Islam and Others
From Reading the Mind of Islam, Chapter 3, pp.14-40
(American Trust Publications, 1995)
ISLAM AND THE OTHERS
The People of the Book
Geopolitics and Crusades, briefly
According to the Quran every human being is honored solely by virtue of being human, without any further consideration of race, origin, or creed. The Quran says, "We have honored the children of Adam, provided them with transport on land and sea, and conferred on them special favors above a great part of our creation" (17:70).
Islam emphasizes the oneness of humanity as a family: "O mankind, fear your Guardian Lord, who created you from a single self and created-out of itits mate, and made from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women" (4:1). All people equally possess basic human rights, including the right to freely choose one's religion without coercion, for within Islam the space of the "other" is well-preserved and protected. Islam is not an exclusive religion, and no human being, clergy or otherwise, is permitted to set limits on God's mercy and forgiveness, or to speak on His behalf in assigning reward or punishment. The ultimate judge is God Himself: "Your return in the end is toward Allah ... He will tell you the truth of the things wherein you disputed" (6:164).
THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK
(Jews and Christians)
From amongst humanity, Jews and Christians are the nearest to Muslims and are given the honorary title of People of the Book. They are fellow believers in the One God and the recipients of scriptures from Him. They share the belief in the line of prophethood, and many of our Jewish and Christian friends are taken by surprise when they learn that the biblical prophets are also Islamic prophets. The three religions share a common moral code. The Quran says,
| Say: "We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and the revelation given to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) the prophets from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another of them, and to Him we are submitters."(2:136)
The word Islam literally means "submission to the will of God."
Muslims are permitted by Islam to eat the food offered them by the People of the Book (unless specifically prohibited, such as alcohol or pork) and to reciprocate by offering their food to them: " The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and your food is lawful unto them" (5:5).
Further, a Muslim man is permitted to take in marriage (the most intimate relation and sacred bond) a Jewish or Christian woman: "Lawful unto you in marriage are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book revealed before your time when you give them their due dowers and desire chastity, and not lewdness, taking them as lovers" (5:5). In such a situation it is unlawful for the Muslim husband to try to exert pressure on his wife to convert to Islam, because that would contradict the Quranic injunction, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). It would indeed be his Islamic duty to ensure her right of worship according to her own faith.
In an Islamic state the legal dictum about the People of the Book is that "they have our rights and owe our duties." They are equally eligible for social security and other benefits the state provides. Muslims were warned against acts of bigotry or prejudice towards the People of the Book, and Prophet Muhammad himself said, "Whoever hurts a person from the People of the Book, it will be as though he hurt me personally.
As a matter of fact, from its inception the Islamic society was a pluralistic society. As soon as Muhammad immigrated to Madinah to establish the earliest Islamic state, a treaty was concluded between all the tribes, including the Jewish tribes who lived there, establishing religious freedom and equal rights and duties.
Islam is not an exclusive religion. It is a universal call to mankind (not an "Arab" or an "Eastern" religion as many depict it). Although it addresses all people, including the People of the Book, their failure to embrace it is no reason to categorize them as enemies or infidels. As a matter of fact the term "infidel" is of European origin, used at the time of the Crusades to describe Muslims.
Goodness is acknowledged by Islam wherever it resides: "Not all of them are alike: of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (for the right); they rehearse the signs of God all night long and they prostrate themselves in adoration" (3:113). No individual or group can claim monopoly of God's mercy or deny it to others: "Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians, and the Sabians, any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve" (2:62).
The commonalities that Islam shares with Judaism and Christianity are vast and its reality is very different from the stereotype that is held by a major segment of the population in the West. Islam, in fact, is nearer to both Christianity and Judaism than they are to each other, since it recognizes both as religions based upon divine revelation, whereas the Jews recognize neither Christianity nor Islam as such. In this respect it would seem that the term "Judeo-Christian" is a misnomer, and in my opinion it was coined, politically, for the sole purpose of excluding Muslims. A more appropriate description of our current civilization would be JudeoChristian-Islamic, in that the three religions are rooted in the Abrahamic tradition and the civilization of the Islamic era furnished the foundation for the present civilization. It was a civilization in which Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others lived in safety and justice under a system of tolerance and cooperation.
