Sunday, 22 February 2009

Discouraging Barnabas? A most odd tale

A very odd story seems to be developing in the blogosphere (or Devil’s Playground, as I am increasingly viewing it).

A couple of days ago, I received a circular e-mail (this link appears to be the same) from the Barnabas Fund, of which I am a supporter, alleging a concerted campaign against its director, Patrick Sookhdeo, and members of its staff.

The e-mail referred to “an article by an anonymous Western missionary, which ... has appeared on various websites” and which described “what appears to be an orchestrated, multi-pronged attack on Patrick Sookhdeo (and therefore on Barnabas Fund) and other evangelical Christians.”

The e-mail went on, “The most shocking element is the deliberate passing of negative criticism about Patrick from an evangelical Christian to a radical Muslim,” and claimed that, “We have checked several of the allegations in the article and found all of them to be correct.”

One of these allegations, borne out on his website, is that a Muslim blogger, Indigo Jo, had indeed had his attention drawn to a negative review of Patrick Sookhdeo’s book “Global Jihad” on the Fulcrum website by the author of the piece, Ben White. In fact, White has posted a further comment on this site to say, jokingly, that he would not “describe [himself] as a conservative Christian ;)”.

Indigo Jo, meanwhile, whose real name is Matthew Smith, describes himself as a convert to Islam, and thus also takes the name Yusuf. Jo’s name for Sookhdeo, rather less charmingly, is Sookhdevil, a name which he seems to have coined as early as 2005.

Jo’s hostility to Sookhdeo is thus clear, and one does indeed wonder at the appropriateness of Ben White’s eagerness to point Jo in the direction of his own criticisms of Sookhdeo, if White is a Christian at all (a denial that he is a conservative Christian obviously being not the same as a denial of any Christian faith).

Meanwhile, there was enormous excitement on the Fulcrum discussion forums about two different versions of a response to White’s review by David Zeidan, who is associated with the Barnabas fund, and Tawfik Hamid, who I understand is not.

A version sent round by Barnabas e-mail was considerably less temperate in some of its language than that which appeared on the Fulcrum website as a reply to White’s critique. This is perhaps to be regretted, but it led to speculation by Graham Kings, the Theological Secretary of Fulcrum, as to who might be responsible for the intemperate sections (see his message 10104, here).

All this put me in mind of St Paul’s warning to the Galatians, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” And indeed, in the spirit of this warning I had a telephone conversation several days ago with David Zeidan to try to answer some of Graham King’s questions. I was also telephoned by Graham Kings, though unfortunately just as I was leaving on holiday so that I was unable to talk for long.

It would be inappropriate to go into detail, but what both these conversations confirmed to me was that there was considerable heat being generated for reasons which were not immediately clear.

I was therefore further concerned that the article quoted in the later Barnabas e-mail spoke of an “invitation-only meeting ... at All Nations Christian College 21-22 July 2008” at which, it is alleged, “a document was drafted called Gracious Christian Responses to Muslims in Britain Today” which aims (it is further alleged) “to discredit two British Christian leaders who are converts from Islam (one being Patrick Sookhdeo)”.

The Barnabas e-mail states specifically,

We have confirmed by a telephone call to the principal of All Nations Christian College that the secret meeting described in the article was held on their premises in July 2008 and that a representative of the college was in attendance. He emphasised that in no way did the college sponsor the meeting, but simply that the group used their premises and the college felt it important that a member of their staff should be present.

It stated further that the specific targets of Gracious Responses are Patrick Sookhdeo and Sam Soloman (another Muslim convert, and also, as it happens, known to me personally). The e-mail then goes on to request prayer, especially for Sookhdeo, Soloman and the work of the Barnabas fund.

Now my own point in posting all this is along the lines of Matthew 10:26, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Most Christians in this country will be blissfully unaware of these actions and allegations. And many others, like me, will be very unclear as to what is actually going on.

If the anxieties at the Barnabas Fund are groundless, then at very least they should be reassured and should pass that reassurance on to their supporters. If, on the other hand, there is substance to them, then that needs to be made public and responded to accordingly by the wider Christian community. And above all, if there are untruths being spread, either accidentally or deliberately, then these must be corrected.

So I invite comment and clarification, absolutely none of which will be published without a name and address.

Revd John Richardson
22 February 2009

When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information will not be posted.


  1. I have received a comment by someone asking not to be identified which provides this link to the Interserve website, which states that, "Global Connections and CRIB wish to make it clear that they are not part of any such campaign nor are they involved in any personal attack on Patrick Sookhdeo. Furthermore they have not sought to undermine the important work of the Barnabas Fund."

