Thursday, January 18, 2007

Religion: Some thoughts on Islam and the Koran

Almost a year and a half ago, I had the chance to hear Jay Smith give an overview on Islam and I posted about that lecture.

This blog item gets found a few times a month and I'm really curious who is reading it.

Is it Christians who hear about Jay Smith and want to know more? Or is it Muslims wondering who this guy is who likes to debate Muslims?

Recently, that blog post got a comment!

I'm always happy to receive comments as long as they are on point and respectful. Indeed, reader George wrote in such manner the following:
I saw Jay Smith speaking a while ago. As an atheist student in London, reading Islamic studies, I would be interested to know what your reaction to what he had to say was. How accurately you think he represented the Qur'an, for example. You raised doubts about his characterising religious behaviour in terms of radical/liberal/nominal depending on reading of the text, could you elaborate on this perhaps. Finally, where do you see al-Qaeda fitting into worldwide Islam and how representative would you consider the views of the likes of bin Laden to be of the views of most Muslims around the world? I hope you find time to respond to my comment.
Thanks
George
I responded in the comments section by saying:
Thanks for dropping by this blog outpost and sharing some observations. It seems each day I get a hit via a google search for Jay Smith.

Thanks for your questions. I promise to write a blog post sharing about them. Alas, I've been under the weather the last several days and only now heading back to normal.

My first reaction is that since you are in London, I would really like to hear *your* impressions of Islam. Here in Los Angeles, I have relatively little contact with Muslim people and so what I know is limited to what I hear in the popular media and my modest knowledge from what I have read and heard in personal research. Since it sounds like you may have met actual followers of Islam, your observations could be enlightening.
Thus, tonight, I thought I'd share a few more thoughts on Islam and the Koran from my limited perspective.

I found Jay Smith's presentation to be informative. I haven't gone to Islamic web sites to confirm the things he said. Of the many research projects I could undertake, I haven't taken that one up at this time.

I did buy a copy of an English translation of the Koran and tried to read it. I read the first three chapters but found it slow sledding. Muslims believe that the Koran is best read in Arabic so there hasn't been many efforts at translation into English. My copy might be a translation that is not so easy to read.

Additionally, of the parts I read, I found the text to be somewhat episodic. Being a Christian, I'm familiar with the Bible and the literary style of the Bible which is mostly narrative (many of the books in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels of the Christian Scriptures) and didactic (the letters of Paul and other letters). These two genres tend to read with an easy flow and the Bible has many English translations of which some tip the balance toward readability over literalism in translation.

George asked about the radical/liberal/nominal categorization. That question came from my blog post where I wrote:
The serious readers of the Koran were considered radical. (ed. note - I think this is unfortunate terminology because I don't think of Christians who are serious readers of the Bible should be considered radical). The nominal Muslims were generally non-readers of the Koran. The liberal Muslims were the one who proclaim that Islam is a "religion of peace."
If I had the chance to speak to Jay Smith, I'd ask him what percentage of serious readers of the Koran become radicalized in terms of participation or approval of terrorist activity? Likewise, I'd also ask if any of the Muslims whom he called liberal who say Islam is a "religion of peace" are serious readers of the Koran?

What I wonder is whether the issue is taking the Koran seriously or is it what people claim to do in the name of Islam regardless of their view of the Koran?

Within Christianity, there are definitely "nominals" who might show up at church on Easter or Christmas and have Bibles with pristine pages and dusty covers. Of the Christians who read their Bibles, there are those who hold a "high" view of the Bible in that they regard the Bible as authoritative for morality and theology and those who hold a lesser view of the Bible where they regard it as a book that contains wisdom. Within those who hold a "high" view there are some Christians who take a larger percentage of the Scriptures literally while there are others who are more cautious in interpreting literally. Liberals in the context of Christianity would be those who think of the Bible as containing wisdom but not necessarily authoritative. I suppose those who hold a "high" view and take more things literally will consider as liberal those who hold a "high" view but take less things literally.

In any case, what is troubling for Islam is that there is a significant number who believe terrorism is justified. Within Christianity, there is no analogous group who holds such views. The question from a virtue epistemology perspective would be: is Islamic terrorism something imposed by people upon the Koran, derived from a correct reading of the Koran or derived from a mis-reading of the Koran?

