Conservative Catholicism And Liberal Islam

I just finished reading Thomas F. Madden’s Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World, and I’m planning to write a couple posts shortly reviewing the book and the ideas it presents. As a prelude of sorts, however, I’d like to revisit some thinking I did a while back:

A month or so ago I finally had the chance to read Steven Vincent’s account of life outside the green zone in post-war Iraq: In The Red Zone. It’s a very fair book, and worth a read whether you support the war in Iraq or not. The author, since then killed in Iraq by militants, was a New York art reporter who watched the attacks on 9-11 and supported the Iraq war. Having supported the war, he felt like he should go over and see what was really happening over there. The book has the advantage of being writing from a culture writer’s point of view rather than a political writer’s. And although Vincent starts out as an enthusiastic supporter of the project, he ends unsure whether it’s possible for democracy to flourish in Iraq. (I’d be curious to read later work by him and see what he thought of the elections and the provisional constitution, both of which post date his book.)

This reminded me of my long held intention to read more about Islam, so I pull off the shelf the copy of Living Islam(now apparently out of print) by Ahbar S Ahmed which I’d bought on remainder some nine years ago and had been meaning to read ever since. Living Islam is half cultural history, half apologia (think a very, very light weight version of Letters To A Young Catholic with lots of pictures and basic intro information.)

To round things off, I’m currently reading Thomas F. Madden’s The New Concise History of the Crusades.

Now, one of the things that struck Vincent in touring Iraq is that some of what he discovered were the best allies of a democratic Iraq were people that most conservatives would be hesitant to ally with. For instance, the Iraqi Communist Party was, contrary to the history of most of their comrades, one of the few political parties notmaintaining a militia to enforce their will by violence. Similarly, radical secularist feminists tended to be the advocates for what American conservatives would consider to be standard human rights for women. Meanwhile Sistani, the voice of moderate to conservative religion on the Shia side, had an on-again off-again relationship with ideas of democracy, much less religious freedom.

All of which led me (slowly as usual) to some thinking on ecumenism. Now, I’m used to thinking of ecumenism in terms of Christian doctrine. In this sense, those groups which take Christian revelation most seriously are often ‘closer’ to Catholicism than those which see Christian revelation as a non-authoritative step (one among many) in the conversation between God and creation. I’ve got used to, generally, seeing the more orthodox or conservative elements of a given Christian tradition as ‘more faithful’ and the less orthodox ones as ‘less faithful’. (I don’t mean strictly adherence to scripture here. Indeed, I’d see the Orthodox as ‘more faithful’ to the Christian revelation than any Protestant denomination specifically because they have retained the Church’s understanding of the correct relationship between Scripture and Tradition. Within the Protestant spectrum, I would see those who have remained most faithful to both Scripture and Tradition as most faithful to historic Christianity, though I’d see those who accept scripture along as more faithful that those who do not feel strictly bound by either Scripture or Tradition

Similarly, looking at Judaism, I tend to admire the more conservative elements of Judaism over the heavily ‘reformed’ groups, in that they seem to have remained most faithful to God’s original revelation to Israel. Since Judaism is, at root, fully true (though not encompassing all truth) it seems clear that more strict adherence to that core is ‘better’ than less strict adherence.

But what, then, is one to make of Islam? Some conservative Catholics seem to look at our desire to see the Middle East become more secular and say: “Secularization has brought divorce, fornication, abortion, pornography and a host of other moral horrors into the mainstream. Why should we think that Islamic countries ought to follow us down the devil’s road to secular hedonism?”

Certainly, no good Christian would actively suggest that Muslims practice fornication, abortion, etc. However, while the fallen nature of humanity may mean that ceasing to publicly execute people for fornication will result in more fornication, that does not mean ending the practice of executing fornicators is the same thing as encouraging fornication.

The difficulty in knowing which horse to back in the world of Islam is that from a Catholic point of view, Islam does not merely lack the whole truth, but also contains elements (indeed, major elements) which are directly contrary to truth. (And it seems, from an Islamic point of view, the same would have to be said about Catholicism.) So while in a the sense that ‘anything worth doing is worth doing well’ it might seem that the most orthodox understanding of Islam is the one that we should admire — since being a firm believer in Islam means firmly believing not only some things that are true, but also others that are false — in fact an orthodox Muslim is in firmer opposition to Catholicism than a ‘liberal’ Muslim.

One of the dangers of discussing another religion is lack of context. Perhaps what looks to me from the outside to be ‘orthodox’ Islam is in fact (by the standards of other Muslims) a radically imbalanced form of Islam, in the same way that someone looking at Christianity from the outside might assume that “Bible alone” Christians were more ‘orthodox’ than Catholics and Orthodox are. Indeed, I wonder if this is an impossible question to answer for someone who doesn’t accept the truth of Islam. I think, at best, from the outside one could identify that line of thought which is most historically consistent in an religion. I am fairly confident that such an outside observer would identify Orthodoxy and Catholicism as the forms of Christianity with the most ancient lineage.

