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PostIslam: Religion of Peace (Vincent Littrell, USA, 04/09/11 2:20 pm)
David Gress in this thread has written a couple of posts that I most emphatically disagree with on several levels.
I think it safe to say that generally agreed-upon guidelines in interfaith dialogue circles aren't a part of Mr. Gress's communicative process here in WAIS when he is writing on Islam. I'll focus on his 7 April post for the moment, though I will say that respectable scholars of law who research into concepts of global law do write on the relationship between the Universal Declaration of Human rights and religious interpretation. In the future, I suspect strongly that people who are not members of a particular religion will scrutinize that religion's interpretations of a particular religion that contravene human rights. I disagree with Mr. Gress's writings on the subject of non-members of a religion not having a say in how a religion's scriptures are interpreted (especially if the non-members of that religion are being persecuted by it).
With Islam in particular, Western scholars like William Madelung have done objective scholarship on application of Qur'anic standards to actual Muslim sectarian interpretations of historical events that are sacralized, and have come to some very interesting conclusions in counterpoint and worthy of deeper analysis for the betterment of mankind, despite the obvious problematic that poses to be in some ways mitigated through formal interfaith dialogue and even Track 7 diplomacy. (See a WAIS post I wrote in the past on this subject at: http://www.waisworld.com/go.jsp?id=02a0&objectType=post&objectTypeId=3983&topicId=1 )
On 7 April David Gress referred sarcastically to Islam as the "religion of peace" when he clearly meant the opposite. This particular type of sarcasm as polemical attack against a world religion is sadly common, and represents nothing of a problem-solving or culture bridging or dialogical nature. This disrespectful sarcasm towards one of the world's great religions should be confronted. Such polemic also plays directly into the hands of those Muslim puritanicals who use the polemical attacks of Westerners against Islam to attempt to bolster their own position within the Muslim world. It very well can be argued that Islam is a religion of peace. One has but to look at the Prophet Muhammad's "Pact of Medina" to find precedent for such a thought. Keep in mind that I'm not saying Islam is pacifistic (though some might argue that the Ahmadiyyih branch of Islam and some Sunni Sufi and Shi'a mystical branches might come close).
I will attempt to provide counterpoint to this polemic of Mr. Gress:
After study of Islam for pretty much my entire adult life, after a significant amount of my personal time being spent in the Muslim world, and from the perspective of a non-Muslim who has a deep respect for Islam, I can emphatically state that Islam is a religion of justice (which ties inextricably to peaceful societal conditions), of high altruism, of high spiritual luminousness, and of the most sublime in excellence of thought and moral teaching. Islam is a religion that focuses on concepts like "the Most Merciful," "the Most Compassionate," and reflects excellences of divine law and juristic interpretations thereof. Islam is a religion that again, in progressive fashion, reflects the universally uniting and creative reality of revelatory power/and or the power of divine inspiration. Islam reflects and emphasizes the unity of "The Divine" and it turns mankind towards "The Face of God." Islam far transcends the limitations of pure rationalism, as well as the limitations of the purely ecstatic and enjoins balance in the two in the search for truth. Islam presents the requirement for purity of the human soul and furthers knowledge of that ethereal mystery that is the human soul. Islam is a religion that requires practice of high individual discipline and enjoins struggle with the lesser passions of the individual ego (the Greater Jihad). Islam encourages exploration of the mysteries of creation, supports not just tolerance of but even love of the "other" (see Nahj al Balagha of Imam Ali). Islam is about beauty, love, steadfastness in faith and commanding the right and forbidding the wrong, and does teach the oneness of the human condition. One can go on and on.
