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Muslim minds

Books | We should proclaim liberty as a culture war continues within Islam

Issue: "Flame-outs," May 8, 2010

Peter Kreeft's Between Allah and Jesus (IVP, 2010), through its sympathetic proposal of a bright and peace-loving Muslim student, gives readers a hopeful sense of what could be, if the culture war within Islam ends with jihadist defeat.

After all, Muhammad-as he mixed up fragments of Christian and Jewish wisdom (and heresies) with Arab culture-did not produce an all-evil recipe. If Muslim countries allowed residents the freedom to find out who Isa-the Arabic name for Jesus-really is, Islam might turn out to be a positive force historically, given the paganism it often supplanted.

But the lack of liberty within Islam is a huge problem. Robert Reilly's The Closing of the Muslim Mind (ISI, 2010) shows that a millennium ago Muslims debated whether minds should be free to explore the world-and freedom lost. The intellectual history he offers helps to explain why Muslim countries fell behind Christian-based ones in scientific inquiry, economic development, and technology. Reilly provides astonishing statistics such as this one: Spain translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand.

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Reilly also points out how theology prefigures politics: "Since [according to Islam] man is not made in the image of God, he cannot be sovereign. Unless man is made in God's image, the sovereignty of God and the sovereignty of the people are mutually exclusive. To suggest that sovereignty resides in man is shirk, a blasphemous affront." American attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East thus put the cart before the horse: Our goal should be the proclamation of liberty.

In the absence of such liberty, Islam holds onto its followers by pressure. Much of the Muslim world technically may abide by the Quranic principle that there is no compulsion in religion, but there is certainly compulsion not to accept any other religion, as those who follow Christ daily learn. Every day we should proclaim throughout the Muslim world John Milton's faith in Truth: "Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"

Victoria Clark's Yemen (Yale Univ. Press, 2010) is a journalist's account of one country victimized by the closing of the Muslim mind. Most Americans know almost nothing about this land that may become a jihadi refuge, and we should be careful about rushing in: Yemen's president himself says that "ruling Yemen is like dancing on the head of snakes." Francis Schaeffer: A Mind and Heart for God, edited by Bruce Little (P&R, 2010) is a good, brief introduction to a man who opened minds.

Dying and living

Life After Death: The Evidence (Regnery, 2009) comes through on its subtitle's offer: Author Dinesh D'Souza does a good job of summarizing the evidence of near-death experiences, the existence of matter that is unlike anything around us, neuroscience's teaching that the mind is more than the brain, and much besides.

Some contentions seem a bit off. D'Souza notes passages in Job that "seem to suggest that we live and we die, and that's the end of the story." Job, though, contains one of the Old Testament's best known affirmations of Christ to come-"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth"-and if Christ rises, why can't we? D'Souza also praises philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's mediocre mix of atheism and Eastern religion.

But other D'Souza observations are helpful. For example, he knocks down Sigmund Freud's analysis (in The Future of an Illusion) that we believe in God because we desire a protective father figure. D'Souza points out that our desire for something does not tell us whether that something exists or is imaginary. Because we wish to have friends, friendship is not an illusion. That a prisoner wishes to escape does not mean that he will inevitably be recaptured.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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