But from the point of view of Catholicism, which asserts that while containing some truth Islam contains major tenets which are false, should we see the most historically prevalent form of Islam as the “best” form of Islam? Should we encourage the form which, through liberalizing of the original Koranic meaning, comes closer to a Catholic understanding of the human person, morality, and man’s mission in the world? (Or at least is less of a threat to them.) Should we smile on any form of Islam at all?

From the point of view of basic human rights, it seems that ‘liberal Islam’ is the friend of Catholicism, not orthodox or historic Islam. But then, conservatism is, in this sense, a relative term. Modern orthodox Catholicism might be described as ‘liberal’ in comparison to 1300 AD Catholicism.

I’ve read a number of secular commentators say that “Islam needs a Martin Luther” — though I suspect that what they actually mean is, “Islam needs a Bishop Spong” — and it is certainly the case that both for political stability in the Middle East and for Christian missionaries to have more of a chance to reach that part of the world, it would be of great help to us as outsiders if a much more “liberal” and “moderate” form of Islam were to take hold. And yet it grates against me to wish against others modernizing trends which I oppose when applied to my own faith. Though I do not think that the Koran is the word of God, it hardly seems right to encourage people to take what they believe to be the word of God and change it in order to make it fit the spirit of the age.

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  1. Great post, and it gets to the heart of what has puzzled me as well. For instance, in reading Mark Steyn’s America Alone, I certainly agreed with his analysis about the dim prospect of Europe’s future based on the influx of (for lack of a better term) radical Muslims. Yet at the same time we’re trying to instill a democracy in a Muslim state that would be dominated by those very forces. (Of course we can get into all sorts of side debates about whether the war in Iraq was useful in other respects, and whether or not democratization ought to be a goal of our foreign policy, etc. Hopefully this thread will remain on point and not delve into those issues for now).

    Similarly, I often see Muslim “dissidents” on the likes of O”Reilly and other conservative talk shows. I forget the most prominent one, but I’m sure you all know I am talking about – she’s a Muslim female that’s written several books critical of Islam. But I can’t help thinking that I’d be pretty annoyed if Richard McBrien was on a talk show in Saudi Arabia peddling the same talking points, only in support of moderating Catholicism. Like Darwin, I tend to favor the more orthodox members of any religious group, but there’s a tension in trying to promote Islamic orthodoxy while also hoping for a freer and more democratic climate in such places.

  2. It’s a thorny issue. On the one hand, I don’t care at all about whether Muslims are more ‘orthodox,’ if being ‘orthodox’ means denying human rights. In that case, the more unorthodox the better from my perspective. But I hope this isn’t the case. The world would be a better place if, as in Christianity and Judaism, orthodox Islam was compatible with respect for human rights, or required it.

  3. It’s a tough question, and I don’t know that there is a solution, apart from clear-eyed pragmatism. Essentially, work with the various forms of Islam where it advances the common good (as understood in Catholic terms) and let the rest of the chips fall where they may. I agree that holding up, say, an Irshad Manji as an exemplar of Islamic thought won’t get you any traction in the greater Islamic world, never mind her qualities as a thinker or writer. It’s of a par with my reading of some well-meaning ignoramus’ suggestion in the immediate post-9/11 aftermath that the works of Mustapha Kemal be translated into Arabic as part of a reform effort. Um, no.

    We don’t have much say with if or how Islam will make the necessary adjustments to modernity, much less put our imprimatur on a particular approach (I know that’s not what you’re suggesting). That’s really up to them, and all we can do is react to it.

  4. Darwin,
    I think there’s another category of Muslim beyond the secular ones lauded by Fox News and the conservatives who don’t really accept human rights. I would argue Islam doesn’t need Luther of Spong, it needs to replace fundamentalism with Resourcement and aggiornamento, and there are scholars, some more liberal, some more conservative, engaged in that. Tariq Ramadan, in Switzerland, is probably the most prominent, although he still doesn’t move far enough to the “individual human rights and dignity” model we’d like to see take hold in Islam. Khaled Abou el-Fadl at UCLA seems to be on a similar project and more amenable to thoughtful Western religious conservatives.

    The French scholar Olivier Roy, in his book The Globalization of Islam argues that most of the currents we see in Islam, from the Salafism of bin Laden to the modern Islam of Ramadan, are the result of Islam taking on a more Western model. Rather than being a religion primarily about communal norms and practices, at it was traditionally, it has absorbed the Western focus on the individual achieving salvation. For the Salafists, that means individuals trying to live according to strict imitation of Muhammad and his early followers. For others, it’s developing new habits of prayer, scriptural study, moral casuistry (like the modern phenomenon of Islamic banking), evangelization. I’ve heard Roy originally wanted to call his work “The Christianization of Islam” but that was too controversial. It seems to me that this focus on individual salvation may prepare Islam for a personalism grounded in its tradition and scripture, although I don’t know enough about either to ascertain how certain that is. If it is possible, it would mean Christianity (particularly the Catholic Church) needs to engage with Muslims in the West to encourage this possibility, and both need to make more connections with institutions in the Muslim world to encourage it. One way to start would be for Western Muslims like Abou el Fadl to have a greater role training the Ulama, Islam’s authorities on Sharia. Until there’s someone like John Courtney Murray in a majority-Muslim country, and he’s accepted rather than persecuted, ostracized, or silenced, I don’t know when that might be possible though.

