Saturday, August 21, 2010

Of Mosques and Men

As you know, I have more than a passing interest in religions' PR efforts.

So, let me begin by saying that, if the Imam behind the Ground Zero mosque-building (GZM) proposal really wanted to "improve the image" of his religion (as an old and dear friend recently suggested to me that he might), he might offer some of his $100 million in funding to rebuild St. Nick's at Ground Zero (you know, the Greek Orthodox church that was the only house of worship to be completely destroyed by the collapse of the towers), or at least come out publicly in support of fast-tracking for the St. Nick's project (which, to the best of my knowledge, he has not done).

Just so we're crystal clear: I do not think Rauf is required by justice to do any such thing, or even by plain good manners to make the offer.

Just some considerations.

Really, though, the whole question of "image" is ephemeral, almost by definition.

The real question is whether there is, in any meaningful sense, a "brotherhood of religions", as that same old and dear friend also suggested to me the other day.

There may be some meaningful sense in which there is such a fraternity, but usually terms such as "the brotherhood of religions" are shorthand for the idea that every religion at heart promotes universal peace, reconciliation, justice, harmony and love.


Only Christianity does that.

Christianity also tells me that it is a sin to use or to threaten violence in order to win converts, a sin to punish people for unbelief.

Christianity tells me that these things are sins, not because they go against explicit precepts and injunctions found in the Holy Scriptures (although they do), but because they are unreasonable.

This is important: one need not accept Christianity in order to recognize that such things are wrong - though recognizing that they are wrong brings one (whether one wants to admit it or not) closer to Christianity.

Now, Islam does not work quite the same way.

Take the question of "peace":

Does Islam promote peace?

Frankly, this is a loaded question.

When English authors employ the word, "peace" they are more or less consciously wording a concept represented by the Christian political and theological authors with the Latin, pax.

Arabic is the language of Islam.

The Arabic word most often translated to English as "peace" is salaam, which is, like pax, a technical, juridical term.

In the Christian tradition, pax (peace) is the presence of "justice". Justice, in its turn, is the condition of concord in society achieved through the rule of law. Law is a dictate of reason promulgated by competent authority and ordered to the common good. Reason is a peculiarly human faculty, by the proper exercise of which human nature may attain to an understanding of Divine ordinance.

Salaam, on the other hand - and as far as I understand it - refers to the state of absolute submission to the manifest will of the one God. Now, "submission" in this case renders the Arabic word (another juridical term) islam, from which the Muslim religion has its proper name; the Arabic for "one God" is Allah, and the Arabic for "manifest will" is Qur’an, which is also the name of the Muslims’ holy book, often transliterated as Koran.

In any case, the Qur'an is the source and ultimate authority in and for law under Islam - for it is the revelation of the Seal of the Prophets, Mohammad.

Peace, according to the Muslim religion, is the absolute rule of Islam, or absolute submission to the will of Allah, as made manifest through His revelation, which is Law.

It would seem to follow, therefore, that there is no salaam where there is no islam, no "peace" outside the complete subjection of each and every living person’s will, to the will of Allah as made manifest in the Koran.

In other words, there can be no "peace" until everyone living has submitted to the dictates of the Muslim religion. Once the Law has been proclaimed, to refrain from an act of submission is, quite literally, to place oneself outside the law, i.e. to be an outlaw.

On the other hand, and as we have seen, peace in the Christian tradition (pax) is the presence of justice, which is the condition of social concord through rule of law, and that law is the perfection of reason (ratio), by which human nature participates in the Divine order.

There seems, therefore, to be little to justify translating both the Christian pax and the Islamic salaam with the English "peace".

"Law", after all, is for Christians the participation of human reason in the Divine order, while for Muslims, law is ultimately the manifestation of Divine will, a will that one cannot hope to understand and to which one must only submit.

The question whether Islam is a religion of peace is therefore not even a real question: it only seems to be capable of being raised because of an inappropriate use of a single word in English to translate two different words from two different languages, words that function as technical juridical terms in disparate and conflicting cultural systems.

I could go on.

Incidentally, that universal peace, reconciliation, justice, harmony and love are the real and exclusive teachings of Christianity (all of them together, I mean; you will always be able to find one or another of them in one or another of the world's religions), is not the reason I am a Christian.

I am a Christian because Christianity is true (N.B. the things Christianity teaches are true, but when I say, "Christianity is true," I mean something more than that - though that is a subject for another time).


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