    The same source, however, also points out that Global Connections runs the Faith to Faith Forum, as linked on their website, and that Richard Sudworth, the 'Missions Consultant' of Faith to Faith, specifically criticized Sookhdeo and the Barnabas Fund (albeit respectfully, as far as I can see) on his blog, here.

    Ben Wright also posts a comment on this blog, linking to his review of Sookhdeo's Global Jihad, and Sudworth links to White's review here.

    This does certainly give the impression of 'interconnectedness' amongst the critics of Sookhdeo, but seems to fall some way short of further evidence of conspiracy.

    I would note, however, the specific allegation made by the Barnabas Fund e-mail, that, "It has been confirmed to us by a respected Christian leader who heard him say so with his own ears that Bryan Knell of Global Connections has stated that CRIB’s (Christian Response to Islam in Britain) three targets are Patrick Sookhdeo, Sam Soloman and the ministry Maranatha. He took notes during the meeting and another Christian leader was present during the whole meeting and also heard Bryan Knell’s statement."

    This does not quite fit with the Interserve statement, which is at least evidence of how messy this has become.

  2. B, I would happily publish your comment, but in the light of what I said in the post, and the difficulty of the topic, I have to ask for a full name and location.

    If you wish to preserve an internet 'identity', I suggest you choose and 'Anonymous' posting, but then put name and location in the body of the text.

    Sorry to have to insist on this, but it is a sensitive issue.

  3. Fulcrum have also put out a statement on this situation. Referring to the article on David Virtue's website, the Fulcrum statement, "totally repudiates these false allegations and regrets their dissemination by fellow evangelical Christians."

    Regarding their own publication of Ben White's review, the statement concludes, "The Leadership Team has simply sought to provide a forum to discuss the issues raised in the book “Global Jihad” by publishing what we believe to be an important, measured, detailed, academic and, at points, critical review and by providing the Barnabas Fund with a right of reply in order to inform and educate our readers about this important area of engaging with Islam. We will continue to seek constructive dialogue between all those working in this important field."

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. A nicely balanced blog post. As a member of staff of one of the agencies criticised by Patrick, I feel I can offer some advice which may be of use.

    The situation is that there has been a longstanding disagreement between Patrick and various others over the years, relating to the correct way to relate to Muslims. Are they intrinsically violent liars, or is it only a minority of Muslims who are violent? Should we be afraid of them or should we love them?

    This difference of opinion has finally come into the open, thanks to Ben White's review. As a result, he has had mud slung at him (being labelled a racist and an anti-Semite) and everyone else involved in the CRIB process has also suffered.

    Simply, Patrick cannot cope with a difference of opinion. Nobody has ever attacked him, betrayed him, or sought to discredit him. All that has happened is that people disagree with his take on Islam and want to present a more gracious, loving view. Whether that is right or not is up to everyone to decide, but I would ask the question: what would Jesus do? Forgive people, offer them grace and love, or encourage people to fear and mistrust them?

  6. I failed to notice that Ian Paul had not put a location, and have temporarily taken down his comment as a result. I've also received an important contribution from Matt Vaughan, but again without a location, and therefore will not post it as yet.

    Because this is such a sensitive topic I must ask that people give a proper name and location.

    I hope people will appreciate that it is unreasonable, in the circumstances, to publish comments on this issue which are not fully attributable, but I will happily (re-)post these comments when that information is provided.

    (I do occasionally wonder if people simply don't read the instructions!)

  7. Yes, we don't read the instructions, and you know very well that I am at St John's Nottingham. Very happy to add that in if I forget! And anything else!

  8. The truth is, Ian, I really couldn't "know very well" it was the Nottingham 'Ian Paul', even though I thought it probably was!

    I did at first consider putting a note "Ian Paul is from St John's Nottingham". But then I thought to myself, "What if he isn't? That could cause all sorts of problems!"

    As you can see, there's no link on your name on the original comment - though I'm not sure why. In the event, I decided it was a risk I couldn't take!

    I've now put the comment back up. Thanks.

  9. Sorry - my location is Luton, UK. Hope that helps! Sorry for not including it previously; I should have read more carefully...

  10. Patrick's is a particularly challenging and significant ministry. But all of us in ministry of any sort are in principle doing something which is risky, to which we feel called by God, and in which we are subject to criticism. Is there no room for others to ask questions, sometimes hard questions, to which we need to give a considered response, even if the questions are painful, without simply accusing the critic of undermining our ministry?

