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03 May 2013

Questioning God from a Christian and Muslim perspective

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By Scott Piepho

Not long ago Jesse Watters, a correspondent for the Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor, interviewed Spring breakers to expose the “left wing professors and dopey kids spouting left-wing slogans” that infest college campuses. Getting special attention was The University of Akron senior lecturer Christine Wainwright.

Wainwright teaches a class about the major religions in India. A Spring breaker accused her of trying to “convert the entire class to the Muslim religion” and of claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Even O’Reilly seemed not to give much credence to the mass conversion claim, but he and Watters agreed they needed to dig into this to determine whether a college professor is really claiming that the Christian God and the Muslim God are the same God. O’Reilly quipped that if the claim is true “Allah is going to be offended.”

If they actually do the follow-up they will find out that Wainwright teaches that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. That’s because Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

That is to say both worship the God that (depending on your perspective) was recognized by or revealed to the Israelites as recounted in the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the Old Testament – ecumenism requires lots of parentheticals.)

Judaism, and its two offspring Christianity and Islam, all embraced firm monotheism at a time when most nations and tribes were polytheistic. Mohammed lived on the Arabian Peninsula among polytheistic tribes and believed his revelation, which became the Qur’an, came from the God of Jews and Christians.

Islam stands in a similar relation to Judaism as Christianity does – a belief in a particular, identified God, coupled with a belief in a new revelation that the parent faith does not necessarily accept as authentic. Muslims and Christians differ, but they differ in their beliefs regarding the nature of the God they each believe in.

Allah is simply the Arabic word for “God,” not a new name for God or a designation of a new God. Muslims don’t really say “there is no God but Allah, they say there is no God but God or no Allah but Allah.

So before we get too kumbaya, let us acknowledge that there are real problems with how Islam is practiced today. We in the West broadly describe that problem as the relationship between the faith and people flying airplanes into buildings.

People can have good faith disagreements about the exact relationship between those two things. But pretending that Islam is a religion wholly alien and different from Christianity is not a good faith disagreement. It is demonstrably wrong and carries with it the unspoken and bad faith corollary that intolerance is so deeply woven into the DNA of Islam that Muslims cannot coexist with nonbelievers.

As much as the West may feel itself in conflict with Islam, many within the faith see the real struggle as between hard line orthodox believers versus moderates who advocate liberalization and peaceful coexistence. Moderate Muslims can point to passages in the Qur’an promising that members of the other Abrahamic faiths will be saved as long as they keep God’s commandments.

Islam is not inherently violent, intolerant or totalitarian – at least not to a degree significantly greater than the other two Abrahamic faiths. All three lend themselves to a reading that those who do not follow the faith are enemies of God and therefore enemies of His followers. Jacob is depicted as committing divinely sanctioned genocide; Jesus says “None come to the Father except through me.” But each can also be read as a command to love and respect everyone.
In the West we have a stake in the outcome of the ongoing struggle within Islam. If even a majority of Muslims believe they are irreconcilably in conflict with the West, we are in for a dreary future. As Boston showed, even a few isolate individuals with that belief can cause unimaginable misery.

Westerners taking sides with the reformers do them no favors. Mainstream Islam is sufficiently suspicious of Western motives – not entirely without reason – that Western support for reformation would undermine its legitimacy.

But bellicose rhetoric against Islam generally also offers succor to hard-liners. When the Bill O’Reillys of the world advance a vision that pits Christianity against Islam in a reconcilable, winner-take all struggle they give grist for the Islamist propaganda mill. We tolerate such intolerance at our peril.

(Courtesy: Daily Legal News)

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