Friday, November 14, 2008

Attacks on Islam

I mentioned in my last post that I've recently begun reading Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq. I'm now in the fourth chapter and it's obvious that his book is an all-out attack on Islam.

He states that his inspiration for writing the book was the Salman Rushdie affair. Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses in 1988. The phrase "satanic verses" refers to some Quranic verses supposedly produced and later retracted by Muhammad about the pagan Meccan goddesses being daughters of Allah. The publication of Rushdie's book caused an outrage in the Muslim world and a fatwa was issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini. Warraq was disturbed by Western criticism of Rushdie and even support of the fatwa.

In the introduction, Warraq states that he wouldn't be offended if his book were called an extended bibliography and that is an accurate description; he mainly gathers together, filters, and summarizes writings by many authors throughout history, both Muslim and non-Muslim. He draws extensively on Islamologists who have done extensive research on the veracity of the Quran and Hadith.

As the title of this post suggests, his book is beyond critical to the point of being hostile. As with all of my reading, I take it with a grain of salt and don't just blindly accept all of the claims made but it does raise a number of good points about which to think. Since he is very hostile, he makes no attempt to sugar-coat his arguments or keep them politically correct. This allows him to bluntly state his point and be very clear.

I haven't even finished the first four chapters but he's made many connections between the beliefs and practices of Islam and those of its immediate influences, Judaism and pre-Islamic Arabian paganism. He states that Muhammad, having initially learned pieces of Judaism and Christianity on his travels, set out to become a Jewish prophet. After failing to convince the Jews of his prophethood, his goal changed to simply creating a new religion for the Arabs and reached back to their Ishmaelite and Abrahamic roots, seeing himself as a new Moses for the Arabs. Islam obviously takes many stories and tenets from Judaism but many connections are made to Jewish writings outside of the Old Testament with which Christians would not be familiar. He draws many parallels between practices at Hajj and pre-Islamic pagan rituals, which aren't very hard to accept. Additionally, he makes a very good point that the Quran makes comments about the Christian trinity being composed of God, Jesus, and Mary, which is blatantly wrong and, one would think, something it should get correct considering it is refuting the trinity. In fact, the Quran's understanding of the trinity, leading to most Muslims' understanding of the trinity, is a pretty far cry from the accepted trinitarian theology.

He then produces many arguments stating that the Quran and Hadith were actually created after the fact to legitimize a created religion and the battles, hijrah, and various other events in early Islam never actually happened.

In any case, there's a lot of stuff to think about and carefully analyze and I still have the majority of the book to read.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More reading, videos, and a busy life

I'll confess that I haven't been reading or checking in on this blog as much as I'd like. However, I have still been reading regularly. I recently finished "The Call of the Minaret" by Kenneth Cragg, a professor and bishop and longtime student of Islam and the Middle-East. Coming from a Christian background, his analysis of Islam was very even and fair, I'd say. Although he remained unwavering in his Christianity, the book usually spoke from both the Christian and Islamic perspectives as each being true and simply related the two. It was primarily an analysis of Islam for the Christian but rather than simply introducing the tenets, it primarily focused on social and political structures within Islam, how they developed, and how they affect Christians, both those in the Western world as well as Christian populations within primarily Muslim states. It was an interesting and though-provoking book but wasn't deep in comparative religion, theology, or apologetics.

Just today I started on another book titled Why I Am Not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq, who was raised Muslim as a child but has since rejected Islam and all religions and considers himself a "secular humanist." I'm really not looking to join him in casting off religion as a whole but I figured this might provide a critical look at Islam from an inside perspective. As I just started it today, I haven't gotten very far but, from the Introduction, it seems that he is primarily critical of Islamic society and the actions committed in the name of Islam and only secondarily of the religion itself. As I make progress, I'll comment more.

I was recently sent a link to a video about a few Dutch women who converted to Islam. The documentary is an hour long and is all in Dutch with English subtitles and can be viewed here. It shows some of the hardships that they've experienced but I was impressed with their zeal and dedication through it all. I actually think they had it much harder than I would because Western Europe seems to be somewhat more critical of Islam because of the immigrant situation. Additionally, some of the women were still living at home with their parents or were in high school, making family and peer relations much scarier.

I still also intend to watch some of the other Ahmed Deedat videos.

Finally, I've been reading my Bible but not as much as I had hoped. It's interesting rereading the Old Testament stories, many of which are also in the Quran, sometimes unchanged and sometimes slightly different.

That's all for now but as always, if there are any special requests, pointers, questions, or comments, I'm very happy for any input.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Integrity of the Bible and the Quran

The link to the video of the Ahmad Deedat, Jimmy Swaggart debate I posted yesterday was entitled "Is the Bible God's Word?" Eventually, I might cover more topics but here are my comments on just one.

First, I want to address the textual authenticity of the Bible. The part where Mr. Deedat mentions the parts of Mark contained in the King James version that were left out of and later replaced in the original printing of the Revised Standard Version are an obvious problem and show direct evidence of human tampering. I don't deny that there are certain factions of Christianity who are willing to turn their head and deny obvious truths such as those additions. However, most modern Bibles that include those verses have a note that those verses are not found in the oldest known manuscripts.

