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The True Faith? 26 September 2014

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Theology, University.
Tags: , , ,

You may have noticed in the news recently that a prominent group of Muslim scholars, gathered from around the world, have issued a highly detailed, point-by-point, rebuttal of the theology of ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State, the latest international fundamentalist bugbear. I want to say very clearly that I think this a Good Thing, especially as many ignorant and bigotted individuals have already decided that there is no such thing as a Good Muslim, nor any honour or nobility to be found among them. You only need look at the online comments of any number of well-read and thoughtful blog posts with high visibility to see that, let alone seek for sites of more dubious nature.

It is very easy to be disparaging about the things we are ignorant of. More insidious is our ability to be disingenuous about the things we know, especially if we wish that they were not so. Most things of faith, any faith, are rarely as clear as they appear.

Consider: this group of scholars are, in great detail, telling their audience that they are wrong. They are saying that the policies of Islamic State are un-Islamic. They appeal to well-supported, intelligent readings of the Qur’an (and the Hadith, ‘tradition’) to demonstrate their claims. Nevertheless, the views that we would say are extreme, have provenence. In racing terms, they have form. The “Convert or Die” school of conversion in Islam, for example, is as much an historic fact as the depredations of Western Crusaders in the Middle East.

Yet from my perspective as a theologian I have to both applaud the intentions of the scholars but also to apply a caveat.  I am not saying that Islam is a cruel and murderous faith, far from it, but  I am acknowledging that there are a wide variety of interpretations within Islamic practise and tradition that cannot be denied. (And this is without even beginning to look at  “folk” interpretations of traditional faiths…)

There is a sting in the tail to all this too, of course. One principle of honest dialogue is the need to not compare your best with the others worst. Another is to apply the same criteria to your view as that of the other. In other words, if I expect my Muslim friends and colleagues to acknowledge the chequered nature of Islam I must do the same with Christianity. That’s not all, either. I am challenged too, to think about how I respond to questions from some of the Muslim students here at university about the attitudes and practices of some Christian groups. It is often all too easy to say that they are not Christians, where they instead simply fall outside of what I (and many others) would identify as the norm. The hate-fuelled invectives of Westboro Baptist Church may have as much in common with my understanding of Christian faith as ISIS praxis has with my colleague Sayf’s Islamic faith, but we must both admit to their existence, and to their own claims to authenticity and identity, even if they are not normative. Simply put, I have no innate authority to declare anyone not a Christian, no matter how much at times I might wish to do so (and trust me, yes, there are times when I would wish to do so.) I can point out, maybe in very definite and powerful terms, why I think they might be mistaken in their faith claims, but I am not God and cannot open the windows onto another’s soul from the outside.

Dialogue is difficult, and dialogue is dangerous, especially in a world that values certainty over nuances and True Faith over delicate shades. My Muslim student may be as unconvinced as my bigotted fellow-countryman, but no-one worth their salt ever claimed that faith and attempts at integrity are easy.





1. BenDQ - 26 September 2014

Well said!

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