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aammar 16-09-2012 07:12 AM

Karen Armstrong
 
Karen Armstrong (14-11-1944)
She is an English writer specialized in the science of religions. She was born on the 11th of November 1944 in Wildmoor, Worcestershire, England, and wrote many books on comparative religion. Her fame started with her successful book A History of God. As a former catholic nun, she ascertained that all precepts of major religions tell almost the same thing in the same manner, regardless of the ostensive differences. They all lay emphasis on the great importance of compassion, which they express according to the golden rule: do not do anything with others which you do not do with yourself.
Because she wrote many books about Islamic precepts, she was sought for much more to deliver lectures especially after the 9/11 attacks. In February 2008, she was invited to a council of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders to take part in formulating a charter of compassion to identify shared moral priorities across religious traditions in order to foster global understanding and a peaceful world. Her interfaith dialogue initiative won the $100,000 TED Prize in February 2008, supported by the International Conference of Prominent Personalities in Design, Entertainment and Technology. Her books include: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (1991); Islam: A Short History (2000); The Bible: A Biography (2007); Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time (2006).
From Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet:
No aggressiveness
It is a mistake to imagine that Islam is an inherently violent or fanatical faith, as is sometimes suggested. Islam is a universal religion and there is nothing aggressively oriental or anti-Western about it.[1]
The Quranic morality
Constantly it (Quran) urges Muslims to be patient and endure their present sufferings with fortitude and dignity. They should not seize the opportunity for a personal vendetta against their enemies.[2]
A Westerner may not be able to appreciate the beauty of the Quran
Western people find this very difficult to understand. We have seen that even the likes of Gibbon and Carlyle, who were reasonably sympathetic to Islam, were baffled by the Quran. This, of course, is not particularly surprising. It is always difficult to appreciate holy books of other cultures. In the case of the Quran, there is also the problem of translation. The most beautiful lines of Shakespeare frequently sound banal in another language because little of the poetry can be conveyed in a foreign idiom and Arabic is a language that is especially difficult to translate. Arabs point out that they find translations of poems or stories they have enjoyed in the original Arabic unrecognizable in another tongue. There is something about Arabic which is incommunicable in another idiom. Even the speeches of Arab politicians sound stilted, artificial and alien in an English translation. If this is true of ordinary Arabic, mundane utterance or conventional literature, it is doubly true of the Quran which is written in a highly complex, dense and allusive language. Even Arabs who speak English fluently have said that, when they read the Quran in an English translation, they feel that they are reading an entirely different book.[3]
But
This does not mean that we should dismiss the Quran arrogantly. It is not meant to be read like other books. If approached in the right way, believers claim, it yields a sense of divine presence. This is difficult for somebody who has been brought up in the Christian tradition to understand because Christians do not have a sacred language.[4]
Here you are a proof
The power of the Quran can be seen from the fact that many people within the Islamic empire abandoned their own languages in order to adopt the sacred tongue of the holy book.[5]
No falsehood could ever come to it
When Muslims listen to a srah (i.e. chapter of the Quran) in the mosque, they are reminded of the central tenets of their faith in a single recitation. Non-Muslims, however, will find the Quran a valuable source of information about Muhammad. Even though it was not officially compiled until after his death, it can be regarded as authentic. Modern scholars, who have been able to date the various srahs with reasonable accuracy, point out that, for example, the earliest parts of the Quran refer to the special problems that Muhammad encountered while his religion was still a struggling little sect and that they would have been forgotten later when Islam was an established and triumphant religion. Therefore, in the Quran we have a contemporaneous commentary on Muhammad's career that is unique in the history of religion.[6]
They were light years ahead of Europe
Christian-Muslim relations were normally good. Like the Jews, Christians were allowed full religious liberty within the Islamic empire and most Spaniards were proud to belong to such an advanced culture, light years ahead of the rest of Europe. They were often called 'Mozarabs' or 'Arabisers'.[7]
They had longing for Arabic
Karen Armstrong relates from Paul Alvaro, a Spanish layman at that time, his saying: The Christians love to read the poems and romances of the Arabs. They study the Arab theologians and philosophers, not to refute them but to form a correct and elegant Arabic. Where is the layman who now reads the Latin commentaries on the holy scriptures or who studies the Gospels, prophets or apostles? Alas! All talented young Christians read and study, with enthusiasm, Arab books.[8]
No conflict between religion and science
But the Quran does not ask Muslims to abdicate their reason. The signs are 'for a people having understanding, 'for a people who know.' Muslims are urged to 'look upon' signs in the natural world and examine them carefully. This attitude also helped to cultivate that habit of intelligent curiosity which enabled Muslims to develop an outstanding tradition of natural science and mathematics. There has never been a conflict between rational scientific inquiry and religion in the Islamic tradition.[9]
