Islam for the Western Mind: Understanding Muhammad and the Koran by Richard Henry Drummond | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Islam for the Western Mind: Understanding Muhammad and the Koran

Islam for the Western Mind: Understanding Muhammad and the Koran

by Richard Henry Drummond

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More than a billion people consider themselves Muslim. It is the world's second-largest religion. Yet Western portrayals of the Islamic mind are often flawed. Islam for the Western Mind is an intensive look--from a Christian perspective--at what inspires and motivates Muslims, namely Muhammad and the teaching of the Koran.

Dr. Drummond, an ordained


More than a billion people consider themselves Muslim. It is the world's second-largest religion. Yet Western portrayals of the Islamic mind are often flawed. Islam for the Western Mind is an intensive look--from a Christian perspective--at what inspires and motivates Muslims, namely Muhammad and the teaching of the Koran.

Dr. Drummond, an ordained Presbyterian minister and former professor, presents a balanced look at the life and teaching of Islam's founding Prophet, paying detailed attention to the religious and political community that existed during Muhammad's time as well as after his death.

Dr. Drummond also looks at the larger cultural impact of Islam, examining what he calls the lightning-like spread of the new religion across much of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe, and examines Muhammad's teaching about women, pagans, and Jesus, the Messiah, Son of Mary. He gives detailed attention to the ethical teaching of the Koran. All this is with primary emphasis upon God as Lord of the Worlds, yet merciful and compassionate, and upon prophecy as divine revelation.

Islam for the Western Mind is an essential text for anyone wanting an unbiased look at Muhammad, the Koran, and the religion they inspired.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Presbyterian minister Drummond's earlier books (e.g., Gautama the Buddha: An Essay in Religious Understanding) apply an empathetic Christian approach to other religions. Here he explains Islam, a largely misunderstood and vilified religion, to the Christian West. Several key issues are addressed: how Christians denigrate Islam through incorrect information or selective quotation, how the concept of a clash of civilizations is detrimental to the commonality of Christianity and Islam, and how Christian and Islamic views of each other need to be reformed. Drummond suggests that the Qur'an may not so much deny Jesus' crucifixion as deny that human beings have the capacity to vanquish the ever-victorious Logos. He calls Christians and Muslims to account for actions contrary to their beliefs and acknowledges Muhammad's status as a prophet. Muslim readers will likely take issue with Drummond's attributing divine Logos and perfection to Jesus only. Nevertheless, this work is a powerful corrective to the name calling that prominent evangelists have uttered against Muhammad and Islam. Highly recommended for academic, public, theological, and church libraries.-William Collins, Library of Congress Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Islam for the Western Mind

Understanding Muhammad and the Koran

By Richard Henry Drummond

Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Richard Henry Drummond
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57174-424-1



I begin this treatment of the issues leading to proper understanding of Islam with a quotation from the American heartland. Leighton Ford was a long-time associate of Billy Graham in various Christian evangelistic ministries. He may properly be called a conservative evangelical Protestant, of moderate and irenic stance (that is, concerned with securing Christian unity), and, with Billy Graham himself, may be classified as a person of the highest integrity within this tradition of Christian faith and practice.

In these days of very great concern for the events and persons of the Middle East, Leighton Ford was trying to build bridges of understanding, especially among his own constituency of supporters. He writes, in the modest report-periodical regularly sent out to these supporters, as follows:

In truth, we who follow Christ have more than we realize in common with Muslims and Jews. Our faiths were born in the Middle East. We all believe in one God. And ... we all look to Abraham as one of our great spiritual ancestors. Not only is Abraham the father of believers, in the New Testament he is strikingly called "the friend of God" (James 2:23).

So far, so good. But then Leighton Ford goes on to do what many in Western lands have long been accustomed to do, move into a kind of "put-down" of Islam based on incorrect information. Ford continues:

Few Muslims, however, would call themselves God's "friends." For the Muslim Allah is totally apart from sinful humans. In contrast, the God of the Bible is not remote but one who has drawn near.

Are these latter statements correct? Not entirely, not even for the Bible. We must remind ourselves that the Bible itself is by no means a seamless robe of monochromatic sameness in moral and spiritual content or tone. Taken as a whole, the Bible shows us images of God our Creator, now near, now far. So does the Koran, the Holy Book of Islamic faith.

