Muslim witchhunt? Restore sanity with Miroslav Volf

Millions of Muslim familes across the U.S. are wondering how the new congressional investigation will affect their lives.Thank goodness for timely theologians like Miroslav Volf! His new book, Allah: A Christian Response, hits Amazon this week—just in time to play a positive role in the sizzling debate over new congressional hearings targeting American Muslim leaders and their communities.

TODAY, we’re reporting on the widespread negative reaction to U.S. Rep. Peter King’s plans for these hearings in Washington.
AND TODAY, we’re introducing Volf’s new book with a several-paragraph sample that describes his overall theme. Come back all week for further reports on Volf’s larger efforts, working with scores of other Christian leaders, to forge peaceful relationships with Islam. But first, here’s the news …

Remember: Amazon sells Mirslav Volf’s “Allah: A Christian Response” at a discount.

Responses to the King Hearings Targeting Muslims

New York GOP Rep. Peter T. King is no stranger to controversy. Over the past decade, he has been a loud and persistent critic of American Muslim communities in general, arguing that they don’t do enough to combat terrorism in the U.S. and around the world. After the GOP takeover of the U.S. House, King became head of the House Homeland Security Committee and has announced hearings specifically focused on American Muslim leaders and congregations. King has said repeatedly that he plans to demonstrate his often-repeated criticisms.

On the street in diverse American communities where people know their Muslim neighbors, this probe is being described as “King’s Muslim witch-hunt.” But, we’re reporting here on editorial voices nationwide, including coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post and other major news media. Generally, this editorial commentary is running strongly against King’s plan. Even many experts who support a more aggressive probe of terrorism in the U.S. are opposed to King’s plan and are declaring that his basic assumptions are flat-out wrong.

Over the weekend, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent called King’s claim that Muslims are sheltering terrorists “buffoonery.” King himself admits that he doesn’t plan to call law enforcement officials, because he says they won’t testify that this is a problem. He claims that police officials tell him it’s a problem privately, but won’t testify to that in public. Sargent and other editorial voices across the country are calling that claim sheer nonsense. Why wouldn’t law enforcement officials publicly identify a terrorist threat? It all sounds like King is planning a parade of angry, uninformed voices chiding Muslim leaders. Most of the actual on-the-record comments from law enforcement leaders, so far, talk about Muslim leaders’ courageous cooperation.

Is anyone supporting the idea of hearings on terrorism? Yes, indeed. Lots of responsible editorial voices are reporting that, especially after the shootings in Arizona, there’s an obvious need to investigate extremism and violence. Here at ReadTheSpirit, we would agree. Something is seriously wrong when we witness a bloodbath like the Arizona shootings.

David H. Schanzer, a researcher on terrorism and security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, also supports more attention to terrorist threats. Schanzer wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday that hearings on terrorism might be a good idea, if the scope is expanded and balanced properly. However, King has it wrong at the moment, Schanzer concluded. In his column, Schanzer wrote: “King’s claims that American mosques are hotbeds of radicalism and that Muslim-Americans don’t cooperate with law enforcement are just plain wrong. A research project I led found just the opposite—Muslim-Americans uniformly reject violent extremism. And, since 9/11, Muslim-Americans have provided information leading to the arrest of 48 Muslim-Americans for terrorism crimes.” That’s from a scholar who is generally supportive of greater investigation into home-grown terrorism.

Other voices are harsher in their critique of King. A Los Angeles Times editorial concluded: “King has offered few details; his evidence is anecdotal and sketchy. And it is contradicted by others, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who said this week that Muslims in the county have been pivotal in helping to fight terrorism. … Anti-Islamic feeling in this country is real and widespread. King’s hearings run the risk of exacerbating that.”

Even Rabbis for Human Rights has posted a commentary on King that says in part: “Rhetoric like this is troubling; King’s efforts to put these congressional hearings in motion are dumbfounding.”

