Monday, January 9, 2012

History Gives Muslims a Boost

A recent study found the Muslims were more serious about their religious beliefs than members of other religions.  In the study, Muslims “are much more likely than Christians and Hindus to say that their own faith is the only true path to paradise, and they are more inclined to say their religion is an important part of their daily lives,” CNN reported.

The researchers just couldn’t agree why.

One scholar suggested that Muslims look at what they perceive as the immorality in the Western world and conclude their culture is more divinely inspired.  Others pointed to the intense religious indoctrination Islamic children undergo and no history of enlightenment, which helped divorce religion from the state in the West.

There may be one other option that the researchers overlooked: regardless of belief, Islam actually has a supportable history.  Other religions do not.

No one argues that Muhammad lived.  His likeness was sketched; his strengths and weaknesses discussed.  Details of his life were written during his lifetime and augmented by followers who knew him well. 

An historian can quibble over whether or not he had revelations and how much his interaction with traveling Christians and Jews influence his thinking.  There’s some discussion how much of the Islamic holy book, the Koran, is based on what the Prophet actually said and how much was added by later Islamic leaders.  However, there’s no debate over his life.

That’s not true with any other major religion.  The biography of Buddha was written long after he died and clearly contains vast legendary material.  The well-known story that he was a prince who developed his philosophy in an effort to end suffering may be pure nonsense.  No one knows.  It’s even impossible to prove he actually lived.

That’s true with Moses, too.  The Bible insists his name is Hebrew, but it’s not; it’s Egyptian.  Historians know nothing of his life.  The Biblical accounts are completely unreliable historically.  The tales of him being rescued from a river reflect the tales told about Sargon, a legendary Babylonian king of an earlier era and Osiris, a legendary Egyptian god.  In addition, Moses’ life as described in the Bible is largely the retelling of a far older Egyptian tale about a man named Sinuhe. 

The first five books of the Bible are credited to Moses, but are reliably dated to hundreds of years after he must have died.  There is no historical evidence for the Exodus he supposedly led in either Egyptian records or archaeology.  No Mt. Sinai exists that resembles the biblical account, and tales of him hiding in a cleft so he is unharmed when God walks by are clearly legendary.

We know even less about Abraham, considered the founder of Judaism.  All tales in the Bible are legendary.  As a result, Abraham and Moses are merely names on a page.

Even a more recent religious figure like Jesus remains only a cipher.  The Gospels tell four different stories about him, with varying birth accounts, genealogies and reported events.  Attempts to reconcile the diverse details have proven futile.  Many of the so-called facts, such as the account of Jesus’ trial, have turned out to be completely inaccurate accounts when compared to known Roman trials.

No one described Jesus.  Paul, who wrote the earliest known documents about Jesus, didn’t even quote him despite the wealth of comments now recorded in the New Testament.  Many of those quotes, however, are now known to have been derived from earlier sources. 

Attempts to locate earliest texts turned into an embarrassment when the earliest known Mark was found not to include a resurrection story.  Instead, the account in Mark that was used as a source for Matthew and Luke turned out to be appended by a later writer.

Some historians don’t believe Jesus ever lived.  Others place him in the uncertain past as a divine figure like a mythological Greek god.

In reality, Jesus’ existence can only be “verified” through inference.  For example, Paul kowtowed to Jesus’ earlier followers, something he definitely would not have done if he thought Jesus was an imaginary person.  Jesus is also mentioned in the Talmud, the collection of sayings by Jewish sages disinclined to comment on imaginary people.  And, of course, there was a small sect that believed Jesus was a great prophet, but which was overwhelmed by later Pauline views that Jesus was a divinely sent messiah.

That’s not much historical base to base an entire faith on.

With the advent of the internet and the rapid spread of knowledge, the limitations of religions with little historical support have become glaringly apparent.  That, in turn, has led many people to question their faith and seek one with morals and ethics they want, but with a history they can believe in.

As a result, the survey repeatedly found that Islamic believers look to Muhammad as their role model.  Other religions may give lip service to that ideal, but Muslims, at least, know they are the only ones emulating a real person.

That does not necessarily validate their faith in God or that Muhammad was His messenger.  It only provides support for that belief.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  Many of his essays are posted at www.williamplazarus.blogspot.com.


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