Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Christianities and Islams

People in the West have no trouble identifying vastly different branches of Christianity, from Roman Catholics to Pentecostals and everything in between.  We understand, too, that there are different beliefs within Judaism.  And, if we're really paying attention, we might have some inkling that there are Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, but we are hard-pressed to begin to explain the difference or why it might matter.

Considering how utterly intertwined the fates of the West and the Middle East have become, this is no small thing.  It also has very real consequences for Americans in their own country; just ask the people trying to build a community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan.

We're so quick to demonize.  And we do so at our own peril, because it just ends up prolonging the suffering, eventually turning us into something indistinguishable from our supposed "enemy".

So, what do we do?  Two things for starters:

One, read today's excellent op-ed in The New York Times:  "The Muslims in the Middle" by William Dalrymple.

Two, pick up a copy of Reza Aslan's book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (Random House, 2005).  It's a fantastic primer as well as an enjoyable read.