Islam for Catholics 101


[music playing] [Melinda Brown Donovan]
Good evening and welcome. My name is Melinda
Brown Donovan, and I serve the School
of Theology and Ministry as associate director
for Continuing Education. It’s great to see so many
of you here this evening. In July 2013, just a few
months after he was elected, Pope Francis wrote
a message to Muslims throughout the world
marking the end of Ramadan. In it he wrote, and I
quote, “That especially between Christians
and Muslims, we are called to respect the
religion of the other: its teachings, its
symbols, its values.” And he continued,
“I reiterate my hope that all Christians
and Muslims may be true promoters of mutual
respect and friendship, in particular,
through education.” End quote. It is in this spirit of
promoting mutual respect and friendship
through education, that we gather here this evening
for the presentation “Islam for Catholics 101”
by Natana DeLong-Bas. Here to introduce
our speaker is dean of the School of
Theology and Ministry and professor of Church
history, Father Mark Massa, S.J. [Dean Mark Massa]
Thank you, Melinda. [applause] Thank you for coming. As I spoke to some of you
as you were coming in, I’m going to rewrite the
Irving Berlin song to read, “I’m dreaming of
a white Easter.” So we’ll see [inaudible]. [laughter] We’re delighted to have our
speaker with us tonight. Natana DeLong-Bas
holds a Master of Arts in Arab Studies and
a Ph.D. in History from Georgetown
University, a sister Jesuit institution to the south. She has taught here at
Boston College since 2004, and she now serves as a
visiting assistant professor in the Department of Theology. And she also serves on our
interdisciplinary program entitled Islamic
Civilizations and Societies. Natana’s scholarship is
valued at a number of places and at very high levels. She is an ongoing
consultant to the media, to the U.S. and various
international governments, as well as to the
United Nations. She has worked as a consultant
for the Rand Corporation. And she serves on the academic
council for the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim
Christian Understanding at Georgetown. She was also on the board of
directors for the American Council for the Study
of Islamic Societies, as well as on the advisory
board for the Journal of Islam and the Contemporary
World at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic
Studies in Saudi Arabia. She is a peer reviewer for the
Qatar National Research Fund. Natana has written many
articles, as well as three books. In addition, she
is editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia
of Islam and Women, a two-volume work,
published in 2013. I am honored and delighted,
and please join me in welcoming our speaker for
tonight, Natana DeLong-Bas. [Dr. Natana Delong-Bas]
Thank you very much, Dean Massa and Melinda, for
your very kind introductions. And many thanks to all of
you for braving the cold this evening and coming out on
yet another evening when snow might have kept us at home. What I’d like to do
tonight is to provide you with some very broad overviews
of the Islamic tradition and what Muslims believe. Hopefully, we’ll
shatter some stereotypes that might have been caused
by something called the media. [laughter] And hopefully
you’ll leave here with a deeper understanding of
what it is that Muslims believe and why their faith
tradition is so dear to them. I thought we might begin
with a little bit of math. Just to make the point
that Muslims and Christians combined, as of 2012,
we’re about 54.7% of the global population. Today it’s closer to 61%
of the total population, and I would suggest that that
means that the well-being and future of the
world really do depend on the ability of
Muslims and Christians to find ways of working together
to address global concerns and challenges. Often times we hear Muslims
say, in the news, “Well, you know, Islam is a
religion of peace.” And then we hear other
people say, “Well, no, Islam is really a religion of war.” And so when Muslims
express that they feel that Islam is
a religion of peace, they’re trying to
tell you something about the Arabic language. Not to get into too
many linguistics here, but Arabic words are formed
on the basis of three root letters. And you’ll note up
here, in the bold print, that the words for Islam– the religion,
meaning submission– a Muslim –who would be a
person who adheres to the faith of Islam– and the word for peace,
Salaam, all share those same three root
letters of S, L, M. And so what Muslims
are trying to convey, is that submission
to God is intended to lead to relationships of
peace between God and oneself, between God and other people,
and ultimately, hopefully, with the whole world. So this idea of
submission is supposed to guide your
relationships with others. Muslims believe
that a book called the Quran is the final,
perfect, and complete revelation that God gave to one individual,
the prophet Muhammad, directly over a period of 22 years,
in the Arabic language. May interest you to know
that the purpose of the Quran was actually to confirm and
reaffirm prior revelations. And the Quran often talks
about the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels as
genuine revelations that were received from
God and given to humanity. The concern was
that there seemed to have been perhaps some
errors and omissions or perhaps misinterpretations that
were introduced over time, and this is why God revealed
the Quran to sort of correct those problems once and for all. Muslims often say that
the Quran is inherently pluralist, meaning that it
recognizes more than one faith tradition as being
true, because there are verses that talk
specifically about Jews, Christians, and Sabians, as
people who will go to paradise in the afterlife
if they live out the teachings of
their faith tradition. So it’s not a call for them
all to convert to Islam, but to be faithful to
the faith traditions that they do adhere to. It also talks about how God
could have made everybody exactly the same, but
that God likes diversity and that God created
diversity with a purpose. And the purpose was so
that different tribes and nations and groups of people
could come to know one another. In other words,
human beings were created with the intent
of living in community and building relationships
with each other, rather than maintaining
separateness. When Muhammad received
the revelation, it was spoken to him
through the Angel Gabriel. And yes, this is
the same Gabriel who appears in the New Testament
to make the announcement to the Virgin Mary of the
pending conception and birth of Jesus. Muhammad said, sometimes
it was very easy for him to hear what
the angel was saying, and sometimes he had to
listen really, really hard because there would be
other noises, like bells were clanging, in the
background, and he really had to work hard to listen to
what was being revealed to him. Muslims believe that
the Quran is literally the word of God
spoken to Muhammad. And that is part
of the reason why there has been some reluctance
among Muslims to subject the Quran to the kind of
historical and literary criticism that oftentimes occurs
with respect to the Bible. Anybody here read the
Bible in its entirety? I’m Lutheran, so that’s
just part of what we have to do growing up. I was very shocked to learn
from a Muslim friend of mine, early on, that the
coming of Muhammad was actually foretold
in the Bible. I said, “Really? Because I don’t remember
reading that part. Could you tell me where it was?” So no, no, it’s in the
Gospel, the Gospel of John. It’s Chapter 16,
verses 5 through 13, if you’re interested. And this takes place on the
night of Jesus’s betrayal, just shortly before his arrest. He speaks to his
disciples and he says, “Now I am going to him who sent
me, yet none of you asks me, ‘where are you going?’ But because I have
said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth. It is for your good
that I’m going away. Unless I go away, the
Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send
him to you and when he comes he will convict
the world of guilt in regard to sin and
righteousness and judgment. In regard to sin, because
men do not believe in me. In regard to
righteousness, because I’m going to the Father, where
you can see me no longer. And in regard to judgment,
because the prince of this world now
stands condemned. I have much more to say to you,
more than you can now bear. But when he, the
Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you
into all truth. He will not speak on his own, he
will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you
what is yet to come.” Christians understand that to be
a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. But Muslims, when they
hear that passage, think about how the Quran was
spoken to prophet Muhammad, and that he spoke
only what he heard. He was known as a counselor