As said, there are many translations of the Bible, just as there are of the Quran. The versions of the Bible continue to improve as Bible scholars conduct more research and as additional evidence, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered. However, as was mentioned by Reverend Swaggart in the debate and in Chawkat Moucarry's book, The Prophet and the Messiah, the Bible has actually remained very error-free considering the generations and generations of hand copying. Rev. Swaggart says that there are 24,000 manuscripts of the oldest Biblical documents, which is a testament to its coherency. Mr. Deedat then argues that of those 24,000 manuscripts, no two are identical. Looking at the problem from a strictly information theoretical point of view, even if each of those manuscripts contains twenty errors, the amount of redundant information contained in that huge number of manuscripts can easily be used to reconstruct the original, untampered documents (for a computer example of redundant information, look at how RAID storage maintains data integrity even through loss of a disk. Now imagine the amount of data loss/tampering that 24,000 disks could tolerate).

Although, I'm not going to go into too much detail about the integrity of the Quran, I did want to mention it briefly. Rev. Swaggart mentioned how during the caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, an official version of the Quran was compiled and distributed to the extants of the Islamic empire and all prior copies of the Quran were ordered destroyed. This event was also detailed in Moucarry's book. Additionally, if God is capable of preserving the Quran, why isn't he capable of preserving the Bible? The Quranic verses describing the corruption of the Bible have been interpreted by Islamic scholars in various ways including simply the intentional misinterpretation (or flat-out ignoring the correctly interpreted) of God's uncorrupted Word. Had I not already returned the book, I could tell you which well-known Islamic scholars argued this (it might have been Razi).

In any case, I'm not at any point to make any conclusions. The Bible definitely does contain some contradictions but all historical and literary evidence shows that the Bible was textually very-well preserved.

That's enough for tonight so peace.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Debates about Islam and Christianity

A friend of mine suggested I look up the debates of Ahmad Deedat. This one was a debate between him and Reverend Jimmy Swaggart. I don't have time to comment on it tonight but in addition to the one I linked, there are other search results as well. I plan to watch some others and then I'll return with my comments.

Additionally, I figure it'll be a good idea to summarize my thoughts on both Christianity and Islam. It'll help me to put my thoughts together and see where I am.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My easily swayed opinion

I've come to the conclusion that my opinion is very easily swayed. After reading The Prophet & the Messiah : An Arab Christian's Perspective on Islam & Christianity, I've reverted from my previous Muslim-leaning to a Christian-leaning. Of course, that may also be because I really prefer to remain Christian so when I hear a convincing argument, I'm very willing to accept it.

The book actually was very good; it was nice to hear the perspective of a Christian Arab. Since Arabic is his native language, he grew up in a primarily Muslim country, and he studied Islam, he is able to offer a different perspective from the other Christian authors of American or European origin who only have academic experience with Islam. There were many instances where he offered translations of Quranic verses that were contrary to mainstream Muslim belief but he still manages to argue his stance quite well. I really wish I had taken note of them before returning the book to the library. One that I remember was his proposal that Mohammad's description of unlettered, which typically is interpreted to mean illiterate, could just as easily be interpreted as uneducated when it comes to Christianity and Judaism. He argues that the same Arabic word is used numerous times throughout the Quran but only in reference to him is it interpreted by mainstream Islam as meaning illiterate.

However, his arguments were not all simply semantic. He also did much historical analysis. In addition to his attempts to disprove Islam, he also had many arguments to attempt to prove the validity of Christianity. Overall, it was a very insightful book and, again, I really wish I had taken better note of his arguments (I tend to have a horrible memory).

Meanwhile, I continue to read my Bible at night. I've also started downloading and listening to two podcasts, one of Muslim khutbahs and one of generic Christian discussion. I haven't yet made a judgement of the Christian one but I think the Muslim one is good just to hear the Muslim perspective on things.

The man giving the khutbah of the most recent one I listened to made a very good point. The khutbah was about women in Islam. He argued that rather than constantly attempting to argue that the Muslim viewpoint is valid for whatever reasons and applies to modern society, one should simply say that God decreed it that way so that's how it is. Rather than waste your time arguing about trivial things like dress code, argue the big things like basic theology and the fundamentals of Islam. Anyway, I just wanted to add that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Infallibility of the prophets in Islam???

This post is more of a question than commentary. In various khutbahs (the Islamic version of a sermon delivered at Friday prayer), I've heard some comments about the various prophets that almost make me think that the prophets are infallible and don't make mistakes or sin. Although they are indeed guided and inspired by God, their humanity still dictates their imperfection. The Quran mentions Adam's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden and also mentions Moses' (Moosa, in Arabic) murder of an Egyptian slave driver, although those are the only mentions I recall of prophets' mistakes. These are proof to me that Islam doesn't propose their infallibility. However, as I've said, I've heard comments that make me think otherwise so I figured I'd pose my question here.

Christianity definitely accepts that the prophets were imperfect men and sinned. In the Bible, there are stories of Adam's fall, Noah's drunkenness, David's adultery, Moses' murdering, and I'm sure more. The prophets were guided and inspired by God but at the same time, they were flawed human beings. The only man claimed to be free from sin was Jesus because of his being simultaneously God and man. His human side was tempted but he resisted and remained sin free.