George's final question was in regard to Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is Sunni. From my reading of the news, Islam's two major denominations are Sunni and Shia with the Sunni being the more numerous. The Sunnis are considerably more numerous if this web page is accurate. They report that Shia only account for 7.5 to 11% of the Muslims in the world.

This web page gives a quick explanation of the difference between Sunni and Shia and places the number of Shia at 15%.

I have no idea what UBL and Al-Qaeda's theological views are in reference to typical Sunni beliefs. I think of UBL as a terrorist and Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization and not in theological terms. What I really wonder is whether UBL starts with hostility toward the West and then appropriates Koranic terminology to justify his beliefs. Or did UBL start from reading the Koran and arrived at his views. The end result is the same but clearly if the latter is true then we are truly faced with a clash of civilizations.

I hope UBL and Al-Qaeda is not the future of Islam.

If any Muslim readers happen to stumble on this blog post, I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on these matters.

I freely acknowledge that my perspective is very limited.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I will comment on this chat because you are both in search of The Truth. It is important to understand it is not a "Clash of Civilizations" we live in, as is commonly termed, but a clash of cultures. You see the Bible, which is really the Torah re-interpreted, is simply a set of guidelines and rules by which to live life, a culture, which is often tweaked by Jews and Christians alike for their own agenda. It is the same goal with the Qu'ran, to form a "perfect" culture. Both ideas have the same goal - win as many to their side as possible, but that is where they split. Is it the news of Jesus or Mohammed that was spread by the sword? Which news spread by the blood of it's believers? Yes, many unexcusable things have been done in both of their names, even to such extremes that it's clear those men who committed such atrocities would be judged ever so severely by the very idea they held so dear. Which prophet commanded the murder of innocents? Which scripture must be read in it's original language for God to understand and reward the reciter? Which idea commands a complete abandoning of culture, language and uniqueness in order to obtain reward? I have always explained it like this - why were the National Socialists and the Arabs such close allies? What common goal did they share? Was it not to bring the supreme rule of their race and ideas? Which idea calls that all people should speak one language? Which idea calls all people to dress one way? Which idea calls for the destruction of an entire race and which idea calls for the loving of one's neighbor like one loves himself? The forgiving of an enemy? Which idea says all people are unique from one another, in language, culture and traditions to the glory of their Creator?
It is important to NOT judge Moslems by our standards as is so commonly done even by the rulers of our Western society, the "Great Satan." You see, they have their moral standards like, men are of more worth, or school is not for everyone, or even that the poor and handicapped were intended to be that way, while we have our standards. I cannot point the finger however because we have also believed such thoughts at one point. Believe it or not, I would feel much more comfortable raising my children in Cairo than in Los Angeles and if we look at what percentage we are obeying the ideas that have shaped our cultures, Moslems are ahead quite a lot. Moslems are generally more effective in affecting the general population. The problems really rise when we try to judge Islamic radicalism by OUR standards. We CAN judge by the time devoted to reading scriptures, because the Qu'ran leads to insecurity, hopelessness and anger, while the Torah leads to love, hope and care. The Qu'ran ends with a picture of God who is violent, untrustworthy and uninterested, while the Torah tells a story of a Father or Husband who makes a covenant and sticks to it even though His "bride" or children turn away again and again, even making prostitutes of themselves. In this way, even Moslems can understand.
God's family has been so covered in shame that there is no other option except that someone dies to cover the shame, which is exactly what the Perfect Prophet Isa (Jesus) did. Only by his perfect life could the enourmous shame be wiped away. The Torah God is always chasing, pursuing and reaching for us, a rebellious people. In the Qu'ran, it's exactly the other way around. If you want to get close to God, you must work, strive and punish yourself and then . . . maybe, but no one knows, not even the Prophet himself. You can see this in Islamic societies today, totally unresponsible for personal actions, because whatever God wills will happen, which is often no better than most Christians. However when one carefully studies the books side-by-side, as well as the Hadiths, then you can really see the difference. When did Jesus think he was perhaps haunted by an evil spirit? When did Jesus doubt if God heard him or would allow him to be with him?
You will find more than you want from an Egyptian man, actually a Coptic Monk. He has dedicated his whole life to exposing Islam and Christianity. His head is wanted and hunted around the world. When was the last time a Moslem was sought for in the same manner for his writings and teachings?

www.fatherzakaria.net

Hope that helped.