    Also, some of the sufi groups, in Turkey particularly but also in W. Africa and maybe South and Central Asia, seem to have a model for Islam that may be open to a humanist or personalist outlook.

  5. Islam has never developed the concept of Mosque and State. Islam is the state. The Church, spending the initial three centuries usually in opposition to the Roman Empire, has often allied herself with the state, but the division between Church and State has always been a fact of life in the West. All states in Muslim areas are illegitimate to the extent that they deviate from the rule that Islam is the state. Kemal Ataturk in Turkey accomplished a miracle by defying this. Whether this miracle will prove viable long term over centuries is very much in doubt. I hope, for our own security, that we will see more regimes like Turkey and now Iraq, but based upon the history of Islam I am pessimistic.

  6. Darwin,

    Excellent post.

    In my opinion it will be nearly impossible to find a form or strand of Islam that would be able to engage the world in a positive manner and share the same views on human rights as Jews, Christians, and Buddhists view them.

    In Islam God is absolutely transcendent which leaves no room at all for the individual. The identity of the individual emanates from God, hence the individual is an instrument rather than having any autonomy whatsoever in the Judeo-Christian sense. The individual in Islam has a reality, but it is contingent upon God.

    Hence the notion of human rights in the West never came to fruition in Islam. An excellent example is the radical notion of a nation-state which is completely absent in Islam. Not until the 20th century has this notion taken hold in Islam. The Ottoman Empire is a continuation of Mohammad’s empire that united the Arabian peninsula. Ask any Muslim in most countries, especially in a Muslim dominated country, and their answer is they are Muslim first, Turk, Persian, Arab second.

    A faulty parallel in the west would be communism or fascism, where the state supersedes the individual. So it is in Islamic theology that God supersedes absolutely every detail of life. Hence why the other notion of ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar, render unto God that which is God’s’ never existed in Islam. The notion of separation of Mosque and State is alien to Muslims. To think politically is identical to as to think theologically. Not even the ‘model Muslim’ country of Turkey is immune. They declare a purely secular state, yet the government funds the building of mosques and the training of preachers.

    So this leaves us the conundrum of what model in Islam can we engage that will benefit both societies? Sadly, there is no model.

    Though there is hope. The Sufi form of Islam is quite engaging and more humanistic than what the Sunni’s, Shiite’s, and Salafists have to offer.

    There is no Bishop Spong, no Martin Luther, but possibly an aggiornamento in the likes of Khaled Abou el-Fadl at UCLA as Zach pointed out. Though it’s going to be a slow process that may take decades if not centuries for a more humanistic form of Islam to emerge.

  7. May peace be upon you.
    I am a Muslim and let me explain certain things about Islam that you westerners don’t quite get along with.

    First of all, what basic human right that Islam doesn’t encourage?We are talking about education, the right to inherit, free speech, and such. I gotta tell ya, it’s al inscripted inside the very words of the Quran.

    Alright let me tell you some thing, in case you don’t know, the first revelation of the Holy Quran is about learning. It goes ,

    “Read, in the name of the God who created”

    The first word is about learning. So it is clear that Islam promotes learning to all mankind. Not just to men, but also unto women. In fact, Prophet Muhammad once said that learning is compulsory upon Muslim (men) and Muslimah (women). There is no restriction for women to learn, to gain knowledge. They have just the same right as men does.

    I guess for you to find a true scholar from an Islamic country to get to know what is it all about with Islam. And dont get mixed up traditional rights and cultural views. Coz most of your misunderstanding and misconception derives from the very misleading cultural rites that doesn’t belong to Islam.

    I am a Malaysian. I am a Muslim. And in Malaysia we don’t really had any major argument with the people of other faiths especially the Christians.They respect our religion as well as we respect theirs.

    In Islam, we need to believe in the earlier prophets before Muhammad (peace be upon him).And that includes our Prophet Jesus Christ (Isa Al-Masih ibn Maryam) and Prophet Moses (Musa).If we don’t believe in any one of these Prophets, our Faith in Islam wouldn’t be whole.

    Also, we have to believe in the earlier Books which are the Bible (Injeel) revealed upon Jesus Christ the Prophet and Torah (Taurat) revealed unto Moses.

    Islam encourages its follower to speak up their mind. But also, in Islam we have our own guidance of doing so.We cannot say something that is not truth as in lying, and spreading rumours. It is forbidden in Islam. Islam is all about saying the truth.

