|English: Faithful praying towards Makkah; Umayyad Mosque, Damascus. Português: Damasco (Síria) - Homens voltados para a Cidade de Meca se reúnem para rezar, na hora do almoço, na Mesquita Umayyad, a mais importante da Síria. (Foto Antonio Milena/ABr - hor - 08) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
We have some Muslim friends/business associates that we have visited. So, not everything that Dr. Durrani said about Islam was a major surprise to us. But, even though I thought I knew quite a bit about Islam, I did learn some things that did surprise me. Just a quick overview of Islam/Muslims. Islam is the name for the religion/faith, like Christianity is the name for our religion/faith. Islam means, roughly translated, submission. A Muslim is one who submits himself to the will of his Lord. Islam is one of the three Abrahamic faiths- the other two being Christianity and Judaism. Muslims have their own holy book, the Koran. But, they consider the Bible and Torah (the Old Testament) to be divinely inspired writings. The Koran makes many references to both. Rather than including New Testament and Torah in the Koran, it refers to them, expecting its adherents to go to the source rather than repeating everything in the Koran. But, they consider Adam, Moses, David, Jesus, Muhammad, etc. to be prophets. And, we were told one of the tenets of Islam is that a Muslim must not differentiate between prophets. A Muslim cannot dishonor Jesus' teachings or Moses' teachings. Muslims believe Jesus is to be honored, as much as Muhammad. Muslims believe in the virgin birth, in the miracles and that Jesus was a true messenger of G-d. The Koran calls Jews, Christians and Muslims people of the book and gives them all equal and special status with G-d. The Koran allows a Muslim to marry a Christian or a Jew and not have that person convert from their faith to Islam. Anyone who believes in the monotheistic G-d of Abraham is considered a believer in Islam. Dr. Durrani hit this point several times to emphasize that the Koran cannot possibly teach the killing of all Christians and Jews or even their conversion to Islam while it also teaches that it acceptable to marry a Christian or Jew and raise children with them. Dr. Durrani said our being in church that morning and the things we sang about (submitting to the will of G-d) were, his eyes, a practice of Islam- submission to our G-d. He also pointed out that when Muslims ruled Pakistan for generations, Spain for a long time and other counties that they did not force conversions of anyone in those places.
So, with all the similarities between Islam and Christianity, what are the differences? Dr. Durrani said the major difference is we believe in three manifestations of G-d. While, Jews and Muslims believe G-d cannot and would not ever manifest as a man. He talked about the holy spirit that we all have and the image of G-d within each man. He said when he looks at us, he sees an image of G-d and that is what the Koran teaches. He (because of the Catholic school background?) understands that Christians are not polytheists. But, this is a common misconception in the Muslim (and Jewish) world. I can tell you this from personal experience. Many Jews and Muslims consider Christians to be polytheists, which in their minds makes us little better than idol worshipers. Dr. Durrani didn't say this. But, I've seen that myself. I think to convince Muslims we are not so different than they are, we have to be able to explain to them that we are monotheists and that our G-d is the same as their Allah. They are merely different names for the same God. Trying to explain the Trinity to them though will be difficult (if not impossible). Dr. Durrani pointed out many Muslims don't understand the Trinity. I wanted to interject that many Christians don't either. I think the Trinity is a big stumbling for a number of people, for a number of reasons.
I asked Dr. Durrani about the violent passages we've heard about in the Koran, passages that say to kill the infidel, etc. Dr. Durrani pointed out a a couple of things. 1.) Christians and Jews are not considered to be infidels according to the Koran. 2. ) Muslims believe that G-d gave the law to the Jews through Moses and that Jesus continued that teaching. The Koran is another law that G-d gave through the prophet Muhammad. The Koran tells a Muslim what he can and cannot do. The Koran was written over a period of 23 years of Muhammad's life. From the time he was about 40 until he died at 63. Muhammad was illiterate, so his followers actually wrote the Koran. For the first 10 years of inspiration, he was forbidden from all violence, even in self-defense. For the last 13 years, it was revealed to him how to go to war. But, violence was never to be used proactively and there are severe limits such as:
- When invading a foreign country, never harm women or children
- When invading a foreign country, do not enter their homes unless provoked
- When invading a foreign country, do not destroy their crops
- When invading a foreign country, do not destroy their places of worship or enter their places of worship
- When offered peace, even if the intent is deceit, take the offer.
We asked Dr. Durrani about the apparent disconnect between his version of Islam and the Islam of the "radical fundamentalists". We also asked him if there were any dialogs going on concerning why the true Islam was being misunderstood by the people we see who want to kill us in the name of Allah. He had some wonderful insights into this.
First, an observation by me. We (Christians) have our own whacko fundamentalists who use the Bible to justify all kinds of stuff. Fred Phelps leaps to mind. There are passages in Psalms that talk about dashing infants against rocks. So, I'm sick of people lifting verses out of the Koran to "prove" that Islam promotes indiscriminate violence. I don't believe that's any more true than violence is the message of the Bible. Christianity has had it's dark period. Anyone remember the crusades, the Salem Witch trials, the inquisitions? For years, my Jewish friend tried to convince me Christianity was violent due to these periods in our history. Painting Islam as violent because of what some Muslims are doing would be doing the same thing. However, there are violence prone Muslims that twist the Koran to suit their purposes. Dr. Durrani pointed out that one of the problems in Islam is that the education of the youth has been left to the uneducated (in many Islamic countries). The high paying jobs are the ones like his (pediatric orthopedic surgeon) and people aspiring to "success" don't go into the clergy. As a result, the least educated people, at least in terms of a general education, have been left to teach Islam. Dr. Durrani said not only is there a dialog going on between moderate, educated Muslims like himself and the extremist. But, action. As an example he pointed to the recent election in Pakistan where the secular parties swept the elections.
Ty and I were very moved by the talk. Dr. Durrani pointed out that, while we may not completely bridge the gap between our cultures in our generation, that our 8 year old daughter could live in a completely different world as a result of the types of dialog we had yesterday. We plan to find a time where visitors can go to the Islamic Center and visit there as soon as possible.