Robert M. Price
I was plenty stunned the other week, listening to one of the last Democratic presidential debates. Peter Jennings, who I met when he filmed one of our Jesus Seminar meetings a few years ago, had just asked John Edwards what he knew about Islam. He was, needless to say, badly putting him on the spot, like that time some other reporter got George W. Bush sputtering when he didn’t know off hand the name of the president of Slobbovia. But this wasn’t just a cheap shot. Given the current state of things in the world, wouldn’t you kind of expect that someone who feels qualified to lead this country might take the trouble to know something about the major ideology that promotes warfare and terrorism against us? Those guys who kamikazied the World Trade Center towers weren’t Communists, you know!
Edwards’s answer? A mass of verbiage that, if you ran it through my new invention, the Gist-o-Meter, comes out sounding like a lot of Porky Pig stammering. He admitted that he didn’t know a darned thing. Or a blessed thing. I’d have been encouraged at either. How could he not know anything? In my World Religion courses, I fill my students in on the traditional account of Islamic origins, and then I take a swing at new scholarly theories which give a radically different version of the story. But Edwards hadn’t got around to the first one yet, the one that’s been readily available for over a thousand years. And I’m not picking on Edwards in particular. I am quite sure none of his competitors knew any better. That’s what is so frightening.
I wouldn’t blame a guy for not knowing the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, though to me that is a living issue that dwarfs the minor nuances separating Democrats from Republicans. Can’t look down your nose at somebody for not knowing that Jainism or Zoroastrianism even exist, though they are important religions. But then again it is not militant Hindus, Buddhists, Jains or Zoroastrians who are our sworn, bomb-throwing enemies, are they?
Nor do they just happen to be Muslims. Nor are all Muslims our enemies. (Certainly not mine: I love Islam and reread the Koran in a different translation every few years.)
But the Muslims who do hate us and try to eradicate our civilization hate us because of a type of Islam, "Jihadism," that they and about 10 % of world Muslims embrace. We have very, very many good, patriotic Muslims of all colors in America who must never be blamed for what their crazy Jihadist black sheep cousins do. But to avoid confusing them, it would help if our leaders—and we ourselves—understood about their religion.
Another irony: I cringe every time Louis Farrakhan makes some sort of crazy statement because I know most hearers will blame Islam for what he says. Now Farrakhan happens to be a "Muslim" only in a very loose manner of speaking. His religion, coined in the 1920s by one Minister Farad, an avowed incarnation of Allah, and then carried on by the Reverend Elijah Muhammad has almost nothing at all to do with historic Islam. And this is why Malcolm X abandoned it after a visit to Mecca showed him what traditional Islam was all about: namely peace and brotherhood between all races. And that, in turn, is why Farrakhan had Malcolm X killed, as he pretty much admitted a few years ago!
More irony: the other day I heard some pundit eager to find some reason to object to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ saying that it might inflame anti-Semitic hatred. Oh, granted Jews and Christians get along too well in America for that to happen (which, thank God, is true!), but what about Muslims who might see the film and be reminded of the supposed guilt of Jews for Jesus’ death? Well, kimosabe, as it happens, it would be hard to find such Muslims—since Muslims don’t believe anybody crucified Jesus, neither the Jews nor the Romans! In the Muslim version Jesus doesn’t even get crucified! God rescues him beforehand!
Too bad this isn’t common knowledge. But given the signs of the times, it would be a good thing for all of us to learn what we can about Islam, the third sister with Judaism and Christianity. You don’t have to a presidential candidate for your ignorance to be dangerous.
Robert M Price
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