However, I've heard Muslims get offended at the prospect of David's adultery or Noah's drunkenness. Does Islam preach the perfection of prophets? I don't see how that could be considering the Quran's inclusion of Adam's fall and Moses' murdering. Does Islam claim that Muhammad was sinless? I don't think accepting his sin would have any affect on the religion. He could easily be divinely guided when delivering the Quran without error yet still be an imperfect, flawed man. Just because he as a man is flawed doesn't mean the Quran would have to be flawed.

As I said, I don't know what Islam's stance is on this subject. If anyone knows, please inform me. If not, I guess I'll just have to do more research on my own.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eidkum Mbarak!

For my Muslim readers (in case I still have any), Happy Eid. For any who aren't aware, Eid is the holiday signifying the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Perhaps I should give even more detail. Ramadan is a month in the Islamic Hijri calendar. The Hijri calendar is a lundar calendar with 12 lunar months in which the year zero is the year of the Hijra (622 AD), when Mohammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina to finally escape persecution of the Quraysh, the tribe living in Mecca of which he was a member. Since the lunar year is shorter than a solar year, the dates of Ramadan (and every other occurence on the Hijri calendar) slip back 11 days on the Gregorian (Western) calendar every year.

Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed. I have to confess I'm not completely clear on this point and a quick search didn't clear up my confusion. The Quran was revealed to Muhammad over a period of 23 years. I assume that the first revelation took place in the month of Ramadan as I'm fairly certain it wasn't only revealed over 23 years only in the months of Ramadan. If someone knows the details to this, please feel free to clarify.

Regardless, Ramadan is considered a very holy month in Islam and it's mandatory (with exceptions for children, those who are sick or pregnant, and probably a few others) to fast during the entire month. Since it's a lunar month, Ramadan begins when the first sliver of a moon is viewable and ends after 29 or 30 days, again, when the first sliver of a new moon is visible. Because the month's beginning and end are based on the location of the moon, which differs depending on your location on the earth, the beginning and end of Ramadan are sometimes different in different countries. For instance, this year, Ramadan was only 29 days, ending Monday night, in most of the Arab countries, but it was 30 days, ending Tuesday, in North America.

As I mentioned before, Eid is the holiday at the end of Ramadan. Technically, eid is just the Arabic word for "holiday" (I'm pretty sure) and the Eid at the end of Ramadan is actually Eid al-Fitr. I know there are other eids throughout the year but I don't know their names or what they celebrate. Yesterday was the first day of Eid in some countries and now it's Eid everywhere.

On a somewhat related note, I finished reading the Quran again, which was my goal of Ramadan. It's my understanding that it's customary to read the entire Quran throughout the month of Ramadan so I figured that seemed like a reasonable and useful goal. Like I mentioned in my comment to CES, my new goal is to tear through the Bible with the same fury I did the Quran. However, that's my bedtime reading. My commute reading is "The Prophet & the Messiah : An Arab Christian's Perspective on Islam & Christianity". I just picked it up and started it today so I can't give you much information except it's written by a Christian who grew up in Syria, a predominantly Muslim country. In addition to growing up around plenty of Muslims, he was sincerely curious about Islam and, thus, studied it, even getting his PhD in Islamic studies. He is now a professor at All Nations Christian College in England. As I read, I'll tell you if he has any interesting insights. It seems like most of my reading has been very heavy on the Islamic side. This is only natural as, growing up Christian, I know much more about Christianity than Islam. However, I figured I should balance the side out somewhat.

Actually, now that I think about it, my readings have been fairly even-weighted between Christianity and Islam. I've read St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, a book about Catholicism, one about Orthodox Christianity, and I'm sure even more, those are just off the top of my head. However, this analysis of Islam from a Christian point of view should hopefully be an interesting addition.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jesus in the Quran

Right now I've completed 21 of the 30 juzes in my Ramadan reading of the Quran. I've covered a few mentions of Jesus so far and I truthfully can't remember if there are any others in the remainder. In any case, everything I've read so far and everything that I recall of Jesus in the Quran is just when he is an infant or talking of his illusioned crucifiction.

What struck me as odd was something I read in the surah Maryam. In verse 33, baby Jesus states:
"So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!"

What I find strange about this is the fact that the Muslim view of Jesus states that he did not die but was raised to heaven (actually, on further investigation, it turns out this is even disputed in Islam). I would think that Jesus, being a prophet, wouldn't talk of his death if it were not actually going to happen.

As usual of late, my lack of time limits the length of my post so that's all for now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My return

... as from one man's face many likenesses are reflected in a mirror, so many truths are reflected from the one divine truth. -St Augustine, Enarr. in Psalm 11

Shortly before my hiatus, I had come to the conclusion that many religions contain truth and right and thus people of those many different religions can be right. Thus, I was temporarily appeased in knowing that I was following what I was sure to be one reflection of God's divine truth. This lasted for a while but eventually I became again disturbed. I still believed that I was striving toward truth but the details began creeping into my thoughts and disrupting my peace. I again became unsure of some of Christianity's doctrines and my temporary tranquility slowly faded.

