Strangely Familiar

22249363465_1b3eec5fee_o‘God in the Qur’an’

In his 1966 book The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel relates the Hasidic tale of the long line of rabbis who performed a miraculous ritual, averting catastrophe for their communities in times of crisis. They would go into the forest to meditate, light a fire, and recite a special prayer. They did so in imitation of the eighteenth-century master of all Hasidim, Israel ben Eliezer, usually known by the honorific title “the Baal Shem Tov,” the master of the Holy Name. The generations of rabbis who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov, Wiesel recounts, gradually forgot parts of the ritual. The fourth in that forgetful lineage, Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, spoke plaintively to God of his predicament: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.” And indeed, telling the story was sufficient to avert the catastrophe. Why? The Hasidic tale ends with a great tribute both to God and to humankind: “God made man because he loves stories.”

God made Jack Miles because God also loves someone who loves stories. In his 1996 Pulitzer-prizewinning God: A Biography, Miles approached the Hebrew Bible as one might approach a body of literary work produced by Yahweh-Elohim, the Lord God; in a follow-up 2001 book, Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, he undertook the same task with the New Testament, focusing in particular on the four Gospels. Holder of a Harvard doctorate in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Miles left the Society of Jesus before undertaking formal theological studies; yet his Jesuit education, tracing back to his days in a Jesuit high school in Chicago, equipped him to  comprehend multiple languages and their literatures: English, Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, and Spanish; but also Hebrew, Aramaic and, last but not least, Ethiopic (Ge’ez), the ancient Semitic language of the Horn of Africa. He has enjoyed a long career as a Distinguished Professor of both English and Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Miles admits that he does not know Arabic very well, but his background in other Semitic languages and his careful comparative study of various English and other renderings of the Qur’an allows him to read it with notable sensitivity. Most of the stories told at some length in the Qur’an that have biblical resonances find their parallels in the Torah, especially Genesis and Exodus. Thus do Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, the family of Abraham, the patriarch Joseph, and Moses appear on stage again to play their parts in the Qur’an.

FULL ARTICLE FROM COMMONWEAL MAGAZINE 

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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 

New Documentary on Wheaton College’s ‘Same God’ Controversy to Be Shown at LA Film Festival

same-god-movie-posterA new documentary focusing on the departure of professor Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College after she declared on Facebook that Christians and Muslims worship the same God will be screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival later this month.

The film, “Same God,” will be shown as part of the festival’s competition lineup on Sept. 24, and will focus on the political science professor’s experience with the Illinois-based evangelical higher education institution after she took to Facebook in December 2015 to declare that she was going to wear a hijab during advent.

But it wasn’t Hawkins’ vow to wear a hijab that drew the ire of Wheaton administrators. Her assertion in her Facebook post that Christians and Muslims worship the same God that led administrators to question if she had violated the school’s statement of faith.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN POST 

Chicago-area faith leaders weigh in on ‘worship the same God’ Facebook controversy

ct-ctl-ct-ecn-a-leaders-20180201Do Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God?

That question became the center of a Facebook-fueled controversy after Elgin-area U46 School Board member Jeanette Ward commented on social media when her daughter’s 6th-grade language arts class was assigned to read, “Despite differences, Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”

Ward called the article, written by Philip Almond, emeritus professor in the History of Religious Thought at the University of Queensland in Australia, “utterly incorrect and false on many levels.”

Local faith leaders have a variety of views on the matter, as well as concern with how discourse on the topic was conducted.

Agreeing with Daubert’s point were Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel, Haroon Qureshi of the Islamic Center of Kane County and Pastor Katie Shaw Thompson of the Highland Church of the Brethren, who recently met with the Courier-News to talk about the question and the aftermath of the assignment.

Allah, the name used by Muslims for God, and El, one of the names for God in the Jewish faith, are similar in sound, have the same root and refer to the same entity, Klein and Qureshi said.

As but one commonality, Qureshi said that his faith’s word for God is Allah, while Klein noted El is one of the names used for God in the Jewish faith.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE 

I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

01wajWeb-master768Allahu akbar. It’s Arabic for “God is greatest.” Muslims, an eccentric tribe with over a billion members, say it several times in our five daily prayers. The phrase is also a convenient way to express just the right kind of gratitude in any situation.

I say “Allahu akbar” out loud more than 100 times a day. Yesterday, I uttered it several times during my late-evening Isha prayer. Earlier, during dinner, I said it with my mouth full after biting into my succulent halal chicken kebab. In the afternoon, I dropped it in a conference room at the State Department, where I’d been invited to address a packed room of government employees about the power of storytelling. Specifically, I expressed my continuing gratitude for the election of Barack Obama, whom, in a joking nod to the Islamophobic paranoia that surrounded him, I called “our first Muslim American president,” adding “Allahu akbar!”

