Washington, CT. Prone to the seductions of whatever sultry lark might punish me, I am known to sucker to the dares of certain scoundrels who I hazard as friends, but who cannot be summed up in such prosaic terms. In this prison, we are all innocents. The particular partner-in-crime for the current donnybrook is one of the many who assert my cheek habitually turns too far.

This time they’ve really done it. Were it not for the stakes at hand, I could simply abandon the original boast and chalk it up to but another close brush with the sorry effects of petulant oaths. Unfortunately, the subject at hand is the debate of the hour, and I am nothing if not loathe letting the militants get their clammy paws over mine on the bat. As a result, I have soldiered on, cranial ball peen hammer in hand, starting every day with another installment of that epic chronicle on the wages of defiance known as the Koran, or, as it is referred to amongst the factotums at the Department of Homeland Security: Exhibit One in the Greatest Threat to our American Existence Imaginable.

While the Muslim Faithful might pray toward Mecca several times a day, the hordes at the DHS follow one primary directive: Say “Boo!” three times during the current news cycle and adjust your tie. No fear shall go un-plumbed. The fact that their huge new headquarters occupy an historic Mental Hospital is just one of the many clues that hint at the forces of farce at work. But this is for another axe to grind.

My provocateurs suggested to me that my tolerant attitudes toward the Muslim might be a wee-bit shy of reality. I countered that their unseemly militia doggerel was misplaced, and that something as profoundly beautiful as the Alhambra surely cannot be all malign. Talking past one another like a couple of Black Irish drunks in a late night bar room clutch, I finally suckered to their insidious agenda and told them I was going to immediately begin reading the Koran to prove them wrong. By the tone of their bleary giggle, I knew this would not go smoothly. Damn them roundly. Damn them squarely too.

I harbor a soft place in my desert soul for these Bedu, you see. Son of the Great Basin sagebrush ocean, I admire their tenacity and facility with life beyond the frontiers of comfort. I see them as cousins to the Digger Shoshone, a people whose most admired role models were those who gave away the greatest number of possessions.  The fact that the Digger Shoshone were cousins of the Comanche, whose principle virtue was the professional killing of Texans, will be left for another loving essay. Though the Bedu might sneer at such a comparison, to the Digger, not the Comanche of course, but they are inescapably partisans of a life where wealth hovers at the edges of survival.  Needless to say, the desert molds kinship like no other place on earth. How can one not be moved by a people who have existed for so long within the jinn-infested privations of such an inhospitable place as the Empty Quarter? Sure, they might be belligerent, fighting one another with a ferocity equal to their resistance to the occupying Imperialist du jour, but they are also legendary for their hospitality. As far back as Abraham, we witnessed the Bedouin etiquette of protecting and providing succor to the stranger. These folkways of guardianship over one’s visitors, friend and foe alike, are highly ritualized.

Wilfred Thesiger’s classic book “Arabian Sands” details one of the more interesting aspects of desert hospitality. Traversing the southern extremity of the Empty Quarter, from Yemen to Dubai before any other European had done so, Thesiger retained what was termed a Rabia, literally, a “companion”. To cross the Arabian Peninsula, one not only had to confront the desert expanse, one also had to navigate the lush antipathies of tribal enmity. The various tribes were constantly at war with one another and so when one was determined to run the gauntlet of tribal skirmish lines, one was advised to hire on a rabia, a paid companion of sorts, or representative of the hostile tribe whose territory you were about to enter. In return, this hired brother took an oath: “You are my companion and your safety, both of your blood and of your possessions, is in my face”.  Even a rabia from a small and weaker tribe would be afforded the respect of brotherhood and sanction by even the most powerful tribes. Thesiger, knowing this, went properly equipped and survived his epic trek across the shifting battle lines of tribal warfare. Like his fellow Brit Colonel Lawrence, he came away from his trials in the Rub Al Khali with a durable respect and love for these xeric libertarians of the Arabian Sands. To view the pictures of languid sheiks lounging near their fishing dhows moored at Abu Dhabi, before this era of luxury resort, offshore banking and indoor equatorial ski slopes is to gain a glimpse of the loaded definition of the word “Progress”. The Bedu shall surely come to rue the day the first oil-financed crane arrived. In the meantime, the monetized and commodified ritual of Arabic hospitality continues apace.

