Saturday, May 06, 2006

Un brillante analisis hecho por el arzobispo de Sidney

El arzobispo de Sidney publico un ensayo sobre el Islam, que va en contracorriente con la linea oficial de la iglesia catolica de ignorar los problemas que causa el islam al mundo occidental (y a los catolicos),el ensayo completo se puede leer en este sitio: de el resalto lo mas relevante:
September 11 was a wake-up call for me personally. I recognised that I had to know more about Islam.
In the aftermath of the attack one thing was perplexing. Many commentators and apparently the governments of the “Coalition of the Willing” were claiming that Islam was essentially peaceful, and that the terrorist attacks were an aberration. On the other hand one or two people I met, who had lived in Pakistan and suffered there, claimed to me that the Koran legitimised the killings of non-Muslims.
Although I had possessed a copy of the Koran for 30 years, I decided then to read this book for myself as a first step to adjudicating conflicting claims. And I recommend that you too read this sacred text of the Muslims, because the challenge of Islam will be with us for the remainder of our lives – at least.
Can Islam and the Western democracies live together peacefully? What of Islamic minorities in Western countries? Views on this question range from näive optimism to bleakest pessimism. Those tending to the optimistic side of the scale seize upon the assurance of specialists that jihad is primarily a matter of spiritual striving, and that the extension of this concept to terrorism is a distortion of koranic teaching[1]. They emphasise Islam’s self-understanding as a “religion of peace”. They point to the roots Islam has in common with Judaism and Christianity and the worship the three great monotheistic religions offer to the one true God. There is also the common commitment that Muslims and Christians have to the family and to the defence of life, and the record of co-operation in recent decades between Muslim countries, the Holy See, and countries such as the United States in defending life and the family at the international level, particularly at the United Nations.
Many commentators draw attention to the diversity of Muslim life—sunni, shi’ite, sufi, and their myriad variations—and the different forms that Muslim devotion can take in places such as Indonesia and the Balkans on the one hand, and Iran and Nigeria on the other. Stress is laid, quite rightly, on the widely divergent interpretations of the Koran and the shari’a, and the capacity Islam has shown throughout its history for developing new interpretations. Given the contemporary situation, the wahhabist interpretation at the heart of Saudi Islamism offers probably the most important example of this, but Muslim history also offers more hopeful examples, such as the re-interpretation of the shari’a after the fall of the Ottoman empire, and particularly after the end of the Second World War, which permitted Muslims to emigrate to non-Muslim countries[2].
Optimists also take heart from the cultural achievements of Islam in the Middle Ages, and the accounts of toleration extended to Jewish and Christian subjects of Muslim rule as “people of the Book”. Some deny or minimise the importance of Islam as a source of terrorism, or of the problems that more generally afflict Muslim countries, blaming factors such as tribalism and inter-ethnic enmity; the long-term legacy of colonialism and Western domination; the way that oil revenues distort economic development in the rich Muslim states and sustain oligarchic rule; the poverty and political oppression in Muslim countries in Africa; the situation of the Palestinians, and the alleged “problem” of the state of Israel; and the way that globalisation has undermined or destroyed traditional life and imposed alien values on Muslims and others.
Indonesia and Turkey are pointed to as examples of successful democratisation in Muslim societies, and the success of countries such as Australia and the United States as “melting pots”, creating stable and successful societies while absorbing people from very different cultures and religions, is often invoked as a reason for trust and confidence in the growing Muslim populations in the West. The phenomenal capacity of modernity to weaken gradually the attachment of individuals to family, religion and traditional ways of life, and to commodify and assimilate developments that originate in hostility to it (think of the way the anti-capitalist counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s was absorbed into the economic and political mainstream—and into consumerism), is also relied upon to “normalise” Muslims in Western countries, or at least to normalise them in the minds of the non-Muslim majority.
Reasons for optimism are also sometimes drawn from the totalitarian nature of Islamist ideology, and the brutality and rigidity of Islamist rule, exemplified in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Just as the secular totalitarian-isms of the twentieth century (Nazism and Communism) ultimately proved unsustainable because of the enormous toll they exacted on human life and creativity, so too will the religious totalitarianism of radical Islam. This assessment draws on a more general underlying cause for optimism, or at least hope, for all of us, namely our common humanity, and the fruitfulness of dialogue when it is entered with good will on all sides. Most ordinary people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, share the desire for peace, stability and prosperity for themselves and their families.
