Vision of Islam

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Event Name: Vision of Islam
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 3/29/2019 8:41:07 PM
Transcript Version: 1

Transcript Text

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem



Chapter 1


I am going to follow this book which is written by Murata and Chittick called the Vision of Islam quite closely. I would appreciate if people read the sections for this week. Preface, Introduction up through Islam so that will be 34 pages. I have taught this book once before to a group of non Muslim teachers and I personally think it is the best thing in English that I have seen as a basic introduction. It is actually not that basic because it is actually quite a deep exploration of the tradition of Islam. In just re-reading this section, I have read it a few times, I was remembering why I liked the book so much. It is useful for Muslims not just non Muslims. What I appreciate about the book is that there are two ways religion is looked at in the West. They call them in vocabulary a religious tradition, in universities narrative approach and descriptive approach. A descriptive approach is the most common approach, it is the anthropological approach, it is the approach that looks at how a religion manifests itself in a society, how people behave, how they express their religion, their practices. This will include folk practices as well as practices instituted by the religion. It will also bring up some very bizarre things because human beings do some very strange things and they will often do them in the name of religion and so that will be seen as part of the religion.


From the perspective of a scholar of the religion and I mean devotional scholar because in the West they differentiate between devotional scholars, between scholars, what Dr Cleary calls “scholars for dollars”. Those are people who earn their living in institutions so they will study something as a way of making their living whether they believe in it or not. So many people will teach religion that do not believe in religion. That perspective of religion will taint the way they teach their religion.


I went through a religious studies program at California University. There was an incredible difference for me between the classes that I took with somebody who was working within a tradition and was a believer in a tradition. He was a devout Catholic with a deep interest in Zen Buddhism. The classes that were done by people that did not believe in religion, that type of approach that is taken by someone who does not believe in religion even if they are attempting to be objective, it will still taint their view of religion and that is the nature of human beings. We look at everything through filters and anybody that look at Islam will look at it through filters. Now Muslims will look at their religion invariably defensively because they believe it or not whether they really understand the religious tradition or not. There are some Muslims out there that I think if they found out what their religion said, they might even leave their religion, because it is inconsistent with their view of the world. There are other Muslims and I think it is the vast majority of them that it will only strengthen their conviction in their religion the more they got to know their religion. There are some non Muslims if they studied Islam they would convert to Islam. There are other ones, it will actually increase their belligerence towards Islam. Then there are other ones that they might not convert but they will have a deep respect for the tradition. So everybody brings filters to whatever they look at and they admit that in the introduction to the book so what I want to do is look here a little bit at the preface and then go into the introduction.


One of the things that they explain they are attempting to do is to explain Islam to Muslims who as a general rule know nothing about their religion but are defensive and that is very true. Most Muslims do not know anything about their religion in any deep sense of the word. If you actually ask them to tell you about things you would be surprised at how ignorant many Muslims are. Then to Westerners who know nothing but are instinctively hostile so you are dealing in an environment. One of the things that Dr Cleary says in his book “Zen Cohens”. “An American who believes in himself or herself to be liberal, open minded, unprejudiced will display the most extreme prejudices if asked about Islam a religion that he probably knows absolutely nothing about”. But immediately will begin to voice options about which if he voiced them about something else he would feel he was prejudiced, that it would be unfair to do that. So it is very interesting the hostility that a lot of people have. There are many reasons for that hostility. There are historical reasons for that hostility. Islam for centuries was the most powerful force in a large part of the world. For that reason, other peoples either lived reasonably harmoniously with the Muslims or instance the Chinese. The Chinese traditionally had very good trading routes with the Muslims. You know that China is bordered by several Muslim countries and that a large segment of China became Muslim. There is indication that the Chinese actually very early on were introduced to Islam. Within the Chinese tradition, in one of the books, written by a Chinese scholar, they say actually that a delegation of Chinese were sent to Madinah to meet with the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and another delegation met with Umar ibn Al Khattab. So the Chinese early on became exposed to Islam and had actually quite good relations with the Muslims. There were battles, in fact early on in the 8th century when some of the Chinese paper makers were captured in a battle, they were taken to Baghdad and they taught the Muslims how to make paper because paper was invented in the last century AD by a Chinese man Siloun who is considered one of the most important figures of history because of that invention. So the Muslims generally had good relations with the Africans. Many of the African people became Muslim. In black Africa, black Africans were taken as slaves so there was often some antagonism definitely between the southern black Africans. Many of them became Muslim. Antagonism continued on in West Africa b