dr. Craig Considine talks about his new publication People of the Book: Prophet Muhammad's Encounters
dr. Craig Considine is an award-winning Islamic scholar, author, and professor at the prestigious Rice University. In this interview we talk about his new publication People of the Book: Prophet Muhammad's Encounters
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About Craig Considine
dr. Considine is an award-winning teacher and the best-selling author of The Humanity of Muhammad - A Christian View. dr. Considine is considered an authority on interreligious dialogue. She is the author of seven books and several articles in the field of Christian-Muslim relations and Islamic studies. Dr. Considine's views appear regularly in major news and media outlets around the world. Ella Considerine also has film experience, having directed the critically acclaimed documentary Journey into America. He is a practicing Catholic of Irish, Italian, Scottish and English descent from Needham, Massachusetts. dr. Considine has a PhD in Sociology from Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin and an MSc London. in International Relations from Royal Holloway, University of London, and BA in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC.
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dr. Frank Kaufman:dr. Consider, nice to see you. Thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
Prof. Craig Considine:Thank you so much.
dr. Merchant:We are really grateful.
Prof. Considine:Thank you my Lord.
dr. Merchant:Yeah, so you've produced another book, any idea how it's going? Does it somehow get on the charts?
Prof. Considine:is not as high asMuhammad's humanitythe previous book. Some of this has to do with the editor. But it also has to do with the lack of face-to-face events because they are big. They're book signings, so people buy in bulk and then have a personal book signing. But we really can't do that. I did make a few, but not as many as I would have hoped.
dr. Merchant:OK. Let's hope that horizon opens up not just for his book, but for the rest of us to get out there and...
dr. Merchant:spend a day with family So you changed publisher? Because we had a conversation about humanity and it was very informative. And this was hard work. Getting it out on a schedule like you did was serious.
Prof. Considine:Yes. It was more difficult on the academic side of things.Muhammad's humanityit was a more popular book with a publisher who isn't just academic. It may be academic, but this was also new territory for me, as I delved into truly Christian history when…
Prof. Considine:Like Islamic history. So it was a completely different project for both of them. You know, everyone has their own unique style.
dr. Merchant:Yes. And so you decided to go with a slightly more academic publisher.
Prof. Considine:Yes actually. Heart.
dr. Merchant:Continue. I'm sorry.
Prof. Considine:Yes. He has a contract with Oxford University Press. So Oxford sells, they have distribution rights here in North America.
Prof. Considine:And in other parts of the world. It goes under Hearst. I don't necessarily understand this dynamic. But I'm grateful for excellent publishers, of course, like Oxford for...
Prof. Considine:at least be interested in the book. That's always good.
dr. Merchant:Yes, that is a great achievement. So…
Prof. Considine:Yes actually.
dr. Merchant:different things have different advantages. The beloved book may bring in a few more bucks, but having Oxford as a notch in your belt is sure to open up a bigger universe. Oxford is excellent in interfaith affairs, they have many huge departments dedicated exclusively to various interfaith and bilateral interfaith communities that I have worked with. I can't think of names right now. But they are the Oxford Group on Hinduism. Is…
dr. Merchant:I mean it's powerful in the world...
Prof. Considine:Yes it is.
dr. Merchant:of science in this area. And yes, I wish you the best of luck with…
Prof. Considine:Thank you so much.
dr. Merchant:sales and such. And it's interesting, we haven't had a chance to talk yet, you and I, but I have questions ready. And even in this short, short conversation before I get to my questions, quite a bit has already come up. Because the book is kind of a hybrid, I think. It is a very popular sentiment. Correct? I mean they were... Yeah.
Are you trying to build readers beyond that kind of close academic competition? I myself was in the academy, and there it becomes very close and intense.
Prof. Considine:it does.
dr. Merchant:When I read this, book people, they say, you know, anyone can read it. A guy at church can read it, the guy who has a new Muslim worker in the office, it reads pretty well. And much of this academic work does not.
Prof. Considine:Yes. And that is something I do consciously and intentionally. I want to tell a very good story. It is a book and a book has to be interesting. It has to be engaging, it has to flow, it has to make readers a little nervous like, where is this going? Although it is superstructured like an academic article or a book. And yes, it is more intense. There's no question about it, right? Because it is more academic in nature. But I think academics can do a bit more, and I'm speaking in general terms to make their work easier to digest in the public eye.
