Part of the paragraphs given below is the result of questions put to me. Others are an attempt to expound central parts of the Muslim faith. Others again put Islam and Christianity opposite each other in order to define similarities and differences between the two religions.
Basic doctrines | Christmas Eve and Roast Pork | The five Pillars | "Articles of faith" |
A teen-age girl had got a boy-friend from Lebanon. An Arab - the mother underlined - when she phoned. The family was modern an broad-minded and didn't want to be accused for discriminate anybody or anything - least of all they wanted to be accused of racial prejudice.
But Christmas Eve the front crackled. The girl refused to eat the fine roast pork, which is a normal Danish Christmas Eve dinner. She referred to the rules of Islam and underlined in addition that pork was unhealthy and too fat. Nor did she want to have Christmas presents. Again with reference to Islam: Christmas was not to be celebrated, because the basis was not true.
"Here we draw the line" - the mother said. It is dirty work to put that kind of thoughts into the head of the girl. I forgot to ask: What about the other possibility, if the girl had persuaded the chap to eat roast pork - had that been dirty work too?
The mother is right. A number and Danish customs and traditions are disputed, when we meet Muslims. But as long as they are of the order of roast pork to Christmas and hot-dogs at the hot-dog stand, we are not in the neighborhood of Danish culture or Christian faith. From many lectures I know, it is cultural differences and social customs (rules for eating and the forced veil for women), which take up people's attention, - and not real religious divergences
The question about Christmas presents belongs at first sight to the group of cultural differences, - but if we carefully consider the arguments of the girl: that she couldn't celebrate a feast, which not ought to be celebrated, because it was build upon a lie. Then we suddenly are in the center of the religious questions, which separate Islam and Christianity: the understanding of Jesus Christ. Is it the living God, who in the Infant of Christmas becomes man - or is he, as Islam insists on the second in the long line of prophets, which comes to an end with Muhammed.
I don't know whether the parents really understood, that it is the question with which Christina faith stands or falls. In the phone it was underlined that the family was ordinary members of the established church. The family went to church Christmas Eve and to baptism, to wedding ceremony and funerals. Otherwise they didn't make a fuss about that part of life, the mother concluded.
Nevertheless the experiences at Christmas had shocked the family so strongly, that they had discussed the problems with pastor, who had confirmed the girl. He had not been able to help very much. After all the girl herself was to decide. The influence from parents, school and church could not be activated retroactively. Left was only the possibility of dialogue and personal information as far as talk is possible. A sure method of interrupting the talk would be reproaches and rejection. To listen with interest to the girl's ideas and arguments together with a quiet statement of one's own point of view, could perhaps be instructive for both.
A common experience to many of "the new Muslims" in Europe is that Islam has given them their first real religious experience. It is not possible to speak about a real competition between Islam and the Christian churches. Most converts have never had a living contact with a Christian community and do not have a Christian faith to be converted from. The contact with Islam has given them their first meeting with believers speaking naturally about God and faith..
Like that "Svensk Missionstidsskrift" no. 3, 1983, draw up the balance sheet of a conference and a investigation, which the order of the White Fathers has arranged concerning mixed marriages. It resembles rather well a description of the daily church-life Christians are we all, but it is a private affair, which you do better to keep behind closed doors, if you don't want to be an outsider. Here privatization is brought to the bitter end. The faith lives in a marginal position, and young people have never felt that faith meant anything to their parents in everyday-life. The contribution of the school has been marked with the same attitude as the parent's - and even a resolute effort from the pastor during confirmation preparation has not been able to drag religion out of the marginalization and make it to more than a few beautiful, but indifferent customs.
Islam has the has an advantage over the many exotic new religious options, which overflow them. Many of the new religions have their force of attraction by virtue of being alien, but their limitation as well, because the distance from the Danish cultural background is nearly insurmountable. Islam on the contrary can with some justice demand to be the completion of the old well-known Christian faith, which has been misunderstood and distorted. Now Islam is coming with the right understanding and the right faith. Only think about Christmas Eve again. The external habits are set aside, but the spiritual background as well. Islam doesn't want to abolish Jesus. But he must have the placement, to which he is entitled.
It is obvious that it is necessary with a thorough knowledge to Christianity and to Islam with whom we want to begin a dialogue. You have to know the content of your own faith, if you are going to be a good interlocutor. Especially it is necessary in relation to Islam, which seems to be close to us, but in crucial respects denies the heart of Christianity. I shall try to help by giving.a short briefing.