    And when you say that Islam doesn’t allow its followers to choose the way they want to lead their lives as in what to wear, to drink, to socialize etc, that is because in Islam, if you were to live in te Faith, then you have to follow every rites and rules.You cannot choose what to follow and what not to follow.if you are a Muslim, you have to follow every single thing.That’s why we don’t recognize any form of “LIberal Islam” because there is no such thing! It is either you choose to be a Muslim or not.AND once you already a Muslim, you cannot simply quitting the religion just like that. Muslims are very adhere to their religion. Someone who chooses freely to quit from being a Muslim is a major sinner!Thus he should be killed. And as a non- Muslim, you cannot argue about this because it is not your religion.To us Muslims, it is revealed by God himself, so we have to adhere.Just as you are with your religion right?

    Believe me, in Islam, every single rules and rites has its own explaination and benefits. See, I am not a pious man, I am not an Ulama or Imam, but I strongly believe and have faith in my religion that is Islam and I am proud with it.

    It is not fair for you westerners to judge our religion as you are not a part of it. If you really are looking for the truth, you should be honest with yourself and be fair.try to confer to any world renowned Ulamas or Imams.

    I take it that you too have strong and firm believe in your faith.so you shouldn’t be scared if the truth is all you are looking for.

    You sure know about our politician Anwar Ibrahim right?He is an example of a well-rounded Muslim. He lives by his faith in the religion and is a successful figure in the world.

    We Malaysians are not blessed with oil wealth like most Islamic countries especially the Arabs.But we do well with our economic models and social interaction with our fellow non – Muslims Malaysians. How do we suppose to do that if our religion is so intolerants and barbaric as you westerners portray?

    Again, I suggest you to have a dialog, or conference with Muslim leaders in the world, who can give you detailed explaination about this religion of our own.
    We used to have Benazir Bhutto,and we still have our own Anwar Ibrahim and Hasanal Bolkiah (Sultan of Brunei). If you come to Malaysia, you’ll get alot of informations and figures to confer so that you can have an extended knowledge about Islam.

    Again, I suggest for you to be fair and just when you are commenting about other people’s religion.

    Thanks for your time and space.

    May peace be upon you.

  8. I agree with Mr Tito.
    Thus the conclusion is, just leave us with our own religion as we do unto yours.
    We never argue about yoru religion. We never comment what you are doing in the Churces.
    Why should you ever be so jealous with our state of religious believe?
    Islam is Islam. Christianity is Christianity.
    There shoudn’t be any argument from both sides of the world.

  9. Kamarul,

    Thanks for joining us. One question I have. How do you seen Islam and Christianity working together where the two religions exist side by side? How do we resolve conflicts between the two?

  10. Mr. Kamarul Azhar,

    Thank you for participating in this discussion. I share some of your views from a Christian point of view.

    I believe we as Christians (most of us anyway) do not want to change Islam. What we would like, as Phillip noted, how do we work together in order to be able to live side by side in peace and harmony? How do we resolve conflicts when they arise?

  11. Kamarul Azhar,

    First, I’d like to thank you very much for taking the time to provide us with such a lengthy explanation. I think it’s always fruitful when believers are able to explain their religious beliefs to each other without in the process compromising or watering-down their faiths.

    In Catholicism we use a Latin phrase meaning “peace be upon you” which is, “Pax vobiscum”. The response to this is, “Et cum spiritu tuo” or “And with your spirit”. So if I may respond thus to your kind greeting:

    Et cum spiritu tuo

    As I hope I expressed clearly, being someone who believes strongly in the importance of the true interpretation of Christianity, I naturally sympathize with those who take their own faiths seriously within other faiths. Yet at the same time, I as a Catholic and you as a Muslim hold different beliefs about what is God’s will. So for instance, when you say:

    It is either you choose to be a Muslim or not.AND once you already a Muslim, you cannot simply quitting the religion just like that. Muslims are very adhere to their religion. Someone who chooses freely to quit from being a Muslim is a major sinner!Thus he should be killed. And as a non- Muslim, you cannot argue about this because it is not your religion.To us Muslims, it is revealed by God himself, so we have to adhere.Just as you are with your religion right?

    I find myself in disagreement, because as a Catholic I of course believe that it would be a good thing if a Muslim did indeed quit being a Muslim and became a Catholic. Just as, I am sure, you would believe it would be a good thing if I quit being a Catholic and became a Muslim; and in that sense if Catholics held that someone who quit being a Catholic should be killed, you would think that was a bad thing — because as a good Muslim you would see a Catholic becoming a Muslim to be a good thing, not a sin, and thus clearly not worthy of death.

    So I think it is in these kind of areas where we run into tensions. Clearly, as a Catholic, I can’t see it as good if Muslims were to execute a Muslim man who became Catholic, and in that sense I’d see it as a good thing if Muslims took a more “liberal” approach to that law. Not as a matter of offense to Muslims, but because with our different faiths we have different beliefs as to what God’s will is.