ABDUL_AL_MASIH@YAHOO.DE

Kacie said...

Both of those posts were very helpful. I found the blogs by looking for info on who Jay Smith is and what his approach is.

I too am a Christian, and I grew up in Indonesia. I see radical militant Muslims as being the minority, particularly in Indonesia, which is quite moderate. However, visiting Pakistan showed me the other side of the coin - a place where society is constantly living with the tension between the increasingly radicalized population and those who oppose it but are fearful that they will be overwhelmed.

I'm not sure how I feel about Jay Smith's methods. It seems like it's best to argue directly only if you are having a frank discussion with someone who wants to discuss with you. By simply preaching in Speakers' Corner, he's broadcasting controversy, perhaps fanning the flame?

As a Christian, I would say that our first approach to people around us (anyone, not just Muslims), should be one of love, hospitality, friendship. When we are able to discuss our faith, of course we take those opportunities and we should speak honestly. However, our first objective is not to debate, but to show love, as Jesus did.

Michael Baldwin said...

Thanks for writing this post, and the earlier one, which I found from doing a google search for Jay. I live in London and have been to speaker's corner numerous times, and I actually grew up as a missionary kid in an islamic country. You are right to be slightly suspicious about the use of the terms 'radical', 'nominal' etc in the survey. There are many Muslims who take their faith seriously, read their Qur'an and go to the Mosque (and who therefore may be classed as radical in the survey) who do not believe in violent jihad, but that jihad is an inward spiritual battle.

That said, I definitely do think that the correct reading of the Qur'an is its advocacy of violence against the unbelievers, as well as the abhorrent misogynistic guidelines given to men for what they can do to their wives, on top of the barbaric laws such as banning apostacy, cutting off the hands of thieves, stoning adulterers etc. I think that it is important that we understand that, and the fact that islam is an all-encompassing way of life not just a religion, because otherwise we will look to the wrong solutions to deal with the problem of extremism.

For example, people often say that the suicide bombers are acting in response to American neo-con foreign policy, and so a more peaceful foreign policy will result in the end of terrorism as we know it. Whilst this may play a small part, it is fundamentally mistaken. There would still be extensive islamic terrorism even in the case of an isolationist american foreign policy because of muslims' duty to kill the unbelievers and create and sustain islamic states. That, according to islam, is the kingdom of God- the creation of a solid, islamic theocratic state.

However, whilst it is important to understand all these things, when dialoguing with my Muslim friends I would not take as much of a confrontational approach as Jay's. We are called to make disciples of all nations, not just love them (though that surely is the natural consequence of loving them) and therefore I want to primarily focus on the gospel in my conversations. However, a muslim has so many preconceptions in their mind about what a 'christian' believes that it is necessary to do the groundwork to make the soil ripe for sowing, so to speak.
For example, they think christians believe in 3 gods, (father, mary and jesus), that God the father had sex with mary and she gave birth to Jesus(this is all from the Qur'an), that christianity is a western religion and so is associated with all the drunkenness, sexual immorality etc that occurs in the west. They also believe that christians corrupted the new testament. I could go on but these are the main things that you would need to address to be able to then proclaim the Gospel.

With regards to the Trinity, it is SO hard to explain the Trinity, which is expected really, as if my puny little human mind could understand everything about God, what kind of God would that be?!
Instead of saying to muslims that I'm a christian, I prefer to say, "I believe in one God, I'm a follower of Jesus but I love muslims" in order to steer away from all of the preconceptions, ESPECIALLY in a muslim country, or countries such as lebanon where 'christian' has political connotations.

Michael Baldwin said...

(my comment was too long so broke it into two)

With regards to the Trinity, I would say honestly to Muslims, "The Trinity is not a contradiction, but it is a mystery. I find it hard to explain it, but I think that if you read God's word, the Bible, then it will just make sense."
My strategy is always to try and get muslims to read the Bible (esp NT) for themselves, and then to go on to assurance of salvation and works vs grace.

