Christianity, Islam: Faiths of compassion, mercy, forgiveness

4/3/2007

By Joe Edd Morris
Guest Columnist 

A recent article in the Advocate (“Claims About Koran Teaching Peace Wrong”) caught the attention of my book study group at Tupelo’s St. Luke Methodist Church, and this concerned response is on their behalf, as well as many others who registered similar feelings. 

First, if one takes time to read the Koran, which I did recently, they will find the words all compassionate, all merciful and all forgiving on almost every page. The words are in reference to Allah. And, yes, though by a different name, that is the same God we worship. Granted, there are scattered references indicating revenge and violence to enemies, but nothing compared to what we find in the Old Testament Psalms alone. Bottom line: Those individuals strapping bombs to their bodies and blowing up innocent men, women and children are no more Muslim than men in white hooded robes who lynch (African Americans) are Christians. 

The author of the article quotes liberally, and randomly, from the Koran, a book almost all textual scholars agree is impossible to translate accurately from Arabic into English. When trying to find an English version of the Koran, all I could find were “interpretations.” This became even more apparent when, after considerable diligent searches through my copy I could find none of the quotes cited by the author. Portia’s justice speech in The Merchant of Venice becomes all the more relevant: Whether citing from the Bible or the Koran, “the devil can quote scripture to suit his purpose.” (No specific reference intended, only symbolic.) 

In attempting to understand any scripture — Jewish, Islamic, Christian — context is crucial. Most of the Koran (some would say all) was written at a time of conflict and conquest, just as parts of the Old Testament were considering that Mohammed did not write the Koran, but others did (just as God did not fax the Bible), it is not surprising that those human elements surface. But they are not the big picture, the dominant themes of most-compassionate, most-merciful and most-forgiving. 

The writer states, “The moon is Allah’s symbol; the sword stands for evangelism by terror, war and death threats.” Has the Christian cross ever stood for “evangelism by terror, war and death threats?” Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. It was Christians who, during the Crusades, slaughtered Muslims (and Christians), and Muslims who practiced religious toleration. Jews and Christians worshipped freely and openly. European knights wearing crosses on their armor put a stop to that. Who else wears a cross and evangelizes by terror? 

As far as Allah being a former “moon-god,” do we Christians dare go there? Do we dare go back through all of the layers of Babylonian/Sumarian/Mithric mythology, Constantine’s impositions on the church? Perhaps not. Basically, grandmother’s adage holds true: “The pot can’t call the kettle black.” 

Then, these questions becomes relevant:

  • What do we fear? 
  • Why do we fear?
  • Are we, or are we not, secure within our faith?
  • Is it important that we win (was that what happened at Calvary?) or that we spread God’s love with reconciling words and actions?
  • What is our message? 

One of the most poignant books of our time on the subject of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is Abraham: Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler, a Jew. In it he points to Abraham, the common denominator of the three faiths, the linchpin to the Middle East conflict. He reminds us that Ishmael and Isaac were both present at Abraham’s death. They may not have been hugging or shaking hands, but they came to the table. 

The author of the article also speaks of “The Muslims” as though they are a unified, monolithic threat to all Christians. Is this a naive world view? Are the Muslims a united, monolithic force out to exterminate all Christians? They are as fractured and disparate as the cracks and fissures within our own Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, etc.  

The war raging now in Iraq is mostly between Shiites and Sunnis; that’s Muslims against Muslims. Granted, Muslims are competitors. We’ve certainly given them good cause to have a grievance…Crusades…The Balfour Act of 1948…the way they are treated by “the ugly American” tourist. Islam flourished because Mohammad saw legitimate, major problems with the Christianity of his day. He decided to try and “get it right,” and in a geographical vacuum that Christians had abandoned: the Arabian Peninsula. It is always a faulty and dangerous logic that generalizes from a handful to the multitudes. Most Muslims are peace loving and want to exist in peace.  

There is so very much more that could be said, but perhaps this will be a beginning for others to explore further. And in that spirit, I wish to thank the author of the previous article for stimulating and spurring this dialogue which, hopefully, will take us to a table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies, a table of reconciliation and peace, of Ishmael and Isaac. 

Anyone wishing to know more about Christianity and Islam can get a copy of Christianity and Islam by Ronn Kerr (1-888-848-9578), an excellent study. Anyone wishing to learn more about Christianity and its goal of winning the world through love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness are encouraged to go to the New Testament.

Morris, retired from the Mississippi Conference, is a psychologist in Tupelo and author of “Land Where My Fathers Died.”