On the pessimistic side of the equation, concern begins with the Koran itself. In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages. I will return to the problems of Koranic interpretation later in this paper, but in coming to an appreciation of the true meaning of jihad, for example, it is important to bear in mind what the scholars tell us about the difference between the suras (or chapters) of the Koran written during Muhammad’s thirteen years in Mecca, and those that were written after he had based himself at Medina. Irenic interpretations of the Koran typically draw heavily on the suras written in Mecca, when Muhammad was without military power and still hoped to win people, including Christians and Jews, to his revelation through preaching and religious activity. After emigrating to Medina, Muhammad formed an alliance with two Yemeni tribes and the spread of Islam through conquest and coercion began[3]. One calculation is that Muhammad engaged in 78 battles, only one of which, the Battle of the Ditch, was defensive[4]. The suras from the Medina period reflect this decisive change and are often held to abrogate suras from the Meccan period[5].
The predominant grammatical form in which jihad is used in the Koran carries the sense of fighting or waging war. A different form of the verb in Arabic means “striving” or “struggling”, and English translations sometimes use this form as a way of euphemistically rendering the Koran’s incitements to war against unbelievers[6]. But in any case, the so-called “verses of the sword” (sura 95 and 936)[7], coming as they do in what scholars generally believe to be one of the last suras revealed to Muhammad[8], are taken to abrogate a large number of earlier verses on the subject (over 140, according to one radical website[9]). The suggestion that jihad is primarily a matter of spiritual striving is also contemptuously rejected by some Islamic writers on the subject. One writer warns that “the temptation to reinterpret both text and history to suit ‘politically correct’ requirements is the first trap to be avoided”, before going on to complain that “there are some Muslims today, for instance, who will convert jihad into a holy bath rather than a holy war, as if it is nothing more than an injunction to cleanse yourself from within”[10].
The abrogation of many of the Meccan suras by the later Medina suras affects Islam’s relations with those of other faiths, particularly Christians and Jews.
The Christian and Jewish sources underlying much of the Koran[11] are an important basis for dialogue and mutual understanding, although there are difficulties. Perhaps foremost among them is the understanding of God. It is true that Christianity, Judaism and Islam claim Abraham as their Father and the God of Abraham as their God. I accept with reservations the claim that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship one god (Allah is simply the Arabic word for god) and there is only one true God available to be worshipped! That they worship the same god has been disputed[12], not only by Catholics stressing the triune nature of God, but also by some evangelical Christians and by some Muslims[13]. It is difficult to recognise the God of the New Testament in the God of the Koran, and two very different concepts of the human person have emerged from the Christian and Muslim understandings of God. Think, for example, of the Christian understanding of the person as a unity of reason, freedom and love, and the way these attributes characterise a Christian’s relationship with God. This has had significant consequences for the different cultures that Christianity and Islam have given rise to, and for the scope of what is possible within them. But these difficulties could be an impetus to dialogue, not a reason for giving up on it.
The history of relations between Muslims on the one hand and Christians and Jews on the other does not always offer reasons for optimism in the way that some people easily assume. The claims of Muslim tolerance of Christian and Jewish minorities are largely mythical, as the history of Islamic conquest and domination in the Middle East, the Iberian peninsula and the Balkans makes abundantly clear. In the territory of modern-day Spain and Portugal, which was ruled by Muslims from 716 and not finally cleared of Muslim rule until the surrender of Granada in 1491 (although over half the peninsula had been reclaimed by 1150, and all of the peninsula except the region surrounding Granada by 1300), Christians and Jews were tolerated only as dhimmis[14], subject to punitive taxation, legal discrimination, and a range of minor and major humiliations. If a dhimmi harmed a Muslim, his entire community would forfeit protection and be freely subject to pillage, enslavement and murder. Harsh reprisals, including mutilations, deportations and crucifixions, were imposed on Christians who appealed for help to the Christian kings or who were suspected of having converted to Islam opportunistically. Raiding parties were sent out several times every year against the Spanish kingdoms in the north, and also against France and Italy, for loot and slaves. The caliph in Andalusia maintained an army of tens of thousand of Christian slaves from all over Europe, and also kept a harem of captured Christian women. The Jewish community in the Iberian peninsula suffered similar sorts of discriminations and penalties, including restrictions on how they could dress. A pogrom in Granada in 1066 annihilated the Jewish population there and killed over 5000 people. Over the course of its history Muslim rule in the peninsula was characterised by outbreaks of violence and fanaticism as different factions assumed power, and as the Spanish gradually reclaimed territory[15].