American Corporations feign to follow the tradition today, but their hired rabia would appear to be of murky face and altogether too civilized for such homely traditions. Royal Technocratic Bedu awash in greenbacks seem to have forgotten the clarifying effects of washing their hands in the desert sands because they are swamped in the sooty money of the international oil trade. Mere sand will never fully erase the unctuous grime of the oil game. Sometime during the 70’s, Jet-setting Rock and Rollers or Greek shipping magnates were shunted aside in favor of the Sheiks living large and cavorting in playgrounds stretching from Gstaad to the Cote d’Azure. These scions of King Faisal have come to believe they hold the keys to the modern era. To hold onto such fleeting pleasures, they have been assiduous in suppressing dissent, often brutally so. Together with their fellow despots across the post-Ottoman Empire, they have refined the arts of torture and forgotten incarceration to a level of professionalism that we ourselves contract out as the spirit moves.

Still, in 1983, the Connecticut Corporation United Technologies attempted to follow protocol by hiring a photographer, Wayne Eastep to document their search for the ameliorative possibilities of the rabia. Mr. Eastep ably traversed the desert and produced a remarkable photographic document entitled simply “Bedouin”, recording the life of the vanishing Bedouin. The book was planned as a gift to various dignitaries, a declaration that the United Technologies Corporation had at least a dim understanding of the people with whom they were working. In my favorite passage from the book, Mr. Eastep shows the proofs of photographs to some Bedu of the Al Amrah tribe and when they are confronted with the simple image of a single footprint in the sand, the members of the tribe spontaneously announced “Ah! Nasser Al Amrah!” A footprint was as recognizable to the tribe as was the face of their brother Nasser. There is certain elegance to this level of simplicity. I don’t quite know why, but the story serves to cement my respect for the creators of the Alhambra, that remarkable tribute to the creative capacity of man when poetry runs at a sublime force greater than our more warlike urges. Man can frequently build with a magnificent skill but it remains rare that our building harmonizes with the landscape in a total composition of symphonic force. There are but a handful of places on this good green earth where man has created a symphony equal to that which nature conducts. The late-Mayan temple complex at Tulum is one, Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” is another, the Temple precincts of Kyoto are another and the sublime Alhambra, seat of the long-gone Spanish Caliphate of al Andalus, is another.

Presumptions in order, I took my disputant’s dare firmly in hand, opened the first page of the Koran’s 114 Suras and dove right in. Sura 1 started out easily enough, a lovely few verses of homage to the One True God.

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!

The compassionate, the merciful!

King on the day of reckoning!

Thee only do we worship, and to Thee only do we cry for help.

Guide Thou us on the straight path.

The path of those to whom Thou has been gracious;- with

Whom thou art not angry, and who go not astray. “

So far, so good.

Then, in Sura 2, which is 286 verses, I got no farther than the 6th verse before the tribal skirmishes broke out. “For them ( he infidel of course) give them a severe chastisement”. This refrain of resentment and revenge crops up like a Greek Chorus throughout the other, more beautiful sections of Sura 2 before ending at verse 286 with the admonition “Thou art our protector, give us victory over the infidel nations”. Sura 3 through 9 continue with their spiritual devotions, filled with love for a forgiving yet fearsome God but these devotions are annealed on a defiant anvil of antipathy toward the Infidel. Suras 8-9 are, in fact, commentary on the pivotal Battle of Badr where Muhammad and his victorious rebels finally overcame the hegemony of Mecca. Though respectful of the Brothers of the Book and calling for their acceptance of Muhammad as the final prophet, the poetry of the Koran remains peppered with recrimination and rebuke. This may be a religion of peace but only so much as it is also a religion, like many others, of war.

Admittedly, after Suras 8-9, the Koran turns toward a worshipful recollection of the figures of the Old Testament but even here, we see a defiant edge, admonitions of a burning revenge upon the Infidel and in general, a tone fundamental in its urges toward conquest. At first inspection, even a sympathetic ear can be excused for doubting the prevailing modern political assertions that Islam is a Religion of Peace. Upon reaching Sura 70, the accumulating victories for the Prophet Muhammad ibn’ Abdullah allow poetry to prevail over the war helmet for the next 44 Suras but still, the idea that Islam is a rebel doing battle against an uncomprehending monolith of infidelity remains to the end of the Muslim’s Great Book. There is poetry and beauty but there is always some form of rebuke and animosity at work. Such are the wages of the chosen. Fittingly, the final Sura, entitled “Men” warns us of the whispered entreaties of pride. Six verses long, it summarizes the plight of man in this age as surely as it did for Muhammad in his.

