Ex-Nun Explains Religious Differences

October 9, 2000

Source: Los Angeles Times

On October 9, 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported on Karen Armstrong. It explained that, "for years she was tagged the 'runaway nun,' the rebellious ex-Catholic with outspoken opinions about religion--comparing, for example, Pope John Paul II to a Muslim fundamentalist. Now, with her 12th book, "Islam, a Short History" (Modern Library), Karen Armstrong has changed her image. She can still be sharp-tongued, inclined to draw conclusions that get a rise out of critics. But something closer to reconciliation, rather than anger, is propelling her....Readers who have followed her lately are learning her more optimistic ideas about what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common. Three of these books--"A History of God" (Ballantine, 1993), "Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths" (Knopf, 1996) and "The Battle for God" (Knopf, 2000)--show what unites the faiths. Each, Armstrong writes, has developed the image of one Supreme Being who was first revealed to the prophet Abraham. All have historic links to Jerusalem. And more recently, each has built up a rigid conservative strain as a reaction against the modern world."

She explained in a recent interview, "'It is challenging for Muslims in the U.S. who for the first time are not living in a Muslim-governed state. A basic message of the Koran is to create a united community and share the wealth.' When Western capitalism was introduced in the East in the last few decades, Iran and other Muslim countries rebelled. 'The challenge for Muslims in the U.S. is to come to terms with the success of the secular West.' Part of the problem in integrating, she suggested, is that Muslims don't want to alienate anyone. 'Muslims need to reach out to other faiths. They aren't as practiced as the Jews at it, who've lived in sometimes hostile countries for 2,000 years.' Other religious cultures have met similar challenges as immigrants in the U.S. 'The Catholics did, late in the last century. They came from Ireland, Poland and Europe in huge numbers, and they were hated. Their arrival encouraged the rise of Protestant fundamentalism in the U.S. Now it is the Muslims who want to be good Americans.'"