David Gress's simplistically sarcastic comment about a world religion that embodies in spiritualized and universalist terms "the essence of civilization" falls far short of the mark indeed. I would suspect Mr. Gress's simplistic mentioning of Surah 9:29, in his second post in this thread, as reason for puritanical/literalist violence I suspect ties into the issue of Westerners who are themselves of a tendency towards literalist non-spiritual or non-contextual interpretations of Biblical scriptures. I have felt Muslim puritanical literalists are similar to many in the West who bolster Muslim puritanism through their own interpretations of Islam that match the Muslim puritans. Western literalists, whose understandings of Islam match their Muslim puritan opponents, seem to feed off each other in their mutual polemic and arguments to their respective audiences. I have addressed this very issue of Surah 9:29 in this Forum in response to another WAISer (see: http://www.waisworld.com/go.jsp?id=02a0&objectType=post&objectTypeId=4120&topicId=1 )
It seems to me that anti-Islam polemicists like I take Mr. Gress to be actually would prefer to validate the Muslim puritanical interpretations of the Qur'an that are repudiated by large swaths of the Muslim world.
A couple of days ago an Afghan Mullah who is a friend of mine eloquently and with poignancy shared with me and my colleagues his deep sadness and lack of understanding regarding why we Americans would allow the burning of the Qur'an. His question is "are not Americans friends of Muslims?" This is a man who I, over the last year, have seen and spoken with just about every day. I've encountered this Mullah energetically and in deep contemplative fashion studying the Qur'an, Hadith, and scholarly literature of his great faith, who as a Mullah, as far as I can tell, does his best to embody the high teachings of his faith. I enjoy being with him and visiting/joking with him. This Mullah reflects a spiritual beauty that is both simple in the sense of an unjaded view of life and that is empowered by his pristine and very real belief in a merciful and compassionate God, yet also he reflects complexity in his learnedness in Islamic thought as it relates to the essential spiritual reality of the human condition and the massive importance of that fact in a universal sense (he and I have had "oneness of humankind" discussions).
I suspect that this Mullah wrestles with the balance in relationship between Hanafite legalism and the associated ethics/spiritualized virtues in theology/ phenomenology of religion. In my view this Mullah shines like a beacon in contradistinction to the materialistic, secularized sophistication and turgid systematized rationalism of a number of intellectuals I can think of. Yet his saddened commentary of the burning of the Qur'an concerned and interested me all at once. Despite this Mullah's deep immersion in Islamic spirituality and his powerful reflection of that excellent reality, this man has little experience outside of the Afghan context. He is not "worldly" in terms of his geo-political/demographical education.
Thus when we Americans try to tell him that this Qur'an burner is one man of over 300 million people in the US and that this Qur'an burner doesn't reflect the mainstream of American society, this Mullah's geographically limited life experience, limited education in international political and demographic realities and narrow world view in cultural terms causes, I think, that he cannot comprehend the scope and size of American society, he doesn't understand what 300 million people means in its immensity as a population and he doesn't understand the massive diversity of people and thought within the United States and the relationship of that reality to the one Qur'an burner. He certainly doesn't understand the foundations of the US Constitution. Nor does he understand American views towards underpinnings of "freedom of speech." Therefore he feels we Americans, being as he sees us as a people of law (as he understands that concept) and goodness, have hurt our Muslim friends by our allowing such a public act of hostility against his religion. In other words, he feels we have hurt him, and his hurt is palatable to those of us present. I think he, being an older gentleman, doesn't grasp the reality in our telecommunication/media/internet interconnected world that an act of a single individual not in concert with the attitudes of the majority can have strategic impact nonetheless. There were many things I could have said to him about Muslim world mistreatment of "the other." But I didn't, because I knew he wouldn't understand nor believe me.
Knowing him as I do, sometime his own religio-centric sense of superiority comes through (something I've run across with Mullahs before, as well as Christian ministers/pastors). Of course many Muslims think of Islam as being "superior" because of their view to Muhammad being "the seal of the prophets." That sense of superiority at times trickles through in their interactions with non-Muslims. I've experienced it many times. Be that as it may, despite the reality of Muslim world persecution of "the other" (especially religions that believe in post-Islamic revelation like the Baha'is and Ahmadiyyih), I didn't have the heart to bring those issues up when this man was so heartfelt in his distress that his American friends wouldn't stop the Qur'an burning.
