Monday, August 12, 2013
The Virtues of Islam
I went to a conference last Saturday titled “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” It consisted of a series of debates among a Christian writer from Turkey who had studied Islam and its holy book, the Koran, versus a dedicated defender of Islam and a Turkish reporter – a true reporter, not like the biased ones we read in U.S. papers. This reporter was also a defender of Islam, but one who openly spoke of what might be considered weaknesses in the faith --- things he thought would evolve someday to be looked at differently.
Before the debate even began, Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Radio and debate host, noted a key difference between Christianity and Islam: their respective views of God. Besides the Trinity, Christianity emphasized man in a relationship with God, the Father, whom man can, with revelation and reason, can come to a degree of understanding, whereas Islam describes God, Allah, as a totally “other” being, not at all like man and not understandable. Islam believes all you can do is obey the revelations of God, through his prophet Mohammed, period. It believes man can perceive no rationality in Allah’s actions, because his ways are so unlike, superior, to the ways and thinking of man.
It was an educational day, and despite my knowledge from having read the Koran and writings of Muslim scholars, I learned much. But at the same time, still much remained unclear. Many things were said by the participants from a point of view of “this is what I think.” Much more was said because “this is what this or that Muslim scholar said” --- although there was much debate as to which scholar presented the most current/popular view of the religion, the historical (root) view of the faith, or was the most respected scholar today --- especially considering variances between the three large sects of Islam. And almost everything discussed was justified by quotations from the Koran --- although, like the Bible, many individual quotes seemed to say quite the opposite from other quotes. And often there were debates as to the circumstances in which one or the other quote applied --- or even in what centuries.
I did find the explanation of the reporter most interesting, who emphasized that often things --- like terrorism --- were actually political actions, grabs for power, justified by whatever means convenient, including religious justification. What came first, he seemed to say, the religion which claimed you MUST grab power (as the Christian emphasized) or the grab for power that used religion as a convenient justification (as the reporter claimed). Certainly in many examples, he made his point. (There also was some talk about collateral damage, accidental killing of civilians, as fueling anger against the U.S., and causing angry relatives to use the Koran to justify terrorist retaliations. Perhaps in some cases, but I didn’t view this as a major argument.) The reporter also suggested that we were too easily “broad brushing” Islam as jihadist in nature, when only 7% of worldwide Muslims think killing of innocents is okay --- but as the Christian pointed out, 7% of 1.3 billion Muslims is plenty to worry about, and not an “only” thing.
A friend commented that, based on the discussions, it appeared that the Koran had an early period which emphasized peaceful virtues, and a later period which emphasized conquest and domination and less virtuous acts ---- and this sequence seemed opposite the Bible, where the Old Testament talked about wars, slaughter, and polygamy, while the New Testament stressed peace and love. I think I agree with that general view, that Christianity was a positive evolution of the Old Testament, an evolution which the Koran somehow put in reverse.
Regardless, one point I came away from the debates with was the parallel attitude of Muslim scholars and Protestant scholars. Many of both have an attitude of sola scriptura, agreeing that the Koran/Bible says it all, but not agreeing on just what that is.
Maybe they both need a pope?
Oh well, the conference never reached a consensus about whether Islam is a religion of peace, but all did seem to agree there were many non-peaceful Muslims. And all agreed that that was a problem. Left unsaid was what to do about it. If much of the financial support for terrorism comes from a particular country (Saudi Arabia was mentioned), should we embargo it? If much of the recruiting of terrorists was done via the internet or in some mosques, should we block them and jail their spokesmen (as China does)?
No one was satisfied with the present terrorist actions, nor U.S. or world responses, but no one offered solutions. And despite all the discussion of “good” Christians and Muslims, no one suggested prayer.
Although it ended with a Saturday evening mass, the lack of prayer (or even suggestion of prayer) was also one of the more notable things I, sadly, took away from the day.