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Hope of Israel Islam

D Christian Harrison - September 11, 2011

Today, in sacrament meeting, for the congregational hymn, we sung Hope of Israel (hymn #259) … and I was struck by the decidedly Jihadist ( Jihad-ish? ) tone of the selection. As I read through the text, I mentally made a few edits and found the changes illuminating:

Hope of Israel Islam, Zion’s Allah’s army, Children of the promised day,
See, the Chieftain Mullah signals onward, And the battle’s in array!

Hope of Israel Islam, rise in might
With the sword of truth and right;
Sound the war-cry, “Watch and pray!”
Vanquish ev’ry foe today.

See the foe in countless numbers, Marshaled in the ranks of sin.
Hope of Israel Islam, on to battle; Now the vict’ry we must win!

Strike for Zion Allah, down with error; Flash the sword above the foe!
Ev’ry stroke disarms a foeman; Ev’ry step we conq’ring go.

Soon the battle will be over; Ev’ry foe of truth be down.
Onward, onward, youth of Zion Allah; Thy reward the victor’s crown.

Now …  I’ve always been a little uneasy with the militaristic hymns. I get the metaphor — I just don’t really agree with it. The war we’re at is with our worst selves — not with our neighbors. There is no “us” and “them”, truthfully. Except for the most cruel and craven, every person who’s ever walked this planet has been on our side of the fight. We’ve all — with varying degrees of success — been in a war with our own, private demons. There is only ONE enemy — and that is Satan. Everyone else is just collateral damage.

The funny thing is, I love this hymn. It’s rousing! And maybe that’s its point … but today — when we remember the acts of those who were so sure that they were on the right side of the battle that they were willing to kill — I didn’t really feel like singing along.


  1. I like to sing it, too. But your point is profound and I appreciate you making it.

    Comment by annegb — September 11, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

  2. Christianity has always been political, sometimes in a good sense…other times…not so much.

    The militaristic aspect is part of the dark side of the tradition.

    Comment by Chris H. — September 11, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

  3. Good post. Couple points:

    1) Islam already has militaristic connotations (in our society), so this really amplifies the militaristic effect of the hymn beyond its common interpretation.

    2) I think your interpretation of the true war *is* the way to interpret this hymn. The phrases you left out lead a person to this interpretation:

    Sound the war-cry, “Watch and pray!”… sword of truth and right… down with error.

    These are key phrases, and the rest of the hymn should be interpreted in this much milder light. “Watch and pray!” is really not an aggressive war-cry and points the finger back at us.

    Sometimes trying to live the gospel is a walk in the park, sometimes it really does feel like a battle, and, as you say, it really is a battle with our worst selves. I love the militaristic hymns for setting us squarely against evil which *should* be fought tooth and nail. Of course that means we are “fighting” with love and persuasion, humility, meekness, etc, but it takes *true* courage to “fight” like that.

    Comment by John Prince — September 11, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

  4. I was hoping someone would post something about 9/11.

    I agree with John, the battle in this hymn is all metaphorical. We’re not actually supposed to gird ourselves with real armor and swing real swords, we’re supposed supposed to gird ourselves with the armor of righteousness, pick up the sword of truth, etc.

    I don’t think there’s any implication that we are fighting against our neighbors or any actual people here. The foe is sin.

    The problem with the Islamic extremists is that they really do want to fight actual people, and those people are anyone who they see as an enemy of Islam.

    Having said all of that, I agree with you that it’s an odd song to sing on 9/11. Kind of sticks in your throat somehow. Remembering 9/11 now makes you want to find a way to heal people. There was a horrific amount of suffering on that day and lots of days since then.

    Comment by MCQ — September 12, 2011 @ 1:10 am

  5. I like Hope of Israel, but I like Redeemer of Israel much better:

    1. Redeemer of Israel,
    Our only delight,
    On whom for a blessing we call,
    Our shadow by day
    And our pillar by night,
    Our King, our Deliv’rer, our all!

    2. We know he is coming
    To gather his sheep
    And lead them to Zion in love,
    For why in the valley
    Of death should they weep
    Or in the lone wilderness rove?