In order to make the case for reading the Bible, see here http://carm.org/religious-movements/islam/quran-says-bible-not-corrupt
and here http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/has-new-testament-been-corrupted

Try and make the case in religious terms. Muslims often do not have the same respect for evidences such as manuscripts etc as westerners do, but questions such as, "Do you really think that weak, small humans can change the very Words of almighty God?" have profound power.

For a brief history and explanation of islamic terrorism, "Islam and Terrorism" by Mark Gabriel really is very easy to read and extremely informative. He was a Muslim scholar who became a Christian and was tortured for doing so, resulting in him fleeing to America and writing under a pseudonym/changing his name. Anything by him is useful and informative actually. His testimony is in all of his books, I think, and it is very moving.

For the quintessential book on islam for a christian, read "Answering Islam" by geisler and saleeb. it is very scholarly, very in-depth and if you master that book then you will be extremely well-equipped to reach muslims. it particularly focuses on islamic doctrine and history, christian critiques of islam and defenses of christian doctrine. Also see jay's channel of youtube, 'pfanderfilms'.

Sorry for the incredible length of this comment, I look forward to dialoguing with you in the future!

Take care and God Bless,

Michael.

Michael Baldwin said...

(had to break the comment in two)

With regards to the Trinity, I would say honestly to Muslims, "The Trinity is not a contradiction, but it is a mystery. I find it hard to explain it, but I think that if you read God's word, the Bible, then it will just make sense."
My strategy is always to try and get muslims to read the Bible (esp NT) for themselves, and then to go on to assurance of salvation and works vs grace.

In order to make the case for reading the Bible, see here http://carm.org/religious-movements/islam/quran-says-bible-not-corrupt
and here http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/has-new-testament-been-corrupted

Try and make the case in religious terms. Muslims often do not have the same respect for evidences such as manuscripts etc as westerners do, but questions such as, "Do you really think that weak, small humans can change the very Words of almighty God?" have profound power.

For a brief history and explanation of islamic terrorism, "Islam and Terrorism" by Mark Gabriel really is very easy to read and extremely informative. He was a Muslim scholar who became a Christian and was tortured for doing so, resulting in him fleeing to America and writing under a pseudonym/changing his name. Anything by him is useful and informative actually. His testimony is in all of his books, I think, and it is very moving.

For the quintessential book on islam for a christian, read "Answering Islam" by geisler and saleeb. it is very scholarly, very in-depth and if you master that book then you will be extremely well-equipped to reach muslims. it particularly focuses on islamic doctrine and history, christian critiques of islam and defenses of christian doctrine. Also see jay's channel of youtube, 'pfanderfilms'.

Sorry for the incredible length of this comment, I look forward to dialoguing with you in the future!

Take care and God Bless,

Michael.

Michael Baldwin said...

Edit: sorry lol only just realised this post was like 3 years old.
Oh well :)
Silly me!

Michael Baldwin said...

With regards to the Trinity, I would say honestly to Muslims, "The Trinity is not a contradiction, but it is a mystery. I find it hard to explain it, but I think that if you read God's word, the Bible, then it will just make sense."
My strategy is always to try and get muslims to read the Bible (esp NT) for themselves, and then to go on to assurance of salvation and works vs grace.

In order to make the case for reading the Bible, see here http://carm.org/religious-movements/islam/quran-says-bible-not-corrupt
and here http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/has-new-testament-been-corrupted

Try and make the case in religious terms. Muslims often do not have the same respect for evidences such as manuscripts etc as westerners do, but questions such as, "Do you really think that weak, small humans can change the very Words of almighty God?" have profound power.

For a brief history and explanation of islamic terrorism, "Islam and Terrorism" by Mark Gabriel really is very easy to read and extremely informative. He was a Muslim scholar who became a Christian and was tortured for doing so, resulting in him fleeing to America and writing under a pseudonym/changing his name. Anything by him is useful and informative actually. His testimony is in all of his books, I think, and it is very moving.

