I (Scott) sat in a meeting a few weeks ago and heard a chaplain make reference to "some of our patients who are worshipping their little gods in our courtyard." It surprised me and, unfortunately I think, revealed a prevailing view of many Christians who believe that Muslims worship a "little god" or an "idol."
In light of the current raging fire of protests against America sweeping across the Middle East, I've begun to re-read a book I just finished a couple of months ago: Allah, A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf. Volf is currently a Professor of Systematic Theology at the Yale Divinity School. Having grown up in the former Yugoslavia, he experienced first-hand, a bitter war between Muslims and Christians. In his dedication of the book he says this:
To my father, a Pentecostal minister who admired Muslims
and taught me as a boy that they worship the same God we do.
Volf says that the goal of his book "is to explore how Christian and Muslim convictions about God bear on their ability to live together in a single world" (p.12).
In the end of his first chapter he has a section which he calls "Hot and Spicy." Here he lays out a number of theses which he realizes are sure to rile the feathers of a lot of people who have fixed ideas about the religion of Islam and the relationship between Islam and Christianity. The first of his theses is plain and unambiguous:
Christians and Muslims worship one and the same God, the only God.
They understand God's character partly differently,
but the object of their worship is the same.
I reject the idea
that Muslims worship a different God
than do Jews and Christians.
This is a fascinating book. Like Volf, I venture publicly into this inflammatory topic with great trepidation. Volf does say early on that he leaves "the question of salvation and eternal destiny aside. To use technical terms, the book is not an exercise in soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), but political theology" (p.12).
While some may doubt whether Volf is a Christian, he makes explicit statements about his faith: "What matters is not whether you are Christian or Muslim or anything else: instead, what matters is whether you love God with all your heart and whether you trust and obey Jesus Christ, the Word of God and Lamb of God. I reject making religious belonging and religious labels more significant than allegiance to the one true God" (p.14).
And his final "hot and spicy" thesis has relevance for some of the current debate in this election season: "To give allegiance to the one God who enjoins humans to be loving and just to all, as Muslims and Christians do, means to embrace pluralism as a political project--the right of all religious people to articulate their views in public and the impartiality of the state with respect to all religions. I reject the idea that monotheism, properly understood, fosters violence and totalitarian rule" (p. 15).
So, I implore those of you with any interest at all (and those of you who are Americans should be interested in light of the current Muslim protests against all things American) to grapple with Volf. You may not end up agreeing with him, but he's studied the Quran, dialogued with Islamic theologians, and sought to find common ground for discourse and peace. Personally, I think he should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize --and not because he's conjured up some fiction to appease Christians and Muslims, but because he's perceived and articulated some real truth in one of the most incendiary issues of our age.