Awakening Christians in Africa
Dr. Frederic Ntedika Mvumbi, O.P
African Christians need to learn more about Islam and the Muslims an understanding that transcends hearsay and unfounded information. In this way, they will be better prepared for dialogue with their Islam and the Muslims. Here is a problem that could damage the African soul and its values if we do not provide lasting solutions: there is evidence that the different religions in Africa and the approaches they have adopted are a threat to unity and subsequently, to the peace and development Africans long for.
Religion, which should be a way of life, has become a tool of mass mobilisation for individuals, groups and associations; especially in the last two decades. Some of the escalating quarrels, conflicts, riots, wars and massacres in Sudan, northern Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Kenya, are dramatic expressions of religious differences and misunderstandings.
I invite all readers, especially African Christians, to journey together into Islam; a journey that provides basic understanding of Islam. This could be a solution to religious misunderstandings and a sure path to peace. Christians in Africa should strive to understand Islam and the Muslims; especially their practices, convictions and teachings. Through discussions and meetings, I discovered that only a few African Christians truly understand Islam. The followings are the major trends found among African Christians: (1) the majority are ignorant or fascinated by it; (2) Others find Islam strange and even scary. Although many Christians in Africa have met Muslims; they have not encountered Islam! Hence, this book is one of the few places where they could not only encounter Islam but also discover its heritage. The book presents and explains key Islamic practices and beliefs in order to provide an understanding of the Muslim way of life so as to bridge and eventually eliminate the yawning differences that keep apart our African Christians and Muslims.
Finding our neighbour and loving them is obviously one of the most prominent and difficult questions in Christian life. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount considers this the condition for someone to be called a child of God (Mt. 5: 43-48). Who is my neighbour? A teacher of the law asked Jesus. He responded by enumerating six essential actions that should come from whoever considers himself a neighbour: “the Samaritan was (1) moved with compassion, (2) went over to him, (3) treated his wounds, (4)wrapped them, (5) put him on his own mount, (6)brought him and took care of him.” A meditation on the story of the Good Samaritan will enlighten whoever seeks to find his neighbour. (Lk. 10: 25-36). What answer would you give to Jesus?
The same question could be dealt with differently in the context of African Christians. We need to ask ourselves who our neighbour is; particularly considering that Christianity is not the only religion in the continent; indeed it has never been. Is our neighbourhood exclusively Christian? I understand and believe that my neighbour is not only a Christian but also a Muslim. By changing his journey as well as budget, the Samaritan modified the whole understanding of life: aversion turned to love; avoidance to an encounter. Jesus calls us to love in and out of season. This is the great commandment. Do we know that love is a decision, perhaps the most difficult?
Inasmuch as we are called to love our neighbours, the Church recommends that we extend love to whomever we meet. We are therefore invited to love Muslims as we love ourselves. It is highly Christian to love a Muslim just as it is Islamic to love a Christian. But, how can we love the Muslims or give them the love that is due to them if we do not know them? Again, how could we know them if we do not study their religion which is the way of life that has bound them together for more than fourteen centuries? It is time for us, African Christians, to learn the religion foundedor restored by Muhammad (the prophet is considered founder if Islam is looked at as a new religion; he is considered to have restored it if Islam as the religion of Abraham who lived much earlier). Listening to and reading about what Islam teaches, and analyzing it critically, is perhaps the best way to understand Islam and Muslims. This book gives much attention to the usual but necessary questions Christians ask about the Muslim way of life.
The first section, designed in a question-response format, is an overview of Islam. It responds to some key questions Christians pose wherever and whenever they discuss Islam. These questions concern Muslim daily life and matters not well-known to Christians and which often fall prey to adulteration and misunderstanding. Most basic questions are answered on the basis of the most popular sources of the Islamic community, namely the Qur’an (the Islamic Holy Book) and the Hadith (the tradition of Muhammad and his companions).
The second and third sections are theological investigations on God in Islam and Jesus in the Qur’an. They introduce the reader to Islamic monotheism as well as to Islamic Christology, particularly as presented in the Qur’an. After dispensing with preliminary discussions of a few key questions, the author highlights the background of the Islamic doctrine on One God and Jesus, examines what the Qur’an says about the subject and proposes some implications on the life of Muslims.
The fourth section is a concise summary of Islam as we view it today’s Africa. Since the Islam we meet today in Africa has substantially changed, especially in its missionary character, the author analyzes the religion’s vitality which continues to affect and attract Africans of all social strata. The author also reflects on the differences found within Islam in the five African sub-regions, pinpoints key characteristics of Islam in Africa and its influences urbi et orbi. This is aimed at outlining general and specific guidelines for fruitful interfaith dialogue.
