Notes and my reflections as I read Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time by Karen Armstrong
I was slightly amused as I read Karen Armstrong's description of the kafirun of Muhammad's day. She notes instead of "unbeliever," kafir "implies a discourteous refusal of something that is offered with great kindness and generosity." (Like God's offer of free salvation as a gift, not earned by your works, perhaps?) According to Muhammad, God had revealed himself to the people and some of them rejected God, therefore, the Quran scolded them not for their "lack of religious conviction, but for their arrogance." Instead of realizing their dependence upon God, they regarded themselves as "self-reliant" and refused to submit to Allah or anyone else.
That's not really what amused me, but this did. "The kafirun are bursting with self-importance; they strut around haughtily, addressing others in an offensive, braying manner, and fly into a violent rage if they think that their honor has been impugned. They are so convinced that their way of life is better than anybody else's that they are particularly incensed by any criticism of their traditional lifestyle." (pg. 79)
Armstrong notes that the "chief vice of the kafirun was jahiliyyah" - not how it is usually translated as the "age of ignorance" that supposedly characterized the pre-Islamic period. Rather she notes the jahili had "an acute sensitivity to honor and prestige; arrogance, excess, and above all, a chronic tendency to violence and retaliation."
Um, does this not seem very much like a number of self-called Muslims today who are quick to issue death threats, burn tires and hurt or kill others when they perceive their honor or religion has been slighted by the evil West? Are these who consider themselves followers of Muhammad not demonstrating these kafiri and jahili traits?
Indeed Armstrong admits it wasn't easy for the Muslims at this time to give up the traditions in which they were raised. It wasn't always easy to moderate ideal bedouin standards to "act like a slave ('abd), praying with ..nose on the ground and treating the base-born like equals." I think this attitude still lingers and is why the descendants today can mistreat Filipino maids for instance. These "base-born" servants certainly aren't on equal footing in society with the powerful Saudi, right?
Armstrong said the Quran "urges Muslims to behave with hilm, a traditional Arab virtue. Men and women of hilm were forbearing, patient and merciful." OK, wait, I thought the pre-Islamic Arabs had few virtues, but these hilm traits are fantastic! In fact as she went on to describe such things as being slow to retaliate, controlling anger, remaining calm in difficult circumstances, leaving revenge for Allah instead of hitting back (what?!) and turning the other cheek, I thought I was reading a description by the Apostle Paul or Jesus! (pg. 80-81)
By the way, I'm not casting stones. I realize there are plenty of so-called Christians - myself included more times than I care to admit - who don't act according to Jesus's wonderful traits. That's why I noted the information from the author about it not being easy to give up the traits in which we were raised. Not that anyone had to teach me how to be selfish or want to retaliate when I feel wronged or threatened. It all came very naturally. And it's why living like Christ is difficult and can only be done through his power. (see John 15)
I think the point of this post is that we all have a bit of kafirun in us, don't we? We all have a bit of those jahili tendencies so let's not be so quick to judge fellow humans and let's encourage each other to walk the way Jesus taught us by example: in love, serving others.