Sunday, September 30, 2007

Islamic Law

I received an email response to my blog entry that addressed Jesus' peaceful teachings versus Mohammad's occasionally unpeaceful teaching. The response pointed out that along with the different messages, the men had very different roles in society. Whereas Jesus was only a preacher, Mohammad was a community leader. In this respect, it would be much more fair to compare Mohammad to Moses or Joshua than to Jesus. When that comparison is made, Mohammad comes out to be the the more peaceful of the group. Whereas Islam's spread permitted the conquered inhabitants to remain in their land and even retain their religion, the Israelites conquering the Promised Land drove out and killed all previous inhabitants. Even this comparison, however, is unfair as Islam's conquests were not aimed at procuring land but at expanding the empire and, in some cases*, to spread Islam.

In any case, blanket statements calling Jesus peaceful and Mohammad violent would be far from accurate. Jesus' teachings address personal behavior whereas Muhammad addresses all aspects of life just as the Jewish law does.

Since I seem to be retracting previous statements, I guess this would be a good time to confess my lack of understanding of the various levels of Islamic code. I've heard of some things being Sunnah, which means that they're not mentioned in the Quran but they were stated by Muhammad. Because of this, they're apparently not mandated but are strongly suggested since the Quran does say to obey the teachings of Muhammad. There are also laws that are fiqh, which are interpretations and rulings. The Quran and Sunnah are immutable whereas the fiqh are interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah to address topics not explicitly covered. An analogy can be made in which the Constitution (if we imagine that there's no possibility of amendments) is like the Quran and Sunnah and the rulings of the Supreme Court are like the fiqh.

I'm not terribly sure what belongs to the different classes or what comprises Sharia. Wikipedia claims that sharia technically consists only of the revealed law, code in the Quran and Sunnah, whereas fiqh does not qualify. However, it also states that in many cases, fiqh is wrongly considered part of sharia law. In the one brief conversation I've had with a Muslim friend, it turned out we were both wrong and confused so I won't hold it against others who also make mistakes.

Anyway, I'm now even less sure what Islam says about different things and into which category the various things I've heard fall. I guess that is just more incentive for me to read and gather my own information rather than relying on other (possibly faulty) sources.

I have more things scribbled down about which to write but it'll have to wait for another day.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jesus teaching the Trinity

Recently, I've been fairly busy and so my theological reading has slowed. I have been reading a little bit before bed everynight but I usually can't fight sleep very long. I've restarted the Quran (getting all the way through the Introduction!!!) and continued my rereading of the New Testament. Occasionally during lunch or when I have a few minutes not at home, I'll look up and browse some apocryphal readings, such as the Gospel of Thomas. Due to my lack of progress, I don't have much to say today but I figured I should try to post something just to maintain activity. Thus, today's topic doesn't introduce anything new but goes a little deeper into one particular theme on which I've previously touched.

In reading through the Gospels, there are no references to the Holy Trinit and very few references to the Holy Ghost. Additionally, Jesus always seemed very opposed to people worshiping him and directed all such attempts to God the Father.

The Muslim argument that Jesus would've clarified such a major issue is a very compelling one. Bibles will translate a few Old Testament references as "Holy Spirit," some capitalized and others not but even the NIV and NRSV Bibles have only four and five occurrences, respectively, throughout the entire Old Testament. Even the NRSV Gospels have only 25 occurences of the phrase, only 10 of which are spoken by Jesus, the remainder are mostly narration.

Assuming Israel had been even slightly on the right track, I feel like there would've been some mention of the Trinity or the Holy Spirit or Jesus as part of God. Also, if Israel had been so obviously askew, I feel Jesus would've done much more in his ministry to straighten their way.

Truthfully, I think this is my biggest stumbling block with Christianity. There's nothing particular about Muhammad as a person that is so compelling that pulls me toward Islam. I have no problem with the universe containing mysteries. I accept that there are lots of things that I'll never understand and lots of things that mankind can never understand regardless of technological advancements, improved education, and any amount of time. I do have a hard time, however, believing that God would give us so little information, really only a few vague clues, on such a fundamental aspect of Himself.

Now would be a good time for a well-education Christian theologian to step in and enlighten me on all that I've overlooked as I'm not doing very well stewing in my own doubts with my only input from a Saudi Muslim (:-P just kidding, of course. I'm very appreciative of all comments from anyone.) Maybe I'll try soliciting more readers again and perhaps I'll shoot lower, regular priests and pastors as opposed to seminary professors specializing in world religions.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Mohammed versus Jesus

First of all, I noticed that I just spelled Muhammad as Mohammed instead. I've seen both used and I don't know when or why I use one versus the other. I guess I'll just use whichever pops into my head when I'm writing. Such is transliteration.

