My mother, a traditional woman of the Mediterranean Greece, tried to raise me to be a good Christian, however somewhere along the way her efforts failed. See, as I was growing up, it felt liberating to reject what seemed to me as narrow-minded, ‘all-donts’ rules of an unproved (or even unprovable) concept. No wonder I was far from excited when, while studying for a class, I came across a text by Roger Arnaldez describing the history of religions in the Mediterranean. ‘Oh this b/s again’. I began reluctantly browsing the pages. Damn, it got interesting.
In an all too simplified and known sequence: first came polytheism, then Judaism, Christianity, Islam – three of world’s most popular religions were born and raised in a small part of the Mediterranean. I was aware that each one built on the previous ones, blending and mixing concepts, dogmas, symbols. However, I was not aware that they relate to one another in the following ways.
# interesting_fact1: Islam’s God is the Christian God, same as the Christian God is the Jewish God. That’s not to mean that the Gods have the same ‘features’, rather that each religion when newly introduced claimed to have a better view of the already ‘existing’ God, and further that the previous religion had failed because of division, moral decline etc. Saint Paul preached that the real Jew is the Christian. In the same manner later on, the Quran would dictate: the real Jew, or the real Christian, is the Muslim.
# interesting_fact2: Islam came about as a religion with radical views on the status quo, same as Christianity is considered to have opposed conventional power institutions and ideologies when first introduced. In fact, when Islam began preaching equality and justice in a simple manner, people turned to it, being largely frustrated with the Christian Byzantine Empire because of its dogmatic quarrels, the continuous fighting of bishops over thrones and all these nice things that come with power.
# interesting_fact3: In order for Islam to continue spreading, it had to incorporate pre-existing religious practices and symbols, much like Christian churches were built on ancient temples’ sites. In the pre-islamic era, the Kaaba, the building inside Islam’s most sacred mosque and center of the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, was a holy site for the various Bedouin tribes in the area. Once every lunar year, the Bedouin tribes would make a pilgrimage to Mecca and worship their pagan gods in the Kaaba.
Why my attention was focused on the Islam/Christianity relation? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps because I was born in a Christian region. Since Christianity was a reform of Judaism, many things of their interface are familiar to me. More probably though, there is something else: the value in exploring things that connect the now politically divided world into terrorist and non-terrorist countries. The Islamic Middle-East region of the world is almost solely represented in the Western media through photos of victims after a bomb attack, videos of men holding up guns and yelling ‘allahu akbar’, caged women in burqa and bad dictators. Does that affect our view of this region and its people and how? Many acknowledge that religion is used nowadays, same as in the past, as a pretext in the political and economic power arena. Yet, even having this awareness, the lesser we know someone, the more susceptible we are to adopt any opinion about them which is already formed and given to us: there is nothing else there to contradict it.
# hopeful_fact1andonly: In Baghdad, The House of Wisdom was a major intellectual center during the Islamic Golden Age, bringing together many well-known scholars to share information, ideas, and culture. Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophers met there to translate the Greek texts. According to Abu Hayan al Tawhidi, during their night meetings the most distinguished intellectuals would discuss about the big problems, without faith discrimination and on equal terms. While contemplating on God, they were led to describe experiences and define life values with many common points, despite their dogmatic differences.
If we could only order a House of Wisdom on e-bay..