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Question 1. In that it recognizes one God who rules the entire world, Islam may be called a universal religion. However, although Islam grew out of a particular seventh-century Arabian context, Muslims claims that its central document, the Qur'an, must be read in Arabic in order to be fully appreciated. How can Islam or any similar religion resolve the tension between the universal and the particular? How can it (or any other faith) be a religion for people of all races and nationalities without giving up its distinctive cultural heritage?
How can religions claim to be universal when they are products of particular cultures, languages, and histories? I will respond to this question using Islam as a case study, but this is a question that is relevant for all of the world’s religions. Islam is not unique in claiming there is only one God. Nor is Islam the only religion to emerge out of the Middle East. As is often commented, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are closely interconnected. All three hold Abraham to be the father of monotheistic faith. Mohammed was well versed in the teachings of both Christianity and Judaism. Working as a trader on the Silk Road, he more than likely came into contact with many forms of religious expression. As Karen Armstrong remarks in her book The History of God, Mohammed believed he was putting the ineffable word of God into Arabic (p. 140). This is a common story in Christianity and Judaism as well. So for Abraham -- Judaism emerged as one of the oldest monotheistic religions -- he came to understand that there was only one God living in a country that worshipped many....
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