    Thank you again for your comment.

    Pax vobiscum.

  12. Salam Aalay Kum Warahmatu-Lah,

    There is no way a truthful Muslim would compromise his religion just to conform with modernity.
    And by modernity means, something that is created out of logical thinking. Yes, to be logic, one shoudn’t be killed just because he chooses to quit from his original religion.This is logic, and this is what modern thinking is.

    But to us Muslims, what we human create is not for eternity. It will not be relevant in another hundred years. But what God sent to us, what God has revealed upon Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), will always be relevant and beneficial to all humankind, not just Muslims, till the Judgment Day.

    And for a Muslim, if he or she commit sins, it is favourable for them to be punished here according to Islamic Crime Law (Hudud)rather than to be punished later in the Judgment Day by God Himself because the punishment would be unbearable.So you see in most conservative Islamic country such as in Saudi, Iran and Afghanistan where they practice this Hudud Law, their crime rate is very low compared to other secular country.This can eventually discipline the people of the country.

    But if we take it logically, we would say, are they insane???to whip an adulterer 100 times?to amputate a thieve?this is barbaric!!!this is against human rights, we would say.

    but again, if human rights we are fighting for, we shouldn’t be unfair. we have to cater to all kind of human rights.some people would say it is a woman’s right not to wear hijab (covering their hair and most part of their body), but what about a man’s right not to look at those parts?are we willing to sacrifice any of these rights?i wouldn’t say so.

    In Islam, it is the right for men to lead a congregation prayer like Friday prayer.
    It is the right for women to take care of the house and the children.
    You, as logical thinking westerners might look at this as somewhat discriminating, but to us Muslims, it is not. It is our right!

    In Islam, a mother who constantly has to bear the hotness of the stove just because she is preparing meals for the family is guaranteed a place in the heaven.
    In Islam, a wife who willingly let her husband to marry another woman is guaranteed a golden umbrella and a throne during the Judgment Day where everybody would be assembled at an Assembly Field named Mahsyar in a very hot weather that the Sun is like only one inch from the heads.
    In Islam, the blessing of Allah (God) lies on the Blessing of the parents. And the status of a Mother is three times higher than the father.
    These are the rights in Islam. Basic human rights that we are talkiing about.

    Islam doesn’t cater to only human rights on this world of the day. Islam also caters to human rights in the Day After.This is what Islam is all about, to gain happiness and peace in this world, and in the world after.

    but we wont force these believe upon other people of other religions.so why shouldnt other people of other religions want to force their believe on us?

    In the Quran there’s a Phrase (Surah) which tells that the Non-Believers will always force their religion on Us the Muslims. and to them we shall say,

    “O ye non-believers!I don’t worship what you worship!
    ANd you also not worship what I worship!ANd I (again) don’t worship what you worship!And you (again) not worship what I worship!For you your religion, and for me mine!”

    May Peace be Upon You

  13. Kamarul Azhar,

    You describe a number of ways in which Islam challenges the human rights notions of the West, but when you say, to Muslims, this is the way, or Muslims believe this, I must ask, according to who? Which school of jurisprudence (Madhab) should Muslims rely on? The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, who belongs to the Shafi’i school which is the most priminent Madhab in Malaysia, has argued that it is not permissible to execute a Muslim who converts to Christianity (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7355515.stm). It is only certain Hadith, and not the Quran, which says apostasy should be punished with death, and the Quran says that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:257). So I don’t understand the basis on which you can assert clearly that Islam says that someone who leaves Islam to become Christian must be killed.

  14. I think Zak makes an important point, but even assuming it to be the case that Islam clearly states that apostates must be executed and theives must have their hands cut off, the disconnect here is that Catholics and Muslims have very different ideas of what God’s will is in regards to these matters.

    Clearly, if a Muslim believes that is God’s will that someone who leaves Islam and becomes Christian be killed, and if as a Catholic I believe that it is God’s will that that Muslim become Christian, then from my point of view if I did not attempt to twart that Islamic justice I would be violating God’s will. I’m not sure if perhaps this is different in Islam, but from my point of view as a Catholic God’s will applies to all people, not just members of one religion. So the fact that something is according to the tenets of Islam does not put it beyond the realm of critique. (I would assume that it is the same for you, that if as a Catholic I wanted to do something you believed was contrary to God’s will you’d see it as best to stop me.)

    And since I’m not really in a position to say what Islam should say from an internal perspective, I’m likely to look most kindly on those interpretations of Islam which clash least with my own understanding of God’s will.

    I don’t necessarily see an easy way around these difficulties, as we have very different ideas about God’s revelation to humanity. However it’s unquestionably a very good thing that we are able to discuss these things calmly and with charity towards each others beliefs.

    Pax vobiscum.

