Author Q&A: Charles Kimball on ‘Truth over Fear: Combating the Lies About Islam’

71sKXa55BuLWith memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks still raw, Charles Kimball, a professor, Baptist minister and expert analyst on the Middle East, drew on three decades of experience to write a book released in 2002 about why people do bad things in the name of religion.

In When Religion Becomes Evil, Kimball, at the time a professor at Wake Forest University, identified five warning signs common to all religions – absolute truth claims, blind obedience, the impulse to establish an “ideal” time, belief that the end justifies the means and the declaration of holy war – and gave advice about how to recover what is best and healthy in all religions.

In his latest book, Truth over Fear: Combating the Lies about Islam, Kimball explores a new development in Christian-Muslim relations – the mainstreaming of Islamophobia as a pathway to political success.

Now presidential professor and chair of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, Kimball discussed ways Christians and Muslims can work together in this Q&A about the recent release of the new 180-page paperback published by Westminster John Knox Press.

Why did you write this book?

The 21st century may well be defined by interfaith relationships. The most dangerous and widespread flashpoints center on relationships between adherents of the world’s two largest religious communities: Christians and Muslims.

This book grows out of more than 40 years of work focused on my vocation with a teaching ministry and constructive interfaith cooperation in the U.S. and the Middle East. Speaking in more than 500 colleges, universities, seminaries, divinity schools, churches, mosques, synagogues, civic organizations, etc., I have a clear sense of the kinds of questions and concerns about Islam that foster widespread fear in the West.

While there remains a lot of goodwill, a large majority – including a large majority of Christian clergy – still lack the resources to address growing Islamophobia or pursue constructive programs with Muslims (and others) in their local setting.

This book seeks to address this urgent need by providing a new paradigm for how Christians and others of goodwill can better understand Islam as most Muslims live out their faith. And, it offers an accessible guide for positive initiatives individuals and congregations can take to work toward a more healthy future between Christians and Muslims.

FULL ARTICLE FROM BAPTISM NEWS 

Western civilisation’s immense debt to Islam

5079
The Alhambra Palace in Granada. ‘The Tory contender should surely acknowledge the outstanding examples of high Arabic society and culture,’ writes Paul Dolan. Photograph: Chris Warren/Alamy

Boris Johnson is painfully ignorant of the immense cultural, economic, and scientific contributions of Muslims (Islam kept Muslim world centuries behind the west, Johnson claimed, 16 July). Western civilisation owes an immense debt to Islam, whether in the form of algebra, the saving of ancient Greek heritage or the free-market economics of Ibn Khaldun.

Johnson is correct that many Muslim-majority nations are beset by social and political problems. Yet the same holds true for numerous Christian-majority nations such as Russia, Honduras, Haiti and South Africa. He also makes a “false equivalence” argument in comparing stable western democracies to war-ravaged countries like Bosnia, seemingly blaming Muslims there for being attacked. Curiously, Muslim extremists promote the same arguments as Johnson, albeit for different aims. Neither depiction is true nor helpful.

Another pathetic observation by the next British PM concerns the Ottoman empire. Johnson takes one oddity of the Turkish dawlah – the resistance to the printing press – and passes over achievements of the sultans such as religious tolerance and the architectural feats of Sinan. He claims this one act of backwardness negates the entire history of Islam, although resistance to technology is apparent even in British history, the luddites a classic case in point.

Johnson’s authority for his ignorance is Winston Churchill. If Churchill said it, it must be true. However, Churchill was neither a historian nor a sociologist. He was a myth-maker whose literary skills were devoted to “demonstrating” the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race over all others. To achieve this sleight of hand, Churchill had to simultaneously denigrate other cultures, including Islam. It seems that Great Britain under Johnson will be beset by similar doses of myth, fantasy and supremacist doctrines.
Dr Colm Gillis
Hethersett, Norfolk

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN (UK)

Hostility to Islam has disguised a host of other prejudices

Erhard_Reuwich_Sarazenen_1486.pngIn 2011, when the editor of Charlie Hebdo put Muhammad on the cover, he did so as the heir to more than 200 years of a peculiarly French brand of anti-clericalism. Just as radicals in the Revolution had desecrated churches and smashed icons, so did cartoonists at France’s most scabrous magazine delight in satirising religion. Although Catholicism was their principal target, they were perfectly happy to ridicule Islam too. If Jesus could be caricatured, then why not Muhammad?