during his own lifetime. And he was someone whose
message very clearly focused on warning of the
judgment that was to come and condemnation of
the ills of this world, not simply in terms of
worshipping false idols, but also in terms of the
widespread social injustice that existed at his time. Like Christians,
Muslims historically have debated what
the best method of interpreting the Quran is. And there seems
to be a tendency, when we interpret
our own Scripture, that we do this in
a polysemic way, that we recognize
that there may be multiple meanings
to any text, there are different ways in
which you can read it. But when we read somebody
else’s revelation, oftentimes we tend to
read it very literally and assume that what it says,
literally, is what it means. And that can lead to,
sometimes, some unfortunate interpretations. And so I do want to
assure you that there are many Muslim
scholars who engage in polysemic
interpretations of the text. It’s not always
literally, but they look to see how a particular
theme might fit with respect to the entire Quran. They will look to see how
particular terms are used throughout the entire
text, so that you’re not allowing one verse
alone to offer you the final word on what
the text actually says. There is attention to
looking at themes– which themes are
the most important, which ones are talked
about the most, and what might that
indicate to us– as to what we should
think about it. One thing that Muslims
take very seriously is the memorization and
recitation of the Quran. And they always do this
in Arabic, regardless of whether or not they
speak the language. That is done out of
respect for the Arabic text as God’s literal, revealed
word to human beings. If you’ve ever studied
a foreign language, you know sometimes it’s hard to
fully translate certain words. They may have multiple meanings
in the original language that you can’t quite
capture in English. And so there is this desire to
preserve the Arabic language of the text. Memorization and recitation are
not just individual endeavors, but there are competitions held
at local, national, and even international levels
for recitation. In Indonesia they’re
very popular. Indonesia, by the way, has
the largest Muslim population in the world. They don’t all live
in the Middle East. There are more
Muslims in Indonesia than there are in the
entire Middle East combined. Indonesia’s practice
of Quran recitation– these events are so
popular, that they hold them in football stadiums. And they pack the stadiums,
people will pack the streets with parades to
celebrate recitation, and both men and
women participate in these competitions. So some of the most famous
Quran reciters in the world are in fact women. Hajjah Maria Ulfah,
from Indonesia, is considered one of
the top 10 in the world. Who is prophet Muhammad? Before anybody
worries that anybody’s going to be offended by
the picture that’s there, this is from a
Persian miniature. And this is one of the ways
in which the prophet has been depicted in
artwork, historically. You’ll notice that
his face is not shown. He’s shown wearing a veil
so that we don’t have to worry about anybody
potentially worshipping Muhammad rather than God. Muslims will always tell you
that Muhammad was strictly a human being. He was not a divine figure. Nevertheless, they
believe that he is the most perfect human
being who has ever lived, because he best represents
what it means to live out the teachings of the Quran. As one of my Muslim
friends has said, Muslim reference is to Muhammad,
Muslim reverence is to God. Muslims spend a lot of time
studying the prophet’s example called the sunna, which
are recorded in literature called the hadith. And these are records of sayings
and doings of the prophet. Sometimes, you only
have one hadith that will talk about in
issue, but oftentimes, you’ll have hundreds, if not thousands,
about the same incident. And the reason for that
is that Muhammad didn’t spend a lot of time by himself. He always had an entourage
of people with him. He had friends and
companions, kind of like Jesus and his disciples,
who would follow him around. You get all of those
different people who are present to hear
him speak or respond to a particular issue. Everybody has their own
version of the story. Oftentimes, those versions
may vary in the details, because each one of us when
we hear something may have different interests or different
things that jump out at us or grab our attention in
a way that they don’t. Some of us are focused
on the words, some of us might be focused on
who else was present, whether the prophet was
speaking to an individual, whether this was something
that was supposed to be a broader matter. And so my point is that having
a multiplicity of records does not necessarily
indicate falsehood per se, but rather that you had
many people in the audience and everybody is
remembering according to their own experiences. Muhammad is believed to be
the last in a very long line of prophets and messengers
that began with Adam and continued up through
Jesus and John the Baptist. If you’re wondering what the
difference between a prophet and a messenger is– prophets were generally
not very popular people. Prophets were given
a message from God, but oftentimes, people
did not respond very positively to those messages. They chased them out of
town or throw rocks at them or what have you. Only messengers were guaranteed
the success of that message. And there have only
been five messengers according to Islamic teachings. First one was Noah. In Christianity,
Noah isn’t a prophet because he never
really says anything, he just does whatever
God tells him. But he does speak in the Quran. The other four are Abraham,
Moses, Jesus, and, of course, Muhammad himself. Some of the other
prophets who are shared in common between
the Bible and the Quran include Aaron, Adam, David,
Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Job, John the Baptist, Jonah,
Joseph, Lot, and Solomon. So many characters
from the Old Testament and a few from
the New Testament. Muhammad was born in the year
570, according to tradition, and he lived until the year 632. He only began receiving
prophecies in the year 610, when he was 40 years old. Now, we know in
American culture that forty’s a bad number, right? We don’t want to turn 40. Some of us turned
40 a long time ago. Forty’s not something we
really look forward to. So I’d like to share with you,
that in the Islamic tradition, 40 is the number of perfection. It is the age when
you receive wisdom, so 40 is something
to look forward to. And so there’s a
symbolic importance to his having received that
message at the age of 40. During the early
years of his ministry, Muhammad was in a
city called Mecca. There are some
scholars who have noted that the more universal message
was revealed during that time. There’s a lot of talk about
the coming day of judgment. The idea of there
being an afterlife. The idea that the actions that
you undertake in this lifetime matter in a very eternal way. It’s also very interesting
that during that time period, violence was
absolutely forbidden to the Muslim community, even
in cases of self-defense. And that was an
important prohibition because this early
Muslim community was under physical
attack very frequently, including the prophet himself. Sometimes, it was
the lady next door who liked to come and throw
rotten tomatoes at him on a daily basis. There was another not
terribly nice neighbor, who would come and dump garbage
over his head on a daily basis. There were some early Muslims
who were persecuted, and even killed, because of this
new faith tradition. So the idea that for these
first 12 years of his ministry, violence was forbidden and
nonviolence was the norm. People were encouraged to engage
in conversation and dialogue, is a very important
part of the tradition that needs to be
recaptured today when it seems like
Muslims are always associated with
violence, terrorism, and extremism on the TV set. In the year 622,
Muhammad was invited to come to another
town called Medina. And he was invited
there because this town had been caught up in tribal
warfare of the worst variety. This was a culture
in which a harm that was caused to one tribe had to
be avenged by the tribe that had experienced the harm. And so you had these cycles
of violence and retribution that would begin, and
more and more people would become involved. And by that point,
Medina was in a situation where the tribal
warfare was so bad, nobody knew how to stop it. But they had heard about
this guy, Muhammad, in Mecca, and his abilities
as an arbitrator– that he was somebody
who could find solutions that would help to stop the
killing and stop the warfare. And so he was invited to
Medina to come and arbitrate this situation and ultimately,
to take over as head of state. And so it’s during these last
10 years of his ministry, that his job
description changed. He wasn’t just a
