19 August 2007

Islam's Jesus, and finding Islam outside the Qur'an

Via Hemant, it appears Great Britain is set to air a TV documentary on the role of Jesus Christ in Islam. This all sounds fairly well and good in theory. But I'm skeptical. From The Guardian:
There was no manger, Christ is not the Messiah, and the crucifixion never happened. A forthcoming ITV documentary will portray Jesus as Muslims see him.

With the Koran as a main source and drawing on interviews with scholars and historians, the Muslim Jesus explores how Islam honours Christ as a prophet but not as the son of God.
I'm hoping this is just bad journalism on behalf of The Guardian, and that it doesn't reflect the documentary. Because it's wrong.

True, Muslims do not believe Jesus to have been the Son of God (they consider the Trinity to be a form of polytheism), and the majority don't believe Jesus was put on the cross (but they do believe someone was crucified; some say the Romans put a phony up there so it looked like they caught Jesus, others say God pulled the ol' switcheroo to get Jesus out of it). But Islamic doctrine DOES hold that Jesus is the Messiah. The general consensus among Muslims is that Jesus ascended to Heaven instead of being crucified, where he lives on today and from whence he will return to Earth in the end times. They believe in the virgin birth; there are regions where Muslim women hold the Virgin Mary in as high regard as do those in any good Catholic village in Latin America. (Fun Trivia: the angel Gabriel who delivered the "good news" to Mary is the same angel who revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad!)

Frankly, if this documentary really is using the Qur'an as its primary source, then I'm highly skeptical of its worth.

A hint to would-be religious anthropologists: no one gives a damn how you interpret their holy texts, we want to know how they interpret their holy texts. It takes more than reading a holy scripture to understand a religion. We saw that clearly enough when Ben showed us how the West misunderstood Buddhism. If you want to know what Muslims believe, you don't rely on the Qur'an, you ask Muslims.

Imagine if I were to read the Bible and use that knowledge to start telling Catholics what they believed. You can imagine my analysis would be somewhat... incomplete. Heck, even if I studied every scrap of official Vatican doctrine, that wouldn't tell me what the average everyday real-life Catholic believed or practiced.

The documentarians apparently hope to bridge some cultural gaps between Christianity and Islam with this show. But there's already some tension among Christians who feel Muslims are getting special treatment, and if this article is any indication then there's some reason to believe Muslims might not find the documentary entirely accurate. So, we might just be asking for trouble here.

Or maybe it'll be a good show. Hopefully it'll pop up on Internet eventually, I wouldn't mind seeing it for myself.

(Thanks to Sara for helping me with some background on Islam)

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