Sunday, 10 January 2010

Christianity and Islam

The situation in Malaysia is reported here at Unam Sanctam. This post, and the earlier ones on Unam Sanctam to which this post links, indicate two points.

The first is that the understanding of God that Muslims have, and for who their name is Allah, is not the same as the understanding of God that is held by Christians. One might argue that, from the point of view of the one-ness of God and setting aside the doctrine of the Trinity (on the grounds that it can only be known through Christian revelation and not through reason), Christians and Muslims worship the same God. However, I would suggest that, even without an explicit reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, the sense of a God who draws near to us (through the becoming flesh of the Second Person of the Trinity) that is central to Christian faith has its comparison to a God in the faith of Muslims who is quite distant. Experentially, I would suggest that the Christian can feel a warmth from/for the God they worship, whereas the Muslim might feel a coldness from/coldness to God. This reflects back from what Christians believe about the nature of God as Triune and whose Second Person becomes flesh into their understanding of God seen as One. In art, for example, the Christian feels able to represent God and the good things of creation, whereas the Muslim does not feel able to represent either; Christian churches are decorated with images of saints and of the events of the Bible, whereas a mosque is decorated with symmetric designs.

Unam Sanctam writes, in part of his post There is only One God and Jesus is His Son:
In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Muslims are called those who "professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind." The key word here is 'professing to hold' for the Church takes them at their word that they hold the faith of Abraham and acknowledges that with Christians, they adore the one merciful God. The document speaks of Muslims but does not mention Muhammad or Islam. Islam sees itself as a correction and explicit denial of the Christian claims of the Divinity of Jesus. They deny the fact that Jesus was crucified, died and rose again. Muslims reject that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. They know of no God except the he who IS NOT the Father of the crucified and risen Jesus. Christians on the other hand, know of no other God except He who IS the Father of the crucified and risen Jesus. Can we then truly say that the Allah of Islam is the same God and Father of Jesus Christ whom Christians worship?

We need to distinguish between the God of Muslims or the God of the Hindus or the God of whoever and the god of Islam, Hinduism etc. God is the God of all people and all creation and all things. But the deities of the various religions are not that God.
The second point indicated is the occurrence of violence against Christians when a Muslim population, or at least sections of it, perceive a grievance against the Christian community, whether or not that grievance is well founded. This is similar - and with a trigger of a similar nature, viz perception of disrespect for the Koran or persecution under a blasphemy law that protects the name of Allah - to events in Pakistan and India.

There are certainly those in the Muslim community who recognise that such occurrence of violence cannot be morally justified. When the Archbishop of Faisalabad spoke at an Aid to the Church in Need event in London last October, he recounted how Muslim business leaders and others had rallied to provide material aid to Christian communities affected by violence.

But for those Muslims who do commit the violence, is there a connection between that violence and their understanding of the nature of God?

1 comment:

Patricius said...

"But for those Muslims who do commit the violence, is there a connection between that violence and their understanding of the nature of God?"

I think that question was implicit in the Holy Father's remarks a couple of years ago. Unfortunately the reply he got was all too explicit- there were riots and people died.
It seems to me that a key point from "Nostra Aetate"- on the Churches relations with non-Christian religions was the statement to the effect that the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true or holy in these religions. This is a sane and nuanced approach. It is neither blanket acceptance nor bigoted wholesale condemnation. It is, however, by no means clear what, if anything is true or holy in Islam. Too often we seem to hear something like the queen in Alice in Wonderland who screams "Off with their heads!"