When I write on Christianity under attack, I write as a Christian, an insider. But writing on attacks upon Islam, I am an observer.
In fact, I’m a double observer. Initially, because I am not Muslim. Secondly, because I am trying to view the attacks impartially. That is, I’m not going to present disagreements that I believe to be correct. I am going to note the attack that I think is common, or widespread. ‘How do people in my part of the world talk of Islam?’, even if I think such comment is way wrong.
Just quickly, though, a reminder: I think that attacks for any belief will – imperfectly – match the message of that belief.
What do people say about Islam? What’s the attack?
That Islam is a bit scary, sometimes ugly, and trying to change us. That Islam wants to muscle in on our culture. Perhaps it’s by introducing Sharia law (maybe even a stealth attack on our legal system). Perhaps it’s by silencing criticism and debate.
Then there’s the J word – Jihad. Struggle, warfare, whatever … it’s an attempt to overthrow.
This is the perception. As also understood by Muslims. This is Khaled Abou El Fadl:
Over the past decade in particular, Muslim societies have been plagued by many events that have struck the world as offensive and even shocking. This has reached the extent that, from Europe and the United States to Japan, China and Russia, one finds that Islamic culture has become associated with harshness and cruelty in the popular imagination of people from various nations around the world.
I emphasise, perception.
So, how does this perception match the reality? What truth has been picked up in this attack? I think it is that the culture of Islam is part of the message of Islam.
Unlike Christianity, I believe, Islam does offer a culture as an essential part of being an adherent. Some reasons, as far as I understand Islam:
- Arabic is the true language for divine revelation
Though not against translation, the real Quran is not in English. Christians, on the other hand, value the original languages but are open to having translations in the hands of every person
- Islamic practice has clear markers
Halal food is religious and cultural. Christians have no universally-agreed food laws. Muslim set prayers towards Mecca are well-known. The closest Christian equivalent would be saying the Lord’s Prayer: but that’s not very close at all – no set time, no set language, not even a law to say it
- Islamic jurisprudence
Is there such a term as ‘Christian jurisprudence’? I don’t mention Sharia to stir controversy, but its existence does show a tight conceptual link between ‘Muslims’ and ‘the Muslim state’
To say Islam links culture/practice with its message is not to offer a criticism. It is merely an observation. It’s an observation of a difference between Islam and other beliefs. I think it’s also an observation that makes some sense of the ways Islam is criticised in Australia.
Perhaps knowing this will help us better understand Muslim neighbours, and better talk to them with mutual understanding.