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 

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Covenantal Theology: Can Muhammad’s Ancient Promise Inspire Muslim-Christian Peace Today?

85674Christians esteem the biblical progression of covenants—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic—finalized by Jesus as he ushered in the New.

But for the sake of religious freedom in the Muslim world, should they embrace a further covenant: Muhammadian?

Modern scholarship suggests the Muslim Prophet’s Christian covenants could offer contemporary guidance; they already influenced a favorable verdict in the case of Christian Asia Bibi in Pakistan.

After eight long years on death row, Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy by the Muslim nation’s Supreme Court in late October. The Christian mother of five had been sentenced for uttering contempt for Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, while attempting to drink water from a well.

The three-judge panel ruled that contradictions in accuser testimony and Bibi’s forced confession by a local cleric rendered the charges invalid.But in the official court document, one justice went as far as to partially base his judgement on how Bibi’s accusers violated an ancient covenant of Muhammad to the Christian monks of Mount Sinai—“eternal and universal … not limited to [them] alone.”

“Blasphemy is a serious offense,” wrote judge Asif Khosa, “but the insult of the appellant’s religion … was also not short of being blasphemous.”

He referenced a 2013 book by John Morrow, a Canadian convert to Islam. The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World is an academic study of six treaties commanding the kind treatment of Christians, reportedly dated to the seventh century.

Each similar in scope, they command Muslims not to attack peaceful Christian communities, to aid in the construction and repair of churches, and even to allow self-regulation of tax payments.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY 

Does Friendship Between Christians and Muslims Require Agreement?

By Kevin Singer and Chris Stackaruk

Screenshot-2018-11-30-07.32.28A 2016 op-ed from the Huff Post recently re-emerged after it was retweeted by a renowned sociologist at Rice University, Dr. Craig Considine, who has a robust 53,000+ Twitter followers. The piece — written by Ian Mevorach, who identifies himself as a theologian, spiritual leader, and activist — argues that “peacemaking Christians” should accept Muhammad as the “Spirit of Truth” whom Jesus speaks of in John 14-16, effectively transforming Muhammad from historical figure to ultimate prophet in Christian theology. He argues this to be a solution to Christian Islamophobia: “Changing our view of Muhammad—so that we recognize him as a true prophet rather than discredit him as a false prophet—would effectively inoculate Christians against Islamophobia and would help to establish a new paradigm of cooperative Christian-Muslim relations.”

Mevorach rightly notes that some of the most revered Christian theologians in the history of the Church, including John of Damascus, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Nicholas of Cusa, and Martin Luther, would find Mevorach’s conclusions deeply troubling. Yet, he feels that his argument will “transform the way Christians and Muslims see and relate to each other.”

We co-direct an organization, Neighborly Faith, that equips evangelical Christians to be good neighbors to people of other faiths—especially Muslims. Over the last four years, we have built an expansive network of everyday evangelicals and their leaders across many churches, colleges and vocations with which we promote Christian friendship with Muslims. Putting the theological cogency of Mevorach’s argument aside, we can say with assurance that his argument would not “make peace between our communities” as he proposes. In fact, we believe it does the very opposite.

Mevorach injects urgency into his argument by noting that “the majority of Christians still maintain a fundamentally Islamophobic position on Muhammad,” and that “our planet simply cannot afford another century of misunderstanding and violence between these two communities.” Yet, the issue with his argument is that he correlates Christian opinions about Muhammed with their feelings about Muslims.

If we have learned anything during years of promoting real, on-the-ground engagement between Christians and Muslims it is that, (1) theological disagreement is not what causes conflict, and (2) theological agreement is not a viable means for reconciliation.

His arguments demand that Christians overturn centuries of belief, which will not be remotely compelling to the Christians he describes. Rather, an argument like this only makes Christian-Muslim friendship more out of reach for most Christians, who are not willing to sacrifice core tenets of their faith.

We have unfortunately seen this habit among many progressive thinkers in North America and Europe who, from the best of intentions, wish to be bridgebuilders and peacemakers. Mevorach and others like him contrive expedient solutions to “the problem of belief,” but never take into consideration whether the people who presumably need to change would find their arguments compelling. Unfortunately this is the case for Mevorach’s essay: His solution is laughably idealistic.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ISLAMIC MONTHLY

Religious Pluralism and Civic Rights in a “Muslim Nation”: An Analysis of Prophet Muhammad’s Covenants with Christians

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When assessing current trends in Muslim-Christian relations, there is a tendency to view this complex relationship through the prism of contemporary events alone. Any account of Muslim-Christian relations, however, must consider historical processes and events in order to position current developments in their appropriate context. Before embarking on contemporary issues affecting Muslim and Christian communities, a few historical issues are in order. In the modern era (1500–1945 CE), the major part of the “Muslim world” was ruled by “Christian civilization”. During this period, the Islamic world, as noted by Armstrong, was “convulsed by the modernization process.Instead of being one of the leaders of world civilization, Islamdom was quickly and permanently
reduced to a dependent bloc by the European powers” [1]. Europeans assumed that European culture had always been progressive and that Muslim societies were backward, inefficient, and corrupt [1].

European colonialists in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia also wreaked havoc by plundering Islamic economies and supplanting Islamic educational systems with secular or Christianity-based systems [2]. These kind of colonial interactions had a decisive influence on the religious and political relations between Muslims and Christians, and shaped not least the mutual theological images and assessments of the other [3]. Towards the end of European colonial rule, the Ottoman Empire crumbled,which created a vacuum in the Middle East that contributed to tensions between local inhabitants
and external powers of interests. As World War I ended, “Westerners”—primarily the British—“saw an opportunity to bring modern coherence to [Arabia] by imposing new kingdoms of their owndevising, as long as the kings would be compliant with the strategic interests of the British Empire” [4].

