Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Religious Colonialism 2

posted by Scot McKnight

Prothero.jpgWe need to understand other religions for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is our globalized world is making the world smaller and because some think the differences between the religions is actually, upon closer inspection, shrinking as well. 

Stephen Prothero agrees with me on the first and on the second claims. The differences must be seen for what they are and not (to coin a bad expression) “pretended into unity.” See Prothero: God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter
What are you doing to understand other religions? what can local churches do?

What is your understanding of Islam? Is Islam growing in your community? Are you in dialogue?
In his new book, Prothero offers descriptions of the major religions of the world and does so under the following categories: Problem, solution, technique, exemplar. But, thanks to the skill of Prothero, this is not a systematic book but a gentle walk into the land of each of the faiths. It’s not textbookish. It’s a pleasant read.
His first major chp is about Islam, and he begins there for reasons: “The nineteenth and twentieth centuries may have belonged to Christianity. The twenty-first belongs to Islam.” Why does he say this? Adherents are growing; its influence is growing; its economic assets are growing. Islam, he is saying, is setting the agenda for the 21st Century worldview.

In surveying his survey we run the risk of simplifying too much, so I will make the claim here that I’m highlighting points made in his chapters and not scanning the whole.

1. Most of us in the West know very little about Islam and know very few Muslims. This means we have a hard time being intelligent about Islam and Muslims.
2. Islam is about submission to Allah; it is about a world of peace through that submission.
3. Muslims, devout Muslims, pray 5 times per day, 365 days per year. They face Mecca. At the heart of Muslim faith is a confession that Allah alone is God and that Muhammed is Allah’s prophet.
4. There are five pillars to Islam: the Shahadah, or the creed that I just mentioned in #4; prayer; charity for the needy; fasting; and hajj — or the pilgrimage to Mecca.
5. Jihad is about two kinds of struggle: the struggle against self-sufficiency and pride; the struggle against the “house of war” or the enemies of Islam. The second struggle is found in preaching, teaching, working for justice and war. Here Prothero speaks to an issue that is potentially difficult: but he wants to be honest. Jihad is both spiritual and military (34-35).
6. Allah is God. Allah is one (tawhid). Allah is totally transcendent; no images or pictures. Allah has many names and is not male; the potential threat to Allah is idolatry (shirk).
7. Muhammed is the prophet, and he is to Islam what both Jesus and Paul are to Christianity. So, Prothero says, Muhammed is more in Islam that Jesus is in Christianity. [I’d differ with him here; he goes with the view that Paul is too much the fashioner of Christianity.] Muhammed was everything: leader, prophet, militarist, family man, husband, etc..  Successors to Muhammed created the divisions in Islam.
8. The Quran is to Islam what Jesus is to Christianity. In Arabic, the Quran is to be read in Arabic and translations don’t matter. The sounds are important. It’s about “recitation.” It is not a narrative; it is doctrinal and moral and legal. It emphasizes life after death. Central words in Quran study: recollection, revelation, recitation and remembrance. Some parts seem to suggest Christians and Jews will be in Paradise. Prothero admits there are parts he likes (the holiness, righteousness stuff) and parts he doesn’t like, including stuff about women.
9. Shariah: Shariah “law” is a duplication; the word shariah means the right path of law. It is the legal dimension of Islam. Two major groups: Sunni (majority) and Shia; Sunni decentralize while Shia centralize law and interpretation and religion.
10. Islamism is the radical, political dimension of Islam today: Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and al-Qaeda. They want to purify Islam of modernist and Western influences.
11. There are also progressive and moderate Muslims in the world, and some would say the majority are this way. 
12. The Sufis are the mystical and more pluralist of Muslims.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 9:13 am

Amen on #1! I find that to be very true in my own church. Many people have more fear and unfounded beliefs about Muslims as opposed to true facts. Also, one has to approach the idea of other religions and those different from them selves with an open mind. Otherwise, they will read a list like this not be educated, but rather to build their list of arguments against. I’ve seen Prothero interviewed twice now and I really like what he has to say.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 10:30 am

My experience here in the Southwest of France that Islam is as much cultural and Nationalistic as it is religious. So the tension usually arises from cultural and political reasons as much as religious. The French for the most part know little about Islam as well.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 10:40 am

What are you doing to understand other religions?
Reading: “Towards a True Kinship of Faith” by H.H. the Dalai Lama. What a fascinating life he’s had, and what an example of openness!