The Islamic Confession of Faith (shahãda) is short and clear:
"I perceive (and bear witness) that there is no God except Allah and I perceive (and bear witness) that Muhammed is the Messenger of God" (The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam)
The Creed is the first and essential pillar of Islam, because it is the basis of the "Five Pillars of Islam", which carry the teachings of Islam:
1. The Creed (Shahãdah)
2. The ritual prayers (Salah)
3. The giving of alms (Zakat)(1)
4. The fasting of the month of Ramadan (Sawm)(2)
5. The pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj)
I have met Muslims who claimed that a man became a Muslim, when he said the Creed in Arabic. This idea also appeared in the case of the teen-age girl. It is difficult to blame anyone for this interpretation, but we are liable to forget the narrow connection between word and action in Arabic. The act latent present in the word is actual part of the word. The word creates the fact, which it states. There is a duplicity in the word itself, which makes the first meaning of the word - "to recognize" and to "accept" - imperceptibly merge into the second meaning of the word - "bear witness to" and "carry out the truth, which you have recognized". Even to die for that truth, if necessary. This coherence is manifest in the fact that the word "Shahîd", which means "martyr" is derived from the same root as the word "Shahâdah" = Creed, confession. It is no enough to say a word, one has to act accordingly.
We can use the Apostolic Creed in a very heavy-handed way in order to get a birds view over the likeness and the differences between Christianity and Islam. (Compare the remarks about the near relationship and the great differences)(3) We are simply going to let the Apostolic Creed be subject to an censorship carried out by a Muslim, in that way that all italicized sentences can be recognized by Islam, the sentences printed in bold-faced type is the particular Christian statements:
We renounce the Devil and all his work and all his nature..
We believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ God's only begotten Son our Lord. And that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost(4); born of the Virgin Mary; that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; that he went down into hell, and also did rise again the third day; that he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;. And from thence shall come again at the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the Remission of sins; the Resurrection of the flesh; and everlasting life after death.
This examination speaks for itself. I only want to make the following short comments:
It is a natural thing that young people in love seek loneliness. Diverge from friends and associates in order to be together with and listen to the only one. It is not different, when two people with unlike cultural and religious background fall in love with each other, but a little more risky, because life grows narrower in a much more radical way and the positive "opposition" from the surroundings can be disowned even more.
That is why it is so important for the parents to look after that the associates of both of them still play a role in their everyday life. In the same way it is necessary that both each of the parties meet in the respective homes - not only at the boy or the girl. It is important to see the boy or the girl in his or her naturel surroundings. A marriage will always also be a marriage with the parents-in-law, and the traditions in this connexion is much stronger at the Muslims.
Once again I want to underline that the words can have different contents and meaning. The same expression can have a very different meaning in the context. It leads to superficiality in the talk and can lay the foundation of many misunderstandings on a later time.
Muslim girls are taken care of, so much that only a few Danish boys get the opportunity to think of sexual being together. Danish girls - on the other hand - come very often in that situation. Nobody looks after the Muslims boys and young men, and they have big problems in handling the free Danish manners between the sexes. They easily misunderstand the natural behavior of a Danish girl.
Many Danish girls feel it as a natural thing to have sexual intercourse with their boy friend, when they are sure to form a couple. It is felt like an affirmation of solidarity. The Muslim boy has a different explanation. For him it is a reliable indication that she is not the girl, he is going to marry. Here the rule still is effective: to distinguish between girls for amusement and girls with whom you marry. And the girl you marry has to be virgin and to be untouched before marriage.
In a papal statement some years ago we read:
"There are spiritual links between Christian and Muslims - especially in the belief in one God, who has created the world and given life to man - who is merciful and omnipotent and who has revealed himself to man."
Similar opinions are often heard from Muslims, when they ask for cooperation with Christians. Why can't Christians and Muslims not cooperate in the moral field in the struggle against:
In the context of a meeting about education and schooling, I heard the following remarks about the modern break-down of values:
"We (the Muslims) want that our children get as much knowledge as possible at school, - like you - but we want something more. We want to mark them with an attitude, to give them a framework in which the life, the skills and the knowledge of the children can unfold. We want to bring up our children and to form them in a way related to the values and norms in our culture and religion."
I agree that we both can and must cooperate with all good forces - with all people of good will - also with Muslims, but we have to do it for factual, political reasons and not for religious. Again it is worth considering, what the exact meaning of the words is, when we frequently says that at last we believe in the same God.
The Christian concept of God we find in the following words: " The Lord of lords .. whose home is in inaccessible light, whom no human being has seen or is able to see." (1 Timothy 6, 16) - but this hidden God has in Jesus Christ come to us as a man, a brother. "He is the reflection of God's glory and bears the impress of God's own being, sustaining all things by his powerful command." (Hebrews 1, 3).
We don't share that faith with the Muslims and that's why we have to put a big question mark at the question: Is it the same God, the father of Jesus Christ and our father, the Muslims speak about, when they say Allah?
