How Does Islam Relate to Christianity and Judaism?

26stone-blog480-v3This is the 11th in a series of interviews about religion that I am conducting for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Sajjad Rizvi, a professor of Arab and Islamic studies at the University of Exeter and the author of “Mulla Sadra and the Later Islamic Philosophical Tradition.”

Gary Gutting: How do you see Islam in relation to the other major Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Judaism? Should we think of them as (for example) rivals, or as complementary developments of monotheism, or as different cultural expressions of an essentially similar religious experience?

Sajjad Rizvi: The very notion of Abrahamic religions is arguably Islamic. The Quran presents Abraham as an adherent of Islam, but here “Islam” means the primordial faith that connects humanity to one God and leads in turn to Judaism, Christianity and then historical Islam as proclaimed by Muhammad. There are some who view Islam as a faith that supersedes the two earlier monotheistic religions. But I think it’s more useful to understand Islam as a religion that is self-conscious about its relationship to Judaism and Christianity and explicitly takes account of their scriptures and traditions. Almost all the prophets of the Quran will be familiar to those who know the Bible, and the Quran explicitly refers to parables, ideas and stories from the Bible.

The common roots — and inheritances — of the three faiths make it useful for us to think seriously in terms of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic civilization and heritage that we all share. The development of philosophy in Islam also shows a common tradition of rationality. Anyone with a basic understanding of the categories of Aristotle’s thought employed by Christian and Jewish thinkers would find many of the arguments of Islamic philosophers and theologians familiar. The great Islamic philosopher Avicenna (10th-11th century) developed a metaphysical notion of God that had a tremendous impact on the Latin west: the idea that God is the necessary being required to explain the existence of every contingent being.


Not in My Name: Young British Muslims Protest ISIS

n-NOTINMYNAME-large570These young British Muslims have a message for the so-called “Islamic” State: Don’t murder innocents in my name.

Activists led by Britain’s Active Change charity are spreading peace online, using the same social media platforms that the terrorists are using to propagate hate.

The young people are openly lambasting the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, for “hiding behind a false Islam.”

“Young British Muslims are sick and tired of the hate-filled propaganda the terrorists ISIS and their supporters churn out on social media,” the charity’s founder, Hanif Qadir, told Huffington Post UK. “They are angry that the criminals are using the platforms to radicalize young people and spread their poisonous words of violence in the name of Islam.”

The Islamic State claims its reign of terror in Northern Syria and Iraq is rooted in faith. But the group’s actions prove otherwise. The terrorists have beheaded three Westerners in recent weeks, recording and sharing the gruesome acts online. A fourth victim, former British cabdriver Alan Henning, is next on the group’s hit list.

“Islam teaches us respect, mercy, peace and kindness, a faith we strongly believe in and one we want to protect from radicals and fanatics whose very existence threatens our religion,” one young Muslim told Huffington Post UK.

The Muslim Council of Britain roundly condemned the Islamic State’s actions and called for Henning’s release.

Albania’s lesson in Muslim-Christian tolerance

8960916883601262MALBARDH, Albania: Perched up an Albanian mountain, the medieval church of St. Nicolas was rebuilt from a crumbling ruin with help from local Muslims after the fall of communism, a symbol of the religious tolerance Pope Francis will be celebrating here on Sunday.

Majority Muslims and the tiny Catholic and Orthodox communities all faced persecution under the ruthless regime of Enver Hoxha, who in 1967 declared Albania the first atheist country in the world.

Countless churches and mosques were destroyed at the time — as many as 1,820 Catholic and Orthodox places of worship according to the Vatican — with scores of clergymen executed or dying in detention.

Nobody in the Muslim village of Malbardh, 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Tirana, remembers exactly who built St. Nicolas church or when. Already in a poor state when the communists took power, it was left to crumble to ruins.

But after the fall of the regime in 1992, Malbardh’s Muslims took ecclesiastical authorities by surprise by asking together with their Catholic “brothers” for permission to rebuild the church on its foundations.

“They did not take us seriously. They thought we were trying to get noticed, but we wanted at all costs to rebuild this church,” said Hajdar Lika, a sprightly 77-year-old Muslim.


