Friday, April 03, 2009

the Islamic mirror

Occasionally I am blown away by a library book. This week I randomly picked up a book with a bright yellow cover which looks a little like the kind of trashy cheap fiction I often read.

In spidery letters the title reads "Desperately Seeking Paradise" and underneath in bold cartoon capitals "ZIAUDDIN SARDAR".

Little did I know what was in store. Rather than cheap fiction, this book is the story of Ziauddin Sardar's seeking after the truth. Unsatisfied with the diet of theology and practice he is served at home, Zia journeys after various movements looking for something more in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and more. Frequently he hears Muslims desiring the instillation of Shariah law in their country/culture yet he is convinced that most aspects of Shariah as practiced in modern times have more to do with cultural norms in the Middle Ages (when many of them became accepted as norms for the religion) than Islam and the Koran.

I obviously am not qualified to make any statements about the theology or philosophy of Islam. But what I can say is this: the whole thing sounds scarily familiar.

Many of the philosophical strands I recognise in Christianity. Many of the attitudes expressed about other members of the religion (who might believe something slightly different) are the same. There is the same pressure from people who believe there is a 'correct' form of practice. There is the same malignant, cancerous form of thinking that suggests deviation from the norm is blasphemous and that deep thinking and reason are in opposition to belief.

Even more scarily, some of the language used is exactly the same. Muslims speak of the worldwide community being a body. Many discuss how to develop 'Islamic' science curricula.

And perhaps most strikingly, the Koran teaches that there is no need for a human intermediary between man and God - which is one of the key aspects of Reformation thinking. Yet each Islamic community has its own hierarchy of Mullah, Ayatollahs, scholars, judges - just as Christian communities have bishops, priests, pastors etc.

What is boils down to is that our practices and idiosyncrasies are not so different. In a bizarre form of co-evolution of thought, we've walked down the same theological roads in apparent isolation and developed the same stupid attitudes.

It seems that whilst there are important differences in our baseline religious beliefs, it is hard to see the wood for the trees due to the huge amount of added baggage we've added over hundreds of years. Apologies for the mixed metaphor there.



Blogger Karin said...

From what I've read, the story of Buddhism is very similar. Buddha developed a way of living that seemed best to him, and does seem very enlightened in many ways, and his teachings are often similar to those of Jesus. Buddha didn't believe in God, however. So, down the line his followers, or those who came after them, turned Buddha into their God and brought in lots of religious practices that have obscured and changed Buddha's teachings, including those about living simply.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Ady said...

You rock for noticing that you used a mixed metaphor. I have never noticed myself doing that, which means I've missed all the times I've done it.

The book sounds great.

6:08 PM  

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