prophet anymore, but now he had taken on some of
the roles of a head of state. That meant that he had
to issue legal rulings. That meant that he was
responsible for the security of all of the people
who lived in Medina. And it was during
this time period that God permitted
the Muslim community to engage in the
use of violence, but only for the
purposes of self-defense. The Quran is very clear
that violence is never to be used offensively. It can only be used
when the community is under attack or under the
threat of imminent attack. It’s also very important to
note that during this time, not everybody who
lived in Medina decided to convert to Islam. The pagan tribes
remained pagan; there were certain Jewish
tribes that lived there who remained Jewish, but
what they did was they all signed a pact together. And this was a
security agreement, that if any one of those tribes
was attacked by the outside, everybody who had
signed onto that pact agreed to act in defense
of that community. Muslims refer to this
as the Pact of Medina, or the Constitution of
Medina, and will often say that this is
really the world’s first written constitution. So it’s a point of
pride for many of them. Some of the controversies we
hear, with respect to Muhammad, have to do with his
use of violence. Yes, he was a military leader. Yes, he did fight in battles. As I said, part of that
was because of his position as a head of state. Once an alliance had been,
a treaty relationship had been established with
the tribes in Mecca that had been persecuting
the early Muslims, though he was willing to
engage in a treaty relationship with them and lay down arms. So the purpose of his fighting
was not to annihilate the enemy and wipe him off the
face of the earth, but rather to bring
the enemy to a point where they could start
to negotiate what kind of relationship
they could have so that peaceful relations and
certainly commercial relations could be restored. Second point, with
respect to Muhammad, is that most of the time
we think about Muslims, we probably think
about the Middle East. And we think about
some governments that maybe aren’t the nicest,
authoritarian dictatorships, might come to mind. And so it’s very
interesting that the prophet himself was known for ruling
through shura, or consultation, and working to achieve
ijma, or consensus. He didn’t just issue
decisions on his own. This entourage of people he
was always surrounded by– he was always looking for
advice from his friends. He took a lot of
advice from his wives. Sometimes it was
very good advice and sometimes perhaps the
advice wasn’t as good. But he was somebody who
really talked to people and listened to different
ideas, and believed in the importance of
building a sense of consensus within the community. And so some Muslims
would say that’s evidence of early democracy. Others, who are of the
more extremist variety, might argue that
he, at some level, gave up part of his authority. But Muhammad always said he did
not always speak as a prophet. There were times when he
simply spoke as a human being. So he tried to be
clear about when he was receiving a
revelation versus when he was offering his own opinion. And his companions
learned to ask him, “Are you speaking as
a prophet or are you speaking as a person? If you’re speaking as a person,
I think I have a better idea. Why don’t we try
something else?” And he was willing to listen
to that kind of advice. One final point that often comes
up as a criticism of Muhammad is that he had
multiple wives, and was clearly a sensual person. And that’s often
placed in contrast to Jesus who did not marry,
did not have children, and was understood to
be of a higher calling. Muslims point to Muhammad’s
role as a family man, somebody who was married
and had children, as one of the things
that helps to make him very relatable to them. That he was somebody
who experienced the joys and the challenges
of marriage and children– I have two teenagers. They can be very
challenging at times. And so he understood this
at a very practical level. One thing that’s
often not mentioned is that his first
wife, Khadijah– he was married only to
her during her lifetime. And he only began to marry
other women after she died. The first wife he
married after her death, he married because
the community had decided that he needed a new
wife to keep house for him and to keep him company so
that he wouldn’t get lonely. He only had one wife, Aisha,
whom he married as a virgin. The other wives were
either widows or divorcees. And many of those
marriages were undertaken to engage in alliances,
tribal relationships, to build stronger
relationships with tribes. If you need a parallel, think
about European monarchies of the past where you’d have
the French monarch marrying the Austro-Hungarian princess
or that sort of thing. So Muslims explain
it as building political relationships. And his wives were really
kind of a mixed bag. Sometimes, they got along
well and sometimes, they bickered a lot with each other
about who was the favorite and who got to spend
more time with him. And at one point he got so
fed up with all of them, that he told them, everybody was
going to take a 30-day break, and they needed to
make up their minds. Either they could
stay married or they could choose to get
divorced, but the bickering within the household
needed to stop. We hear a lot in the news
about Sunnis and Shiis and occasionally, about Sufis. I’ll give you a very
broad definition of what the differences are. Muhammad was a human being. Human beings die. And when he died, that
left the community in a real quandary:
who was going to lead the community after
his death and in what capacity? He was supposed to be
the last of the prophets. And so the majority,
the Sunnis, decided that the appropriate
model would be to choose a successor called a caliphate. And this person’s job was to
serve as a political leader. This person was not necessarily
a hereditary descendant of Muhammad– one of them
was, the fourth caliph, but the first three were not. The job of the caliph was to
serve as this political leader. He was expected to
continue to engage in consultation
with the community and to lead the
community forward. Sunnis refer to the
first four caliphs as the Rightly Guided Caliphs. These were people who had been
Muhammad’s close companions, and therefore it was felt
that they were the people who could best answer WWMD,
What would Muhammad do?, because they knew him and
they had spent time with him. So they had a certain level
of knowledge and interaction with him that was unique
to that time period. After that last caliph,
unfortunately, you moved to a different
generation that heard other people’s
memories but didn’t have those memories personally. And I should mention
that being a caliph was kind of a dangerous
job because three of them got assassinated. So there were
issues and concerns about the appropriate
leadership in the aftermath. Shiis, on the other hand– and they constitute
the minority– sorry, this map is
a little bit fuzzy, but I wanted to give
you an idea of what the percentages of Sunnis
and Shiis look like. Shiis believe that
the appropriate leader for the community had to be a
male descendant of the prophet. And the reason for
that was belief that Muhammad passed on
special knowledge and ability for interpreting the Quran
to his male descendants. It got a little cagey
in the early days, because Muhammad did not have
any sons who survived infancy. He had a couple
who died as babies. And so the imamate passed to
his cousin, his male cousin, who was his closest male
relative who also happened to be his son-in-law
because he was married to his daughter, Fatima. Happily, they had two
sons, Hasan and Husayn. And so you had direct male
descendants after that point. May sound odd to us to
think about first cousin marriage, that does remain
the norm in some places in the Middle East, and the Gulf
countries in particular, which are also working to
address the reality that they also have
the highest level of genetic disorders in the
world because of that marriage pattern. Shiis ran into a bit of
a problem with the imams because the branches
divided depending on how many they recognized. Some recognized five,
some recognized seven, some recognized 12. Regardless of the
number, at some point there was no longer
an imam on Earth. The Twelvers are
the largest group. They believe that the twelfth
imam did not die, but went into this sort of
mystical occultation and that he will come
back at the end of time to defeat the antichrist, the
dajjal, it’s called in Arabic, and to co-rule with, guess who? Jesus, for 1,000 years
of peace and justice. And so Shiis
historically, have tended to be politically,
rather fatalistic, waiting for this
return of the imam as the moment when they
might finally expect some kind of social justice. That changed in the
1970s in Lebanon with Imam Musa al-Sadr,