Vast as the commonalities might be, it is beneficial to also be aware of doctrinal differences that exist between Islam and the other communities of the Abrahamic faiths. A general outline will be given with no intention whatsoever of confrontation or attacking other faiths, but to enable Jewish and Christian readers to clarify and reappraise their position towards Islam, rather than continuing to malign it out of ignorance and misunderstanding, which underlies much of the existing animosity and ill will.
Foremost of these differences, perhaps, is how Muslims perceive God and express themselves towards Him. God is the eternal, the infinite and the absolute in all His attributes. It is beyond us to imagine a form for Him or define Him in any way that portrays Him as limited or as less than the infinite being He is. The most reverent language is used when referring to God. It is therefore alien to the Muslim mind to read (in the Bible) that God walked in the Garden of Eden, or that He assembled the angels and said to them about Adam "Behold, the man is become as one of us," or that He regretted His own decision and action (after the flood), saying, "I wish I had not done it," or that God worked for six days and then had to rest on the seventh, or that anyone wrestled with God and almost defeated Him.
Another aspect concerns prophets and messengers appointed by God. Muslims believe that these were handpicked by God, both to convey His message and to be role models for their communities. Whenever societies slipped back into idol worship or associated partners with God or deviated from the moral code ordained by Him, prophets and messengers were sent to remind and correct the course. If human perfection were ever tenable, they would be its epitome and embodiment. The idea that God's prophets committed serious transgressions against His laws, as depicted in biblical portrayals of them cheating and committing carnal sin (such as Jacob's supposed betrayal of his brother, and Lot's supposedly having committed incest with his daughters while drunk), is at complete variance with Islamic teachings. The only conclusion open to Muslims is that such depictions of the prophets resulted from human interpolation into the scriptures.
Muslims often refer to the Jews as their cousins, since Abraham was the common grandfather of Muhammad by way of Ishmael, and Israel (Jacob) and his children by way of Isaac. As is well known, Abraham's marriage to Sarah was barren until she was well advanced in age. Before the birth of Sarah's son, Isaac, Abraham had married Hagar, who conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. According to the Quran, as a test for Abraham and as a fulfillment of God's plan, God ordered Abraham to take his only son, Ishmael, to the place that, centuries later, became the city of Makkah, where the prophet Muhammad would eventually be born. The anguish of Hagar searching for water for her son after their provisions were exhausted, and the unexpected eruption of the well of Zam-Zam, is commemorated annually by Muslims amongst the rituals of hajj (pilgrimage), and when visiting the Kaaba, the first- mosque, built for the worship of the One God, erected by Abraham and Ishmael. God willed that Sarah also, well into her menopause, would conceive and give birth to Isaac, the father of Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, the father of the twelve Children of Israel.
Muslims are somewhat dismayed that large segments of Jews and Christians do not consider Ishmael to be Abraham's legitimate son, since the biblical version depicts Hagar as Abraham's wife as well as Sarah's maid. (Genesis 16:3). In my copy of the King James Version' the name of Ishmael is altogether missing from the glossary, and I was able to retrieve his story only by using Abraham as my key. Time and again Genesis (16:16; 17:23, 25, 26; 21:11) refers to Ishmael as "his [Abraham's] son," thus making it impossible to deny that sonhood. [Authorized King James Version, Great Britain: Collins World, 1975.]
Moreover, tracing the maternal side of the Children of Israel, Genesis tells us that Israel married his two cousins, Rachel and Leah, and their two maids, Zilpah and Bilhah, and out of the four of them came the twelve Children of Israel. Yet no one has ever claimed that any of them were less the Children of Israel because their mothers were maids! Is there a double standard set against Ishmael? In regard to the account in Genesis 22:2, which states that God said to Abraham, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him therefor a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of," Muslims feel that the mention of Isaac's name was deliberately inserted, for at no time was Isaac the only son of Abraham, being (according to Genesis 17:2426) thirteen years younger than Ishmael, and both sons being alive when their father died.
