Thursday, April 07, 2005


Christianity and Islam (3)

Knowledge, Democracy and Women

Comparisons between Christianity and Islam often overlook important contextual frameworks.

Many people in modern 'Christian' societies look down on Islam and generally associate it with backwardness and ignorance because most 'Muslim' countries and societies that they see around them exhibit these characteristics. Memories of the excesses of the Ottomans in southern Europe are not too distant in the past. Terrorist groups are at present predominantly Muslim.

Many bigotry Muslims on the other hand associate Christianity with what they see as unacceptable promiscuity or lax social standards or weak family ties. They associate Christianity with the times when these two cultures clashed during the crusades or in Andalusia, Spain. Christians are associated with savagery, mistreatment of prisoners of war and even lack of personal hygiene. Mention is frequently made of the savage act of the Spanish Christians in demolishing all those public baths in Cordoba and elsewhere!! 'Terrorist countries' are at present predominantly 'Christian'.

[President Bush, who is not particularly known for choosing his words carefully, caused deep waves of anxiety in the Muslim world by thoughtlessly using the word "crusade" prior to the present war. Images of Christians attacking the Muslim world put Mr. Bush's campaign on the wrong foot before it even started! Much capital was made of it in Arab and Muslim media. To talk about the power of the word!!]

Both sides are largely wrong!

Also, there has been so much “misinformation” regarding all the “us-versus-them” comparisons between Islam and Christianity, one doesn’t know where to begin! I will only address three of the central subjects that have direct bearing on the question of secularism and an immediate effect on daily living. I will put more emphasis on Islam for the simple reason that most readers are less familiar with it.


Before I even begin discussing the topic, I would like to draw the attention of people who cannot accept any compatibility between religious belief and independent thought to the following aspect that I always keep in mind myself: Even in relatively recent history and particularly in the field of natural sciences, it is noteworthy that some of the most outstanding intellectuals and independent thinkers like Pascal, Newton (and Einstein, who was Jewish) were deeply religious. Not only simple minds seek the comfort of religious belief.

During Christianity’s years of dominance, in addition to the run-of-the-mill dogmatic, thought stifling clerics, you can find so many scholars who were deeply religious. Many were themselves devoted; some were even monks. The Jesuits are an example of a sect based in a large part on the pursuit of knowledge.

If you examine the history of Islam, you will find many similarities!

The first word conveyed to Mohammed was “read”. Numerous references to knowledge and seeking it are encountered in the Koran. Prophet Mohammed is reported to have said, “Seek knowledge even if it were in China”. China was probably seen as the farthest possible place for it. Prisoners of war were released if they could teach 10 children to read and write. Numerous examples!

Yet, you find people who believe that religion itself yields the ultimate truth and that no further pursuit of knowledge outside the ‘defined’ sphere is necessary or even healthy! A tragic example was the burning of the Library of Alexandria which was a sad loss of unimaginable proportions. [It is truly doubly sad and ironic that that horrendous act was sanctioned by the same man (Omar, the second Caliph) who said, 1400 years ago: "How can you enslave people when they are born free by their mothers" ]

And yet, as soon as Islamic Caliphate was established as a rich and powerful country, the pursuit of knowledge was followed in earnest within less than a century. Many of the Islamic scholars of the 8th- 12th centuries played an important role in world scientific thought and practice ranging from mathematics to medicine, chemistry and philosophy. They played an important part in preserving Greek thought and knowledge and transmitting it to the newly-aware Christian West.

It seems in conclusion that although religious domination may attempt to censor or limit scientific inquiry, the inquisitive nature of mankind ultimately prevails. It had definitely done so under the dominance of both religions.


The Koran states:

“… And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel…” (42:38)

The concept is called “Shura”. To me, this spells only one thing: Democracy. But the clergy interpret this that it can only be “consultation between the more knowledgeable of the faithful”.

Very much like the Christian clergy.

The word of God has to be above the will of the majority. It is part of the faith… in both faiths. Naturally, only those who have some in-depth knowledge of the word of God can take part in those consultations.