  15. Dear friends, People of the Book,

    I think in trying to get the ultimate decision on how do we built that bridge which can link both the world of Islam and the Western Institution is by respecting each others rights and believes.

    We certainly never force our believe to the people who are not of the same faith. Thus, we expect others to treat us the same as well.

    About the differences of Mazhab (jurisprudence), they are different in interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith only. The fundamental beliefs are still the same. The situation is just the same like in Christianity, where you have Catholics, Methodist, Protestants, Seventh Day Adventist and such. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Islam does not against any religions. In fact, during the reign of the Caliphate Al Rashidun, to the Abbasids, Umaiyyads, Fatimids, and the Ottomans, other religions are still flourished and secured, even when they were ruled by an Islamic Caliphate.In fact, even when we are labeled to be anti-Semitic, the Jewish people were treated accordingly under the rule of the Islamic Caliphate.It is not the Muslims, who initiate Hollocaust, if there were any.

    Yes, in the Quran, it is stated that there is no compulsion in religion.I beg you not to take this out of context because it means that if the people doesn’t want to accept Islamic teaching, then it is ok. Just as I said earlier, we have never force our religious belief unto other people of other religions.

    And for your information, what the Mufti of Egypt was saying is about the People of the Book. Which means the original believers of the faith that was brought by Prophet Moses and Jesus Christ.These people are considered to be believers of the same faith as Islam.
    I am sorry if my words would hurt you but in our point of view, the religion of Judaism and Christianity nowadays have been corrupted by some people with certain interests. Again, I apologize for that matter.

    Again, I would like to express here that Islam are not against any other religions. I have stated earlier that “For you your religion, and for me mine”.Thus, we expect with high gratitude that people of other religion would respect us, as much as we do respect them.

    The problem we face nowadays between the Islamic world and the Western cultures would not arise if both parties respect and embrace each others opinions and beliefs.We should not take that any of our ides as greater, or supreme than the other one. We should not see it from only one side of perspectives.

    To be honest. we Muslims despise the hedonist culture brought by Western Cultures. But we never condemn them as to attack any of these Western countries just because what they believe (total free speech and free will).

    And I would like to disassociate Islam with terrorism, which has been promoted by the Western media upon us.
    Islam is not Al-Qaeda. Islam is not Abu Sufyan.
    Islam is peace.Yes, Allah allows us to fight our enemies, and to be in war with our enemies, but there are actually guide lines to doing so. If we are in a war, we are not suppose to kill children, women, old folks, religious people in any home of worships,surrendered people, people without arms, livestocks, trees, animals and such. We are not allowed to ruin places of worship, regardless of any religion they are belong to.We are just required to fight those people who would not surrender, who fought us ( the armies). We are not suppose to harm civilians.

    We are not Al-Qaeda. We are not Abu Sufyan. We are not the Talibans.

    But we certainly support those people who fights because of protecting their home, their land, their country.In Islam, it is a major sin if we fled the battlefield while fighting for our home and country.
    Patriotism is highly regarded in Islam.

    But I should warn the West not to put us under pressure. We are peace loving people, but as peaceful as we are, we certainly would retaliate if we were attacked!Just as any civil society would do if their home and country being attacked for whatever reasons!

    Thus, I call for all people to unite regardless of what religion you belong to, because the bottom is we are all humans. And humanity should be upheld in whatever conditions.

    Salam Aalay Kum.
    Peace Be Upon You.

  16. Kamarul Azhar: Thank you for joining in this conversation. I would like to know how Islam honors Mary, the mother of Jesus, who as you probably know is also very important to Catholics. It is my understanding that Mary is mentioned in the Quran, and that the Prophet himself said she was one of the most blessed women in Paradise.

    Many years ago I was told that devotion to Mary was something Catholics and Muslims had in common and might help bring about peace between the two faiths. Do you, as a Muslim, believe this is possible?

    Thank you, and peace be upon you!

  17. Dear Ms Krewer,

    Yes, we do honor Mary (Maryam) as one of the most blessed women in history, and she is guaranteed a throne in the highest of all Heavens (Jannatul Firdausi), along with most Prophets, from Adam until Mohammad (peace be upon them).

    Mary was an “abid”. In those years, our Faith allows people to be highly devoted to only praying for the God.Mary is one of them.When she was conceived by her mother, initially her mother wanted a Son, so that he could be an “abid”.But after she gave birth to a daughter, her mother was praying so hard to God, and eventually God sent a revelation, saying that the baby girl (Mary), worth more than thounsands of Sons.

    So, Mary was raised by a Prophet, Zechariah.She was made an abid, and believed to be the most “sacred” of all Virgins.This is because as an abid, she had few interactions with anyone, let alone a Man.So, she is “pure” of all sins.

