The Corner

Is Islam a Western Religion?

Jonah: Well, in the first place, Judaism, Islam and Christianity spring

from common roots, so I think it is fair to group them together when

discussing doctrinal issues like this. From a literary and doctrinal point

of view–even, up to a point, from a cultural point of view–the three big

monotheist faiths have far more in common with each other than any of them

has with Buddhism (an atheist religion) or Hinduism (a polytheist one).

They even share a common racial/linguistic stock: the first Muslims, like

the first Jews and the first Christians, were speakers of Semitic languages.

Islam and Christianity are really just Judaic heresies. It does not follow

that Islam can properly be called “Western,” though, so I think you have a

point. In the European mental universe, the East begins with Anatolia and

the Levant–Muslim territory, for the most part. Islam therefore belongs to

the East, though nothing like as definitively as Buddhism and Hinduism.

Check out Book 3 of Paradise Regained, where the Tempter takes the Savior

up to the top of a high mountain and shows him all the lands of “the

East”–what we would nowadays call Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(“Assyria and her empire’s ancient bounds, / Araxes and the Caspian lake,

thence on / As far as Indus east, Euphrates west, / And oft beyond; to south

the Persian bay, / And inaccessible the Arabian drouth…” To my mind,

these and the following are among the loveliest lines in all of English

literature.) The Tempter asks the Saviour how, supposing He could get

control of Palestine, his rule could survive “Between two such enclosing

enemies, / Roman and Parthian? Therefore one of these / Thou must make sure

thy own…” Look at the world-view there. In the center, Jerusalem; to the

west, Rome; to the east, what is now the Islamic heartland. That agrees

with your point; and yet, the implication is of civilizational unity at a

deep level. All sprang from the soil of the Fertile Crescent; no

European–certainly not Milton–would have spoken of China, or India, or

sub-Saharan Africa in those terms.

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