Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jewish Theologian Michael Wyschogrod on the Woundedness of Islam

"Islam, from its inception, has seen itself validated by its early success. Starting out as the faith of a small group of believers on the Arabian Peninsula, the message of Islam quickly conquered vast territories that were brought under Muslim hegemony by means of both the book and the sword. Islam's success validated the faith as nothing else could, an attitude not unknown to either Judaism or Christianity. Religions often interpret worldly success as a sign of divine favor but this is perhaps more deeply rooted in Islam than in the other two monotheistic religions. The existence of a political realm in which Islam is supreme is thus essential to the spiritual health of Islam, largely because of Islam's refusal to separate the religious from the political. The existence of territories where Islam has not yet succeeded in establishing its authority can only be interpreted as a temporary state of affairs to be remedied at the earliest possible moment.

"It is for this reason that European imperialism of the nineteenth century was so profoundly painful to Islam. By the end of the century, the Muslim world was largely subordinate to the power of Christian Europe. Largely due to the superiority of Western science -- but not only for that reason -- the Muslim world found itself deprived of its sovereignty or reduced to the status of vassal states of European Christian powers that had set out to establish empires in Africa and Asia.

"How could this happen to Islam, the true faith that was destined to rule the world and to unite all of humanity under the banner of the teaching of the prophet? Failure of such magnitude after so much success was also unbearable because Islam never embraced suffering as a desirable part of the religious life. Where suffering could not be avoided, a highly detailed doctrine of otherworldly rewards rushed in to take the sting out of the suffering and to assure the faithful that the suffering was as nothing compared to the assured reward.

"Since the advent of the age of imperialism until the defeats suffered in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Islam has been a wounded faith that has had great difficulty in coming to terms with its relatively weak position in a world that should have yielded long ago to the message of the one true religion. The wounds imposed on Islam manifest themselves in various ways among which fanaticism and the development of denial mechanisms are the most prominent."

--Michael Wyschogrod, "A Jewish View of Christianity" (essay originally written in 1991), in Abraham's Promise: Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations (edited by R. Kendall Soulen; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), pages 150-51

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