What I say is: Let the people consult with their clergy if they wish but let the flock of the faithful decide for themselves. If they make a religiously unwise choice, then let the wrath of God fall upon them! Is that fair?

Incidentally, this concept of shura has for so long been repeatedly distorted by power mongers. Even today, most Arab states now have what they call “Shura Councils” of appointed puppet members, which allow rulers to govern as they please while claiming to abide by the words of God!

Women and Equal Rights

A lot has been written on this subject. There is much confusion between culture and religion. I will only refer to the very basics:

Islam: "Men have authority over women...” (Women, 34)

Christianity: "... wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything…” (Ephesians 5:24)

Both guilty as charged!


I honestly cannot see much merit in this “comparison” game. It has been going for more than a thousand years, and can go on for another (and probably will). Faith is something these comparisons cannot address.

If you accept the doctrine of Christianity or Islam as a faith, you have to take it as it is (or as it is interpreted by the various sects) and reconcile yourself to live with that. You can try you best to “spread the word”. I personally can live with that… as long as the arguments do not extend into the realm of swords, bullets, bombs and cruise missiles!

People using swords, bullets, bombs and cruise missiles are the ailment, not the arguments.

When religions are used as tools for injustice and to inflict suffering… that is a worse ailment.


Hello Abu Khaleel,
I think that some of the western prejudice predates Islam, being passed down from the racist classical Greeks contempt for 'servile Asiatics'. OTH, Huns and Goths(Swedes) were detested by civilized 2nd century Italians and Greeks as foul, stupid, smelly third-world trash. The above examples show how useless and innervating all prejudice ultimately is, even the products of cultural tradition.

On the fate of the library of Alexandria a skeptical Gibbon in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire relates the following:'Amrou[Muslim conqueror of Egypt] was inclined to gratify the wish of the (Greeks), but his rigid integrity refused to alienate the minutest object without the consent of the caliph; and the well-known answer of Omar was inspired by the ignorance of a fanatic. "If these writings of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless, and need not be preserved: if they disagree, they are pernicious, and ought to be destroyed".... I(Gibbon) should not recapitulate the many disasters of the Alexandrian library, the involuntary flame that was kindled by Julius Cæsar in his own defence, or the mischievous bigotry of the Christians, who studied to destroy the monuments of idolatry, but if the ponderous mass of [Christian theological] controversy were indeed consumed in [heating] the public baths, a philosopher may allow, with a smile, that it was ultimately devoted to the benefit of mankind.."

Not getting many takers on this, are you Abu? Hey, maybe there’s more of us uninterested good honest non-believers out here than anyone imagined! Who really don’t give too much of a stuff about what wise or holy person is reported to have said what umpteen hundred years ago, and aren’t particularly convinced by those who endlessly repeat them. Maybe there’s a bit more to life, like plain common sense? Harumph!
Got that off my chest!
Just out of interest, my wife’s off to visit Turkey for a couple of months soon - invited by a former student. She was hoping to visit Gallipoli on April 25, but not possible - the place will be flooded with thousands and thousands of young Kiwi and Aussie pilgrims.
For those who don’t know, April 25 is the holiest day in the NZ and Aussie calendar - ANZAC Day, commemorating 25 April 1915 when the novice Anzac Corps went ashore at Gallipoli against the Turks. Remembered as a day of national emergence as states independent from Mother Britain, also for the incredible courage and sacrifice of the amateur troops, leading an accompanying British war correspondent to describe the Anzac soldier as "the bravest thing God ever made." The whole campaign was actually a bloody mismanaged fiasco, bit like a more recent Middle East invasion, but it’s touching that those troops great-great grandchildren will be flocking there in such numbers.
What’s memorable is that for the Anzac troops, "Johnny Turk" who fought them so well was seen as a tough, brave, honourable opponent. And Johnny Turk was of course a Muslim, but there’s no mention of that in the war memoirs: to the Anzacs he was just a patriot defending his homeland.
I personally wonder sometimes whether excessive nationalism or national pride isn’t just as great an evil as excessive religiosity. Those who go on about the burdens of being the "world’s only superpower" might have some thoughts on that.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Listed on Blogwise