Flashback: Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The simple answer is that nothing is wrong with the way in which most people today practise Islam, one of the three best known of the “monotheistic” faiths.
Islam at once appears to be both the youngest and oldest child of the Abrahamic tradition. Ishmael was the elder son of Abraham, Isaac being the younger, but Islam (as defined by Mohammed) developed after the movement that many would describe as the first significant descendant of Judaism, Christianity.
Before I proceed, let me undermine that basic premise by pointing out that the Brahmin tradition of Hinduism and the Taoist tradition of Buddhism can both trace their roots to the influx of Jews into Asia after the Babylonian exile period. In that sense, both Christianity and Islam would be relative late-comers to the Ibrahimin fold. Likewise, the primary faith of the Persians, Zoroastrianism, would also take a sharp turn in a more monotheistic direction with the arrival of the enslaved Israelite tribes following the assumption of Darius’ Median empire by the Persians. Darius had taken up the reins from the Babylonians who had conquered Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar a little earlier in that same 6th century BCE and carted off all those slaves.
There are more examples, but here we can see that the vast majority of the world’s population (Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims) have had their cultures shaped by their interaction with the family of Abraham, with about 50% of the world still openly tracing its heritage to that lineage: Christianity (2.2B), Islam (1.4B) and Jews (12-18M).
The problem seems not to be that we don’t have enough in common, but in the interpretation of that common heritage.
When the hadiths talk of the end times and speak of the trees and rocks saying: “Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.”…that is not to say that Muslims are bound to such terrible actions as a matter of faith. Quite the opposite. The hadith is saying that in the time of judgment there will be a persecution of Jews, such that they will have nowhere to hide. We saw this in the last century with the persecution and attempted anihilation of the Jews by the Nazis, as they could find no place to hide. And yet we hear some imams calling for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews every Friday, citing these hadiths as if they were a licence to kill. Ironically, the Qur’an makes it quite clear that a prerequisite for the fulfillment of its scripture is that the Jews will be returned to the land noted in the Qur’an itself.
Islam is, in many ways, the religion most closely resembling Judaism. The Qur’an features a line-up of prophets that are exclusively Jewish, including Mohammed, who traced his own lineage from Ishmael, son of Abraham, who was circumcised in the skin at Moriah; hence, a Jew.
Like Judaism, Islam is intensely monotheistic, rejecting Jesus as a deity, though, unlike Judaism, it welcomes him as a prophet…and anticipates his return at the end of days, or Qiyaama. All three religions agree that Jesus was a Jew, and Islam and Christianity both agree that he’ll still be a Jew when he returns. Even the Mahdi, it is said, will be a Jew.
So, how is it that radical Islamic preachers can advocate the killing of Jews? What’s wrong with this picture?
Religion has been used for millennia as an actuator for social change. We are seeing the negative side of this in radical Islam today. We saw it, albeit in a more positive light, in Poland when the Roman Church was instrumental in the downfall of the Communist movement in Eastern Europe. We saw it in the spread of Christian “Liberation Theology” in Central America, the correctness of which is still debated within the church. We saw it in the time of Mohammed, and in the time of Jesus. We saw it in every revolt against the Greek and Roman empires in the Middle East.
That religion can be a motivating force in people’s lives should not be an indictment against religion lest we are prepared to also throw away the ancient knowledge that is encoded in those traditions.
It is the interpretation of these ideas, these concepts, these traditions, that needs to be discussed. For it is only in their mutual examination that we can bring about peace without the need for the precursor of looming total destruction.
The trick is not to convert people between faiths, but to help them become better role models within their individual faiths. Just as the rainforests are a seminal trust of biodiversity for this planet, so are the various faiths of man a reservoir for all the aspects of his divine nature.