The commemoration of this trying test of Abraham, his submission to God, and his willingness to slay his only son (Ishmael), is annually commemorated by Muslims as one of the rituals of hajj (pilgrimage). To Muslims, however, both Ishmael and Isaac are equally blessed and beloved prophets.
The Quran makes some fifty references to Jews or the Children of Israel, apart from mentioning Moses some 137 times and the Torah eighteen times. Generous praise was heaped upon them, as well as a fair share of blame and rebuke. Examples are:
| 0 children of Israel, call to mind the favor which I bestowed on you and that I preferred you to all others. Then guard yourselves against a day when one soul shall not avail another, nor shall intercession be accepted it, nor shall compensation be taken from it, nor shall anyone be helped (from outside).
And remember, We delivered you from the people of the Pharaoh: they set you hard tasks and chastisement, slaughtered your sons and let your womenfolk live; therein was tremendous trial from your LorJ And remember We parted the sea for you and saved you and drowned Pharaoh's people within your very sight And remember We appointed forty nights for Moses, and in his absence you took the calf (for worship) and you did grievous wrong. Even then We did forgive you there was a chance for you to be grateful. (2:47-52)
We settled the Children of Israel in an honorable dwelling place, and provided for them sustenance of the best it was after knowledge had been granted to them that they fell into schisms. Verily God will judge between them as to the schisms amongst them on the Day of Judgment. (10:93)
It is to be noted that whenever the Quran rebukes the Jews, it is in fact because they did something that the Quran deems in conflict with their religion (the Bible also, in several passages, calls the Jews to account for disobedience to God [see, for example, 2 Kings 17:7-23]). The Quran, however, does not condemn the Jews as a people, or denigrate or laud any ethnic group or race. In fact the Quran gives due consideration to the fact that for a long period of time the Jews were the only bearers of monotheism in a world that was pagan or idolatrous. With the arrival of Christianity and Islam, however, the claim of the Jews to have the sole monopoly of monotheism loses its ground, and with it the concept of the chosen race that they cling to until today. At least this is what Christians and Muslims feel.
Islam does not subscribe to the concept of a chosen race. God says in the Quran:
| You Mankind: We have created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might come to know and cherish one another (not to despise one another). Verily the most honorable of you in the sight of God are the most righteous. (49:13)
People can become better or worse only on the basis of righteousness, not by virtue of belonging to a particular ancestral line. This is vividly expressed in the Quranic version of God's promise to Abraham:
| And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands which he fulfilled:
He said, "I will make thee an imam (leader) to the people."
He pleaded, "And also (imams) from my offspring!"
He (God) answered, "But My promise is not within the reach of evil-doers. (2:124)
The conflict between Arabs and Jews today stems from a myopic emphasis upon the biblical version of the Covenant given by God to Abraham: "And I will to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land give un wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8). The complexity of the Palestinian problem derives from the belief of the Jews that the "seed of Abraham" includes only the Jews.
Accordingly, much of contemporary Judaism believes that only Jews have a right to live in the land that, less than a century ago, was populated primarily by Muslim and Christian Palestinians, who coexisted peacefully with a small Jewish minority. Later, the majority of those Palestinians were actually forced to leave their homes and land by the Zionists who founded the contemporary state of Israel. [For a moving biographical account of this, see Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1984).]
Further, the Children of Israel who have converted to Christianity or Islam are automatically excluded from the current Israeli "law of return," although they are legitimate descendants of Israel (i.e., Prophet Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, or the first son of Abraham, Ishmael). Neither they nor the Palestinian Muslims and Christians view themselves as outsiders who must either leave or live as second-class citizens in their land, the land of their ancestors for millennia. They can hardly swallow such statements as Golda Meir's, "There is no such thing as the Palestinians, they do not exist..." [Sunday Times (London), 1969, 15 June. Quoted in R. Garaudy, The Case of Israel (London: Shorouk International, 1983), 37.] or that of Joseph Weitz, former head of the Jewish National Fund: "Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country..." [Davar (Israel). 1967, 29 September.]
Muslims do not view the Palestinian problem as a fight between religions, but as a conflict between two groups of people with different rationale and objectives. Its resolution, according to all three of the Abrahamic religions, requires an attempt at a peaceful solution. A truly peaceful solution is one based upon justice and fairness, which is the only assurance of its permanency. A peaceful solution is far from being a negotiated resultant between the powerful and the weak. A Versailles mentality should not dominate the negotiations, but it takes farsighted statesmanship to realize this.
