Last week I attended a consultation held in Jerusalem about mainline churches in the United States and Europe and their attitudes toward Israel. The consultation, organized by the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel (ETRFI), was attended by pastors, lay people, activists and writers who are alarmed about the failure of their churches to speak up on behalf of Israel as it contends with Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah that seek the destruction of the Jewish state.
One of the people I met was an Evangelical pastor from Uganda by the name of Umar Mulinde. Umar is an odd name for a Christian pastor. “I was named after one of the great leaders of Islam,” he said.
This is no exaggeration. People who are familiar with Muslim history will recognize that he is named after the Muslim Caliph who established the Pact of Omar which required non-Muslims Jews and Christians to submit to second class-status under Muslim rule.
The Pact of Omar helped set the pattern for how non-Muslims are treated under in Muslim-majority countries today. It’s a hugely important document.
People who insist on advocating for their rights and equality engender great hostility from Islamists. This hostility contributes to ongoing violence against Israel in the 21st Century and violence against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks in what is now modern-day Turkey in the 20th Century.
This hostility helps explain why Israelis have been subject to repeated rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip for the past few days. The people who launch these attacks are trying to exercise a veto over Jewish sovereignty and freedom, and ultimately over the existence of the Jewish people altogether. What they are trying to do is to force non-Muslims into accepting the same status they endured under the Pact of Omar.
Back to Umar. At the age of 20, Umar, who had been prepared to be a Muslim cleric, converted from Islam to Christianity. His mother has converted to Christianity, but his brothers are a different story. He told me that some of his brothers – and he’s got more than 50 of them because his father was a prominent Imam with many wives – would be happy if he were killed. Apostacy from Islam, Mulinde reported, brings disgrace on the entire family that can only be expunged with the death of the convert.
Muslims in Uganda, who represent only 13 percent of the population, are agitating for Shariah law to be established in Uganda. Mulinde and his supporters worry that such an action will result in the oppression of women and non-Muslims in Uganda, just as it has in Nigeria.
In his campaign to prevent the introduction of Sharia into Uganda, Pastor Umar helped organize a petition that received more than 36,000 signatures. Mulinde is also a potent supporter of Israel. He filled a stadium with 5,000 supporters of Israel a few years back.
These actions did not go unnoticed by the Islamists in Uganda. On Dec. 24, 2011, a group of radical Muslims threw acid on his face and back in an attempt to kill him. The attack left him alive, but horribly disfigured. Upon learning that he survived the attack, his attackers and their supporters sent letters to his church stating that they wish the attack had resulted in his death.
The acid attack was not the first attempt on Mulinde’s life that he’s miraculously survived. He’s been shot at and poisoned.
After the attack Umar and his wife and two youngest children – five-year-old twins – Joshua and Caleb – made their way to Jerusalem, where he has been undergoing treatment for the burns he had suffered in 2011. He’s been receiving treatment at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center located in Jerusalem for the past 10 months. He’s got more surgeries to go.
At one point during the conference, I interviewed him and the message he gave was a simple one. “When you defend Israel, you are defending your children.”
During our discussion, Umar made it perfectly clear that Israel is just one target of the Islamist attempt to spread Shariah law throughout the world.
The ideology that motivated the acid attack he endured on Christmas Eve in 2011 is the same used to justify suicide attacks against Israel during the Second Intifada and the rocket attacks that took place over the past few days. Christians in Uganda are starting to wake up to the fact that many in the West have failed to understand the threat presented by Islamic imperialism.
“What the West is denying they will realize when it has come upon them,” he said.
When I first saw Umar at the consultation in Jerusalem, I was horrified. He was wearing a bandage around his head that obscured everything but his ears and mouth, which were misshapen from the attack. There was a small hole that allowed him to speak through his mouth, which was also badly misshapen.
I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want to shake his hand. I wanted to stay away from him because I didn’t want to even know what caused him to be disfigured. Was it leprosy? Was it contagious?
After I started listening to him speak, I realized that I was the one who had leprosy, spiritual leprosy. The nerve endings of my soul had become indifferent to the suffering of another human being, whom I wanted to wall myself off from.
Sadly, this leprosy of indifference and fear is still present in the world today. We can see it play itself out in the indifference toward Israel’s plight on the part of so many Americans, even as Israeli children hide from rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. It is this attitude that contributes to the abandonment of Christians who are the targets of religious cleansing in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Nigeria.
We need leaders like Umar who can summon us from the crypt of our own indifference and give us to acknowledge a frightening truth: The ideology of Muslim supremacism represents the greatest threat to human rights and world peace in the world today. The totalitarian and authoritarian impulse that manifested itself as Nazism in the 20th century has found another ideological vehicle in the 21st – Islamism.
Ongoing attacks against Israel and the suffering of Christians in Muslim-majority countries throughout the world serve as testimony to the impact of this ideology.
Children in Sderot live in fear tonight because of this ideology.
Children in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan and Syria live in fear because of this authoritarian ideology.
But instead of confronting this ideology, mainline Protestant churches, prominent Roman Catholic institutions, and a growing segment of the Evangelical community assiduously work to downplay its existence and the threat it poses.
To make matters worse, they promote an obsession with Israel as it defends itself from Islamist attacks. Islamists attacks are decimating Christian populations in the Middle East, and prominent church leaders condemn Israel.
“We betray ourselves if we don’t stand with Israel,” Mulinde warns.
First published in the Algemeiner.