For the quintessential book on islam for a christian, read "Answering Islam" by geisler and saleeb. it is very scholarly, very in-depth and if you master that book then you will be extremely well-equipped to reach muslims. it particularly focuses on islamic doctrine and history, christian critiques of islam and defenses of christian doctrine. Also see jay's channel of youtube, 'pfanderfilms'.

Sorry for the incredible length of this comment, I look forward to dialoguing with you in the future!
Take care and God Bless,
Michael

Michael Baldwin said...

With regards to the Trinity, I would say honestly to Muslims, "The Trinity is not a contradiction, but it is a mystery. I find it hard to explain it, but I think that if you read God's word, the Bible, then it will just make sense."
My strategy is always to try and get muslims to read the Bible (esp NT) for themselves, and then to go on to assurance of salvation and works vs grace.
In order to make the case for reading the Bible, see here http://carm.org/religious-movements/islam/quran-says-bible-not-corrupt
and here http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/has-new-testament-been-corrupted
Try and make the case in religious terms. Muslims often do not have the same respect for evidences such as manuscripts etc as westerners do, but questions such as, "Do you really think that weak, small humans can change the very Words of almighty God?" have profound power.
For a brief history and explanation of islamic terrorism, "Islam and Terrorism" by Mark Gabriel really is very easy to read and extremely informative. He was a Muslim scholar who became a Christian and was tortured for doing so, resulting in him fleeing to America and writing under a pseudonym/changing his name. Anything by him is useful and informative actually. His testimony is in all of his books, I think, and it is very moving.
For the quintessential book on islam for a christian, read "Answering Islam" by geisler and saleeb. it is very scholarly, very in-depth and if you master that book then you will be extremely well-equipped to reach muslims.

Sorry for the incredible length of this comment, I look forward to dialoguing with you in the future!
Take care and God Bless,
Michael

Michael Baldwin said...

Sorry I had to break it into two because it was too long!

Michael Baldwin said...

With regards to the Trinity, I would say honestly to Muslims, "The Trinity is not a contradiction, but it is a mystery. I find it hard to explain it, but I think that if you read God's word, the Bible, then it will just make sense."
My strategy is always to try and get muslims to read the Bible (esp NT) for themselves, and then to go on to assurance of salvation and works vs grace.

In order to make the case for reading the Bible, see here http://carm.org/religious-movements/islam/quran-says-bible-not-corrupt
and here http://carm.org/apologetics/evidence-and-answers/has-new-testament-been-corrupted

Try and make the case in religious terms. Muslims often do not have the same respect for evidences such as manuscripts etc as westerners do, but questions such as, "Do you really think that weak, small humans can change the very Words of almighty God?" have profound power.

For a brief history and explanation of islamic terrorism, "Islam and Terrorism" by Mark Gabriel really is very easy to read and extremely informative. He was a Muslim scholar who became a Christian and was tortured for doing so, resulting in him fleeing to America and writing under a pseudonym/changing his name. Anything by him is useful and informative actually. His testimony is in all of his books, I think, and it is very moving.

For a great book on islam for a christian, read "Answering Islam" by geisler and saleeb. it is very scholarly, quite in-depth and if you master that book then you will be very well-equipped to reach muslims. Also see jay's channel of youtube, 'pfanderfilms'.

Sorry for the length of this comment, I look forward to dialoguing with you in the future!
Take care and God Bless.

G. Hardie said...

http://www.answering-islam.org/
is well worth a visit on almost any subject of Muslim-Christian interaction. Free download of books by many authors.

Muslims are ashamed that there is not one Muslim country that they can point to as having government according to the Qur'an. Sharia law with Islamic leaders ruling the country. The closest Suni example would be the Taliban in Afghanistan a few years back. Muslim supporters would say that the Taliban made some mistakes but they were all Muslim men with a Quran and a beard.(they could have also added an AK47)

Nowhere else in the Sunni world do Quranic scholars rule the country and have the freedom to declare a Jihad (Holy war) on another country to spread Islam.

Now radical Imams teach their students, that since there is no Islamic country capable of declaring a Jihad, this responsibility must fall on the individual Muslim, (not according to the Quran) as a 6th pillar. Who strap on a Bomb belt and get all the sure rewards of Paradise? (normally there is no assurance of Paradise.)