A major civilization
The early Muslims founded a major civilization of great beauty and established a rationalistic philosophic tradition which was an inspiration to scholars in the medieval West.[10]
An essential fact
I believe that Muhammad had such an experience and made a distinctive and valuable contribution to the spiritual experience of humanity. If we are to do justice to our Muslim neighbors, we must appreciate this essential fact.[11]
The unique achievement
Indeed, Muhammad was frequently in deadly peril and his survival was a near miracle. But he did succeed. By the end of his life, he had laid an axe to the root of the chronic cycle of tribal violence that afflicted the region and paganism was no longer a going concern. The Arabs were ready to embark on a new phase of their history. To appreciate this unique achievement, we must understand conditions in Arabia before the coming of Islam a period which Muslims call the jhiliyyah, the time of ignorance.[12]
One of the greatest geniuses
But if we can lay aside our Christian expectations of sanctity, we will find a passionate and complex human being. Muhammad had great spiritual as well as political gifts the two do not always go together and he was convinced that all religious people have a responsibility to create a good and just society. He could become darkly angry and implacable, but he could also be tender, compassionate, vulnerable and immensely kind. We never read of Jesus laughing but we often find Muhammad smiling and teasing people who were closest to him. We will see him playing with children, having trouble with his wives, weeping bitterly when a friend dies and showing off his new baby son like any besotted father. If we could view Muhammad as we do any other important historical figure, we would surely consider him to be one of the greatest geniuses the world has known.[13]
The high taste
In Makkah, he was known as al-Amn, the reliable one. All his life he had the ability to inspire confidence in others. He had a decisive and whole-hearted character which made him give his full attention to whatever he was doing and this was also expressed in his physical bearing. If he turned to speak to somebody, he never inclined partially towards them but would turn his whole body and address him full face. When he shook hands, he was never the one to withdraw his own first.[14]
A passionate man
Muhammad was a passionate man but he never took another, younger, wife while he was married to Khadjah a fact that should be noted by those who criticize him for his polygamy in later years. Indeed, after her death, Muhammad used to infuriate the women he married by endlessly singing Khadjah's praises and on one occasion turned white with grief when he thought he had heard her voice. This was no marriage of convenience. Muhammad gave a large proportion of his family income to the poor and made his own family live very frugal. Despite its austerity, it seems to have been a happy household. Muhammad loved children. All his life he would hug and kiss them and join in their games. He was always devoted to his daughters.[15]
Even when he became a Sayyid
Muhammad himself always lived a simple and frugal life, even when he became the most powerful sayyid in Arabia. He hated luxury and there was often nothing to eat in his household.[16]
An extraordinary success
Muhammad achieved an extraordinary political success and Christians tend to see such worldly triumph as of questionable godliness.[17]
The political achievement
When Muhammad began to preach the word in Makkah, the whole of Arabia was in a state of chronic disunity. Each of the numerous bedouin tribes of the peninsula was a law unto itself and in a state of constant warfare with other tribal groups. It seemed impossible for the Arabs to unite and that meant that they were unable to found a civilization and polity that would allow them to take their place in the world. The Hijz seemed doomed to savage barbarism and existed beyond the pale of civilization. Twenty-three years later, when Muhammad died on 8 June 632, he had managed to bring nearly all the tribes into his new Muslim community. True, this was a precarious state of affairs. Many of the bedouins, as Muhammad well knew, clung in secret to the old paganism. But, against all odds, this Arab unity was preserved. Muhammad had political gifts of a very high order. He had entirely transformed the conditions of his people, rescued them from fruitless violence and disintegration and given them a proud new identity. They were now ready to found their own unique culture and Muhammad's teaching had unlocked such reserves of power that within 100 years, the Arabs' empire stretched from Gibraltar to the Himalayas. If this political feat had been Muhammads sole achievement, he would have a claim to our admiration.[18]
The genius of a profound order
(Muhammad) had genius of a profound order and founded a religion and cultural tradition that was not based on the sword, despite the Western myth, and whose name 'Islam' signifies peace and reconciliation.[19]
One can only marvel
One can only marvel at the spiritual genius of Muhammad, who had practically no contact with practicing Jews or Christians and whose actual knowledge of these earlier revelations was inevitably rudimentary. Nevertheless, he managed to get to the heart of the monotheistic experience.[20]


[1] Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, 11.

[2] Ibid. 131.

[3] Ibid. 49.

[4] Ibid. 50.

[5] Ibid. 50.

[6] Ibid. 50-51.

[7] Ibid. 22.

[8] Ibid. 22.

[9] Ibid. 99.

[10] Ibid. 111.

[11] Ibid. 12.

[12] Ibid. 53-54.

[13] Ibid. 52.

[14] Ibid. 78-79.

[15] Ibid. 80-81.

[16] Ibid. 93.

[17] Ibid. 15.

[18] Ibid. 45.

[19] Ibid. 266.

[20] Ibid. 98.


06:50 PM.

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