Eventually I realized that, although many religions hold truths, the goal (or at least my necessary goal) is not to follow partial truth but to strive for absolute truth. Thus, I return to my quest somewhat reluctantly. Life is much easier when one has internal peace and certainty. I went from having that a few years ago, to losing it as my quest began, to regaining it temporarily, to losing it once again now. However, I know that regardless of my present uncertainty, my future peace will be greater than ever for I will have truly tested my faith and dug deep into my beliefs. Once I settle down, I'll have much more confidence in my faith having traveled far to reach it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm back!

After almost five months being gone, moving, and starting a new job, I'm finally back. I hope some of my readers remain because I hope to start posting regularly again.

Happy Ramadan to all. Now I've got to cut this short because I need to finish reading today's juz so I can stay current. I've been doing a pretty good job of keeping up with one juz each day so I can finish reading the entire Quran during Ramadan.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Islam as a religion for the Arabs

As I've been reading the book "Islam" by Karen Armstrong, I've been learning much of the early history of Islam and the various theological movements within the religion. Probably the thing that struck me the most was the Muslims' treatment of non-Muslims as the Muslim empire expanded. I was very aware of the practice of allowing the conquered non-Muslims to retain their religion as long as they paid the jizya tax. However, what I didn't realize was that the Muslims actually discouraged their new constituents from converting to Islam. Initially, Islam was viewed as a religion for the Arabs. Early Muslims believed Islam was for Arabs, Judaism was for the Israelites, and Christianity was for the Gentiles (I have no idea, Christianity was already so wide-spread by this point).

Many of the conquered peoples did convert to Islam but, initially, converts had to be adopted and sponsored by an Arab tribe, perpetuating the fact that Islam was a religion for Arabs. Since this is the case, there can only be two possibilities. Either Islam was seen as a closed religion and all others were damned or it was a closed religion and others could still be saved. From what I read, the latter seems to be much more the case; Islam was right but Judaism and Christianity, even with their corruptions, were still right enough. It wasn't until over a century after Muhammad that conversions of non-Arabs were finally encouraged.

However, a quick search on Google shows that Karen Armstrong has many many critics who accuse her of bending the truth to accomplish her own goals. A friend of mine had similar reservations about her as an author, having done much of his own studying on the subject.

In any case, aside from that book, I've heard, read, or had conversations that all stress a more universalist attitude and apparently it's having somewhat of an effect on me. Rather than thinking that there can be only one right path, I'm starting to wonder if there are different paths that all lead to God. Just as people can eat differently or exercise differently but still lead healthy lives, maybe people can also worship and practice religion differently but still be spiritually healthy.

I'm hoping this will be just the beginning of this subject and I'd very much like this to be the beginning of a multi-party dialog so if you have any comments or thoughts, please post them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fear of God

I'm finally getting around to another real post. To my faithful audience, I'm sorry for the wait. My life is absolutely insane recently with much travel, visiting family, and an upcoming move to begin a new job. However, throughout all of this, I've had a little time to read and a lot of time to think so this is the first of, hopefully, a fairly regular string of posts.

As a response to my post Comfort in Islam, Azooz mentioned the importance of fear of God. To quote his exact words:
Islam does not concentrate on either God's mercy or God's love - the Fear of God must always come first.
Although I do agree that fear of God is a necessary part of one's relationship with the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God, I hate to think that fear is the primary emotion governing that relationship.

When thinking about relationships in general, relationships built on and depending on fear are the saddest kind by far. Governments that maintain control through fear and intimidation are considered evil, totalitarian forces. A man who controls his wife or children through fear or intimidation is an abuser and a criminal. These relationships founded on fear are unstable, sad, and are looked down upon by others who often try to free the victims from their oppression.

I won't go so far as to say that fear should be completely eliminated from such relationships. Children's fear of their parents is occasionally necessary to maintain order. The people's fear of police is necessary to preserve peace. However, in these cases, fear is only necessary for the extreme cases. In daily life, the relationship between parents and children is based on love, trust, and dependence. The relationship between a people and their government should, likewise, be built on trust and accountability.

I understand Azooz's assertion that fear will keep you on the straight path and help you lead a good life. However, people who live in constant fear live sad, desperate lives. Additionally, I feel like doing the right thing and living a good life as a result of respect and love is much better incentive than doing it out of fear. Although the outcome may be the same, what is in one's heart is drastically different. In the first case, one has a true desire to do what is right whereas in the second, one simply desires to avoid the punishment that goes along with what is wrong.

I'm starting to think that the biggest differences between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are simply their perception of God; which attributes of God receive the most attention. In all three God has the same attributes but each focuses on different aspects, which influence their practices, rituals, and cultures.

I just needed to get that out because Azooz's comment has been bothering me ever since I read it. What does everyone else think?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My Recent Absence

I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post. I've had a number of ideas for posts that I wanted to get out but things have been insanely hectic recently and it won't be letting up for at least another month. I at least meant to make an Easter post (Happy Easter everyone!!!) but I've been busy traveling on business and also for personal reasons.

I have, however, managed to find some time for more reading and thinking. I finished reading A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue. It is written by two friends, one Christian and one Muslim, both well educated about both their religion and the other's through both personal experience and formal education. The book serves as a good introduction to the two religions and points out their many similarities and some of the bigger differences but it is definitely an introductory book. It is divided into two sections, the first is a description of the fundamentals of Islam and the second a description of Christianity. Each chapter covers a particular topic and is concluded by comments from the other author of the other religion's perspective. None of the topics are covered in any extreme depth and, as a result, much of the heavy theology is absent. However, if you don't know much about one or both religions and want to learn more, I would definitely recommend it.