In the Name of God, the compassionate, the Merciful

SAY: I betake me for refuge to the lord of MEN,

The King of Men,

The God of Men,

Against the mischief of the stealthily withdrawing whisperer,

Who whispereth in Man’s breast-

Against man and djinn.

A few Suras before this, number 109, entitled “Unbelievers” seems to point to a certain egalitarian peace between the believer and non-believer but here too, there is the prevailing notion that the “other” is condemned to their own selected perdition.

In the name of God, the compassionate, the Merciful


I worship not that which thee worship,

And ye do not worship that which I worship,

I shall never worship that which ye worship,

Neither will ye worship that which I worship,

To you be your religion; to me, my religion.

This almost sounds like the ecumenical premises of Francis David, the 16th century founder of the Unitarian Faith in Transylvania. David, like Muhammad, disagreed with the idea of the Trinity, hewing to one God and one God only. Unfortunately, Francis David’s faith embraced differences while Muhammad seeks primarily victory over them. Needless to say, the pagan idols surrounding the early Kaaba which the Prophet Muhammad distances himself from in Sura 109 are no longer there, no longer worshipped, no longer left to be as they once were.  Islam has become as monolithic as was the religion of the Jews and Christians, which encouraged Muhammad upon his quest for an Arabic monotheism. Though broken into distinctive branches of Suffi, Sunni and Shia, who demonize one another as much as they might anyone else, Islam will consolidate and stand in stark rebuke of the other, the Infidel. We are now that Barbarian and they, in turn, are ours. Funny how the return of a Barbarian notion brought the idea of an End to History to a crumpled conclusion.

Perhaps the word “peace” is a perfect hedge for the underlying hostility that the Prophet Muhammad held against his brother Jews and Christians. Peace is a Jinn. It is that thing we are always in search of, but never enough to forget our accumulated envious resentments of those who are not like us. We constantly hear about the “Road to Peace” and grow jaded as decades pass while the Jew, Christian and Muslim seek that phantasm called “peace”. Peace, as we have come to know it is little more than the fleeting visit of the Ringside Girl, prancing about the arena between rounds, holding aloft a sign signaling the momentary cessation of battle. My, she is ever so seductive. Who could possibly not want her?

Peace stands naked without war. It is the mirage that glitters but ultimately vanishes because it was never meant to be there to begin with. Peace would appear to be a distraction. Only victors control its terms and of course, any student of history is well versed in the seeds of war planted by every Peace Treaty since the idea was invented. Peace is that Potemkin idol held aloft by every war regime, imparting the sheen of legitimacy to what is otherwise a full-on embrace of bloodthirsty, self-aggrandizing barbarity.

After all, the current self-proclaimed Mahdi and arch-Gnostic Osama bin Laden has revealed his own legerdemain in holding out the prospect of peace if only we infidels were to draw back from the world and leave he and his Wahabbi Mugwumps in charge of browbeating the Muslim. Sheik Osama has revealed his impetuous and grasping identity as a false idol by abandoning the most elemental of Koranic advise, a repeated admonition that the pursuit of God is a humble embrace of patience. Sura 2, verse 148 advises: “O ye who believe! Seek help with patience and with prayer, for God is with the patient.” In Sura 9, verse 90, there is a repeat refrain: “God hath made ready for them gardens ‘neath which the rivers flow wherein they shall remain forever: this will be the great Bliss.” For Sheik bin Laden, patience will not merit the gardens of the four rivers of paradise. To get there one must abide in the faith while attacking the infidel and living in fear of God and his grievous punishment. This is a God of both thrill and fear, of forgiveness and brutal judgment. This is a God whose most fertile field is resentment, division and war. In earlier times, this God was named Mars. Mars, of course, scoffed at and admonished the forgiving nature of Christ and his admonition of “let those who have not sinned cast the first stone”. Though the Old Testament can be hair-raising and the New Testament equally fearsome, they would not seem to be so directly tied to conquest as that of the Koran. Peace, in the Koran, would appear to be exclusive. I would like to know more about the various translations of the Holy Koran and understand the gradations of veracity inherent to the art of translation but as far as the J.M. Rodwell translation has led me to believe, true divinity in this beautiful monument of prose called the Koran can only be achieved if those who one opposes are utterly vanquished.

