Monday, December 3, 2007

Islam and Polytheism

Three stories that never occurred serve to frame the issue I want to address. Here's the first one, which didn't happen a year or two ago:

Riots broke out in Atlanta, Georgia today following reports that an Indonesian newspaper printed a cartoon showing the Apostle Paul with his foot crushing the head of a woman.

The second one didn't happen within the last few days:

An Egyptian schoolteacher employed by the Boston, Massachusetts school system is in jail awaiting trial, following reports that she allowed her children to give the class teddy bear the name "Paul."

These events didn't happen because Christians do not attach any godly reverence to the name of "Paul." ("Mary" may be another matter entirely.)

So why did similar things truly happen in the Islamic world? What is the distinction that is used to indicate that Mohammed is not God, but is due some very very special reverence?

Here is how MichelleG explained the distinction on Yahoo Answers:

We do not worship Muhammad(pbuh) in any way, if someone did then that would be blasphemy. To me and many other muslims I know, naming a teddy Muhammad is not blasphemy, seeing as how there seems to be no bad intentions in the naming. Now again, we do not worship Muhammad(pbuh), but if a case arose that someone openly mocked Muhammad(pbuh) saying things like he was a liar or that he made the words of the Quran up, that would be blasphemous because it would be like calling Allah/God a liar since the Quran, which is believed as the final word of Allah, says that Muhammad(pbuh) was his last messenger. So its not really about Muhammad(pbuh), although he should be respected, its about mocking what he revealed from Allah.

Here is what Islamic Web says:

Muhammad, like Jesus, never claimed divine status. He called people to worship only Almighty God, and he continually emphasized his humanity so that people would not fall into the same errors as Christians did in regards to Jesus. In order to prevent his deification, the Prophet Muhammad always said to refer to him as "the Messenger of God and His slave". Muhammad was chosen to be God's final messenger --- to communicate the message not only in words but to be a living example of the message. Muslims love and respect him because he was of the highest moral character and he brought the Truth from God - which is the Pure Monotheism of Islam....Muslims strive to follow the great example of Muhammad, peace be upon him, but they do not worship him in any way. Additionally, Islam teaches Muslims to respect all of God's prophets and messengers - but respecting and loving them does not mean worshipping them.

And here is what Welcome Back to Islam says:

Muslims believe Muhammad (p) as a Prophet of God just like other prophets including Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and so on. They do not believe him or any other prophet to be a god. Suggesting that would actually be offending to a Muslim. Muslims worship only One God and they do not associate anyone or anything else with God. They have highest respects for all prophets but they do not consider them anymore than ordinary human beings, with the exception that they received revelations from God to call people to righteousness.

You asked if Muhammad was a prophet then why would anyone honor him. I am not sure why you would object to anyone honoring him or any other person for that matter. Perhaps you associated honoring someone with worshipping God. Such an association would not be correct. It is alright to show honor and respect to not just prophets but also to one another who are around us including our parents and the elderly.

So it appears that the key words "honor" and "respect" are operative. Of course, "honor" can often be dishonorable (note the name of the honor killer, by the way):

The horrific final hours of a Kurdish woman murdered on the instructions of her father and uncle because she had brought “shame” on her family were revealed to a court yesterday.

A series of secret prison recordings showed that Banaz Mahmod’s killers had laughed as they raped and tortured her, before Mohamad Hama, a hired thug, stamped on her neck while strangling her with a ligature to “force out her soul”.

For two hours Miss Mahmod, 20, endured the ritualistic “honour killing” at the hands of a gang hired by her father, Mahmod Mahmod, 52, and uncle Ari Mahmod, 50. The men, who had fled to Britain from Iraq more than ten years ago, were enraged with Miss Mahmod because she had begun a relationship with someone of whom they did not approve.

The Muslim Council of Britain has made this general statement on the matter:

The MCB office has received a steady stream of media enquiries seeking clarification on the stance of Islam on this subject. We have made it very clear to reporters and would like to take this opportunity to re-state that honour killings are in no way, shape or form condoned by Islam. On the contrary, Islam categorically denounces vigilantism, rather encouraging mercy, justice and the rule of law.

That said, it would be naive of us to bury our heads in the sand and deny that this pre-Islamic custom continues amongst some Muslims and those of other faith communities (Scotland Yard have gone on record to say that there were an estimated 12 'honour killings' in the UK last year stating that these were not restricted to Muslims, but also occurred in Sikh and Christian families). For our part, we must acknowledge that this is a problem, which is found within a very small section of the British Muslim community. We at the MCB hope to work with specialists in this area to try to address this problem and the underlying issues and, God Willing, in due course to reduce the incidence of honour killings.

And regarding respect, here's what the Vatican says:

Muslims must respect people of all faiths and not exclude them on the grounds of religion, race or any other personal characteristic, a senior Vatican official said this week. In a message to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, the Pope's interfaith expert has called for a "culture of peace and solidarity" between different religious communities and to spread a teaching "which honours all human creatures".
Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, the newly-appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican's main liaison agency with the Muslim world, has previously expressed concern about the treatment of Christians in Muslim-majority countries.

In one interview he highlighted the "extreme" case of Saudi Arabia where freedom of religion was "violated absolutely" with "no Christian churches and a ban on celebrating Mass, even in a private home".

The cardinal's Eid greeting does not single out Muslims for criticism - his appeals are aimed at "religious believers" - nor does he make a direct link between Islam and violence.

In my mind, the question is still open regarding whether the "reverence" or "honor" given to ANY person (be it Mohammed, Ronald Reagan, or Rick Warren) is extreme. But there's always the danger of slipping into idolatry.

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ERS said...

Mrontemp, you make some good points.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were watching a DVD of Monty Python's "The Life of Brian," a film from the late 1970s. It makes a mockery of everything sacred in Christianity. We laughed our way through it but, at the end, we both wondered. . .could a film like this ever be made about Islam?

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Ontario Emperor said...

Ellen, I think that more than religion is involved in this particular case, since I suspect that there are some Christian countries which would have banned "Life of Brian" (or, for that matter, "The Holy Grail"), although some could conceivably argue that "Life of Brian" is more of a parody of the things around Jesus (as well as some modern references), rather than a parody of Jesus Himself.

But you may have a point. If I recall correctly, "Life of Brian" came out at about the same time as the movie that angered the Hanafi Muslims so much.

I purpose chose Paul, rather than Jesus, as my example in the beginning of the post, but the comparison is more apt when you compare reactions to belittling Jesus (whom Christians believe IS God) to Mohammed (whom Muslims believe IS NOT God).