Thursday, May 18, 2006

Islamic Theology vs. Culture

I begin this post with a caveat: I don't know very much about Islamic theology. The ideas I'm going to be working with here are sourced from a book on Christian theology. The author, Thomas Oden, only brought the concepts up so as to compare the Biblican theology against the Islamic theology, but that doesn't mean he stated things correctly. I'd be curious to hear a Muslim's perspective on it. But in the meantime, I'll go with what I have. That being said . . .

I was reading the other day about God's providence. Specifically, it was about the dichotomy between good and evil events that take place in the world, and the various scenarios that are proposed for them. If there is good, why is there evil? Does God cause evil, or allow it? Either way, why?

In the course of this, Oden compared the Christian God to Allah. Whereas God is the author of good but allows evil to occur that good may come of it, Allah is the author of all events both good and evil. (This is, of course, a simplification, even from what he wrote, but concise nonetheless.)

This brought me to a few thoughts, one being, if Allah is the author of all events, is man responsible for his sin? In Islamic theology, if God causes all events, does he cause human sin? If so, is he still responsible for his sin? It would be a cruel God who caused men to sin yet still held them accountable for their sins.

The other thought was, if Allah does cause both good and evil, can he be classified as good? Islam rejects the idea of a loving god. Is their god good? If he causes evil, I don't see how he can be called good. At best, he is simply neutral, and mankind must hope to fall within his good whims. But if you can't worship Allah because he is good, then that leaves worshipping him only because he is powerful. Rather than, "I worship you because you are good," it is, "I worship you because you have the power to send me to hell." Does Islam amount to power worship?

The title of the post comes in here: Thinking about Islamic cultures around the world, I wonder if they reflect my above analysis of their theology. Worship of power . . . do Islamic societies reflect such a theology? It seems to be so upon first thought, but it is perhaps too simple of an analysis.

Once again, a muslim's thoughts on this would be interesting. But mine are interesting thoughts all the same.


Anonymous said...

Hal, I have a similar understanding of Islam as you. Like you, mine comes from Christian sources rather than Islam. I'd like to learn more about their faith from Muslims.

I do know of a friend and a priest who have had separate conversations with Muslims where the notion of God as Father came up. They both said that the Muslim, while remaining very polite, explained that this idea is tremendously offensive to Muslims. (My own understanding is that they view 'God as Father' somewhat like we might view 'Buddy Christ.')

.... By the way, have you seen United 93?


meera said...

i am not muslim, nor am i an expert, but i have a few opinions on this based on what i have come across in my studies.

firstly, to address your question: if Allah is the author of all events, is man responsible for his sin?
the quran states many times that man has free will and is also responsible for all of his actions. allah is there to guide and teach, but ultimately it is man's duty to use what allah gave him for good. here is a REALLY good summary of this concept it states it much better than i could, so i will not try to paraphrase.

along the same lines, you seem to think that allah causes evil, but i am not clear where you are getting that from. in most all scholarly discussions about evil in islam, the concept is addressed as "why does allah ALLOW evil", not why does he cause it. unless i am missing something, i don't see it stated anywhere that he causes the evil. in which case, your other questions about whether he is a good god are moot.

allah is not supposed to be worshipped only because he has the power to punish and people are scared of that. as said by imam ali, "O Allah, I did not worship You for the greed of your paradise nor for the fear of hell, but because you are worthy of all praise." i don't disagree that you will find people who look at religion that way, but many christians worship like that as well. yes, there is a part of it that says you will go to hell if you don't worship him - but i believe...and correct me if i'm wrong...that hell exists in christianity as well. in all religions, you will find those who are good out of fear, instead of understanding why one should be a good person in the first place. but is that the fault of the relgion or the man?

as a final and somewhat tangential thought, i think there is an inherent problem with studying islam (or any other religion) through the eyes of christianity. there is no way to make a fair assessment of a religion, if christian creed deems it fundamentally wrong at the get-go. as was put best by someone i would like to give credit to, but would like to remain anonymous: "he's looking at something through the looking glass of something else and then expecting it to hold up to intelligent scrutiny."

Hal said...

Ryan: I haven't seen United 93. I'm not sure I would, for nearly the same reason I only saw "Passion of the Christ" once.

Meera: Please remember I was only doing some off the cuff thinking. Although I would like to respond to your comments in further depth. Today, though, it probably won't happen.

And for someone who isn't a muslim, you sure seem to know an awful lot about it. Was someone in your family? Or were you at one time?

meera said...

i am not muslim, nor have i ever been. i have always been really interested in different religions and the philosophies behind them - so i have taken classes on the subject in undergrad, as well as spoken to a few religious scholars. i do not limit my exploration to islam, but i am especially interested in it because of the rift between muslims and hindus. it is interesting to see my VERY VERY religious relatives getting pissed off because "the muslims" are moving into our village...the thought process behind that sort of distate between any religions makes me want to objectively and open-mindedly explore all of them.

Hal said...

Meera, I also studied various religious philosophies as an undergrad (I was a philosophy minor). I actually took a course titled, "Indian Philosophy" where we looked, albeit briefly, at Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Islam. I did a research project for the class on Sikhism. I even took a graduate level history course on Islam.

This isn't to promote my credentials, or anything. I'm just saying I've studied some myself . . . I love philosophy and theology.

meera said...

if you're ever bored of science, we should talk philosophy. i miss it from undergrad, and love hearing fresh perspectives :). see ya when i get back!

b barker said...

I cannot comment on the Muslim aspect, but I can on the Christian:
Do we, as Christians, only worship God because He is good? Personally, I also worhship Him as Creator of the Universe. I believe this is where "God-fearing" comes in. I know this is becoming an antiquated statement in today's society, but I believe it pertains as much to us today as it did in the 1900s. What makes one worthy of worship? I worship God not just for His goodness, but also for His role as Creator, and his Might ("Almighty God"). Could this concept not be oversimplified as "Worship Him for His power?"
Also, is God inherently incapable of evil? If so, then would not something become "good" simply by being acceptable to God, regardless of action? If so, then it would be impossible for God not to be "good."
I'm just kinda bloviating, but I thought I would toss those in.