Although in general, Jesus, Mohammed, and all the prophets teach primarily the same thing, there are a few topics in which their teachings seem to differ greatly. This is especially true of Jesus' teachings as Muhammad's line up fairly well with the Old Testament prophets. This is fine if justified with the "new covenant" argument of Christianity that states that Jesus came bringing a new message of grace and forgiveness, to abolish the old law and establish a new one in which belief in him and living a Christian life are the new requirements for eternal life. However, if one sticks to the Muslim argument that all the prophets' teachings were consistent but were simply modified, Jesus' teachings have to be drastically altered to attain consistency.

Whereas Jesus taught to turn the other cheek when someone strikes you (Luke 6:27-36), Mohammed allowed and even encouraged violence at times. Although Christianity has a long history of violent mission work bringing about forced conversion, that is not a product of Jesus' teachings but, rather, the corruption of power and ethnocentrism resulting from Christianity's dominance in the Western world. The early church spread and grew not through violence but simplly through personal evangelism and the faith and conviction demonstrated through martyrdom.

I suppose the same progression happened with Islam but on a much faster time-scale. Since it happened during the life of Mohammed, it definitely can't be argued that it was a result of corruption of his teachings and Islamic beliefs. It can easily be argued, on the other hand, that Christianity's violent turn was against Christ's teachings.

The warring against unbelievers under the direction of Mohammed does draw definite parallels to Israel's history. The entire book of Joshua in the Old Testament follows Israel's entry into the promised land across the Jordan River after forty years of wandering through the desert. Under Joshua's guidance, they invade city after city, killing almost everyone and claiming the land and its wealth.

I can accept that some corruption of Jesus' message happened but that seems like a major difference. They were in very different situations, Jesus having a small following within Judaism for a short time span as opposed to Mohammed having a large following over a much longer span. However, I can't imagine Jesus would teach only lessons applicable to the immediate situation and ignore the future, growing church.

I'm currently finishing up a collection of ahadith (sayings and teachings of Mohammed that were not part of the divinely given Quran). Most of the teachings are commonsense, habits to help you lead a good life, keep good relations with others, and maintain one's health. Some of them do strike me as somewhat specific to the Arab culture, as I've already mentioned, not having any practical grounding, but most of them would probably be accepted as guidelines for any religion, Eastern or Western, mono- or poly- (or even a-)theistic. There were a few that almost offended me as a Christian; I wish I had marked them of written them down. I feel like most of them have to do with relations with non-Muslims. Whereas Christianity (at least I feel) teaches one to love, honor, and respect everyone regardless of creed, Islam has a very different official position regarding non-believers, especially non-Judeo-Christians.

That strikes me as odd because Islam is not an exclusive religion into which you have to be born. People convert (or revert, in the Islamic lingo) to Islam all the time. Muslims are expected to spread Islam to non-believers. I just don't understand how that's supposed to happen when there is a mandated separation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

I don't experience this in my everday dealings with Muslims. I've always found them to be friendly and accepting of me, even before I had developed even the slightest curiosity about Islam. However, the ahadith teaches that separation from (and even slaughter of) non-believers. I'm sure I'm being a bit harsh. I'll try to pull up a couple examples of the ahadith that bug me.

As promised, prophecies

I've read some of the Old Testament prophets in full and I'm sure I've encountered all of their juciest bits somewhere between church and my own readings. Judaism holds that the prophets foretold of the Messiah, who will come restore the temple in Jerusalem, restore God's chosen people to their seat of glory, and bring about God's will on Earth. Both Christianity and Islam believe that Jesus was the Messiah, whereas Judaism obviously insists that Jesus did not fulfill the messianic prophecies. Islam goes one step farther and believes that the Old Testament prophets fortell of Muhammad, as well (see here.)

Usually, when I read these passages, I don't pick up on anything too intensely prophetic. There are a few places like Isaiah 53 that definitely remind me of Jesus' life. However, usually, the prophetic portions of the Bible read just like the rest. If I read them with my study Bible, I see and understand how everything applies to Jesus and explains the Trinity and supports Christianity. When I read it from sources such as the first link above, I see that the Bible is obviously talking about Muhammad and Judaism and Christianity have both been twisting God's word for centuries. However, when I read them alone, I get that God is great and is worthy of our praise and that we are weak and full of faults but if I were reading the Old Testament without any other background, I don't think I'd flag any parts as prophecies.