So, generally speaking I think, many Muslims' reactions to the Qur'an burning can be tied to the combination of a limited world view in political geography/sociological/cultural terms, phenomenological reality and that un-measurable mystery to be associated with faith and drawing upon "the divine" for all aspects of life, the belief in the Qur'an being the final and thus all important Word of God, and the internalization of what that means; that the outward symbol of God's Word (the Holy Book itself) is under attack by a friend (meaning us Americans). When your friend allows attack on the outward symbol of your most deeply held and life-affirming belief, how are you to feel towards that friend...sadness, anger? When we tell the Mullah that the Talibs also have burned countless Qur'ans in their acts of school burning, store burning and the like, he responds that of course such savagery is to be expected from "the enemy." Such an act is unexpected from his friends as he considers us Americans.
To re-emphasize the point; in many Muslims' minds (and certainly my Mullah friend's), there is an infinitude of meaning to be linked to God's Word that goes deep into the human heart. The symbolism, the emotional hurt, the pure barbarism in this Mullah's eyes that act of burning represents, makes Mr. Gress's commentary about the burning of the Qur'an to be just a burning of paper, all the more reflective of a significant lack of understanding about the role of faith and the deep intertwining of that faith with the psyche and underlying foundations to life's meaning in the lives of millions of people who believe that Muhammad was a Messenger of God and the Qur'an was the revelation of the Will of God. In that being the outward symbol of the Divine Will. The Qur'an is sacralized even as a physical book. The fact of the English version of the Qur'an being burned was not brought up in the discussion (as opposed to Arabic, which has much greater resonance in Islamic spiritual terms), because the concept of Qur'an burning overall was so powerfully sad to this Mullah.
On another though related note, there is a powerful spirituality in Islam hard to put words, which further solidifies my conviction that Islam is a religion of great beauty and has a deeply peaceful spiritual resonance, in that so many of my Muslim friends attach such feeling and even love to their gardens and even an individual flower. I speak generally yet truthfully when I say about Muslims of my experience and historical understanding that the meticulousness of their gardens and their love of flowers cannot be denied. The symbolism of extracting beauty from harsh austerity and the impact of that on Muslim world culture is worth contemplation. The relationship between Islamic spirituality and resonance of a garden's beauty has been reflected in countless verses of Persian poetry.
A few days ago a grizzled and fierce looking Muslim veteran of the ongoing war in Afghanistan as well as veteran of the war against the communists (he was tortured in Poli Charki prison by the communists, and had all his front teeth knocked down his throat by a rifle butt), a warrior indeed, while we stood outside enjoying the day, handed me a lovely flower. When I stuck the stem in my front pocket so that the flower was visible, his smile in return at my response to his giving me the flower warmed my heart. Here was a Muslim warrior giving a flower to a non-Muslim. I have sat with this grizzled scarred warrior on many an occasion and our conversations have entered the realm of Islamic high spirituality. This man is a warrior for peace indeed.
I have seen blood shed by puritanicals and the human remains after battle and suicide bombs. I've felt the bone jarring thunder of suicide bombers' detonations on more than one occasion. I've felt and heard the "pffftttt" sound of passing puritanical fired bullets and had their rifled grenades pass over my head. Despite my now familiarity with that corrosive choking acidic nausea associated with the experience of modern armed combat, I still recognize the beauty and excellences of Islam. I stand firm in my conviction that Islam is a religion of peace (not pacifism).
JE comments: An extremely powerful posting from Vincent Littrell.
Islam: Religion of Peace
(David Gress, Denmark
04/10/11 5:42 AM)
I fully agree with JE's view of Vincent Littrell's posting of 9 April. A most powerful essay.
Even Mr. Littrell, however much he may admire an Islam of his desire, admits that its followers are often violent against the infidel as well as against the imperfect of their own faith. I do not accept his attempted distinction of "puritanicals" from his alleged majority of pacific Muslims. That distinction seems rather hard to see in this day and age.
I take strong exception to Mr. Littrell's rather unpleasant insinuation, namely that people who have the effrontery to adduce Sura 9,29 with its clear denigration of the infidel are somehow themselves infected with some "tendency towards literalist non-spiritual or non-contextual interpretations of Biblical scriptures." Be specific, Mr. Littrell. Who are you speaking of? What Scriptures are you talking about? Chapter and verse, please.
