Light Shineth in Darkness (excerpts) - Udo Schaefer - 13 Para

Western polemics flared up, above all, around the person and the life of Muhammad.. To the Christian Middle Ages he was what he still is to some Christian theologians: the deceitful heretic, the false prophet. One of the Fathers of the Church, the Greek John of Damascus, saw Muhammad as the Anti-Christ; Dante called him the 'seminator di scandalo e di scisma'. Muhammad is described as the first of the accursed ones: Whilst eagerly I fix on him my gaze, He eyed me, with his hands laid his breast bare, And cried, "Now mark how I do rip me: lo! How is Mohammed mangled: before me Walks Ali weeping, from the chin his face Cleft to the forelock; and the others all, Whom here thou seest, while they lived, did sow Scandal and schism, and therefore thus are rent." (136:1)

Luther saw in the "Turk" a creation of the Devil. "The difference in belief is surely insufficient", writes the orientalist Fueck, "to explain the raging hatred which the Christian Middle Ages harboured against Muhammad. The reason for this hatred is rather to be found in all the bitterness, fear and misery which the Western world, threatened in its existence by this unexpected rival, felt against the man who, by his appearance, had set such a revolution in motion." For the thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment who were hostile to religion, Muhammad was a deceiver and his religion-- as Voltaire said-- "a web of charlatanism and stupidity". In his drama "Mahomet", he makes the prophet commit the most horrifying atrocities. That a camel-driver should cause a tumult and claim to have received an incomprehensible book, each page of which "makes reason shudder", is something which one "who is not a born Turk" could not defend, wrote the great scoffer who, to be sure, wrote in a similar way about Christ and Moses. (136:2)

However, at that time, there were already thinkers who did more justice to Muhammad. Even if they refused to call him a prophet, they saw in him one of the greatest men who had ever lived. He is described as a wise and enlightened law-giver who created a sensible religion to replace the doubtful dogmas of the Jewish and Christian Faiths. Savary saw in Muhammad's religion a universal teaching which only contains what is reasonable: the belief in on God, in the rewarding of virtue and the punishment of crime. That Muhammad made his appearance as "Messenger of God" seemed to him to be a pious fraud dictated by reasons of prudence. The nineteenth-century Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle, too, opposed the interpretation according to which Muhammad was an impostor and in the last century the historian Heinrich Leo expressed the following opinion: "But those who call a man like Muhammad a deceiver have a very paltry inner experience and poor understanding. They know nothing of that power of the spirit which motivates communities, and raises the leader of true communities to heights which have been inaccessible at all times to the common mind." (137:1)

Whereas representatives of Christian orthodoxy still describe Muhammad as a "liar-prophet" and the religion founded by him as an "abortion from hell" and "opium of the people" a more objective historical outlook, which considers the prophet of Arabia in the light of and with the methods of general religious history, does him more justice. His uprightness, the self-denial with which he struggled to carry out his mission in the face of a hostile world, his genuine conviction that he was an instrument in the hand of the Almighty, the depth of his belief are fully recognized today: "A man of unusual quality, a fearless and selfless champion of a great Cause who led his people out of the darkness of barbarism to the light of civilization and of higher moral consciousness"; this is what the Roman orientalist Francesco Gabrieli writes about him. (137:2)

..it must be said that even today theological publications about Islam are far from being unbiased about this religion and its founder or truly appreciative of them. In fact this is not surprising, because research into Islam has emerged mainly from Christian missionary research. Missionary scholars, who had mainly had an Evangelical or Catholic education, looked at islam from a teleological point of view, and were not able to consider it outside the Judeo-Christian framework or to grasp its essence. A method which mainly depends on finding points of contact for the Christian mission and on unmasking the subject-matter as an amalgam of Arabic heathen, Jewish and Christian elements is, form the start, incapable of achieving any kind of insight into the subject. Even modern authors not affected by denominational considerations nevertheless frequently-- and usually quite unconsciously-- subsume the result they have obtained from historical and phenomenological research under the religious concepts acquired from Christianity and Judaism, and thus obstruct their own way to a proper understanding of the religion under study. Very often they lack sympathy, sensitivity and understanding for the numinous or irrational and which does not reveal itself to purely intellectual research. Religion is a subject which can only partly be explored by science in the same way as the natural world with its cause and effect. Basically, the science of the study of religions is only possible as religious history, religious phenomenology and religious sociology. However, religious life is far from being exhausted in these branches of the study of religion. This is why the presentation of a religion is also always dependent on the intellectual attitude of the one presenting it. For in the sphere of the religious, in the domain of cultural values, a completely objective intellectual attitude does not exist. From the start, different conclusions are to be expected when Islam is presented by a convinced Christian, a staunch atheist, or a Muslim. The attitude adopted towards the subject-- the conviction that after Christ a divine manifestation is impossible, or that a divine manifestation is not possible at all, or that the Arabian Prophet revealed the Word of God-- will be clearly visible in the presentation. For it is of crucial importance whether a religion is described from within or without. He who is not satisfied with a pure recording of religious phenomena and of their interpretation according to subjective standards which from the start are taken as absolute criteria, but who wants to learn something about the essential mystery of a religion, should acquaint himself with a believer's own interpretation of his faith. (138:1)