It's also very possible that my uninsightful Bible interpretations are just a result of my own academic shortcomings. I've always been very skewed towards the maths and sciences and weaker in the liberal arts. I love reading but apparently I'm a very superficial reader, seeing only the explicitly stated and overlooking any deeper meaning.

Life (from the religious search for truth perspective) would really be so much easier if I had original, untampered sources for all the religious texts. I'm pretty accepting of the Qu'ran's veracity just because of its relative modernity and the intense tradition of memorization from the very beginnings of Islam. However, Christianity's and Judaism's texts are collections from various authors over various periods of time and their history of oral tradition provides plenty of oportunity for modification, whether intentional or not.

I'll finish by returning to a theme from my very first post. Religion is supposed to give peace. Sometimes it definitely does that. Sometimes when I'm experiencing God's wonderful creation and beauty, I'm very grateful and praising. However, whenever I remember my current confusion, religion just depresses me. I don't feel like God has abandoned me but I feel like I suddenly don't know Him anymore. I guess that's to be expected since I'm questioning my fundamental beliefs about God; I guess on some level, I don't know Him. Hopefully I'll find Him again and I'll regain that confidence and certainty of my beliefs, thereby regaining my peace and shaking this religious depression.

By the way, if you're Muslim, Happy Ramadan, if you're Jewish, Happy Rosh Hashanah, and if you're Christian, Happy mid-September!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Culture vs. Religion

I always wonder where the line is drawn between Islam and the Arab (or general Semitic) culture. There seem to be certain elements of Islam that I can't justify as religious or moral but I pass off as influences of Muhammad's culture.

I can understand the importance of the Arabic language since that's the language of the Qu'ran. As long as people are well enough educated that they understand classical Arabic. Also, there seem to be plenty of translations and although the prayers are in Arabic, the equivalent of the sermon is in the local language (at least the one mosque I've visited operates in English.)

There are some little things where I see definite cultural differences. I was raised that you don't wear hats indoors, especially in a place of worship; it's disrespectful. However, I see many men wear the tight, woven hats to Friday prayer, some bring them specifically for the mosque and don't wear them otherwise. Additionally, I've seen a number of guys wearing baseball caps; they always turn them backwards for some reason but they continue to wear them throughout the service.

I can get over the hats; it's not a requirement and I can justify it as a cultural difference. However, the requirement to grow a fist-length beard is a little more of an issue. Obviously, it's a requirement that many Muslim men of all cultures choose to ignore. I seriously don't believe I'm capable of growing such a beard and, at this point, I don't think it's something I'll grow into. Even if I were able, it still seems like a requirement without any logical explanation. The same applies to the prohibition for men to wear gold or silk, although I find it a little easier to accept those as attempts to keep people from blurring the line between male and female.

I'm not belittling Muhammad in any way. I accept that he was a good friend, a great leader, and a humble, God-fearing man. I think it's admirable to follow and base our lives and actions on his life as well as other prophets. However, there's a huge difference between trying to live a good life and being a good person and always eating with your right hand, for instance. In that regard, left-handed people are automatically born with a deficiency, just like me and my lack of beard-growing skills. Obviously eating with your left hand or not having a beard won't keep you from Heaven. Of course, I'm sure Christianity probably has some equally illogical rules that are very culturally based that I just accept because I grew up in a Christian culture.

I'm not really sure what my point is but it's a blog so I'm allowed to ramble. Anyway, I think my next post will be on prophecy as some thoughts regarding that have been stewing in my head recently.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A confession and a plea

Like I've already said, I really wish I had started this long ago when I first began reading and learning and wondering. It would have been nice to have more interaction and discussion earlier on in the process (not that I've received any comments or emails.) However, the thing that this blog did accomplish is that it's been making me think a lot about my beliefs and where exactly I am in this search.

Unfortunately, I think I'm farther along than I originally expected. I'm finding that my gut feeling is leaning in favor of Islam, which doesn't make me particularly happy. Truthfully, I'd much rather be Christian, which is probably why I'm prolonging this as long as possible.