We believe that this part of the world should be the converging and not the diverging site for the three Abrahamic faiths to manifest the spirit of tolerance and Godliness, celebrating the unity that encompasses their diversity. Both common sense and religion point in that direction if only all sides would open their eaers and hearts to the voice of God.
Historically, the relation between Muslims and Jews has had its fluctuations, but never because Islam harbored animosity to Judaism as a faith. Conflict was situational and based upon justifiable reasons. However, we should be far from claiming that the history of Muslims has always been a true representation of the teachings of Islam. Particularly under dictatorial rule, Jews and Christians have had their share of maltreatment, but this was not to the exclusion of the Muslim subjects, who were always indeed the most to suffer.
In the Muslim world Jews never suffered anything like the atrocities inflicted on them by Christian Europe over the centuries, including the holocaust in this century. It was in Christendom that the Jews were branded as killers of God and made to pay for it through one pogrom after another. Even when the enemy was Muslims, Europe always included the Jews as "collateral damage." The first Crusade was launched by the massacre of thousands of Jews in Europe, with this mischievous rationalization: "We have set out to march a long way to fight the enemies of God in the East, and behold before our very eyes are his worst foes, the Jews. They must be dealt with first. [Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium. Quoted in Bamber Gascoigne, The Christians (London: Jonathan Cape, 1977), 113.]
In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain as a result of the victory of Ferdinand and Isabella over the Muslims. Contrary to previous promises, it was made illegal for Muslims or Jews to practice their religion; they were condemned to death Or expulsion if they did not convert to Catholicism. Many Jews chose to go to Turkey, then the seat of the Islamic Caliphate, and were generously received, the Sultan mocking Ferdinand and Isabella's expulsion of the Jews by saying, "They impoverished their kingdom and enriched mine."
The Muslim era in Spain was one during which the Jewish contribution to civilization particularly flourished. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the great Maimonides, who was the student of the Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) of Cordova, and later, when he moved to Egypt, he was the personal physician of Salahuddin (Saladin, of Crusades fame).
In his book, My People (also produced as a TV series [Ebban, Abba. My People. New York: Behrman, 1968.]), Mr. Abba Eban, Israeli scholar, historian and former foreign secretary, stated that the Jews had in two episodes during their history been treated justly, once in Muslim Spain and the second, currently, in the United States of America. Over the centuries, the Jewish citizens of Islamic countries have enjoyed security and prosperity. Until this day many Islamic countries house sizable Jewish communities who, in spite of the agonizing repercussions of the Palestinian problem, fare no worse than their Muslim and Christian compatriots.
| Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East She placed a screen (to conceal herself) from them: then We sent to her Our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.
She said 'I seek refuge from you with Allah (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if you fear Allah.'
He said 'Nay, I am only a messenger from your Lord (to announce) to you the gift of a pure son.'
She said 'How shall I have a son whereas no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?'
He said: 'So (it will be): your Lord said, "It is easy for Me: and (We wish) to appoint him as a sign unto people and a mercy from Us" . . it is a matter (so) decreed.'
So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She cried (in her anguish), 'Ah! would that I had died before this ... would that I had been a thing forgotten.' But a voice called to her from beneath (the palm tree): 'Grieve not! Your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; and shake yourself toward the trunk of the palm tree and it will let fall upon you fresh ripe dates. So eat and drink and cool your eye. And if you see any human (person), say 'I have vowed a fast to God Most Gracious, so this day I will enter into no talk with any human being.'
At length she brought the babe to her people, carrying him (in her arms) and they said, 'O Mary! You have indeed done an amazing thing. 0 Sister of Aaron: Your father was not a man of evil nor your mother a woman unchaste!' But she pointed to the babe and they said, 'How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?'