Prof. Considine:And I think that's really important because ultimately it comes down to what the academics are looking for and what the goal is, you know, who is the audience?
Prof. Considine:I often ask my students who they are writing for, who their audience is, or who they are speaking to.
Prof. Considine:And I am inspired by other, shall we say, less conventional academics like Karen Armstrong. You know her?
Prof. Considine:The reason I loved his books was because they were so well written. It was a good story. But it was also very well documented and well cited. So book people, like when you go to the notes section and I'm sure you've seen that thing, it's huge, probably too big. Because I think, well, this is really technical. I don't want to put it in the text because readers will ask, "What's that?"
Prof. Considine:What are we getting ourselves into? So I just tucked it in the back, you know?
dr. Merchant:Yes. And you mentioned the structure. And that was not in my prepared question, but in me you mix two things. It is both thematic and chronological. Both.
dr. Merchant:Because yes, you start with the Prophet, peace be upon him. You start with the prophet as a baby, sort of meeting a Christian, what's a baby who's a Christian, which is something, right?
dr. Merchant:It's about whether he's a nice boy or not, or a lady or not. And then he goes on with his farewell sermon. So it's chronological. But then you have these fantastic thematic breakdowns through six or seven chapters, angels and souls. So I was curious, was it hard or was it fun? And can you talk for a second about this mix of chronology and mix of themes, which are often your choices, rarely both?
Prof. Considine:Well, you mentioned the term fun. Writing the book was fun, but it was also hard, but doing the research for the book was really fun, different, you know, when you're reading, you're like, wow, look at all these stories. And, you know, obviously I started to document the timeline of his life, but I think it was maybe a year into the book that I really had to make a decision, you know, there's a deadline. So I'm thinking in my head, okay, I need to make sure I deliver this manuscript when promised. So I looked at my text and it was 18 chapters, very short chapters. And I would focus on the names of individuals or groups. So the story you mentioned, Frank, is Muhammad's meeting with the monk hero. So, Chapter One was The Monk's Hero. And then it got like War in the Fall, and then it went all the way down. And I thought this might have worked. But then I started thinking, well, what's the big picture here, and what are the different phases of his life? Like with the six or seven chapters, I can't remember now how many chapters there are, but it's actually parts of his life that I thought the mystique came from at this point in his life. You know, before Muhammad received the revelations from him in 610, he was a mystic in many ways. And he met mystics, and I think he liked spending time with mystics. And some of these mystics turned out to be Christians, I think. So there was some important paraphrasing to connect this chronology and this thematic analysis.
dr. Merchant:Yes. It's quite a challenge and I think you handled it very well. It's bad enough trying to leave in the middle of a big argument. And somehow you managed to get into five big fights or something. The Christian theological argument, the Muslim historical argument, the textual argument, I think it's kind of a challenge in a way, the book itself in a way.
Prof. Considine:Well, I think, you know, that's the power of stories. A really good story is not complicated. And in a lot of ways it's not that I simplify things, it's that I really try to make things as simple as possible. And I think when you make things easy, maybe you challenge people to think if it's that easy. Could it be that simple? So yeah, it's a mystery. I don't have answers as to why I can make a reader think of five different things at once. I don't know. I'm not doing this on purpose, I can tell you I'm not that skilled. But yeah, it goes back to my hearing. If you only tell simple stories, you get a bigger group of people thinking about something. Maybe that's it.
dr. Merchant:Yes. Now, what I meant by going into a big hand-to-hand combat is that the Muslims will argue their own story alone, not with knives. You know, there are schools of thought that are incredibly intense. I don't want to make it look bad, but they know they disagree and are intensely on opposite sides of many issues, just one. Then go to the History of Christian Theology or History of Christianity that it covers. And the only reason you report it is to show how it compares to the life of the Prophet.
dr. Merchant:But the thing is, while you're on your way to getting the Christian story there, that's not your point. He just wants to show who the prophet is. That means you're going to have a lot of Christians yelling and yelling theological arguments, we'll see.