And how about the view of man. The servant of God and the slave of God - but never the children of God, his sons and daughters, as we are in the fellowship of Christ.
For the Muslim it is an offensive and scandalous thought, that God should leave his splendid isolation and in compassionate love go into time, into history and into man's's life. And make common cause with us in a cooperation for the restoration of all things.
That is what a Christian means, when he calls Christ, Son of God - and that is the point most vigorously denied by Muslims, when speaking about Allah and his way of treating man. Many beautiful words the Koran and the Muslims use about Allah, but never the word "love" to describe his relationship with man. Always he is the lord and the supreme ruler - never the loving Father as in the Lords prayer.
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On the surface the two religions seem to worship the same God (Allah). No doubt the similarities are many, and these are good meeting points. However, the differences in the concepts of the Christian God and the Islamic Allah must not be overlooked. Islam is based on a single all-powerful god, Allah, to whom all people must submit. Allah is so different from humankind that it is impossible to postulate anything about Him. Even characteristics attributed to Him are not the same as when applied to humans. Allah is self-sufficient. He cannot be affected by the actions of His creatures. He is the source of both good and evil. His will is supreme, not limited by laws or principles. As a result of this belief, fatalism is a way of life for Muslims frequently expressed in the word Inshallah ("it is God's will"). In other words God, in Muslim thought, is unknowable. Christians in contrast believe that Christ has made God known (John 1:18), He has revealed Himself to His people, and man himself has been created in God's image (Gen. 1:27). This Christian view is sharply divergent from the Islamic concept of Allah's "Otherness".
Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was born of Mary who was a virgin. However, this does not make Him "Son of God". Jesus Christ in Islamic belief ranks only as one prophet albeit an outstanding one among the 124,000. He is no element in a Godhead or Trinity. Such concepts, Muslims have been taught, are a denial of the Shahada and constitute blasphemy against Allah.
The concept of sin and the role of law in Islam excludes the need for a saviour. Many Muslims deny that Christ died on the cross. The biblical title "Son of God" is misinterpreted to mean carnal procreation. For this reason, Muslims on the popular level believe that Trinity in Christianity means three gods, namely God the father, Mary the mother, and Jesus the son.
As a prophet however, Jesus (Issa) is regarded in Islam as one of the greatest. He performed miracles, including cleansing of lepers, giving sight to the blind, and raising the dead. The Koran also adds that Jesus made clay birds come alive! He is called the Messiah, the Word of God, the Spirit of God, a Messenger. There are Koranic texts referring not only to the virgin birth, but also to Christ's resurrection. However, He did not die as a substitute and He was not God.
So although there is room for Christ in Islam, He is never viewed as God and Saviour, two beliefs so intertwined at the very foundation of Christianity. For the Muslim, salvation is a result of the Absoluteness of Allah and obedience to His laws. There is therefore no need for atoning sacrifice.
Like Christianity, Islam also has a holy book. The Koran is considered the perfect revelation from God. It is an exact reproduction of the original engraved tablets in heaven in the language they regard as the tongue of angels, Arabic. The text of the Koran is seen as holy and perfect, due to the miraculous way Allah's will was communicated and externalized to Muhammed. Although the Koran has been translated into more than 125 languages, only the Arabic Koran is regarded as authoritative. All translations, even the most correct, are classified only as explanations of the Koran. It is maintained that neither Muhammed nor any other human has had any part in the authorship of the Koran. It is seen as the sole source of all guidance, truth and science.
Belief in the heavenly origin of the Koran gives the book, in Muslim eyes, a divine status that makes it supra-historical and gives the Arabic language a unique place among all languages in the world. Some Muslims even believe that there are miraculous qualities to the Koran as a book. The origin of the Koran direct from the throne of Allah makes it impossible--even dangerous--to criticise the Koran or to be involved in a historical-critical study of the book.
Christian witness to the Muslim must have this in mind in order not to be drawn into the trap called "The Battle of the Books".It is very easy to get into a conversation with a Muslim in which the Koran and the Bible are compared. This is not a valid comparison. For the Christian, the Bible, although venerated as a divine guide to God, does not claim perfection. The Holy Spirit used hail human beings as spokes-persons. They kept their own writing styles and personalities which fall short of perfection. The supreme revelation of God is not in a book, but in the person of Jesus Christ. The difference may be summarised like this: in Islam the Word of God became book; in Christianity the Word of God became flesh.