Sure enough, one year after the prophet’s first appearance on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, he was portrayed again, this time crouching on all fours and with his genitals bared. The mockery would not cease, so the magazine’s editor vowed, until ‘Islam has been rendered as banal as Catholicism’. This would be, in a secular society, for Muslims to be treated as equals.

Except that they were not being treated as equals. The scorning of Islam was a tradition in France that reached back far beyond the time of Voltaire and Diderot. The earliest European caricature of Muhammad served to illustrate a work by Peter the Venerable, a 12th-century abbot in Burgundy. Peter’s Summa totius haeresis Saracenorum — ‘A Summary of the Entire Heresy of the Saracens’ — did what it said on the tin. Islam was a monstrous perversion of Christian teachings. Not merely a heresy, it was the sump of all heresies. Muhammad, its founder, was ‘the chosen disciple of the Devil’. The caricature of him which accompanied Peter’s text duly showed him as a siren: a monstrous compound of the human and the bestial, luring the unwary to their doom.

This portrayal of Muhammad as a heresiarch, a charlatan who had thrived by twisting the truths of Christianity to his own pestilential ends, was in turn heir to an even older tradition. As John Tolan points out in his new book, condemnation of Islam as a heresy did at least derive from a recognition on the part of Latin Christians that it was not an entirely alien faith: that it honoured the biblical prophets; that it laid claim to a divine law; that it was monotheistic.

FULL REVIEW FROM THE SPECTATOR (UK)

A milestone in the complex dialogue between Islam and Christianity

000_1d12n2When the head of the Roman church representing 1.2 billion Catholics signs a joint declaration with the head of the highest seat in Sunni Islam, it ought to be big news.

Yet the significance of the declaration signed in Abu Dhabi this month by Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, has slipped under the radar amid criticism over the Pope’s decision to visit the UAE while it is involved in the war in Yemen and the blockade against Qatar.

But for those who have focused their attention on the contents of the document and the two leaders’ speeches, it is clear that the Grand Imam and the Pope have set a milestone in the complex dialogue between the two faiths.

The “Document on Human Fraternity” is the first ever signed by representatives of the two religions in which they pledge to work together for the benefit of the “human fraternity”. It implies the two faiths have found a common understanding and a united front against attempts to abuse God’s message and manipulate religion.

Rejecting violence

“We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood,” the document states.

“These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment …. This is done for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted.”

Both Sheikh al-Tayeb and Pope Francis have launched a joint appeal to political and religious leaders, intellectuals, artists and media worldwide to reject violence in all its forms, promote positive values and strive for establishing a more righteous and peaceful world – not only for the benefit of believers of the three monotheistic faiths, but also for non-believers.

Questioning the East-West dichotomy, the two leaders warned that religious hatred is causing ‘signs of a third world war being fought piecemeal’

“The fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept,” the declaration notes.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MIDDLE EAST EYE 

Islam and Christianity: a long, complex and crucial relationship

wk25-jan-muslim-christian-zayed-vaticanPope Francis will arrive in the UAE at a time when relations between Muslims and Christians are both complex and contradictory. Yet ambiguity has characterised the relationship between the world’s two biggest faiths ever since the time that the Prophet Mohammed entered into discussions with a group of Christians who visited him in Makkah almost 1500 years ago. Muslim-Christian relations have, over the centuries, oscillated between conflict, coexistence and conversation.

Ours is a time in which tensions between the two faiths – whose members constitute almost half the world’s population – have reached a low point that has seen some reaching for comparisons with the Crusades, the Inquisition, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire or the excesses of European colonialism. And yet – thanks to the goodwill of men such as Pope Francis, ­together with a host of leaders of Muslim and Christian communities at the local level – it is also the time of a new global friendship between members of the two religions.