    Then, one day a Man came to her. She was terrified. Later, the Man told her that He wasn’t any Man. In fact, He was the Angel Gabriel.The Archangel. He told Mary that he got good tidings for her, that she was about to conceive a baby, whom one day would become a great man. Mary was confused, because she had never being touched by a Man before, then how could she possibly be pregnant?Then the Angel told her that it was God’s will that she got pregnant, not by any Men.

    But in Islam, we believe that Jesus Christ is not the Son of God. In fact, he was created by God, just as Adam was made, not begotten by God Himself. This is the different between Islam and Christianity beliefs.

    In Islam, God is one. God is Eternal. God has no Parents nor Children.

    Thank you.
    Salam Aalay Kum.

  18. Kamarul Azhar,

    Thank you for sharing that bit on the Blessed Virgin. Many Christian prelates believe we can share in our devotion of Mary as a bridge towards peaceful coexistence and dialogue. Many Marian shrines across the world are visited by Muslims in great numbers to show their respects for her. It is a fascinating subject and one that can be fleshed out more among leading theologians from both the Christian and Islamic worlds.

    We also agree that God is one with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Triune God since all time. We do have differences of approach, but Christians are monotheists as with our older brothers the Jews and with Muslims.

    Pax vobiscum,


  19. Kamarul Azhar,

    Selamat datang. Saya tidak bisa berbicara dalam Bahasa Melayu, tapi saya tinggal di Indonesia selama beberapa bulan. Berbicara dalam Bahasa Indonesia sedikit. Yang itu agak serupa, ya?

    Terima kasih karena berkunjung. (Ma’af untuk kesalahan saya!)

  20. Oh: Tito benar. Agama katolik menyatakan satu Tuhan. Doktrin Trinity tidak menunjukkan tiga tuhan!

  21. Mr.J Christian,

    Sudah semestinya saya bisa memahami Bahasa Indonesia. Lagian, kitakan serumpun Bangsa. Akan tetapi, adalah lebih elok jika kita hanya berbicara dalam Bahasa Inggeris. Kan lebih mudah difahami oleh semuanya.

    Thus, from all of our discussions earlier I can conclude that we Muslims and Christians has a lot in common. So why don’t we share these commonness to bring our two worlds closer so that more ties and relations can be fostered.

    We shouldn’t see one beliefs as greater than the other. I say, stick to our own beliefs, but never question others beliefs. If we are very devoted and have good faith in our religions, thus we shoudn’t be scared or tempted by other faiths.

    I have explained the position of Jesus Christ in Islam. And that is my belief. You may either accept it or not.

    But, i would like to know what is the position of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) in this sacred religion of Catholicism? I have had some discussions wth my Catholics friend in Malaysia, and they said there is someone mentioned in the Bible as “the comforter”. They said, he could be Prophet Muhammad.

    It could be because in the Quran, Allah has mentioned that the Prophet Muhammad is to bring Good News to all mankind. So He could be this “comforter” mentioned in the Bible.

    Is it true?Maybe anyone can clarify this?

    Salam Aalay Kum.

  22. Kamarul has very eloquently and respectfully highlighted the difficulty that Christians must recognize in finding a path to peace with Islam.

    The crux of the problem is this: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Sura 2: 256). Until all of Islam reconciles with that statement of the Koran, there will be no peace for those in and around Islamic states. Until this sura applies to those who wish to leave the religion, women who wish to be educated, or drive a car, or have coffee at a “co-ed” Starbucks, then there is no peace. Until many people don’t have to die as a result of a cartoon or the pope alluding to a violent nature in Islam, there is no peace.

  23. Dear Matt,

    You seem to be urging the Muslim community to conformed with the Western norms. Until no party have to be doing what you just did, there will be no reconciliation between the Muslim world and the West.

    Again, I beg all of you, not to misinterpret the Quran. Misinterpretation of the Quran and the history of Islam such as by the Pope Himself has been known to spark hatred and anger among Muslims and non-Muslims.

    The Quran says, Let there be no compulsion in religion, only to those non-Muslims who has been given explaination and preachings about Islam, yet they don’t want to convert to Islam, then there is no compulsion upon them. This does not apply to Muslims, who already are Muslims, who were born Muslims, and yet they want to renounce the religion!I hope I have had this issue clarified.

    Of course women can be educated!I also have stated earlier in my many comments here about the compulsion of learning!The first revelation by God to The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) is about learning.And it applies to all Muslims and Muslimah.
    “Read!By the name of thy God who creathed”
    The issue here is because some institution of learning, especially in the West, they don’t allow the Muslimah students to be wearing hijab, or simply head-scarfs to cover their heads!This is the main discrimination by the West upon Islam. To observe one aurat (areas to be covered by Muslims and Muslimah) is compulsory in Islam!Please understand our religion more before you made any commentary, sir!

    Of course women are allowed to drive a car!As long as she observes her aurat, and the intention of the journey is pure, and allowed by her mahram (care taker), than it is OK!You might refer to some jurisdiction like in Saudi Arabia where women are prohibited to drive, that is because in Saudi, the situation is rough. There are highway robbers like everywhere. Thus, in order to protect these women from any harm, and from any evil-intentions, they prohibit their women from driving alone.