Finally, the Washington Post warns that King’s probe is going to cause big problems for GOP elected officials with Muslim voters in their districts. Those voters know this is an unbalanced effort and they won’t be happy with their Republican officials. There are many Muslim Republicans in the U.S., including Muslim businessmen who are major donors to Republican causes. King’s plans pose a major problem for those GOP loyalists.

Why Is Mirsolav Volf’s New ‘Allah’
Essential Reading in Early 2011?

MIROSLAV VOLF at a conference.A decade has passed since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a horrific event that touched off years of public demand for information about Islam. Thousands of books, magazines and study guides reported on Muslim life, ranging from the good—to the bad and the ugly. In 2007, sparked by a controversial lecture in the previous autumn by Pope Benedict XVI, Muslim leaders around the world issued a cordial invitation to dialogue with Christian leaders in “A Common Word.” Volf helped to organize Christian leaders to respond in a similarly constructive tone.

ReadTheSpirit also contributes to improved cross-cultural understanding. We publish a section called Sharing Islam with a similar aim: peaceful, well-informed dialogue.

For several years, despite what U.S. Rep. King is claiming, major Christian and Muslim religious leaders have been working on building bridges. One central question repeatedly raised is this: Do Muslims and Christians ultimately worship the same God? Certainly, Christians believe that Jesus is a divine part of the Trinity; Muslims do not. There are big differences in specific beliefs. But, at the core of the two faiths: Are these 3.6 billion people praying to the same compassionate God?

The Roman Catholic Church in a historic 1965 declaration, Nostra Aetate, answered that question: Yes. So did Pope John Paul II just before the year 2000. So did a long list of Christian leaders in the response to Islam that Volf organized in 2007, ranging from famous Harvard professors to the editor of Christianity Today and other evangelicals. Volf’s new book explains this crucial “yes” for general readers. Of course, this is a vast question and there are enormous issues within the basic question about God’s nature. Those issues are discussed from a Christian perspective in Volf’s new book. It’s essential reading in early 2011 for anyone concerned about the fact that our government is about to target American Muslims for disloyalty to our shared values.

What does Miroslav Volf’s New ‘Allah’ Say?

Here are four paragraphs from the opening section of Miroslav Volf’s new “Allah” that capture his overall message. Remember that the book is more than 300 pages, so this handful of paragraphs is a tiny window into the entire text …

The stakes are high. Muslims and Christians together comprise more than half of humanity. Though charting the growth rates of world religions is a complex and disputed practice, most scholars agree that both Christianity and Islam will continue to grow numerically for the foreseeable future. Equally significant, as the democratic ideal spreads and takes deeper root, Christianity and Islam are likely to assert themselves even more vigorously in public arenas worldwide than they have so far. Consider also that we live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world with rapidly diminishing natural resources and explosive population growth. Struggles between various groups are expected to increase, especially around water, the most vital of all resources. Occasions for conflict between Muslims and Christians will multiply.

This book is about the extraordinary promise contained in the proper Christian response to the God of Muslims for easing animosities and overcoming conflict. More, it is about opening up prospects for lasting peace. (…)

One might be tempted to say that the only workable solution is for both Muslims and Christians to secularize some of their beliefs and practices and regulate their common life without reference to God. And yet, that won’t work. For one thing, many contemporary secular thinkers believe that religion is important in the modern world because it helps forge bonds of solidarity between people. Moreover, Islam and Christianity continue to be vibrant and growing religions; even if one wanted to, one could not bypass God as the source of ultimate values.

Muslims and Christians will be able to live in peace with one another only if (1) the identities of each religious group are respected and given room for free expression and (2) if there are significant overlaps in the ultimate values that orient the lives of people in these communities. These two conditions will be met only if the God of the Bible and the God of the Quran turn out to embody overlapping ultimate values, that is, if Muslims and Christians, both monotheists, turn out to have “a common God.” A common God does more to help bridge the chasm between Christians and Muslims than just provide a set of overlapping ultimate values. A common God “nudges” people to actually employ those common values to set aside their animosities.

Remember, you can order “Allah: A Christian Response” from Amazon at a discount.

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