On one of my recent trips, I picked up Islam by Karen Armstrong, who is an author who writes many books about the monotheistic religions. It is more of a history of Islam and I'm only a third of the way through it but it is definitely very interesting so far. I've already read a biography of Mohammad but this book starts with pre-Islamic Arabia, Mohammad's lifetime, the expansion of the Islamic empire, and continues all the way up to the events of September 11th.

What I've read so far explains the development of a number of the different schools of Islamic thought, fiqh, and shariah law. It is very interesting to understand how the various Islamic movements came to be and, probably more importantly, it explains what the different movements are. Until now, I've been fairly ignorant of Shiite versus Sunni Islam and what the differences were. In any case, I'll keep you updated as I continue to read.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I've been meaning to make some substantial posts and I'm going to make a serious effort to do so in the near future.

Until then, happy spring!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Evil and Sin

Islam and Christianity both agree that the first sin of man was Adam and Eve's eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. In Christianity, it is believed that this sin is then inherited through all future generations. Thus, when a baby is first born, he or she is born in sin. No man is without sin for any period and only through belief in Jesus and forgiveness through his sacrifice can one be saved.

Islam, on the other hand, does not believe that the Original Sin is passed on, but rather, children are born pure in a state of Islam and only with time do they go astray. This is definitely a happier outlook as you don't have the question of what happens to all the babies who died soon after birth before baptism. Most every Christian would like to think that a compassionate God would forgive them of the sin that was committed generations upon generations ago by their very first ancestor but there's a reason most congregations baptize as early as practical (excluding, of course, congregations like Baptists that perform baptisms much later in a child's life).

Supposing that Islam is correct and children are born devoid of sin, sin would enter one's life later through the willful breaking of God's commandments. Again, this seems like a much fairer assumption and I like to think that God is fair.

Let's play a little thought experiment for fun. Would a child born free of sin and raised in an environment free of sin then remain sinless? Suppose the child, immediately after birth, were stuck on a deserted island where he or she is fed and cared for by machines and never had any contact with other humans. Would that child, free from the influence of sinful humans, remain sinless?

I conjecture that the child, although possibly grown by this point, would still eventually sin even without the influence of sinful humans. I believe that sinful urges and desires would still take their toll; that they are not learned from others. However, I'm not going so far as to say that the child was born with the seed of sin implanted, waiting to sprout. That could be the case, as Christianity might state, or it could be that, even without the outside influence of other humans, the child is still vulnerable to the outside influence of Satan. Just as Adam and Eve were originally free from sin but still gave in to Satan's tempting whispers, our hypothetical child would be the same.

I have to admit that I like the Muslim belief better; I like the idea that children are born pure and free of the sins of their ancestors. However, as always, religion and truth aren't necessarily what's easiest or nicest.

What made me write about this subject is that I'm currently reading A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk and I recently read the chapter on sin. That got me thinking a little bit about the differences in belief about sin between Christianity and Islam. I'm not far enough into the book to really review it but so far it's pretty informative, interesting, and fair.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Comfort in Islam

This has been a particularly hard week for me because of some bad events that occurred to a close friend of mine. Thus, I naturally sought comfort in my faith and God. I tried reading through random surahs in the Quran. When seeking comfort with the Bible, my random page selections would, more often than not, yield something that spoke to me and addressed whatever needs and concerns I had. However, I can't say that my random Quranic selections were terribly applicable.

I read at least six surahs and they all seemed to have a similar message, the evil will ultimately be punished and the good will be rewarded. However, although that offers some comfort in the long-term, little immediate comfort was offered. I think it all goes back to my previous observation of Islam being a religion of the mind versus Christianity being a religion of the heart. Islam seems to focus on God's mercy whereas Christianity focuses on God's love. Luckily, even though my reading wasn't very fruitful, my prayers are always able to focus on whatever aspect of God I need at the moment.

Of course, it wasn't very helpful that the khutbah at jumuah today was rather depressing also, focusing on the current situation in Gaza. I went in hoping for something uplifting and instead was just further depressed.

Friday, February 29, 2008

I Finished the Quran!

I was actually hoping to finish it last night but I underestimated both how much I had remaining and how tired I was. However, today after jumuah, I stuck around the mosque and finished it off; I figured it would be fitting. I don't really think I have much more to say than I did in my last Quran post. The end is packed with much shorter surahs so the reading goes much quicker. Also, there seems to be a lot more apocalypse talk with plenty descriptions of heaven and hell and the final day of reckoning.

Also, I talked to one of my native Arabic speaking friends about the Quran as a piece of poetry and literature. I don't feel like she would unfairly praise the Quran just because it's the Quran but, rather, I feel like she would give me her honest opinion. She told me that the Quran really is very beautiful and, in the original Arabic, its poetic qualities hide the repetition that is more evident in the English translation. Obviously, the repetition is still there but it's part of the poetry so it fits. I figure I should try listening to a Quran recitation sometime so I can hear how it sounds. Even if I won't understand it, I figure I'll be able to hear some of the poetry. I'll miss out on anything that requires meaning like wordplay and metaphor but I'll at least hear the tonal and lyrical characteristics.

