Islamic thought through Protestant eyes

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Book Club: In an illuminating review of religions, Islamic Thought Through Protestant Eyes by Mehmet Karabela explains how, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, Islam became a key theological concern in Western Europe.

Karabela’s book aims to fill the gap in historical knowledge about how engagement with Islam helped shape Protestant beliefs and doctrines [Routledge]

What if the Protestant Reformation concerned both Islam and Catholicism? We all know the story, a German priest called Martin Luther, angered by what he saw as the excesses of the Catholic Church and certain doctrines she espoused, nailed 95 pieces of theses to a church door. symbolizing his objections, involuntarily triggering the reform leading to the creation of Protestantism.

Protestantism began as a protest against Catholicism which evolved into a sect in its own right with different beliefs, practices and doctrines, but while anti-Catholicism could have been a key feature of the Protestant movement, Islam played a lesser-known role in the formation of Christianity. sect. Mehmet Karabela Islamic thought through Protestant eyes aims to fill the gap in historical knowledge about how engagement with Islam helped shape Protestant beliefs and doctrines.

“The obsession with Islam was partly motivated by fear of things like the Ottoman Empire, but also by intense curiosity, especially in light of the rejection of the intellectual authority of the Catholic Church, there had meaning they needed to make sense of the world with new eyes “

Some historians such as Kecia Ali have argued that modern Islam is increasingly Protestant with a growing emphasis on things like relying solely on the Qur’an, hadiths, and the first generation of Muslims as authority figures. , a position born out of interaction with Western Christianity through things like Europe. colonialism, American-led globalization and other related forces.

Karabela adds to this perspective by leading us to think back to earlier eras and how Protestantism was influenced by Islam. In particular, German Lutheran institutions and universities undertook the professional study of Islam in the 17th and 18th centuries with a mixture of hostility and intrigue.

The link with Islam is made very clear by the theologian Johann Ulrich Wallich whose book is accompanied by an illustration of a papal crown and above a turban of the Ottoman Sultan and a circle of snakes connecting them with banners that say: “Unequal agreement in matters of fate”, and “Each of you kills or avoids!”

Of this image, Karabela writes: “The satanic representation of the headdresses of the Sultan and the Pope establishes an equivalence between Islam and Catholicism, with snakes symbolizing both as evil. The Protestant reader, as he examines an account of the exotic heresy of the Turks, is thus encouraged to draw parallels with the superstitions and heresies of the Catholic Church.

Islamic thought through Protestant eyes decomposes the various themes found in Lutheran scholarship on Islam and translated extracts, everything from theology to philosophy to the Sunni-Shiite divide, of interest to Christian scholars.

The various Christian thinkers regarded Islam as a false deception because one of the major themes of Protestant works is the idea that Islam is morally lax as a religion.

Christian Benedikt Michaelis, an 18th century theologian, “argues that Muhammad deliberately and artfully created a morally lax religion to win converts.” Michaelis asserts that Islam only requires believers to keep faith in their hearts, which allows Muslims to commit blasphemy and deny God if they are threatened with physical violence for believing in Him, he does not. There is no need to fear sin since Islam says that God forgives everything, Michaelis asserts.

“Mehmet Karabela has done an invaluable service by giving us access to Lutheran thinkers and showing us how they analyzed Islam to better understand Christianity”

As proof, Michaelis quotes the Koranic passage from 2: 185: “God wants ease for you and does not want difficulty for you. Michaelis says Islam uses the ease of sin to adopt a permissive attitude towards everything from prayer to sexuality, because Islam therefore appeals to the “debased” tastes of people, which allows them to convert. easier.

He contrasts this with Christianity where a believer can never lie about his faith, especially in the face of persecution, and thus martyrdom is particularly glorified within the church. What is interesting in Michaelis’ interventions is that he does not only look at Islam, but also has Catholicism in mind, for him to study Islam is also to understand the limits of the Christian faith and form new ideas in the light of it.

Apart from theology, Lutheran scholars were also interested in the rational philosophy of Islam, while they all agreed with Islam as a religion hampering the development of rational philosophy, not all of them disagreed on the exact cause. Johann Peter von Ludewig showed a great interest in pre-Islamic Arab philosophy, which he considered to be wise and connected, although very distinct from Greek philosophy.

However, rational philosophy strayed with the rise of the Prophet Muhammad, contests Ludewig, because he was illiterate and in order to maintain political control, he criminalized its study. Only the Christian influence on Islam later revived philosophy according to Ludewig.

If Ludewig’s thesis is no longer accepted today, what it reveals is the diversity of ideas and challenges that Lutherans faced. It should also be remembered that these Protestant scholars operated in a pre-imperialist and therefore pre-orientalist context, the degradation of Islam was not motivated by the conquest of Muslim lands, but by the spiritual and religious clashes with which they were confronted. .

Mehmet Karabela has been of great service in giving us access to Lutheran thinkers and showing us how they analyze Islam to better understand Christianity.

The obsession with Islam was driven in part by fear of things like the Ottoman Empire, but also by intense curiosity, especially in light of the rejection of the intellectual authority of the Catholic Church, there was a meaning they needed to make sense of the world with new eyes.

Usman Butt is a London-based multimedia television researcher, filmmaker and writer. Usman studied international relations and the Arabic language at the University of Westminster and obtained an MA in Palestinian studies at the University of Exeter.

Follow him on Twitter: @TheUsmanButt

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