There are many reasons I'd prefer to remain Christian. It would make things much much easier with my family; I fully expect converting to completely screw up my family relations and I wouldn't expect them to ever recover fully. I love how I feel at Christmas and Easter and how I feel anytime I'm just quiet and relaxed in a church; I love that feeling of peace and fulfillment. I'm not saying that I can't get that with Islam also but I don't expect the Muslim holidays to ever be the same. I didn't grow up celebrating them with my family, I don't have years of happy memories associated with them, I didn't grow up hearing the stories as a child, and I doubt any Muslim holiday in America can ever feel quite right, regardless of the Muslim community surrounding me. Also, the one and only mosque I've visited just doesn't have that feeling of extravagance and spirituality that the big, fancy, old churches have. Whenever I want to go pray, I don't go to my church, which is plain and simple, I go to the Catholic chapel because of its decoration, the statues, the stained glass, the paintings and carvings and stone, the incense, everything helps me to feel like I'm truly in God's house; I don't have much experience with mosques but I get the impression that they may have ornate calligraphy and geometric decoration but not the things that typically put me in a spiritual mood. I'm also a very big music guy and I would really miss hymns with organs and choirs. I never did understand why music is such a non-existent part of Islamic worship; there are many musical references throughout the Bible and the Psalms are all songs; Judaism and Christianity both have long musical traditions in worship but it doesn't seem to be a part of Islam at all. I also do like a good pork steak and beer but I could easily give those up; the things that really matter are my relationship with God and my relationship with my family and friends.

However, although those are all definite pros for Christianity, that second-to-last part about "my relationship with God" is the reason I'm finding it hard to remain Christian. I've always had a hard time with the Trinity. I find that whenever I pray, everything's pretty much addressed to God the Father. I'd always recognized Jesus' sacrifice and my resulting forgiveness but God the Father was always the one doing the forgiving. He was the one who blessed me with all I had. In my mind, Jesus was a messenger, a prophet, and a martyr whom I'd just accepted as God's son and part of God. However, I've never really accepted any argument or explanation as to WHY he is one with God. When reading the Gospels, I've never come across anything that convinces me that Jesus was more than a prophet. I don't question his role as the messiah but I don't exactly understand where his divinity originated. Jesus seemed pretty against anyone worshiping him. Most of the New Testament proclamations of Jesus' divinity are located in Paul's epistles. Thus, I feel more like we're following Paul's beliefs and preachings than Jesus'. I feel like Jesus wouldn't have taught such confusion but would have been clear on his teachings. Even after his resurrection, Jesus never states his divinity. I know that some of the early Christian churches before Paul worshiped Jesus as God but I don't understand from whence that notion originates.

Since I'd really much rather remain Christian, I'm asking for persuasion to do so. Please give me an explanation that would allow me to remain Christian without having these doubts that constantly tear at me. None of the reasons I have for remaining Christian are truly religious reasons, they're more reasons of convenience or sentiment.

Since the world's great theological minds haven't accidentally stumbled upon this blog yet, I'm going to go ahead and solicit readers and, hopefully, discussion. I'm going to email religious leaders from a few varied backgrounds in hopes that others can help me through this.

I know there was more that I wanted to write but it's slipped my mind. I'm sure it'll come to me eventually and I'll write it later.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Things I've Read

Even though I've talked to people and visited various churches and the local mosque, reading is by far the best source of information. I've read numerous books and countless websites and I figured I'd list them. A large portion of my readings are on Islam as my Christian upbringing provided me with all the basics of Christianity. Truthfully, until I met some Muslims in college, I knew very little about it. Through exposure to them, I learned about the basic beliefs and practices of Islam, which is what sparked my curiosity and encouraged me to learn more. Anyway, back to my reading list. If anybody ever actually reads this and has suggestions for future readings, please leave a comment. I'm very open to anything regarding either Christianity or Islam.

I think that covers everything in book form that I've read recently wholly or in part. I'm sure I've read other books on Christianity in the past but not as part of my current pursuit.

I fully intend to read more although I'm not sure what I'll read next. Although I don't have any books in mind, I know I'd like to read more about:

Like I said, if anyone has any suggestions, I'm very open to ideas.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More about me

For me, religion had always served its purpose very well. It provided a source of peace, happiness, comfort, and joy. It helped me through tough times and provided an outlet for thanks during happy times. It kept me grounded in many ways, guiding me toward a good way of living and steering me clear of certain disasters.