The fifth section proceeds from the second; it tackles an important point that seems to discourage those involved in interfaith dialogue. The section is somewhat an appraisal and inquiry into the difficulties experienced by commissions for interfaith dialogue, especially those of the Catholic Church. It talks about identifying a central figure within Islam who could speak officially and authoritatively in the name of the entire Muslim community or the majority. The lack of such authority constitutes an obstacle to dialogue because there is nobody to give directions or define policies to accompany, not only those directly involved in dialoguing, but perhaps more important, the faithful.
The sixth section proposes a methodology that could be employed by preachers, clerics and pastors, particularly those living in Christian-Muslim areas. As mentioned in section two, Africa - a territory of one faith, namely African traditional religions – has increasingly become a Christian-Muslim continent. We need to speak the language of the people and attend to pastoral issues. Thus, we look for a method of preaching that will explain Christian doctrine and strengthen the faithful by making references to Islamic doctrine such as its teaching on God, Qur’anic Christology, and Islamic view of prophethood, the place of Angels in Islam, its conception of man as well as the Muslim life of Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting. This way, we will educate the faithful and equip them with sound Christian doctrine which avoids compromise with, and neglect of, the Muslim faith but instead recognizes Islamic values.
The last section reviews the teachings of the Catholic Church on matters related to non-Christians religions and interfaith dialogue. Since the Catholic Church remains one and universal, i.e. all Local Churches are in communion with Rome, the author considers it highly important to listen to the Magisterium through selected key texts that have been issued for the education of Catholics and indeed all People of God. The author is keenly aware of the numerous, sometimes confusing opinions of some members of the Catholic Church. These should not be considered binding but as pronouncements emanating from reflection and investigation. They should not distract from the direction set by the Church authority.
It is my humble submission that this book provides elementary but necessary knowledge of Islam. Research will continue pursuing more appropriate ways of presenting the Muslim faith and practices to Christians since ignorance of Islam breeds doubt, suspicion, misunderstand and hatred. On the contrary, proper understanding of the religion, though elementary, opens doors to the house of Islam so that Christians can clearly observe its foundations, constitutive elements, pillars and roof.
Section 1: AN Overview of Islam
Section 2: Monotheism in the Qur’an
2.2 Historical Background
2.3 Pre-Islamic Arabian Thought
2.4 Monotheism in Semitic Thought
2.5 Greek Tradition
2.7 Judaism, Jewish-Christianity and Christianity in Arabia before Islam
2.8 Qur’anic Depiction
2.9 The Meaning of Islamic Monotheism
2.10 Islamic Monotheism contrasted with Polytheism and Idolatry
2.11 Satanic Verses
2.12 Islamic Monotheism Versus Christian belief in Divine Fatherhood and Sonship
2.13 The Transcendence of God in the Qur’an
2.14 The Implications of Islamic Monotheism
Section 3: Qur’anic Christology
3.2 The Origin of Jesus
3.3 Some Qur’anic Names for Jesus
3.4 The Works of Jesus
3.5 Qur’anic View of Jesus’ Death
3.6 Trinity in the Qur’an
Section 4: Islam in Africa Today
4.2 Islamization or Arabization of Africa?
4.3 Islamic Reform
4.4 Major Characteristics of Islam in Africa Today
4.5 Why Muslim Brotherhoods are Successful in Africa
4.6 Islamism or Fundamentalism in Africa Today?
4.7 Human Rights and Islam in Africa
4.8 Is Islam in Africa influenced from Outside?
4.9 Is Islam growing in Africa?
4.10 Towards Fruitful Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Africa
Section 5: Shades of leadership in Early Islam
5.2 Leadership, quid?
5.3 The Concept of Hudan (Right Guidance) in the Qur’an
5.6 Muhammad, the Leader of the Umma
5.7 Leadership after the Period of Rashidun
Section 6: Preaching with Islam in mind
6.1 Aquinas’ Contribution
6.2 Reasons for such Approach
6.3 Towards True Assessment of Christian Faith
6.4 Making known Rudiments of Islam to Christians
6.5 Practicing Charity to Muslims
6.6 Appropriate Illustrations
6.7 Playing Intermediary between narrow-minded and broad-minded
Section 7: The Catholic Church speaks oN Christian-Muslim Dialogue
7.1 Meaning of Christian-Muslim Dialogue
7.2 Vatican II Pronouncements on Islam and Christian-Muslim Dialogue