Islam as a Religion
by Cristianisme i Justícia
|A good fruit of 9/11 has been the desire of many people to understand more the faith of Muslims. In this short article, the differences between Islam and Christianity are described.|
It is very difficult to speak of a religion from the outside and in only two pages. The following lines aim at presenting only those aspects of Islamic religiosity that can intervene in the cultural conflict. We presuppose that all religions contain dialectical affirmations on the Divinity that are difficult to harmonise but must necessarily be maintained.1
These affirmations are wont to be the source of their problems in this world. And they are wont to revolve around the Greatness and the Remoteness of God (which makes God to be "God"), and His Presence and closeness with respect to us (that which permits us to know Him, have dealings with Him and render Him worship etc).
1. God and man
As everybody knows, "Islam" means submission. Islam is a religion marked by the seriousness of God. Mohammed regarded many forms of worship and many Christian affirmations that he was familiar with as superstitious or polytheistic (e.g. the Incarnation or the death on the Cross of the One sent by God...). His first obsession was an absolutely pure monotheism ("only God is God"; and "there is no other God than Him”) in which God appears in His place and man in his.
And so, although believing in an other life, Islam does not accept that it is a life "next to God" as Christianity promises. Expressions like that of the New Testament: "when what we are is manifested, we will be equal to Him because we will see Him as He is" (1 Jn 3, l ss), are inconceivable - if not blasphemy- for a Muslim. The other life is manifested within the limits of human creaturehood and can only be described as a pleasant "here-beyond"2. Biblical definitions of man as the "son of God" in the full sense of the word, or as the evangelical sentence of "I will no longer call you servants but friends", are blasphemies for a Muslim. God remains in His place and man in his. And although Allah is proclaimed in each 'sur' (or chapter) of the Koran as "clement and merciful", among the one hundred names of God the only one that is missing in the Koran but which is given in the Testament is "God is Love". For the Muslim, God is the Lord and not "Abba" in the sense that Jesus gave to the word Father3.
On account of this, God will be Judge, the Rewarder and Punisher of what is done in this life. He cannot be the goal of history. Human history cannot be called to "end up" in God (in the sense of the Christian heaven). And for this reason, the Incarnation of God, or the Resurrection of Jesus defined as "the end of history anticipated in this resurrection" (Pannenberg) are false and blasphemous affirmations. And, nevertheless, the profound religiosity of Islam does not resign itself to leaving God alone in His transcendental dimension (as for e.g. the philosophy called "deist" would). God marks the whole life of man. All reality is impregnated with God and it is difficult to understand how reality could have "autonomy" in its functioning. From this rises what is often termed "the theocratic temptation" or the difficulty to assume secularity which, although a difficulty proper of all religions, is perhaps even stronger in Islam. The deep piety of Islam does not understand what a Christian would call "kenosis" (dispossession) of God in our reality. The "word of God" precisely because it is so, cannot be the human word: hence the immense respect of Islam for the sacred text.
Islam is, in this sense, the most 'religious" of all world religions. God will always remain "in His place" of Lord, and man in his of creature, without there existing any possibility of altering this situation not even by the favour or Grace of God. All this converts it too into an enormously simple religion.
What we have described is the official religion. But where the experience of God is authentic, this goes beyond the official schemas. In fact, Islam has handed down to humanity one of the greatest treasures of mystical literature. We refer to all that current of literature spanning some seven centuries from Baghdad to Spain and which is known by the name of Sufism. Sufism is a way of personal purification, very serious and beautiful at the same time.
In it, the experience of the closeness of God is of such intensity that it is often quite close to "Christian"-cut formulations in which the distance between God and man seem to disappear. On account of this second point, Sufism is looked upon with suspicion in the majority of Islamic societies, and in some is even banned. For its beauty it is being converted into a product of "consumption" for our bored Western society, that runs the danger of trivialising it, not knowing the seriousness of its ways of personal purification4.
