On Islam

During BIFF I watched two films that touched on the subject of Islam and its relationship to the West. It set me to wondering about what most westerners (and in particular western Christians) actually know about Islam and the Qur’an, as opposed to what they learn from the news and during interviews with outspoken men whom some parts of the Muslim community look up to as "leaders". It also worries me that many Muslims appear to forget about the deep-rooted similarities between Islam and Christianity/Judaism.

For instance, and maybe I’m starting at too basic a level, how many of you, gentle readers, realise that the Qur’an states that the Scriptures (i.e. the Torah/Old Testament) and the Gospel (i.e. the New Testament) are to be adhered to (and it states this not just once but many times), that Jesus was born of Mary via one of God’s miracles (Surah 3: The Imrans), and that Jews and Christians who adhere to the Scriptures and the Gospel should have nothing to fear or regret (Surah 5: The Table)? Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is an Abrahamic religion, which means followers of these religions all believe in the same God. The Qur’an reiterates many of the stories told in the Torah and the Gospel. If there is so much overlap, why, as Muslims believe, did God need to reveal the Qur’an to Mohammed via the Angel Gabriel?

In some respects, the Qur’an can be looked upon as a reminder to observe the Scriptures and the Gospel. If one reads the Qur’an, one finds that God is displeased with the way in which many Jews and Christians practice their faith. Catholicism, for instance, turns God into a Holy Trinity made up of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (the concept of the Holy Trinity was not born until the time of the Ecumenical Councils in the 4th Century A.D., and in fact Christian Doctrine by this time had undergone quite a transformation from the faith practiced by the earliest Christians). Jews fail to acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah and that he was born of God’s miracle. Islam acknowledges Jesus Christ as an important prophet and the only prophet to have been born through divine intervention. However, Islam stops short of making Jesus part of the God figure.

People often don’t realise that Islam shares common roots with Christianity and Judaism because God is called "Allah". But this is simply the Arabic word for God (with a capital ‘G’), in the same way that Dios is the Spanish word for God. The Arabic word for god (little ‘g’) is "illah" (not sure whether this is the usual Romanisation of the word). Therefore, when talking about Islam and "Allah" in English, it is appropriate to use the term "God" rather than "Allah". I think this small step on its own, if adhered to in the literature and in the media and if Muslims used this convention when speaking in English, would go some way towards bridging the divide between moderate/secular Muslims and the rest of the Australian community. Distrust breeds where ignorance lies, and every small thing that can highlight similarities rather than differences in a tension filled situation must be siezed upon.

The onus is on moderate Muslims to stand up and denounce extremism and to educate non-Muslims about their religion. I think it’s sad that many Muslims – and most visibly some so-called Muslim clerics/leaders (Islam, like Judaism but unlike most of the branches of Christianity, has no clerical hierarchy) – seem to overlook the many passages in the Qur’an that beseech them to understand Judaism and Christianity, and to be mindful of the Scriptures and the Gospel. Extremists are the vocal minority. Where are the voices of the moderate majority? Where are the Crazy John’s, the Zinedine Zidane’s and the millions of others who practice moderate Islam? Stand up and be counted.

Note: It is not my intention in this article to either endorse moderate Islam or denounce it, but rather to highlight only a few of the many commonalities between the Abrahamic religions. At the risk of stating the obvious, I do denounce Islamic extremism, just as I denounce any other philosophies that promote violence and terror. As those closest to me would realise, this article has nothing to do with my own religious/philosophical persuasions.