who encouraged them to take a more activist approach. So just as oftentimes as
we have in Christianity folks who seem to believe that
God is not going to send Jesus back for the second
time unless we hurry up and do something to create the
conditions to make that happen, there are some Muslims
who also believe that they have some
kind of responsibility to create certain
conditions that would make it possible for God
to take that kind of action. Sufis, very briefly, represent
the mystical tradition in Islam. So these tend to
be people who are more focused on spirituality,
generally speaking, than they are on
doctrine, per se. They have been responsible for
much of the creative production in Islam because one uses
creative and artistic methods to try to connect
spiritually with the divine. So the use of music,
dance, poetry, chanting of particular prayers
or phrases, the idea is to open this connection
with the divine. Not just for yourself,
but also then so that you can pass this
along to other human beings, to kind of be this connection
between heaven and Earth. I often hear in the news, that
there are two kinds of Muslims: there are the bad
Muslims we don’t like, and those are the terrorist,
jihadi, Wahhabi, Salafi, nasty, ISIS type people that
nobody likes because they’re very politicized and have
very rigid understanding of doctrine. And then we have the Sufis on
the other hand, who are always portrayed as being
tolerant and peaceful and loving and
compassionate and wonderful. And I simply have to
shatter that stereotype by telling you that that’s
not always been the case. If you look at the 19th
century anti-colonial movements throughout North Africa
and Southeast Asia, they were largely led by
leaders of Sufi orders because they had the
popular connections, they had the network
of lodges to go to, and they were financially
independent from the state. So they had resources that
were available to them that allowed them to
very effectively fight against colonial regimes. Probably the most famous
case being in Algeria. It took the French
32 very bloody years to conquer Algeria because
of Emir Abdelkader. If you ever read through some
of the diplomatic cables, Wikileaks from the
19th century, you will find these
examples of frustration with these Sufi leaders. So they’re not always
peaceful, happy, loving folks. We have to be very careful about
these binary presentations. So what is it that
Muslims all believe in? Muslims have these things called
the Five Pillars and all five of these pillars, the
point that unites them, is that they are very
community focused. Pillar number one is the
shahadah, or the declaration that there is no
god, but the one God. And that’s followed
by a statement that Muhammad is
God’s messenger. So this is recognition of
the Quran as God’s revelation to the prophet. It’s a statement of
absolute monotheism and a statement of
belief in revelation. When you proclaim
the shahada, this marks your entry into membership
in the Muslim community. So if you need a
Christian parallel, that would be baptism, when you
become a member of the Church. You are supposed to
make your shahadah in front of two
witnesses because this is a public statement, a
public act, that you are joining into this community. And if you’re worried
that you may not be able to find two
Muslims near you, you can go to IslamicCity.com
which will set you up with a teleconference with
two Muslims in some other city so that you can
proclaim your shahadah. And they have a little runner on
the left side of the page that indicates brother or
sister so and so proclaim the shahadah at such and such
a time on such and such a day, so that you can statistically
keep track of this. Second pillar, or the
five daily prayers. The music you heard
at the beginning was actually the
Sunni call to prayer. If you ever visit the Muslim
world, five times a day you will hear that call
coming from the minarets. And the idea is that
it’s an invitation. It’s not supposed to be
something you force people to, but it’s an invitation. Something that calls to you. Sometimes, we hear, “Oh
my goodness, you know, they have to pray
five times a day. That seems so burdensome. That’s a lot of praying.” Well, life is all supposed
to be prayer at some level. But what’s the deeper purpose
behind five daily prayers? You pray first thing in the
morning, noon, mid-afternoon, at sunset, and in the evening. All throughout the day,
you are remembering God. This is about keeping God
as a very active presence in your life. And it’s not intended
to be a burden. Prophet Muhammad said
that “Islam was not sent to be a burden
to people,” so there are exceptions to the rule. If you happen to
be away on travel, for example, you’re allowed
to collapse the prayer times into three times of the day. You still want to say
your five prayers, but you do it in
three time slots. Shiis tend to do that
on a regular basis to kind of distinguish
themselves. What happens if you happen
to be in outer space? This is a picture of Prince
Sultan bin al Salman. He’s the son of the new
King of Saudi Arabia. He was the first
Muslim and first Arab to go to outer space. He flew with the
Challenger in 1985. He was a payload specialist. And I had the opportunity
to interview him about that experience, and
well, how did you do it? How do you pray in zero gravity? How do you know what
direction to turn? And you’re supposed
to pray facing Mecca. What time frame do
you use because you’re orbiting the Earth? He said, well, he had to talk to
some of the religious scholars about these things. And it was determined that
because he had taken off from Cape Canaveral,
that he would follow whatever the timing
was in Cape Canaveral. He said when it came to
finding the direction of Mecca, he ended up having to
look out the window to see where it was on the
Earth from where he was. But he said the hardest
part was the prostration, because as you can see
from the positions there, Muslim prayer is actually,
physically, very involved. Try prostrating in zero gravity. They had to build special
shoes for him that were attached to
the floor and then have two of his fellow
astronauts hold him one by each arm to help
him be able to get down to where he needed
to be able to perform the prostrations correctly. And then I also
asked him about– I had heard– it said
that he had recited the entire Quran in
space because that was reported in all of
the Saudi press and all. And at that point he got
this rather pained expression on his face. He said, “Yes, well, I was
there for a scientific mission, you understand. My religion is my own
personal business, but the reason why
everybody heard about this is because my mother kept
calling mission control to ask them to remind me
to say my prayers, because she wanted to be
sure I got home safely.” So now you’ll
remember the prince. If you have difficulty
figuring out what time the prayers
are supposed to be or what direction Mecca
is, this is actually an app that you can get for
your iPhone or what have you. It’s called Pocket Salat. And you can just
carry it with you. The idea is you’re supposed to
have a clean space, typically on a carpet. And if you’re worried– if you don’t have an
iPhone, the Japanese have made a prayer
carpet that has a compass that always
points to Mecca, that’s in the front of the carpet. So there are ways of making
prayer easier for people. One point I should make with
respect to prayer though, is if you look at the third
position of prostration, it really reflects
what Islam talks about. This idea of submission. Being face down, with the
back of your neck exposed, is the most vulnerable position
that a human being can take. It’s the one place
you never want anybody to hit you because you
can sever your spine. And that’s a reflection
of a very old tradition of prostrating
before the emperor. If you went before the emperor
or the king to make a request, you did so in a
position of prostration. And if you were fortunate enough
to have your request answered, the king or emperor
would lift his face and you would be
asked to stand up. If you were in a lot of
trouble and they just wanted to get rid
of you, you already set up to lose your head. Christians refer back to
this practice as well. If you’ve ever heard the
Old Testament benediction about “The Lord bless
you and keep you, the Lord make his
face shine upon you,” that’s lifting his head. “The Lord lift his countenance
upon you and give you peace. May he grant your request.” So a very nice
symbolic connection. Pillar number three is
zakat, or almsgiving. Once every year,
Muslims are expected to give two and a half percent
of their entire wealth– that’s not income after taxes,
Social Security, Medicare, and what have you, this
is two and a half percent of your entire wealth, so
stocks, bonds, bank accounts, car, house, all of
those things together. And it’s to be given
to redistribute to the less fortunate
