When reading the Daily Mail online about the Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for “blasphemous comments” about Mohammad after she was denied water by Muslim women, I couldn’t help but see parallels with the persecution of Christians in the Roman era. It would seem that some of the Shariah law was taken from the Roman empire. There are several parallels seen in the Daily Mail of October 17, 2014.

Misunderstanding abounds.

Christian rituals were privately held in homes and not in public: the felt secrecy of their rituals inflamed the collective imagination of those who did not follow Jesus’ teachings. Indeed, in the early years Christians were accused of being impious atheists.

The Passover feast to remember Jesus’ act on the cross on humanity’s behalf was performed in the homes–thus a private affair. [No public prayers five times a day.] Not being able to do key word searches, the polytheistic population accused Christians of cannibalism due to the terms “body and blood” which actually referred to remembrance of sacrifice of the lamb God provided, not a humanly provided lamb.

The early Christians were also accused of incest referring to each other as “brothers” and “sisters”. Since then, many faith groups refer to other followers of the same faith in this way, Islam inclusive (The Muslim Brotherhood, for example) . The Christians’ refusal to participate in public religion and choose to retain maintain monotheism actually was quite threatening of the status quo since there was a superstition that bad things would befall the society if the public worship of established gods were not maintained.

The fabric of society was the combining of custom and education, that people in Roman society were obliged to revere the religious institutions of their country. Open disrespect of family beliefs by not following them and what they reverenced as true and sacred was deemed renouncing of family and country. Theocratic countries still have these issues. Pakistan’s Shariah law doesn’t help create people with differences to be equal citizens.

The Roman governor’s personal opinion reigned during adjudication. The law was fuzzy about dealing with Christians, just as the definition of blasphemy is just as wooly. An accuser/prosecutor could either be an official or a citizen. A charge of Christianity was enough for a governor to pass judgement. The accuser/prosecutor could be rewarded with some of the accused’s property if he made an adequate case. Indeed, the Daily Mail article side-bar draws attention to that lucrative loop-hole when accusing of blasphemy.

The Roman governor oversaw the trial from start to finish: he heard the arguments, decided on the verdict, and passed the sentence. Christians sometimes offered themselves up for punishment, and the hearings of such voluntary martyrs were conducted in the same way. I feel for Asia Bibi’s sense of fed-up and taking a stand to be treated as an equal human being. The civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s experienced just such change agents.

Political leaders in the Roman Empire were also public cult leaders. Political and religious life blended. This public religious practice was in their estimation critical to the social and political stability and success of both the local community and the empire as a whole.

Once distinguished from Judaism, Christianity was no longer seen as simply a bizarre sect of an old and venerable religion; it was new and unknown, a superstition laden with connotation of religious practices that were corrosive to society. Following Jesus’ teachings was seen as worshiping a convicted criminal, treason for refusing to “swear by the emperor’s genius, harshly criticized Rome in their holy books” and held their rites in private (Wiki). Merely speaking ill of the dominant Roman way of religion was treasonous.

Jews refused to obey the decree for pagan religious observance as a testament of allegiance to the empire. They were tolerated because they followed their own Jewish ancestral (therefore legitimate) ceremonial law, and as second class citizens had to give a Jewish tax. In a Caliphate Jews and Christians are second class citizens who pay extra tax. That is the best they can hope for.


retrieved Oct 18, 2014


A few years ago I wrote the following book review for The Glad Tidings. Since then Irshad Manji has reprinted with the title The Trouble With Islam Today.

The Trouble with Islam: a wake-up call for honesty and change by Irshad Manji, Random House, 2003. Paperback. 247 pages.

The Trouble with Islam is an open letter of critique to fellow Muslims. Her journey of discovery into her own inherited Islamic world is so wittily documented and searingly insightful that we can only hope that there will be more writers like her for each of our faith groups. Pulling no punches, she states that totalitarian impulses lurk in mainstream Islam.

Yet in the midst of this acknowledged reality, Irshad persists in exploring her religious culture heritage. Having escaped Uganda at the tender age of four, that cultural heritage includes a deep impact from Canada, specifically Vancouver where her family first settled. From free baby-sitting and Bible stories in a Christian church to currently hosting TVO’s Big Ideas, Irshad has discovered that asking questions is not only tolerated but necessary for the thinking mind. One’s faith can evolve and one’s race doesn’t have to define a person.

Irshad’s efforts to find an English language Koran strikes a chord since it hasn’t been very long in a historical context that most Christians have had free access to Judeo-Christian scripture in their own languages. Then there is the problem of understanding what you are looking at….indeed, the Koran is not chronological and it contradicts itself, a goldmine of “proof-texting” to reinforce one’s already made up mind. Fortunately for us, Irshad still continues to think it all through and hasn’t thrown in the towel on Islam as a whole yet, while she unequivocally rejects what she calls “desert Islam”. Does the virtue of being Muslim make every Muslim virtuous? This is the burning question as Muslims try to comply with charity, one of the five pillars of their faith. To which Muslims does the money go? Does it matter? Irshad says, “Yes, it matters!”

There are many answers to our questions about Islam in this volume but solutions are tentative and in short supply. Hers is a clarion call for all Canadians to accept the birthright of our open society and to ask pointed questions of one another. Tolerance is not segregation and a blind eye. Tolerance does not abdicate us from inter-relationships and responsibility among our citizens. Tolerance is not about keeping our mouth shut when an injustice prevails.

For a heavy subject, Irshad Manji’s  The Trouble with Islam reveals Islam with a Canadian logic and humor that needs no apologies. I recommend it to one and all.