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posted July 8, 2010 at 11:00 am

If only we could just love one another…..
The first segment of last nights ‘Daily Show’, where Jon covers the outrage over mosques, could not have been more timely…..look past the humor to a root problem concerning today’s fears,

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posted July 8, 2010 at 11:29 am

What is the point of the book? What is the point of Prothero using “problem, solution, technique, exemplar” as an organizing template? This 12 point description is not very helpful. It is full of “facts” which offer no insight. Also, the facts are not very factual. I see about 5 outright errors and numerous descriptive inadequacies. (The author/source obviously does not know Arabic either.)
But even if this was followed by fuller descriptions and corrections, it would not lead to more understanding between the communities. We have access to Muslims who can freely express their faith to us. They do not have free access to expressions of Christianity. It is not a conversation.
Also, every Muslim I meet tells me, “You in the West do not understand what Islam really is because you only know what you see in the news.” Then they proceed to educate me, by giving me the party line of the tolerance, moderation, simplicity, and reasonableness of “true Islam.”
You cannot imagine how tiresome it is to hear the same spiel for 15 years. It’s like having people from the Watchtower Society come to your door every single day for years and tell you the exact same thing. And now I have to endure it again at Jesus Creed? Where’s the insight and analysis? (Only points 7 and 8 lightly touch on analysis.)
Sorry to be so grouchy. I know some people really enjoy this kind of list of information; it will help them as they play Christian Trivial Pursuit Genus Edition.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm

@ 5
Would you be willing to share which ones on the list you see as errors?

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posted July 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I think it highly beneficial to learn about other religions. I wouldn’t dissuade anybody from doing so. I will be reading “The History of Islam” by Barry Rubin this summer.
#1 (Pat): I am not sure what you are talking about. Have you ever picked up the Quran or Hadith to find out the basics on Islam? I am going to make the assumption you have not. I will also go so far as to say very few people responding to this thread have ever set foot in an Islamic bookstore or picked up a Quran.
BTW, jihad is not one of the pillars of Islam and Shariah is not something any of us want in any form at any time and while it deserves our inspection, it is not entitled to our embrace at all.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Briefly, a few corrections.
#4 These are not the “pillars”. It’s a common mistake. These are the “obligations”. The pillars are certain necessary beliefs like the belief in angels, the prophets, and the heavenly books.
#5 “shirk” means “association” which is ascribing partners to God. The christian Trinity is condemned as shirk, the worst sin of all.
#7 & #8 & 9Islam’s functional trinity (small t), if you will, Is the Sharia’, Mohammad, and the Qur’an. The Qur’an is somewhat analogous to Jesus in that it is the ultimate revelation of the eternal Word. Mohammad is beyond criticism and never did anything wrong. To criticize him is blasphemy. The Sharia’ and the Sunna (what did Mohammad do – WDMD) tells the believer how to live each day with detailed instructions on most everything.
#9 – Islamic law is so complicated as to be beyond simple summary here.
#10 – “Islamism” what is that? Muslims do not use such terms or categories.
#11 – Most Muslims confess to be “moderate.” What this usually means is that they don’t pray 5 times a day and resent it when people get on their case about it. But the majority of Muslims in the world would seem quite radical and fundamentalist to you if you sat down and found out what they actually believe about Jews, women, apostasy, etc.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Hi Aaron (#7). I have not read the Quran or Hadith. My comments were directed at the part of #1 which stated that most of us lack knowledge about Islam or Muslims and that we have a hard time being intelligent about it. I clearly am not an expert, having never read the Quran or the Hadith, however I have Muslim relatives and have engaged Muslim co-workers in conversations about faith. Having had those kind of encounters coupled with an open mind helps me to not be fearful. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for others that I know. Some people draw up stereotypes of Muslims much the way people do for other groups and can’t see or hear anything past their prejudices. I’ve unfortunately witnessed this firsthand via very shortsighted comments that are often made. For instance, I shared with a Sunday School class once that my Pakistani co-worker asked if he could come to church with me sometime (I shared this as I thought it was something to be encouraged about). One lady, without hesitation said, “As long as he doesn’t bring a gun.” This got a round of laughter from the whole class and then they launched into a conversation on profiling (they were of course for it). I quickly brought the conversation to an end to move us back to the lesson, but was quite offended by this exchange. For some people, this is the extent of their knowledge of Islam and this is the kind of thing I’m against. How can you intelligently engage another or learn from them with this type of bias?

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posted July 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

#9 Pat- Thanks for your clarification. I think part of genuine and mature dialog is the willingness to have our bias’ examined/challenged. Seems that didn’t happen in your Sunday School class. Sorry.
But I think your class exhibited a reaction based in fear. But to say their reaction was possibly based in fear doesn’t mean it is without basis. There are justifiable reasons for their fear (see any Lutheran shoe-bombers lately?) and some not so justifiable (all Muslims are not terrorists). However, information is not enough to deal with fear.

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posted July 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

“information is not enough to deal with fear.”
@Aaron #10 – Exactly! Relationships and mature dialogue are key for helping to dispel fear. However, venturing into these relationships can be painful as you deal with the types of insensitivity as I mentioned above. How many people have to be hurt and offended on the way to entering into healthy relationships? On the bright side, our church does have a ministry to internationals, so this could be the entree into establishing healthy relationships and dialogue as long as people do not see every encounter with an international as a proselytizing project, but rather and opportunity to learn, grow and appreciate fellow human beings. We are after all, more than our religious affiliation.

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Joshua Wooden

posted July 8, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Professor, can you lay down better the premise of the book- why is Prothero writing exactly?

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