He (the babe) said 'I am indeed a servant of Allah (God); He has given me Revelation and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be; and has enjoined on me prayers and zakah (alms-giving) as long as I live. And made me kind to my mother and not overbearing or unblessed. So peace be on me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life (again). "' (1 9:16-33)
Such is one narration of the story of Jesus in the Quran. The Quran mentions him as "Jesus" twenty-five times, as the "Messiah" eleven times, and as only the "Son of Mary" twice. Mary is mentioned by name thirty-four times and as "the one who guarded her chastity" twice.
Muslims are astounded and dumbfounded when they read notable scholars, specialists and, most painful of all, clergy, portraying Islam and Muslims as the enemies of Christ. Conversely, many uninformed and misinformed Christians are astonished when we tell them about the respect and love we have for Jesus and Mary, even though we have doctrinal differences. A few quotations should be sufficient to express the high esteem in which Jesus and Mary are regarded in Islam.
| Behold! the angels said "O Mary: God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: his name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the hereafter. " (3:45)
Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was the messenger of God and His Word that He bestowed on Mary and a Spirit proceeding from Him. (4:171)
And (remember) her who guarded her chastity: We breathed into her from Our spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples. (21:91)
A principal and obvious difference between the Jews and Christians is their stand on Jesus, who Muslims believe was a true and genuine messenger of God to his fellow Jews. The Quran says "O you who believe, be the helpers to (the cause of) God, as said Jesus the son of Mary to the disciples, 'Who will be my helpers (to the work of God)?' Said the disciples, 'We are God's helpers.' Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed and a portion disbelieved" (61:14).
Those who rejected Jesus and accused his mother of unchastity are rebuked by the Quran time and again: they uttered against Mary a grave false charge, they said (in boast) 'We killed Christ Jesus, son Of Mary, the messenger of God,'. . But they killed him not, nor crucified him ... only a likeness of that was shown to them, and those who differ therein are full Of doubts with no (certain) knowledge but only conjecture to follow. For a surety they killed him not. Nay, God raised him up unto Himself, and God (Allah) is Most Exalted, Wise" (4:156-158).
Islam, therefore, completely absolved the Jews from Christ's blood. The view that the one arrested and crucified was other than Jesus (perhaps Judas Escariot) is held amongst a faction of Christians. Rebuking the Jews for not accepting Jesus, the Quran says:
| We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers. We gave Jesus the Son of Mary clear signs and strengthened him with the holy spirit; Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what you do not like, you are puffed up with pride?- some you called impostors and others you slew. (2:87)
Muslims believe in the miracles that Jesus performed by God's leave, which the Quran mentions:
|Then God will say:
'O Jesus Son of Mary: Remember My favor to you and to your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the holy spirit so that you did speak to the people in childhood and in old age. Behold! I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Torah and the Injil*. And behold! you make out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird by My leave, and you breathe into it and it becomes a bird by My leave. And you heal those born blind and lepers by My leave. And behold! You bring forth the dead to life by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from you when you showed them the clear signs.- and the unbelievers among them said. "This is nothing but evident magic."' (5:1 10)
*Injil.- The original book revealed to prophet Jesus (peace be upon him), which is no longer extant, though portions of it may have survived in the Gospel (or New Testament). Ed.
The praise widens to encompass also the sincere followers of Jesus, both early Christians and those at the time of Prophet Muhammad:
|Then in their wake (Noah, Abraham and the Prophets from amongst their progeny) We followed them up with (others of) Our messengers: We sent after them Jesus son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Injil, and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. (57:27)
And nearest (among people) in love to the believers (Muslims) you will find those who say "We are Christians, " because amongst these are priests and monks, and because they are not given to arrogance. (5:82)
Let us now consider some of the differences between Muslims and Christians. Foremost among these is that Muslims, believing in the chastity of the virgin Mary, say that Jesus was "created" by God without a father, yet do not say "begotten" by God. To them God is beyond such biological characterizations, for He is the eternal and the absolute, as is expressed in the Quran: "Say: He is Allah (God) the one; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him" (112:1-4).
A belief in the literal sonhood of Jesus to God is at variance with the Islamic faith (although it is acceptable to say that, metaphorically, we are all the children of God). Also unacceptable is the doctrine that Mary is the mother of God. Both Mary and Jesus are human beings highly honored by Islam, and the fact that Jesus was born without a father does not, according to Islamic doctrine, make him "the only begotten son of God." The Quran relates, "The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: 'Be': and he was" (3:59).