I am no Bible scholar, but when I think "Scripture," what comes to mind is things such as "turn the other cheek" or "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Or, "he who believes in Me shall have eternal life." This I understand. I wish Mr. Littrell would explain to me precisely how these most central assertions of the Christian Scriptures can be turned into instruments of violence by unnamed "puritanicals."
Islam: Religion of Peace
(Alain de Benoist, France
04/10/11 6:40 AM)
David Gress wrote on 10 April: "I am no Bible scholar, but when I think 'Scripture,' what comes to mind is things such as 'turn the other cheek' or 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.' Or, 'he who believes in Me shall have eternal life.' This I understand. I wish Vincent Littrell would explain to me precisely how these most central assertions of the Christian Scriptures can be turned into instruments of violence by unnamed 'puritanicals.'"
Good question. Easy answer.
To understand how some "central assertions" of the Christian Scriptures can be "turned into instruments of violence," one does not need to be a "Bible scholar." One has just to read the Gospels, and to extract from them some other assertions, different from the assertions chosen by David, but certainly as much "central" as the former. In other words, one has to proceed with the Gospels as David himself proceeded with the Qur'an.
One can begin with Matth. 11:21-24; Luke 12:49-51; Luke 14:26. Also have a look at the interesting conclusion of the parable quoted in Luke 19:27. Read Apoc. 19:15.
After that, one can read the Church Fathers. Or St. Augustine in his polemics with the Manichean: "If God orders to kill, homicide becomes a virtue." Read how Pope Urban II justified the Crusade. Read the famous book written by St Bernard, De laude Novae Militiae, etc.
- Islam: Puritanicals, Conservatives, Moderates (Vincent Littrell, USA 04/11/11 2:30 AM)
On 10 April David Gress (DG) stated, "I do not accept [Vincent Littrell's] attempted distinction of 'puritanicals' from his alleged majority of pacific Muslims. That distinction seems rather hard to see in this day and age."
VL: I've discussed the issue of "puritanicals" "conservatives" and "moderates" (and the various levels of intertwinement of these admittedly simplistic categorizations that have use for generalized discussions) at some length in this Forum over the years, and I've no desire to rehash at depth now. However, regarding the issue of "puritanicals" in Islam, I've drawn from one of the leading scholars of Islam in the West, Professor Khaled Abou al Fadl at UCLA. Below is a link to an interesting article about the good professor, whose book The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists is in my view "must" reading for anyone interested in the issue of Puritanism in Islam and the associated problem set of that reality.
Here is a link to a WAIS post I wrote regarding Islamic Puritanism in Europe some time ago:
DG: "I take strong exception to Mr. Littrell's rather unpleasant insinuation, namely that people who have the effrontery to adduce Sura 9,29 with its clear denigration of the infidel are somehow themselves infected with some 'tendency towards literalist non-spiritual or non-contextual interpretations of Biblical scriptures.' Be specific, Mr. Littrell. Who are you speaking of? What Scriptures are you talking about? Chapter and verse, please."
VL: I take strong exception to most of what Mr. Gress states in this Forum about Islam. Surah 9:29 is "clear denigration of infidel"? Does Mr. Gress understand the context of that Surah? Has he read the entirety of the Qur'an and interpreted that Surah with holistic understanding? How clear is it if one word of scripture is imbued with multitudes of meanings? Does Mr. Gress even care about non-literal ways of interpreting scripture or contextually correct ways with understanding of the circumstances surrounding the purpose of a particular verse? The issue of 9:29 is dealt with by many Muslim scholars (and myself as well over the years in this Forum). Is Mr. Gress even aware of the informed Islamic counter interpretations to his own of 9:29 (that matches the Puritanicals)? I challenge Mr. Gress to read Prof. Khaled Abou al Fadl, or is he so caught up in desires for what he thinks Islam should be that drive his efforts at denigrating the religion here in WAIS that he won't read informed counters to his position? I'll present some scholars of Islam who discuss these issues, and I would be interested in his informed discussion regarding their positions:
Mohammed Hussein Kamali (at Islamic University of Malaysia)
Abdulaziz Sachedina (at University of Virginia)
Seyyid Hossein Nasr (possibly the leading scholar of Islamic spirituality in the West)
Khaled Abou al Fadl (at UCLA)
Tariq Ramadan (a leading European Muslim intellectual who is admittedly controversial)
There are many many more.
