Thursday, June 21, 2007

Trying to get a "balanced view" of Islam and Muslims . . .

Mark Steyn notes in America Alone that too few of us in the West are aware of the different sects of Islam--Wahhabi, Deobandi, Sunni, Shiite, Sufi. . . .

I confess to ignorance.

Steyn points out that Saudi Arabia, the great exporter of Islam worldwide at this point in history, exports Wahhabi Islam--the most "radical" and violent version.

So how does one gain a more balanced view? And how does one encourage the supposedly "moderate" Muslims (who, I am coming to believe, are really the equivalent of what we, in Christian circles, would tend to call "liberal" and/or non-observant or nominal Muslims: people who identify themselves culturally as Muslims, but have no strong religious practice) . . . --How does one encourage the "moderate" Muslims to spread their "moderation"?

Honestly, I'm not sure. But I bumped into the following websites and comments/commentary and have been caused to at least begin to meditate on their significance. . . .

First . . . there's a blog by an obviously non-violent Indonesian Muslim who is currently living in Belgium. You get an idea about his personality from his latest post titled "Adventures on the streets of Europe":
I almost got mugged (again) yesterday. I was walking down a quiet street alone when a man stopped me. He asked me to take a picture of him with his camera. I was suspicious, but anyhow I agreed just to get it over with. When I looked through the camera two guys came up from behind. One of them flashed a police ID badge and said he wanted to see my passport. Now that was like a deja vu because the same thing happenned to me already a few years back in another part of this city.

It's an old trick these thugs play on tourists. They expect you to be afraid of the police and they will run with your passport once you pull it out (they sell these passports for up to 500 euro in Amsterdam). Thankfully I managed to play it cool. I gave the man back his camera and walked away with that four letter word gesture. I was actually quite scared, but surprisingly those two fake polices look dumbfounded that I didn't seem to be scared. They actually then looked more like those guys in "dumb and dumber" rather than thugs. I think by the time they got their mind back I was already going over the street corner, then I started to walk fast, very fast.

This reminds me of another incident a couple of years ago under the streets of Paris. I was again walking alone through a quite part of Paris metro station when a guy stopped me. He started to kick around a football expecting me to play. At certain point I felt his hand was reaching down my back pocket, so by reflex I shoved him to the wall. I was surprised by my own move, but he seems to be more surprised. Perhaps he thought this Asian looking guy knows Kung Fu. So after a few seconds of silence looking at each other eyes, he ran away... and at the same time I also ran, to the opposite direction of course ... :P

Times like these, I am simply glad I had my running shoes on, and that I watched enough Hollywood movies So guys, if you can't avoid streets like these, and you can't kick like Jet Li or Jacky Chen, make sure you can imitate Chow Yun-Fat's coolness and have those great running shoes on!

More seriously (or, rather, more to the point of this post), however, he writes:

Many moslems, including me, feels that Islam is largely misunderstood in the West. The current dominant perception of Islam in the US and Europe has been shaped seemingly by a small minority of moslems, which have hijacked the global stage because they somehow shouted much louder. As a result, in many parts of the West today, Islam is almost identical to terror. To be fair, many moslems (again including me) have not done much of our homework to practice, let alone communicate, Islamic values in our daily life. We need to communicate our values to non-moslems, but communication of our values start at home. It starts with practicing in daliy life the values we belief in.

In response to a comment about his orignal post, he continues much the same theme:

God is everywhere, and He is speaking to us all the time, we only need to listen. Unfortunately many of us turned a deaf ear to Him most of the times. We get too busy listening to other voices instead, too easily satisfied with confining our relationship with Him to routine rituals or sometimes to almost nothing at all. Again this is mainly a reminder for myself ...


And then I saw this comment:

Did you know that experimentation comes from Muslim Science and differentiates it from Greek Science which was more based on Speculation? Learn about this and so much more from this fascinating site courtesy of the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation (UK).

He provided a link to where I found an article titled "The Islamic Origins of Modern Science".

As I began to read, it struck me: the style, the substance, the manner of quoting the Qur'an: it all sounds a bit too familiar. It reminded me of how a lot of Christians use (or misuse) Scripture.