Peace then, is the boon companion of the unrepentant Gnostic Neo-conservative and their perfect antipode, and brother Gnostic, the al Qaeda Terrorist. Both hold the prospect of peace aloft for their admiring supporters yet in the end, they wish more for war, giving little more than lip service to peace. War, of course, is their validation in confusion, their diversion. Utopians will forever stand knee deep in blood while extolling the virtues of some cockamamie idea.

What is the answer? It is in Caritas. As Aquinas termed it, Fides formata or “Formed Faith”. It is an approach toward God that possesses the vitality of truth in faith because it has embraced the defining human trait of love over all. It grows beyond the great retributions and implacable forces of the Old Testament in order to embrace the simple humilities of the New Testament. This is not done in the sentimentality of the valentine or the toss-off notions of “it’s all good,” it is done in full recognition of the fierce quality integral to maternal love. It is, to be sure, the steel-willed love of Mary, resolute in the face of fear and wonder. It is the bittersweet durability of the eternal mother. Of this, strong sons are made.

Love, you see, is not such a soft thing, as we would make it out to be in this caricatured era of the greeting card. Love is a human emotion possessing the force of a hurricane yet tempered by a forgiving energy that diminishes the chasms that separate us from one another. True love does not wish to transform one’s object into an image of one’s self; it expands the definition of brotherhood into a philosophy which finds no obstacle in fundamental differences. In this context, one loves one’s brother because he is so distinct from one’s self. Your brother’s differences articulate those personal perceptions, which so define a centered identity. One can unreservedly love another because love has graced one’s own sense of personal identity. Fear and revenge are nowhere to be found because in this love, differences between us are actually heightened. Differences validate and give lovely terrain to this great Babel of teeming humanity. In love and honor of a God that can conduct such a beautiful chaos as the human race, we abandon ourselves to the pure hopes of brotherhood, the energetic vigor of embracing the other for their sake because it sanctifies the self in loving communion with the soul.

Love and hate reside under the same human roof. To master them, or perhaps merely tame them we must become more able craftsmen. We must take the raw materials of humanity and respect them for what they have been as well as what they are now and what they can be when properly planed into structural members that support the sanctuary of our deepest humility. The House of God is but a dream as yet. It has not yet witnessed our human touch becoming informed by the fierce discipline of total love. It has only seen the false front of a circumscribed, idolatry of love, that kind of denatured love that is easily seduced by the whispering forces of narcissism and personal glory. Our love has been long held captive by tribalism and we have invented the concept of peace because we cannot release ourselves from the torments of self-loathing. Fallen, we look for someone who might have fallen lower. Cast out of paradise, we collect more victims. Made to see the most profane of our inclinations, we dwell in the house of relentless sin, forever tearing down one another in an effort to recover ground we can never fully recover because we refuse to reckon with the vouchsafed map of love.

Peace, you see, is an excuse. It is an unfulfilled promise. It is a continuing monument to hate and division. Though we may think we might find a safe harbor in peace, we never shall do so until this peace possesses the fierce and unassailable strength of Love, a love which is annealed not upon an anvil of revenge but beat firmly into a sword of victory that renders the whisperings of Satanic peace into the sordid gibberish it has always been.

When the Muslim looks at we westerners and proffers an oath that PEACE may be upon us, it is ours to resolutely reply that LOVE may be upon them. Love is the lock upon the gates of infinity, which we have found no combination for because we have been satisfied by mere peace, by a sanctification of hate in the guise of a peace treaty. I cannot vouch for what the Koran might have taught others, I can only reveal what the Koran has taught me. It has confirmed to me that glory, though often soothed by adoring caresses, true glory can never come into being without love, the fierceness of true love, the love that never compromises in the notion that peace is anything but a delay. I love my brother because he is resolutely not I.

I love my brother because I cannot love myself until I love him. Reckonings are God’s Will, not the will of man. Come what may, ours is to prosper in this exile’s garden of the fallen where every tragedy and victory conspires to create not paradise, but a mortal beauty the likes of which we do not truly deserve. Love then, of this type, resides in the abiding humility of gratefulness. This earth, this life, this light and energy, our evolving history together, it is a sweet song of benediction. We prideful humans would be much diminished without our differences, to the point of impoverishment and degradation. We would all do well to hire a rabia and pay his price in love.

