Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Part XIX: Islam is a Civilization

Part XIX: Islam is a Civilization, not a religion
by Abu Daoud

The word religion is spectacularly Western. It comes from the Latin meaning “to re-connect” or to form a link that has been severed. It is popular in the USA, and perhaps in the UK, to say that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Neither is entirely correct though: Christianity is indeed a religion, but it is relational as well. Christianity does indeed seek to re-connect (or reconcile, to use a more biblical word) two warring parties: God and man. And it does this through the cross of the God-man, Jesus Christ, God incarnate.

But what of Islam? Is it a religion? Does it seek to reconnect two estranged parties?

The word normally used in Arabic to translate the English-Latin word religion is “diin.” But if we look at that word we find a very different understanding of the relation between humanity and God/Allah than we would via the other word, religion.

The Arabic word diin is a gerund, and it is based on the verb daan, which means, in its root form, (he) judged. In fact we find this confirmed in no less a prayer than the opening chapter of the Quran (al fatiha—the opening), wherein we read that “your is the day of diin” or “yours is the day of judgment.” So in Arabic Islam (which, make no mistake, is the true Islam) diin is nothing less than judgment.

This moves us towards the true understand that the English word ‘religion’ quite simply has no translation in Arabic. If wish to translate the word ‘reconciliation’ we may use the fairly accurate word tasalluh, which does indeed mean to reconcile two inimical parties. But for the word ‘religion’ we would have to resort to fairly exotic contrivances like ‘ta3alluq’ or something along those lines.

I mention this all simply because I have noticed the very pernicious effect of mistranslations. Words have a great deal of power. I bring up the topic because one hears often among Western politicians the idea of “secularism” among Arab or Persian Muslim peoples, wherein one separates religion from civil rule. When we understand that the truly Islamic-Arabic understanding does not, and can not, separate religious rule from civil rule, we have moved a step towards being able to intelligently grapple in a realistic way with the sundry challenges faced by people in the diverse countries of Southwest Asia and North Africa. Religion involves judgment (diin). Civil rule involves judgment (diin) as well. There is no separation, and within an Islamic civilization separation of the two is neither desirable nor possible.


Kelly said...

Yes! Again, Abu, I am not at all on your or your collegues' level of study or thinking (I'm just a regular gal thinking about the world), but ever since the mess started with Sadaam Hussein (sp?) during Bush 1's presidency there has been an assumption that political and military action/discussion could solve the "problem". I have never believed that political/military action can truly resolve any issues between Islam and everybody else, because Islam is not just a religion (as you state in your post) is the identity of the people in every aspect of their lives. You stated it very well. I'm going to read your post again, so that I can share these thoughts more coherently than I've been able to in the past. Thank you! By the way, what about a post on how to negotiate/deal (for lack of better terms) with Muslim nations to bring about some sort of healthy dialogue/cooperation with non-Muslim nations? Or is it not possible?

Abu Daoud said...

Hi Kelly,

Thank you for the encouraging remark. I don't post much on this blog, so thank you for reading it!

I will think of your question more, but a general answer is that the West needs to be more like it was in the medieval period, ie, Christendom. Christendom was a religious-political community that had a somewhat united voice and was able to consider both religious and secular realities and speak of them to the Muslim world. It made sense to Muslims, even when they did not like what they heard.


Abu Daoud

Kelly said...

Hi again!
Well, it seems that such an occurance (the West taking on such an identity) would have a major impact on our ideas/concepts of democracy, wouldn't it? And is it healthy for Christian believers to delve too much into the social and political spheres of our world? (I am thinking particularly of us here in the U.S.) I don't have an defined opinion yet; I'm just playing devil's advocate. To what point does the Scripture encourage and motivate us to influence those areas? How much is this similar or related to Kingdom Now, Dominion theology? And is it biblical? I've been dealing with some of these issues in my own spiritual growth, so I would appreciate your feedback. Thanks!

Abu Daoud said...

Hi Kelly,

What I was saying is that the Christendom pattern made sense to Muslims. But now you are asking a different question regarding political theology, which is important but is not exactly the same topic.

To be honest there has been so much diversity throughout history regarding the interaction of the state and the church that I don't think one answer is possible. A lot of it has to do with how many of your people are Christian, and to what extent the culture has been evangelized.

I would say for example that democracy and Islam don't mix well. Indeed democracy is an anti-Islamic form of government. Democracy in a Christian society can lead to tolerance of other religions. The opposite is true in the Muslim world, there is more tolerance in a dictatorship like Syria than there is in a democracy like Iraq.

But back to the question of the church and the state: a complete separation is silly, there is no such thing. Human beings are both religious and social, and to posit a complete wall of division between religion and civil rule is absurd. The thing you hear about "you can't legislate morality" is entirely wrong.

Ultimately, the West's understanding of the Trinity is flawed which means that we have ipso facto misunderstood what it means to be human.