members of the community. So again, there’s
this community focus on always looking out for
those who are less fortunate. If you’re not sure how to
calculate what your zakat is, there is zakat calculators
available online. You just plug-in all your assets
and they’ll add it up for you. Zakat has proven to be a
real challenge for Muslims in the aftermath of
9/11, because there’s been so much concern about this
money that is being channeled to terrorists. And concern that people
are going to the mosque and paying their zakat
there or paying it to a particular
sheikh or organization and not really knowing exactly
where that money is going. And so there have been
mechanisms put into place to try to make sure
that the money is being used for legitimate purposes. I think most people
understand that, but it does take away a
little bit of the personalized aspect of being able to
decide who you want your money to go to. You may have heard of
the month of Ramadan when Muslims are
supposed to fast. The fast traditionally
begins at the moment when you can distinguish a black
thread from a white thread, and then the fast ends for the
day when the sun goes down. Muslims follow a lunar calendar,
rather than our solar calendar, which means that
the year is shorter. And that means that
the month of Ramadan circulates through
all of the seasons. So this coming summer, Ramadan
will fall in the month of June. The fast of Ramadan– no food, no water,
no smoking, no sex from sunrise until sunset,
is a little bit easier to do when it falls in
December and you live in Boston where it’s not very warm. The days are short in winter. And so being without food and
water may not be as difficult. But just imagine the level of
discipline it takes to engage in that fast if you live in
Baghdad, or Riyadh, or Kabul, and Ramadan is in August, and
the days are very long and very hot, and you cannot
have any food or water. Why would God ask
people to do this? Again, because
there is this sense of focusing on the community. It’s the possibility of
experiencing for yourself what it’s like to be hungry and
thirsty on a daily basis. The difference for
you is, you know it’s going to end in 28 days. There’s a set time limit. But for people who live
without access to food on a regular basis, or
the 40% of the world that lives without regular access to
a clean and safe water supply, that’s not by choice;
that’s by circumstance. And so the idea
behind this fast is that it’s intended to help you
feel more empathy for those who are less fortunate
and hopefully, be motivated to do something
to help change that. And as with prayer, there are
exceptions that can be made. Young children learn
to fast over time. You don’t just get up and
tell your five-year-old they can’t have anything
to eat for 12 hours. They’ll start with a two-hour
fast and grow into it. They usually only start fasting
when they’re around seven years old. People who are
elderly, diabetics who have to maintain
a certain blood sugar level– you don’t want to have
your ups and downs and crash. If you’re pregnant or a nursing
mother, exceptions are made. You have the choice, if it’s a
condition that’s not permanent, you can make up the fast
later, or you can simply feed two hungry
people every day, so that you’re still keeping
with that idea of caring for the less fortunate. Ramadan ends with
the Eid al-Fitr which is one of the
important Muslim holidays. Tends to be a three
day celebration that might be
comparable to Christmas for us, because people visit
each other and exchange gifts. Pillar number five is
the Hajj, this pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims
are expected to make once in a lifetime as long as they
are physically and financially able to do so. Prayer is always made in
the direction of Mecca, so visiting this
location that you’ve been praying toward your
entire lifetime is– it’s a very powerful
experience for Muslims who are able to attend. The Saudis describe
the logistics behind planning for Hajj, as
being comparable to hosting 30 Super Bowls in which
everybody attending is actually playing the game, because you’ve
got two million people who come every year. Everybody does the same set of
rituals over a 10 day period. So it’s being in congregation. It’s probably the largest
religious gathering in the world on an annual basis. You don’t go on Hajj
alone; you always go with a group of people. I’ve included a
couple of pictures here, because the
way you dress is expected to show humility
and equality of all persons before God. Men wear two very simple towels
that are not sewn together. And the idea is that
when you are on Hajj, you’re really practicing
for judgment day. You’re in the presence
of God, and when we’re in the
presence of God, all of the earthly trappings
that we normally have are stripped away from us. Our wealth, our
status, our titles, all of those things–
you’re really stripped down to the bare basics. And God sees you for who you
are and looks within your heart, because that’s really
what matters to God. And so on this
pilgrimage the idea is that everyone is
supposed to be equal. The clothing is
referred to as Ihram, but Ihram is also
a state of mind. You’re not allowed to lose your
temper when you’re on Hajj. If you do, it invalidates
the entire experience. You’re not supposed to engage
in grooming or sexual activity on Hajj either, so that you
can really focus on God. There’s also a celebration at
the end called the Eid al-Adha. And this is the Feast
of the Sacrifice. Most of the Hajj rituals
actually reenact events from the life of Abraham. So you have this
running back and forth between the hills
of Marwah and Safa that are in imitation
of Hagar’s running, looking for water
to give to her son so that he wouldn’t
die in the desert. All five of these pillars
are required of all Muslims, both male and female. There’s this idea that everyone
has the same responsibilities toward God, and everyone will
be held equally accountable, and can expect the
same level of reward. So we got those
five pillars, and we seem to be missing something:
namely that; that’s not one of the five pillars. That’s not something that all
Muslims are required to do. There are some Muslim
scholars, activists, militants, who are trying to
make Jihad some sort of unofficial sixth pillar. But jihad itself does
not mean holy war. It’s really about striving and
struggle and effort and Muslims will talk about this
inner/greater jihad versus the outer/lesser jihad. And the most important jihad
is the one within yourself to live a righteous life,
to be a pious person, to live by the
teachings of the Quran. The outer, or
lesser jihad is one that is only supposed
to be engaged in defense of the Muslim community,
but it doesn’t have to be through
the use of violence. Feeling bad about
something in your heart and being concerned
about social issues is also a method
of engaging jihad. Writing– articles,
op-ed pieces, bringing attention–
writing a blog would be another method
of this outer jihad. Jihad of the tongue, speaking
out, providing education for people about what the faith
tradition actually teaches. And then you have jihad of the
hand, it can be of the sword, but there’s also this
idea that you personally get involved and get your hands
dirty in fixing whatever it is that is wrong with injustice. Perhaps one of the
most important things that certain parties
need to be reminded of with respect to jihad, is
that the whole purpose– if you are fighting this as a
violent, militant activity– is that your goal is
to end the conflict. Your goal is to
end the fighting. It’s not to annihilate the enemy
from the face of the Earth. Your goal is to establish
a treaty relationship. That’s what Prophet
Muhammad did, and that’s really what the
goal is supposed to be. Treaties can be established
for any period of time. Typically, they’re for 10 years. They’re always renewable. Just because 10
years is up, doesn’t mean that it has to be over. It’s still possible to
have a relationship. There are some
Muslims who are really trying to reclaim jihad
and its true meaning from the militants. So they’re engaged in what some
of them call jihad [arabic],, civilian jihad. This is actually
a Twitter campaign with the hashtag
#MyJihad, where people are invited to explain
what they understand their personal striving
or effort to be, and what they’re trying to do to
make the world a better place. So you can see there are
many points of commonality in beliefs between
Muslims and Christians. We all believe in God as
the creator of all life. We all believe in God
as a source of justice, certainly as the
one who is going to judge us on Judgment
Day and hold us accountable and decide where we are
going to spend the afterlife. All of us believe in
the importance of belief in one God. Sometimes it’s hard for
Muslims to understand the concept of the Trinity. And I get into this
debate with them all the time– you people