In the end, the terrible grinding sounds of war that unite the forces of simple-minded empire with the forces of hateful resentment usually will only pause long enough to render a suitable peace treaty of durably Gnostic delusions. In this brief interlude, the stricken civilian is advised to gird their loins. The protagonists will only render a fools errand of peace in order that they might catch their breaths before attempting but another foolhardy attempt at supplanting the awesome beauty of this life with the darkly clotted wounds of humanity’s cockeyed lust for utopia. Today, the immanentizing forces of Modernity, prideful in its technological expertise faces off against the transcendentalizing forces of Wahhabi Islam, polished into a diamond-hard force of resentment, given more strength by every misstep of the indifferent and gluttonous goliath we have become.

Caritas, the fundamental love of generosity is the only true weapon we have against the sordid temptations of that handmaiden of hate we call peace. I care not whether the Koran is a religion of Peace because I have far less faith in peace than I will ever have in the endlessly redemptive providence of love.

It goes without saying however, that Love, this sole real treasure of our exile is something that needs a firm and terrifying defense from time to time. I do not know if this is one of those times because I will leave the reckonings of this life to those who are of better mind than I. For myself, I will simply try to love. But I will do so fiercely.

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  1. Mr. Sabin,

    First, I want to say that I am thrilled to read of your recognition and high estimation of the Bedouin. I’ve often wondered why more folks of a conservative, independent spirit haven’t seen the beauty of their lifestyle and instead have written them off as “towelheads” or worse.

    About to your reading of Rodwell unfortunately, I cannot be so enthusiastic. There are several problems with your approach and your conclusions. The first may be with the translation from which you have chosen to base your understanding of the Islamic conception of peace. You seem sensitive to this possibility when you write, “I would like to know more about the various translations of the Holy Koran and understand the gradations of veracity inherent to the art of translation but as far as the J.M. Rodwell translation has led me to believe…”

    I’d like to address what this translation has led you to believe in a moment, but let us first consider something about the “gradations of veracity inherent to the art of translation.”

    Rodwell’s translation is famous for its rearrangement of the Qur’an. He eschews the canonical arrangement of Muslims in favor of his own. This should be enough to turn any serious reader away.

    Your account of the reading suggests that the particular Rodwell translation you read did not follow Rodwell’s arrangement, but your commentary on the chapters reflects an ignorance of the basic structure of the Quran as a revealed scripture: the chapters are not arranged chronologically. (Ironically, this is what Rodwell attempted, but failed to do in his own translation.) As such, one cannot read the book cover to cover and come away with a sense of the development of religious thought or the historical development of Islam as a tradition. I thought this was what you were coming away with when you wrote, “Upon reaching Sura 70, the accumulating victories for the Prophet Muhammad ibn’ Abdullah allow poetry to prevail over the war helmet for the next 44 Suras.” With the exception of a very few verses, Chapters 70-114 are all Meccan Suras, meaning they were revealed before the Hijrah, and hence before any battles. There were no military victories; there were no “war helmets” being worn at this time.

    Secondly, Rodwell was a pastor and his translation reflects his own religious commitment. He believes that the Qur’an was simply a collection of distorted Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian tales, reframed as original poetry and recited by Muhammad. He refers to the text itself as “dark and perplexing.”

    Now, would we want a newcomer to Christianity to undertake an independent reading of the Bible as translated by someone with a corresponding set of presumptions? How might these presumptions affect the veracity of his translation?

    If one is interested in reading the Quran for some insight into the Islamic worldview, one should undertake to read it in a manner as close as possible to the way Muslims themselves might read it. Beginning with a translation that fundamentally rearranges the order of the book seems to be getting off to a most inauspicious start. We might be excused for our misunderstanding of certain Christian concepts if we begin our reading of the Bible with Revelation.

    Now, as to what you claim to have learned from this exercise, you seem to have begun with at least one presumption in mind: “Islam is a religion of peace.” And so, understandably, you read with an eye for what that might actually mean and how that might (or might not) be true, in the Quran.

    I’ve already suggested that there is a problem with the medium through which you chose to conduct your inquiry. But there is something lacking in your approach as well: there is a tradition of scholarship related to the Quran and the language of the Quran. Some of it is even available in English. If we want to say what “Peace” means in Islam, or at least how it relates to or is conceived amongst Muslims, mightn’t we consult Muslims?