According to the Quran, Jesus never claimed divinity for himself or for his mother:
|And behold! Allah will say, "O Jesus son of Mary: did you say unto the people 'Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah?'
He will say 'Glory to You. Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing you would indeed have known it. You know what is in my heart though I don't know what is in Yours, for You know in full all that is hidden. Never said I to them aught except what You did command me to say.- "Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. " And I was a witness over them while I dwelt amongst them; when You did take me up You were the Watcher over them, and You are a witness to all things. If You punish them, they are Your servants; if You forgive them, You are indeed the Exalted (in power), the Wise. "' (5:116-118)
Muslims therefore identify with such verses in the New Testament as this statement attributed to Jesus: "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but One, that is God" (Mark 10:18).
According to the New Testament, when Jesus was on the cross he cried, "Eloi Eloi, lama sabachtani?" translated as "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Obviously he must have been talking to someone other than himself. The whole concept of the trinity and of the triune God has no place in Islam: "Say not three; desist, it will be better for you, for God is One God, glory be to Him, (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in heavens and on earth" (4:171).
Muslims do not conceive that infinity can be divided or compartmentalized into three, or accept the deification of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. We hold that Jesus never said anything about three divine persons in a "single Godhead" and that his concept of God never differed from that of the earlier prophets who preached the unity (never the trinity) of God. Moreover, the concept of the trinity was unknown to the early Christians. Historically, it was decreed to be the creed of the Roman Empire in the Congress of Nicaea in the year 325 C.E. and was enforced by all the might of the empire under Emperor Constantine. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: "The formulation 'one God in three persons' was not solidly established into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the 4th Century.
Another area of variance is the concept of original sin. According to the Bible, the devil tempted Eve to eat from the forbidden tree, and she then tempted Adam to do the same: thus committing the sin. They were then punished by being banished in shame to Planet Earth, with more blame befalling Eve as the prime perpetrator: "Unto the woman He said: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee" (Genesis 3:16). The common Christian teaching is that all human beings inherit that sin, and that every newborn is born in sin.
In the Quranic version of this event the devil tempted both Adam and Eve, they both sinned, they both repented, they both were forgiven, and that was the end of the original sin: "So Satan whispered suggestions to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them (before) .... He said to the two of them, 'Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever,' and he swore to them both that he was their sincere advisor" (7:20-21).
After their repentance, "Adam learnt from his Lord certain words and his Lord forgave him, for He is Oft-Retuming, Most Merciful" (2:37). Adam was then raised to prophethood and the human race was delegated to Planet Earth as God's vicegerent. Satan swore to follow them and corrupt them, but God promised to provide them with such guidance as to immunize them against Satan's plots, except those who willed to turn their backs to divine guidance. Every human being therefore is born pure, and it is only later on that our choices blemish us and make us sinners. Sin, according to Islam, is not something that children inherit from their parents.
In this respect, Islam emphasizes that accountability is individual: "Whoever receives guidance receives i tfor his (or her) own benefit, and whoever goes astray does so to his own loss. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another" (17:15). The idea of vicarious sacrifice is therefore alien to Islam, and the claim that Jesus, or anyone else, had to be slain in atonement for human sins, is unacceptable. God's forgiveness, in Islam, is to be sought through sincere repentance and doing righteousness, without need for bloodshed.
Salvation is granted by the grace of God: "And those who, having done an act of indecency or wronged their own souls, remember God and ask for forgiveness for their sinsand who can forgive sins except God?-and never knowingly persist in the sin they have done.- for such, the reward is forgiveness from their Lord. . . " (3:135).
No sin is too great for God's forgiveness. "Say, 0 My servants who have transgressed against their own selves: despair not of the mercy of God, for God forgives all sins, for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful" (39:53). According to Prophet Muhammad, God says: "You child of Adam, you approach me with an earthful of sins, then you repent and worship me, taking no associates with Me, and I approach you with an earth full of forgiveness. "
Devoid of the concept of atonement for sin by the blood of Jesus and of the concept of a chosen race (enjoying special privileges with God), Muslims' great hope in God's forgiveness is expressed by being themselves forgivers. The role of forgiveness, whether between individuals, tribes or nations, is of the essence of Islam. Even when the law intervenes by meting out a punishment commensurate with an aggression, the wronged party is encouraged to forgive: "The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God" (42:40); "And let them forgive, and let them forgo: don't you love that God should forgive you?" (24:22).
