Saturday, December 27, 2014

Some desultory post-Christmas thoughts on Christianity versus Islam

I first read the Koran in my teens and, over 50 years later, I still have a copy handy -- in the Pickthall English translation.

You cannot read the Koran without noticing what a hostile document it is.  It is filled with anger and commands to attack unbelievers.  A small excerpt from the very angry Surah 9:

"Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.... Fight the disbelievers! Allah is on your side; he will give you victory"

In the Koran people are sharply divided into believers and unbelievers.  And only believers deserve any respect or goodwill.  Contrast that with Luke 2:14:  "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men". Christianity is a much kinder, more peaceful and more universal religion, with very little hostility in it.

And Christians have absorbed that Gospel of kindness and gentleness.  A few lines from a very famous Christmas carol -- "Away in a manger":

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me for ever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there.

And to this day both sets of scriptures are influential.  Not all Muslims are Jihadis and not all Christians are kind but the  bloodthirsty attacks by Muslims on those they disagree with are just as their Koran commands -- while Christians extend forgiveness to Muslims who attack them, as advised in Matthew 5:39.

I think I prefer an older code of justice:  "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".  Be kind to begin with but, if kindness is mocked, give the mocker back some of his own medicine

"William Dalrymple" is normally most erudite but he has an article here that suggests he has not read Surah 9.  He points to the old Mogul empire in North India as a place where Muslims practiced tolerance and respect for Christianity and concludes  from that that "Christianity and Islam are not far apart".

In so concluding he is overlooking the sharp distinctions that Sura 9 makes between what Muslims can do when they rule the roost and what they can do before that.  There can be a modicum of civilization and condescension once you are in a supreme position (which the Moguls were) but until then conquest and slaughter is what is commanded. When the conquest is still going on there is no pity or mercy for unbelievers.

There is a sense in which Jihadis are Muslim Protestants:  They take their holy book seriously.  That their holy book serves the evil side of human nature is the pity.  Freud was not far out in saying that there is a "Thanatos" (death) instinct in human nature.  Lucifer?  I think a Christian could well make a case that Islam is the work of the Devil.

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