Thursday, December 30, 2010

Islam in a Post-9/11 Society: Moving From Fear and Intolerance to Respect and Friendship (Final - Pt. 5)

Although certain progressive hermeneutics of the Quran may be able to maintain a robust religious pluralism like Reza Aslan and Omid Safi do, the majority of traditional and moderate Muslims today remain concerned to preserve a stronger sense of particularity in the tradition. Still, Seyyed Hossein Nasr maintains that most Muslims in the contemporary context are quite interested in inter-religious dialogue to promote understanding between different religious faiths – though only under certain conditions. As Nasr writes, “They are interested as long as such a dialogue does not lead to that kind of ecumenism which reduces religions to the least common denominator and sacrifices Divine institutions and doctrines in the name of peace but ultimately for a banal humanism...’” Is this good enough to facilitate peace between faiths? Opinions of course vary on this, but I am convinced that it is. I do not accept the hard post-modernist assertion that to make actual metaphysical religious truth claims is to plant the seeds of religious violence. Religions as different as Islam and Christianity can coexist in a modern society and find common ground in areas of ethics and justice work. They need not surrender their central faith claims in the process.

The truth is, religions are not all the same, despite opposite affirmations of some religious leaders, mystics, and philosophers of religion. The vast majority of everyday religious persons around the world, including Muslims and Christians, care very much about the particularity of their faith. The world’s many religions offer different solutions to different problems, and the argument by some that the essentials of religion are all the same “is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectful and untrue...[they] do converge when it comes to ethics, but they diverge sharply on doctrine, ritual, mythology, experience, and law.” Even in our class trip to the mosque, we encountered a serious concern for the particularity of different religions from our Muslim hosts. When a member of our class asked if one could be simultaneously a Christian and a Muslim, the panel speaker politely replied that unless one were to give up the doctrine of the Trinity and the atoning death, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus, it was not possible. In no way did this seem judgmental or exclusive. It was an honest statement about differences in the beliefs of most Christians and Muslims. Despite religious differences with our Muslim hosts, this did not stop us from admiring them as sincere religious believers and respecting them as fellow human beings.

The future of Islam in Europe and America is uncertain for the time being. Islamophobia continues to be a rising problem in the West, while the sting of 9/11 has not yet ceased. Another issue worsening religious tolerance is radical atheism (the so-called “New Atheism”), which often calls for the abolishment of all religion, especially the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three traditions are indeed guilty of violence throughout their histories, and they all continue to have their share of radical extremists who pose a threat to society. Although the critiques of religion by these atheists are sometimes correct, I believe they go too far, and in the process exacerbate religious conflicts. There is much to admire about all three of these great religious traditions, as different as they are and as problematic as they can be at times. As evangelical Christianity continues to explode in the Global South and Islam grows rapidly around the world, religious leaders and intellectuals will have to work diligently to build bridges between these two Abrahamic traditions. As a Christian who experienced a radical paradigm shift in my view of Islam, having moved from fear and intolerance to genuine respect and friendship, I choose to remain optimistic about the possibility of real cooperation between the Abrahamic traditions.

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