Muslims, Peacemaking, Progress, and Reform

Sunday, April 17, 2016

As someone who writes about the problem of violence and religion, I've often been asked to share my thoughts on Muslims and Islam, which is often in our culture associated with violence in the name of religion. 

I've been reluctant to do this since it is outside of my area of expertise. I did not study Islam in seminary, have never read the Koran, and am not a Muslim. So, I understandably don't really feel qualified to say much about it, since I am not an expert in the field, nor am I someone intimately familiar with Muslim faith and life.

What I can say is that I would hope that those within the Muslim faith learn to interact with their own sacred texts in the same way that I propose we Christians should interact with ours. That is, I propose that we need to learn to read the Bible in a way that leads us to compassion, rather than justifying harm. I propose further that this way of reading is not some progressive aberration away from the faith, but is completely in line with faithfulness to how Jesus read and applied Scripture.

I would hope that those in the Muslim faith would be encouraging their fellow Muslims to likewise learn a way of reading the Koran that leads to compassion and away from justifying harm, and hopefully show how this is a valid expression of their faith, rather than a move away from it. 

That's why I wanted to share the work of Irshad Manji, of the Moral Courage project. I don't know much about Irshad Manji, but what I have seen, I found very encouraging and refreshing. As I understand it, her aim is to show how values such as compassion, human rights, and... this is a really big one for me... questioning in the name of compassion (what I refer to as "faithful questioning" in Disarming Scripture, and she refers to as "critical thinking") are core parts of a faithful reading of the sacred texts of her faith,
"The reason I can embrace the Koran is that three times as many verses in the Koran call on Muslims to think, and re-think, and analyze... rather than submit blindly."
At the same time, while she argues that this tradition of faithful questioning -- as opposed to the way of unquestioning obedience and submission -- should be normative for her faith, she does not deny that there are many who would say the opposite, nor does she deny that there are those within her faith who advocate violence and oppression in the name of her religion.

All religions have a history of seeking to justify violence and oppression in the name of the good. My own Christian faith is certainly no exception. It takes a lot of courage and reflection to be able to face the dark parts in ourselves, and in our community and traditions.  It's hard to face that honestly, seeking reform, rather than deflecting and denying problems. So I really admire that Irshad is seeking to walk that tightrope.

Because of this focus, she stresses the need to be a "Muslim reformist," rather than just a moderate Muslim. That is, she is critical of those moderate Muslims who insist that "Islam is a religion of peace" and that acts of violence committed in the name of Islam "have nothing to do with Islam." I very appreciate her willingness to take a hard look at her own faith, including the dark parts of it, and to seek to reform it, rather than denying the problem. This is also something that I hope to do within my own faith.

I'm sure there are many on both sides of the fence who disagree with her, but I really was inspired by her moral courage, and wanted to share it with you in the hope that you'll be inspired too. So with that as a brief intro, I'll let her speak for herself. Take a look and I hope you find it as encouraging and inspiring as I did.

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At 4:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I fully support your assertion that we must rethink how we relate to the authority of scriptures, and I have also heard Muslim voices realize this imperative. There is reason to hope, but change is always slow, especially deep epistemological change. My money is on the poets and comedians to help us through this difficult transition.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This fills me with such hope to hear voices on the "other side" speaking out just like Derek and Brian Zahnd in our own religion. It's time for us all to "grow up" and own up to the violence inherent in our religions, but not desired by our God.

Wish I could give this lady a hug.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger theFlakes said...

Thanks for this. I've talked often to a professor of comparative religions and he starts the course reading violent passages from the Bible and Koran and asks his students to tell him from which book they originate. Its a trick question as all are from the Bible, but the vast majority of the time students will say the Koran. I've never read the Koran either but have been told by a couple professors that it is less violent than the Bible; even in the content that is God sanctioned violence.

Questioning is so crucial and thank you for faithfully continuing to emphasis this.

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Phillip ... said...

Hi Derek ... Nice post and cool video ... I've sometimes thought about reading the Koran for myself but my old fundamentalist upbringing has gotten in my way ... What if I am convinced? ... Ha! ... Reading this post makes me want to give it a try and see for myself.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

What a gem of a reformer you found! Good Job. I thank you for being part of the solution with me and many others. Please keep it up :)


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