How to counter religious toxicity
- Islam, the last of the three major monotheistic religions, must be examined through the historical and social lenses of the seventh century
- As a result, the political/military domain of Islam emerged and became more preeminent, active, and expansionist
- Scholars and theologians should be more forthcoming in engaging both believers and nonbelievers in explaining controversial passages and doctrines in sacred books
With the Islamic State’s murderous rampage grabbing the world’s headlines, discussing the theological fundamentals of Islam is an enormous challenge.
Unfortunately, current events do not allow most people to have a less negative or garbled view of this Middle Eastern religion.
Is Quran, Islam’s holy book, a text without context, devoid of historical and social framework and setting, as some people prefer to perceive it?
Islam, the last of the three major monotheistic religions, must be examined through the historical and social lenses of the seventh century. A deeper and richer understanding of Islam would help shed light on some of today’s political and religious arguments.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated in the Middle East. The concept of the Messiah is found in all three religions, albeit its breadth and depth may vary.
For example, Muslims believe that Jesus will return at the end of the world to confront and kill the Antichrist.
Also, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is a messenger and a prophet who, unlike Jesus, did not perform miracles, other than receiving the revelation of the Quran from God.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has a prominent place in the Quran, thus indicating a certain connectedness and proximity between the religions.
When radical Islamists call Christians “crusaders,” it demonstrates how historically ill-informed they are about the Middle Ages.
Likewise, because Christianity is gradually disappearing in western European society, many westerners fail to recognize the difference between the spiritual/religious aspect of Islam and its political, sometimes radical and violent, expression.
Although there are deep theological differences between Christianity and Islam, many scholars believe that the latter is a continuation of the first religious movement.
The Quran flatly rejects the divine nature of Jesus and denies that he died on the cross. Some theologians even think that Islam emerged as an attempt to reform/correct some of Christianity’s controversial doctrines.
For example, the divinity of Jesus was a contentious topic in the 7th century and Islam tried to address it in a decisive manner.
Many scholars assert that Islam was not founded in opposition to Christianity, but grew as one of the branches of monotheism.
Islam was unquestionably influenced by Christianity as the latter was significantly woven by the religious narrative of Judaism.
However, a century after Islam had originated in the Arabian Peninsula, the spiritual and symbolic role of Jesus had gradually disappeared and Muhammad’s figure had become more dominant.
As a result, the political/military domain of Islam emerged and became more preeminent, active, and expansionist.
As a consequence, Muslim armies conquered new territories and invaded, among other lands, North Africa and southern France.
Unfortunately, when Christianity started to distance itself from Jesus’ teachings, it met a similar fate and the political/military element took over and caused turmoil, divisions, and so-called “religious wars.”
Understanding the historical/social context of any text, especially a religious text, is enormously helpful when debating theological issues and trying to comprehend and interpret a sacred passage/book.
Scholars and theologians should be more forthcoming in engaging both believers and nonbelievers in explaining controversial passages and doctrines in sacred books.
Of course, not everyone will agree with their interpretations and caveats. However, consistency and frequency will raise public awareness and understanding of major religions, without gross and harmful distortions and the eventual weaponization of the spiritual realm.
Liberal, moderate, and conservative theologians and religious officials need to come together and formulate a few critical pronouncements, both fundamental agreements/commonalities and disagreements/differences among the three monotheistic religions. They can play a tremendous role in facilitating the process of reducing the level of tension and increasing both vertical and horizontal understanding and awareness.
Silence, in this case, is accepting the status quo, which is verging on committing the sin of omission.