When the British and other European powers (such as the French) drew up state borders in the MiddleEast, they paid little attention to the ethnic and religious division within Arabian societies. Muslims today see these historic events as influencing the development of Islamic societies as well as shaping perceptions of Christians living within their own borders and around the “Western world”.

FULL ARTICLE HERE (PDF) from academia.edu 

Muslims consider Queen Elizabeth’s ties to the Prophet Muhammad

20180407_MAP004_0“QUEEN ELIZABETH must claim her right to rule Muslims.” So ran a recent headline on the Arab Atheist Network, a web forum. It was only partly in jest. According to reports from Casablanca to Karachi, the British monarch is descended from the Prophet Muhammad, making her a cousin of the kings of Morocco and Jordan, not to mention of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.

The claim, first made many years ago, is gathering renewed interest in the Middle East. Why is not clear, but in March a Moroccan newspaper called Al-Ousboue traced the queen’s lineage back 43 generations. Her bloodline runs through the Earl of Cambridge, in the 14th century, across medieval Muslim Spain, to Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter. Her link to Muhammad has previously been verified by Ali Gomaa, the former grand mufti of Egypt, and Burke’s Peerage, a British authority on royal pedigrees.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ECONOMIST 

Trump could learn a thing or two about freedom and democracy from Islam

TOPIX_Trump_Travel_Ban_Protest_48816.jpg-e3483From his hateful tweets and provocative rhetoric to his “new” executive order banning Muslims and refugees all over again, President Trump is driven by the idea that Islam is a threat to what makes us American.

Trump has declared that “Islam hates us.” “There is,” he says, “an unbelievable hatred.” Stephen K. Bannon, one of his chief advisers, claims that “we are in an outright war against … Islam” and doubts whether“Muslims that are shariah-adherent can actually be part of a society where you have the rule of law and … are a democratic republic.” He believes Islam is “much darker” than Nazism and seems to agree with HUD Secretary Ben Carson that “Islam is a religion of domination.”

But Trump and his administration could learn a thing or two about American values such as freedom and equality from the religion and people they so hate.

In Islam’s founding story, after Muhammad’s death, it was unclear who would lead the nascent Muslim community. Typically, succession disputes make for great drama. This one, however, was more C-SPAN than “Game of Thrones.” Rather than intrigue or bloodshed, the believers pursued democracy. Only by the people’s consent, they reckoned, could a ruler justly be named and a community freely governed. They chose Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s companions. His inauguration speech, according to one of Muhammad’s earliest biographers Ibn Ishaq, was brief (though we’re not sure how big the crowd was). It went something like this: “I’m no better than any of you. Only obey me if I do right. Otherwise, resist me. Loyalty means speaking truth. Flattery is treason. No human, but God alone is your lord.”

Abu Bakr sought to guard the people against domination by making himself accountable to them. The people obliged, securing their liberty. They could call him out at any time, and he had to listen. He even had to ask their permission for new clothes. His successor Umar carried the legacy forward. Publicly rebuked by a woman for overstepping the law, Umar responded: “That woman is right, and I am wrong! It seems that all people have deeper wisdom and insight than me.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

ISIL violence against Christians dishonors Islam’s earliest history

Women gather near flowers and candles at the city hall in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray to pay tribute to Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in an attack on a church

Women gather near flowers and candles at the town hall in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen in Normandy, France, to pay tribute to French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed with a knife and another hostage seriously wounded in an attack on a church that was carried out by assailants linked to Islamic State, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol – RTSJS29

. . . [I]n the northwest of France, two Muslim terrorists attacked a Catholic church, taking nuns hostage and killing an elderly priest, before they themselves were shot dead by police. It certainly fits the pattern of ISIL violence: vile, shocking, made for media, and—something we talk about less—standing in stark opposition to the very religious tradition they claim to represent.

 Violence against Christians isn’t just un-Islamic: It dishonors the earliest history of Islam.
The Prophet and the King

When he first started preaching Islam in the year 610, Muhammad attracted very few followers. One was his close friend, Abu Bakr, another was his young cousin, Ali, and the first Muslim was his wife, Khadija. By and large, the new faith attracted lowborn and the marginal people who belonged to minor tribes or, worse, had no tribal affiliation. When the predictable backlash began, these newly minted Muslims were especially vulnerable. Most had no patrons to protect them.

 Desperate to find his followers a safe haven, Muhammad dispatched the most vulnerable Muslims across the Red Sea to what is now Ethiopia, where he promised they would find refuge under a just and Christian king. He believed that because Islam and Christianity emerged out of the same Prophetic tradition, the king would show mercy. And he was correct.
  History has shown that Islam and Christianity can exist in harmony. The king’s act of accepting the Muslim refugees provoked a minor diplomatic incident among wary Meccan elites. The upper class feared that Islam and Christianity had much in common. Now Islam had a head of state as a potential patron, making it potentially even more influential. But despite the best attempts of the Meccan establishment, the Ethiopian king refused to hand over the refugees.

The resonance of this historical anecdote should not be lost on us today. Irrespective of the propaganda produced by a political ideology masquerading as a religion, history has shown that Islam and Christianity can exist in harmony. The Prophet Muhammad believed that fairness and decency weren’t the property of any one community, and several of the Prophet’s companions are still buried on Ethiopia’s Christian land.

FULL ARTICLE FROM QUARTZ