4. False and Disfiguring Accusations
To sum up: this deep affirmation of uniqueness and transcendence of God calls necessarily for a reflection as to how this God can influence the total existence of the human being without annulling his autonomy and that of the rest of creation. Let it be noted that all religions have in some way this same problem. If we point it out, it is not to criticise but rather to defend Islam from many topical accusations that are being made today. For example:
a. The "Holy War"
It is a bad translation of a word that means "effort" and that often refers to the war that man has to wage against himself, against what is within himself contrary to God, not against other believers that in the Koran are deeply respected. When Muslim religiosity feels itself attacked, it is then that this effort can be converted into war. And this aggression has often been felt by Muslims in their relations with the Western world5. But the Koran itself teaches: "there should be no coercion in religion. The true way knows how to distinguish itself from error" (2,257).
And although it is true that Mohammed had recourse to arms when he saw the first rejection of his preaching by the rich businessmen of Mecca, nevertheless, a decisive factor in the expansion of Islam was the fact that he found a tremendously divided world, full of quarrels between factions, so much so that it was not difficult to make alliances in any of the places he reached and to act (to use a word very much in vogue today) in the fashion of a first "globalisation".
Not to quote at this point the well known story of the entry into Spain of Don Rodrigo, let us recall a saying attributed to the "monophysists" of the Christian East: the God of vengeance has sent the Arabs to free us from the Romans. If the Holy War has so often been disfigured (as it was right from the beginning by those wealthy businessmen themselves, who having rejected at first the preaching of Mohammed later saw in it an opportunity to expand their business), it will be good to remember that a very similar disfigurement took place in the Christianity of the Middle Ages with the so-called "Crusades". On the other hand, Islam was tolerant in the places where it grew. And it could be good to recall too that it was under full Arab domination that one of the greatest Christian saints (and theologians) of the 8th century, St. John Damascene, flourished and was treasurer of the Caliph of Damascus.
On the topic of women, the same could be said. Nothing in the Koran authorises the crimes of a Taliban-type male domination. The savagery of genital mutilation has not risen from any Koranic precept, (neither is it in origin a product of the Muslim world) but of false primitive social solutions, and in this connection we of the Western world must not forget the "chastity belts" of our 8th century: in both cases it is a question of false solutions taken by males in self-defence with an easy recourse to God to justify the solutions taken and following the terrible human temptation of resorting to the most sacred to support their own desires and privileges.
1. For further information the reader is referrred to the booklet of Luis Sols: Islam. A necessary dialogue, (number 82 of this collection). It can be found on www.fespinal.com.
2. In chapters 55 and 56 of the Koran there are two scenes similar to that of the Last Judgement of Mt. 25. And, there, among the things that are promised to those “ on the right" we find “excellent beautiful virgins, ‘houris’ kept in pavilions, who have been untouched by men before”. .. “They will be lying on raised carpets. The houris we have formed and whom we have maintained as virgins, flirtatious and of the same age will belong to those on the right.” Although these promises should not be taken literally, (at other times reference is made to “their own wifes, pure” etc., and the New Testament insinuates at times images like that of the banquet and new city), what does call the attention is the absence of any sexual allusion in the Christian heaven (based perhaps on the words of Jesus in Mt. 22, 30). The New Testament seems to be more concerned about the search for a language that speaks about the overcoming of finitude (danger, death, mourning, work...), and about religious meditations (“there will be no temple since the Lord is His temple... no night or need of the light of the sun or torches because the Lord will radiate the light on them.”Cf. Apoc. 21).
3. Despite this, the experts call our attention to the fact that the words clement and merciful come from the root RHM which means bowels. And perhaps Mohammed avoided the word love to avoid a sexual conception of the love of God.
4. Regarding the Sufists we recommend: E. Galindo, La experienza del fuego, (ed. Verbo Divino).
5. For example in the European domination over Magreb, or in the English domination over the East, (with the appearance in Afghanistan of the activist al-Afghani who found the Muslim religion the basis for his anti-colonial fight). Or in the 4000million dollar aid that the American Congress donates to Israel every year.
|Published by: "Cristianisme i Justícia" ("Lluís Espinal Foundation") is a Study Centre under the initiative of the Society of Jesus in Catalunya, Spain. It consists of a team of university professors and experts in theology and different social and human sciences, who are concerned with the increasingly important cultural interrelations between faith and justice.|
|Source: CJ Booklets, Islam and the West No 104.|
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