An Overview of Muslim Worldview

John Tay, M.D., Ph.D.


A good appreciation of the Muslim Worldview can be gained by a comparison of the Muslim and Christian worldviews.

1. The Muslim Worldview

Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world today. People from diverse cultures and with diverse worldviews have embraced Islam. Parshall (2003:84) points out that the Muslim worldview is broadly uniform despite such a diversity of language, geography and culture. He points out that there is a great deal of similarity between the worldviews of modern-day Muslims and that of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, both of which contrast sharply with the Western worldview. The following account is adapted from his analysis (Parshall, 2003:84-93). As Malaysian Christians exhibit a hybrid of an Asian and the Western worldview, the following contrasts will be modified when applied to the worldview of Malaysian Christians, depending on the extent they have been affected by the Western world view.

a. Unity

Islam places great emphasis on unity or oneness. Greg Haleblian (1979:79-81) wrote:

One of the first principles most worthy of consideration is the Muslim’s love for unity or oneness. This comes to the foremost notably when the contrast between the interior of the mosque on one hand, and the interior of the church on the other is sharpened … Muslims’ love for unity or oneness is by no means limited to religion. It is dominant in many areas of Arab culture and notably in the material products, such as houses and clothes … Without zoning laws or government control, houses are almost exact replicas of each other. Hebrew culture shows evidence of the same trend. Western Christians, on the other hand, prefer variety, rather than uniformity.

b. Time

Both Muslims and the Jews have a high respect for historical perspectives. The Jews, for instance, love to recount the works of God in their history. The Western Christian, in contrast, is strongly future-oriented, and the past is seen as outdated. “Planning, strategy, goal-setting, and evaluations are all a kaleidoscope of activity that pushes the Westerner forward in the pursuit of a successful future.” (Parshall, 2003:87)

c. Family

The Muslim family is closely knit, often with large extended families. The Hebrew family in the Old Testament is similar, and contrasts sharply with small nuclear families in the West. Families in West Malaysia tend to be larger, though there is a trend towards smaller nuclear families.

d. Peace

Muslims greet one another with the term: Salam alaikum (peace be to you), and Jews use the greeting: Shalom (peace). The Western Christian tends to view peace internally and on a spiritual dimension, rather than express it as a greeting.

e. Honor

Parshall (2003:89) writes:

The greatest tragedy in a Muslim’s life is to see dishonor brought upon the family’s name. Such shame will cause internal convulsions within the complete extended-family structure. The hurt, embarrassment, and perplexity of family dishonor will have a negative effect on the name and reputation of future generations.

The Jews in the Old Testament as well as Asians hold similar views, whereas the Western Christian tends to think of honor in the context of a person, rather than of the family name.

f. Status

“In both Muslim and Hebrew society of old, status was more assigned than earned. This could arise from inherited wealth or property, an honored family name, or advanced age.” (Parshall, 2003:90). Christians in the West consider status as achieved rather than assigned. Malaysian Christians may have a world view that is somewhere in between, depending on the degree of influence of the Western worldview.

g. Individualism

Individualism is a positive trait in the Western culture, but frowned upon by both Muslims and Jews of old. This has important implications in evangelism. Parshall comments (2003:91):

Up to the present, the most common form of evangelism employed by Westerners has been to win individuals to Christ. This has, in group-oriented cultures, led to extraction from society and, often, to total alienation. This approach should be repudiated.

h. Secularism

The supernatural is very real in Old Testament times as well as among Muslims, but it is not so evident among Western Christians. Malaysian Christians, because of the influence of their Asian cultures, may be less secularized in this respect.

i. Change

Change is often viewed synonymously with progress by the Christian in the West. Today Muslims in different cultures are struggling with changes in the world today and the desire to return to basic values found in the Qur’an.

j. Equality

Both the Old Testament Jews and Muslims today are theoretically committed to equality. In practice, there is often much discrimination. Christians in the West practice equality more evidently. The practice of Malaysian Christians will be somewhere in between.

k. Efficiency

Efficiency is one of the characteristics of the Western society, and is sharply contrasted with the Muslim way of life. This feature is strongly influencing the Malaysian society.