believe in three gods. You’re polytheists. No, we believe in one
God, in three persons, three capacities,
three functions, but it’s one God,
[arabic],, not [arabic].. And so that can be a
little confusing, at times. Perhaps one of the most
important beliefs that we share has to do with the
creation of the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. Both faith traditions believe
that God created them, placed them in the
garden as caretakers, and that there was an incident
with a serpent who tempted them into doing something
that they should not do. And here’s where the stories
diverge a little bit. In Christian tradition, God
asks Adam what happened. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. God punishes everybody. And there’s this sense of
collective accountability. This Original Sin that is
passed down from one generation to the next, to the next, that
we’re all accountable for. Muslims do not believe in
the doctrine of original sin. Muslims believe in
individual accountability. Adam and Eve were responsible
for their own actions and had to take accountability
for that; and each one of us is responsible for our
own actions and decisions, and we will be held
accountable for those. I will not be held
accountable for the actions of my husband, my grandfather,
great great great aunt Tillie, or whomever. My children are not
responsible for what I do. I’m responsible
for my own actions. In the Quran, both
also immediately accept responsibility for
what they have done. Instead of trying
to pass the buck and blame it on
somebody else, they recognize immediately
that they are at fault, and they ask God
for forgiveness. And God offers that
forgiveness to them. There’s still punishment
and accountability, they get kicked
out of the garden, but God offers them
forgiveness and tells them that he will provide
them with guidance for the rest of their lives. One other interesting point
I would make with respect to Creation. Book of Genesis, in
chapters two and three, talks about the
order of Creation. And we all know that
Adam was made first and then God made some animals
and did some other things. And Eve, God created second. And that has led to certain
theological interpretations of women as lesser, inferior,
subordinate, over time. In the Quran,
first, man and woman are created at the same
time, from a single soul. And one is not created
before the other. And this reality of being
created from a single soul means that they are also– neither one is ever
complete without the other. So if you ever heard people
talk about that beautiful idea of the soul mate– there’s this idea that in
order to be whole again, you need to find that zawj,
that spouse, that completes you. Mary and Jesus are certainly
very present in the Quran. It’s interesting to note that
they are always talked about with reference to each other. Mary is always described
as the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus is always
described as the Son of Mary. So they go together as a pair. The Quran confirms the Virgin
conception and Birth of Jesus. There’s this scene where
Mary has left her family. And she’s taken shelter
out in a far location, and an angel appears to her. And she’s worried about this
angel who looks like a man, and she warns him that
she’s a chaste woman. She’s not interested
in fooling around. He needs to leave her alone. And he tells her that
he’s bringing her a message from God, that she
is going to have a child. And her response is very
similar to that in the Bible. “Really? How’s this going to happen? Because I’ve never known a man.” “Don’t worry; with God,
everything is easy.” God simply says,
“Be,” and it is. It’s the same way that the
God of the Old Testament creates in the first chapter
of the Book of Genesis. The terminology that is
used to describe Jesus is also reminiscent
of biblical language. Jesus is referred to as a Word
from God and a Spirit from God. And those phrases are only used
in the Quran to describe Jesus. It’s reminiscent of the language
opening the Gospel of John. In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. So we have this Word
from God and Spirit of God confirming that this
Jesus has a very special status and no earthly father. And the Quranic
telling of the story, which we’ll take from
chapter 19 of the Quran– Mary is actually the only woman
who is named in the Quran. We have more information about
the Virgin Mary in the Quran than we do in the
entire New Testament. Some of this information
comes from books that didn’t make it into the
canonical Bible, specifically the Gospel of Mary, which
is used by Coptic Christians until today. So we have, in Chapter
19, this description of– Mary has accepted
receiving Jesus into her, and comes to the
moment of childbirth, which is an extremely vulnerable
moment and an extremely painful moment. And we see this depiction of
her, standing here, holding onto the trunk of a
palm tree, crying out, “I put to God that I had
not experienced this.” She’s alone. She’s having this baby. It’s very painful and God
responds to her, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. Look, shake the tree, there are
ripe dates there, provide you with food. Look there’s a stream here
to provide you with water.” The only thing that God
asked of her that day was that she simply
not speak to anyone. And so she has her baby, is
cared for in this very tender relationship with God,
and once the baby is born, then she goes back
to her family. Family, not surprisingly,
is not very happy. Where’d this baby come from? What have you been doing? Mary, daughter of Aaron, your
father was not an evil man. Your mother was not unchaste. What has happened here? So she’s not allowed to
talk to anybody that day. So who speaks up to defend her? The Infant Jesus. One of his miracles in the
Quran, is to speak as an infant and he speaks up to
defend his mother, to defend a woman who has been
falsely accused of unchastity. What do Muslims
believe about Jesus? They believe that Jesus
was a Word from God and a Spirit from God,
but not the Son of God. This is probably one of
the biggest differences between Islam and Christianity. For Muslims, the
understanding of God is that God is completely
separate from human beings. And so the idea of God having
a son, which always seems to be interpreted literally,
that’s not something that God would do, because
God is not human like us. Muslims also do not believe
in the Crucifixion, death, and Resurrection of
Jesus, which was certainly pivotal to Christianity. And the reason for
that, goes back to that discussion of
individual accountability. If we are not collectively
responsible for the sins of other people,
then it would not be possible for one
individual to engage in one all atoning sacrifice
to save all of humanity. Each one of us ends
up being responsible for our own actions. Islamic tradition
teaches that when God goes to judge
you in the afterlife, your good deeds will be
weighed against your bad deeds. If your good deeds are
heavier, you’ll go to Paradise. If your bad deeds are heavier,
then it’s unfortunate for you, you will end up in Hell. So what exactly do they do with
the whole Crucifixion, death, Resurrection thing,
with respect to Jesus? The exegetes, those who
interpret Scripture, have two different
interpretations of one verse. This verse says that
God raised Jesus up. Some understand that to be a
reference to the Ascension. That God literally raised
Jesus up into heaven, so that he did not die. Others said, well,
this raising up is really more symbolic,
more metaphorical. Crucifixion was a
horrible way to die. It was a painful and
humiliating way to die. And it would be
unthinkable for God to allow one of his
precious messengers to die in such a gruesome,
unacceptable way. And so the idea of
God raising him up would be raising him
above that kind of death. And so the explanation
is typically that it wasn’t Jesus who died. It was somebody else
who looked like him. But that Jesus, himself,
was not crucified. Where might this
leave us with respect to interfaith dialogue
and relations? Because I realize I’m
running out of time. I have so much to say, and
never enough time to say it all. I think that one of the things
Muslims and Christians really need to think
seriously about, is what kind of dialogue
or relationship are we looking for? Are we looking for one in
which we can cooperate? Or are we looking for one in
which we simply argue about whose religion is better
than whose, and the kinds of conflict that that can lead to. I’d like to suggest that
there are two major avenues that dialogue is taking today. One of them is what I would
call a dialogue of information and perspectives. Certainly, with
respect to Islam, there is a lot of misinformation
out there in the media. I was shocked on one of my
first trips to Saudi Arabia to discover that there’s just
as much misinformation out there about Christianity. One of my first meetings with
