I am taking a number of classes this semester: “Justice and the World Order”, “Luke”, an Aristotle class up at Fordham, and lastly, a “Christian-Muslim Dialogue” class. In the Christian-Muslim dialogue class, taught by Prof. Knitter, one of the books we are reading is titled Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism and edited by Omid Safi. While I read the first two chapters of the book, I was struck with how much one learns about not only the other religions, but also one’s own religion within religious dialogue. A deeper understanding is gained inside such learning, but there are also challenges raised within the new horizon to that we must respond.
I also did not anticipate that I would see such similar lenses between I and a Muslim scholar. I was not sure what to expect really, but the theological and epistemological parallels are too close to ignore. Thus, from the knowledge gained from two chapters in the readings, this post seeks to find the teleological path of right response and unicity to the chaos currently reigning in Muslim culture.
The first chapter by Khaled Abou El Fadl on the chaos within the Muslim communities, particularly in the Arab world with the nationalized eradication of social space, seems analogous with William Cavanaugh’s theopolitical interpretation of the nation-state. Cavanaugh asserts that the jealousness of the state obliterates alternative social space, through the individualizing social contract and its use of coercive powers, for the state seeks to assert power over its citizens and justify its raison d’etat.1
The second chapter by Farid Esack seems to agree with Eugene McCarraher’s theoeconomic readings. McCarraher states:
The corporation parodies the ecclesia, and the trinkets of the market ape the delights of the heavenly city. The enchantments of capitalism pervert our longing for a sacramental way of being in the world. A fat, greasy, hoarding slob in ancient Babylonian lore, Mammon appears, in capitalists modernity, in a counterfeit angelic rainment.2
Esack similarly asserts, “This fundamentalism of the Market seeks to convert all other cultures in its image, utilizing them for consolidating the system.”3 And Esack continues: “The Market is thus being openly presented as the only way with the assertion that outside its pale there is no salvation for the world, only the hell-fire of destruction, or the limbo of ‘primitivism.’”4
Theologically these Muslim scholars are making the same turns that some Christian theologians and historians are and this reveals at least two important points. First, as Christians and Muslims we can both have a similar understanding of western power, which results in a condemnation of the powers as they currently exist.5 This leads to the second point which is more of a question: while the Muslims struggle against the encroachment and overt attempt to control by western imperialism, are we as Christians working prophetically against the chaos causing state and market that attempts to influence us or are we co-opted to justify the religion of the state and the market?
It seems to me that in order to help the Muslims in their profound chaos, for which we as westerners are culpable, our radical, prophetic spirit must be encouraged. Our only option is to side with those confused and on the receiving end of American violence. As both religious communities suffering from the divisive actions by the state, Christians and Muslims must join in some ways to truly combat market and state fundamentalism.
As Christians and Muslims we both stand in condemnation of the chaos and violence bringers, and in this case, the bringers are the state, the market and those who are co-opted into the systems of repression by the powers and their status quo. There can be no flourishing for Islam if relationships are continually broken because of bombs from planes obliterating the people and soldiers poisoning alternative social space. The moving forward of progressive Islam or an Islamic reformation (or whatever), much less the healing of the communities in general, cannot happen easily to say the least without the cessation of chaos inflicted by the nation-state and violence supplied by the west. Reformations have their own chaos, but it is not the same chaos broken relationships. We cannot afford to let the state and the market go on inflicting unnecessary chaos, for both the good of western Christianity, Muslim societies and life in general.
1. See Cavanaugh’s works Theopolitical Imagination and Torture and Eucharist.
2. “The Enchantments of Mammon: Notes Toward a Theological History of Capitalism” in Modern Theology, July 2005, pg. 433.
3. Progressive Muslims, 90.
4. Ibid., 91.
5. Interestingly it is the Muslim progressives that criticize the liberals of maintaining the nationalized status quo, but we in the west do not maintain a distinction as such up front, although the dichotomy between liberal and liberation may be a parallel distinction.