.”

I found it amusing that Khalid didn’t want me to go to hell. That was the reason why I was there, because I didn’t want him to go to hell. The problem was that I was cold, jet-lagged, and mild-tempered while Khalid was hot, awake, and ready for a fight. But the last thing I wanted to do was fight. I didn’t want the world to see two religious extremists at each other’s throats and I certainly didn’t want this to turn into a stereotypical match of “You’re going to hell” “No, You’re going to hell.” So I decided to put one of the principles of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People into practice. Seek first to understand, then to be under- stood. I decided to listen to what Khalid had to say—and Khalid wasted no time in saying it.

“I believe the Islamic arguments are stronger than the arguments for Christianity. Only because I’ve studied them both. And when I read the Koran, believe me Aaron, I swear to God, from my heart to your heart. I just read it and, I was a little bit angry at first. At first, I said, how come this was kept away from me? Who kept this away from me for all of my life and let me lead a miserable existence for 34 years without knowing the truth? Let me think that alcohol is okay, let me do whatever I want because of vicarious atonement. One man gets slaughtered on a cross by the Jews and, all of the sudden; everybody can do whatever they want. Pedophiles, Homosexuals, do whatever you want. No individual responsibility. No consequences for your actions. That’s what your belief hinges on.”

One man gets slaughtered on the cross by the Jews and, all of the sudden; everybody can do whatever they want? No individual responsibility? No consequences for your actions? That’s what my belief hinges on? I knew that the picture Khalid was painting was a gross distortion of the Christian faith, but at this point, it really didn’t matter. Khalid had a preconceived notion in his mind about what I believed and there was little I could do to change his perception. Finally I said:

“You talk a lot about the ideal society, you say that Mohammed is the final prophet, Islam is the true religion because it gives a comprehensive guide to life that’s politically and economically sufficient. I would dispute you in saying the Bible doesn’t give a comprehensive guide to life. I would dispute you in saying that, because the Bible does have a lot to say about government. The Bibles does have a lot to say about, not only outward righteousness, but inward righteousness. So, just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean that I as a Christian can’t look in my Bible and see everything that I need to know to live a righteous life.”

Khalid’s reply was very revealing.

“But, Aaron. I don’t need to look at the book. I can look outside the door at your own society. I can see the prostitution. I can see the adultery. I can see the cheating. I can see the moneymakers, the interest, and the society. Every evil, the pedophilia, the homosexuals allowed to run rife. Nothing is addressed. Evil is allowed to run rampant, okay? And you just keep propagating peace and love and all that sort of thing and it’s not really good enough. And, as I say, I don’t have to look at the book. I just have to look outside the door. I can see a manifestation of everything in there. Everything bad in your society.”

The one thing I appreciated about Khalid was that he made it easy for me to summarize his moral arguments. Christianity is evil because Western Civilization is evil. The two are inextricably linked. Now that Khalid was on a role, he decided to shift the conversation to politics. That’s when things started to get interesting.

“In the last election, you come from America right? Who did you

vote for? Did you vote for anybody?”

A bit caught off guard, I answered, “Well, yes I did, but let me ask you a question.”

Khalid cut me off mid sentence.

“It’s a simple question. You did vote for somebody? And what do the people that you vote for do? Explain what they do. Look I’m gonna tell you right? I’m gonna tell you what the people you vote for do. They make law and order. They don’t make ice cream. In the House of Representatives and the House of Commons here. They make law and order. They decide what’s forbidden and they decide what’s allowed. This is called man-made law. Now, do you think God wants us to live by His law or man made law? He wants us to live by His comprehensive law and order. He always did. Why do you think Jesus was persecuted? Because He spoke out against the George Bushes and the Tony Blairs of His day. He was called a fundamentalist, terrorist, and an extremist, new laws of terrorism brought in. So He’s arrested, tortured. Is this starting to sound familiar? It should to you, because it’s what’s happening to Muslims today. Whenever a messenger was sent and he changed the whole of society, he was always terrorized, persecuted, and imprisoned. This is a sign of the people that are speaking the truth. And we believe that man-made law is a big disease. So you’re saying that you believe in the law of God and you want to be obedient, but yet you’re voting for people like George Bush who are mere men.”