    Zaid, Shakir, a prominent American Muslim scholar writes:

    In the Arabic language, the word “peace” is derived from the radicals (S-L-M). The scholars of language mention four closely related terms that can be derived from this origin: Salaam, Salaamah, Silm, and Salm. Raghib al-Isfahani says in his lexicon of Qur’anic terms, “Al-Salm and al-Salaamah mean being free from any external or internal ruinations.” Based on that, he mentions that true peace will only exist in Paradise, for only there will there be perpetuity with no end; complete satisfaction with no need; perfect honor with no humiliation; and perfect health with no disease. In this regard, God is known as al-Salaam, because He alone is described as being totally free from any defects or flaws.

    At the level of interstate relations, if we ponder the above definition, we can consider peaceful relations between nations as a condition where violence, a state inevitably involving both internal and external ruination, is absent. In this sense, war can be viewed as an aberrational state. This is so in that it is a movement away from the original state of human relations. The aberrational nature of war is made clearer if we consider that murder, the ultimate consequence of war, is considered an innovation, which destroyed the peace formerly existing among the human family. It is stated in a prophetic tradition, “No soul is killed unjustly, except that the elder son of Adam (Cain) shares in the stain of the crime. That is because he was the first to innovate murder [in the human family].

    At the individual level, peace can be viewed as an absence of the ruinations of the heart. One free from such ruinations, will succeed, God-willing, when he/she meets his/her Lord. Therefore, he/she will enter safely into the Abode of Peace (Dar as-Salaam). God says in that regard, “[On] the day no amount of wealth or children will be of any benefit. [The only one benefited] will be one who comes before God with a rectified heart.”

    Given this most cursory lesson in Arabic lexicography, the whole bit about “peace” being a “jinn,” an “excuse,” a “monument to hate and division,” we’re left with just you, talking to yourself. So now I know what “peace” means to D.W. Sabin, but you have not revealed anything that you can claim to have “learned” from the Quran, because the concepts you are describing are not in the Quran. Nor do they reflect an Islamic understanding of the concept of “peace.”

    Now, when you write, “Peace, in the Koran, would appear to be exclusive… the J.M. Rodwell translation has led me to believe, true divinity in this beautiful monument of prose called the Koran can only be achieved if those who one opposes are utterly vanquished,” we see that your conception of peace is limited to what Shakir refers to as the “interstate” variety of peace. There is however, also a conception of individual peace that descends upon the pure of heart. As a Christian, I’m sure you will acknowledge the reality to which this concept refers. And here, you may be onto something: this peace only descends when the self, the sinful self, is “utterly vanquished” and replaced with a love of God and what God loves.

    Finally, before you resign yourself to the irreconcilability of peace and love (and the inferiority? absence? of love) in the Islamic tradition, consider this saying of Muhammad: “You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I indicate to you something that will surely lead to your mutual love? Spread the greeting and spirit of peace between yourselves.”

  2. I wonder whether Islam’s bastardization of monotheism isn’t at the root of the problem…

    This is a superb meditation on love, Sabin. More of the same, please.

    • Mr. Alexander,

      Four questions:
      1) To what problem are you referring?

      2) If monotheism is true and prophethood is true, how is the theology of Islam bastardized?

      3) If the answer is that it is derived from/related to earlier forms of prophetic monotheism and this is “bastardization,” why then is Christianity not bastardized?

      4) And before we agree this is “superb,” how do we explain away the concept of Christ as the “Prince of Peace,” as found in Isaiah 9:6?

      • Mr. Levin,

        Thank you for charitably addressing my obscure and potentially inflammatory remark. Instead of attacking Islamic theology in this post, I’d like to take a different tack and commend Christian Trinitarian theology, specifically as it relates (perhaps obliquely) to ethics:

        I will argue that submission is a natural response to a God who is One, that peace is understood in terms of submission and oneness, and that Christianity and Islam share a similar ethic of submission and peace. I will also argue, however, that Christianity has a distinguishing feature—its ethic of love—and that this distinguishing feature is closely related to the feature that distinguishes Christian theology from other monotheisms: to wit, that the Godhead is made up of three persons.