2. The Radical and Moderate Muslim Worldviews

a. The Radical Islamic Worldview

The term “Radical Islamists” is used here to denote those who participate in violence and terrorism, epitomized by the attacks on the twin towers in New York on 11 September 2001. Many more violent attacks have occurred since then, such as the blasts in Bali in 12 October 2002, the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in July 2003, and the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta on 9 September 2004.

The following are some of the factors that have shaped their mind-set and motives:

i. A literal interpretation of the Qur’an, and a desire to recreate the Golden Age of Islam through violence

Central in the thinking of the radical Islamists is their literalist interpretation of the Qur’an, and a belief that they will able to re-create the “Golden Age” of Islam, exemplified by the community of Muslims led by Prophet Muhammad in Medina (in Riddell & Cotterell, 2003:166-7).

ii Anti-Western sentiments

The radical Islamists typically appeal to issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, United Nations sanctions against Iraq, war in Afghanistan and in Iraq and the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. They also often refer to historical events like the Crusades.

iii. Islamic Religious Schools (madrasahs)

Some Islamic religious schools, especially those in Pakistan, appear to encourage suicide bombers. In these schools, young men (and sometimes women) are taught radical Islamic doctrines, promoting jihad and violence, to fight against the West.

The primary method the radical Islamist groups use is to propagate their ideology through mosques and madrasahs. Some of them have skills in using the internet. The radical Islamist groups have considerable skill in their financial operations, and are able to move millions of dollars across national boundaries to finance their operations. It has been said that Osama bin Laden has brought to the Al-Qa’ida network money estimated at up to $300 million. Military training is the key in executing their violent attacks. There appears to be military training at two levels: one, a basic training to equip them to be ground combatants, and the other, advanced training for special missions such as murder, suicide attacks, bombings and hijackings.

b. The Moderate Islamic Worldview

Currently there is a widespread struggle in the Islamic world concerning the issue of violence and the vision of Osama bin Laden. The number of Muslims who embrace radical beliefs appears to be growing. Many Muslims think that the global war on terrorism and the US presence in Iraq have led many to believe that Islam is under attack.

Sheik Khaled el-Guindi, a moderate Imam in Cairo, said:

We are passing through the hardest moments of spreading the moderate voice of our religion. Most of the pictures we see are of Iraqi heads stepped on by American Army boots. It is no longer just an occupation, but a humiliation. (Powell, 2004:41).

Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a Pakistani cleric and Member of Parliament, said:

The US and its allies must realize that by occupation, by killing and by dishonoring Muslim women – such as in the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq – they are sowing the seeds of hatred. (Powell, 2004:41).

Despite the intensity of such statements, radical Islam does not have a wide following in many parts of the world, for example, in South East Asia. But the numbers may be increasing.

c. The Struggle within Islam: Schism between Radicals and Moderates

The non-Muslim public, and possibly even some Muslims, may be left in a state of confusion by contradictory voices claiming to speak on behalf of the true nature of Islam, with different interpretations of the same Qur’an.

Powell (2004:34-46) analyses the three years after “September 11”, and sees the ongoing global battle between the moderates and the radicals as the struggle for the soul of Islam. He notes that the vast majority of the world’s more than one billion practicing Muslims are peaceful citizens. It is evident, however, that the fervor of those who adhere to radical forms of Islam has intensified since “September 11”. Hostility to the West, especially to the US, is clearly on the rise, fueled by actions such as US’s staunch support of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, war in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and crackdown on militant Islamic groups in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The debate continues, and may not be resolved in the near future. It affects non-Muslims and Muslims, and no country may be exempt.


References

Haleblian, Greg. World View and Evangelization: A Case Study on Arab People. Th.M. thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1979.

Parshall, Phil. Muslim Evangelism: Contemporary Approaches to Contextualization. Waynesboro, Georgia, USA: Gabriel Publishing, 2003.

Powell, Bill. Struggle for the Soul of Islam. Times magazine, September 13, 2004, pages 33-4l, 2004.

Riddell, Peter & Cotterell. Islam in conflict: past, present and future. Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 2003.

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John Tay, M.D., Ph.D.
Bethany International University
Singapore
stjh21@singnet.com.sg