Saturday, June 23, 2007

Beautiful Names

Follow this link for some very interesting resources at Second Spring, the great website and journal of the Centre for Faith and Culture at Oxford.

"Islam was in the headlines again recently in the UK, thanks to a musical work by the Christian composer John Tavener, commissioned by the Prince of Wales and performed in Westminster Abbey. Called ‘The Beautiful Names’, it is a musical setting for the 99 Names of God drawn from the Qur’an. This eclectic work (it draws for inspiration on several religions other than Islam and Christianity, and Tavener is an admirer of the perennialist Frithjof Schuon) has provoked unease among Christians who regard it as inappropriate for performance in a Christian church.

Given that ‘Allah’ simply means ‘God’, and given that none of the 99 Names would be out of place in a Christian litany, others have found the performance less objectionable. Christopher Howse (an orthodox Roman Catholic) in his column on this subject for the Telegraph wrote, ‘The word Allah refers to the same God that Jews and Christians worship. There is no doubt of that. He is the God of Abraham and Isaac; the one living God. He is the God that Jesus worshipped and whom he invoked, in Aramaic, as he died on the cross, calling on him by the name Eloi.’ This comment evoked a storm of protest from bloggers, many of whom pointed out the difference between a God who is One and a God who is Three-in-One. One of them wrote: ‘if Allah is the same as the Christian God, then surely this is an argument to get rid of both of them and re-establish the true pagan religion of these isles, presided over by the noble order of druids.’

Along with the recent performance by Whirling Dervishes in the Vatican, this provides an occasion to think about the diverse nature of Islam, and to draw attention to a couple of interesting initiatives. One of these was the Open Letter of 2006 (by now signed by 100 leading Muslim authorities and scholars) in response to the Pope’s Regensburg address, which proved that reasoned and intelligent dialogue with Islam is possible. Another is the work of Christian scholar Michel Cuypers (a follower of Charles de Foucauld) on the interpretation of the 5th Sura of the Qur’an, reported on Sandro Magister’s site (follow the link).

Cuypers has applied the technique of rhetorical analysis, developed by biblical scholars, to the last of the Suras to be composed. This form of contextual and structural analysis does not threaten the faith of Muslims but employs reason in discovering the meaning of the text: it may open up a new era of Qur’anic exegesis, and happens to support those who hold that the more peaceable verses of the Qur’an take precedence over the bellicose ones."

Click here for more links and resources.
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