Now I have to decide what to read next.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fatigue and Discouragement

I don't have anything substantial to say; I just wanted to complain a bit. Sometimes I wish I had never learned anything about Islam so I could've continued living in my state of ignorance and bliss. I was so much happier when I thought I knew what was right. Now that I'm uncertain, I'm always in an uncomfortable situation. I don't know what to believe when I'm at church, I don't know what to believe when I'm at jumuah, I'm in my state of unrest and confusion at all times throughout my day and I rarely get a real break; most distractions only allow me to push it to the back of my thoughts but not forget about it completely. I'm worried about how my life will change. I'm worried about the reactions of my family and friends. I'm worried, of course, about the state of my eternal soul.

Actually, sometimes when doing all this reading and thinking and considering and worrying, it occurs to me that completely giving up on religion would be so much easier. I could still live as a good person but I could sleep late on Sundays and not have to rearrange my lunches on Fridays. I wouldn't have to deal with this internal struggle about which path is correct because I'd be walking my own path. It would be so much easier in so many ways but I can't do it because I know that God, who made the entire universe and created me for a purpose, wants me to love and worship him. Anyway, I'm done whining for now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


The Quran mentions jinn (also spelled djinn) quite frequently. In addition to angels and man, God created the jinn, a race of sentient, free-willed, invisible beings who are also supposed to worship Him. Whereas man was created from dust, the jinn are created from a smokeless flame. See this for more information.

If the Quran is simply correcting and affirming the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels, from where do the jinn come? As I said, jinn are mentioned frequently so they aren't simply a minor detail mentioned in passing. The Bible talks of angels and men but I've never encountered anything that I would interpret to be jinn.

The above Wikipedia article mentions that jinn were a part of pre-Islamic, Arabic folklore. Being that the never seem to be mentioned in the Torah, Psalms, or Gospels, it seems logical to me that they entered Islam because of their tradition amongst the Arab peoples.

Although the jinn don't seem to be of any major theological importance, their frequency in the Quran and the inconsistency with the Bible raises some concerns on my part. Had they been simply a passing thought in the Quran or mentioned at least once in the Bible, it would be easier to believe that they came from the same source.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Quick, Random Check-In

I just wanted to post a quick note so that this isn't completely stagnant. I've been reading my Quran a lot and am now at the 25th juz (out of 30) so I'm making progress. It's definitely not tedious reading and it seems to go pretty quickly but I've only been reading less than an hour every night. It's interesting that I mentioned in my Quran as Literature post that the structure of the Quran seems to repeat many stories over and over and last night, while reading, I came across an ayah that justified the repitition (39:23):
Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet) repeating (its teaching in various aspects)....

I've always been amazed at how topical and relevant the Bible will be; I'll pick it up and read and it will somehow always address whatever is weighing on me at the time. Apparently, the Quran can be just as good at answering questions.

I've used this to list things I've read and things I've not yet read. A friend pointed out the book A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk. I haven't looked at it yet but I'm hoping it'll be a more fair, unbiased version of Christian-Muslim Dialogue in which the "Christian" just asks questions, the Muslim answers, and the "Christian" eventually sees the light and converts to Islam. Like I always say, if you know of any other literature that might be useful or relevant, please make a suggestion. I've also recently been suggested Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and A Hidden Life by Kitty Crenshaw and Catherine Snapp.

Finally, I've had a new visitor recently who left a few comments and asked a few questions. One of the questions is a little too broad and for the answer to that, you'll just have to read this entire blog. However, I was also asked about my denomination so I suppose I can reveal that I'm Lutheran. However, as I've mentioned, I have had much exposure to some other facets of Christianity such as Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, and some other Protestant churches.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Now that Lent has arrived, I figured I'd address the issue of fasting since it is an important practice in both Christianity and Islam but is carried out differently in the two. I'm pretty sure the reason behind fasting in both religions is the same. It is a personal sacrifice given to God. Additionally, it has some health benefits and it makes one sympathize with the poor and unfortunate who are involuntarily going without food. Although fasting is an external deed, it is supposed to accompany and promote an internal devotion, drawing one toward God and godly things and away from sinful thoughts and deeds.

In Islam, as everybody knows, Ramadan is the major time of fasting, although I know there are a few other holidays that are observed with optional, I think, fasting. Additionally, fasting is something that one is always welcome to do and the hadith mention Mohammad fasting for long periods regardless of holidays just to draw closer to God. The Muslim definition of fasting is complete abstinence from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Outside of that time, normal dietary rules apply. In any case, fasting, particularly for Ramadan, is one of the five pillars of Islam and, thus, is a very important part of the religion.

In Christianity there are at least as many fasting practices as there are denominations. In the Gospels, Jesus fasts a number of times and fasting was a regular practice in the early church. Today, Orthodox churches are still very strict about fasting practices, which forbids meat or animal products and even cooking with oil. This is followed for the entirety of Lent as well as other prescribed times. In the Catholic church, fasting means only eating one full meal and two smaller snacks throughout the day. The Catholic fasting rules have changed throughout the years and even vary depending on the country. Currently in the United States, Catholics are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as well as abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. Historically, Catholics had to abstain from mean on Fridays throughout the year but that no long applies to the US, for some reason. Protestant churches, in my experience, don't stress fasting and most people don't practice it. Probably the closest to fasting many people get is giving up something like chocolate or swearing for Lent.

