So, one of the main texts that we started with in the first week of the block was A History of God written by Karen Armstrong, one of the most prolific authors of Biblical studies. This particular book was a best seller, and clearly from its title it is an ambitious project. This text does feature Islam prominently as one of the three Abrahamic faiths, but why read the entire text? Armstrong’s book offers a background and a matrix for the study of Islam. Something that is far often looked over when thinking about the Islamic faith is that the first Muslims were Jews and Christians participating in Muhammad’s movement. As Peter says often, “these people didn’t land here from planet Islam.”
Armstrong’s book took a very interesting look at how the idea of God changed as the Abrahamic traditions moved forward and apart. She also spends some ample words on what I think is the most interesting thing to happen to the Abrahamic traditions: the marriage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each with the philosophical traditions of Plato and Aristotle. This presented for many in all of these religious and philosophical traditions with the dichotomy of faith and reason. I loved reading about the Muslim “Faylasuf” (philosopher) who studied and then eventually gave up and became a mystic (Sufis). This particular Faylasuf, Al-Ghazali, actually anticipated Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” by five centuries. I can only attribute this to the open-minded feel that Islam seems to have regarding their theology and beliefs, especially in the years closest to the Prophet Muhammad. While there was a renaissance of ideas about God because of the marriage of the Greeks and the Abrahamic traditions, I think it has given us more trouble than less. In my personal opinion I only see this as the commandeering of these traditions. I digress, and want to leave you by saying that this is really a fantastic book loaded with information. It is simply brimming with enough research that I’ll need to read it a few more times to fully understand where Armstrong, Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad are all coming from. I really enjoyed it, and I would say it is the best introduction that I’ve seen into both the Abrahamic traditions and the study of religion in general. To finish things off, here is a quote from the book on the topic of faith and reason (of course supporting my previous argument).
“Ibn Sina held that a prophet like Muhammad was superior to any philosopher because he was not dependent upon human reason but enjoyed a direct and intuitive knowledge of God.” Armstrong, pg. 181