An Islamic theology of travel

Silence.

 

That was what greeted my question “Could you write for me what you think Islam says about travel?”

I try to hang out with the Islamic community when I can, in my spare time in Ireland.  It’s not always the easiest in Irish life, given most of Irish life happens in the pub (and not just in negative ways).  But I try.  I do it, partly because I feel every city needs those who broaden their horizons and don’t just guess what different people think.  But those who live among them.  I hope legislation in this land will reflect not hostility or naivety, but will reflect the thoughts of those of us who live our daily lives in the midst of such beautiful communities.  And the other reason I partly do this, is because I feel that if the Christian message is true, these are some people from some of the most unreached places in our world with the good news.

Now some of you may feel my categorisation of people as “them and us” is already a horrible one.  But largely it’s realistic in first generation immigration, in a quite racist society (to many extents).  Integration is not a reality widely embraced.  Vocal protests at the mosque application (in Cork), and general attitudes towards the international community who announce their long-term intentions may not be frosty, but they’re certainly not welcomed with open arms, contrary to what the Irish reputation is for short-term visitors.  In NUIG (Galway’s main university) yesterday, I once again took up my mantra, of helping people to see things in term’s other than “them vs us” but as “human, alongside human”.

20170223_111817

NUIG Quadrangle

So it’s not without knowing Muslim friends and theologically aware ones, that I got my answer, or indeed, a lack of answer.

Yes, they were quick to tell me about Muhammad and his travels.  And how pilgrimage forms part of the central tenets of Islam.  But unless we are to mimic Muhammad’s travelling warfare, it’s hard to see where pleasure travelling fits in to Islamic theology.

peform-hajj-hd-islamic-wallpapers

Hajj – the pilgrimage prescribed in the 5 pillars of Islam, for those who can manage it.  Thanks to Allahsword.net for the image.

And that presumably is because the world is a bad thing in Islamic thought.  Following on from the dualism that so haunts much of religion (Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism and much of even Arminian Christianity), Islam frequently proclaims from the minarets:

“Prayer is better than sleep” (As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm)

The spiritual is better than the physical.  There is a dichotomy.  A dualism oft found in Greek thought, that haunts some of Christendom too.

And what does a life that lives that out fully look like?  Well a consistent one would presumably have to dump pleasure travelling and the delighting of the things of this world.  I’m not sure there can be any other take on such strong statements.  Even travelling to stir our hearts to worship the creator would still be lesser than praying, according to this.  And applied to the rest of life, you’re left praying or perhaps doing Da’wah (telling other people of Allah).

But in case you think I jump to conclusions too quickly, and I do not know my Hadiths very well, take it one step further back.  What is the god of Islam like?  Because we become what we worship.  Muslims will want to be like their god.

99-Names-Of-Allah-In-HD.jpg

Not only are the 99 names interesting, but the proportion to which the Qu’ranic text emphasizes certain ones, is telling.  Thanks to Allahsword.net for this.

And there we find a distant and sovereign god.  One set apart from creation who rarely interacts with it clearly and who is not known in any meaningful way by his followers.  One who drops a book down to a single person, about a period in history where we have little to verify the contents of that book.  And one whose followers live in that pattern; not particularly concerned with the book or knowing the historicity of Muhammad; not engaging with much of this world.  Waiting.  Waiting for the moment paradise will come – the “real world”.

And yes, I’m sure there’s exceptions.  There are many Muslims who have shaped this world in beautiful ways and take their inspiration from Islam.  But my point is, that if you have a consistent systematic theology of Islam, one must abandon pleasure travelling.

And perhaps that’s where, if you’re going to poke holes in my argument, you would need to say that I misunderstand Islam in looking for a systematic theology.  Perhaps Islam holds tensions that are less dominated by western logical systems.  Perhaps the call to prayer and distance of god from this world can be reconciled by other truths I’m not yet aware of, within the heartbeat of the Qu’ranic text, Hadiths and life of the Prophet.

And so I leave this open for any of my friends to enlighten us and help us flee from dualism to an appreciation of this world – something that will help is yearn to explore it, plumb the depths of it, look after it and enjoy it for what it is…a beautiful creation!

It’s over to you…

Book review: Answering Jihad – a better way forward (Qureshi, IVP)

[edit: for those just here for the travel blogging and theology of travel, you’ll be glad to know that these book reviews will soon be moving to a more suitable website that has asked for them!]

Sadly I wasn’t given this one free.  And so I’ve spent many cents on buying many copies of this and distributing it widely.  Why?  Perhaps you’ll indulge me to let me briefly try and capture that in a few hundred words.