        Inasmuch as it emphasizes the radical unity of God, monotheism has the potential to look askance at any separation whatsoever. If the ultimate value is oneness, then peace must serve its end. Therefore, if the lines of separation can be erased, they must be erased. And when the lines cannot be erased (humanity cannot be assumed into God’s essence) complete submission becomes necessary.

        I believe that traces of this approach to peace can be detected in both Christianity and Islam. Christianity goes a step further, though, in a way that Islam does not. As Christian theology is Trinitarian, and the Godhead is understood to be made up of three persons, unity is redefined. Unique personhood is not viewed as separation. This elevation of personhood elevates, in turn, the relation between persons, with love being that most excellent relation. (This is a terrible simplification, but I’m sure you will notice that most of this post is a simplification.)

        You, Mr. Levin, are clearly more well versed in Islam than I am. Is this a fair argument—to say that Christianity elevates love in a way that Islam does not? I do not mean to imply that in practice Christians are more loving than Muslims (you have clearly outshone me here). I do not even mean to say that love is not important to Muslims. I mean to say that love is fundamental and distinct to Christianity in a way that it is not in Islam.

        • Mr. Alexander,

          The profundity of your reply is all out of proportion to its length! Rarely have I seen the ethical consequences of Trinitarianism discussed with such concision. I understand you to say that the uniquely Christian definitions of divinity and personhood give way to a unique conception of relations between persons and in particular, the relation of love.

          If we grant this (and you, are clearly more knowledgeable about Christianity than I), I see no way of denying that “Christianity elevates love in a way that Islam does not,” as you put it. Also as you imply, this is merely a recognition of difference, not an admission of superiority (or deficiency). So at the same time, allowing that Islam elevates love (it does), it then necessarily follows that Islam elevates love in a way that Christianity does not.

          As for Islam’s elevation of love, according to Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, (something like a Sunni Augustine and Aquinas rolled into one…another of our gross oversimplifications…) love is the supreme spiritual state in Islam; all other states are subordinate to it. There are various proofs of this and arguments for it and Islamic sciences (tasawwuf) dedicated to it, but the topic at hand seems to be how Christianity and Islam elevate love differently.

          The Islamic elevation of love is related to the perfection of the Divine and His absolute worthiness of love, of adoration. God is both the supremely loving – no love can surpass His love for His creation, and the supremely loveable because of His nature – not because of any act on His part; He is worthy of being loved simply because He is God.

          It seems that in both Christian and Islamic reckonings, love is inseparable from theology, but it is in regard to this issue of “separability” that your post raises questions. You write, “…unity is redefined. Unique personhood is not viewed as separation.” I will first, readily confess that I am not a Christian theologian, so it is quite possible that I am misunderstanding some key terms in what has preceded and what is about to follow, which is simply this: I’m not sure if your presentation squares with Catholic teaching on the Trinity. Now maybe you aren’t Catholic, so maybe this doesn’t matter to you. But if the Church is correct in asserting that the relationships that exist in the Trinity are distinct and incommunicable while simultaneously subsisting within the Godhead, then I don’t know how to take your claim that personhood (as it applies to the Trinity) is not separation; the Father is not the Son just as the paternality of the former is not the filiality of the latter. The three “persons” are distinct, but mutually subsisting within the Godhead. Separation, at least as difference (is there any other kind?) remains.

          But, at the end of the day, I’m not sure how much the intricacies of the Trinity matter. I’ll leave that to you and other good-natured Christians to sort out. Nor do I see how much an enumeration of differences matter. One, the other, or neither of our mutually exclusive theologies will be true. Still, as “Children of Abraham,” as “People of the Book,” I see no way for us to disagree about the basic assertions that God is absolutely different from His creation and we were made to love Him. We are absolutely dependent upon Him; our subsistence is through Him. I have found a compelling account of this and more in Islam, where God is “Ahad wa Wadud” – One, Loving, and Worthy of Love.

          • An excellent article. May I offer some comments, and broken thoughts.

            St. Basil brought clarity to the trinitarian doctrine in the 4th century. This history is worth reviewing. Notably, in the 4th century Catholic and Orthodox were unified, that is to say there was no split between the eastern and western Catholic church.

            Our western culture has no understanding of the history or heritage of a people. In western culture we envy what we don’t have, and we see the rich history and heritage of Islam and are attracted to that. But, that is perhaps short sighted. There are Ethiopian, Egyptian, Palestinian and Syrian Christians (and many other sects and people groups) who have a beautiful heritage and wonderful customs of hospitality.