Arab rule in Spain and Portugal was a disaster for Christians and Jews, as was Turkish rule in the Balkans. The Ottoman conquest of the Balkans commenced in the mid-fifteenth century, and was completed over the following two hundred years. Churches were destroyed or converted into mosques, and the Jewish and Christians populations became subject to forcible relocation and slavery. The extension or withdrawal of protection depended entirely on the disposition of the Ottoman ruler of the time. Christians who refused to apostatize were taxed and subject to conscript labour. Where the practice of the faith was not strictly prohibited, it was frustrated—for example, by making the only legal market day Sunday. But violent persecution was also a constant shadow. One scholar estimates that up to the Greek War of Independence in 1828, the Ottomans executed eleven Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly one hundred bishops and several thousand priests, deacons and monks. Lay people were prohibited from practising certain professions and trades, even sometimes from riding a horse with a saddle, and right up until the early eighteenth century their adolescent sons lived under the threat of the military enslavement and forced conversion which provided possibly one million janissary soldiers to the Ottomans during their rule. Under Byzantine rule the peninsula enjoyed a high level of economic productivity and cultural development. This was swept away by the Ottoman conquest and replaced with a general and protracted decline in productivity[16].
The history of Islam’s detrimental impact on economic and cultural development at certain times and in certain places returns us to the nature of Islam itself. For those of a pessimistic outlook this is probably the most intractable problem in considering Islam and democracy. What is the capacity for theological development within Islam?
In the Muslim understanding, the Koran comes directly from God, unmediated. Muhammad simply wrote down God’s eternal and immutable words as they were dictated to him by the Archangel Gabriel. It cannot be changed, and to make the Koran the subject of critical analysis and reflection is either to assert human authority over divine revelation (a blasphemy), or question its divine character. The Bible, in contrast, is a product of human co-operation with divine inspiration. It arises from the encounter between God and man, an encounter characterised by reciprocity, which in Christianity is underscored by a Trinitarian understanding of God (an understanding Islam interprets as polytheism). This gives Christianity a logic or dynamic which not only favours the development of doctrine within strict limits, but also requires both critical analysis and the application of its principles to changed circumstances. It also requires a teaching authority.
Of course, none of this has prevented the Koran from being subjected to the sort of textual analysis that the Bible and the sacred texts of other religions have undergone for over a century, although by comparison the discipline is in its infancy. Errors of fact, inconsistencies, anachronisms and other defects in the Koran are not unknown to scholars, but it is difficult for Muslims to discuss these matters openly.
In 2004 a scholar who writes under the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg published a book in German setting out detailed evidence that the original language of the Koran was a dialect of Aramaic known as Syriac. Syriac or Syro-Aramaic was the written language of the Near East during Muhammad’s time, and Arabic did not assume written form until 150 years after his death. Luxenberg argues that the Koran that has come down to us in Arabic is partially a mistranscription of the original Syriac. A bizarre example he offers which received some attention at the time his book was published is the Koran’s promise that those who enter heaven will be “espoused” to “maidens with eyes like gazelles”; eyes, that is, which are intensely white and black (suras 4454 and 5220). Luxenberg’s meticulous analysis suggests that the Arabic word for maidens is in fact a mistranscription of the Syriac word for grapes. This does strain common sense. Valiant strivings to be consoled by beautiful women is one thing, but to be heroic for a packet of raisins seems a bit much!
Even more explosively, Luxenberg suggests that the Koran has its basis in the texts of the Syriac Christian liturgy, and in particular in the Syriac lectionary, which provides the origin for the Arabic word “koran”. As one scholarly review observes, if Luxenberg is correct the writers who transcribed the Koran into Arabic from Syriac a century and a half after Muhammad’s death transformed it from a text that was “more or less harmonious with the New Testament and Syriac Christian liturgy and literature to one that [was] distinct, of independent origin”[
17]. This too is a large claim.