I recently attended a public lecture in UCC where the speakers agreed that ISIS and other Muslim extremists were wrongly named and were not Islamic at all.  Muslims themselves also have put great energy into such thinking with campaigns such as “Not in my name” and understandably so!

Simply by taking those questions on everyone’s lips, Nabeel (once a Muslim himself) covers everything most things on a surface level, but enough for the average reader:

  • What is Islam?
  • What is jihad?
  • Is jihad in the qu’ran and the life of Muhammad?
  • who are the true Muslims: violent or peaceful Muslims?
  • Why are Muslims being radicalised?
  • How does jihad compare with old testament warfare?
  • What does Jesus teach about jihad?
  • How does jihad compare with the crusades?

I’ve read lots about Islam, and have spent many hours of my life in the Islamic communities where I’ve lived, serving them and being served by them.  And Nabeel is one of the few I’ve come close to agreeing with.

Most who’ve converted from Islam in my experience in the west, will react against it forcefully, and speak out against it in very black and white terms.

Instead Qureshi keeps 2 helpful tensions:

  1. That there are no easy reasons why people turn to violence: it’s a combination of a lot of things.  But religious justification may be a significant one of those
  2. Many Christians in the west start judging Islam by evangelical Christian traditions of sola scriptura (in Islamic form: “sola Qu’ranica”!), western emphasis on historical literary criticism, or western philosophical systems.  But none of these necessarily hold, and some I would argue are downright unhelpful.  Nabeel avoids them all, mostly.  Islam, like Roman Catholicism is not a system of a book.

Tensions, and where to draw them in life, are hard.  

Making things black and white one way or the other are the easy way out, as the sign below shows.  May we join Nabeel in finding tensions.

muslims-sound-sign

Muslim Immigration in Europe: masculinity, politics and law

Working in a university has its advantages, and Friday night was one of them.  Public lectures on relevant topics, by those with suitable qualifications.  UCC had me excited with this one.  And so too were many of the university staff, with most in attendance being from the related fields of study within UCC (those lecturers chatting behind me were lecturers in middle eastern art history, and history of gender studies).  But sadly I was left walking out of the majestic Aula Maxima into the darkness, even more confused than I had been before.  Where did it all go wrong?

The UCC president (Dr Murphy) opened on a fascinating note islam-migration-msaulinity-politics-and-lawby telling us of the huge changes in Irish society and in UCC.  in 1990 there was only 4% of Ireland who were non-native (not born in Ireland).  By about 2011 there was 12-14% non-native living within the shores.  Nods were taken from the professor who specialised in Irish migration.  You couldn’t say anything wrong here, given those specialists attending.  Or could you?

What followed was two fairly unrelated speeches from high profile speakers, both women who came from a Muslim background.  One, Tasmina, who is MP for Ochil and South Perthshire seemed keener to tell us about her achievements in life and her passions as an SNP politician.  And much as a woman who had achieved so much was fascinating to listen to, I did wonder whether I’d come to listen to an inspiring SNP politician (the inspiring part need not be linked to the SNP part) or someone speaking on the topic in hand.  Brief reference was made to how SNP policy endorsed more open borders than others would.

Following on was Dr Samia Bano, from SOAS London who started by trying to tell us that she would be very academic (I’m not sure why she thought this would be a problem), and then proceeded to speak on a range of issues, some of which tried to separate Islamic culture from religion, some which tried to persuade us that we could contextualise and re-interpret the Qu’ran, and some which tried to persuade us of the forward leaning nature of many of the Muslims within Islamic communities in the UK.

But I couldn’t help but think what the Islamic Society (or the local mosque for that matter) would have thought about such attempts to separate culture and religion, to re-interpret the Qu’ran (or even reinterpret a copy of the translation of the Qu’ran, as I’m not sure what levels of Arabic were actually read by either panellist), or to persuade us that the Islam could be up-to-date with the latest gender theories and feminist issues.  Or to even what extent they’d want to do that.  For the religion that completely bows to the theories of the day, and whatever direction the wind is blowing, ultimately gives up its right to objective truth.

Liberal academics may try and persuade us that Islam says one thing or another.  But in reality, the only questions on people’s lips were:

  • what is the essence of Islam (if there is one)?
  • how can change be brought about?

And if one thing were fairly obvious, it was that the panellists were trying to make the Qu’ran say what they wanted to hear.  And that because of that, change will only occur in the outer echelons of liberal or nominal Islamic communities.

To know what is actually believed in Islam, or to bring about change, I would suggest one may need to be side-by-side at the heart of such communities.  And so I find myself in a local mosque again tomorrow, as well as reading some academic works.  The disconnect is huge.

The main point I took away from the evening?  How much travel is impacting Irish society, both in immigration and otherwise.  Thanks Dr Murphy!