Although iterations of an email forward known as “WHAT IS AN INFIDEL?” appeared on Facebook in 2019, it began circulating no later than 2004. Its content largely represented the original author’s opinions and perspectives on Islam, and was not a neutral or fact-based statement about any specific religion.
Rick Mathes of Mission Gate Prison Ministries in Chesterfield, Missouri confirmed to TruthOrFiction.com at the time of original publication in 2004 that he provided account described below. Our initial report is archived here, and it originally indicated that possible witnesses to the disagreement disputed the accuracy of Mathes’ account. However, we were unable to identify the purported criticisms it referenced.
One response to Mathes’ commentary authored by blogger Matthew Salmon was published in June 2008. Salmon posited that Mathes elided details of the exchange he described, lacked knowledge about Islam, and unwittingly or knowingly omitted or misrepresented aspects of his story:
At first examination, I dismissed the forwarded email as a fabricated tale, designed to foster support for one denomination over the other, as well as distinguish one culture as superior to another. Nevertheless, a quick google search exposed the account as an honest and factual retelling of a particular instance occurring in a correction facility in Fulton, Missouri, as retold by Rick Mathes. Rick Mathes is himself a distinguished philanthropist, splitting much of his time between social work in the communities and within correctional facilities, acting as executive director of Mission Gates Ministries. However, Rick Mathes is neither a trained theologian, nor schooled in Islamic Studies. Unfortunately, the retelling of this event, without proper understanding of the situation, individuals present, and philosophical intricacies of theological/cultural/political discussion, leaves the reader with a false supposition of reality.
To begin, the Imam in question was not trained in Islamic theology. In fact, the Imam was an inmate, recognized by his fellow peers within the institution as charismatic and devout. Unlike Christianity, in which the order of ordination and ministry often follows the examples of the ancient hierarchical structures of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, specifically honoring organization and accountability to higher recognized authorities, Islam has another unique organizational structure, involving community recognition and commonly accepted credentials, typically involving extended years of training and instruction. However, in a pinch, the Ummah, or community of believers, may recognize one as the leader of the group, albeit with reservation and community decisions. The Imam does not act as the supreme religious head of most Ummah’s, but more as the facilitator of group discussion and prayer, the responsibility of religious observation falling on each particular member individually. In this particular case, the Imam in question had an unfortunate complete lack of understanding regarding Islam (submission or worship of God), the Qu’ran (The believed/accepted revealed Word of God) or the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (The traditional sayings and actions of Muhammad). I say unfortunate, because his response was completely misleading and erroneous.
Islam, separate from later interpretations of nations, individuals and political groups, does not call for the death of anyone, nor does it claim any term such as infidel. In fact, no such word exists in the Arabic, the word from which infidel is usually translated, albeit poorly, is kafir, or literally “one who covers, or is in hiding”, referring primarily to atheists or polytheists. Infidel in fact, has a uniquely English epistemology, and referred originally to those who rejected the divinity of Christ, or were free thinkers. Specifically, it was utilized during the crusades as a derogatory term for Muslims and Jews, and was used proficiently to persuade the Christian Knights, and later inquisitors, in the right action of war and inflicting death on the Saracen Muslims and Jews. Secondarily, the Qu’ran, and Muhammad as well, specifically opposed the use of any violence, or derogatory term toward his Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian neighbors, (who, by the way receive the honorary title “people of the Book”, meaning people under covenant of God) under punishment of exclusion and expulsion from the Ummah, or Muslim community. Likewise, there are no promises for rewards in heaven for murder, be it for a kafir or one of the People of the Book. Such a passage does not exist.
Mathes’ commentary was as follows:
I just found out what an “Infidel” is!!! If you don’t know….check this out.
WHAT IS AN INFIDEL ?
The author, Rick Mathes, is a well-known leader in prison ministry. The man who walks with God always gets to his destination. If you have a pulse you have a purpose.
The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States , especially in the minority races and especially with prison inmates.
Last month I attended my annual training session that’s required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who each explained their beliefs.
I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say. The Muslim gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video.
After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Muslim and asked:
‘Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world and, that by killing an infidel, (which is a command to all Muslims) they are assured of a place in heaven. If that’s the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?’
There was no disagreement with my statements and, without hesitation, he replied, ” Nonbelievers”
I responded, ‘So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can have a place in heaven. Is that correct?’
The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.’
He sheepishly replied, ‘Yes.’
I then stated, ‘Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine The Pope commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Dr. Stanley ordering all Protestants to do the same in order to guarantee them a place in heaven!’
The Muslim was speechless.
I continued, ‘I also have a problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me! Let me ask you a question:
Would you rather have your Allah, who tells you to kill me in order for you to go to heaven, or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to heaven and He wants you to be there with me?’
You could have heard a pin drop.
Needless to say, the organizers and/or promoters of the ‘Diversification’ training seminar were not happy with my way of dealing with the Islamic Imam, and exposing the truth about the Muslims’ beliefs.
In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the US. to elect the President.
I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on! This is your chance to make a difference.
Originally Published: April 1 2004
Updated: February 27 2019