A Conversation on Islam

I had a 30 minute cab ride with a driver from Tunisia.  A Sunni Muslim.  As I mentioned on August 19, 2012, when I get into a cab “it’s never just a ride.”  We started talking about Islam – and the issues that are forefront in the media.   We chatted about the Quran, the Prophet  and the hadith (the conversations of Muhammed).  It’s then he opened up.

You want to know the real problem is in the Muslim world?” he asked.   “You didn’t hear it from me.  Two words.  Saudi Arabia.”  This chap said that Saudi Arabia — with its Wahhabi (or Salafi) demands and sharia law — is wholly responsible for the radicalization of Islam.  Much of the negativity seems to orbit around that Middle Eastern power.  Women are denied the most basic of freedoms and the disease of sharia law infects everything and everyone.  You are a kafir (infidel) or mushrak (denier like Sunnis) if you are not a Wahhabi Muslim.  Saudi Arabia sponsors terrorism across the Middle East.  And elsewhere.  The tentacles of fundamentalism (and extremism) reach far and wide.  And now the Saudis seem to be caught up in their own cult of extreme Wahhabism – the puritanical, ultra-orthodox branch of Sunni Islam.  The offspring of Wahhabism now wants a return to the 7th Century caliphate.  ISIS cells are creeping inexorably into Saudi Arabia (as they are around the Middle East).  It will be interesting to see how Saudi Arabia fares in the next five years.      

Forbidden Cities

All people – of all faiths – are welcomed into the Vatican — the Holy See of Catholicism. All may tour Jerusalem – the Divine City of Judaism.  All may visit Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus.  Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama is open to visitors.  The red carpet is out in Tokyo (and Edo’s Shinto shrines), the Seven Holy Towns (of Hinduism), Salt Lake City (home to the Mormon faith) and a host of other countries, cities and locales which are relevant to a particular religion or faith.

But heaven help you (no pun intended) if you try to enter the cities of Medina or Mecca in Saudi Arabia. You are carded at the door. And if you are not a Muslim, you are not welcome. If you try to get in, you will be booted out. Physically.  Why?  Because the Koran dictates:  “O ye who believe!  The idolaters are unclean.  So let them not come near the Inviolable Place of Worship. . . . ” (Surra 9:28).   And so based on this centuries-old Scripture, Muslims deny entrance to “Scott” “Donna” “Abigail” or “Rex.”  Expressways have checkpoints – much like toll booths – where your credentials are examined.  If you are “unclean,” you’re shown the bypass that takes you well out of your way — and far away from Medina or Mecca. 

Christianity and Judaism take a major beating these days from our government and our (allegedly) mainstream media.  A crèche or menorah?  Puh-leaseAre you a radical?  But just try and object to highly controversial Islamic practices, suffocating prejudice against women or demands for Sharia law in increasing locales in America – and the pinheads will condemn your speech as “discriminatory.”  Or worse.  And I’m the one who is unclean. . . . .

Jesus in Islam

When the angel said: O Marium, surely Allah gives you good news with a Word from Him whose name is the Messiah, Isa son of Marium, worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter and of those who are made near to Allah. The Koran – Surra 3:45

His name is Isa Ibn Marium.  He was born of a virgin – Marium – who gave birth to Isa by the miraculous will of God.  It is believed by many Muslims that Isa – Jesus – is a Messenger of God who was sent to guide the Children of Israel with the Holy Gospel.  Jesus is referenced in the Koran as being al-Masih (“The Messiah”).  Most Muslims accept that Jesus will return on the Day of Judgment to restore justice and to defeat the Antichrist (al-Masih ad-Dajjal). 

I have written about religion in earlier posts.  I’ve discussed my journey through the Old and New Testaments.  And I have not been shy about discussing Islam (see 1/30/12; 3/26/12; 8/23/12; and 9/6/13).  Frankly, Islam, Christianity and Judaism have more in common than they do difference. But try telling that to the extremists.  Many it seems – especially Muslims at this juncture in history – seem to believe that they alone have the ear of God.   And among Muslims, the 72 (or 73) different sects vilify one other.  And they vilify Christians and Jews despite our Abrahamic origins – and being Ahl al-Kitab.  But I digress.