Prof. Considine:Yes. And this is one of the implications and consequences of writing about these things. You know, you're going to ruffle feathers, you know, you can't please everyone like my mother taught me. So this edit of various groups of Christians looking at the text, the book that I wrote, and how I describe some of the Christians that Muhammad interacted with. You know, I'm actually telling the story of Christianity in this book.
Prof. Considine:And what I'm suggesting, in essence, is that the groups of Christians and many of the people with whom Muhammad had interacted were essentially viewed as potential outsiders or, to put it more bluntly, heretics by the overwhelming Christian authorities of the world. So there are Christian leaders who are friends of mine who are criticizing my work, and that's okay, basically saying that I've misunderstood Christianity, that I've been saying the wrong version of Christianity. And you know, these Christian leaders are the ones who are increasingly reluctant to see Christianity mixed with Islam. Because what I'm saying in this book is that some of these Christians and Muhammad had basically the same ideas about the Almighty, about creation and the Creator. And when you put it that way, it's like, hey, you know these were brothers in spirit and maybe even in faith, but they identify as different, maybe with different categories and identities. You know, that challenges people's basic core beliefs. To put this in context, it was this criticism that I received from another Christian leader that went private that I really appreciate and respect instead of going public.
Prof. Considine:And the criticism of my work was that I mischaracterized the relationship between Peter and Paul. And I understand that Peter and Paul were cordial. But they had clearly different approaches and beliefs.
Prof. Considine:And then that eventually played out over three centuries, and then when we got to the year 325, with the Council of Nicaea, a lot of things happened there. And I talk about that in the book, you know. And yes, you know, you're going to get flak from Christians, you're going to get flak from Muslims from all walks of life. And that is exactly what it is. I respect it. If people have criticism of my work, that's great, but please do so in private. That's the guy you know, he's very nice.
dr. Merchant:Like the lives of Yelp interns. The poor restaurant is trying to survive and a guy gets a pickle on the wrong part of his burger, destroying the rest.
dr. Merchant:You know, I'll try to improve and do well.
Prof. Considine:Especially for our friends, you know. Mostly people who have never met me in their life criticize my work and make, you know, YouTube videos about how terrible of a scholar I am all rolled into one. I mean, they haven't even met me yet. But if you're my friend, A, be a good friend. If you want to inform and criticize me, I'm fine, good friends do, but please do it with respect, you know?
dr. Merchant:Yes. It's part of the sickness of the times.
Prof. Considine:Yes actually.
dr. Merchant:The keyboard is so close and our own barely 15 minutes of fame and that often depends on the work of others. It's like all of a sudden everyone has something to say to Joe Rogan. What do I have to tell Joe Rogan? But that is the great light. That's what my little voice wants. And there you killed yourself, you published a book, you taught a lot, you read a lot, and here is your chance to ride someone else's.
Prof. Considine:Yeah, I don't know. I think there's something of an ego element there. There is envy, and I think, unfortunately, jealousy. You know, where I do something that other people would like to do more of. And that's sad. And that's annoying. You know, I don't want to see that energy anywhere.
Prof. Considine:But it is what it is.
dr. Merchant:It is. And also the academy has always been the place where there is a bit of exhibitionism with the intellect, you want your voice to be heard more widely. So a mature friend will come over and engage in Christian theology with you for one night. And these are sweet nights.
Prof. Considine:Yes. With food and hospitality, yes.
dr. Merchant:Absolutely. I mean, if you've got that, if you've got a fat wallet, you pick up the check for 20 people and you look good. But when you're in the spirit world, people want to be seen with their ideas. And for that they could criticize publicly, because that's the way the academy is in a way. It's a kind of exhibition on how smart we are. This is the challenge of discipline in art. Let me address some of my own questions. If you go to their website that we linked to in the notes, Craigconsidine.com. No, what is that?
Prof. Considine:I think it's Doc, I think it's Dr. Craig, last name.
dr. Merchant:Dr. CraigConsidine.com. It will be in the notes. You can see that you have a PhD in sociology.
dr. Merchant:Part of his work deals with international relations and the like. And yet he has created a work that is a highly theological and religious history of Christian thought, a history of Muslim biblical and theological development. When did Christian-Muslim conversation become important in your life?