Now, the content of the Koran, its nuances of style, and its religious emphases are both similar and dissimilar to those of the Bible. It is not easy to make comparative statements about these two great collections of religious faith and affirmation. But in the tenth chapter, or surah, of the Koran, significantly entitled "Jonah," we find a striking affirmation that believers—not just Muslims in the historical sense but apparently all authentic believers in one God—are friends of God:

Surely God's friends—no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow. Those who believe, and are god-fearing—for them is good tidings in the present life and in the world to come (K 10:64–65).

The Koran is an exceedingly practical book, vitally concerned from its earliest materials with the whole life of humans in this world. It puts that life, however, in a transcendent setting and makes its primary orientation the fact of God, the Creator, the Merciful, the Compassionate, and of the reality of the unseen world. We may even note at this point that, for all the Koranic emphasis on the unity and uniqueness of God (called by the ancient Arabic word for "God," Allah), it portrays an unseen world replete with angels and archangels, With jinn, shaytan, and other spirits, not to mention the spirits of humans after physical death on earth. For Muhammad, the spiritual world was richly peopled and was, like the world on the plane of human history, under the lordly control and providential disposition of the Maker of all, the Lord of the Worlds.

The Koran, however, is also concerned with aspects of intimate personal religion. We find many verses that express a vivid sense of the presence of God. These verses seem to have had central meaning for Muhammad himself in his personal life as a religious man and in his public role as God's Messenger and Prophet. God is indeed cited as "the Protector of the believers" (K 2:258). But a verse that is frequently recited by devout Muslims is the famous pronouncement: "We [Allah] indeed created man: and we know what his soul whispers within him, and we are nearer to him than the jugular vein" (K 50:15).

We are reminded of Alfred Tennyson: "Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet." Another Koranic verse of similar import is "He [Allah] is with you wherever you are" (K 57:4).

But the text that has appealed to devout Muslims in a special way, to those in particular who may be classed as participating in that great stream of Muslim spirituality known as the Sufi movement, is the Koranic verse that reveals God's great goal to bring forth "a people He loves and who love Him" (K 5:59).

Admittedly, the Koranic term (hubb, or the mahabbah of the Sufis) that is commonly translated into English as the word "love" is not totally consonant with the nuances of meaning of the New Testament terms for love (agape, philia). It often seems to emphasize approval from God's side and, from the human side, is more akin to "adoration" (ibadah). As Frithjof Schuon has put it, the essential virtues of the ideal Muslim life of faith are rooted in a blending of fear, love, and knowledge of God. Indeed, Islam itself claims to be a "manifestation of truth, of beauty and of power." But Islam is more than the religion of the Absolute, and the Koran teaches more than obedience to the will of God. It teaches not only submission to what may at first appear as an infinitely distant God, or sheerly overwhelming Power, but also commitment to the goodness of God and a return for refuge to "God within us, at the deepest level of our heart," one who is "infinitely near."

It is important to realize that the previous is not representative merely of a small elite in the course of the history of Islam. As Bishop Kenneth Cragg, the noted British specialist in Islamic studies, reminds us, "Sufism ... has often been the major element in the religious history and the popular experience of Islam. It served over long centuries to interiorize the terms of Islamic dogma." And Louis Massignon, the distinguished Roman Catholic scholar who devoted 55 years to the study of Muslim spirituality, said that "Muslim theology was essentially a mystical structure deriving from the Koran itself as the primary source of its development." Influences from pre-Islamic Persian Zoroastrianism and Eastern Christian monasticism probably played significant roles in the development of historic Sufism, but powerful elements of religious interiority lie within the Koran itself—and in the life of Muhammad.

This also means that the more obvious aspects of the Koran and of the Prophet's public ministry, especially in his last ten years in Medina—aspects that Kenneth Cragg denotes as "dogmatism, autocracy, power"—are by no means the whole story of either the Book or the career. It is indeed remarkable and historically very significant that what Cragg calls "a system so instinctively authoritarian and absolutist as Islam, and so essentially confident about political sanctions in religion," should bear within it this stream of religious interiority and vitality that seems to give inner—and at times also outer—freedom for believers to find their own way in human life, against theologians, however dogmatic, and against rulers, however autocratic. The ultimate quest of Islamic faith and piety may well be to "seek the face of God," a quest wherein relationship with God is properly, indeed inseparably, associated with compassionate conduct toward and sharing materially with fellow humans (K 2:272; 13:22; 92:20).