The story of Jesus has recurring reference in the Koran.  Mary – his mother – is the only woman mentioned in the Koran.  I’m a good Episcopalian but I read the Koran and other religious texts given that the topic is so fascinating (and historically relevant).  Frankly, religion is a topic more people ought study.  And understand.  Yet among Muslims, regrettably a majority cannot read.  S0 many get their information from imams, madrassahs and politicians.  Who often have a political agenda.  And you know what happens then. . . .   Witness the fires that burn across the Middle East.  Nevertheless, I find it easier to discuss religion with Pakistani cab drivers (see post of 8/19/12) than I do politics with those who are misguided on the subject.    


The 72 . . . or is it 73?

I find religion a fascinating topic.  I find it easier to talk about religion with Pakistani cab drivers than to talk about politics with those of other stripe.  Over the last couple years, I’ve posted on the Taliban (12/30/12); Islam, Judaism and Christianity (3/26/12); Ahl al-Kitab (8/23/12); and the archangel Gabriel — the amazing messenger of God ( 1/30/12).  Bottom line — Christians, Jews and Muslims all come from Abraham.  We believe in the same God.  We all read the Old Testament.  And the Archangel Gabriel – the uber messenger – plays a pivotal role in all three religions (as he does in the Mormon Church, the Bahai faith and others). 

But in the Judeo-Christian world, you don’t see Lutherans burning Presbyterian churches.  You don’ts see Jews killing Baptists or Catholics throwing rocks at Mormon temples.  There is no sectarian strife among Christians and Jews.  But just walk to the Muslim side of the world and see how Islam behaves.  Many of the 72 (I believe it’s now 73) different sects hate each other.  With fury.  With passion.  The Sunnis hate the Shiia;  Wahabis hate the Ahmadiyya.  And Salafis and Sufis hate pretty much everybody.  In Nigeria, the Hausa Muslims (Boko Haram) seek out and kill Yoruba Muslims – women and children – wherever and whenever.   

I continue to be bewildered and troubled by this much-vaunted “religion of peace” which has 1.6 billion followers.  All recite the same article of faith “La illah ila Allah Muhammed Rasul Alah” (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger“).  Yet the violence among them — for ostensibly religious (and often political) reason — is mind-numbing.  It is caused mainly by Islamic fundamentalists .(who frankly have no clue about the teachings of Allah).  What is needed are voices of reason and a true ecumenism among Muslims — and all faiths.        

Islam, Judaism and Christianity

Islam, Judaism and Christianity all trace their lineage to a common ancestor  — Abraham.  Abraham had two sons:  Isaac (by Sarah) and Ishmael (by Hagar).  Isaac begat the Line of David from which Jewish and Christian traditions derive and Ishmael was an ancestor of Muhammad — the Messenger of Islam.  

The Quran is interesting in that it adopts and references all of the prophets of the Old Testament.  Jesus is mentioned nearly a hundred times.  And Mary is the only woman mentioned in the Quran.  Islam accepts the Old Testament (especially the Torah and Psalms) as “The Word of God.”  Yet try and reconcile the Quran and the Bible theologically?  In most cases, it is a major chore.      

A common heritage, yet irreconcilable division.  Islam has 72 insular sects.  Christianity has its own islands of belief and Judaism has various divisions.  Despite common origin, there is distrust, misunderstanding and even violence — all in the name of religion.    While most Christian and Jewish traditions accept (or at least are tolerant of) other religions and denominations, the violence tends to be confined to Islam and is curiously sectarian in nature though much too is directed outwardly — toward Christians and Jews.

In my post of January 30th, I commented on the ecumenical role the Archangel Gabriel has played in various religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Bahai, etc.).   I wonder what Gabriel is thinking with all that’s going on in the world. . . . .