Prof. Considine:That's a great question. Yeah, because of my trip, you know, my academic trip. If I can get you back, I guess I'll have to go back to answer that question.
Prof. Considine:It starts in 2004. I'm an American University student, I transferred to American University in Washington, DC in hopes of trying to really understand what happened on 9/11. And I really had no literacy or any experience related to Islam and had never met a Muslim. I grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, mostly Christian with a small Jewish population. So I went to DC and got interested in international affairs, politics. And when I got there, I was interested in learning Arabic, which is what I've been doing, and getting closer to the international perspectives, you know, because there was a lot of discussion about Islam, as well as being a completely different civilization. a completely different way of life. So I said, okay, well who are they and why are they doing this? So I came to another class called The World of Islam with Professor Akbar Ahmed and on the first day of the class he shared with me a hadith or a saying of the Prophet Muhammad which says, "The ink of scholars is holier than blood." of the martyr." And for some reason, those words, which also came from him, really shocked me because they really challenged the fundamental beliefs of what I thought I was studying. I thought I was studying religion and things like that, politics and civilization, but Dr. Ahmed said, there is something sacred in knowledge, learning, dialogue and meeting with people, so it is not just the knowledge that comes from journal articles and peer-reviewed books. It's knowledge that also comes from human experience. So that fascinated me. And I came to Islamic Studies through the prism of interfaith dialogue because I saw interfaith dialogue and all that goes along with it as an antidote to the clash of civilizations. So I went under the wing of Dr. Ahmed. When I graduated and moved, I went to London. I came back, my master's thesis was on the lived experiences of Mexican Americans in the Southwest East. United States. It actually had nothing to do with Islam. I return to the United States and I participated in his two-year ethnographic study called Journey into America, the Challenge of Islam with Professor Akbar Ahmed and I was his film director and we wrote a book. That was exploring what it means to be an American through the lens of a Muslim. So I did that, you know, not yet in...
dr. Merchant:Did you say you're his movie director?
Prof. Considine:I was his film director. So there's a YouTube documentary that I directed that was directed by Dr. Ahmed was produced. It is a fiction feature film lasting approximately one hour and forty minutes. We interview Noam Chomsky, Jesse Jackson and Hamza Yusuf. In fact, it was widely hailed as a low-budget movie, but we did it. So I moved to Dublin. And basically I wanted to do something that Dr. Ahmed had done; an ethnographic study, but more specific because it is a doctorate. And I have focused on a specific group, the Pakistanis, who, as you know, are predominantly Muslim when you think of the entire Pakistani population. So when I was in Dublin, the Christian-Muslim theme came into play. While in Dublin I got my hands on John Andrew More's book,The covenants of the prophet Muhammad. And for me, this book and its contents was once again the antidote to the clash of cultures. Because when this book came out, ISIS was doing its thing and there was a lot going on in the world that wasn't good. So I really started to get interested in the life of the Prophet Muhammad. That was like 2014. I hadn't really studied the life of the Prophet Muhammad until then. And then really, the more I got into it, the more I saw the value in it. Not only do you know, personally and spiritually, but more like the academic need, like the public, how this is a ministry that these covenants and these books that I read have to give to the public. And that's basically what I was trying to do. Just bring more knowledge to the public. And to illuminate these wonderful stories that have been documented about Muhammad's encounters with Christians as an antidote to confrontation. So it's been quite a journey.
dr. Merchant:Yes. It's an incredible story. Your meeting with...
Prof. Considine:Si, Akbar Ahmed.
dr. Merchant:You said he's in which university?
Prof. Considine:American, in DC.
Prof. Considine:American University.
dr. Merchant:Yes. And did you do a master's degree there?
Prof. Considine:There I did my degree.
Prof. Considine:And then I went to the University of London to study International Relations. And I actually focused on more sociological issues, integration with the Mexican-American identity. And miraculously my wife somehow gets into this topic. which is interesting
dr. Merchant:So, do you keep in touch with Professor Akbar?