I like how Islam and the Orthodox church have very definite rules about how and when to fast. If fasting is truly important, then its practice shouldn't be ambiguous and confusing. I can't think of any reason that the residents of one country should have different fasting rules than the residents of another country, like the Catholic rules. Additionally, if fasting is important, it should actually be addressed and, at the very least, encouraged, if not required. The nice thing about giving up something for Lent is that it's more personal, you can choose something that's meaningful to you. However, there's no reason you can't personalize your fast even while adhering to the prescribed rules.

I think the point of my post was supposed to be that I don't think Western Christianity places enough emphasis on fasting. It was obviously important to Jesus and it was practiced by the early church but it has since fallen from favor or at least lost popularity. If there's a reason for that, I'd like to know, but I feel like people just got lazy. I guess if we're saved by faith alone then fasting isn't necessary but in that case, nothing is necessary but faith; not giving offerings, not fellowship, not prayer, just faith. Although I do believe God to be gracious and merciful and care only about what's in your heart, all of those external acts are ways that you live your faith and ways to strengthen your faith. Thus, fasting isn't a necessary act but it is just another tool in your spiritual toolbox and one should pull it out and use it sometimes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Quran as Literature

Numerous times in the Quran it mentions how beautiful it is as a piece of literature and challenges man to create another piece that can equal it. Obviously, I'm not reading the Quran in its original Arabic as my Arabic leaves very much to be desired. The translation I have sacrifices the poetic quality for accuracy of translation so I don't expect anything monumental when it comes to the lyrical and metric characteristics. However, just analyzing it as literature, it doesn't seem to be anything ground-breaking.

I've been told by a friend of mine who used to teach ESL (English as a second language) classes that her Eastern students write much differently than typical western writing when it comes to organization. Rather than organizing thoughts into paragraphs consisting of introduction, development, and conclusion, their writing was structured very differently, making it hard to read for Westerners. I keep wondering if my lack of enthusiasm for the Quran as a literary piece is a result of my being accustomed to Western literature. However, the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, was written in Hebrew, which is a Semitic language like Arabic and comes from a region geographically close to Arabia, and seems to agree with my literary tastes much better.

I think my protest with the Quran as literature is that it seems to jump from topic to topic and story to story without any easily discernible connection. Besides that, it is very repetitive. In the last week, I've read the story of Moses, basically about the same each time, at least four times in four separate surahs. It's not just Moses, either, I've also read the stories of Hud, Lut (Lot), Noah, and Salih multiple times. The Bible, on the other hand, seems much more linear and organized when it comes to narration and even non-narratives like the Psalms seem more organized by thought and theme.

I keep meaning to ask one of my Arab friends what their thoughts are of the Quran from a literary standpoint. I think it has many inspiring, meaningful words, which might be impossible for any human to recreate, but it's not the smoothest flowing, best organized piece of literature in my opinion. Even when I hear it recited in Arabic, it doesn't sound the prettiest but I also have to admit that I'm not terribly accustomed to hearing Arabic poetry so my ear is terribly untrained.

As always, I don't mean to offend anyone and I certainly don't mean to insult the Quran. If you disagree, please add your input, I'm always very happy to hear varying opinions. The entire purpose of this blog is to solicit the experiences of others and to generate intelligent, respectful conversation so please don't take this post the wrong way.

Pastoral Counseling

I spoke to my pastor today. It went very well, actually. Looking back and knowing my pastor, I should've expected it to be exactly as easygoing as it was but it's kind of hard to tell your religious leader that you're having serious serious doubts and even considering leaving the church for something else.

Rather than disappointment, I received only support for my search and support in my final decision, whatever that may be. I don't know if my pastor is unusual or if they're all so cool but in either case, I'm happy to have such a resource at my disposal (I'm making my pastor sound like a book or a website, not a person).

We had a nice discussion and we agreed to meet more and I'll write more about it later. For now, I just wanted to break the news that I've told yet another person who knows me face-to-face and it's someone who will help answer my questions, clear up my misunderstandings, and argue theology with me.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Guts to Criticize and Do It Well

In today's khutbah, the speaker talked about proper Islamic dress in daily life but especially for the mosque. It wasn't anything very ground-breaking; he just reminded people that Muslims are supposed to dress respectfully and modestly. However, for some reason I was impressed at even this slight criticism. I guess I've gotten used to people being afraid of possibly offending anyone. I agree that you should avoid offending people if possible but when correcting someone and setting them straight, it's necessary to somehow show them the error of their ways.

I was impressed at how tactfully today's criticism was made. There was no finger pointing. The perpetrators themselves were hardly mentioned, for the most part the whole khutbah was about the reasons behind the dress code. Verses from the Quran and hadith were mentioned and explained. Everything was very tasteful and I don't believe anybody felt singled out or offended.

The point of this post, however, has nothing to do with Islamic dress. My point is that the speaker was not afraid to criticize. In today's world of personal rights and ultra-politeness (although that only seems to apply to not offending people but not to manners or common courtesy) most people are afraid to speak up about something being wrong. This timidity to speak up is what leads to cursing becoming a common part of regular speech, inappropriate dress everywhere, wide acceptance of sex and nudity, and other little problems that sum up to one big problem throughout society.