An individual can ask God any time, any place, for forgiveness directly; he or she needs no intermediary or intercession, for every person, male or female, has a direct line to their Creator: whenever they cry for mercy and forgiveness, He responds and forgives. To go to a fellow mortal for confession, upon which he would say something to the effect of, "Go my child, you have been forgiven," has no place in Islam. Forgiveness is the domain of God alone, and no one else is ever in a position to play His role.
As a matter of fact, there is no institution of clergy in Islam. Although there is theological scholarship, there is no priesthood. With the hope that God's mercy is boundless, it is up to only Him to respond to us with justice (and He is the Absolutely Just) or with His mercy (and He is the Absolutely Merciful), and all our lives we pray He grants us His mercy rather than His justice. Our repentance should be sincere and serious, and if it resides in the heart, it should show in the deeds. It would be a contradiction if someone stole mywallet and refused to return it, repeating "Forgive me God" even a million times. Justice should first be done when a third party is involved.
These doctrinal differences are neither trivial nor to be ignored, yet it would be foolish and counterproductive to fight one another or hate one another over them. Debate over differences of belief should abide by the highest ethics of civilized debate: "And dispute you not with the People of the Book except in the most kindly manner-unless it be those of them who wronged-but say 'We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is one, and it is to Him we submit (in Islam)"' (29:46).
Notwithstanding the serious differences between the views of Christians and Muslims, Islam is very keen on expounding the common grounds and enjoying their spaciousness: "Say: 0 People of the Book.. come to common terms as between us and you, that we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him, that we erect not from among ourselves Lords and Partners other than Go& if they then turn back, then say 'Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (submitters to God's will)"' (3:64). Beyond that, relations should remain peaceful and friendly.
[GEOPOLITICS and CRUSADES, briefly]
Having thus covered the religious (doctrinal) aspects, it is not out of place to briefly survey here the geopolitical history between Muslims and Christendom.
At the time of the final prophet of Islam, the world was dominated by two major powers, the Persian Empire to the east and the Roman to the west. As the Persians were fire worshipers and the Romans were Christians, Muslims' sympathies naturally lay with the latter. A long military conflict raged between the two empires and the beginning of Islam witnessed a time of defeat for the Christians, but the Quran made the prophecy (which came true) that the tide would change: "The Romans have been defeated, in a land close by, but they, (even) after this defeat of theirs, will soon be victorious within a few years. With God is the Command in the past and in the future. On that day shall the believers rejoice with (that) victory from God; He gives victory to whom He wills, and He is Exalted in Might, Most Merciful" (30:2-5).
Years later, however, Islam prevailed in the Arabian peninsula and consolidated it into a state and an emerging political power, right at the flank of both giant empires. Both saw it as a serious threat and began to instigate hostilities against it, utilizing their client Arab tribes and, later, their colossal armed forces. The outcome of that inevitable military confrontation was almost miraculous, comparing the meagerness of the Islamic forces, both in number and in equipment, to the strength of their adversaries.
In the East the Persian dynasty came to an end and the people formerly under its domain, ahnost in totality, opted for Islam. In the West the authority of the Roman Empire was driven back, and in less than a century a pluralistic Islamic empire covered more than half of the known world at that time. This was the seat of the Islamic civilization that preserved the Greek heritage from annihilation by the Church and brought forth leaps of progress in various disciplines of knowledge such as medicine, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics (algebra is an Arabic word and the science was invented by Muslims), music, philosophy, etcetera, apart from the religious sciences and Arabic literature and linguistics. People of all races and religions generously contributed to the development of this civilization.
Europe got its first shock out of the dark ages by witnessing this civilization without censorship (religious or otherwise) over the human mind. Arabic was the language of science; the earliest European universities employed Muslim professors and for many centuries used the books of Muslim authors. Europe learned about the Greek philosophers by translating their works from Arabic, and when the press was invented, most of its production was the translation of Arabic sources.
