The Universal Spirit of Islam (Kuwait)

by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf with Judith Fitzgerald and Michael Oren Fitzgerald

caligraphy that says verily God is beautiful and he loves beautyTranslation: “Verily Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.”

This series is intended to encourage interfaith dialogue. The editors find the tolerant bits in the ancient religious texts around the world and gather them into a collection. The one on Islam has gorgeous color photographs of art and architecture from the Islamic world interspersed with quotations from the Koran and the Haddith.

I wanted to learn more about Islam: it should be understood that I am reviewing this book–not anybody’s religion or belief system.

book coverA Former Lutheran Learns About Islam

So if I’ve understood correctly, the Koran is believed by 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide to be the Word of God as revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. The Haddith (or ahaddith, plural) is a collection of Mohammed’s sayings.

Muslims believe that there have been hundreds of messengers and prophets sent to humanity over the years. Like the Jews, Muslims believe that Jesus was a messenger. And while Islam and Christianity share many basic beliefs, such as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, Islam differs in two important regards.

  1. Muslims think that Catholics are misguided in barring priests from marrying.
  2. They also think the Church went wrong when it adopted Trinitiarianism back in the time of Mohammed. (That’s the belief in a triune God–three in one.) I happen to agree.
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Of course I enjoyed getting an exposure to Islamic beliefs without having to wade through something tediously dry and dusty. The photos of the artwork and the sidebars with calligraphy and the explanatory footnotes all helped to break it into bite-sized chunks. I would have appreciated even smaller chunking when it comes to the many quotations presented in the book that sometimes run on for pages. This is fine for the devout, but I found myself skimming a lot.

Caveats: The book doesn’t present any differences between Sunni and Shi’ite beliefs, or regional/ethnic group beliefs, lumping all Muslims together. I don’t know enough about the religion to know if this is legit or not. And then I took issue with the good Imam’s statement that there are 3 basic positions from which to enter an interfaith dialogue:

  1. There is no God
  2. God exists but he has only revealed one true religion (and it’s yours)
  3. God exists and he has revealed each of the major religions
The Pink Mosque in Iran
Iran’s Pink Mosque

I am a spiritual person, but I don’t cotton to organized religion. I like the kindness of Buddhism, but that’s it. My position on entering interfaith dialogue is this: God exists, and He/She/It has been misunderstood, misquoted, and flat-out lied about by organized religion, which was created by men for power and control. Sometimes wealth. The intolerance of every major world religion in its fight for its own survival has caused untold suffering in the world. That’s why interfaith dialogue is so important.

Islam is currently seen by many in the Western world as militant and dangerous. Some of my Christian friends forward emails about “the Muslims” filled with ignorance, fear, and hate. But in this book I have read many quotations from the Islamic holy texts that harbor a deep respect for other faiths. The cure for ignorance is knowledge, and this book isn’t a bad place to start.

For more gorgeous photos of Islamic art, check out Emily Nye’s wonderful blog Inside Islamic Art.

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