How To Understand I...
Clear all

How To Understand Islam

Posts: 10419
Topic starter
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago

This article by Malise Ruthven is likely to be of interest to non-Muslims and Islamic scholars alike.

Here in the West we've heard from our political leaders, along with moderate Muslim clerics, how "Islam embraces peace, not war". To a degree, this is somewhat naive, and to some extent it may even involve a tad or more of (unconscious?) propaganda, to keep Muslims moderate.

The point in my citing the article is not at all to be anti-Islam, and nor is the point of the article itself. It's simply that Ruthven shines a spotlight on some truths about Islam we'd as well all be aware of in order to further understand it. (Islam's startlingly quick birth and growth, after all, did not mainly occur through peaceful means.) And Ruthven also gives the bakground to why there are diverse Muslim views, some having it that it is indeed the role of Islam to supplant other religio-political systems. [But with what? would ask yet further Muslim clerics.]


2 Replies
Posts: 3674
Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago

Thank you for this link Venetian - it's a long article, but sums up several books my husband has read (and I've dipped into) about how we in the West need to be aware of the current internal struggles within Islam and also why and how they have and will continue to impact upon all of us in the world. It's no longer any use putting your head in the sand and simply condemning all religion - we all need to try to understand each other.

Many people have said that the present struggle within Islam is its Enlightenment - as Christianity went through many centuries ago. The fundamentalists, out of fear of change want to stick to the material, literal interpretation of the scriptures.

The original root of the word "religion" means re-connecting to the divine. It's man's interpretation of the divine that is the root of all the problems that have come out of all religions. When mankind's understanding reaches the absolute conclusion that Allah/God/Jehovah (and all other names for Diety) is unconditional infinite divine Love and that man's duty here is to express that love, then will there be peace and harmony on earth.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote:

Tyranny, intolerance, and bloodshed, wherever found, arise from the belief that the infinite is formed after the pattern of mortal personality, passion, and impulse. (Science and Health p 94)

THis was the part of the article I found most interesting:

In a globalized culture where religions are in daily contact with their competitors, denial of pluralism is a recipe for conflict.

Yet acceptance of pluralism relativizes truth. Once it is allowed that there are different paths to ultimate truth, an individual's religious allegiance becomes a matter of personal choice, and choice is the enemy of the certainties that religions—especially monotheistic ones—are supposed to uphold. Fundamentalism is one contemporary response to the crisis of faith brought about by awareness of differences. Another—diametrically opposite—response is the global ecumenicism promoted by Küng. In approaching the prospect of dialogue with other religions, Küng is surely right in proposing that participants must abandon the literalist interpretation of their sacred texts, since every tradition must acknowledge its local origins:

A conversation with Jews and Muslims, or with Hindus and Buddhists, Chinese and Japanese, is doomed to failure if the linguistic tradition of a regional culture, whether that of the Greek East or the Latin West, makes absolute claims.

To my understanding, it will only be out of the growing attraction of the deep spirituality of movements like the Sufi that the answers will come for all people to live together in peace, harmony within a deeply satisfying religious context. With the Prophets writings, there is that deep spirituality and goodness - Islam will not be lessened, but will reach its majesty and potential through focusing on what is spiritual and transforming for good.

It's not going to be easy. I once asked a very moderate, modern-thinking woman who embraces much that would be considered "un-Islamic" how she felt that the troublesome parts of the Islamic sacred texts could be dealt with and she replied "There are no troublesome parts. It is all direct from Allah. There are no mistakes." It's that sort of closed-mindedness in all religions and philosophies (yea even in atheism!) that causes the clash we are experiencing now.

....Whereas historical criticism of the Bible has been accepted by most Protestants (except for fundamentalist die-hards) as well as by Reform Judaism and, belatedly, by the Catholic Church (following the Second Vatican Council of 1962–1965), "higher criticism" of the Koran has yet to take root despite the impressive achievements of individual scholars such as the late Fazlur Rahman, Mohammed Arkoun, and Farid Esack (all of whom work, or have worked, in Western universities). For Küng,

It can only help Islamic faith if Islamic scholars begin to tackle the historical problems. This can still be dangerous for a Muslim today, just as a heterodox view was for a Catholic at the height of the Inquisition or for a liberal Protestant in Calvin's Geneva.

What is needed, he concludes, elaborating on the term made popular by Thomas Kuhn, is a "paradigm shift" toward modernization comparable to those that occurred in the Christian and Jewish traditions.

The Scriptures are very sacred. Our aim must be to have them understood spiritually, for only by this understanding can truth be gained. (Science and Health p 547)

Love and peace,


spinal music
Posts: 4018
Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago

The Guardian is running a blog by a Muslim, bought up first in Pakistan and then in the UK as he reads through the Qu'ran throughout this coming year. The original article is "from mother to madrasa"

and is a very readable account of a youngster learning the text first at his mother's knee, and then in a religious school. I found it interesting on account of the mother's religious experience in teaching her son this text, and also the difficulties the author has with all the languages involved (Arabic, Urdu, English), and how they affect the reading.


Blogging the Qur'an
How should Islam's sacred book be read in the 21st century? How should non-Muslims interpret its message? In a year-long project, Ziauddin Sardar will read the Qur'an from beginning to end, discussing its verses, themes, language and meaning. Join in by emailing him at The blog will be launched on Monday on [DLMURL=""]Comment is free[/DLMURL]