Yes, we are doing that. The last time I was with Dr. Ahmed he spoke after my Newsweek article came out. So that was about a year and a half ago. And he sent me a message saying that he was proud of what I was able to write succinctly in this Newsweek article. Because that Newsweek article went viral, you know? It's Newsweek, so the world knows Newsweek, and people were shocked to see an article by someone like me talking about COVID and the Prophet Muhammad's recommendations to combat it. So he turned to me and told me that he was proud of me. And I texted him back and said, you know, he's like a divine presence to me. He was like an angel who came and guided me. And it should be. How God me with Dr. Ahmed connected what it was like to believe that this teacher believes in this person. And I did it. You know I have my trust in Dr. Ahmed and he has done some amazing things I think you know.
dr. Merchant:Yes. He is a very important person in American culture, especially after 9/11. She is very influential and has a very large presence in Washington, DC.
Prof. Considine:Especially interfaith, you know?
Prof. Considine:the interfaith realm. I mean, he's an award-winning teacher. After 911 had just come and then 911 happened.
Prof. Considine:You know, for him it was his mission that the Creator put him there to ease the pain that the earth was going through.
dr. Merchant:It really is true. As I listen to you, I need to collect all the links to all the things you're referring to, the video, the Newsweek article.
dr. Merchant:So we're going to have everything there for our listeners to hear and see. Why did you have so much talent for the cinema? Was that a lifelong hobby? How did that happen?
Prof. Considine:I could because of my enthusiasm. And my ability to work hard because it was very hard but I had faith in what could be. I had no film experience at all. I was 22 years old and we had a small research team of four other assistants working with Dr. Ahmed traveled all over the country. And he's basically saying that I want to make a documentary. I don't want Al Jazeera or the BBC following us with a big team because it's going to be overwhelming. And I really wanted it to be like ethnographic-anthropological.
Prof. Considine:You know, he said, "Well, we're going to do it." And we just looked around and each had his own task. And I was like that, the joker. And he just said, "You want to do it? I thought, 'Absolutely, I'll do anything. I'll do anything for this team. I believe in this team; I believe in this mission. And I did. And obviously, Frank, I screwed up some things. And luckily Dr Ahmed that I was a total amateur. You know how I lost data, you know we had so many images right. So I would film it, we would go home to the hotel and I would have to clean the camera and SIM card to make more space. And we had this big clunky disk backup. It's like 2008. And things just got lost, things rewrote themselves. Like I had no idea what I was doing. And luckily we had enough to make this documentary. There's also a YouTube channel that I think has 58 videos. So I would do the short documentaries. So once we were there, I went to my hotel room, we had all this stuff, and I put together 5 short documentaries, 10 minutes on the people who with we heard And in the end we made a documentary about it. Do you know where I edited it? I posted it on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Yes. So yes, this is the last month of this book project. I sat down with Robert Krupp, a film editor, and we would meet every day in his office, you know, and I lived on someone's couch. My best friend Mark, I lived in Manhattan on his couch for about two weeks. So every morning he would get me up and drive this big trolley over Roosevelt...
Prof. Considine:Iceland to make my great super cheap documentary.
dr. Merchant:It's just fantastic. It really is a small world. He used to drive over the 59th street bridge. So if he had a flat tire, he might have ended up in the middle of his edit.
Prof. Considine:It could have happened, you know; we don't even have the memory of it. It could have happened, who knows?
dr. Merchant:Yes. Isn't that great? I think my next question, I just want to take a look, I wanted to ask why you wrote that particular book, but I think we heard that.
Prof. Considine:Yes. I can add one thing.
dr. Merchant:I think there must be more. But somehow 911 hit you real hard and then you find yourself in the light of this unpredictable and visionary Professor Akbar Ahmed. And that sort of fit into an extension of persistent work in your life to create more harmony between these two massive cultural spheres, the greatest asset that ever existed in history. I think that…
dr. Merchant:Maybe the time of Alexandria, I don't know, but never two together like this. But anyway, this particular book has a special strategic or tactical part of the flow, doesn't it?
Prof. Considine:If it does. So, as you mentioned, Frank, the book is really a biography of the life of Muhammad, and therefore it is a history book of Islam and Christianity. But of all the biographies of the Prophet Muhammad there are already countless...