I know I've read either in the Quran or in hadith, possibly both, how to criticize others. It says to take them aside and tell them their error in private. There's no need to make it into a public embarrassment. If they still don't correct their ways, then do it again. Finally, if they continue to do wrong, then bring it to the attention of others. This shows a great deal of respect, consideration, and maturity, in my opinion and now I see that it's not just taught but also practiced this way.

I know in church we're often told to lead good lives and the goodness of Jesus, the prophets, and the saints are extolled but rarely are we actually criticized on any particular aspect of our lives. I do recall a priest one time at a university church giving a sermon on the evils of drunkenness (a problem on college campuses) and the virtues of moderation in all aspects of life. It was done just as tastefully and tactfully as today's khutbah but I don't recall any other real criticism. My experiences are also limited to only mainstream, moderate churches. I get the feeling that more fundamental, extreme churches might be more willing to criticize vocally based on my experiences debating some fundamentalists. However, in those situations, there is definitely an extreme lack of tact and compassion. As opposed to my "love the sinner, hate the sin" mantra, they seem to adopt a "hate the sinner and the sin" attitude, forgetting that they themselves are also sinners regardless of how hard they might try. I feel like there is always plenty of finger pointing and condemning when God is the only one capable of doing that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Breaking Anonymity... One Person at a Time

Today I told the first person to whom I'm actually close about my spiritual wandering. The friend is someone who has decent exposure to both Christianity and Islam. It was nice to talk to someone I know who also knows me and my background. Until now, aside from this blog, the only people to whom I've talked personally have been some acquaintances from the mosque, people with whom I've only had contact in a religious conversational sense. I'd say they're better informed about Islam than my friend but my friend, on the other hand, probably has more experience with Christianity.

I wouldn't say any major theological ground was covered but it's definitely a nice start. We talked about the importance of religion in our lives, how religion plays a role in relationships and family, and the mismatch between religion and modern society, liberal, conservative, and fundamentalist. Aside from all that generic talk, we did talk some specifics. We talked about the difficulty of justifying the Trinity as monotheistic, we talked about the strictness of Islam and the occasional laxity of Christianity, and we discussed some history and its affect on the development of the two religions. Altogether, it was a great conversation and I really hope that it was only the first of many.

Perhaps I'll expound on some more of the details and some of our shared conclusions tomorrow. Also, I've been unlucky thus far when it comes to talking with my pastor. However, we have multiple meetings, both one-on-one and group meetings, planned this weekend to discuss other church matters so I hope to begin my assault of questions and concerns then.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Yesterday I had mentioned that the Quran is divided into 30 parts. Each one is called a juz. I said that I was on the 12th or 14th, it turns out I'm on the 12th so I'm closer to a third of the way done than halfway.

Also, the khutba at jumuah today said something that I wanted to comment on but unfortunately I've forgotten what. I really need to carry a notebook around so that I will be able to remember the random thoughts that I sometimes have throughout the day.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Real People and a few Random Thoughts

Thus far, I've talked in person to a few Muslims about my search but not any Christians. When people see me in the mosque and I'm obviously not Muslim, they occasionally talk to me and, when they find out I'm Christian but considering converting, they offer to get together to talk. I figure it's definitely in my interest to go along and listen since my goal is to figure out the truth so I'm always more than willing to participate.

However, I've yet to talk to any Christians about my search; I think maybe I've been afraid of being judged. I've decided that now that the holidays are over and things are back to normal, I'll approach my pastor. I guess I had hoped that the anonymity of the internet could shield me from actually having to talk to anyone face to face but it's obviously not working as I had hoped. I suppose I could easily enough talk face to face with pastors, priests, and ministers of other churches but my pastor already knows me and, I would hope, would take more interest in me than somebody who doesn't.

On another note, I'm slowly making my way through the Quran. I restarted from the beginning a while ago, probably sometime in October. Just last night I finished the surah entitled "Hud." I'm not entirely sure but I think that's in the 12th or 14th of the 30 subdivisions. For those unfamiliar, the Quran is divided into surahs, which are similar to books in the Bible, the lengths of which can vary greatly. It is also divided up into 30 parts that are roughly equal in length to allow people to pace themselves to read the entire Quran during the month of Ramadan. In about three months, I'm almost half-way through, which means I'm way off pace. I'm not even reading the commentary or introductions that accompany it and I'm reading the English side, my native tongue. Obviously the pace doesn't really matter but I just figured I'd mention how incredibly slow I am.

Finally, I was imagining how a conversation with my friend might go regarding my search. I figured explaining it to someone else might help me organize my thoughts (the exact purpose of this blog.) While fake explaining it, I realized that the only things drawing me toward Islam are its beliefs regarding Christianity. It's not so much that I find myself believing Islam as I find myself doubting Christianity. However, aside from Judaism and Islam, I'm not very familiar with other religions that believe in the one God. I'm pretty sure there are some that, like Islam, believe in the prophethood of Jesus but deny his deity. I'd prefer to be something a little bigger and more recognized than some tiny, fringe religion but, in the end, all that matters is the truth, just like I've said time and time again. It shouldn't matter if I'm the only person as long as I know God's word and am following God's will.

I'll keep you posted on my progress with my pastoral meeting.