People in the crowd laughed and applauded, the world continued to spin, no one had an aneurysm, and only a few people seemed to wonder with arched, Sarah Sanders-like eyebrows, “Wait, is he …?” I even confess to saying “Allahu akbar” two days ago in a restroom after losing the battle, but ultimately winning the war, against a nasty stomach virus.

I’m 37 years old. In all those years, I, like an overwhelming majority of Muslims, have never uttered “Allahu akbar” before or after committing a violent act. Unfortunately, terrorists like ISIS and Al Qaeda and their sympathizers, who represent a tiny fraction of Muslims, have. In the public imagination, this has given the phrase meaning that’s impossible to square with what it represents in my daily life.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES 

A God by Any Other Name: Evangelicals and Allah (Part III)

In part two of this series we examined early Christian responses to Islam.  We move the story now to America starting with America’s first theological superstar, Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards and His Missionary Disciples

 

islam-christianity

Profiles with Christian and Islamic symbols

            Luther’s paradoxical view of Islam as monotheistic and idolatrous; heretical and borderline Christian was echoed in the writings of other Protestant thinkers who followed in Luther’s wake, including America’s celebrated eighteenth century theologian, Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards’ primary focus and passion was revivalism with the belief that what was happening in America during what came to be known as the First Great Awakening would soon break forth in other parts of the world as a herald of the arrival of millennial glory.  This led Edwards to develop a deep interest in other religions in hopes of finding a way to extend revival fervor outside the boundaries of Christendom.

       Edwards read voraciously about other religions; he knew of, tried to get and perhaps         read, many of the travelogues, dictionaries, and encyclopedias of religion available at the        time.  The books included in his ‘catalogue’ include George Sale’s translation of the    Qur’an.[1]

Sale, whose eighteenth century English translation of the Qur’an was the best English rendition of the Arabic original, made no hesitation in promoting the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.   He stated it clearly in his introduction.  “How much soever Muhammadans are to blame in other points,” he said, “they are far from being idolatrous, as some ignorant writers have pretended.”[2]  This sentiment is echoed in Sale’s extensive and relatively accurate (for the time) coverage of the origins and teachings of Islam in the preface to his translation. The assumption throughout is of a common Christian/Muslim deity.

The fact that this was one of Edward’s primary sources for information about Islam suggests that he had access to a far more accurate and thorough treatment of Islamic history and teaching than Luther did.  His interest in other religions also led him to develop his own formulation of the patristic concept of  prisca theologia which says that vestiges of true religion can be discerned in non-Christian religions.[3]  This would indicate that Edwards should have been more open to finding commonalities between Islam and Christianity than Luther had.  But Edwards, like Luther before him as well as many other orthodox Protestants of his era, read Islam primarily through an eschatological lens; the left arm to the Catholic right arm of the anti-Christ. “Edwards’ interest in Islam,” says historian Thomas S. Kidd, “had primarily to do with its place in eschatology, its inferiority to Christianity, and its role in the on-going debates with Deists.  He made Muslims prominent in his millennial theology, arguing that as the millennium approached they would be destroyed.”[4]

FULL ARTICLE FROM ECCLESIO.COM

A God by Any Other Name: Evangelicals and Allah, Part II

islam-christianity

Profiles with Christian and Islamic symbols

Part II: Medieval &  Reformation Responses to Islam 

Early Christian Responses to the Advent of Islam

            When the armies fueled by Islamic expansionism swept out of the Arabian peninsula into the Eastern realms of the Christian Empire in the middle of the seventh century C.E. Christians in general (even the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox who in some cases welcomed the Arab armies as liberators from a century of deprivations visited on them by the Chalcedonians) reacted with what can best be described as incredulity.  Seventh century Christendom operated with a near monolithic mindset that assumed the triumph of the Christian faith. Islam came in this case as an invasion not only of armies, but ideology, offering an alternative religious vision that Christians found difficult to categorize, particularly those Christians in the western reaches of the Empire who were not in the path of the conquering armies. R.W. Southern labels this initial response of Western Christians to the rise of Islam an “ignorance of confined space.”

This is the kind of ignorance of a man in prison who hears rumors of outside events and attempts to give shape to what he hears, with the help of his preconceived ideas.  Western writers before 1100 were in this situation with regard to Islam.  They knew virtually nothing about Islam as a religion. For them, Islam was only one of a large number of enemies threatening Christendom from every direction, and they had no interest in distinguishing the primitive idolatries of Northmen, Slaves, and Magyars from the monotheism of Islam, or the Manichaean heresy from that of Mahomet.[1]

This remained the situation through much of the early part of the Middle Ages which gave Western Christians a creative license to indulge their fantasies about a religion and culture about which they knew next to nothing.  This was not the case in the East where Christians experienced Islam not only as the faith of an invading army, but within a relatively short span of time the dominant faith of an Empire that would subvert the Christendom paradigm and relegate its Christian residents to dhimmi status.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ECCLESIO.COM