As the Muslim Empire weakened, Europe counterattacked. Amongst important historical developments were the Crusades in the East and the victory of Ferdinand and Isabella over Islamic Spain in the West. The latter gave birth to the Inquisition and the religious cleansing of Spain of the Muslims and Jews, and cleared the way for the discovery of the New World, the reign of the conquistadors and the establishment of a state-run slave trade.
The Crusades were an attempt to directly invade the Muslim heartland. At the time the justification was to free the Christian sacred places in Jerusalem from the Muslims, and for over two centuries the Crusades evoked a religious furor that still lingers over the Western mind and shapes Western culture in some ways. This continues even though contemporary mainstream Christianity has condemned the Crusades and branded them as having been no more than colonialist-driven wars that donned the cloak of Christianity while committing such atrocities as to be an affront on Christianity itself.
The word "crusade" (both as a verb and noun) has settled in the language as a noble word, with deeply entrenched emotive overtones. We believe, along with many Christians, both clergy and laity, that Christendom should be re-educated on the Crusades in a spirit of soul-searching and self-appraisal, as has already been done with a large measure of success in regard to the Spanish Inquisition and the German Holocaust. A concerted effort to acknowledge the Crusades' true colors might be a crucial step in preparation for a New World Order, opening the gates of reconciliation between two blocks of humanity, each comprising one billion people, and perhaps helping to prevent similar evils from being camouflaged under a pseudo-religious aura, as in Bosnia and elsewhere in the world.
It is not my intention here to expound further on the Crusades with more than a few quotations of Christian authorship. Here is a crusader's report of the occupation of Jerusalem in the first Crusade, on July 15, 1099: "With drawn swords our people ran through the city; nor did they spare anyone, not even those pleading for mercy. If you had been there, your feet would have been stained up to the ankles with blood. What more shall I tell? Not one of them was allowed to live. They did not spare the women or children. The horses waded in blood up to their knees, nay, up to the bridle. It was a just and wonderful judgment of God. " [Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium. Quoted in Bamber Gascoigne, The Christians, by Bamber Gascoigne (London: Jonathan Cape, London, 1977), 113.]
In 1202 the fourth Crusade took off from Venice and, on the way, passed through Christian Constantinople, where they rampaged the city and inflicted such atrocities that the Pope himself rebuked his own crusaders in a message saying: "It was not against the Infidels but against Christians that you drew your swords. It was not Jerusalem that you captured, but Constantinople. It was not heavenly riches upon which your minds were set but earthly ones. Nothing has been sacred to you. You have violated married women, widows, even nuns. You have despoiled the very sanctuaries of God's Church, stolen the sacred objects of altars, pillaged innumerable images and relics of saints. It is hardly surprising that the Greek Church sees in you the works of the Devil." [Gascoigne, Bamber. The Christians. London: Jonathan Cape, 1977, 119.]
If this was what the Crusaders did to Christian Constantinople, one can imagine what they did to the "infidel" Muslims.
One of the significant milestones of modern times, however, was the radical shift of the views of the Holy See on Muslims, which should hopefully work as a catalyst for better understanding between Muslims and Christians. Whereas in 1095 Pope Urban 11 (also known as Urban the Blessed), who was the first to call for the Crusades, characterized Muslims as "Godless people, idolaters, enemies of Christ, dogs, chaff destined for eternal fire, " etcetera, the encyclical Nostra Aetate of 1965 under Pope Paul VI views Muslims in an entirely different light.
| "Upon Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem," the document says, and proceeds to expound that Muslims adore the One God, the God of Abraham, with whom the Islamic faith is happy to associate itself; worship, pray and give alms; revere Jesus and his virgin mother, and consider him a prophet and messenger of God."
Ever since the Crusades, the relation between Europe and the Muslim world has been distorted by the colonialist agenda of the European countries, and after World War I almost all Islamic countries were in the grips of European colonialism. A long struggle ensued that secured political independence, but colonialism merely took another from, neocolonialism, led by the United States of America, which does not depend on occupation armies but on economic leverage.