It is not surprising that much textual analysis is carried out pseudonymously. Death threats and violence are frequently directed against Islamic scholars who question the divine origin of the Koran. The call for critical consideration of the Koran, even simply of its seventh-century legislative injunctions, is rejected out of hand by hard-line Muslim leaders. Rejecting calls for the revision of school textbooks while preaching recently to those making the hajj pilgrimage to Mount Arafat, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia told pilgrims that “there is a war against our creed, against our culture under the pretext of fighting terrorism. We should stand firm and united in protecting our religion. Islam’s enemies want to empty our religion [of] its content and meaning. But the soldiers of God will be victorious”[18].
The war against terrorism is only one aspect of the challenge. Perhaps more important is the struggle in the Islamic world between moderate forces and extremists, especially when we set this against the enormous demographic shifts likely to occur across the world, the relative changes in population-size of the West, the Islamic and Asian worlds and the growth of Islam in a childless Europe.
Every great nation and religion has shadows and indeed crimes in their histories. This is certainly true of Catholicism and all Christian denominations. We should not airbrush these out of history, but confront them and then explain our present attitude to them.
These are also legitimate requests for our Islamic partners in dialogue. Do they believe that the peaceful suras of the Koran are abrogated by the verses of the sword? Is the programme of military expansion (100 years after Muhammad’s death Muslim armies reached Spain and India) to be resumed when possible?
Do they believe that democratic majorities of Muslims in Europe would impose Sharia law? Can we discuss Islamic history and even the hermeneutical problems around the origins of the Koran without threats of violence?
Obviously some of these questions about the future cannot be answered, but the issues should be discussed. Useful dialogue means that participants grapple with the truth and in this issue of Islam and the West the stakes are too high for fundamental misunderstandings.
Both Muslims and Christians are helped by accurately identifying what are core and enduring doctrines, by identifying what issues can be discussed together usefully, by identifying those who are genuine friends, seekers after truth and cooperation and separating them from those who only appear to be friends.
[1]. For some examples of this, see Daniel Pipes, “Jihad and the Professors”, Commentary, November 2002.
[2]. For an account of how some Muslim jurists dealt with large-scale emigration to non-Muslim countries, see Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Democracy, Dar al-Harb, and Dar al-Islam”, unpublished manuscript, nd.
[3]. Paul Stenhouse MSC, “Muhammad, Qur’anic Texts, the Shari’a and Incitement to Violence”. Unpublished manuscript, 31 August 2002.
[4]. Daniel Pipes “Jihad and the Professors” 19. Another source estimates that Muhammad engaged in 27 (out of 38) battles personally, fighting in 9 of them. See A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq (Oxford University Press, Karachi: 1955), 659.
[5]. Stenhouse “Muhammad, Qur’anic Texts, the Shari’a and Incitement to Violence”.
[6]. Ibid.
[7]. Sura 95: “Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way; for God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.”
Sura936: “And fight the unbelievers totally even as they fight you totally; and know that God is with the godfearing.” (Arberry translation).
[8]. Richard Bonney, Jihad: From Qur’an to bin Laden (Palgrave, Hampshire: 2004), 22-26.
[9].“The Will of Abdullaah Yusuf Azzam”, articleID=532& (dated 20 April 1986).
[10]. M. J. Akbar, The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity (Routledge, London & New York: 2002), xv.
[11]. Abraham I. Katsch, Judaism and the Koran (Barnes & Co., New York: 1962), passim.
[12]. See for example Alain Besançon, “What Kind of Religion is Islam?” Commentary, May 2004.
[13]. Daniel Pipes, “Is Allah God?” New York Sun, 28 June 2005.
[14]. On the concept of “dhimmitude”, see Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, trans. Miriam Kochman and David Littman (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison NJ: 1996).
[15]. Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non Muslims (Prometheus Books, Amherst NY: 2005), 56-75.
[16]. Ibid.
[17]. Robert R. Phenix Jr & Cornelia B. Horn, “Book Review of Christoph Luxenberg (ps.) Die syro-aramaeische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Qur’ansprache”, Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, 6:1 (January 2003). See also the article on Luxenberg’s book published in Newsweek, 28 July 2004.
[18]. “Hajj Pilgrims Told of War on Islam”,, 9 January 2006.


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