    3. How long we have wandered
    As strangers in sin
    And cried in the desert for thee!
    Our foes have rejoiced
    When our sorrows they’ve seen,
    But Israel will shortly be free.

    4. As children of Zion,
    Good tidings for us.
    The tokens already appear.
    Fear not, and be just,
    For the kingdom is ours.
    The hour of redemption is near.

    Comment by MCQ — September 12, 2011 @ 1:14 am

  6. “Redeemer of Israel” is much better, MCQ, but it still puts us squarely into a politically Zionist camp for any Muslim observer who would actually care what a tiny Christian sect believes. Unfortunately, in my area of the world, we have such observers. I remember clearly only a couple of years ago a Muslim investigator getting up and walking out when we sang “Redeemer of Israel” at a baptismal service that he was attending at the missionaries’ invitation. I have observed other signs and body language of discomfort other times from Muslim investigators in our meetings when someone unthinkingly designates such a hymn to open or close a meeting.

    Because we frequently have Muslim investigators in my ward (a number of whom have been baptized over the last couple of years), I have been sensitive to this issue for quite some time and always avoid hymns that excessively refer to Israel or even Zion (but usually just the hymns such as “Hope of Israel” highlighted in the original post that combine the two excessively — because it can too easily be associated with twentieth-century political Zionism). So when I am in charge of giving input for hymns during our meetings, I try to steer toward more explicitly Christ-focused hymns, which is probably a good approach in any event. “Redeemer of Israel” fits this bill, of course, but you still have that troublesome word “Israel” in the title!

    But Israel/Zion aside, the absolute worst hymn that can be sung here is “Onward Christian Soldiers” and yet, to my amazement, certain members seem completely oblivious to the political sensitivity of that in the context of having a handful of Muslim investigators in every meeting. I admit it is very frustrating. I am not one for censorship in any context but feel very tempted to “censor” that hymn for our ward entirely.

    Comment by john f. — September 13, 2011 @ 3:43 am

  7. Silus, “The war we’re at is with our worst selves — not with our neighbors.”

    That’s what “jihad” is supposed to be about as well, and how most Muslims in the world see it.

    Re # 3, as a young missionary I used to love the militaristic hymns; now, I find them very irritating, particularly “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

    Comment by john f. — September 13, 2011 @ 3:49 am

  8. As to #6, I meant to say “Unfortunately for that hymn, in my area of the world, we have such observers.” I write this clarification because in no way do I think that it is unfortunate that we have Muslim investigators in my ward — to the contrary, I think that is absolutely wonderful! It just means that singing “Redeemer of Israel” now is not as inspiring as it has always previously been for me because I am too worried that one of our Muslim investigators or new converts will wonder whether there is a politically Zionist message in there somewhere.

    Comment by john f. — September 13, 2011 @ 3:53 am

  9. Yeah, I was going to say exactly what John F. said in #6. Jihad is about the inner struggle to nearly all Muslims. That being said, even though I attend a fairly moderate ward (do liberal wards exist anywhere?), I decided to sit it out on Sunday for fear of being upset by the tone of a September 11th meeting. I’ve always felt concern over the militaristic hymns, and one on 9/11 would have simply ruined my day. Thanks for posting this though, becuase I often wonder if others recognize the militant messages in these hymns and how they are interpreted.

    Comment by Jack Ply — September 13, 2011 @ 6:40 am

  10. Right now I’m in the planning stages of doing my master’s thesis on this very subject. I can let you guys know when I’ve formulated a hypothesis and maybe gathered some data.

    Comment by Syphax — September 13, 2011 @ 8:56 am

  11. I think you’re right about the problems of these hymns with respect to Muslim investigators, but can’t that be avoided by explaining early on in the discussions that “Israel” doesn’t mean the same thing in our lingo?

    It actually could be a nice lesson on inclusion because it could show them that we very much intend to include all people, and muslim people, in our definition of Israel.

    Comment by MCQ — September 13, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  12. In a history of the Saints in Nazi Germany, one person said that this hymn was banned because of the references to “Israel.” But he said about the only thing he remembered about being in the Hitler Youth was the martial songs they sang.

    Of course the song is metaphor–and it’s a really lousy one. If it were never sung in the church again, I think that would be a good thing.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 13, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

  13. But Mark, it has a really easy baseline and sounds great in German.

    Comment by john f. — September 14, 2011 @ 2:28 am

  14. er, bass line!