Prof. Considine:Not many told the story of his life through the prism of a particular group of Christians, right? So, John Andrew Moro's book,The Covenants of Prophet Muhammad,It's not like a textbook anymore, more academic, mine is like a biographical story. That's all.
Prof. Considine:So in that sense the book is unique. You know, some of the biographies that I love about the life of the Prophet Muhammad, you know, Karen Armstrong, Juan Cole, Martin Lings, etc., they all have their own angles. You know, Juan Cole looked at it through the prism of civilizations, so he looked at Muhammad's life story through the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire. So my perspective was only that of Christians specifically. And then the other aspect is that I think I'm a sociologist by profession, by profession. And there aren't many sociologists writing about the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Obviously it is a relatively new discipline, although they date it back to Ibn Hal Dun. But I'm looking at it through the prism of these angles, you know, cross-cultural navigation, racial equality, religious pluralism, civil nation building. These are all sort of mundane terms. So I don't eliminate religion. If you read the book, it's obviously difficult with theology and religion. But yes, in some cases it is some kind of sociological theory. And I think that's a contribution to the literature on the life of Muhammad.
dr. Merchant:Excellent. That is very, very enlightening. Since I have already read it, it helps me to think more lightly about what I have read. You mentioned a number of important Western scholars who wrote biographies of Muhammad. You mentioned Karen Armstrong, Professor Ling, etc. And here, as you just said, have you introduced another prism through which one can look at the life of the Prophet? You know those people you mentioned and now you're also in the bowl, devout Muslims, and especially those who have some responsibility to some kind of orthodoxy, whether it's Al Azhar or, you know, any of the Western biographies that are very well received. or seen as similar eg Karen Armstrong biography, does that mean you got us? You did it well
Prof. Considine:Good. That is a very good question. And it reminds me of an unpublished article I think I read on a recent flight to California. This peer-reviewed journal article was a history of Muhammad's biographies. So he goes all the way back and then he takes us up, yes he takes us up the stream. And then it had a component, this article, Western knowledge, Western literature. So this is what I think. Yes, to briefly answer your question, there are western articles or western authors that are well received. Now go up high like Al Azhar. You know, this is treading on congested territory. So, I had just read an article that has not been published yet. But it is a peer-reviewed journal article that focuses on the history of the Prophet Muhammad's biographies and includes a component that discusses the nature of the Western contribution to the body of knowledge. And this article brought up the same people I just mentioned; Karen Armstrong, Juan Cole, Martin Lings, William Montgomery Watt from the University of Edinburgh. So there are certainly Western perspectives from Western academics, if I may say so, who are certainly highly respected and reputable. Now, coming to the elite, you know, Al Azhar, I haven't done my research on this. If Al Azhar gives the thumbs up to Karen Armstrong or some of these people, but like Martin Lings, William Montgomery Watt, Juan Cole, these are remarkable scholars. And there are Muslim communities and Muslim scholars and leaders here in the United States and in the so-called Western world who also advocate this kind of appreciation of the scientific views of some of these people. So I know that Juan Cole had several meetings with Sheikh Hamza Yusuf from Zaytuna College in California. And there is a lot of academic respect between these two leaders. So yes, luckily, good scholarship can only be considered good scholarship, and it really shouldn't matter who writes it. If it's academic, it's academic. That's the beauty of it.
dr. Merchant:Yes. It's further down in my questions, but it boils down to a form of encounter that many people may not be sensitive to. But the full freedom of scholarly and critical inquiry into sacred space is a big element of what you're doing here. And I was going to ask about that later, but you mentioned it when you were describing the relationship between the Lings and Cole and...
Prof. Considine:Hamza Yusuf.
dr. Merchant:Hamza Yusuf.
Prof. Considine:Yes. So there certainly are people who, you know, academics, executives, who feel like they're almost like custodians of this body of knowledge.
Prof. Considine:You know they are standing at the door and you have to knock to see if they give you permission to enter, which I think has a lot to do with identity. And that's where it gets problematic. You know, a lot of people criticize me, I don't even think they read my work. But they're like, well, he's a Christian. So I'm automatically unsubscribed.
