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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thoughts on Islam: I

For my course on Death and Dying, I have been undertaking an energetic effort to better understand the tenets and histories of the world's major religions, since the course is intended to offer a cross-cultural survey of attempts to comprehend the reality of our mortal condition. My most recent explorations have been directed towards bettering my knowledge of Islam, and I want to share some of my musings on the subject with Crash Landing readers.

The first surprise from my studies, given the frequency with which Islam is charged with oppressing women, was to learn that Mohammed, for his time and place, was somewhat of a radical feminist. His contemporary Arabian society regarded women as property; a husband owned his wive(s). Mohammed insisted that marriage be regarded as a contractual rather than proprietary relationship. He made it easier for women to divorce, and demanded that their right to own property be respected. He banned the (apparently common) practice of female infanticide. He said, at one point, "The best among you are those who treat your wives the best." And he held that, in a Godly society, men and women ought to live together in compassion and equity.

Now, none of the above negates a charge that contemporary Muslims (when and why did 'Moslem' get replaced with 'Muslim,' by the way?) ought to have kept going along the course that Mohammed charted, and that they are properly criticized for not having done so. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that, at its inception, Islam represented a significant advance in the status of women.

22 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:20 PM

    Muslim better reflects the Arabic pronunciation of the word than Moslem, though most Muslims, including myself, would only get offended by Mohammedan.

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  2. Gene (or onlookers), I have heard some people say that Allah is the God of Abraham, and so it's hilarious that certain Republican Christians get all worked up over people who worship the same God.

    Can you comment on this? It's so difficult to get neutral commentary because the people I've read on either side clearly had a vested interest in the War on Terror.

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  3. I.e. the people saying that Islam is compatible with Judaism, they just focus on a revered prophet whom Jews do not, are clearly opposed to "Bush's war," while the people I read who say "No no, Islam is not anything like Judaism or Christianity" also happened to be war hawks. So I was doubtful of their objectivity.

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  4. Anonymous9:21 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. "Gene (or onlookers), I have heard some people say that Allah is the God of Abraham, and so it's hilarious that certain Republican Christians get all worked up over people who worship the same God.

    "Can you comment on this?"

    Everything I've read and heard (I do a lot of Teaching Company lectures -- very good) says its more accurate to think of the Judaeo-Islamic God and the Christian God rather than the other way around. Both Moslems and Jews find Trinitarianism an offense to monotheism. Neither accept the doctrine of original sin. Neither think one person can make up for the sins of countless others. (Once again, I must stress I'm NOT trying to come down here for one side or the other -- Christians may be correct here, and Jews and Muslims backward -- I'm just saying that Judaism and Islam are closer to each other than either are to Christianity.)

    What are some very popular Islamic names? Mosu (Moses), Ibrahim (Abraham), Mariam (Mary), and Isu (Jesus). There is no serious doubt that these religions are close relatives.

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  6. Wow hammer gold, Gene.

    Miros, your blog looks interesting, but I'm not sure how kind it is of you to share links to your posts with explicit photos of various gruesome accidents.

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  7. ok ok. never post the link again :D

    tokyotom. u delete your blog?

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  8. I must admit, I know very little about the Islam faith. I plan on taking Islam for my third theology course, though, next year. I am actually really looking forward to it because I truly do want to know and understand their religion. For example I had no idea that traditionally Mohammad was a feminist in a sense. I do work with several international students who I have talked to, and it is interesting to hear their perspectives. They believe in Jesus, but that he was 'just a prophet' (as I'm sure most people know that is a traditional Islamic stance). As a Christian I feel the need to dive deeper into that and see how does all this come together for Islam? Jesus was JUST a prophet? Then how do they interpret his prophecies? It is all really interesting stuff, and I will be looking forward to reading your future pieces on the topic.

    -DC
    David Carlson Politics

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  9. Well, Jesus is seen in Islam as a great prophet. Interestingly, given our recent discussion of CS Lewis, with Islam we have the case of about a billion people who hold possibility #2 to be true -- they feel that what are potentially claims of divinity on the part of Jesus are really transmission errors.

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  10. I was taught in school that it was proper to refer to black people as "Negroes," and at that time we were also taught to call Muslims "Moslems."

    I suspect there's a relationship between the name change, and the rise of Islam in the African-American community.

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  11. Interesting, I did not know that they found the claims about his divinity as transmission errors.

    David Carlson Politics

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  12. Muslims believe that Jesus (Isa) is just a prophet like Muhammad, not a god. Muhammad is the last prophet sent by god. I think chritianity and islam believe on the same god.

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  13. Miros, how about linking to great photos of orchids?

    My main blog is at Mises; you can find it by clicking through my name to the first post on my blogger.com blog.

    By the way, I'm curious if you are willing to share your opinion as a Muslim on the election of Obama. This article indicates that because Obama's father was Muslim (and Obama himself went to a Muslim school when young), this might create problems for US foreign policy, particularly as Obama can be viewed as an apostate after having been born to a Muslim father - "murtad fitri".

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0519/p09s02-coop.html

    Is death the penaly under sharia and the Hadith for such apostacy?

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  14. "Muslims believe that Jesus (Isa) is just a prophet like Muhammad, not a god. Muhammad is the last prophet sent by god. I think chritianity and islam believe on the same god."

    I understand they think he is just a prophet and that Muhammad is the last prophet sent by god. I think most understand this. What I think most christians do not understand is how Muslims deal with Jesus' claims about his divinity and that he is God. That he was sent to die for humankind's sins. If Muslims take all that Jesus says as a whole, then his "prophecies" are that he is God's Son and really that he is the 'end.' He IS God. What about his prophecies are 'great' to Muslims, if the prophecy that he came to preach and die for all humankind is necisarily false? His main prophecy is false, yet he was a great prophet. It sounds kind of contradictory.

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  15. David, I just explained why this isn't contradictory, and you seemed to acknowledge it! The idea is that wasn't Jesus' main teaching at all, but distortions added later. Now that may (or may not) be factually mistaken, but it's certainly not contradictory.

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  16. ok i just read a islamic book. isa (jesus) was not died yet. He has been "lifted" to somewhere by the god and will be "returned" at the end of civilazation. huh too heavy eh.

    i just read an article, Michael Jackson just reverted to Muslim?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/celebritynews/3494296/Michael-Jackson-converts-to-Islam-and-changes-name-to-Mikaeel.html

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  17. Anonymous12:13 PM

    TokyoTom, even the most extremist Muslims would disagree that Obama is an apostate. As religion is supposed to be the province of the father, since his father failed to raise him as a Muslim, he could never be considered as such. (Except of course, in the sense that everyone is born Muslim.)

    As to the role of Jesus (pbuh) in Islam, he is considered one of the great prophets who brought the Injil, which is considered by some to be the Gospels or the New Testament but as a lost book by others. For Muslims, if the Gospels and the New Testament are the same as the Injil, then necessarily there must have been transmission errors or deliberate corruptions to change it to the version we have now.

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  18. Anon, thanks for your comments.

    In the NY Times, Luttwak also raises the question of "irtidad" or "ridda", points out cases where death sentences were handed down, and says that Sharia forbid punishing anyone who kills someone who abandons Islam. Is he right about these points?

    I see others who point to the favorable reception of Obama in the Muslim world and am somewhat relieved, but can you confirm whether anyone is arguing that Obama is an apostate?

    As for holy books, while your understanding is that there are transcription errors and deliberate distortions in the New Testament, is it your view that the Old Testament and the Qur'an are the word of Allah and contain no such errors?

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  19. My understanding is that Muslims also the Old Testament as a corrupted version of prophecy.

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