Islam is a law-oriented religion. Law in Islam is based on the direct revelation (the Koran) and the traditions (Muhammed's life). The Koran, being only a short book, does not cover all aspects of life. It was therefore augmented by the Sunna, the quoted speech and acted example of Muhammed, who, when called to be a prophet, lived a faultless life and therefore was a perfect example to be followed. The written record of Muhammed's extra-Koranic sayings and acts were collected 250 years after his death in the Hadith. Together with the Koran, the Hadith is the basis for Shariah Law, which deals with all aspects of Islamic life (religious, social, political and economic). Islamic beliefs and practices are really only some kind of introduction to the comprehensive Islamic law. In Islam there is only a slight difference between law and morality. Islamic law has a different role from that of the laws, regulations and rules found in the Bible. It is the essence of Islamic self-understanding; it is strongly revealed in the life-style of the true Muslim--really it is the heart of Islam itself. Even salvation is tied in with the Shariah. By keeping the law, a Muslim satisfies God' s requirements and wins his approval, although even the most complete obedience does not guarantee a place in heaven.
The Christian who is saved by grace will claim--and to some extent, correctly-- that Muslims are saved by works.
Both Muslims and Christians agree that Adam disobeyed God and therefore had to leave the Garden of Eden. However, Islam teaches that no change took place in Adam's nature as a result of this act; Adam, and with him all his descendants, suffered no permanent ill effect due to the Fall. God forgave Adam and he was reinstated. Men by nature are not sinful, rather they are weak, ignorant and forgetful.
These opposing concepts of sin in Islam and Christianity are probably the greatest obstacle for a Muslim to accept Christianity. On the understanding of these issues rests the acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as either prophet or saviour. Islam recognizes three categories of sin. Some are mere shortcomings, human limitations or negligence. The consequence is sanction rather than punishment. Others are more serious and will incur punishment. Among these are disobedience to parents, murder of a Muslim, adultery, and slandering a virtuous Muslim. The unpardonable sin is "shirk," the crime of setting anything alongside Allah It is observed that whereas Christianity is a "guilt" religion, Islam is a "shame" religion. In Christianity, a clear conscience is the goal, whereas to lose face before others is most undesirable in Islam. A Muslim who errs is not in need of a saviour, but Koranic instruction. As one of God's prophets, Muhammed was sent to guide, instruct and warn people. By contrast, the Christian believes that sin is rebellion against God and only through Jesus Christ who died for mankind is there any hope of salvation. Another essential element of Christian belief is that through the Spirit we are born again and our minds are renewed.
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Allah cannot be compared with anything we know in this world. He is not manifest in physical form. The Creator and Sustainer of all, He is omnipotent and omniscient. His power is unlimited as is His mercyand compassion. He hears and sees all, however humans cannot see Him. He knows mankind and is closer to humans than their jugular vein (Sura 50:16). Allah's attributes are sumerised in His 99 names, which Muslims contemplate whwn their fingers touch the 3 x 33 pearls in the beadroll. (Tashih = "prayer-beads").
Angels are created by light, with ability to speak and reason. They administer Allah's universe, cannot disobey or sin. Each angel has a specific position and appointed task. There are four archangels: of these the duties of two are known. Gabriel reveals Allah's will to the prophets; Israfil proclaims the resurrection. Other prominent named angels are Radwan, who is in charge of Paradise, and Malik incharge of Hell.
Alle people have two guardian angels, ome on their right hand to register their good deeds, the other at the left to register the bad deeds. Angels will mediate for men and women in the day of judgement.
There is also a belief in jinns, inhabitants of the world of spirits, created from smokeless fire. Satan is a jinn. Some jinns are friendly and helpful,others are hostile and harmful. Jinns have free will.
In addition to the Koran, Muslims also accept previously revealed scriptures; the Torah of Moses, the Psalms of David and the Gospel with Jesus. These scriptures however as they appear in the Bible today are not, according to Islamic teaching, in their original form. They can therefor only be used when they do not contradict the Koran, which is the final revelation and authority, given from Allah through Muhammed, the last prophet as the foundation for Islam, the universal religion.
Prophets in the Koran are also called apostles, messengers and servants. They must be irreproachable in character and deeds, and are sinless from the moment they are called.
There are two kinds of prophets: Rasul, who bring new revelations with divine books, and Nabi,who work within the framework of existing religion. The Koran mentions 28 prophets by name, of whom 18are from the Old Testament and 3 (Jesus, John the Baptist and Zachariah) from the New Testament. Muhammed is the final seal of the prophets.
The Koran in several places talks about a Day of Judgement, where all will have to give an account of their deeds. The Koran has revealed som signs of the last days. These signs are observed in the heavenly bodies, on earth and among men. After judgement there will be a Paradise for the elect and Hell for the disobedient.