three very, very conservative religious scholars– I was fully veiled, my
husband was with me. So I’d done everything
protocol-wise that I was supposed
to do, but they were sitting back against the
wall, in absolute terrors. What have I done or
what am I not doing that I need to do to
help these folks relax? And they said, “Well,
it’s just we’ve never met a cannibal before.” I said, “Excuse me? Did I use the wrong word?” I thought I said Christian. “No, no, no. We understand, but
don’t you people eat your God every Sunday?” Well, OK, we don’t really quite
think of it in those terms, but there was a real
fear factor for them, that I just had never thought
about it that way before. So hearing these
differences of perspectives and making sure that
there’s accurate information and understandings
out there can be helpful. Dialogue can also help us to
avoid the kind of reductionism into 30-second sound bites
that the media likes. And it’s one thing
to read a book or hear somebody on TV talking
about a faith tradition. It’s entirely different when
you have the opportunity to meet a person yourself,
and hear them talk directly about their own
experiences of the divine and what their faith
tradition means to them. And so I’m very proud
that Boston College is part of this kind of dialogue. Many thanks to the chair
of our Theology Department, Catherine Cornille,
for working very hard to ensure that this
kind of dialogue continues. Now, we have the School
of Theology and Ministry also working,
hopefully, to help us with this kind of information. Some people feel that
dialogue in and of itself doesn’t go quite far enough. They would like for dialogue
to have a more practical focus. It’s nice for us to get
together and talk about doctrine and talk about what
we believe, but what are we going to do with it? And so this kind of dialogue
is really much more directed toward, how do we engage
together in dealing with social injustice? In dealing with
community level issues? How do we take this
first stage of dialogue and build on it so that we’re
actually building relationships with each other that
fulfill needs for all of us. Will you all bear with me
for one song at the end? It kind of wraps it
all up, with respect to what Muslims believe. This is a young man
named Sami Yusuf. A piece that he wrote to
express some of the names of God and what they mean to
Muslims around the world. [music playing] [MUSIC – SAMI YUSUF, “ASMA
ALLAH”] [non-english speech] [music playing] Thank you. [applause] [Ms. Donovan] Thank you
very much, Professor. She has agreed to take some
questions in our remaining time. [Participant] Can you
just say something briefly about the Sunna? You mentioned the Sunna as
part of a company’s revelation as an important factor,
along with the Hadith. [Dr. Delong-Bas] OK, so the
Sunna is actually recorded in the Hadith. And the Sunna refers to
the prophet’s example. And that can refer to
any number of things. It can refer to how he
interacted with his family members. We know how he
brushed his teeth. We know how he
issued legal rulings. We know how he
engaged in warfare and some of the kinds of
rules that went with that. So the prophet’s
example covers– this sunna covers a wide
variety of territory. Part of the question
for contemporary Muslims is how do you best follow that? Do we look for the kinds
of values that he embodied? So for example, one big debate,
with respect to women’s rights, has to do with
domestic violence, and the prophet never
hit any of his wives and actively discouraged his
companions from doing so. So he’s looked at as a very
positive example of a husband. Must one follow literally
exactly everything he did in order to go to heaven? If you don’t brush
your teeth exactly the same way that
he did, does that mean that God’s going to
say, “Sorry, you don’t quite meet the mark”? It really depends on
who is interpreting. Some of the most tedious, we’ll
say theological literature I have read, has been
from Saudi scholars ruling on exactly those
kinds of issues. And oftentimes the
questions are very minute. Like with respect
to prayer, is it permissible to move your index
finger in a particular way? And they’ll look back
to the prophetic example and go through the
hadith to find those. I think the broader
tendency today is to really try to recapture
values and reinterpret those in ways that make sense
for the contemporary era. We have lots of questions. Somebody want to grab a
microphone or pass it around. [participant] Yes, Professor,
two things briefly strike me. One, if I understood
you correctly, you were speaking about in Muslim
the creation of humanity, you focus, mentioned
the complementarity of man and woman. It would seem, if
I’m not mistaken, it would seem that’s not
absent in Genesis, either. Genesis 2. As you should know, probably
know, two Creation accounts, first two chapters of Genesis
and wherever in Genesis 2 speaks of, you know,
when the man is made and then all of creation
is paraded before him, and none proved to be a
suitable partner for the man. And then coming to woman,
this one is bone to my bones and flesh of my flesh. It would seem that
particular text of Genesis would point to male-female
complementarity. [Dr. Delong-Bas] I would
agree with that point. And what I do mention
to my students in that particular account is
that the idea that God took this rib out of the man
to make woman from that, means that the man always has a
piece that’s missing from him, and that he can’t
be complete again until he finds that partner
and is put back together. And with respect
to the two stories of Creation in the
book of Genesis, the discussion in the
first chapter of Genesis, I would say is actually a
closer parallel to the Quranic telling, because it doesn’t
talk about God making man first and then other
things happening. But it really talks about God
creating them both, it seems, at the same time. That “male and female,
he created them.” And there are three
different ways in which it is stated that
would tend to make that point. [Participant] Okay, and then, if
I may, Professor you mentioned, if I understood you correctly,
you spoke of the goal of jihad as a reconciliation,
communion with others, okay. Is that at odds at all
with the Muslim focus on individual
accountability, rather than collective accountability
that you spoke of, do you see what I’m saying? [Dr. Delong-Bas] Not quite. Reference to jihad–
the inner jihad would be an individual struggle
to live a righteous life. So at that level,
I can see where the individual accountability
would come into play. Is that what you were asking me? [Participant] No,
when you, at least, maybe I understood
you incorrectly. Once again, I don’t know how to
use other words, on this point. The goal of jihad is to– it’s not so much
warfare or annihilation, you spoke of
reconciliation, communion. My understanding of what you
were trying to say, given that, is that at odds with
the Muslim tenant of individual
accountability, at all? [Dr. Delong-Bas] I may be coming
at the question in a different way. If you are, as a community,
engaged in a jihad that’s intended to defend
the community, then you would have the expectation
at the communal level, that what you’re trying to do
is to reconcile relationships between two communities. You would not
necessarily have a jihad as violent or militant action
undertaken by an individual against another individual. It’s supposed to be declared
by a legitimate leader who is the head of a state, so that
takes on a political dimension to it. Maybe one way of approaching
the individual accountability question would be with respect
to whether participating in that jihad is
understood to be a collective responsibility or
an individual responsibility. And that is something
that is talked about a lot in the
literature, historically. That emphasis has been on
jihad as a [arabic],, which is a community activity only to
be undertaken by the community. What contemporary
extremists have done– and this began with
Abdullah Azzam in 1984, who was sort of a mentor
to Osama bin Laden– was to say that, in
fact, this is not a collective responsibility. This is something you have to
undertake as an individual. When jihad is undertaken as
a collective responsibility, there are certain
parameters to that. One of which, for
young people, is that they have to have the
permission of their parents in order to go. Because the individual may have
other responsibilities at home. And I have spoken with the
Saudi government about this, and they have
actually had parents get on TV to tell their
kids who’ve gone off and joined the jihad,
that in fact you don’t have my permission and
you need to come back home. So this idea of
introducing it as sort of this individual
responsibility, that the individual has to
make a personal decision to go and join the
jihad, is something that really does not