    Comment by john f. — September 14, 2011 @ 2:30 am

  15. I think it would be frightening in German. I do like the tune though.

    Comment by MCQ — September 14, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  16. the song is metaphor–and it’s a really lousy one

    What do you mean, lousy?

    It’s probably a little less apt in our modern context because war is not a seasonal sporting event any more and not as universal a bonding & growing experience. Few of us are soldiers now.

    We should be writing hymnal metaphors comparing the gospel to watching pro football or sitting at a computer all day or shopping at Walmart. You know, something we can all identify with.

    Comment by Thaddeus — September 14, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  17. It’s a lousy metaphor because the struggle against sin is not against an external enemy–the struggle is against our own desires to sin. I’ve never been dragged kicking and screaming by some demon into sin–I’ve always gone willingly–and I daresay that my experience is not unique. So, what should I do? Raise a sword against that part of me that is the “foeman”?

    Besides, do we really want to encourage young men to live righteously by telling them again the old lie

    Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  18. Mark, with respect, I don’t think that old lie has anything to do with this song.

    So, what should I do? Raise a sword against that part of me that is the “foeman”?

    Yes, you should. That’s exactly it. And that’s not at all a new idea.

    Comment by MCQ — September 14, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  19. I’ll grant your first point, MCQ. But it’s one small step for a young man from glorification of the martial in matters religious to that old lie.

    And, as Pogo said, “we have met the enemy, and they is us.” The song makes it too easy for someone to assume that the enemy is the other.

    [Here I'd make some crack about the Nazis, like a stopped clock, being right twice a day, but it would probably get me banned from Nine Moons for life, so I won't.]

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  20. Mark B, what do you propose as a more enlightened metaphor?

    Comment by Thaddeus — September 14, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  21. That’s it! Banned for life, Mark. I don’t know how we put up with you this long.

    Comment by MCQ — September 14, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

  22. Isaiah used a pretty good one in chapter 40. I’d start there.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 15, 2011 @ 10:19 am

  23. For one, I prefer physician metaphors to war metaphors. Treat sin as an illness that must be cared for with love and patience. When we see others who sin (or when we see ourselves sin), we treat them as humans with an illness that we should care for and love until/if they get better, and if they don’t get better, love them anyway, since they’re the ones who are ultimately suffering the most.

    It’s not a perfect metaphor, but that’s not really the point of a metaphor I think.

    Comment by Syphax — September 19, 2011 @ 8:42 am

  24. Amen to Syphax’s comment (#23)!

    Comment by Silus Grok — September 19, 2011 @ 8:57 am

  25. Syphax, what do you make of the Savior’s injunction that “if thine eye offend thee pluck it out”? That doesn’t sound like a physician caring lovingly for a patient to me.

    Comment by MCQ — September 19, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

  26. Let’s hear it for songs about self-mutilation!

    Uncomfortable though that subject might be, such a song would come a lot closer to the truth than a song that makes sin “the other” against which we are arrayed in battle.

    Strike for Zion, down with error,
    I confess, I am God’s foe;
    Every day I pluck out an eyeball
    Over self I conquering go.

    I’ll submit it to the music committee and see what they say.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 20, 2011 @ 7:26 am

  27. Needs work, Mark B.

    Comment by MCQ — September 20, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  28. Of course, the worst part of that awful song (not the one I wrote–the one in the hymn book) is that it takes a scriptural phrase (hope of Israel) and applies it not as the scriptures do–to Christ–but to the youth of Zion.

    See, e.g., Jer. 14:8 and 17:13 and Acts 28:20, where the phrase is as written in the song. And also, Joel 3:16 and Psalms 130:7 and 131:3.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 22, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  29. I suppose that what you experienced could be done with just about anything. I’m sure that, if I really wanted, I could take the lyrics of that exact hymn and replace the same words with Star Wars references and it would still make sense.

    I’m not trying make fun of what you are saying, but I am sure you realize that if you’re looking for anything, anything at all, you’ll probably find it.

    Comment by Michael Liberty — September 29, 2011 @ 1:12 am

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