Prof. Considine:Automatically, by some people. And, you know, the fact that I don't have a degree in theology or religious studies. I mean it's a different kind of people who won't let you in this room. And you know, I don't get that perspective. I think there's something else about people that refuses to let you in like that. But you know, it's an uphill battle. And then sometimes it can turn pretty, I mean, it can turn hostile. So it's not just that they don't let you in, like you got slammed in the face. And they're basically trying to scare you into not coming back like you're not writing about it. Know…
Prof. Considine:People are trying to literally silence me, or to put it more modernly, like kick me off the platform. You know, people say, 'Don't retweet Craig, you don't like him, you don't promote his stuff, because he is who he is.' And on the conspiracy side, it's like he has an agenda. You know, and that's why people are really trying to limit the reach that you could possibly have. And it's not just an academic thing. I mean, it comes from pseudo-academics, it comes from religious leaders. It's very political, but it's also open, it goes back to identity. And identity is something that I've spent, you know, my last 15 years studying and thinking about myself and dealing with myself. And when we get to a point where we say this person is this category, this category, this category, this category, and therefore can't talk about it, then that's not just a free speech issue, it's just a thinking problem. and expression and probability. So it's actually kind of dangerous.
dr. Merchant:It's a dangerous thing. We have reached the stratosphere of this problem in every corner of life where, dare you say, that line is moving slowly. You know what I mean? It's as if you weren't part of that shared experience or hadn't been on the line long enough. You know what I mean? I made a silly comparison, but we're at [39:25 distorted] this Ob number right now. And it is a great loss. Of course, perspective always helps. I would like to …
dr. Merchant:nothing more than hearing someone who knows nothing about New York say, "What do you know?" all day.
Prof. Considine:What do you know? Yeah.
dr. Merchant:Otherwise I'll never know...
Prof. Considine:You will never know
dr. Merchant:this idea I have the exclusive right. It really hurt our family; our global family continues.
Prof. Considine:Yes, it hurts the community. You know, it hurts the community and the community is multifaceted. So, Frank, you used the term "shared experiences," and I think that's the key. Getting back to my point, if we see you as someone with that identity, you know, racial, ethnic, religious, national, that's it. And because I am those things, I can't tell you that we haven't shared experiences. You know, we've definitely had different experiences, there's no question about that. But we also have shared experiences.
Prof. Considine:Where we can meet as equals and become almost more fraternal or human, where I can understand you on a human level, above all these complications with your identity. But when people start saying that these categories mean different experiences, that's partly true, but the whole truth is that it's more nuanced and we're actually similar in many ways.
Prof. Considine:And we should talk about the similarities.
dr. Merchant:Yes. We are getting closer and closer to the surface features and we miss it. I mean, how can anyone say that there are no shared experiences? Have you ever seen your one-year-old get too close to the edge of the bed? If you are Chinese, if you are Muslim, if you are black, if you are white...
dr. Merchant:Was your heart doing the exact same thing at that moment no matter who or what you are? And there are billions of shared human experiences. It's like I'm involved in interfaith relations because I've worked in an industry similar to yours throughout my life. One thing we've certainly learned is that the more we try to achieve peace, the more all sides become, you know, always at least part of all sides.
Prof. Considine:Yes, it's not easy. And you know who said it best? Frank, you may know Uncle Safi Kaskus, I call him Uncle Safi Kaskus.
dr. Merchant:Yo Safi.
Prof. Considine:You already know Safi. Safi once made a very simple comment on one of my posts, and we talk quite regularly. And he just said I got a lot of flak so I better forget what it was. But he just said that as a bridge builder, you are literally like a bridge. And what are people doing? Like walking on bridges. So as a bridge builder, just try to get up and you're going to take a lot of hits, a lot of hits, you stay, you know, you're strong. You have pillars, your mission is rooted in something that can take all those blows. So I think that's very, very true. And I try to remember it. You know, you pack like four different things and not just one unit. Yeah.
dr. Merchant:Yes. That's a great metaphor. I like it. I never thought about it.
dr. Merchant:And you're obviously what people call a doormat, right? You are alone.