have a strong basis in the historical literature. [Participant] Thank you. [Dr. Delong-Bas] You’re welcome. [Participant] Hello. [Dr. Delong-Bas] Hi. [Participant] I had a question. In this presentation you have
a slight focus on war and peace and jihad. How did the jihad– was the Islamic conquest way,
way back when, consider jihad? And how does it influence it
that there were Arab Christians within the Muslim forces? And how does that play a part
of the fighting for a goal that it might not be a goal
between all of the soldiers? [Dr. Delong-Bas] OK. I think I understood
the question. We’re going back to
the Muslim conquest of the seventh and
eighth century, when we saw the
Islamic empire spread from this very small
area, territory in Arabia, out across North
Africa into Europe and throughout the Middle East. One of the things that,
contextually, it’s important to note is that there
were two surrounding empires, both of which had been
fighting each other for long periods of time and
were on the verge of collapse themselves. You had the Sassanids
in what’s today Iran, and certainly the Byzantine
Empire, which represented Eastern Christianity. We oftentimes hear that, oh,
this was a jihad by the sword and Islam was a religion that
was spread very forcibly, and everybody in the
territories that they conquered had to convert to Islam. That, in fact, is not true. There were actually
many different groups of Christians who welcomed the
Muslim conquerors because they had been persecuted as Christian
minorities by the Byzantines, and so they were
welcomed at some level. Many of these
conquests really have to be understood at more
of a political level than necessarily
a religious one. There were some people
who did choose to convert. There were others
who chose not to. There were benefits
of doing both. If you were non-Muslim, so if
you were Jewish or Christian you could opt to
pay a tax, it was called the jizya, that would
excuse you from participating in military activity. But you were essentially
paying for your security in the process. A lot of those nuances seemed
to be lost on certain groups and movements today. I would argue that some of
them actually, one, need better grounding in their
own doctrine, and two, need better grounding
in their own history. I haven’t taken on
the history as much as I have doctrinal
issues, trying to point out this is what
the classical tradition says, this is what it
said historically, where people are coming from
is really outside of anything that’s ever been done. And that carries
a certain weight because bid’ah, or innovation,
is something that people who are more literal in their
interpretation would understand to be absolutely forbidden. So if you accuse them of doing
something really innovative, it puts them on the defensive. Just dealing with
doctrine is not going to be enough to take the
teeth out of ISIS, obviously, but there is a sense and a level
at which the doctrinal issues do need to be addressed,
not just with ISIS, but also for global populations, and
trying to understand why this is such an anomaly, rather
than an accurate historical trajectory that’s
been seen before. [Participant] Thank you for
the wonderful presentation. [Dr. Delong-Bas] Thank you. [Participant] My
question is, would you consider it a myth, the
oppression of the Muslim woman? [Dr. Delong-Bas] That
was unfortunately, a part I didn’t get to but I’m
really glad that you asked it, because there are certain images
and stereotypes that we have. My greatest level of activity
with respect to women’s rights has been with respect
to family law. Looking at issues related
to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance,
and whether rape is actually being treated as the
crime that it is, and it’s very clearly
established as a crime in Islamic law. Unfortunately, what
we have sometimes are a mix of religion
and culture and so there are certain cultural
attitudes and practices that have been
permitted to override Islamic law in certain places. So to give you one
example, both men and women are supposed to have the
right to initiate divorce. Men don’t have to
have a reason for it. Women’s reasons have tended to
be more limited, historically, and because of that,
there are some judges who simply won’t pay
attention to a woman’s request for divorce. And you have these petitions,
in Egypt for example, there was a case of a woman who
had been asking for 40 years to be divorced from
an abusive husband. And it simply took
that long to find a judge who was
willing to accept that as grounds for divorce. So there are times
when in practice it’s not faithful to the way that
it’s supposed to be set up. Another example would
have to do with marriage that the husband is supposed
to pay a dower, not a dowry. This is a dower that’s supposed
to go to the woman as her nest egg in the event of
divorce or becoming a widow that she’s got some
kind of financial means to fall back on. And that’s important,
because there is no concept of joint
property in Islamic law. So when you have a
couple that’s married, the husband has what’s his
and the wife has what’s hers. So even if they’re married
for 30 years and own a house together, the house would
only be under one name, and it’s usually the husband’s. So the purpose of
establishing the dower was to provide financial justice
for the woman in the event that the marriage ended. It’s become popular practice
in some places for the woman to offer it as a
gift to her father, essentially turning
it into a dowry, rather than keeping it for
the purpose for which it was intended. So there are
definitely instances in which we could say
that oppression exists and that certain rights
are being violated. One other question
that often comes up has to do with veiling issues. There are some countries
that do require women to veil, Afghanistan, Iran,
Saudi Arabia, most of the Gulf countries: if you happen to be
from there, you have to veil. If you’re visiting,
it’s kind of optional, but you may be taking a risk
in some places if you don’t. I don’t look very Saudi;
I veil when I’m there. And it’s really more
for my protection, and so that I can meet with
conservative scholars who wouldn’t be comfortable
talking to me otherwise. But in other contexts,
where veiling is not something that’s
mandated by law, there are a variety of reasons
as to why a woman might choose to wear a veil. It’s not always
because her husband is making her do it or
her brother or her father. There are many women
who choose to veil as an expression of
their personal piety, as a means of
protecting themselves from sexual harassment, as
a symbol of their faith, as a matter of controlling
what aspects of their beauty are publicly visible. It’s a sign that a
woman is not simply some public object
to be objectified, but that she has the right to
determine to dress modestly and to dress as she pleases. The Bible tells us a
woman’s crowning glory is her hair, right? So if we cover our hair, we
are controlling the degree to which we might be objectified
or sexualized by others who are looking at us. So simply because a
woman wears a veil doesn’t mean that
she’s oppressed. There may be a
variety of reasons why she might choose to
do that, and hopefully, in Western context we’re
becoming a little bit more aware of that. Oftentimes it
invites harassment. I would say that Muslim
women have disproportionately borne the consequences of 9/11
because it’s very easy to pick out the Muslim woman. Although I would note, our
sisters, over on the side, there’s really not
that much difference between a habit and a
hijab, and it’s oftentimes the same principle. So it’s a choice to express
one’s modesty and chastity. And for some reason, we respect
it within Christian tradition, but we’re a little
less comfortable in Islamic tradition. [Ms. Donovan] It’s
now 7 o’clock. Time flies. [Dr. Delong-Bas] It does. [Ms. Donovan] But Professor, I
wonder if you’d say a few words about the books that the
bookstore is selling back here. [Dr. Delong-Bas] Oh, right. So I was asked if there might
be additional readings that you could read that wouldn’t be
too long or are too expensive, but that might provide you
with a little more information. One of them is a very
short introduction to Prophet Muhammad;
give you more information about his role in Muslim life. There’s also the results
of the largest Gallup poll that was ever done of the
Muslim world, What a Billion Muslims Really Think. So it’s based on statistics and
a very strong series of surveys if you are interested
in learning more. I didn’t happen to
write any of them, so I do not have any
personal vested interest. I’m not getting a kickback
with any of those sales. It was simply for
suggested further reading if there were other things
that you might like to look at. [Ms. Donovan] Thank
you very much. That was a very
informative presentation. [applause] [music playing]

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