    Ian Paul,
    St John's College, Nottingham

  11. Is loving someone and being fearful/wary of them at odds? It doesn't have to does it? Surely Patrick can love these people and want to see them Evangelised whilst saying to us "wake up and smell the coffee".

    I think all that Patrick and others are saying is that some of the worrying things we see in the extremes of Islam are actually more mainstream than we think. Certainly my experiance of Muslims at University (18 years ago now) matches with what he says. Muslims in our Parish here are isolationist, but seem more 'moderate' (I know a few from using the same curry house).

    I think Ian's comment is fair. But it does seem distasteful for Christians to be bringing book reviews to the attention of Muslims.

    Criticising Patrick is one thing (better an open debate about approaches etc.). But siding against a brother with those who bitterly oppose him and all he stands for - really is another.

    Darren Moore

  12. Symptomatic of the problems now being caused is this comment, posted by Andrew Brown on the Guardian Comment is Free site, in Andrew's usual (and sadly) vitriolic style. I cannot understand why such an intelligent man continually writes this way, but there you go. (And yes, Andrew, I do hope you read this comment as I admire your abilities!)

  13. Still missing, as far as I am aware, is any specific comment on, or refutation of, this statement in the e-mail from the Barnabas Fund: "It has been confirmed to us by a respected Christian leader who heard him say so with his own ears [at the meeting at All Nations College] that Bryan Knell of Global Connections has stated that CRIB’s (Christian Response to Islam in Britain) three targets are Patrick Sookhdeo, Sam Soloman and the ministry Maranatha."

    It would help considerably, I feel, to have this one cleared up.

  14. Boy, I like this blog. I love the reasoned way you chaps discuss things. It's so welcome, after much of the knee-jerk reactions we've been getting from people recently.

    Darren - fair point, but I would argue that fear and love are mutually exclusive. See 1 John 4: 18. How can people effectively love Muslims and take God's love to them when they're petrified that they might be secretly wanting to kidnap and behead them? It's not helpful. And, I would argue, it's not accurate. MI5 announced a few months back that there are around 5,000 potential Islamic terrorists in Britain. That's a lot, but it represents 0.2% of the British Muslim population. So let's not tar the lot of them with the same brush, eh?

    Nobody at GC, CRIB, Interserve, or anywhere else knew anything about the book review or the actions of Ben White. Let's not muddle separate issues.

    As for a refutation of Patrick's baffling statement about Bryan Knell targeting these three ministries - well, I wasn't at the meeting so I can't comment, but the guys at CRIB are very loving, gracious people, and I would be staggered to find out that there was even a grain of truth in what Patrick is saying.

    So much mud has been thrown at people in this ugly little spat that some of it has inevitably stuck. That's really sad, because all that has happened is that people have disagreed over how to reach Muslims. Unfortunately some people don't want to debate the issue; they want to maintain their own position and launch verbal and written cruise missiles at anyone who disagrees.

    Matt Vaughan, Luton.

  15. I have also received a link to this post here, which has various links about this issue. I'll let others judge how helpful it is.

  16. Thanks Matt. A couple of thoughts.

    1st, context. It 1 Jn 4:18 is about God. Interestingly there is a right fear of God and a wrong fear of God. So what is the fear of here?

    2nd I was reading the Lent prayer bookelt from Barnabas Fund last night. Many of the people they support are Evangelists. Evangelists are motivated by love. Many of our Missionary heroes willingly faced death because they were motivated by love for the very people who may kill them. I'm sure you've heard some of the moving stories of orpahned missionary children being in close fellowship with the Children of those who'd killed their parents.

    As you know Barnabas also support those who are persecuted, widowed or orphaned by persecution. I noticed that this is not exclusivly Muslim, but it is mostly.

    I completly take you're point about the small % of Islamic terrorists. But it was a Muslim scholar who pointed out that although 5,000 is nowhere near ALL Muslims, how many other kind of terrorists do you find. Very few.

    My general experiance of Muslims is that they are extremely friendly and put us to shame with hospitality and generosity. But when you get them onto subjects to do with Christianity, Judaism, the West, they may not be willing to take arms, but they are reluctant at best to speak against those who do.

    There are certain facts: 1. Muslims (just like anyone else) need evangelising. 2. Christians in Muslim areas especially those converted from Islam (including in the West) face a tough often dangerous time. 3. We need to back those who face persecution and loss of the sake of Christ.

