Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A note on Islam

Once again, just as I did last fall when reading a lot of Orhan Pamuk, I feel the need to explain that there is much that is good, true, and beautiful in Islam. Extreme groups, like Al-Q’aida, distort the Qu’ran, the hadiths, even shar'ia. How would we Christians like being defined by the most obnoxious, closed-minded, fundamentalistic groups of Christians, like some white supremacist group, just to take one example? If the answer is, I wouldn't like that at all, then why would you define somebody else's religion that way?

Here is what the fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote with regard to Islam: "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting" (Nostra Aetate para. 3).

Indeed, Islam means submission or total surrender to God. The word Muslim means one who has submitted or totally surrendered to God's will, which is often, as Job found out, inscrutable. The word Allah is the Arabic word for God. Semitic-speaking Christians, like the Maronites, an Eastern Church in communion with Rome, call God Allah in their liturgies. In fact, the Aramaic word for God is Alaha. It is here that root of Allah can be uncovered. Many Eastern Christians in the seventh century, when Islam began to spread, did not think it a new religion, but a Christian heresy. The Muslim form of prayer is believed to be derived from early Christian communal prayer, during which people prayed toward Jerusalem, our holy city.

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