Prof. Considine:Yes. They drag their feet on the…
dr. Merchant:Sense. Yeah.
dr. Merchant:Yes. Let me see if I have one more question and then we'll move on to another session. And thanks for the conversation. I asked if we could do it twice because there is a big crowd.
dr. Merchant:That was very rich. Let me move on to another question. From a distance it struck me that you're pretty good with writing and deadlines and it's hard on people. You are a family man, you have a new family and you are not a carefree family man. Time with his wife and daughters is important. You're not like the guy who gets home at 11 at night. And yet, somehow these deadlines are met. Another thing about the current situation is that there is a constant flow of information and our minds jump on it. And we want to write something or make a quick phone call. The tide of life versus a sustainable project like writing a beautiful book like the one you just wrote, do you have any secrets or things that can help the young writer or people who are distracted or struggling? How come in your life you keep delivering very impressive, very entertaining and enlightening work?
Prof. Considine:First of all, thanks for those kind words, Frank. I think there are some secret ingredients. The first is a fairly large image. You know, when I was a kid, my dad, who didn't really have much and had a pretty rough childhood, told me as a teenager that whatever you ultimately decide in your life, make sure you love doing it. And I noticed it over and over again. You know, he wasn't really capable of doing that. Well, he could have, but he chose to do more financial things. And I was more about, you know, what do I like to do? And you know, he ended up becoming this passion for learning and knowledge and the possibilities that can come from science. So I have a deep passion for what I do, I have a lot of passion and I love doing it. I find it challenging, it's rewarding, and ultimately I believe in it. I believe in the power of scholarship, knowledge and what comes of it. It helps me keep going because I believe in it, you know, and I tell the students that too. You know, when they were thinking about going to grad school, a PhD, I said, 'Well, number one, you've got to want it, you've got to love it, you've got to be in it. And not like 90%, 95%, like in many ways, you have to give everything. Well, on the more practical side, I'm fine with my schedule, I guess. I can figure out how to use my time, I also know when to put things down and have fun and relax and do something else. You know, because at some point during my PhD I was totally burned out, overworked and too hard. And I know that I was literally burned out, out of gas and couldn't do it. And you know, I've been dealing with this for months. But now I'm like, 'Hey, okay, you did three hours, good stuff, do something completely different. Go for a walk, exercise, hang out, go to a restaurant, go out. So it's a combination of big picture, small picture. You know, you have to be disciplined every day. But there definitely has to be more vision.
dr. Merchant:Good. That's very helpful, thankful to hear that. As we get closer to the end, I just want to say to the audience and to the people who will be reading the transcript that we are talking about work that could very well be groundbreaking. When I read it I was quite surprised at where it led me. Because I consider myself knowledgeable about Islam thanks to close ties of mentors and friendships similar to yours throughout my life. I have my doctorate in Religious Studies and Religious Thought. And yet, I've seen things in what you've written here that give me pause and may make me think that I need to add some additional insight that I wasn't expecting. I was hoping to do a decent job on this interview. But I think I may need to add my thoughts on that. The only reason I brought that up is because I want to address a lot of really specific things that you covered that I think could be pivotal and novel. And just as a little preview, I think it has brought the theological and philosophical essence of what Islam is and what Christianity is, but what surrounded it in its genesis much closer than others may have noticed before.
Prof. Considine:Thank you so much.
dr. Merchant:And I want to see that when we get back. And we've been kind of friendly overall, but I don't want the audience to think that we're going to come in and talk more generally, pausing if necessary...
dr. Merchant:which was helpful. So I really want to address very important elements and some really deep research that you've done. They couldn't have done it simply to try to understand the theological roots of two complex systems.
Prof. Considine:Yes actually. let's dive in That definitely sounds like a very interesting conversation. So let's dive in.
dr. Merchant:Yes, we will the next time we're together. dr. Consider or Craig, I really appreciate your time today.
Prof. Considine:thank you dr Merchant. I didn't know who you are.
Prof. Considine:Yes. It's a real pleasure, Frank. Thank you and I look forward to our next conversation.
dr. Merchant:Me too. Thank you so much.
Prof. Considine:Thank you so much.
dr. Merchant:Bye bye.