Spencer and Aslan: A battle of books about Christianity and Islam

Robert Spencer and Reza Aslan debate religious issues that affect us all.  Photo: Islam and Christianity share similar roots Photo: zawamyat.blogspot.com

CHARLOTTEAugust 11, 2013  In a new book by Robert Spencer titled Not Peace but a Sword: The Great Chasm between Christianity and Islam, the author gives a detailed account of how the religions differ.

Another book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan has a similar theme from another perspective, but the difference is that Aslan has become a media darling while Spencer is regarded by some as an Islamaphobe.

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Since the writers express diametrically opposing views, it was inevitable for the debate to splinter along conservative and liberal lines. The nature of the subject matter alone assures that both projects were destined for controversy. Since Aslan expresses opinions aligned with mainstream media thinking, however, he is considered an intellectual pioneer in the realm of religious analysis.

Due to the widespread exposure of Aslan’s book, it might be worth looking into some of Spencer’s writings as well.

Says Spencer, “Most Christians would be surprised at how much biblical material the Qur’an contains…indeed the similarities between the Bible and the Qur’an are a staple of the presentations of Muslim apologists. Christians and Muslims revere the same religious heroes, tell the same stories, and speak about God in the same way.”

Christianity, Judaism and Islam all trace their roots to Abraham. As Spencer emphasizes, many stories between the three faiths are similar. What is missing above paragraph is that Islam was founded nearly seven centuries after Christianity, and the Prophet Muhammad was greatly influenced by Christians and Jews.

Muhammad was illiterate which meant the core of his knowledge came from an oral tradition. He did not write the Koran, he recited it. Therefore it is not a stretch that many aspects of Islam would trace their lore to the very religions it detests in the 21st century.

When Westerners reflect upon the 1960s Spencer is correct when he writes, “…the hostility that the Islamic world had always displayed toward Christendom was never – before or since – less in evidence than it was in the 1960s.

“….in the 1960s secularism and Westernization were very much the order of the day in many areas of the Islamic world. It was, for example, unusual in Cairo in the 1960s to see a woman wearing a hijab, an Islamic headscarf mandated by Muhammad’s command when appearing in public.”

The 60s was a troubled decade, but it centered around civil rights, Viet Nam and Communism, not Islam. We forget that the Arab oil boom was in its infancy in the 1960s and was less than 25 years old. The Middle East was becoming rich, but it was struggling with the learning curve of newfound prosperity.

Without realizing it, those riches were in direct conflict with many traditional values. It was a time of soul searching and personal evaluation to reconcile the new with the old.

At the dawn of the 21st century, Spencer points out, “Islamic values have been revived, including not only rigorous dress codes but also hostility toward Western ideals and principles. Western ideas of democracy and pluralism that were fashionable in elite circles all over the Islamic world in the first half of the twentieth century have fallen into disrepute.”

Arguably much of this is due to the same societal situation that existed during the time of Muhammad. The rich were wealthy beyond imagination, but the poor were largely ignorant and destitute. A combination that in not compatible in the inferno of a desolate desert region.

And so old animosities revived and the poor and ignorant rebelled once again. Only this time, as Spencer observes, “the mainstream media present us with surveys alleging that people who dislike Islam or distrust Muslims are simply suffering from a lack of knowledge.”

Here is where Reza Aslan and the media converge to reflect opinions of so-called intellectuals who insist that the only valid points of view are their own.

Sadly, the PC crowd is as ignorant as those they criticize for they respond primarily from emotion rather than substance.

Spencer counters the elite argument saying, “Allah had doomed the Islamic world to over a millennium of intellectual stagnation and anti-intellectualism. A recurring idea in the Islamic world is that the Qur’an and Sunnah contain all that is needed for the proper functioning of human society, and everything else is either superfluous or heretical.”

Today, Islamic reformers are emboldened and speaking out more openly. In turn, the common man on the street is responding in growing numbers throughout the region.

Bloodshed and violence will continue but the problem must be resolved from within according to the cultural beliefs of the people from which they began.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events and the people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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