The holy book of Islam, the 'Qur'an', which according to the Orientalist von Hammer "is as unmistakably the word of Muhammad as the Muslims believe that it is the Word of God", is often treated by the critical non-Muslim reader with lack of appreciation and often with arrogance. This is why he reaches a conclusion about the book which is often subjective, unjust and presumptuous. Whoever decides to read this book should do so with the understanding that it is a holy book-- for centuries a guiding-star for countless human beings. The reader should approach this work if not with a feeling of awe, then at least with respect, and mindful of the warning given by the eighteenth-century scientist Lichtenberg about one's approach to reading a book, should remember the following points. (139:1)

The judgment passed on a holy writing depends to a great extent on the religious concepts and the emotional values held by the one judging it. The European's ideas, even if he is an agnostic, are shaped by Christianity. To the Christian, the Gospel is the essence of the Word of God. He has known and loved this work since his childhood. He understands it, or thinks he does. He considers it to be 'a priori' different from every other writing. He adopts it as a standard by which he judges unfamiliar revealed writings like the 'Qur'an', with which he only becomes familiar through the veil of inadequate translations since he has no command of Arabic, and is without any knowledge of the ideas, situation and conditions of that period of history, which are occasionally referred to in the 'Qur'an' itself. And after a superficial reading of it he lays this book aside, disappointed and convinced of the unsurpassable and matchless quality of the Gospel. In doing so he fails to realize that the language of the Word of God is very varied. The divine truth has been expressed at different periods, in different places, in very different forms of human thought and language. To say nothing of the holy writings more removed from us like the Bhagavad Gita and the Dhammapada, even the writings of the Old Testament are very different in content and stylistic form. The gospels, too, show differences in their stylistic characteristics: the Gospel of St. John differs from the synoptic gospels to a great degree by its adoption of Hellenistic ways of thinking and speaking. The 'Qur'an' which, for the first time, preserves for mankind the pure, directly spoken and undistorted word of the Almighty, cannot be compared on its literary quality to any of the books of the Old and New Testaments. Apart from the philological aspect of the work, namely the extraordinarily expressive Arabic language which is capable of the finest nuances, and which has been, since Muhammad's advent, the language of revelation, this uniqueness lies in the singular way the book is presented and in the overpowering spirit of its prophetic parts. Thus the 'Qur'an' is described by non-Muslim experts of the Arabic language as a great masterpiece of literature. Of course, to the superficial reader who remains aloof, its original character, its poetic expression and the hidden, symbolic meaning of its verses disclose themselves just as little as the "Art of Fugue' would to the man who does not understand Bach's polyphony. (140:1)

Another fact should be considered: Islam claims-- like Judaism and the Baha'i Faith-- to be not only the rule of conduct and the guide to God for the individual in need of salvation but also the remedy and guidance for a lamentably sick human society. The social order is also an object of divine solicitude. Therefore in Muhammad's proclamation man as a whole is addressed, as an individual as well as a social, political body. This is why the 'Qur'an' also contains ordinances and laws; this is why it is also-- like the Pentateuch-- a book of laws. But by no means a systematic code of laws in the sense of our modern codification! Baha'u'llah's warning about the 'Kitab-i-Aqdas', the book of laws which he revealed, applies also to the 'Qur'an': "Think not that we have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather we have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power." "Say: O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring balance established amongst men." (141:1)

The critic sometimes finds one feature of the 'Qur'an' unusual and wearisome: the frequent repetitions of the same topics. Varied as the 'Qur'an' is, giving in many places an account of the earlier divine messengers and of the life and sufferings of Christ, the following points recur time and again as 'Leitmotive' of the revelation: the testimony to the unity and awe-inspiring omnipotence of God, to the reward for the ones devoted to doing the will of God and to the chastisement of those denying his signs. Above all the 'Qur'an' proclaims God's mercifulness: "My mercy embraceth all things." "In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful" thus reads the introductory formula which opens each surah. Goethe's verdict upon these passages, which repeat the central themes in new contexts and which are obviously founded in the Prophet's educative purpose was: "Unlimited tautologies and repetitions form the body of this Holy Book which, every time we take it up, revolts us anew, fills us with amazement and finally commands our veneration." Understanding this book depends, as Baha'u'llah continually reminds us, on "purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit". Whoever calls it a confused, obscure and muddled work is like the blind of whom Baha'u'llah writes: "Yea, the blind can perceive naught from the sun except its heat , and the arid soil hath no share of the showers of mercy. "Marvel not if in the Qur'an the unbeliever perceiveth naught but the trace of letters, for in the sun, the blind findeth naught but heat." (143:1)

