"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Islam as a 'Christian' Heresy & Such Things

Notes and reflections on Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence by Zachary Karabell

Most of the things in this first chapter were a review of early Islamic history that I recently learned from Karen Armstrong's and Reza Aslan's books so I won't rehash those tidbits.  I made quite extensive notes while reading No God But God and Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time.  I'll only note a few things that were new to me or a bit different from how Armstrong and Aslan presented things.  Karabell isn't quite so kind when speaking of the Jewish tribes being sent out of Medina by Muhammad yet he isn't harsh on the Muslims in retelling it. He just doesn't make it seem as no-big-deal as the other two whom I've read on this subject.  What this author does stress is how being part of the People of the Book was a good thing as Muhammad thought well of them.  He had hopes the Jews would embrace him as a prophet. Of course it was disappointing when they failed to do so.

The part I found most interesting was the author sharing how easily the Muslim empire expanded. Not because the Muslims were slashing everyone in sight and inflicting terror with swords. Nope. Mostly because the Christian populations of Damascus and Egypt were upset with the Byzantine rulers. At this time the nature of Christ -- fully human? fully divine? both? neither? -- was the hot topic and not every Christian agreed with what the church leaders had decided was the official position.  These Christians were often considered heretical and were not treated with kindness.  When the Arabs came wanting to take their territory, they often agreed and some groups even fought with the Arabs against the Byzantines! Although they had to pay a poll tax to the Muslims, they were generally left alone. At this time Arabs weren't even really infiltrating the new lands in great numbers so people just went along with their lives with little change.  The author states that Muslims "removed the top layer of Byzantine and Persian administration, but initially they left the other layers untouched."   He notes one scholar as saying "the Muslims left such a light footprint on the parts of the world they occupied that it took more than a century before many of the people under their rule began to adjust their lives significantly and figure out what had taken place between 630 and 640."  (pg. 30)

Also of great interest was this fact: while "the message of Islam had been given to Muhammad in Arabic for an Arab audience, and while Arabs believed that the message was universally true, they did not go out of their way to convince non-Arabs.  They sought to rule and to tax the peoples of the Near East and beyond, but they did not try to save their souls or show them the true light."  The tribal mentality was still in play and as the author states "tribes rarely admit converts."  (pg. 30)

The author tells how Sophronius led the resistance against the Arabs and later negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem which was of great sorrow to him. He said God allowed the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the Christians' divisiveness. He especially blamed the Egyptian Copts. Though he considered Muhammad an "agent of God's wrath" and "his message a blasphemy," he believed the "Christians had only themselves to blame for straying, and that had led to their utter defeat." (pg. 32)

Christian theologian John of Damascus saw Islam with its denial of Jesus' divinity as another heretical Christian group! The author says this shows how close the two faiths are as no one ever mistakenly called Buddhism or Zoroastrianism a Christian heresy. 

"Within the Muslim world, Christians began converting to Islam, but in trickles rather than droves. As they moved out of the garrison cities, Arabs were slowly integrated into the societies that the first caliphs had tried to keep them separate from.  They married, and their wives and children became Muslim. Arab soldiers found ways to settle and acquire land; Arab merchants began to trade; and men of religion started to carve out a special sphere of influence."  (pg. 38) 

Anything here take your attention? Thoughts?


Suzanne Bubnash said...

I'm intrigued by your review and will read this book. My college history major centered on Medieval Europe & Levant so I learned plenty about early Christianity, but not much was taught about Islam in the 1970s. Having since traveled to a handful of Middle Eastern countries (just returned from UAE yesterday), I want a better understanding of the religious nature of those areas.

Susanne said...

Welcome and thank you for your feedback! This post was only my notes from chapter 1 so I have much more to read and learn! It's pretty interesting so far. I'm discussing some things with my Syrian friend to see what he thinks of the author's "take" on things.

Your major sounds very interesting, and I can see how learning more about Islam's history would be of interest to you now ... especially since you have family living in the UAE! I hope you had a good time with Bridget, Jeremy and the grandchildren. I enjoyed reading about some of the places you went while there.

Suroor said...

Very interesting post, Susie. There is a lot I agree with from my limited knowledge of history and also a lot I really find intriguing.

Thanks for this post!

Susanne said...

You're welcome. Thanks for your comment.

Wafa' said...

sounds like a very interesting book.

And i guess i REALLY need to re-read the Islamic history cuz i believe that "history is written by the winners" and Muslims were the winners back then.

A very interesting thing which i agrees completely with is how Muslims invadors didn't care much of "saving the soul" of others as long as they are going to pay the taxes. Which really applies the message of Islam that not everyone supposed to be a Muslim and we shouldn't all trun to convert every living person into a Muslim, So why the rush and killing and all the rest of the brutality we have seen, read or heard of in the Islamic history !!! something went wrong, i am sure.

Susanne said...

Wafa', thanks for what you added! Enjoyed your perspective as always. :)