Monday, February 13, 2006

DC trip, Islam, Christianity, and the "shared prophets"

Well my weekend in Dc was a blast. Lots of hearing about Islam from a Muslim perspective (always the better way to hear about a religion). We had a massive snowball fight outside of Georgetown on O street. Haroon and I took a stairway for some highground while another three under Abood's leadership stacked some snowballs to initiate the ambush.

When the rest of our party arrived they were packing snowballs themselves - great minds think alike. The attackers traded some volleys with Abood and Eysa's unit, and once they dropped back Haroon and I popped up throwing down on their heads. splat-splat-splat-splat. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Finally the two sides began to separate to different sides of the road. The little Asian girls who's stairwell Haroon and I were operating from opened their main door so that they could watch out of the window door at the growing snowball spectacle. Before it was all said and done there were about 20 people hurling snowballs in every which direction.

At one point Abood and Raasi both decided to press the attack. They exchanged a volley: Abood ducked Raasi's ball and then threw a nice rocket which was only narrowly dodged by Raasi jumping sideways into the air - exposing his open crotch to my full firepower. I'd come down the stairs so we were on the levels: he realized too late. Two missiles were already zoning in full speed, a split-second apart. The one from my right hand hit him just below the bullseye, still grazing in the hurt zone and pounding solidly on his inner thigh. Reeling around from that blow, the second round hummed in finding it's target on his back. A crushing blow felt some time afterwards.

Finally when we'd all calmed down we realized that none of us were wearing gloves (since we'd just returned from the conference). It took a good hour to thaw out completely. Luckily I'm not sick (especially considering my lack of sleep all trip).

Other than this pinacle of fun and the conference, we watched and critiqued Mousa's new documentary film - his first major project out of film school. Good stuff, he's got talent. Abood and I wrestled and squashed all competition in the MSA housing unit. Abood even put Farooq in a Lion Tamer ala: Chris Jericho from WWF. That'll be coming soon to a near you. We also tag teamed Mousa (Moses), Eysa (Jesus), and Haroon (Aaron) and squashed them between us. We dubbed this move "a Prophet Manwich". mwahhaha. Haven't gotten to dominate in some wrestling or tag-team with my homie Doobs for too long.

Perhaps one of the highest points was my several-hour-long talk with Farooq, who is a graduate of Islamic School in Pakistan, and looking at going back for another 7 years in their seminary in the near future. It's one of those "terrorist training camps" according to our press, hehe. Still, he and I had the most in common. Trained theologians speak a certain language and often have certain conclusions which make little sense without the pre-requisite understandings and definitions to comprehend why they're saying what they do, why they refuse to say what they keep silence on, and why they repeatedly insist on what seem, to philosophically minded lay people, to be relatively unimportant points (namely that you can't use philosophical language for God, or even speak about God's "essence" as such). Good guy, I really wish him the best.

Of course I got to defend the Trinity the required thousand times. So many misconceptions, many generated from Christians themselves, really get Muslims panties in a wad over the concept of the Trinity. Of course, funny enough, it has always been scandalous to Jews and Gentiles, as has the rest of Christ's message. As CS Lewis so aptly put it "Christians cannot compete, in simplicity, with other people who are making up religions." Part of the ring of truth for Christians is precisely that Christianity doesn't sound like a religion that we would have come up with. It's illogical until you understand Christ as the logic of God (Logos tou theou), which judges our logic and consigns our vain way of thinking to the dustbin of man-made flaws. As Paul tells us "For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block [skandalon] to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1:22-24) The fact that we would philosophically have come up with a different way is precisely the point - God's ways are not our ways, and the apex of his entire revelation, himself on the cross, is the ultimate manifestation of that fact.

Then there was the food. I'll report here in about 3 weeks when I finally run off the last calorie from that weekend-long gorge. g-l-u-t-t-o-n-y, sin style. I can still eat a manly #12 Kabob Special from Kabob Palace with hands only. Finger-fooding the green yogurt sauce on basmati rice is no problem when you have these skillz.

What a machine.

One slightly deeper thought did occur on the trip. There is always a mantra repeated by Muslims that they and Christians/Jews "share the same prophets". In fact that's not really true, on two different levels:

1. A figure of faith is first and foremost a literary figure. Sure, there may have been a person to whom this or that story historically corresponds (I doubt it in most cases), but the figures of faith are important not so much in that they lived, but in that they represent something to us. They're a call on our lives and a lesson for us to internalize. As such, you can't really say "we both believe in Joseph" or "We both believe in Jesus, but for us he's only a prophet". That's just labels. We believe in a certain Jesus - the Jesus revealed in the Gospels. We believe in the Joseph spoken of in Genesis and the Moses spoken of in the Pentateuch. It isn't just any old story containing a character named "Jesus". Our Jesus is a specific Jesus who does specific things, namely die on the cross and understand himself as the Son of God, Emmanuel ("God with us"). For Muslims Jesus denies his own divinity (a foresight polemic against Christians? cute), and does not die on the cross. The fact that our character and the Muslim character are both called "Jesus" does not mean that we believe in the same character. Religious characters are basically characters of events, and our Jesus and their Jesus do different things within our respective stories - they aren't the same person, names notwithstanding.

2. The same is true of the other prophets. Plus, they don't include our Prophets as such. Mostly they refer to the PAtriarchs as "prophets" - Joseph, Abraham, Isaac, etc. For Christians these are Patriarchs. A prophet is something like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, or Amos (all lacking from the Quran). A Prophet is a function, one which Abraham didn't really fulfill; neither did Joseph.


Blogger Blogchik said...

I've used a similar line of argument to describe why the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are not really the same. They share the name "God" but they do not behave the same way. I like the way you've put this: it's got more specificity than I was using.

11:22 AM  

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