            Attention needs to be given to the history of Islam. The culture that Islam was birthed from, Jewish and / or Christian, was rejected. Certainly the theology of St. Basil was discarded if not rejected as Islam emerged. Some understanding of the “family history” is needed for reconciliation. This is true also for the many atrocities committed by one group against another group, all in the name of their loving divinity. It is very important to see in the middle east for centuries Islam and Christianity have lived together with some form of harmony. In some ways the wedge forced by American and European “peace plans” have brought the destruction of a social ecosystem that allowed co-existence.

            Finally, the insight that love is our goal, being a true path to reconciliation, is truth. Peace is a common word tossed about by all meaning something like “cessation of violence” but not reconciliation, and often domination by the mighty. And of course, if I am to pursue love, it must be with those who hate me. Usually I don’t have to go to the Middle East to find people I need to love.

  3. Samuel Levin,
    You correctly understand my hedges on the translations and they were rooted in my understanding that Rodwell had , in fact re-ordered the Suras. We’re I conversant in Arabic, i am confident my understanding and enjoyment of the Koran would be much aided. Thank you for your comments. Do you have an English translation you prefer?

    I do wish that I were as sanguine as you about war in this technocratic utopian age, being an aberration . I beg to differ. We humans are in open conflict across a full gamut of both issues and geographies, with both our own species and the larger environment. That Faith is such an intrinsic thing to the human, it comes as no surprise that wars over Faith are so common. I selected the word “peace” in an admittedly simplistic way , open to deserved criticism. I did so in order to focus attention upon how it is so often used as a kind of narcotic within geopolitical relations.

    You ask for a fuller picture of what I might have taken away from my reading of the Koran. First, the immediacy of the the Patriarchs to all Brothers of the Book was underscored. Secondly, I have often admired the art of the Persian miniature and this reading has somewhat increased my understanding of them. So too has it increased my longing to see the Chahar Bagh in their native garden settings of the Kashmir, but another front of human war. But most importantly, I come away with what seems to be something increasingly obvious to me: my own abiding ignorance. Thankfully, a love of knowledge tempered by my sense of ignorance is consoling.

    I also detect a bit of the cold desert air in the Koran……brilliant starlight over the stark sands changing to searing, cleansing heat in the day. It is very direct.

  4. “Though broken into distinctive branches of Suffi, Sunni and Shia, who demonize one another as much as they might anyone else, Islam will consolidate and stand in stark rebuke of the other, the Infidel.”

    It seems our leaders fail to see that their own belligerence has created a much stronger enemy.

    • Now that Mr. Carr has commented on it I find that I cannot resist doing the same..Alas I had been so good until now!

      The reference to “Sufi, Sunni, and Shia” as three distinct branches of Islam is a pervasive and gross error, akin to asserting that Christianity consists of Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and Saints.”

      When phrased just so, one easily spots the problem: There are saints within the Catholic and Orthodox traditions; the tradition of saints – and those who aspire to be like them – exists as an essential part of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

      It is the same with Sufism. It exists as an essential part of both Sunni and Shi’a Islam. It is not something separate nor something outside of these traditions. Only in the modernist, “fundamentalist” interpretations of Islam does one see the possibility of sainthood and the science of it (tasawwuf) denied.

  5. S. Levin,
    So I suppose the various wars between Sunni and Shia as well as the general prejudices against the Suffi by the other two are figments of our “fundamentalist” imagination.

    By the way, I’d asked of a translation you preferred.

    • Mr. Sabin,

      No sir, no one is suggesting that the hostilities are imaginary. Nor do I deny the very real differences between Sunnis and Shiites.

      My comment was about the false division of Sufism into a third way of Islam when in reality it is part of both Sunni and Shiite Islam. There are Sunni Sufis and Shiite sufis but there are no sufis who are neither Sunni nor Shiite.

      To be sure, some modern Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite, are hostile to Tasawwuf. This, however, is a relatively recent development. This is part of the Salafi-Wahabi phenomenon that seeks to “purge” Islam of all perceived foreign influence and all things they believe did not originate during the life of Muhammad. And in this sense, they are “fundamentalists.”

      I believe the best translation out right now is the Muhammad Abdal-Haleem translation published by Oxford University Press. The introduction is valuable.

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