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Thursday, January 11, 2018

We read a Muslim book in our family worship!

One of our greatest blessings as a family in the last six months has been hosting international students from countries all over the world, including Japan, Russia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. It has been such a privilege for us to get to know them, and to talk about our faith with them.

For Christmas my new friend Aziz, a Saudi studying at a local university, gave me a book by a Muslim Imam that is a favorite of his father's, a gift that I appreciated very much and have enjoyed reading. In our family worship after dinner one night, I shared an excerpt from the book and then a passage from the Bible, and we compared and contrasted the two.  I thought you might like to hear about it, and repeat our little experiment in discernment...

In his book Don't Be Sad, Dr. Aid al-Quarni writes this:

By brooding over the past and its tragedies, one exhibits a form of insanity - a kind of sickness that destroys one's resolve to live for the present moment. Those who have a firm purpose have filed away and forgotten occurrences of the past, which will never again see light, since they occupy such a dark place in the recesses of the Mind. Episodes of the past are finished with; sadness cannot retrieve them, melancholy cannot make things right, and depression will never bring the past back to life....

Do not live in the nightmares of former times or under the shade of what you have missed. Save yourself from the ghostly apparition of the past. Do you think you can return the sun to its place of rising, the baby to its mother's womb, the milk to the other, or the tears to the eye? By constantly dwelling on the past and it's happenings, you place yourself in a very frightful and tragic state of mind....

The person who lives in the past is like someone who tries to saw sawdust. 

There is much truth in those words, and I especially like the last saying. The Imam's teaching is an example of what we call in Christian theology "common grace" (and possibly "natural revelation," depending on our understanding of that term), because what he says about the past makes a lot of sense, and it also fits with the wisdom revealed in the Christian Scriptures. One particular passage, which we read together that night in our family worship, says something very similar, but also differs from the Imam's teaching in a couple important ways. See if you can pick out the similarities and differences as you read the apostle Paul's words Philippians 3:12-15...

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.

The part in bold print, of course, is very similar to what the Imam was saying, so his words ring true to us who believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority by which all human wisdom should be judged. But the biggest difference between the two excerpts, which also should be fairly obvious, is that in the biblical passage, the idea of "forgetting the past" is sandwiched between two statements about Jesus Christ being the reason why we can and should put the past behind us. This is a microcosm of the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity that I've discovered in becoming friends with Aziz (and in my studies about the two religions): our morality and values are similar in many ways, but in Islam Jesus is viewed as merely a prophet (rather than the Son of God) who did not really die on the cross, while Christianity affirms the opposite about him on both counts.  To us Jesus is the "reason for the season"--not just at Christmas, but in everything we believe and do.

It was also interesting to note that in the preceding verses of Philippians 3, what Paul was "forgetting" from the past were not only bad things he had done, or even bad things that happened to him, but also the good things he had done when practicing his religion. He wanted to put those "good works" behind him because they could actually prevent him from having a saving relationship with Jesus, if he was trusting in them to make him right with God. So he says in verses 9-11,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

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  1. I appreciate your willingness to read with wise discernment the writings of others. My own experience with Muslim students taking theology courses I am teaching at a Catholic university gave me a number of opportunities to consider how to carry on a cordially critical conversation as a non-Catholic Christian without confessional compromise. I found it fruitful to focus on God as the All Merciful One, such mercy being a wonderful way to come to some comprehension of God's grace made manifest in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, leading then to encouraging hope for healing as God promises in sending His Son to save us.