Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is Islam a Religion?

One rabbi friend of mine in Nashville is under attack for supporting the building of a mosque in a Nashville neighborhood. Among her critics are those who argue that Islam is a threat to America, that mosques are fronts for terrorist agitation and activities, and that Islam isn’t really a religion but a way of life seeking to impose its values on every aspect of human life.

While I support my friend, I am intrigued by her critics, and not unsympathetic to their fears.

Are there dangerous clerics in Islam? Of course. And there are dangerous clergy in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism as well. Do some mosques foment hate and terror? Of course. And there are churches, synagogues, and temples in the US, Israel, India, Africa, and elsewhere that do so as well. The challenge is to root out these clerics and the institutions that support them, not to condemn all churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.

I would urge critics of religious radicalism in all its forms to attend local religious institutions and report on what is being taught by actual clergy in actual religious centers. If there is a mosque, church, synagogue, or temple plotting, preaching or excusing hatred, injustice, and oppression let’s expose them.

Is Islam a religion or a code of life? The two are not mutually exclusive. Judaism also speaks to all aspects of life: social, economic, legal, cultural, political, etc. It tells Jews what foods they can and cannot eat, what kinds of clothing they can and cannot wear, when and how to wage war and when and how to wage peace. There is an important difference, however. While Judaism seeks to impose its strictures on Jews alone, Islam seeks to make the whole world Muslim, just as Christianity used to and in some cases continues to seek to make the whole world Christian.

I too fear totalitarianism, religious and otherwise. I no more want to live under Sharia law than I do under Jewish law, Catholic law, or any system which holds that civil law should be derived from and shaped in accordance with the laws of the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, or any other scripture. When Muslims start imposing Islamic values on secular America I will fear them. At the moment, however, I am more fearful of conservative Christians imposing their biblical values on America weakening our study of science and medicine, restricting women’s reproductive rights, stepping on the civil rights of homosexuals, holding “national” prayer breakfasts that exclude any god but their own, etc.

Yes, Islam is a complete code of life. So is Judaism. So is Christianity. The only difference is that most American Jews and Christians ignore their respective faiths when those faiths interfere with their personal desires. Muslims just haven’t reached the point where the majority or even a sizable minority give lip service to Islam while living secular lives no longer controlled by it. For better or worse, the mall will trump the mosque just as it has the church and the synagogue.


kat said...

"Islam seeks to make the whole world Muslim,..."

This is an incorrect preception. There may be some extremists who hold this view---however it goes against the Quran which is very clear that while knowledge should be shared, conversion by force is against God's will---and it is God who will Guide whom he pleases. (not to mention, Islam considers the "people of the book" to have valid religions, if corrupted by time---particularly the trinity)

Muslim Parents DO NOT want their children to get caught up in extremism or voilence (just as any sane, reasonable, responsible Parent would not either)and they are the best Policemen.

You also have an incorrect view of sharia.---there are between 4 to 5 different schools of sharia!---I need to run---maybe I'll be back to explain later....

kat said...

Sharia --- I am a Muslim and my understanding of Judaism is limited, my apolologies if I get anything wrong---but as far as I understand, Jewish law (halaka) and Sharia are separated into 2(sort of)That is those "laws" that are between man and God (where God is the Judge) such as dietary laws...etc and those "laws" that are between man and man and where Justice is according to a Judiciary system. Its important in both Judaism and Islam that people be "Law-abiding" citizens and in a secular state/country, this would mean to abide by those laws as it pertains to justice between man and man.
If you have questions---please ask.....

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks, Kat. My comment on Islam seeking to convert the world is based on the idea that all missionary religions have the hope that the world will come to se the correctness of their view.

As for Islam and Judaism wishing that all Muslims and Jews live in a secular state... where do you find this in the Koran or Torah? The very notion of secular (which is not the same as democratic) is a modern idea coming long after Judaism and Islam.

kat said...

"As for Islam and Judaism wishing that all Muslims and Jews live in a secular state"---my apologies, it seems I was not clear---For Muslims, being "law-abiding" is important--therefore, if they happen to live in a secular state---they have to follow the laws of the land as they pertain to justice between man and man(Fiqh)---and this would not conflict with Islam as a religion--(as long as these laws were not oppressive/ unjust) In Islam, this aspect of "Law"(Sharia) is called "Fiqh" ---it is adaptable, and a "human construction" though the ethical/moral values are derived from the Quran. Those "Laws" (Sharia) between God and man pertain to prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, dietary laws,....etc. There is no Judiciary or court system---as this is a matter between Man and God and God will be the Judge.

It was my understanding that Judaism was also similar in that--Jewish law pertaining to aspects of Justice between Man and Man was adaptable to circumstances---that todays interpretation would be far more humane and compassionate than it was maybe in early Judaism?

As to "secular" law, as it pertains to the "West"--it is also my understanding (I could be wrong) that many of the underlying presumptions and values it is based on--comes from Judaism---such as the notion that one is innocent until proven guilty---(this is similar idea to Islam---because in both Judaism and Islam, Man is inherently good---neither has the concept of "original sin")

"missionary"---One aspect that may be different between Judaism and Islam is the idea that ALL knowledge is from God,..... religious, scientific, philosophical and all other. So, many Muslim scholars (missionaries) went to countries with ancient cultures in the pursuit of knowledge. Inherent, in this idea, is the concept that Islam is not a "new" religion---but a continuation of God's will (Islam/Submission (to God))from the time of Prophet Adam(pbuh).

kat said...

Surah 5, verse 44, 47, 48.
(Quran translations are available online for free---Pickthall, Yusuf Ali or Asad or accepted translations---verses should not be broken up---but due to lack of space ...)
44. It was we who revealed the Torah: Therein was Guidance and light, By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the Prophet who bowed (submission) to God's will, by the Rabbis and Doctors of Law: for to them was entrusted the protection of God's book, and they were witness thereto: Therefore fear not men but fear me, and sell not my signs for a misreable price. If any do fail to judge by waht God has revealed, they are unbeleivers.
47. Let the people of the Injil judge by what God has revealed therein. If any do fail to Judge by what God has revealed, they are rebels.
48. To you we sent the scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what God has revealed and follow not vain desires, diverging from truth that has come to you. To each among you have we prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If God had so willed, he would have made you a single people, but (his plan is)to test you in what he has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues, the goal of you all is to God; It is he that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute.

As these verses indicate---we all worship the ONE God, but we have been given diversity as a test and a blessing. Each of us must strive to bring out the best in ourselves through our religion. Religion is useless if it is simply a "theory" ---it must have the power to inspire human beings to transform themselves and their surroundings for the better.

A secular society may possibly create an environment in which all of us can strive, in our diversity, to be the best we can be. ---if so, it would align with God's will.

Many of the "western enlightenment" ideas emerged from/were influenced by the dialogue and debates that occured between scholars (both Jewish and Muslim)during the 8th to 12/14th Centuries.