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Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

After voraciously taking in Reza Aslan’s book, Zealot, about the life and times of Jesus Christ, I decided to read his bestselling book about Islam, No god but God. Towards the end of his excellent, I must say, book Aslan wrote:

Just as the Christian Reformation opened the door to multiple, often conflicting, and sometimes baffling interpretations of Christianity, so has the Islamic Reformation created a number of wildly divergent and competing ideologies of Islam. What musts be recognized, however, is that the peaceful, tolerant, and forward-leaning Islam of an Amr Khaled and the violent, intolerant, and backward-looking Islam of an Osama bin Laden are two competing and contradictory sides of the same reformation phenomenon, because both are founded upon the argument that the power to speak for Islam no longer belongs solely to the Ulama [religious scholars]. For better or worse, that power now belongs to every single Muslim in the world.

Further writing about the role of the Internet in this reformation of Islam, he wrote that the Internet

has become a bastion for violent interpretations of Islam, and for Jihadism in particular, allowing militant preachers and propagandists to bypass the authority of the Ulama and communicate their anti-institutional message directly to Muslims across the world. And thanks to the relative anonymity of the Internet, it is often difficult to differentiate between the Ulama and the Jihadist, between the respected scholar and the dangerous dilettante.

As an admirer of Dr. Aslan’s excellent work, I must yet disagree with him on this last statement.

Indeed, there are competing narratives about what the essence of Islam is: a violent, intolerant, and backwards militant cult (upon which both Jihadist and Islamophobe oddly agree) or a peaceful, tolerant, progressive faith that inspires personal and societal greatness. Of course, I – and the overwhelming majority of Muslims like me – believe the latter. Yet, who is correct? How do we know the charlatan from the one who is telling the truth?

Jesus Christ gave the answer thousands of years ago:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-21)

So did the Qur’an:

Art thou not aware how God sets forth the parable of a good word? [It is] like a good tree, firmly rooted, [reaching out] with its branches towards the sky, yielding its fruit at all times by its Lord’s leave. And [thus it is that] God propounds parables unto humanity, so that they may bethink themselves [of the truth]. And the parable of a corrupt word is that of a corrupt tree, torn up [from its roots] onto the face of the earth, wholly unable to endure. (14:24-26)

I can tell right away the barbarian from the civilized: by the fruits of his actions and words. If the results of the “Islam” of an Osama bin Laden and those of his ilk is death, destruction, despair, murder, mayhem, and violence – as it is – then, I know that this is a “false prophet” bearing a “corrupt word” yielding a “corrupt tree.” If someone’s Islam calls for the horrific violence of the Boston Marathon bombings, then I know it is false. If a preacher on a pulpit says God commands the murder of innocent people, then I know that this preacher is a “ravening wolf” come in “sheep’s clothing.”

Yet, if I see doctors, lawyers, carpenters, shopkeepers – among so many others – who do so much good in this world because they claim Islam commands them thus, then I know that this is the truth about Islam. When I behold ordinary American Muslims, citing their Islamic devotion, cooperating  with law enforcement to foil dozens of terrorist plots, then I know that this Islam is true.

When I witness Muslims in Egypt standing to forming human chains and praying in front of Churches so they would not be attacked by hoodlums and barbarians, then I know that this Islam is the true one.

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In fact, some of those people attacking Churches claim that they do so because Islam says they must. But, I know they are liars because of the fruits of their actions:  taking life, destroying what is  sacred, and wreaking more mayhem and destruction. Whereas the former are protecting life, protecting their fellow citizens, being good neighbors, protecting the sacred, and seeking to calm a very violent situation.

So, yes, there is a battle of the narratives over what the true nature of Islam is. But it is easy to see who are the “false prophets” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” because the end result of their claim is more evil and destruction. Thus, they cannot be claiming the truth.

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