Christianity and the Prophet Mohammed

Muslims and Christians have never been quite able to make up their minds about one another. In his early years the Prophet Mohammed saw his teaching as very much in continuity with the traditions of Judaism and Christianity. He expected that Jews and Christians, having Abraham and Moses as common ancestors, would accept his prophetic message as a continuation of their own. All were “People of the Book” who had received revelations of God in written texts.

Christian writers disagreed, often vehemently, but the disagreements were largely theological. In practice, relations between Muslims and Christians were good. While pagans in conquered territories were expected to convert to Islam, Christians and Jews were given the status of “dhimmi”, which allowed them to practise their religion in private and govern their own communities. In return they paid a poll tax. Though Byzantine polemicists insisted that Islam was a plot to destroy the Christian faith, other Christians saw Islam as “the rod of God’s anger” to deliver them from the oppressive rule of the Orthodox in Byzantium.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL 

Illuminating Islam’s Peaceful Origins

 

GOD IN THE QUR’AN

By Jack Miles
241 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.

MUHAMMAD
Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires
By Juan Cole
326 pp. Nation Books. $28.

Is Allah, the God of Muslims, a different deity from the one worshiped by Jews and Christians? Is he even perhaps a strange “moon god,” a relic from Arab paganism, as some anti-Islamic polemicists have argued?

What about Allah’s apostle, Muhammad? Was he a militant prophet who imposed his new religion by the sword, leaving a bellicose legacy that still drives today’s Muslim terrorists?

Two new books may help answer such questions, and also give a deeper understanding of Islam’s theology and history.

Jack Miles, a professor of religion at the University of California and the author of the Pulitzer-winning book “God: A Biography,” has written “God in the Qur’an.” It is a highly readable, unbiasedly comparative and elegantly insightful study of the Quran, in which he sets out to show that the three great monotheistic religions do indeed believe in the same deity — although they have “different emphases” when it comes to this God, which accounts for their divergent theologies.

To begin with, one should not doubt that Allah is Yahweh, the God of the Bible, because that is what he himself says. The Quran’s “divine speaker,” Miles writes, “does identify himself as the God whom Jews and Christians worship and the author of their Scriptures.” That is also why Allah reiterates, often with much less detail, many of the same stories we read in the Bible about Yahweh and his interventions in human history. The little nuances between these stories, however, are distinctions with major implications.

FULL REVIEW FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

Retired soldier educating South about Islam

1FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — When Jason Criss Howk’s Army career came to an end in 2015, he thought he’d spend his days teaching and fishing.

But a wake-up call at a Pinehurst library changed those plans. And while Howk does teach, he’s found a new mission, too: Explaining the Middle East, Islam and Muslim culture to a population that has little experience, but strong opinions on those topics.

At times, it has been a combative undertaking.

Howk has spoken at small rural churches across the Southeast and has, on occasion, had to be escorted to his car by church leaders at the end of the night.

But that hasn’t stopped his one-man mission to better educate America and, in the process, help promote tolerance.

His efforts have expanded since he retired. In 2017, he published “The Quran: A Chronological Modern English Interpretation” through Old Stone Press. The book is intended for audiences that have little familiarity with Islam, the Quran or Muslim culture.

And earlier this year, he launched a podcast called “We’re Just Talking About It.”

Howk’s interest in Islam is tied to his experiences as a soldier.

He served as an enlisted paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1990s and returned as an officer a decade later.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ARMY TIMES 

A shift in Islam – and beyond

0924 upfront dupfront demoracyWhat is the right balance between a living faith that embraces the changing times and the religious traditions and doctrines that are often millenniums old?

Taylor Luck’s cover story this week appears to be about a shift within Islam. From Jordan to Tunisia, Taylor sees seeds of political moderation taking root. The cataclysmic failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, together with broader trends in globalization, is prompting a rethink among many Islamic political activists. They are seeing that women’s rights, religious tolerance, and other democratic ideals can be a winning combination.

Yet the story also hints at a deeper and more universal question that faces not only Islam, but also Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and the core views of many other faiths. What is the right balance between a living faith that embraces the changing times and the religious traditions and doctrines that are often millenniums old?

