Friday, May 27, 2005

The Idjit's Guide to Religion: Is It Christian to Disrespect Islam's Koran?

I have no first-hand knowledge whether or not our military really used and abused copies of the Koran, Islam's Holiest Book, in efforts to interrogate and intimidate Afghan prisoners. Newsweek said yes, then said, "oops." Then FBI memos turned up suggesting that prisoners said yes, indeed. But the prisoners are Al Quida, said others. Sigh. On it goes.

For my cynical two cents, in light of the tiny U. S. intellect shown in abuses in Abu Ghraib, it seems at least likely that some dim bulb somewhere decided that the quickest way to break a Muslim was to abuse their most precious possession by tossing it into a toilet. (Sure, the whole thing wouldn't likely fit down a western toilet; maybe it was a latrine, or a trash can, or????)

Let's leave the unverifiable / unfalsifiable for the moment. Flushing a Koran down a toilet, whether in whole or part, would be a major mistake even strategically (leaving out the moral dimension). Picture someone peeing on a Bible. How would that make a Christian feel? Like cooperating? Doh! Even Homer Simpson could figure that one out. A fervent Christian would resist as if his or her life depended upon it.

But forget pragmatic discussions. Pragmatism seems the coin of the realm these days anyway, and has little to do with Christianity.

Let's take this whole thing up a notch to a moral rather than machevellian sphere. I maintain that it is intrinsically anti-christian to abuse another faith's holy writings. That's right. I don't care if it is Islam, Ba'hai, Christianity, or Scientology. It is one thing to engage in debate over which set of writings (if either) comes from God. And it is quite another to take the writings another person considers precious -- part of their very personhood -- and destroy or mutiliate them as a gesture of power, or attempt at pychological manipulation.

I can strongly, even fiercely, disagree with my neighbor over what each of us believes. This can be done with grace, meekness, and even love. Done right, we each leave maybe frustrated that we couldn't get our neighbor to see things as we see them, but also glad to have a neighbor who cares so much about the "deep" things of God and faith and the unseen. Respect is a good doorway to becoming neighbors. Disrespect is a good doorway to hatred and chaos. If I am to model Jesus to my neighbor, first and foremost I'm to model love.

Look. The Koran contains many things I do not believe, along with some common sense and even poetic things I can agree with. I'll be blunt: I do not believe it is a communication direct from God.

But there are writings I do think are God-breathed. If I'm to love my neighbor (note: "neighbor" does not specify Christian or non-christian) as I love myself, I'm left little wiggle room; I wouldn't want anyone trashing my Bible. As a Christian, I believe it is a collection of God's love-letters to me.

I am confronted with my Muslim neighbor. He loves his Koran as passionately as I love my Bible. And here's a twist. Whereas my Bible is a translation, almost any good copy of the Koran is in Arabic. That is, it may well be an English translation on one side of the page, but it is almost certainly written in that gorgeous Arabic script on the other side or page. Why? Because Muslims believe that those words, down to the very Arabic letters themselves, came directly from God through the Prophet Muhammed. Imagine for a moment that you shared such a faith. Then ask yourself how you'd feel if someone threw a book like that into a receptacle for human waste, then flushed it away.

It gets worse. Now imagine that, as your Muslim neighbor rather than your Christian self, you hear the words' haunting mysteries being read aloud, in the original Arabic. Or, even more stunning (I've done this) listen to a quality CD of someone singing it aloud. How beautiful. If you'd grown up in an Islamic nation or culture, such things would be part of your world on such a deep level you often wouldn't even think consciously of them. Think of being soaked in that culture, where what you percieve as the words of God are literally penetrating your very consciousness day and night. And think if a hunger for God began with those words, wherever it might lead in the end. Then think of a "Christian" soldier from another country, a man or woman who has forcefully invaded your country, taking your words -- the fabric of your entire universe -- and wiping his butt with them.

Then ask yourself. Is this Christianity?

Right now, much of the Muslim world thinks that it is. And that is an unspeakable tragedy.

Whether or not U. S. forces desecrated the Koran overseas, I would hope Christians would forcefully speak out on issues of religious respect here at home as well as there. The hell of it is that we are currently involved in a war (or wars) which seem to have a highly religious tint to them. The idea of respect is thus tainted before one can properly even get started.


Jim S. said...

John, I agree.
Unfortunately, I have spoken to many Christians who believe the war on terror is a war against Islam, and who equate this war with the various Old Testament wars where Israel, as God's people, slaughters other nations outright. Forget context, the teachings of Jesus, or the reconciliation His death on the cross is to bring. Jesus' cleansing of the temple is a flimsy excuse for treating others this way.

I guess they shall know we are Chrsitians by the way we treat the Koran.

We are mercifully saved by the free grace of God, kept by it, and need it like we need air to breathe. It is this same grace that we are to extend to others no matter who they are, what they do, or what they believe.

Personally, I have a long way to go, but as a church, we need to repent for our sins and the sins of our country, which, in the name of the God of grace, commits these acts.

It seems to me that the church is seen more as a place of judgement, criticism and disrespect than a place to receive grace & mercy.

It is Christian to show love, grace, mercy, peace, patience, humility, gentleness, etc. Anything else isn't the fruit of the Spirit.

And that's my soapbox. I love reading your blogs. Thanks.

Jon Trott said...

Thanks for checking in on my pontifications. Be sure to leave cash. (wink!)

You said:
"We are mercifully saved by the free grace of God, kept by it, and need it like we need air to breathe. It is this same grace that we are to extend to others no matter who they are, what they do, or what they believe."

Ain't much more TO say after that. Except AMEN.

Taarna said...

It seems like a sort of hysteria has overcome our country. It seems like we are afraid of anything Muslim or even indirectly related to Islam. I don't understand it. I was talking to my father the other day and our conversation went something like this:
dad:"Do you know that we have some Arabs in our neighborhood now?"
me:"They may not be Arabic dad. Everyone who is Muslim is not from Arabia."
dad:"Well, they're Moslem. (note the mispronounciation) I've seen the woman in her veils pushing a baby buggy with about 4 or 5 other children in tow."
me:"I've seen her walking around the neighborhood some."
~long, uncomfortable pause~
me:"It seems like it's a bad time to be Muslim in this country right now."
dad:"Anytime is a bad time to me!"

I encounter this type of ignorance and racism wherever I go. I thought about diving into a conversation with him about how much we have received from the Muslim religion, like Algebra for one,but I just sighed and remained silent for the rest of the car ride home.
I agree with Jim S. when he said that we need God's grace like the air we breathe. Sometimes it's hard to see it or to give it to others as freely as it was given to me.