Monday, February 08, 2016

Different Track for Lent

In years past during Lent on this blog, I have done various series on different theological topics. I have not done a good series in a while, mainly because I just have not had the inspiration and/or time. However, I think I have hit upon a topic that might interest people. Perhaps it is more precise to say that what I have in mind is of interest to me, and maybe the topic will be for you. With all things social media, I find it difficult to guess what will generate the most discussion and what will flop, as it seems to me that the more innocuous and mundane a post, the more discussion it will generate. For instance, Facebook back around New Year's had an app that let me see my top 3 most liked postings of the past year. I was astounded that my number one post with both the most comments and 'likes' was a picture I had posted back in August of my home grown tomatoes. I was quite surprised, which can only lead me to believe that either I am the greatest tomato grower in the world or my Facebook friends really lead extremely boring lives, but that is neither here nor there.

I have for some time been exasperated with American culture's penchant for being willfully ignorant. We like to be ignorant and how dare you question my preconceived notions of how the world works, regardless of however ignorant it might be! We like to wallow in our ignorance like pigs in the mud and post asinine social media memes to that end unto the ages of ages, amen. One particular topic that is a American cultural lightning rod is the whole topic of Islam.

Now, when I bring up the topic of Islam, you no doubt can picture easily the hate filled anti-Muslim rhetoric that floods our airwaves and social media feeds. This was particularly true since 9/11 (though less social media back then) and resurfaced with a vengeance after the Paris terror attacks a few months back when my Facebook feed looked like an advanced French computer strike force had hacked the accounts of virtually all my friends and put in place of their profile pics a French flag. I have never seen so many pictures of the Eiffel tower in one place at one time in my life. Now, as reactionary as that was, I can somewhat understand the phenomenon. People felt unsafe, and when people feel unsafe, they have to find a bogeyman to blame, either real or imagined.

But the bizarre over reaction of the other end of the political spectrum surfaced as well. You had a Presidential administration and (largely) media bending over backwards to avoid using any semblance of the term "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim extremist" to the extent that the President on numerous occasions openly said that the Islam or Muslim influence had in no way, shape, or form anything to do with any terror attack anywhere ever. This, with all due respect to the office of the President, is simply just as ignorant. No one in the history of the world ever strapped a bomb to themselves and blew themselves up with the words on their lips of Allahu Akbar" (الله أكبر) if they have never heard of Islam in any form. 

The media usually (ignorantly) always translates Allahu Akbar as meaning "God is Great." This is actually not technically correct. Allah, of course, means God in Arabic (as it does also in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.) 'Akbar' in English is more properly translated 'greater,' not 'great.'

Great = كبير (Kebir)
Greater = أكبر (Akbar)

The phrase is a quote from the Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam in what is know as a Hadith, or saying of Islam. The Hadiths are not part of the actual Qu'ran. (I will discuss more on this in a later post.) For purposes of this introduction to my Lenten series on Islam and Christianity, the following is accepted by and translated into English by Muslims from the Sahih Hadith

"The Prophet set out for Khaibar and reached it at night. He used not to attack if he reached the people at night, till the day broke. So, when the day dawned, the Jews came out with their bags and spades. When they saw the Prophet; they said, "Muhammad and his army!" The Prophet said, Allahu--Akbar! (Allah is Greater) and Khaibar is ruined, for whenever we approach a nation (i.e. enemy to fight) then it will be a miserable morning for those who have been warned."
Sahih Bukhari 4:52:195

What I intend to write on periodically during Lent is not intended to be some form of apology for Islam nor an attack upon it. For people who know me, my pedagogical method in teaching is primarily just to get people to think at all, not necessarily to think like me. While I am Christian, I do have Muslim friends. That being said, I also understand that there are some grave misunderstandings about what Islam teaches, both among Christians and among Muslims as well. Muslims and Christians have some points of agreement and some serious points of disagreement. I will be writing from a Christian perspective, but, as in all things, I always endeavor to be fair and to show respect to everyone, even I disagree with them.

Interfaith dialogue, if it is of any value (and I think that it is) must always start with and end with the idea that we must all be allowed to come to the table and share our points of view and theology unashamedly. This must be grounded in a sense of respect for the other, for the other, no matter what they believe, are still made in the likeness and image of God. Human dignity is something given by God, and it is not only for people who might possibly agree with us or our worldview or might end up being persuaded by us. Polemics (arguing for the sake of arguing) is not helpful, nor is the belief that we have to somehow agree. Likewise, interfaith dialogue must include the freedom to disagree respectfully. If, by you and your beliefs having a seat at the table must mean I must give up my seat and my opinions or beliefs at the table for fear of "offending" the other, then any meaningful discussion will never be forthcoming, and the whole enterprise is doomed to failure before it even begins. Freedom and respect of the other must always be a two way street in any meaning dialogue. 

After studying and discussing for some months with actual Muslims, I feel prepared to give some thought and information on what Islam actually teaches. I think this is important because, like it or not, the culture clash of this century will continue to be a clash of civilizations. I think it is important to be informed as both a citizen and an a Christian. I do hope my musings and explanations on the basics of Islam and its divergence from Christian theology (and what we might actually learn from or about Islam) might help you better understand your Muslim neighbors and be a better Christian at the same time.

I hope you continue to read this blog in coming weeks. I think it will be an interesting ride. 

1 comment:

underground pewster said...

One Lent, I sloughed through the Qu'ran. This strengthened my commitment to Christianity when confronted with anyone who tried the "All streams lead to the same ocean" argument. This year's Mere Anglicanism Conference in Charleston SC was on Islam. It will be interesting to see your take on things.