Allah is creator of both good and evil, from eternity. All that happens to men and women is because it is the will of Allah. The direct result of such a doctrine is that men and women have no choice in their actions. Illness, death and good fortune are alike from Allah. Such fatalistic beliefs make room for superstitious practices where people seek protection using the Koran as a charm or talisman, or pray at the graves of saints in this life, and ask for intercesion of Muhammed on the day of judgement.
(The above passages have been taken from Børge Schantz: Your Muslim Neigbour and You - 1993).
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Tertio millenio adveniente
Christianity and the non Christian religions
"Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because, as I strolled round looking at your sacred monuments, I noticed among other things an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. In fact, the unknown God you revere is the one I proclaim to you." (5)
We have quoted the opening part of St. Paul's speech before the council of the Areopagos. He goes on proclaiming that God who created the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and not far from any of us - in Him we live and move and exist - as indeed some of your own writers have said: "We are all his children."
Nearly 2000 years later in 1965 the Holy Father and the fathers of the second Vatican Council brought out the pronouncement on the relationship of the Church to the non-Christian religions, called "Nostra acetate".(6) A paper almost as youthful, open and positive against the non-Christian religions and with a willingness to cooperation as in the statements of St. Paul on Areopagos.
"It is also with respect the Church is looking at the Moslems, who worship the one, living, self-contained, merciful and omnipotent God, the creator of heaven and earth and who has spoken to mankind. They also try from the bottom of their hearts to give in to Gods hidden will, - as Abraham did, to whom the Islamic faith often refer. Even though they don't recognize the deity of Jesus, they honour him nevertheless as a prophet. They reverence Mary, his virgin mother and it now and then happens that they devotedly invoke her.
They expect the Day of Judgment, when God is going to raise up the dead and give them their reward Therefore they attach great importance to live a moral life and they worship God by prayers, alms and fast. .....
The Church therefore calls on her children with wisdom and love to establish dialogue and cooperation with followers of non-Christian religions, in order to witness about the Christian faith and attitude of life and to recognize, serve and promote the spiritual, moral and cultural values, which are to be found among other people."
The pronouncement walks directly in the footsteps of St. Paul's words: God as creator and man as his children, in Him we live and move and exist. These words match the wordings: The Muslims believe in one God, the creator, who has spoken to mankind. Deeply in their hearts they try to live in accordance with the will of God.
When we read these above words, it is inevitable not to concentrate on all the matters common to the two religions. Only in a short sentence we get a hint about the decisive difference between Islam and Christianity - the understanding of Jesus Christ. "Even though they don't recognize the deity of Jesus, they honour him as a prophet".
When we are called on "to establish dialogue and cooperation with followers of non-Christian religions ... and to recognize, serve and promote the spiritual, moral and cultural values, which are to be found among other people." And as a secondary gain to be able "to witness about the Christian faith and attitude of life", - then the greatest importance is attached to the items on which the two religions agree - the controversies are only suggested.
Meeting and talking with Muslims we almost certainly are met with questions about a number of moral, practical matters, which are - or ought to be - common problems for Muslims and Christians:
The Muslim asks Why do we not cooperate and make a common front against such things as
1) the abuse of women as sex-objects and pornography
2) the free abortion
3) social unjust
4) pollution and irresponsible misuse of the resources of the earth.
The cooperation between Islam and Christianity in the moral-ethical field - let it be both natural and necessary - has a "political" side as well, which we can't forget about.
For the Muslim the accept of this moral cooperation is an accept of the most universal parts of the Shariah-law. An incipient accept of the identification of political and divine reality, the recognition of the fact that religion and politics are two sides of the same coin. The Christian is not allowed to forget the Islamic Tawhid (the Unity of Being), which claims that political power is used to promote religious goals. The world view of Islam implies that the main target of every nation and every culture is to be Islamic. "Islam does not exist except in the terms of the Shariah, and the push for its implementation in some officially recognized form in Britain (and in other European countries) is inevitable." (7)
If anywhere - the context, in which the words belongs, is decisive for their exact and full meaning. And I am sure that the fear of Islam in Europe is the fear of the political side of the religion, which can't be separated from the unified Islamic whole. European Christians are not supporters of radical secularisation - but on the other hand they don't consider the Islamic Theocracy as an acceptable alternative
Of course - we must cooperate, not on a religious basis, but because we as Christians cooperate with all men of good will. All that fight against a rationalistic and secular society without norms and no possibility to know what is right and what is wrong. A society which consider man as man's purpose, and man to be his own only legislator.
Dialogue or Diapractise?
This expectation of common moral and ethical reaction is solid based on the common belief in GOD as creator. (8)Your Guardian-Lord is God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne. (Sura 7:54).
He began the creation of man with nothing more than clay .... but He fashioned him in due proportion, and breath in him something of His spirit. And He gave you the faculties of hearing and sight and feeling and understanding. (Sura 32:7 and 9).
Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth. (Sura 2:30)
The Koran gives quite a unique position to Adam. Made from the clay of the earth, he gets a share of the divine reality, when God breathed in him something of His spirit. A Christian accustomed to the narratives of OT is in want for the phrase:
"God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them"
We shall look in vain for the phrase in the Koran, - but it is found in the Hadith related by Ibn Hanbal (780 - 855). Some Islamic theologians are not accepting the statement. They are of the opinion, that it is "shirk" - the unforgivable sin of putting something aside of Allah, - others accept it in line with the breathing of the spirit of Allah into Adam. In any case the unique status of Adam is evident.
Especially his commission as "vicegenerent on earth" - corresponding to the Biblical: "God blessed them, saying to them: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it" shows the assignment of man and his responsibility towards God. He is on earth to fulfill the will of God and at the Day of Judgment he is going to answer for his way of life, and the answer will be decisive for his eternal fate.
But the record of the Creation is not yet complete. The story of the Fall of Men has not yet been told. We find it in Sura 2: 35 - 39 and 7:19ff. and the differences between the Bible and the Koran are rather small, but the consequences drawn from the story in the two religions are very different.
In the Bible it is the background for the alienation of mankind from God - called the "original sin". A main structure in man's nature, which is inborn, original. and enslaves man. .
This conception of sin is totally unknown in Islam. "The Fall of Man does not unveil man's fundamental weakness to sin"(9) as the case is in Christianity. Man is not a sinner by disposition. He is born with the option to choose - good or evil - and is able to do good. In the Koran Adam and his wife leave Paradise with the forgiveness of God. Free again to do the will of God.
The long-range consequences of this last statement is that Islam does not need any saviour at all: "As is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows My guidance, will not loose his way, nor fall into misery" (Sura 20:123). Man can live after God's will and man can create order in the world.
In the holy Koran man has the necessary guidance for his life. He has his free will and the possibility to choose the right way - and the responsibility is man's own.- in principle he is his own saviour. A fact that from the very beginning - like beams from a lighthouse throw light on all other structures to come - not least at Jesus Christ and his importance in the context.
Do these facts influence the Dialogue between Christianity and Islam? and transform it to some kind of preaching more than a dialogue, where the two parts try to come to a mutual understanding? I think, it is the most common criticism in the context of dialogue, that it often has a hidden agenda - a strategy to manipulate the other - but "in dialogue it is not about to win the other for my side, but to share with the other"(10)
The above quotation is from a doctor's thesis about the dialogue between Christians and Muslims (Århus University 1997), and in the following I want to take this thesis as an example of a consistent and radical understanding of dialogue.
"As the world appears to day, dialogue is the only way onward. We can not continue to fight each other, caricature each other, but we have to stand together - we, the children of Abraham, who are united in faithfulness to God. Dialogue can undermine the mutual prejudices between Christians and Muslims.
But the methodical conception of dialogue in the West has developed in an much too abstract way ... only of interest between theologians and research workers - without influence from the grass-root movements. This criticism has been stated by the World Council of Churches, whose slogan is "Dialogue begins, where people live together". So, it is our ethical attitude towards people more than our concepts about them that count. Many Muslim theologians supporting dialogue states that the dialogue must have ethical objectives."(11)
The author therefore proposes that the word dialogue is replaced by diapractice, which she defines as common testimony - and sharing experiences and activities with one another. Islam and Christianity have a message to each other and a common testimony to the world.
The understanding of dialogue centred about revelation is rejected, because the content of the dialogue is determined a priori. If we think that genuine revelation of God only is available in Christianity, we are not able to listen attentive to those who think differently. No reciprocity and no dialogue will be possible. The real dialogue can not have its starting point in revelation, but in experience, in practice.
It is experience, which lead to theological reflection, and not reflection, the interpretation, which is going to decide how I experience to meet the other.(12)
It means that Christian has to be more Theocentric than Christocentric: It is not the only important thing, what God has done in Christ, but what God does universally in all religions.(13)
Referring to the doctoral thesis of Anna Marie Aagaard: The holy Spirit, sent into the World(14). A thesis underlining that the Holy Spirit is sent not only to the Church, but to the world as well. "God is the living and active God, who - not only then - but still is on his way towards man and the whole creation. For that reason Anna Marie Aagaard makes it clear that the assertion about "the final revelation" reduces the history of God in the world to a interpretation of events in the past.
"In consequence of the "already" - what has already happened - we are under the obligation to the Kingdom of God and represent it in the dialogue. But in consequence of its "not yet" - what is still happening - we are humbly open to other manifestations of God's Kingdom, God's interference.