    Please, not every community is the same like the Western community. We have to understand the culture, and sensitivity of the people of that particular place.Yet, we should always observe revelations by God as the utmost sacred rules and guidance.
    Like in Malaysia, our women enjoy the same privilege with their men counterparts. It is not because of Western modernization, mind you, but it is because of the mind set and the pure intentions of our founding fathers, who successfully interpret and adapt the teaching of Islam into our daily modern day.

    You don’t simply put the case of the Cartoon which portrays our beloved Prophet Muhammad as “just mere cartoons”!In Islam, we are prohibited to paint the image of the Prophets, angels, and God.The painting itself is an insult to us, let alone the false accusations made by the author upon Prophet Muhammad!
    What would you feel if someone insults Jesus Christ?You surely would retaliate right?

    Please, do not take Quran out of context, and please be more undrstanding towards Islam. And if you couldn’t, just don’t comment, because it is not your place to say anything that you know nothing of.

    Salam Aalay Kum.
    Peace be upon you.

  24. Kamarul,

    you further highlight my point. While Catholics can agree that everyone must follow their religious obligations, we do not believe that anyone can be physically harmed by rape, beatings, or beheaded for straying or leaving their faith.

    the history of Islam such as by the Pope Himself has been known to spark hatred and anger among Muslims and non-Muslims.

    The pope implies their is a nature of violence within Islam results in massive violence by Muslims, and you say that the pope makes an error of history?

    What would you feel if someone insults Jesus Christ?You surely would retaliate right?

    Christ set the example in this case when he turned the other cheek to the Roman soldier who slapped him. While attacks on Christ are offensive to us, violence is not the appropriate response.

    I do recognize that not all Islamic nations apply sharia uniformly, but as you said, Muslims agree that it is acceptable to physically punish men and especially women who stray from the religious observance.

    I understand all I need to about Islam. THere will be no peace with Islam until Islam accepts that there is NO compulsion in religion, and that includes compulsion against “infidels”, those who stray or those who wish to depart the religion.

  25. Matt,

    “The pope implies their is a nature of violence within Islam results in massive violence by Muslims, and you say that the pope makes an error of history?”

    I thought the same thing when that happened… as if they were saying, “we’re going to show you how wrong you are about Islam being a religion of violence by having a violent protest!”

  26. Thank you, Mr. Azhar, for sharing your thoughts on Mary. You confirmed something I had heard but wasn’t quite sure was true — that Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus even though they regard Jesus as a prophet and not the Son of God.

    It is also my understanding that in the early centuries of Islam, from about 1000 to 1300 A.D. or so, Muslims (Moors) in Spain lived pretty much in peace with Christians and Jews, and developed a thriving intellectual and artistic culture. Muslim/Arab scholars made great strides in medicine and other sciences and invented the numbering system we use today (Arabic numerals). Imagine trying to do algebra (itself another Arabic term!) with Roman numerals — “if Train I travels CXL miles at LX miles per hour and Train II travels CXC miles at LXX miles per hour, which train will arrive first?”.

    So my next question is: what happened to the Muslim intellectual culture? Does it still exist anywhere today? Why did it seemingly disappear, and can anything be done to bring it back?

  27. Elaine,

    The peace that existed in Spain at the period you mentioned is arguable. If there was peace it was one-way where Muslims lived in peace and Christians were 2nd class citizens.

    The numbering system was actually invented in India where the numbering system and algebra were invented by Hindus living under Islamic rule. It was transmitted via the Islamic caliphate to Spain where Christians were unaware of their origins so they attributed this to the Arabs incorrectly.

    As far as the disappearance of Muslim intellectual culture is concerned, some of it can be attributed to the finality of the Koran. The Koran is the final word of God and nothing else is needed because God gave final instruction in the Koran. This is mostly along the lines of Sunni thought and varies to degree in parts of the Muslim world where Sunni’s live.

  28. Spanish History is one of my passions. 1100-1300 witnessed Spain in turmoil with the Almoravides and Almohades invasions from North Arica and the ongoing Christian reconquista. Some Christian kingdoms and Moorish kingdoms in Spain would sometimes be in temporary peace or temporary alliances, but overall this was a time of war.

  29. One must also be reminded how exactly Islam “surged” from the Arabian peninsula to take over the Byzantine Empire, ultimately to Spain, Southern Italy and the Balkans. It was not the way that Christianity spread I assure you.

    Reading the Koran in context means understanding that the earlier sura’s were written while Muhammad did not possess power, while the later ones which under Islamic theology override, he had political and military power. The later sura’s describe the treatment of infidels who refuse to submit (dhimmitude) under Islamic rule, and the strategy of making tactical treaties with non-Islamic rule, but strictly temporary ones to allow time to consolidate power.

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