Rice University sociologist Craig Considine “is overstepping the boundary…misinterpreting verses from the Quran,” and “misquoting the Prophet Muhammad,” stated American Muslim convert Saajid Lipham in a February 24 podcast. Considine, whose debunked views have appeared again in the new book, The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View, has recently provoked criticism with his interfaith views not just among Christians, but Muslims as well.
Lipham noted that the self-professed “Islamic apologist” Considine “says nice things about Islam.” This non-Muslim from a Catholic background accordingly “makes us feel good.” This is especially so because Muslims “have somewhat of an inferiority complex.”
Yet Considine “is spreading misinformation” and “some of the things he is saying is wrong,” indeed “extremely dangerous,” Lipham warned. In particular, Considine “is spreading this theology of perennialism,” that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are equally valid faiths, yet “Allah tells us that the only religion that he is going to accept is Islam.” So Considine “is taking it too far. He is saying things that he has no business saying.”
Nonetheless, Muslims for Considine “are the ones who are giving him this huge platform,” Lipham ironically noted. Considine “can publish books. He is getting invited to places to speak publicly about Islam. He is becoming a well-known, famous figure of authority with a wide audience.” Therefore Muslims “are giving him a career.”
Lipham’s answer to the problems posed by Considine was that “he needs to be formally invited to Islam.” “This is the greatest blessing that any human being can have.” Muslims “are hoping that he embraces Islam.”
Similar Muslim concerns arose during Considine’s November 12 virtual book presentation to the Islamic Society of Edinburgh University. During an audience response segment, university Muslim chaplain Sohaib Saeed noted that many Muslims had found Considine to be an “ally.” Thus Saeed “would like this relationship that you have with the Muslim community to flourish.”
But Considine had repeatedly suggested that Islam is merely a “purely optional” faith choice among others, Saeed noted. However, “if it wasn’t the case, that we felt that salvation depends on it, we might choose an easier route, if any religious path would be valid from our perspective. I don’t know why I go to all the effort being a Muslim.” Saeed wondered whether Considine considered him “narrow-minded and dogmatic.”
Saeed focused particularly on Considine’s January 9 tweet, in which he interpreted Quran 2:62 as meaning that “actions are more important than our identifying as part of this religion or the other.” Concerns that Considine had misinterpreted this verse made Saeed wonder whether Considine is “in a position to do scriptural exegesis and tell the world what the Quran means.” While Considine conceded that his interpretation could easily “be unorthodox,” Saeed confirmed that “this would be very, very un-mainstream.”
Similar unexpected Muslim criticism has greeted Considine before, as he explained to his fellow Islamic apologist, Georgetown University professor Jonathan Brown, during a September 19 book discussion. He praised Considine’s “ingenious approach” of comparing Islam’s prophet Muhammad to American Founding Father George Washington, one of Considine’s previous outlandish arguments reprised in the book. Considine recalled that in the past, not only did the “Islamophobia industry” sharply criticize him for this comparison, but even some Muslims objected that for Muhammad it was “bringing him down.”
Controversy likewise followed Considine’s response to recent disputes over Istanbul, Turkey’s Hagia Sophia. The Byzantines built this cathedral in 532-537 in what was then Constantinople, but the Ottoman Turks turned the church into a mosque after conquering the city in 1453. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the secularizing Turkish Republic under Kemal Ataturk had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1935. Turkey’s current Islamizing President Recep Erdogan decreed Hagia Sophia’s transformation again into a mosque during July. Considine “was absolutely destroyed” by Muslims on social media, he told Brown, for proposing that Hagia Sophia become an interfaith worship center.
Considine later explained in a November 6 interview that “I love the idea of having one building and having multiple communities use one building as a place of worship,” part of his wider rejection of faith divisions. He elaborated on this them in a September 27 online discussion with his “friend and a role model,” the Indonesian Muslim cleric Shamsi Ali, a Hamas supporter who has accused Jews of “working to destroy Islam.” While he praised Considine as a “Muslim in essence,” he was more equivocal, suggesting that the Muslim community or “ummah has a flexible boundary….Maybe perhaps it doesn’t come with kind of any doctrinal requirements.”
Nevertheless, “doctrinal requirements” seem to plague Considine’s conversations with Muslims and others according to his October 14 tweet. From a Christian he has heard, “You’re a heretic if you call yourself a Christian while also calling Muhammad a prophet,” while a Muslim has said, “You’re destined for hell because you are not a Muslim.” Rather than critically contend with the these propositions’ theological contradictions, Considine simply dismissed them as “closely linked” and absolutist “Two sides of the same coin.”
In contrast, Considine’s tweeted recommendation a week later was simply for everyone to get along: “Respect is key for healthier relations between Christians & Muslims.” Avoiding critical inquiry, Christians should “show some love to Prophet Muhammad” and Muslims should “not condemn Christians who believe in the Trinity.” As monotheists, Christians and Muslims “have more in common than we have differences.”
This ecumenical respect for Considine entails a relativistic dismissal of any search for theological truth, as his November 19 tweet showed. He asked proselytizers of any religious conversion to wonder whether “people may be annoyed or even insulted by your attempt to convert them?” Additionally, missionaries should “consider whether your attempt comes from a place of internalized superiority.”
No such worries restrained Muslims noted by Considine in a November 13 tweet who had warned not to “trust Craig on what he says about Prophet Muhammad. Craig is a Christian. You should trust Muslim scholars instead.” “Imagine if we only trusted people who are part of our ‘tribe,’” he absurdly responded to this eminently logical objection. “What would the world be like? Trust holds humanity together.”
Trying to be all interfaith things to all people has apparently all-too often brought Considine suspicions from all sides, as a November 12 tweet indicated. He protested that he “is not a ‘secret Muslim’” and “not working for the Illuminati to ‘water down’ Islam.” He is also “not trying to create a new religion that is both Christian & Islamic” and “not paid by any ‘Islamic regime’ to promote Islam & Prophet Muhammad.” “Enough with the conspiracy theories,” he concluded.
Perhaps Considine aspires to be among the peacemakers blessed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and build cross-cultural bridges, but in reality he is often crying in an interfaith wilderness. The commonalities between the Bible and Quran according to Considine are more often than not merely febrile imaginings, while the real differences between Christianity and Islam are hardly matters that believers will overlook. He is ultimately a blind guide for any true understanding among religions.