The news media in New Zealand are developing a fascination for Islam. Most don’t know much about the religion of Islam, apart from what they have seen on television. In the past, they have only seen Islamic terrorists bombing crowds and Islamic State soldiers beheading people. So the response of the Moslems to the Mosque shooting in Christchurch has surprised people who knew very little about the religion. Most don’t want to sign up to a religion, but they have become curious about what is going on.
One reason for the confusion is that there are different streams to Islam, just as there are different streams in Christianity. Humans love factions. The historic split between Sunni and Shia streams is, like the Catholic-Protestant distinction in Christianity, very important to the people involved, but from the outside looks fairly trivial.
More importantly, there are large numbers of Moslems around the world whose faith is fairly nominal, just like the large numbers of nominal Christians, who take the name of Jesus, but not much more. They call themselves Moslem because their parents and grandparents were Moslem, but their religion has very little effect on their day-to-day lives, apart from a few cultural practices.
All of the world, more radical groups of Moslems want to take their religion more seriously. These are a bit like the Pentecostal movements, who see themselves as challenging their wider religion to become more serious in their faith.
A few really hard-core groups have focused on the violent parts of the Koran and made Islam violent. They have taken up weapons to fight for the advance of Islam. Al Qaeda and Islamic State are the two most prominent of these groups in recent years. These are the groups who have had the most attention on the television, so they are not representative of most Moslems, just as the IRA was not representative of most Catholics in Ireland.
The more cultural form of Islam has two things about that make it appealing for some people.
Cultural Islam is an easy religion because its rules are simple, and relatively easy to follow. There are five pillars: things that a good Moslem should do.
- Profession of Faith (shahada) – declaring with conviction that “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”. This really only has to be done once, but most will recite the words more frequently.
- Prayer (salat) – pray facing Mecca five times a day: at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and after dark.
- Alms (zakat) – giving generously to the poor.
- Fasting (sawm) – fasting during the daylight hours of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
- Pilgrimage (hajj) – every Muslim whose health and finances permit it should make at least one visit to the holy city of Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia.
The hardest of these is the daily prayers. The rest only have to be done if and when circumstances.
These five pillars contrast with Judaism which has 613 commandments that adherents must obey. And of course, Christianity has thousands of rules that must be obeyed by people who have mistakenly turned their faith into a system of rules. So if you have chosen to live by religious rules, as many people have (I have not), Islam is a good option, because its rules are less demanding than any other religion.
Islam is an extremely fatalistic religion. Moslems submit to the will of Allah and just accept whatever happens as his will. This makes them very stoic and strong when they go through evil events, because they believe it is god’s will, and they just resign to it.
In contrast, most Christians see life as a spiritual battle between good and evil, so life is a challenge to understand what God is doing and be part of it, and to see what the spiritual powers of evil are doing and stand against them in faith. If we make the wrong choice, then we can be harmed by the enemy. So troubles often come from him, rather than God. This makes life challenge.
Christians who have blind faith that God is in control of everything and just accept it as God’s will are behaving more like Moslems. Fatalism more common amongst Christians than it should, given our world view.
I presume that it was the fatalistic stoicism of the victims and their relatives that appealed to the news media after the Mosque attacks in Christchurch. They saw these terrible events as God’s will, so they just had too submitted to him and kept going. Their god is not always rational, so what happens does not always make sense, but just accept it anyway.
The problem with this fatalistic stoicism is that it makes people passive. This is an enormous obstacle to economic and social development, because people just accept what happens, and don’t try to change their situation, because that would be fighting against Allah.
When Christians are encountering Islam, they should understand which type of Islam they are dealing with.
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