At the same time we have to recognize that other religions as well have a role to play in the history of the Kingdom of God, that the signs of the Kingdom could be found outside the Christian community. The answer to the question how far Christ is unique, inclusive or normative for others belongs to God's future".
"That God has spoken to all men in Jesus Christ does not necessarily mean, that God only has spoken through the earthly Jesus. The other part is loved for his own sake , accepted by God and standing inside the love and mercy of God.(15)
The author finally insists upon, that Christ is present in the reflection of the qualities of God, but in a hidden way. Present is the reality, which the life of Jesus provides, all that the Cross is a token of - the reconciliation as a symbol, a sign of imitation and brotherliness, selfsubmission to the other.
All people of good will unanimously agree with the beautiful concept of diapractise, I think, and are willing to cooperate in everyday life. We can all hope and pray that the way from diapractise to real dialogue is passable. But the idea eludes analysis, - it can only be repeated - because in itself it is a dream, part of a religious hope and faith.
Leslie Newbigin puts it this way: "Dialogue is the order of the day, and the agenda is not a matter of mutual challenge but of sharing and comparing "experience". I am not denying all value to this, far from it. Nor am I blind to the dangers of vigorous debate between believers of different faith communities, debates which can easily degenerate into polemics which obscure the truth rather than advance it. But the point is worth making as an illustration of the effect of the removal of religion from the arena of debate about the truth".(16)
If we return to our starting point, St. Paul's speech before the council of Areopagus, we remember the sympathetic interest as long as he speaks generally, but we also remember the reaction, when St. Paul comes to the central point:
In fact, the unknown God you revere is the one I Proclaim to you ...... Now overlooking the times of ignorance, God is telling everyone everywhere that they must repent, because he has fixed a day when the whole world will be judged in uprightness by a man he has appointed. And God has publicly proved this by raising him from the dead.
Then they left him - some of them even laughing - and only a few became believers.
At that time and to day Christ is the stumbling stone when we speak of dialogue with foreign religions. Not least when the dialogue is between Christianity and Islam. Christ incarnate, Christ crucified and risen. It is symptomatic that Christ is at the point of disappearing in the above review of Diapractise/Dialogue. Islam has never been able to accept (to understand?) the Christian teaching about the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection and the nature of his work of salvation.
It is not an accidental detail, a coincidence, but a well-considered and integrated part of Islamic theology. A decisive doctrine as early as in the story of creation, which colours the rest of Islamic teaching.
Tertio Millenio Adveniente.
In his apostolic letter for the preparation of the Jubilee of the year 2000, Tertio Millenio Adveniente, Pope John Paul II has stated that "the two thousand which have passed since the Birth of Christ ... represent an extraordinarily great jubilee not only for Christians but indirectly for the whole humanity, and the Holy father, underlining the ecumenical and universal character of the Sacred Jubilee, envisages the possibility of a meeting of all Christians, organized in a spirit of "grateful openness to those religions whose representatives might wish to acknowledge the joy shared by all the disciples of Christ".(17)
The preparation paper (inspiration for study and new considerations) about Islam reminds me of "Nostra aetate". Again we meet the concentration about what is common - even speaking about Jesus. But at the same time a recognition of the differences not least when speaking about Christ and the admission, that the differences might be insuperable. The document of course is coloured by the Jubilee of the Birth of Christ, - but may be, also by a recognition of the sad fact that Dialogue, which not take the differences seriously, very easily leads to an airy relation to the truth?
The paper opens with a two pages long quotation from the Koran (Sura 19:16-35) telling the story of Jesus' birth. The author underlines the well-known Biblical conceptions:
Jesus is sent to the children of Israel, to confirm the teaching of the Torah, abrogate certain prohibitions and to announce the coming of Muhammad. He brings the Wisdom and the Gospel. At the end of his life, an attempt is made to kill him, but he does not die; rather is he raised up to heaven. But at the end a quotation from the Koran 5:19 - "In blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary".
After mentioning a number of Hadiths about Jesus and Mary follows a catalogue over the names of Jesus in the Koran:
Îsâ - occurs 25 times. The son of Mary, who brought the Gospel and whom the Christians have made into the Son of God.
Messiah - occurs 11 times (only in Medinan suras, linked with the expression Son of Mary). One of Jesus' titles, but without any messianic or eschatological connotation.
A word from God - not too hastily to identify with the WORD (Logos)!?
Nabi - prophet (124.000 prophets)
Rasul - a messenger, an apostle (315 apostles). A man with a particular message.
"The servant of God" - from the point of view of dialogue this name is important since the term has profound significance in Islam as in Christianity. A Christian cannot help thinking of the servant of whom Isaiah speaks. Yet it is well to remember that it is used in the first place to deny the divinity of Jesus. "Christ Jesus the son of Mary was no more than an apostle of God and his word .." (Sura 4:171).