Do Mr. Gress's perceptions of Muslims in this day and age come through the Western news media that he sees in Denmark and maybe European anti-Islamic polemicists? If so, those strike me as deeply impoverished sources for understanding of the wide scope of diversity of thought and religious practice that Islam is from the United States and Western Europe through to Morocco and on through to Indonesia/Malaysia and the Philippines.
DG: "I am no Bible scholar, but when I think 'Scripture,' what comes to mind is things such as 'turn the other cheek' or 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.' Or, 'he who believes in Me shall have eternal life.' This I understand. I wish Mr. Littrell would explain to me precisely how these most central assertions of the Christian Scriptures can be turned into instruments of violence by unnamed 'puritanicals.'"
VL: Since Alain de Benoist answered Mr. Gress's question regarding proof texts for Christian violence, I feel no need to address that question. I wasn't even talking about Christian violence anyway. The issue of Christian fundamentalist and evangelical violence isn't a serious one at this point in time (though non-violent intolerance of "the other" is another matter regarding some Christian sects, and this ties into very real Christian ant-Islamic polemic that feeds Muslim Puritanical argumentative positions in relation to their moderate Muslim opponents). On the global stage, Christendom as it relates to tolerance of the other in terms of violence is unarguably much more peaceful in recent years (generalized Christian recognition of Human Rights I think has been helpful here). Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals in the Protestant mainstream are very focused on non-violence as their NGOs spread and their humanitarian work increases world-wide (though Christians and Muslims in Indonesia and Nigeria mutually butchering each other has come up in recent years and is still a problem). The Journal of Faith and International Affairs has many articles that discuss issues of the humanitarian efforts of the Protestant evangelical mainstream. And, of course in the realm of formal interfaith dialogue, The Vatican, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox Patriarchies and other leaders from other branches of Christendom are involved in peace/mutual understanding oriented inter-Christian ecumenical dialogues as well as with Judaism and Islam. The dialogue over the Muslim leadership-signed document called "A Common Word Between Us and You" is a case in point (which I have discussed in this Forum).
However, the mindset of Christian anti-Muslim polemicists and the Christian literalist mindset in scriptural interpretation that parallels and even matches the Muslim puritanical interpretive way is what I am talking about. Christian literalists (like those who use Surah 9:29 as proof text for their anti-Islamic polemics) approach the Qur'an in many of the same ways the Muslim Puritanicals do. The literalists in religion, the fundamentalists of the great religions, are of the same or at least similar mindset in regards interpretation of a religion's foundational documents and they feed each other's invective and polemic. Anti-Islamic polemicists who uphold the "clarity" of 9:29 without holistic understanding of the Qur'an and proper historical contexualization, match the Muslim Puritanicals and hands down strengthen the arguments of Muslim Puritanicals. A Puritanical argument (I've seen this in the Al-Qaida Reader) is that (and I paraphrase) "see, the infidels see the Qur'an as we do...thus our interpretation must be right!" (Keep in mind the Puritanicals are locked in non-stop battles of the written word with their own moderate opponents in Islam.)
The issue of the mighty clash that sweeps most the past great religions between the literalists and those who interpret the Words of "The Divine" or divinely inspired/spiritually inspired at different levels of esotericism and historical contexualization throughout history is one I'll not dive into here, though I've described "The Circle of Dorothea" in this Forum that points to the differences in positional relationships with "The Divine" or "God" depending on the levels of esoteric and exoteric interpretation of scripture and religious practice. "The Circle of Dorothea" has play in this discussion I think.
- Islam: Puritanicals, Conservatives, Moderates (Vincent Littrell, USA 04/11/11 2:30 AM)
- Islam: Religion of Peace (Alain de Benoist, France 04/10/11 6:40 AM)