Thoughts on Hellfire and the Influence of Christianity on Islamic Thought.

Earlier this week I received a very pleasant correspondence from a fellow blogger who was able to glean something useful from this Blog (thank God! I feel like I’m getting carpal tunnel sometimes…). In return, I visited his blog, where in his post he discussed some “issues” with Hell/Hellfire. It is a topic I have been meaning to post. So here it is. I’d advise reading his post first and then the following might be understood in context.

Thank you, Michael! I have had something of a writer’s block for a month or so and this really got my juices flowing.

Enjoy,

Michael,

Thanks for the kind words. It has given me much food for thought. I will leave a few crumbs that feel out my proverbial mouth here for you to also chew on (ok…, I’m laughing now as that seems disgusting that you’d chew on crumbs that fell out my mouth but I won’t edit it anyways!!).

One of the points that you made that gave me something to think about and in truth, has been something I’ve wanted to write a new Post on is this concept of Hell and Damnation. It is very difficult to speak on any for of religion in the English-speaking world without also importing some indelible stamp of Christianity on that dialog. What I am saying, in a sense is, that if one wants to talk about religion, that talk is heavily influenced by the very Christian notion of what does or doesn’t constitute religious thought. So, in my opinion, much of the religious thought from the English-speaking world is conducted by how Christianity (mostly Catholicism and Protestantism) sees religion. Buddhism or Islam is not comprehended in how it functions as a Cosmic-processing system but rather in a more subtle way in which ways its proclivities differ from Christianity as a marker. This should not be understood as a knock against Christianity. Indeed, it should be a note in our collective psyche as to how deeply ingrained Christianity influences our understanding of religion – this especially goes for practitioners of non-Christian faith systems!

Much of Islamic thought from the English-speaking world (meaning both from non-Muslim academics and Muslims alike) tend to fall within these invisible guidelines of religious dialog. My long winded example is Hell/Hellfire. While my aim is not to white wash the Qur’anic take on Hellfire, it is in my opinion that these verses are not meant to solely “frighten” the listener but rather, in keeping with other topics in the Qur’an, they are meant to over-awe the reader/listener. In fact, I believe the notion of God in Islamic thought, from “fundamentalist” to esoteric Sufi thought, is/was originally meant to over-awe. Indeed, through much of my own personal research in pre-Modern Muslim texts, one can find a lot of proof for this understanding (I might even take a stance that this was the original position that God intended with much of the Qur’an but that’s another post). But the influence of modern Catholic/Protestant thought, which does paint a very specific picture of Hell tends to define for us this topic in way that it’s very difficult to approach or have a differing understanding than that which we have culturally absorbed. If one takes the time to read, and read carefully (and perhaps my understanding is heavily influenced by my returning to the original Arabic and its 7th Century linguistic understanding), then one may arrive at an understanding similar to this: shock and awe vs. cringing and fear. Am I making Hell into a fantasy realm? No. It is not my agenda to make a more appealing version of the Qur’an, but rather, it is an understanding that done through trying to step back out of my own cultural milieu and viewing it without tinted glasses.

Thanks, Michael,

And God knows best…