We see, therefore, that Leighton Ford, who wants to be fair and to build bridges, is only partly right. He is also partly wrong. For today, and over long centuries, the spiritual way (tariqah) of innumerable Muslims has taught that God is very near, and in close communion with his "friends" (wali), as indeed the Sufi like to characterize themselves.

Some Muslim representatives contend that many Westerners are trying to demonize Islam. Westerners, of course, recall the late Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's description of the United States as "the Great Satan," a term evidently intended to convey a critique with religious, cultural, and political overtones. On our side, former Vice President Dan Quayle is alleged to have said that the three greatest evils of the twentieth century are Communism, Fascism, and Islam. Quayle of course is admittedly not the most knowledgeable or perceptive among our political leaders, but his statement may represent wide ranges of public opinion in the United States and beyond. With deeper insight, conservative journalist George Will, after the suicide bombing of the USS Cole on October 18, 2000, and in the context of the Israel-Palestinian crisis, asserted that we are witnessing not adjustments over small pieces of land but the clash of two civilizations.

We talk of Islam and the Judeo-Christian West, but these terms do not have the geographical significance they once did. In Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and even more in lands of larger Islamic population to the East, such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia, there has continued to be an institutional Christian presence (in the form of churches claiming apostolic origin) and, far less, a Jewish one. And the West has seen a large growth of Muslim populations in Europe and North America since the end of the Second World War. Continental Europe saw the influx of North African and Turkish workers and their families. The United Kingdom saw the coming of relatively large numbers of persons of Islamic faith from British Commonwealth lands. The result is an apparently abiding presence of perhaps 25 million Muslims in Europe. The number of Muslims in France, mainly of North African origin, is between three and four times the number of French Christians adhering to the Reformed tradition, a church reaching back to the period of the Reformation and making historically notable contributions to every aspect of French political, cultural, and religious life. In the United States, Islam is said to have overtaken Judaism in numbers of adherents, to become the second largest religious community in the land.

These large-scale movements of populations and consequent shifts in the internal makeup of contemporary nations and cultures make clear that the issue of "bad feeling" needs to be addressed for the sake of domestic peace and cooperation and for international harmony. That bad feeling is held and directed toward the historic West by not a few Muslims, especially in the Middle East, has been graphically portrayed in television shots of angry crowds denouncing the United States in the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, in Jordan, or more recently in Palestinian territory, Yemen, or even Egypt. Admittedly, these demonstrations have more often than not been "staged" by government policy and arrangement (and sometimes by nongovernmental groups) in Iraq and elsewhere, but the sights and sounds of the demonstrations have created powerful images and abiding impressions in the psyches of millions of viewers around the world in this day of "instant and universal" communication.

That bad feeling is held in the West toward historic Islam and Muslims in particular is clearly evidenced by widespread revulsion revealed in the media against Muslim holding of Western hostages and, even more, against the acts of self-styled Muslim terrorist groups in recent decades. But the activities of these terrorist groups must not be seen as representative of all Muslims, nor of Islam itself. Anwar Sadat, the late president of Egypt, did not hesitate to say in public that the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini was not a good example of Muslim faith or character. He clearly regarded the support of terrorist activities by the Iranian government under Khomeini's leadership as abhorrent to the Muslim moral sense.

In our contemporary world, one-third of the world's governments use torture "as a routine method of suppressing political dissent." The twentieth century saw a series of genocides that began with the Turkish massacres of Armenian subjects in 1896 and continued beyond the ending of the First World War. It resurfaced most virulently in the Stalinist policies that led to the death of 13 or more millions of Russian citizens in the 1920s and '30s, and in the German National Socialist elimination, under Adolf Hitler, of over six million Jews and other "minority groups." The list continued with the post World War II blood-baths of millions of their fellow Cambodians by the Communist Khmer Rouge, the bloody Chinese military invasion and ongoing occupation and subjection of Tibet from the early 1950s, and the brutal Indonesian invasion and illegal annexation of East Timor in 1975—after which at least one-third of the population was wiped out. No continent is exempt, as evidenced by events in Idi Amin's Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, or in the Americas, north, south, and central.

