Thursday, September 17, 2009

Learning about Islam

Tuesday night, the lovely Carol picked me up at the Caltrain station and we went to a fascinating class about Islam. It was three hours, but our instructor held our attention to the end. Here are some memorable things from our first lecture.
  • You may already know that the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia, but did you know (I didn't) that 80% of Muslims don't have Arabic as their first language?
  • "Allah" was used in Arabic-speaking countries as the name for God since before the advent of Islam; this is just as good a name as "God" or "Dieu" or "Dios".
  • The "average" Muslim doesn't pray five(?) times a day, doesn't go to mosque weekly, etc. She is poor, and concerned about the welfare of her children; she's looking for a man who will treat her children as his own. If he abuses her, she won't complain, provided that her children are kept safe.
  • The prosperity gospel is one flavor of Islam "evangelism" as preached by missionaries from places like Saudi Arabia. They show disrespect for other Muslims, ridiculing their poverty and their (mis)pronunciation of Arabic.
  • For many who self-identify as Muslims, it's a cultural term. Many "Muslims" actually follow Jesus. Likewise, they think of "Christian" as a cultural term: there are Britney Spears kind of Christians, pro wrestler kind of Chrstians, drag 'em to church on Christmas and Easter kind of Christians, etc.
  • Our instructor told us about his first encounter with Muslims, in a poor neighborhood where he was distributing gospel tracts. They pulled him into their house and brought out food and more food and more food... Did I mention these were poor people? The food likely came from all over the neighborhood. Do you recall a parable from Luke 11 about a friend coming at midnight asking for three loaves of bread? For Jesus’ hearers, that "friend" was likely a brother-in-law or cousin. It is a big deal to have a guest, and the honor of the entire neighborhood is involved.
  • Mohammad was a remarkable person -- despite a broken home and many disadvantages, he became known as a trustworthy young man and an impartial arbiter of disputes. He likely had a real encounter with some spiritual power.
        Unlike the encounters that most Biblical characters have with angels, though (i.e., where the first thing the angel says (e.g., Luke 2:9) is, "Fear not"), Mohammad had a terrifying encounter and did not want to have another.
  • Another parable: A man had two sons. One day, the younger son said to his father, "Give me my share of the inheritance...." (Luke 15:11-32). Our instructor pointed out that at this point, Jesus’ hearers would immediately conclude that the older son wasn't doing his job -- i.e., safeguarding the family's honor. "Give me my share of the inheritance" would bring dishonor to the family.
  • Here's a story I feel rather embarrassed about. Remember Hagar (Genesis 16, 21)? Does the word "rape" come to mind when reading Genesis 16:3-4? Then how about when Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert to die? I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never thought about this story from Hagar's point of view: a slave in a foreign land, raped (how many times?) then sent into the desert with her only son. This isn't connected directly with Islam, other than a spiritual heritage supposedly inherited from Ishmael. And by the way, Ishmael's first two sons are first among the Gentiles (nations) mentioned in Isaiah 60:7.
  • Though we have significant differences in theology, we also have a lot in common with Muslims. We're concerned about a secular world trying to separate us from our children? So are they. We see the values of the world intruding on what we've taught our kids? So do they. We believe there is one God, creator of heaven and earth, lord of all humankind? So do they.
Our first instructor, who also served as editor of the book Encountering the World of Islam, is remarkable, a humble and gentle guy with a lot of experience and wisdom, encyclopedic knowledge and a truly winning way.

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