the literal meaning of the word muslim is “one who submits to God”. if that be the case, i am (proudly) a muslim.
the history of the relationship between christians and muslims has been one of opposition and conflict. having grown up in the “christian west” i have experienced the way that history is retold. For me, this always included a certain way of speaking about Islam that portrayed that religion in terms of threat.
Even today, with conflict in the middle east, people in (relatively) unaffected southern africa have strong opinions and characteristic ways of speaking about Muslims.
I think christians (and especially the zealous kind) have a lot in common with many muslims. We are keen to share our convictions with others. We believe we have found the “truth” and that we are (more) right than anyone else. We are sincerely convinced that we know the way to please God. We appeal to our scriptures as a primary (and final) authority.
In fact, christians who view the Bible as a product of divine inspiration with no real human involvement in it’s authorship reflect a strong resembalnce to to the most common Islamic view of the Q’uran. For most Muslims the Q’uran is believed to be an accurate word-for-word transcription of the “original” text given to the prophet Mohammed to record. These are the exact words of Allah given to people to aid their submission to the Almighty.
Not all Christians understand the Bible in this way. In fact, I would argue that in the Christian tradition, this view of scripture is not the way of the faithful through the ages. Faithful Christ-following has been a product of careful interpretation of scripture. The perception of the Bible as a book that dropped out of heaven can be seen as a relatively recent historical occurence which reflects a deviation from the traditional interpretive understanding.
Last year I attended a Muslim Propogation Soceity rally. I felt safe and respected. The speakers were sincere. They communicated a respect for other views. They reminded us that people can be sincerely wrong or simply ignorant. They sought to help us understand the limits of our knowledge and understanding by showing the relative value of adopting the Islamic view of various things. I think they were sincerely moticated by loving conern. If they are right, and if we are misguided, shouldn’t they seek to share their insight with us - for our benefit? (a familiar argument?) Mostly they compared the Bible with the Q’uran showing how (if we accept the assumption that Holy Scriptures drop out of the sky from God to humans) the Q’uran is a far more reliable source than the Bible. (which from a scrictly textual critical perspective it is!)
They also encouraged us to acknowledge (properly) the belief in ONE God - identifying the dangers of Trinitarian thinking - and taking Christians to their own Bible, showed them that in the original Hebrew texts, the name for God is recorded as “Allah”.
At question time I stood up and conceded that if to be a Muslim one needed to “submit to the will of [the one] GOd”, then I was a Muslim! The room cheered and I was rewarded with a complimentary copy of the Q’uran. I then asked a curious question about interpretations of the Q’uran (recognising from my own experience of the Bible that the greatest problems are not about agreeing on the sources of the text, but rather on how those texts should be understood…)
The speaker was not willing to concede that there are significant differences in interpretations of the Q’uran, by different “schools” or “teachers”… Perhaps in a more frank and open conversation - without the need to convince a crowd - a Muslim may acknowledge some difficulties with the interpretation and application of the text to current and contextual challenges. Somehow I find it hard to believe that there are not varying opinions within Islam on how the “law” is to be interpretted.
If only we could see beyond the competition.
I am not suggesting that Islam and Christianity are “different paths up the mountain”. I think they are distinct and unique and different in many significant ways. And I am even clearer now (having visited a Muslim rally) that I am a Jesus-follower. What I am suggesting is that we have more in common than we would like to admit. And that if we could re-member our “history” and reconsider some of our opposition stories there might be space for us to tell stories of humanity and relationship… stories of living as neighbours and stories of respect and mutual understanding.
At the very least, i think we could stop killing each other!