Monday, March 14, 2005

Understanding Islam - pt. 1, Origins

Obviously, based upon the title I've chosen to give this post, I'm going to be talking about this for quite some time. This first chapter regards the origins of Islam, and is written from a non-scholarly Christian perspective.

But before beginning, perhaps I should touch on the "origins" of this post. The idea for this post came about with my response to a comment made on another blog. The comment was that "Islam and democracy are mutually exclusive." My response essentially said that they are NOT mutually exclusive.

From that thought is born this series of posts in which I plan to explore the question. I will purposely lay out the case that Islam is, by nature, anti-democratic (the opposite of what I feel to be true, by the way). And having established that it will be an uphill road, I hope to also establish that freedom and democracy are the only hope for the Arab people.

I must reiterate I am not a scholar or even an expert in anything. In fact, even the things I used to be an expert in have left me far behind. These words are my opinion only, and no more learned than your own. They are probably worth far less than you paid for them.

Before I begin exploring, let me say that official Church teaching (of the Roman Catholic persuasion) is very limited in respect to the Muslim faith:

The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

Please note that this paragraph comes after a paragraph which describes the special relationship between the Church and the Jews.

In the beginning....

Islam traces it's origin to Abraham, who is believed by biblical historians to have lived sometime between 2100 BC and 1500 BC. In a tale which could have inspired many modern day soap operas, Abraham, the father of monotheism, and his wife Sarah are unable to conceive. Sarah suggests that Abraham have relations with Hagar, her handmaid, and Abraham's illegitimate son, Ishmael, is born. Then, wouldn't you know it, Sarah conceives Isaac.

Even if you have only the most basic understanding of soap operas, you can see a problem developing here. Your first-born son is illegitimate. Your real son is not the eldest. Not a good situation in a time where the entire inheritance goes to the first-born. Abraham decides to banish Hagar and Ishmael to the desert (which in reality should have been a death sentence but for one fact; God had promised to watch over Abraham's children).

So perhaps that story would have remained a footnote in the Judeo-Christian history except that two thousand years later (give or take a couple centuries), in 570AD, Muhammad ibn Abdallah was born in Mecca. A minor merchant who married well, there is little noteworthy until about the year 612AD when Muhammad is said to have had a (possibly epileptic) vision in which an angel had him memorize (he was illiterate) what was to become the Koran.

Ten years later, Muhammad was driven out of Mecca for his blasphemous teachings only to return at the head of an army to conquer the city in 630AD. He died of fever three years later.

These events are essentially uncontested regardless of the faith perspective.

So now for my perspective: I see two things here which could be insights into today's events. First, Muhammad himself set a poor precedent when he allowed his personal feelings of being slighted by his hometown to inspire his return to Mecca with intensions of conquest. Second, the "illegitimate son" syndrome seems to permeate the Arab psyche to this day (while I'm not a huge fan of Kevin Costner films, Christian Slater's portrayal of Will Scarlett in "Robin Hood: Prince of Theives" is a sample of the attitude I am thinking of here).

Again, I must say that I am not an expert in history, religion, or psychology. Make of this what you will.

Next time, we'll lay out the brief version of history through the middle ages.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan - I followed the link from one of your comments over at Dr. Sanity - congratulations on starting your own blog! I have really enjoyed your contributions to the conversation over at Dr. S and am always grateful for your willingness to find solid facts and include them in our discussions! I'll visit again:)


4:39 PM  
Blogger Bryan J Weitzel said...

Thanks Anniebird, I'll see you "out there".

2:08 PM  

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