Friday, December 28, 2007

At least this Muslim you could talk to

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, religion

I have written about the threat from radical Islam a few times, and other posts about Islam. A key post is A religion struggling to grow up. It is a short version of a talk I gave in the Spring of 2006. One portion of the talk that I didn't add to that post was that we in the West need to engage moderate Muslims in dialog and mutual understanding, and to support their efforts to further marginalize Islamic radical movements and overcome them. This is the job of Muslims, just as the solution to the excesses of 600 years of imperial Catholicism came from Christians in the 1500s, and the excesses of Protestantism are still being opposed and corrected by congregational, free-group, and local church styles of faith and Christian practice.

Because of the very deadly nature of radical Islam, moderate Muslims need not just support but protection. "Moral support" is not enough. That said, I recommend Ziauddin Sardar's recent small book What Do Muslims Believe? The Roots and Realities of Modern Islam to all Western readers, particularly serious Christians. I believe evangelical Christians ought to take the lead to support the efforts of such honest Muslims to take back their faith from those who evilly pervert it.

The book contains a comprehensive, if brief, exposition of Islam, its history, its varieties and its internal controversies, which are currently quite intense. The author frankly presents not just his view of "normative" Islam, but all the variety we currently see.

Points of greatest interest to me include:
  • Muslims are guided by two books, the Quran and the Hadith. The former is the collection of revealed verses (all are poetic in Arabic) that Muslims consider inspired by Allah. The latter comprises all other utterances of Muhammad that are considered genuine, though Shia and Sunni sects differ in the content thereof.
  • The Shariah "law" that is a current focus of much controversy was originally subject to much debate; it was intended to grow and adapt, to be amended as culture evolved, much as the U.S. Constitution is intended to be a living document. It has, however, been promoted, successfully, as inspired and unchangeable, and so is several centuries out of date.
  • Islamic legalists succeeded in stifling debate on most questions of Quranic interpretation and all manner of legal appendages, including Shariah. The author writes, "The freezing of interpretation [in the 1300s] had a catastrophic effect on the development of Islamic thought. In particular, it stopped the evolution of the its tracks." (p95)
  • The veiling of women is not demanded by any verse in the Quran or statement in the Hadith: "It was Caliph Umar who instituted segregated prayers, banned female imams and insisted that women should cover themselves. ... I see it as a perversion of the essentially egalitarian nature of Islam." (p79). The entire matter is based on two sentences in Sura 24, which enjoins men to refrain from gazing at women, and women to lower their gaze and veil their bosoms. Did the Quraysh women go about bare above the waist? Regardless, the Sura's statement is quite parallel to the longer statements one finds in the New Testament, and equally innocuous. Neither document supports the use of the heavy covering Arabs insist on.
  • As stated in the Quran every Muslim is responsible to learn its contents and interpret them for him- or herself. This goes beyond the personal Scriptural responsibility of most Christians, who tend to favor more institutionalized interpretation. As stated above, it also goes far beyond the stance insisted on by modern imams.
These are but a few things I found interesting. This book is required reading. Get to know your local Muslims.

Though as an evangelical Christian I cannot consider the Quran to be inspired, I certainly can, and do, have good relationships with the Muslims of my acquaintance without engaging in religious bickering.

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