"Born-again Muslims" and, uh, the trinity

What we have here is one of those puzzling or even coffee-spewing (for those who drink coffee) moments when you are reading through a perfectly normal story involving religious themes and you hit a reference that makes you stop and say, "Did I just read what I thought I read?" Now, I freely admit that this one would have been much worse if it featured a bit "T" on the key word.

So you are reading a USA Today story about the Tim Tebow culture wars and then there is this:

... Christians don't have a stranglehold on sports.

Muhammad Ali, a Muslim, showed that even the war-sports-religion combo is nothing new. He gave up a heavyweight title for that trinity when he was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion in 1967.

Trinity? I guess that is a word that can be used in a neutral, descriptive fashion.

Nevertheless, it would be hard to pick a word that would be more out of place, if not offensive, in reference to the faith journey of a Muslim. Meanwhile, for Christian readers -- this is a news story about religion, remember -- we are talking about a war-sports-religion "trinity." I guess it's correct in terms of definition, but I think it would have been easy to find another way to express that concept.

And what are readers to make of this CNN analogy? For me, the headline alone was a stretch: "Conflict, theology and history make Muslims more religious than others, experts say."

Then there was this passage, which seemed strange to more than one GetReligion reader. Yes, we can take into account that this passage seems to be built on a paraphrased quote, perhaps one containing a fragment of a direct quote.

With that caveat, read on:

"Being more religious doesn't necessarily mean that they will become suicide bombers," says Ed Husain, a former radical Islamist who is now a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

In fact, Husain argues that religious upbringing "could be an antidote" to radicalism. The people most likely to become Islamist radicals, he says, are those who were raised without a religious education and came to Islam later, as "born-agains."

Muslims raised with a grounding in their religion are better able to resist the distortions of Islam peddled by recruiters to radical causes, some experts like Husain argue, making them less likely to turn to violence. But he agrees that Muslims are strongly attached to their faith, and says the reason lies in the religion itself.

"Muslims have this mindset that we alone possess the final truth," Husain says.

Several things are going on in this section of this news feature, beginning with the fact that the reporter is emphasizing the accurate fact that Islam -- like traditional forms of Christianity -- is not a Universalistic faith. It is a faith built on what believers hold is a final and defining revelation of God (which, for Christians, is literally incarnate in Jesus Christ, thus making the concept of the Trinity so offensive to Islam, with is built on radical monotheism).

That's touch sledding, but accurate and that material -- which will be offensive to many readers -- is handled pretty well. It's accurate, in other words.

But what is going on with the idea that when someone converts to Islam, this easier-to-radicalize believer becomes a "born-again" Muslim? Was it Husain the source who decided that, well, calling someone a Muslim fundamentalist wasn't enough?

I think what is happening here is a simple statement of a truth often noted by sociologists of religion, which is that converts often become strict and highly motivated followers of the faith that they have chosen. In particular, they tend to focus on the doctrines they have embraced. Some may take this too far. Some may simply practice the faith in their daily lives, which means they stand out in crowds of believers for whom the details have faded into cultural norms or family traditions.

But "born again"? What do these words from the Christian scriptures mean in an Islamic context?

What's the point, beyond the facts that could be easily stated and defended?

Totally bizarre.

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