Pope Francis: Albania’s Christian-Muslim coexistence an ‘inspiring example’

pope_4TIRANA, Albania: Pope Francis on Sunday said Albania’s interreligious harmony was an “inspiring example” for the world, showing that Christian-Muslim coexistence was not only possible but beneficial for a country’s development.
“The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country,” Francis said in his opening speech on his arrival in the Balkan nation, where Christians and Muslims endured brutal religious oppression under communism but today live and work together peacefully.
“This is especially the case in these times in which authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups, and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized,” he told an audience that included Albanian President Bujar Nishani and the diplomatic corps.
Security was unusually tight for the visit amid reports that militants who trained in Iraq and Syria had returned and might pose a threat.
The Vatican insisted no special security measures were taken, but Francis’ interactions with the crowd were very different than from his previous foreign trips: His open-topped vehicle sped down Tirana’s main boulevard, not stopping once for Francis to greet the faithful as is his norm.


Does the Muslim headscarf boost body image?

How-To-Wear-Hijab-Modern-Gallery101c. 2014 Religion News Service

(RNS) In non-Muslim societies, a woman in a headscarf is often perceived as less approachable and sociable, according to past research, and some see the head covering as a means of repressing women.

But a new British study concludes that for many Muslim women, the headscarf, or hijab, is correlated with a positive body image—whether the woman is particularly religious or not.

“It makes sense,” said Viren Swami, a psychologist and the lead researcher on the University of Westminster study. “Part of the reason why women start wearing the the hijab is to non-sexualize the female body. Women who wear the hijab probably experience less objectification.”

The hijab may also give women a sense of control over the image they project to the world, and enhance that part of self-esteem that is rooted in a strong sense of identity, as some previous studies have suggested.

Swami and his team asked nearly 600 Muslim British women to answer questions about their satisfaction with their bodies and their weight. They also measured how these women were affected by popular images of women’s bodies.

The results, published in the August edition of the British Journal of Psychology, revealed small but significant differences between women who chose to wear the hijab and those who did not.

“Participants who wore the hijab generally had more positive body image, were less reliant on media messages about beauty ideals, and placed less importance on appearance than participants who did not wear the hijab,” the study concluded.

Uzma Farooq, a Sufi Muslim living in the Washington, D.C., area who wears the hijab, said the new report rings true to her because wearing her headscarf gives her a sense of peace, and allows her to focus on inner beauty.


Emerging church leader attacks Christian Islamophobia

15813218-largeBIRMINGHAM, Alabama -Brian McLaren, the minister known as a major spokesman of the Emerging Church movement for more than two decades, has attacked a Christian news outlet’s publication of an anti-Muslim diatribe.

“Charisma News put up a hateful, Islamophobic rant online,” McLaren said in an interview today. “It sure sounded like he was calling for genocide (against Muslims).”

McLaren responded on his web site with an open letter to Charisma News criticizing its publication of “Why I am Absolutely Islamophobic,” written by the Rev. Gary Cass, president and CEO of Charisma News posted it on Sept. 5. It echoed Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s earlier comment to Fox News on the Islamic terrorist group ISIS that America should “either convert them or kill them.”

McLaren said the Cass article, which spoke fondly of Christian crusaders who killed Muslims, sums up what’s gone wrong with modern evangelical Christians in their approach to other faiths.

“Americans are subject to a certain type of propaganda that tries to present all of the wrongdoing as being the fault of Muslims and doesn’t understand the historical reasons behind Muslim grievances,” McLaren said. “That doesn’t excuse Muslim violence or violence of any kind.”

The Christian message should be one of peace, not violent retaliation, something Jesus preached against and his followers were slow to absorb, McLaren said.


Attacking Islam is not Christian


by Jan Fuller

Recently, I was forwarded a hateful email which characterized Muslims — all of them — as un-American, un-Godly and violent, among other unfounded negatives I refuse to repeat. Fortunately, the forwarder wanted my opinion on the claims in the unsigned, unattributed, and frequently re-forwarded email.

I am a lifelong student of Islam, although not a Muslim. I know that the way of submission to God called Islam is a religion of peace and concord, even though it is different in many respects from the religion I practice. Christians and Muslims worship the same God with many similar attributes, with distinct emphases and differences. I know that Muslims want what Christians want — to live in freedom and in peace in civil communities, to raise children, to pray in God’s will, to go and come in safety and respect, and to be patriotic citizens. I also know that there are challenging exceptions, people who go too far in every faith.

