The Pilgrim Church & Ummat Al-Isiam

By Erb, Heather M. | New Oxford Review, November 2013 | Go to article overview

The Pilgrim Church & Ummat Al-Isiam


Erb, Heather M., New Oxford Review


TWO VISIONS OF PEACE & COMMUNITY

The notion of war, like that of community, requires as its context a doctrine of peace. Although found in many forms, in the individual person this doctrine has been viewed in classical Christian thought as a certain interior serenity secured by the virtues and self-discipline, which radiates the love of God to one's neighbor. The social or secular peace of the world is seen as an incompíete imitation of a third kind of peace - namely, celestial peace, the peace of Heaven where souls enjoy full communion with God. Despite Christianity's traditional focus on the attainment of spiritual peace and the heavenly concord present in the Godhead itself, as early as the time of Constantine onward earthly political peace has also been seen as a legitimate natural arrangement with its own principles, grounded in the intrinsic good of human nature.

For Christian thinkers from St. Augustine onward, peace is viewed as the "tranquility of order" {tranquilitas ordinis) across the divisions of being itself - viz., within the person (body and soul, and among the soul's divisions), the family, society, the cosmos, the Church, and among the blessed in Heaven. The main sources from which the various senses of Christian peace have emerged are (1) the patristic/Augustinian idea of inner harmony, (2) the classical idea of cosmic concord as universal order guided by Providence (e.g., Boethius), and (3) the biblically inspired monastic concept of rest as union with God through contemplation. By the Middle Ages the ideal of monastic peace reflected man's intense yearning for eternal repose in God, culminating in the feast of the heavenly city.

From the perspective of Christian traditions of peace, war is seen as the confusion and disruption of order, an extension of the internal disorder within the human soul, created by false loves such as the lust for power, greed, and fame. The "eternal Sabbath" rest subsists in our true homeland, forming the horizon of imperfect earthly peace.

In Islam, peace {salaam) is also a reflection of right order, and is embodied in the transcultural Islamic term of community, Umma, derived from Umm, meaning "mother." Umma is understood as extending beyond a geographical territory to designate unity in faith and creed. In this way, membership in the Muslim community of belief and practice is seen to establish harmonious order of the community of Allah, in a spiritual continuity across cultural and political domains. The adoption of Islamic law as the source of enlightenment and guidance reflects the ideal for implementing Umma and for transforming hearts to universal obedience and brotherhood. Sakinah ("tranquility," "peace") is a more spiritual concept, referring to the peace of God sent to the hearts of Muslims {Qur'an 48.4) and to interior spiritual illumination in Sufi mysticism, but not - as in Catholic mysticism - to the indwelling of the Divine Presence.

Earthly & Heavenly Cities

Both Christianity and Islam involve a religiously defined theoretical separation between two realms or worlds - one ordered toward God and salvation, the other not so ordered. The classic statement of the Christian view is that of St. Augustine in The City of God (written in the fifth century), while the classic statement in Islamic thought is that of the jurists of the early Abbasid dynasty (A.D. 750-1100). The Abbasids were the Sunni (that is, the majority group in Islam) caliphs or religious leaders during the apex of Arabic culture in Baghdad, Iraq (the biblical "Babylon").

St. Augustine generated the distinction between "two cities," one directed toward the things of earth (the "earthly city," civitas terrenae) through a selfish love called cupiditas, and the other, ordered to God (the "city of God" or the "heavenly city," civitas Dei) through a selfless form of love called caritas. Even though at times he identified the "city of God" with the Church, Augustine viewed membership within the two cities as permeating religious and political boundaries such that the cities are mixed together, as the wheat and the chaff, until the end of time, when the city of God, along with the perfect justice and transformation it represents, emerges into full being. …

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