I want to share something more of what Karen Armstrong, in her book The History of God, teaches about Islam. It is easy to form one’s opinion of a particular religion based on what one hears in the media. I am as guilty as anyone to imagine Muslims as being intolerant of other religions believing that their way is the only way. As a Christian, I know that a particular religion can have many faces. The Christian community has a wide range of expressions including one like this face of Islam, believers who insist that our way is the only way. So even after 9-11, when Islam came into the news, I sensed that this picture of a bigoted, violent Islam was distorted. It sure didn’t match the meek, kind Muslims that were moving into our area.
Armstrong wrote that the intolerance that many people condemn in Islam today does not really reflect early Islam. “Muslims are intolerant of injustice,” she writes, “Whether committed by rulers of their own or by the powerful Western countries (but) the Koran does not condemn other religious traditions as false or incomplete but shows each new prophet as confirming and continuing the insights of his predecessors. The Koran teaches that God had sent messengers to every people on the face of the earth…(and) points out that (the message they bring) is (not) essentially new…Muslims must emphasize their kinship with the older religions. They should say to other religions:
“We believe in that which has been bestowed upon us,
as well as that which has been bestowed on you:
for our God and your God is one and the same,
and it is unto him that we (all) surrender ourselves.”
Among the messengers or prophets that the Koran mentions are Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus. Muslims today insist that if Muhammad had known about Hindus and Buddhists, he would have included their religious sages.
Christians, for the most part, would take issue with placing Jesus on the same plane with these others. but I would like to suggest that that posture hasn’t been helpful in history. Thinking our way is the only way or our prophet is the only one truly of God, or in the case of Jesus, is God, has caused nothing but trouble. We could use a little humility. We don’t know, really, the nature of Jesus or any other prophet. We can only attest to our own experience of God and how our prophet seems to play a part in that.
This open face of Islam is not what we see in the news here in the U.S. I have heard criticism that Muslims have made within their own ranks of their failure to show this other, tolerant face to the world. I am thankful for Armstrong’s presentation. It gives me hope.