A spirit from God - the continuation of Sura 4:171 warns against wrong interpretation: "Christ Jesus the son of Mary was no more than an apostle of God and his word , which he bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him ... Say not Trinity, desist, it will be better for you. For God is one God, Glory be to Him - for exalted is He above having a son".
This clearing up gives reason for three comments:
1) It is necessary to go through all the names and titles of Jesus in the Koran once again. It is a mystery, why all these names, which often must be denied or defined in the same breath, have been brought into a religious system, which from the very beginning dissociates itself from the - even then - recognized content of the names and titles.
As we don't want to call Islam a Christian heresy, we have to find good reasons for at all to bring Jesus into the system and give him such a exalted position as the case is. Now and then we must consider, who is the most exalted - Muhammad or Jesus.
2) When we are comparing the picture of Jesus in the Koran with that of the Bible, we presuppose to deal with a unambiguous picture of Jesus. It might be a truth with modifications, and it will be necessary to state exactly which source is used - also the most common source, the Christian tradition and dogma.
In the development of the Christian Creed - not least when speaking about the person of Christ - the cristological quarrel in the fifth century is very important. Years as 431 and 451 are on everybody's lips for the time being by the talks between some oriental churches with the orthodox churches and the joint declarations between both East- and West-syrian Churches with the Holy See. Perhaps the time is ripe for a new judgment of the Christological dogma and a new formulation of the Christological mysterion in a more modern and adequate form?
3) Perhaps there could be some new points of view to in the new-found Coptic Gospel of St. Thomas (Nag Hammadi 1945/46). The work with this Gospel and the renewed interest for the source Q (18) has resulted in a very fertil discussion, and a new non-canonical picture of Jesus begins to be outlined. The repeated attempts to bring Jesus in connection with the Biblical Wisdom-tradition might be profitable for both Biblical and Koranic research.
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1. We translate the word Zakât to Alms. Not a covering translation, since Islam speaks about a contribution fixed by Law. A tax to be divided among the poor. (Back to text)
2. The Ramadan is the ninth month of the Arab year. The month where the holy Koran was sent down from Heaven. The fasting lasts from sunrise to sunset and include both food and drink. (Back to text)
3. Jes P. Asmussen: "Muhammed, Jesus, Abraham". (Gad, Danmark 1982) (Back to text)
4. When God created man he breathed into him his own Spirit (Sura 15:29). Jesus is called "a Spirit from Allah" and "His Word, which he bestowed on Mart" (Sura 4:171). Allah strengthened him with the" holy spirit" (Sura 2:87). The spirit and also the spirit of God is everywhere in the Koran, but never as a separate "person", as Christian fath implies - compare the third article in the Creed: We believe in the Holy Ghost .. (Back to text)
5. Acts 17, 22 - 23 (Back to text)
6. Declaratio de Ecclesiae habitudine ad religiones non-christianas - "Nostra aetate". St. Olavs forlag, Oslo -1967. (Min oversættelse til engelsk) (Back to text)
7. Faith and Power, Christianity and Islam in "Secular" Britain (SPCK 1998). P.113/14: Jenny Taylor: The Multicultural Myth) (Back to text)
8. All quotations from the Koran are taken from "The Holy Quran - translation and commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali" (Islamic Propagation Centre International, Birmingham, UK) (Back to text)
9. Niels Henrik Arendt: Gud er stor! Om islam and kristendom. Anis 1994. (Back to text)
10. Lissi Rasmussen: Diapraksis and dialog mellem kristne og muslimer. Århus Universitetsforlag 1997. (Back to text)
11. Diapraksis pp 34 -35. (Back to text)
12. Diapraksis, p. 94. (Back to text)
13. Wilfred Smith - quoted by Lissi Rasmussen in Kristendommen og de andre religioner. Anis 1988. Section about Kristendom og Islam. (Back to text)
14. Anna Marie Aagaard: Helligånden sendt til Verden. Aros, Århus, 1973. (Back to text)
15. Diapraksis pp. 118/19. (Back to text)
16. Faith and Power, Christianity and Islam in secular Britain, SPCK 1998, p. 152. (Back to text)
17. The apostolic letter: Tertio Millenio Adveniente, - and a preparation paper (+ Michael L. Fitzgerald) dealing with Islam and Jesus in the Islamic tradition. (Back to text)
18. A hypothetical collection of "Jesus-sayings", which together with the Gospel of Mk. Is assumed to make the basis of the Gospel of Mt. and Lk. A collection which we roughly speaking will find when we remove the content of Mk. from from the Gospels of Mt. and Lk. (Back to text)