No. 37 What about Islam?

People the world over are unsure of what to make of Islam, the third Abrahamic, monotheistic, world religion. Several, who deplore our secular and permissive age of de facto atheism, where heightened individualism, avarice, materialism, consumerism and moral licence are rampant; where personal feeling, opportunity, expediency and the market are allowed to determine what is right and wrong, and what is morally permissible, respect and esteem Islam. They see in it a religion which holds God in awe and reverence and seek to obey His Will; a faith which calls its adherents to prayer five times a day, to rigorous fasting and interior conversion in one month each year, and which requires justice, compassion, charity and a sense of solidarity and brotherhood among Muslims towards one another.

However, many regard Islam negatively, focusing on what they see as its contribution to international terrorism, and violent jihad. These look upon Islam with suspicion and distrust; as a source of fanaticism, threat and terror, where the name of God is and may be invoked to justify acts of indiscriminate violence against any who may be labeled enemies of Islam or oppressors of Muslims or who stand in the way of their aspirations. Many see it as highly restrictive and intolerant, a religion that would control all aspects of life, public and private, stifle debate and disallow dissent, and which resorts to injunctions that demand conformity, penalise freedom of conscience and conversion to another faith; a religion which justifies coercion, especially in matters of religious belief and practice. They see it as a religion preoccupied with itself and its perceived mission of converting the world to Islam; calling for religious tolerance and human rights in lands where Muslims are in a minority, but curtailing or denying it in lands where Muslims are in the majority.

Challenges

The quiet majority of Muslims take their religion and its teachings for granted, and endeavour to comply with its fundamental requirements in the course of their everyday duties. In this most are sincere, and guided by their traditions, their consciences and their hopes. They seek obedience to and a closer union with the one true God, through prayer and meditation. Many strive to bring their religious beliefs to bear upon their relationships with the modern world, without taking on its values, where these conflict with their understanding, fidelity and submission to the will of God. They prefer to dwell upon the uplifting passages and insights which abound in the Qur’an, and to be guided by them, and to leave its more ambiguous, contradictory and harsh teachings and injunctions aside, or to treat them as metaphors and allegories.

As with members of all religions, there also are those who are distracted by the difficulties, attractions and promises of the world, and who duly succumb to its snares. They compromise their faith and end up paying little more than lip-service to it.

Tensions

Many Muslims now live in western nations where thought, values and practices are liberal, and often atheistic and amoral. In response to the challenges to the faith of their fathers and to their identity, many young Muslims go back to the lands of their forefathers to regain a sense of identity through a clearer understanding of their religion. Several enter madrassas (Islamic religious schools) where they are tutored by imams, many with inflexible views which are politically and culturally coloured. As a result, there has been a marked growth in the number of literalists, who would live by the letter of the Qur¹an and be guided by the example and the sayings (hadith) of and attributed to the Prophet Muhammed. The more radical among them would have Islam established as the only true religion for the world, with Sharia law as its rule of governance. All means, including violence and untruth are considered licit in achieving this goal. However, not all Muslims believe that this should be the way to go.

The Australian Scene

Islam has come to Australia, as in many parts of the western world, brought in largely by migrants from the Middle East and Asia. Many seek the material benefits Australia has to offer. The majority in order to get away from the turmoil and the religious strictures that prevail in their homelands. Many are embarrassed by the performance of literal Quranic Islam. Many are uncertain of their standing in Australia and are defensive. Today they grow confidence and and express themselves with vigour, using whatever socio-economic and technological means available to show that the Islamic religion is moderate, civilising and the pathway to true peace on earth.

Others see Australia as ripe for the picking. An open-minded, easy going, but commercial and consumeristic people. Where laws governing advertising and use of the mass media are loose. Where, provided that the right price is paid most things could be had or publicised, their nature and truth regardless.

Thus there is anxiety as to which way Islam would go. For some among the Muslim leadership are Qur¹anic literalists, while others are moderate and liberal minded and in in many ways post-Quranic, aware that there are ambiguities and historical discrepancies in the Qur¹an, and that Islam has no arbiter other than the Qur¹an itself; only the opinions and rulings of religious leaders which are open to challenge.

Responses of Christians in Australia

What does the future hold for Christianity in the Land of the Southern Cross? One thing is certain, Islam is in the ascendant population-wise. Many of it fundamental tenets are not in accordance with those of Christianity. It rejects the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ. No Saviour, no Church, no real arbiter. No assurance of the forgiveness of sin. No sacraments. No rejection of violence and coercion. Yet, Islam claims that it is God¹s way, and that Muhammed is the messenger of God, the Divine Utterance.

For the Christian, Christ is the way. His, the way of Divine Love. His kingdom is not of this world (no theocracy, no Sharia Law). Christ’s values are for this world, including Muslims, who are our brothers and sisters, but who need to ask, in the name of God, whether they have not mistaken the shadow with all its distortions for the substance of faith and Divine Revelation. Christian teaching is that we need to be wise in our relationships with all those who differ from us, it is God’s will that we love, befriend and treat Muslims with respect, and engage them in dialogue (as the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI urge). But without falling for ploys and sanitised and aesthetically constructed websites and TV ads.

Australian Christians have much education and conversion to undergo: to understand and value their faith far more than so many presently do. This requires effort and prayer. Specially, recourse to Mary, whom Muslims respect most highly. Archbishop Fulton Sheen who admired Muslims greatly, insisted on this: ‘Talk about Mary with Muslims.’ She leads all who turn to her to her Son, true God and true man.

Prayer

Hail Mary! Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope! Lead us all, yes all of us, to a fuller commitment to the Word of the Divine Will, who is Jesus.