    Darren Moore

  17. I picked up a link to a Muslim review of Sookhdeo's work, titled Sookhdeo's Paranoia of 'Global Jihad', from the Fulcrum discussion thread.

    Unsurprisingly, the author disagrees with Sookhdeo's viewpoint. Ironically, though, in arguing against Sookhdeo's apparent call for a 'reformation' within Islam, the author writes that anyone who heeds such a call has "done nothing except declare war on Islam" (p 4). One is left wondering exactly who is paranoid, or indeed whether the old saw is true, "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

  18. Thanks John, that link (hurry up harry) I thought was useful. Although I'm not sure if it was fair on Stephen Sizer. He really (as far as I'm aware) challenges some of the millenial views that some (mostly American) Evangelicals have that lead them to support Israel. I agree with much of what he says. That seems to be slightly different with their right to defend and unrelated to issues about freedom and right to worship.

    Interesting to get a wider picture of "Christians" willing to support any violence.

    Darren Moore

  19. With regard to Hamza Bajwa's review of Sookhdeo's book, referenced above, I couldn't help observing something else I've noticed in Muslim works, which is the relative rarity of references to Allah (God). Indeed, the only references in Bajwa's piece are in quotations from others (including Sookhdeo).

    I have long held that the true 'God' of the ordinary Muslim (as being that which secures their devotion and governs their lives) is, in fact, Islam - a view reinforced by my reading of Ed Hussain's The Islamist, where he describes how the more he was drawn into Islamism, the less God featured. In the end, he has reverted back to the more mystic Islam he had admired in his childhood, but this is not, it seems to me, the Islam of 'every-day', nor of the 'enthusiast', nor (indeed) that of the scholars.

    Have a look at this 'Q and A' on the American website, Islamicity, and consider both the nature of the issues with which it deals and the answers it gives.

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  21. Marianne, Edinburgh

    Thank you for your comments, which are most helpful. However, I have set a strict standard on this particular thread of asking for a full name and location. Could you please let us have your surname? When you do, I will reinstate the comment.

    Sorry to have to insist on this, but the heat around this situation I think requires 'full disclosure'.

  22. I have posted links to three articles in today's and yesterday's press, pertinent to this debate, on the Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream blog.

  23. Here is my personal statement on recent events.

    Ben White
    Sao Paulo, Brazil

  24. Ben, you have written in your post above that his original review of Global Jihad, "contains no personal attacks on the author, but expresses some criticisms about the particular analysis presented in the book."

    I have subsequently re-read your review. My own feeling is statements like that in the 'Conclusion' would be felt personally (certainly I would feel them personally if it was about something I'd written), even though they may be felt to be a necessary conclusion after your reading of the book:

    "... given Sookhdeo’s established reputation and output over the last few years, reading Global Jihad can feel less like a missed opportunity and more like the unsurprising outcome of an approach to Muslims and the ‘war on terror’ guided by a narrow, politically-compromised outlook that favours speculation over facts, and conspiratorial simplification over nuance."

    This could be read as saying to (or about) Patrick, "You are guided by a narrow, politically-compromised outlook that favours speculation over facts, and conspiratorial simplification over nuance."

    "Ouch," would be my reaction!

  25. It is incredible Revd John P Richardson that the only thing you can say of Hamza Bajwa's thorough and detailed exposition of Sookhdeo's growing pathology in distorting Islamic theology is the fallacious observation that Muslim works are rare in referencing their holy book. Does this somehow falsify the arguments Mr Bajwa has presented? Does Ed Hussain's poorly written fictitious account of his association with an extremist group somehow serve to strengthen your ridiculous observation?
    The fact is, that Mr Bajwa's book review has plenty of revelatory references from the Prophet Muhammad's Sunnah. Of course, the Qur'an (Words of God) and the example of Muhammad are on equal standing when it comes to Shari'ah. I guess you didn't know that did you?

  26. Dear Muslim

    Actually, I didn't say regarding Hamza Bajwa's critique that "Muslim works are rare in referencing their holy book". What I said I noticed in Muslim works is "the relative rarity of references to Allah (God)."

    That would not, of course, invalidate Hamza Bajwa's criticisms, nor was it mean to suggest that it did.

    I am not sure on what grounds you say that Ed Hussain's bookwas 'fictitious'. As it happens, some of the incidents to which he refers took place whilst I was working in East London, and I recognized them in his book.

    Thank you, though, for commenting. (It would have been nice to have your name and location - given the heated discussion elsewhere on this blog!) As-Salāmu `Alaykum.