Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Professor from LSU clarifies misinformation about Islam from the media

In the “Background” feature of Aug. 28, there were a number of misleading if not absolutely incorrect statements made in regard to Islam.
First of all, Muhammad did not teach that the “only way to God” was “through him, Muhammad.” In fact, Muhammad recognized the validity of the revelations claimed by both Judaism and Christianity. While the Qur’an (the preferred English spelling, rather than Koran) was regarded as God’s final and complete revelation, Islamic governments tolerated other monotheistic religions to a degree unmatched in Christian political states until the 18th century. Further, while Islamic tradition views Muhammad as the best exemplar of Muslim life, he is most assuredly not a savior figure who controls access to God.
Secondly, it is incorrect to assert that Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini simply “insisted on a very strict, literal interpretation of the [Qur’an].” What Khomeini insisted upon was a very strict application of shari’a — Islamic law — of which the Qur’an forms the basis, supplemented by the hadith (written traditions about the Prophet Muhammad) as well as some 1,400 years of Islamic jurisprudence (which, like Western law, places great significance on precedence). Further, as a representative of the “Hidden Imam” in Iran’s “Twelver” form of Shi’ism, Khomeini would have been recognized as having a teaching authority that transcended any mere literalist interpretation of the Qur’an.
Finally, the assertion that “Islam is bound by tradition” is, on the one hand, an assertion that can be made about virtually any religion; and on the other hand a dismissal of the variety of forms within Islam, as well as the tremendous adaptability that Islamic cultures have demonstrated throughout history. The Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, is far removed in spirit and practice from the Republic of Turkey. Further, many of the most important foundations of modern science came into the West from Islamic areas where “tradition” did not prevent remarkable advances in medicine, mathematics and numerous other fields.
One comment — that Khomeini “viewed religion and politics as being inseparable” — is undeniable because it is typical of most forms of religious fundamentalism. What troubles me more than Khomeini’s position on this matter, however, is the fact that politicians in this country — such as Florida U.S. Rep. and candidate for Senate Katherine Harris (as reported in a story that appeared in The Advocate Aug. 27) — continue to advocate the very same position. According to this Associated Press report, Harris classified the separation of church and state as “a lie” and argued that the founders did not seek to create “a nation of secular laws.” I wonder — from whose form of “fundamentalism” do we as Americans have most to fear?

Rodger M. Payne, chair
Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, LSU
Baton Rouge

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