Now that I've hit this patch of uncertainty in my life, some of that remains but I've also lost some. I still try to live a good life as any religion promotes. However, in my confusion, I've misplaced my joy and comfort. I feel like I'm still a good person but I'm living a life without purpose. I hate not knowing what I believe because I feel like it's the same as not believing anything.

My wandering has turned religion from a spiritual pursuit to a strictly academic one. Until I find God again, I can't find peace. Only then, after I've rediscovered God, can my reading change from seeking religion to seeking guidance and peace. I still pray regularly because God is God, regardless of anything, but they're always slightly tainted with the fact that my vision of God has changed from mysterious in a miraculous, spiritual way to mysterious in a dark, shadowy way. I know He's there but I no longer know anything about him.

I know many people would ask why I'm fretting over this. The unspiritual portion of society would see my doubt and ask why not just ditch religion. Why bother wasting time on something that has been handed down through the generations and has no scientific evidence. Luckily, those among me who are spiritual understand my longing even if they don't share in my uncertainty. Even the most pious person has fleeting doubts about God; whether it's human nature or Satan or modern society, it happens so even they should understand my longing for truth, my yearning for God, and my doubts. Unfortunately, my doubts have just taken a greater hold of me and shaken my beliefs beyond quick repair.

I couldn't stand to live in a world without religion. Some things would definitely be easier; I wouldn't have to bother getting up early on my weekends for church, I could live a looser, freer life without having to worry about morality (although even without morals those behaviors usually carry other consequences,) if everyone believed in the same nothing, there would be no disagreement about what to believe. However, even in my most scientific mode, there must be a God. I can't believe that all of existence is an accident, that life and humanity and art and beauty and love came about as a result of a few random occurrences. Because of God, there is a wonderful universe and through God we have the means to admire it.

One doesn't have to be a Biblical literalist to believe that God created all existence. It is possible to believe in both God and science, regardless of what people might tell you. I'm obviously not an extremist in either sense. I'm neither a religious extremist nor a scientific extremist. I believe that the Big Bang was started and guided by God, I believe that the Earth formed over billions of years under God's supervision, I believe that life was created by God's hand and evolved to it's current state, and I believe that man was created by God with a special spark, a soul that is meant to love each other and to love and worship Him.

I hate that religion is so often depicted as stupid and backwards and I equally hate how religion so often refuses to accept things that are new and different. I especially hate how religion is used as an excuse to perpetrate some of the worst crimes in history. Religion is about guidance and peace and love. There will always be people who disagree, people who are different, but religion teaches love and acceptance. You'll never show people the way or guide them to the truth by killing or enslaving them. Hate only breeds more hate but love will eventually wear cracks in the shell that encrusts people's hearts and will find a place to grow. If you are spreading love, people will accept your love and if you are speaking truth, eventually people will listen.

I feel like I've rambled enough. Hopefully, I'll get into something more meaty next time.

Monday, September 3, 2007


The purpose of this blog is twofold: to tap into the enormous resource of the internet on my search for truth and to document my wandering and questioning for others in my situation.

Here's some background:
I grew up a typical American boy, I'd say. I went to public schools, did my extracurricular activities, had a supportive family, and everything was good. I attended church at a local Protestant church with my family throughout my youth. We were regular Sunday church-goers and participated in some other activities like Sunday school, youth group, and Wednesday night Lenten services but we never were extreme in our participation or fervor.

After going off to college, I continued regularly attending a church in the community. I took place in some campus Bible studies and tried to live according to my beliefs. Now, as a young adult, I'm even more active in my church, serving in leadership positions, organizing, and leading events.

However, at some point in the last few years, I began questioning parts of what I had grown up believing. When reading my study Bible, I find out about the twisted path that has led to the books that have been gathered together and labeled "God's Word." I've visited many churches, both with friends and out of curiosity, and have learned the differences between the various branches of Christianity. The disagreements and disunity within Christianity makes me wonder who and what is right.

And then one day I met and got to know some Muslims. Originally I was curious from an academic standing but I still knew that I was right and they were wrong. However, my continuing exploration of Christianity and increasing doubts led me to question my certainty and take Islam into serious consideration.

I now know a lot more about both Christianity and Islam than I did even a few months ago. I'm still just as confused and uncertain as ever, probably more so. However, my search continues. I intend to document my feelings and my questions here. I hope to receive feedback, answers, comments, suggestions, and even more questions from others.

I don't expect this to be a quick process, nor do I want it to be. I want to make sure that what I conclude in the end is THE TRUTH.

Thus continues my spiritual journey.