Most readers of Taylor’s story will surely cheer the changes now affecting Islam. Women’s rights and the expansion of civil liberties are essential elements of human progress. But change the focal distance, and the comfortable acceptance of cultural change in some distant place can become more unsettling closer to home. If modern cultural forces are bringing a welcome breeze of enlightenment to Islam, then why are such forces sometimes seen as threatening religious traditions in other places?

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR 

ARE THE MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN RIGHT NATURAL ALLIES? HE SAYS YES

128918_othmanelhammouchi1 (1)He often wears suits, has thick glasses and when he talks, he starts out in an informal, teenager-like tone but then quickly recovers into academic language. Othman El Hammouchi is on his way to becoming one of Belgium’s most prominent philosophers, but he’s still an 18-year-old college student. “My choice to study mathematics had nothing to do with politics,” El Hammouchi laughs when I ask him about his choice of study, amid his first-year exams at the Free University of Brussels. “I’m just interested in certain questions and how they relate to things like the relativity theory and Kantian philosophy.”

When he was 17, El Hammouchi won an essay contest for high school students and in his own words entered the “circuit” of writing opinion pieces, doing interviews and giving talks. Since then he has been featured in most of Belgium’s newspapers, and one of the country’s most important philosophers, Etienne Vermeersch, called him “brilliant.”

At first sight, his conservatism seems to be quite traditional. “For me, conservatism is a complete world view that places emphasis on traditional structures such as religion, marriage and hierarchy,” El Hammouchi says. Yet at the same time, he moves away from commonly held positions on the right, such as doubting the existence of man-made climate change. “As a conservative, you shouldn’t deny science,” he says.

THE TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE WAS A SORT OF CONTRACT IN WHICH THE WOMAN EXCHANGED SEX FOR STABILITY. YET THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION UNDERMINED THAT.

OTHMAN EL HAMMOUCHI

His most obvious clash with today’s right? El Hammouchi is a religious Muslim at a time when European conservatives are moving toward hard-line positions on identity, often critical of Islam. It’s not just far-right groups. A leader of the conservative New Flemish Alliance, Belgium’s biggest party, Bart De Wever this year told a local newspaper: “Muslims want a place in the public space, in education, with their external religious symbols. That causes tension.”

This kind of rhetoric, argues El Hammouchi, means “conservatives in Belgium are throwing away the votes of 7 percent of the population who are Muslim.” He rather argues for a “conservative grand alliance” between Christians and Muslims. “One of my goals is to take away this irrational hatred toward Islam,” he says. His work has elicited little reaction from conservative politicians, but recently he joined Doorbraak, a prominent publication in conservative circles, as a regular contributor.

FULL ARTICLE FROM OZY.COM

5 things Christians and Muslims can agree on

20170921T1318-11715-CNS-POPE-MUSLIM_800-690x450At Acton University, Turkish Islamic scholar, Mustafa Akyol, gave multiple lectures on Islam, discussing topics ranging from its history to its controversial practices. Akyol has been speaking at Acton University for many years now and is a respected scholar in fields of Islam, politics, and Turkish affairs. He is a critic of Islamic extremism and the author of the influential book Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

After attending both of Akyol’s lectures, a few points stood out to me. He mentioned a few concepts in Islam also emphasized in Christianity, which often go unnoticed.

While there are undeniably a great number of fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity, there are a handful of concepts the two popular religions share.

1. Almsgiving

To both Muslims and Christians, caring for the poor is a duty bestowed upon believers. Both faiths stress the importance of donating to, praying for and protecting the needy. Furthermore, in both Islam and Christianity, it is made clear that giving alms in private is favorable in the eyes of God, as opposed to donations made in an attempt to receive praise and acknowledgement. Islam emphasizes the importance of zakatZakat is one of the five pillars of Islam, and refers to the requirement of believers to give offerings to the needy. The amount is not clear, but in general practice, one gives 2.5 percent of one’s wealth, according to Akyol. Similarly, in the Christian tradition, God commands each Christian to donate 10 percent of his or her earnings to the church, called tithes, which are used to provide for the poor.

[Al-Baqarah, 2:215] “Whatever of your wealth you spend, shall (first) be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof”

[Proverbs 19:17] “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM ACTION INSTITUTE POWERBLOG