Events in the Middle East, and especially Iraq, force us to a deeper level of evaluation, however. John Healey, executive director of Amnesty International, in a letter written to members of the organization in the early 1990s, pointed out that there is a "human rights crisis of massive dimensions not just in Iraq, but in most countries throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world." Healey's letter went on to report that, for years, Amnesty had "publicized well-documented evidence of gross violations [of human rights] by the governments of Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and even Kuwait."

Healey lamented the relative indifference of the government of the United States to these human rights abuses, and identified examples "almost too numerous to list," including routine incommunicado detention and torture in Morocco, tens of thousands of political prisoners held and tortured in Turkish jails, thousands of detentions without charge or trial in Egypt, a constant pattern of Israeli abuses of Palestinians, and 10, 000 to 25, 000 Syrians killed under Hafez AlAssad. These alleged violations of human rights are largely, although not exclusively, perpetrated by Muslims against fellow Muslims. Is there some kind of ineluctable connection between Islam, defined by Kenneth Cragg as "a system so instinctively authoritarian and absolute," and this multitudinous and geographically widespread pattern of human rights violations?

Muslims may take umbrage at the idea.

Some, perhaps many, will at once remind us of Western colonialism in historic Muslim lands in the past three centuries. Some will certainly want to go back to the six Crusades. I myself—at this point making a countercharge—am forced to remind readers both Muslim and non-Muslim that the major expansions of Islamic faith, especially in its earliest centuries, were made in the context of prior military conquest. Remembering this massively significant historical fact is important not only to inform Western peoples, but to help Muslims engage in the kind of severe historical, cultural, and religious self-criticism that Western civilization has engaged in, however imperfectly, with increasing momentum since the time of the Crusades. Beginning as a small trickle with the criticism of the religious motivation and the military methodology of the Crusades by persons like Roger Bacon, Raymond Lull, and Francis of Assisi, this broadly cultural self-criticism from the West has not yet found a comparable public parallel in historic Muslim lands.

Islam arose in Arabia in the early seventh century of our common era as a religious movement with a distinct, although not totally exclusive, self-identity and a "definite thought and behavior pattern" relatively well established by the time of the death of Muhammad on June 8, 632 C.E. The Arabian peninsula, however, was a largely barren land of rocky desert and sand. Compared to other parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean littoral, it was culturally backward. Muhammad himself may or may not have been illiterate in the strict sense of the term, but he and the other Arabic-speaking inhabitants of even the towns of the Arabian peninsula south of the Fertile Crescent could not begin to compare in formal education or cultural sophistication with the educated classes of the citizens of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire to the north, the Persian-speaking Sassanid Empire to the east, or the Latin-speaking peoples to the west.

No one could therefore have foreseen what has been called the "lightning-like" appearance of Islam in the years immediately after the death of Muhammad. This emergence of Islam, first on the edges, then in the very heartlands, of these ancient and highly developed civilizations, primarily through military operation, impelled by the force of a political religion and lust for booty, has been called one of the most astonishing events in world history. Within 20 years, the victorious Muslim armies were able to conquer and, by the most skillful methods of military occupation, to rule permanently the greater part of the Middle East and North Africa. This almost unimpeded series of military marches resulted in the destruction of the Zoroastrian Empire of the Persians and the reduction to half its former size of the Christian Byzantine Empire. Within two to three generations, the momentum of this extraordinary outburst of physical and psychic energy, which also included elements of more authentic spiritual dynamism, expanded into a vast area extending from the borders of India and Western China across the whole of North Africa and Spain to the Pyrenees Mountains, with incursions into southern and central France. And unlike the periodic explosions of the later "Mongol hordes" from the steppes of Asia, Islam was there to stay.


Excerpted from Islam for the Western Mind by Richard Henry Drummond. Copyright © 2005 Richard Henry Drummond. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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