When I was newly ordained, an acquaintance confided, “I babysat you. If I had known you would go and be ordained, I would have snapped off your head then and saved you the trouble.” That was hurtful, but no one hearing it said, “Christians are violent!” No one ended the relationship, despite hurt and disagreement.

I watch Christian leaders in moral and financial trouble, churches in turmoil, and church members committing crimes. No one has said, “Christians are dishonest, bullies and immoral.” We have, instead, prayed for those communities in their sorrow.


French Muslims back Middle East Christians against ISIS

french-muslims-christians-isis.siThe Muslim Council of France (CFCM) in a joint statement with a Christian group denounced the persecution of Middle East Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and said mosques across France would pray for them this week.

Although several French Muslim groups have already condemned the atrocities of the Islamic State (IS) jihadi militants who have declared a medieval-style caliphate in Iraq and Syria, this is the first time that French Muslims have teamed up with Christians to support the victims of IS.

In a joint statement, the CFCM said “barbarians are perpetrating crimes against humanity exploiting Islam as their banner.”

“The signatories reaffirm their support to their Middle Eastern Christian brothers, many of them Arabs, as well as for all other minorities in the region who are now victims of a destructive campaign by these terrorist groups that threaten their existence,” the statement read, as cited by Reuters.

Islamic State jihadists persecuted and drove Christians out of Iraq’s northern city of Mosul in July, which ended their presence in the town stretching back to the early years of Christianity.

They also drove out the neighboring Yazidi community, as well as executing many Yazidi men and forcing women and children into slavery. Other Muslims are not immune; Shiites have also been targeted in large numbers.

“The issue of Middle East Christians is not only one for Christians. French Muslims are with us to support them,” said Patrick Karam, head of the Endangered Middle East Christians Group, which helped to draw up the statement with the Muslim Council.


Dallas church’s sermon offers dangerous distortions of Islam

signA reader emailed me with a basic “Muslims bad” message. And I replied that a few certainly are, but more than a billion live in peace every day.

He countered: That’s not what my preacher says. And he sent a link to the Aug. 24 sermon in a large Bible church in Dallas.

To my dismay, a preacher I have known and admired spent about five minutes running down all of Islam. He began: “One of the biggest lies in the world today, that’s being told over and over again, to where you are almost uninvited to social events if you don’t parrot this lie, and the lie is that Islam is a peaceful religion.”

He went on: “It’s getting harder and harder to defend that statement as Islamist militants around the world are crucifying Christians, beheading their children, burying people alive.”

He talked about the beheading of journalist James Foley and relayed what he said was the message of the Islamic State: “We will not stop until we quench our thirst for your blood.”

“Let me ask you this,” he said. “If Islam is such a peaceful religion, why is there no outcry from any Muslim leaders over the beheading of this journalist?”

I took the sermon to another local pastor who is a respected authority on Islam. Robert Hunt is a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and author of numerous books on both Christianity and Islam.

I’m not naming the other pastor because Hunt wasn’t interested in a personal smackdown. But he was eager to take on the blatant distortion in equating the atrocities of the Islamic State with all of Islam.

He had two quick points to start: “One, this isn’t happening with Muslims all over the world,” he said. “And, two, what actually is happening with Muslims all over the world is universal condemnation of ISIS.”


Kerry appoints Shaarik Zafar Special Rep to Muslim Communities

ShaarakZafar2-400x232U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday announced the appointment of Shaarik H. Zafar as the State Department’s new “Special Representative to Muslim Communities” in the United States and the international community.

The appointment was made at a closed ceremony at the Dean Acheson Auditorium at the U.S. Department of State which included State Department staffers, Zafar’s parents, and Shaun Casey, the director of the State Department’s “Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives” since July 15, 2013. Casey, who is on leave of absence from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, where he is Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the National Capital Semester for Seminarians (NCSS), opened the program and introduced Kerry who then introduced Zafar.

Kerry began the program by offering a Muslim welcome, saying “Assalamu alaikum,” the Arabic phrase for “Peace be upon you” commonly used among religious Muslims in the Muslim World and the Arab World, and then acknowledging Zafar’s parents and family who were int he audience also, including his parents Humayon and Kausar, his wife Aiysha and their two children, daughters Sophia and Aliza.