Understanding Islam

My Moore College course this semester is Understanding Buddhism and Islam but we are just focusing on Islam for the first half of the course. It’s been a great course so far. Our lecturer has been wonderful and he has collected great textbooks and resources for us. The last few weeks of class have been especially amazing. We had a field trip to the Auburn Gallipoli mosque. We also had a guest lecturer, a young Muslim man who came in and answered a million questions from us about theology and his experience of being Muslim in Australia. This week we are cancelling class to attend a debate at Sydney Uni between a Muslim and a Christian which has been organised by the Muslim student society there. I love that we are getting so many opprtunities to get out of the classroom and actually hear from Muslim people!

The trip to the mosque was facinating. I had never been into a mosque before and it was nice to have a guide for my first visit. It was uncomfortable for most of the girls because it was one of the hottest days in March and none of us seemed to own any summery clothes that cover our arms and legs to the ankle. We were all wrapped up in trousers, cardigans and ill-fitting headscarves. Once we were inside though, no one seemed to mind. It was cool indoors, the air smelled nice and the carpet was amazingly soft under our bare feet. And the artwork! Everywhere I looked there was something beautiful to stare at! I think I spent most of the stime staring at the ceiling instead of watching the guide.

Auburn Gallipoli Mosque

Listening to the guide inside

The ceiling

There is so much to mentally process for this subject. Even just remembering facts about what Muslims believe is hard – it seems like there isn’t always a consistent opinion! Between our textbooks, our tour guide and our guest lecturer I have heard quite surprising and contradictory things. I think so far this has been the the strangest thing about Islam: for such a huge global religion with a strict list of central beliefs and strict ways of expressing those beliefs there is still a lot variation in theology. And there are no central figureheads or denominational bodies to appeal to for orthodox thoughts and opinions. It feels like there is unity regarding the actions of a Muslim but disunity regarding theological ideas. I mean, all Muslims will affirm six core beliefs: one God, existence of Angels, the scriptures (i.e. the Quran), Muhammed’s prophethood, God’s foreknoweldge of everything and the final judgement. But there are different theological nuances underneath all these blanket statements of faith. Maybe this disunity isn’t as much of a problem for Muslims as it is for me as a Christian – after all Muslims aren’t trying to relate to God as one of his children, they are just trying to submit to his will. I guess then it makes sense that they would be more concerned with the actions and thoughts that express submission rather than working trying to understand God’s character, and his relationship with his people and his world, and our own relationship with his people and his world.

Anyway, I’m still a noob, diving into understanding this completely foreign worldview. I think I need to talk to a lot more Muslims to really understand!


9 thoughts on “Understanding Islam

  1. Anonymous

    the key difference between Judaism/Islam and Christianity is the concept of original sin. Judaism and Islam do not have original sin–God is merciful and forgiving to those who ask for forgiveness. That is why both religions emphasize doing (action).

  2. dumsum

    I’m surprised by your surprised reaction because I find it’s essentially the same as my reaction to christianity. There are the core beliefs (Jesus son of God, whose death brings salvation from sin, and is open to all, etc), but there exist “theological nuances” which are often the cause of much disunity among christians. What do you believe are the fundamental differences?

    1. Alison Post author

      Hey Simon

      Sorry, I didn’t express that very well! I was expecting nuance but I was expecting it to be exactly like Christianity is. As a Christian you can attribute labels to yourself – you can say things like “I’m a Calvinist” or “I’m a Southern Baptist” or “I’m a sixth day creationist” or “I’m a charismatic Catholic”. People will understand that there might be differences between these Christians on some points of theology. There is a basic unity but also an acknowledgement of differing opinions.

      What I’ve found surprising so far with Islam is not that these differences exist, but they are kind of smothered over in the name of unity. There are scholars that shape opinions and thought but there are not really denominations with leaders, and nowhere near the variety of defined theological labels that Christians have to compartmentalise their theology. So the differences exist but they aren’t expressed or publicised like they are in Christianity. That being said – I stil have heaps to learn. Maybe they are there and no one has talked about them yet.

      I’m not sure which system I like better! The different opinions among Christians often get expressed with pretty catty behaviour! But I also like the way that an acknowledgement of difference can leave room for discussion and growth.

  3. nuranar

    I understand that some of the differences within Islam stem from the fact that the Koran is not itself consistent – in fact downright contradictory in more than a few places. Have you found that to be true?

    1. Alison Post author

      Yep I think that’s part of it. One of the interesting things that I have been taught that Muslims believe is, as the Koran was revealed gradually to Mohammed, each revelation superceded the previous ones. So anything if anything contradicted a previous revelation the new one was the correct one.

      I’m not really sure what to make of that doctrine. Muslims believe the Qu’ran is a replica of a true Qu’ran stored in heaven. Maybe they are just OK with their holy scriptures having inconsistences. I find it weird, but then I remember that we worship a triune God, which they also find weird! So coming straight out and labelling things as illogical or weird is probably not a good place to start 😛

      On a side note, I think a lot of the different attiudes towards Jews and Christians come from this inconsistency. Some of the earlier revelations spoke very kindly of the Jews and the Christians and their scriptures, but I’m under the impression that the later revelations didn’t tend to do that.

      1. nuranar

        Hmm. My instinct would be then to revise backward and make sure the earlier things were fixed! 😀 But seriously, it must be hard to rely on something that’s not internally consistent.

        Now I remember I have heard that about Jews and Christians as well. Matter of fact, I think it was in context of discussing the inconsistencies.

  4. unmowngrass

    I love the way you’re approaching this. You’ve really got your head screwed on and are being very mature about something potentially inflamatory – perhaps more than I could do.

    1. Alison Post author

      Thanks 🙂 to be honest I was finding it hard not to flip out until we went on the mosque visit (maybe that explains my lack of posts about the subject until now?). It’s been pretty hard to get upset after seeing something so beautiful!


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