Monday, October 02, 2006

Trusting the Spirit

It is a testimony to the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit – in whom Muslims genuinely and adamantly disbelieve – that many Muslims live lives of exemplary civility and graciousness. Their example could and should edify and inspire those of us who strive for civility and graciousness by following Christ. The decent and morally ordered lives of these admirable Muslims could be especially instructive to those succumbing to the post-Christian West’s decadence and vacuous self-indulgence, reminding us all of the inseparability of meaning, happiness, virtue and principled self-control.

A Christian, however, might want to give some credit for the exemplary lives of some Muslims to the Holy Spirit simply because the life of the man on whom Muslim religious beliefs are based is, in my view at least (and in that of many more knowledgeable about Mohammed than I am), far from exemplary, however remarkable might have been his religious zeal and his military accomplishments. That a heritage consisting of this man’s life and the Qu’ranic writings he is thought to have received from on high could inspire so many to live lives of integrity is, by Christian reckoning, one of those marvels for which the Holy Spirit deserves credit. Christians have no proprietary rights to the Holy Spirit.

That the work of the Holy Spirit is in historical struggle with a sin-saturated spirit of another sort can be seen in the ease with which the Islamic heritage to which so many decent Muslims have been able to look for guidance has been transformed by angry, resentful and violent men into something truly toxic and barbarous.

If religious dialogue means anything, it means respecting one’s dialogue partners enough to speak the truth as one sees it, and trying as best one can to speak that truth with as much charity as candor. The truth about the state of Islam worldwide is not one that many Muslims want to hear, but there is another truth we must not forget: there are Muslims among us, children of the God to whom we Christians pray, who live lives worthy of our admiration and emulation, and who have been betrayed by their violent and irrational co-religionists.


Athos said...

And what if the Holy Spirit has no place within believers to alight?

What I means is this: I am struck by the lack of interiority in Islam. It may simply be ignorance on my part -- the Sufi tradition is a closed book I want to open -- but individuality and a non collective life of prayer seems absent.

In the absence of interiority, and a sacramentality that allows for an imminent Presence of transcendence in the temporal plane of existence, might there be an inevitable need to sequester the world into the sacred, collective "us" -- the beachhead of Truth (al-Haqq) -- and its eternal enemy, the falsehood (batil) of "them"?

The line of demarcation, then, with no recourse to interiority, does not run down the middle of my own heart, but between Islam and ignorant society (jahili - pagan).

BTW, I'm no scholar of Arabic; the anglicized Arabic is from Mary Habeck's excellent Knowing the Enemy - Jihadist Ideology & the War on Terror (Yale, 2006).

Gil Bailie said...

I understand the point you're making, Jeff, and you may be right. It's in the nature of interiority to elude easy detection by casual observers. The hunger of the heart is hard to silence, but the best way to silence it is to destroy silence itself. We all have our ways, the contagion of angry crowds being just about the worst way of all. All one can hope for in such cases is that at an unguarded moment on the road to Damascus sanity might return, giving the Holy Spirit an opening at last. All the best.