By Charly SHELTON
In a culture of fear created by a wounded world from the events on and following 9/11, the misunderstanding and fear surrounding Islam have been widespread and prevalent, to the point that a presidential “candidate” claims, “I think Islam hates us. There’s a tremendous hatred there. An unbelievable hatred of us. We have to get to the bottom of it.”
And it is in the spirit of getting “to the bottom of it” that the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge and the La Cañada Presbyterian Church co-hosted a community forum on religious extremism on March 6. Dallas Raines moderated panelists Edina Lekovic, public affairs consultant for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, J. Dudley Woodberry, dean emeritus and senior professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary, Jihad Turk, dean of Bayan Claremont, a graduate school to educate Muslim scholars and religious leaders at the Claremont School of Theology, and Jay Muller, affiliate assistant professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary. The panelists answered questions posed by Raines and the SRO audience. At the end of the 90 minute conversation, the conclusion was met that no, members of the Islamic faith don’t hate us. In fact, they are us.
The connections between Christianity and Islam were made and the differences explained. But first, a little background on Islam.
According to a 2016 study by Pew Research Center, there are 3.3 million Muslims – which refers to people who adhere to the Islamic religion/Islam – in the U.S., about 1% of the population. The second largest religion, it has 1.7 billion adherents worldwide, while Christianity has 2.4 billion adherents, according to the same study. By contrast, Judaism has 14 million worldwide adherents.
The Islamic faith is an Abrahamic tradition, meaning it stems from the belief in Abraham as a patriarch of a lineage. Adherents of Judaism (Jews) through the teachings in the Tanakh, worship God. Christianity picks up the belief that God sent his son/himself Jesus to teach humanity and die for sins. Christianity renamed the Tanakh the Old Testament and added the New Testament. Islam goes one step further and, with the teachings from a new book, the Quran, gather all the best bits of the Tanakh, the New Testament and the teachings of Muhammed, a prophet of God, to make one definitive work. These three religions are known as the Abrahamic traditions because they all stem from the patriarch of the line, Abraham.
The teachings in each religion are very similar at the basal level, but have finer points drawn to make them unique. For example, one aspect of the holy texts overlapping was discussed by the panel.
“All but one of the
surahs or chapters [in the Quran] start with ‘Bismi-llāhi r-rahmāni r-rahīm,’ ‘In the name of God the most gracious and most merciful,’” said Woodberry. “I had heard that the earliest Arabic translation of the New Testament had this at the beginning of each of the books of the New Testament. So when I had a group of doctoral students at St Catherine’s monastery [that I was taking] to Mount Sinai, I got permission to look at this codex. Every book of the New Testament that we checked had ‘Bismi-llāhi r-rahmāni r-rahīm,’ ‘In the name of God the most gracious and most merciful’ at the beginning. So this is one interesting area of sharing.”
Because of the issue of Middle Eastern countries adhering to Sharia Law, and the problems that set of laws poses for women, this was a hot topic that needed explanation. Edina Lekovic spoke about Sharia Law and where these oppressive tendencies toward women originated.
“We talk about things like honor killings, female genital mutilation or stoning, or any number of these atrocities against women. Most of these are pre-Islamic practices that were unable to be eradicated in the societies in which Islam took hold,” Lekovic said. “So what the religious leaders did was to put an Islamic veneer on them and because Sharia is man-made law, it is usually man – made law. Not woman-made law. So the patriarchy predates and postdates a lot of these things and it’s not just true of Islam.”
There were many comparable and contrasting opinions and analyses presented at the forum but what attendees learned is that the vast majority of adherents of Islam are not the extreme, ISIL kind of Muslims, just as the vast majority of Christians are not the extreme, Westboro Baptist Church kind of Christians. Both religions, in their holy texts and teachings, preach togetherness, peace and love for man’s fellow human.
“[There] is a verse in the Quran that I’m going to paraphrase that basically says it is God’s will that he has created you, and diverse peoples, and diverse religious traditions, and your ultimate goal is to strive and encourage one another to live in virtue,” said Turk. “And at the end of the matter we’re all going to stand before God independently and he’ll tell us about how we did. But our mandate, given it’s God’s will that there be diversity, is to find common ground and work collaboratively for that common good.”
To see the full video of the community forum, scan the QR code or visit http://www.lacanadapc.org/2016/03/14/recap-and-video-of-community-forum-on-religious-extremism.