[T]he Qur'an called upon them to think, to investigate and to use their minds, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

In one of the first revealed verses of the Qur'an, God drew the attention of the Arabs to the camel, a part of their everyday lives:

Have they not looked at the camel-how it was created? And at the sky-how it was raised up? And at the mountains-how they were embedded? And at the earth-how it is spread out? So remind them! You are only a reminder. (Qur'an, 88: 17-21)

In many other verses of the Qur'an, people are instructed to examine nature and learn from it because people can know God only by examining His creations. Because of this, in one verse of the Qur'an Muslims are defined as people who think about the creation of the heavens and the earth:

Those who remember God, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth (saying): "Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire." (Qur'an, 3: 191)

As a result of this, for a Muslim, taking an interest in science is a very important form of worship.

I am curious: Does any of this strike you in a similar manner? Or am I completely "messed" in my head? I try to follow the "logic" of (for example) just this section that I have quoted, and "it does not follow."

But/and then, I compare it to some of the arguments I see in Christian circles, especially between young- and old-earth creationists, and I sense a lot of our/their arguments appear just about as "logical." Are we (Christians and Muslims; Jews, too?)--we who seek to take our sacred Scriptures seriously--. . . Are we all subject to "taking Scripture out-of-context" and, potentially, at least, of seeking to make it say what we want to say, rather than what it says for itself?

In many verses of the Qur'an, God instructs Muslims to investigate the heavens, the earth, living things or their own existence and think about them. When we look at the verses, we find indications of all the main branches of science in the Qur'an. For example, in the Qur'an, God encourages the science of astronomy:

He who created the seven heavens in layers. You will not find any flaw in the creation of the All-Merciful. Look again-do you see any gaps? (Qur'an, 67: 3)

In another verse of the Qur'an, God encourages the investigation of astronomy and the composition of the earth that is the science of geology:

Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it? And the earth- We have spread it out, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and produced therein every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs)-To be observed and commemorated by every devotee turning (to God). (Qur'an, 50: 6-8)

In the Qur'an, God also encourages the study of botany:

It is He Who sends down water from the sky from which We bring forth growth of every kind, and from that We bring forth the green shoots and from them We bring forth close-packed seeds, and from the spathes of the date palm date clusters hanging down, and gardens of grapes and olives and pomegranates, both similar and dissimilar. Look at their fruits as they bear fruit and ripen. There are Signs in that for people who believe. (Qur'an, 6:99)

In another verse of the Qur'an, God draws attention to zoology:

You have a lesson in livestock... (Qur'an, 16:66)

Here is a Qur'anic verse about the sciences of archaeology and anthropology:

Have they not traveled in the earth and seen the final fate
of those before them? (Qur'an, 30: 9)

In another verse of the Qur'an, God draws attention to the proof of God in a person's own body and spirit:

There are certainly Signs in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves as well. Do you not then see? (Qur'an, 51: 20-21)

As we can see, God recommends all the sciences to Muslims in the Qur'an. Because of this the growth of Islam in history meant at the same time the growth of scientific knowledge.

Maybe I need to get into the "swing" of things and, as I suggested at the beginning of this post, seek to encourage "moderate" Muslims to spread their "moderation" . . . through the use of the Qur'an!

As some Christian ambassadors to Muslims in southeast Asia suggested to a conference of which I was a part a couple of years ago: maybe, "properly understood," in the same way that, as St. Paul said, the law was a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, so Muhammad truly can be God's prophet to lead Muslims to Christ. . . .

What allowed Muslims to create such an advanced scientific culture was derived from the faculties of the Islamic understanding. One of them was, as we have noted, the motive to learn about the universe and nature according to the Qur'anic principles. Another one was open-mindedness. Both the Qur'anic wisdom and the Prophetic teaching gave Muslims a global outlook to the world, overcoming all cultural barriers. In the Qur'an, God states:

Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other..." (Qur'an, 49:13)

This verse clearly encourages cultural relationships between different nations and communities. In another verse of the Qur'an is it stated that "Both East and West belong to Allah" (2:115), thus Muslims should see the world in a universalist and cosmopolitan vision.

The hadiths, or sayings, of the Prophet also encourage this vision. In a popular hadith, the Prophet tells Muslims that "wisdom is the lost property of the Muslims; he takes it from wherever he finds". This means that Muslims should be very pragmatic and broadminded in adapting and using the cultural and scientific achievements of non-Muslims; those non-Muslims are also creatures and servants of God, even they might not recognize so. The "People of The Book", i.e. Christians and Jews, are even much more compatible, since they believe in God and stick to moral code He revealed to man.

Some "wild" meditations this morning. . . .

[Oh. PS. I followed a further link or two to discover that the original source of the "The Islamic Origins of Modern Science" article . . . is an Answers in Genesis-style organization dedicated to Islamic creation-evangelism: Harun Yayhah: An Invitation to the Truth.]

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