“Jesus was an Islamic Fundamentalist?” I thought to myself, “Now that’s one for the loony bin.” The Koran was written approximately 600 years after the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus, which is why no serious historian accepts that Jesus was a Muslim, unless they accept it by blind faith. According to the Koran, Jesus wasn’t a friend to sinners, nor did He actually die on a wooden cross. In the Koran, Jesus was a Muslim who prayed five times a day facing Mecca, fasted during the month of Ramadan, and made it his aim to implement the Divine Sharia on the whole of society. The problem with this idea is that both the Bible and history agree that Jesus was a threat to the religious establishment of His day. Khalid obviously had it backwards, but the fact that he had it backwards underscored something very revealing about the historical Jesus in my mind. The people that Jesus condemned the most were the Pharisees—the ones who ruled over others in the name of God with the power of the State behind them. In a strange way, Khalid’s crazy idea served to reinforce the point that he was making. The Jesus of the gospels left us with neither a legal system nor a socio-economic system for creating an ideal society.

Now that Khalid knew he had my attention, he decided to walk me through the finer points of his worldview as a maestro would with an inquisitive pupil.

“Islam is not religion; you probably think Islam is a religion. It’s not. It’s a pure divine belief. Comprehensive. We had a divine social system, economic system, political system, private system, and a system of what to do when somebody invades your land, what to do when somebody invades your home. We’re onto the

concept which a lot of people are talking about today, the issue of fighting or jihad in Islam. Jihad in Islam is one of the things that protect the Muslims around the world.”

“So jihad is primarily defensive?” I thought to myself, “Does that include 9/11?”

Khalid and I had an extensive debate on that one—and a host of other topics. For hours upon hours for two days straight Khalid and I went back and forth on just about every topic imaginable: the prophethood of Muhammad, the crucifixion, the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of Scripture, Osama bin Laden, Iraq, Afghanistan, the War on Terror, democracy, freedom of religion, the role of women, the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands, the finer points of Sharia law.

In many ways, I felt that I took a beating in my debate with Khalid, though I still walked out of there with my head held high. Rather than feeding the fire-breathing stereotype of a my-way-or-the-highway American evangelist, I decided in the end to make a symbolic attempt at reconciliation. Though Khalid left me with little hope of reconciliation between the West and Islam, I found out later that my presence did have a disarming effect on Khalid—somewhat. Khalid conceded that I wasn’t what he expected and, t the very least, he confided to me that I helped him see that merican Christians are also concerned about the moral issues he’s concerned with and that not every American Christian agrees with U.S. foreign policy.

Then I returned home.

For weeks I walked around in a daze. I couldn't get the thought but of my mind that if Khalid and his repeated threats to fight with all means necessary until U.S. troops are removed from Muslim ands, if his ideas represent only 10% of the 1.3 billion Muslims of he world, then we are looking at a problem of global significance. Hearing the rage and frustration of Khalid helped me to see that he anger and frustration of millions of Muslims directed at America and Western Civilization didn’t emerge from a vacuum. And how many jihadists does it take to execute a terrorist attack capable of destabilizing the world order? Only a handful. All I could think of was America is not ready for this.

But then another thought struck me.

As I poured myself into watching documentaries, reading scholarly journals online, and scrutinizing the TV news, I realized that something was changing on the inside of me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. After a couple of months I realized that something had happened during my debate with Khalid that I ever thought would happen. Khalid had presented an authentic challenge to my faith and I knew that if there was to be any victory at all, like the victory that was prophesied, then I would have to get to the bottom of the issue. Khalid’s charge was simple. Jesus didn’t leave the world with a comprehensive social system, economic system, political system, or any other kind of system to regulate society. At least Muhammad attempted to solve the world’s problems.

Tell me, preacher man. How would you implement the Bible from a governmental point of view?

I poured over the Scriptures for months with this question in mind. Did Jesus really leave us with nothing in terms of how to implement the Scriptures from a governmental point of view? Certainly he left us with something. Or did He? If He did, then we Christians in the West had better find out what it is and get off our lazy derrieres and do something. If He didn’t, then why didn’t He? If it turns out that He did not, then what are the implications for the War on Terror and the current clash between the West and Islam? After months of pouring over this simple question, I realized that my entire world had been turned upside down.


Sarah said...

Mine is ready to go live on Tuesday w/review.


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Nancy said...

Posted with review.