Now, how does Islam appear in the theological field of research? Almost without exception it is presented as an amalgam of Heathen-Jewish-Christian ideas and teachings. Generations of scholars have considered it the task of their life assiduously to investigate the alleged origins of the principles of these teachings and to demonstrate the syncretic character of Islam. Just as Christian controversialists never saw in Islam anything but the product of and act of spiritual theft, modern scholars themselves maintain that the basic ideas of Islam are borrowed from the Biblical religions and describe this "a fact which requires not further discussion". "When one examines each of the elements of Mohammad's system of belief," Tor Andrae writes, "it seems impossible to decide to which of these religions he is most indebted." Goldziher asserts "that the assimilative character of Islam was already stamped on its brow at its birth. Its founder Muhammad proclaims no new ideas. He has not enriched the ideas about man's relationship with the transcendental and the infinite. (144:1)

"The proclamation of the Arabic prophet", he continues, "is an eclectic composition of religious ideas which he was inspired to reveal through his contacts with Jewish, Christian and still other ideologies by which he himself was deeply affected, and which he considered suitable for the awakening of a truly religious spirit among his fellow-men; ordinances which he also drew from foreign sources, and which he recognized as necessary for the establishment of a pattern of life in accordance with the divine will. Goldziher, like Tor Andrae, thinks that the Christian elements of the 'Qur'an' have reached Muhammad mostly "through the channel of apocryphal traditions and of the heresies scattered in Eastern Christianity... Muhammad absorbed everything he came across in his superficial contacts in the circle of his associates and he utilized most of it without any fixed plan at all." Gagrieli comes to the same conclusion: "He had only a vague and fragmentary knowledge of the two monotheistic religions preceding his own. He borrowed from the former the idea of the one God, the creator, as well as the cosmology and view of mankind's early history, and also the distorted and somewhat misunderstood story of the old patriarchs, generals and kings whom he fused together one and all in the category of 'prophets'; finally as the last and most questionable element he borrowed the crippling ritualism. From Christianity he took over the figure of Jesus, not as the Son of God but merely as a prophet of miraculous birth, a miracle-worker, and as his own (Muhammad's) immediate predecessor. On the other hand, a closer knowledge not only of the dogma of the Trinity, the concept of salavation and of the Eucharist but also of the deeper ethical content of Christianity, eluded him. After all, he had only a vague oral information of its sources, the apocryphal gospels; still, wandering Christian preachers in the desert might have influenced his dialectic reasoning and the whole style of his proclamation." Glasenapp, too, considers Islam as an assimilated mixture of Christianity and Judaism. He maintains that the Jewish and Christian legends have been partly distorted in the 'Qur'an' as "the prophet had no biblical texts at hand, but only got to hear oral reports". Frank Thiess also believes Muhammad has produced the irrefutable proof "that new, significant, effective structures can be erected out of stones of old buildings, like churches out of heathen temples". (144:2)

So this is the way the non-Muslim religious scholar conceives the birth of a religion which has lasted for centuries and has changed the world. But how strange that the amalgam of such disparate elements became so characteristic, peerless and full of vitality as to be capable of transforming its followers into such a specific and homogeneous type of people. In this context, let it be noted that the Baha'i Faith, too, when it is not bluntly dismissed as a reformed sect of Islam, is looked upon by religious historians as a syncretic formation. Rosenkranz has earnestly endeavoured to trace its alleged Greek-Neoplatonic-Islamic-Sufi origins. The theologian Willem Visser't Hooft regards the Baha'i Faith as the outcome of an artificial synthesis which in the end leaves nothing but an insignificant common denominator of all religions: "Baha'i is therefore a new, religious mixture which replaces the old religions." (145:1)

This criticism levelled at Islam by theologians shows the correctness of the assertion that the appreciation of the truth of a religion largely depends on the mental, subjective attitude one holds towards the subject. It proves the inadequate understanding of the theologian who approaches a subject only from the outside and can no more refute the truth of a religion than he can prove it. And if the scholar is Muslim, then his presentation proceeds from his inner religious conviction which is not accessible to Christian theologians. Someone who believes that the message of Muhammad was a revelation from God no longer wonders about the origin of the message he proclaimed. Similarities with the ideological world of other religions do not worry him in the least. They are-- the revealed Truth being taken as the criterion-- the remains of former religious truths, the authority of which is being reaffirmed in the new revelation. From this angle, similarities between the religious world of Islam and that of Ebionite or Nestorian Christianity are explained by the fact that it was precisely in those Christian fractional groups, which had been accused of heresy by the High Church, that religious truths from which orthodox teaching had digressed were preserved. It is not Church orthodoxy, therefore, which is the criterion by which Islam is to be judged, but rather the other way round. If, on the other hand, the scholar does not believe in Islam, and does not accept the fact that God has revealed himself through Muhammad or that divine revelation is at all possible, Islam cannot but appear to him as an eclectic conglomeration of heterogeneous ideas and teachings, as a syncretism. Then, of course, to investigate the origins of the borrowed ideas and to prove the lack of originality of the Prophet appears as an exciting task to the scholar. (146:1)

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Light Shineth in Darkness (excerpts) - Udo Schaefer