Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Islam 101

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Suraya Sadeed
photo by Jon Styer
[Note: This second post in a "Religions 101" series appears courtesy of my gracious classmate, Suraya Sadeed, founder and executive director of Help the Afghan Children (HTAC). Suraya is an Afghan-American currently studying with me at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Read more about her work from the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of Peacebuilder Magazine: Building Schools: Spreading Hope to 120,000 Afghan Children. This series of posts is inspired by our collective reading of Stephen Prothero's book, God Is Not One, so you'll find references to this sprinkled throughout. -bg]

Islam was founded by Prophet Mohammad in Arabia around AD 610.  Islam means submission to God “Allah” in Arabic.  It is a strictly monotheistic religion and the sacred scripture of Islam is the Quran (recitation).  The religious obligations of all Muslims are summed up in the Five Pillars of Islam.  The center pillar is called “Shahadah” (to believe without suspicion):  “I testify that there is no god but God, and Mohammad is the Messenger of God." Other four pillars of Islam include:
  • Praying five times a day,
  • Fasting for one month (Ramadan –the ninth month of the lunar calendar, observed by Muslims)
  • Giving at least 2.5% of their wealth to the poor
  • And, once in a lifetime, going on pilgrimage “Al-Hajj” to Mecca, the holiest city of Muslims, with the exception of poverty or physical incapacity.
[Read on after the break for more on Islam from my friend, Suraya...]

Theologically, Islam is comprised of fundamentalists, legalists, mystics, progressive, and moderates however, the basic division is between the two main groups of Sunni and Shia that initially stemmed from political differences of who should take over the leadership of Muslims after Mohammad. Over the centuries, however, these political differences have spawned a number of varying practices and positions which have come to carry a spiritual significance.  Another Islamic movement is Salafism (following forefathers) that seeks to redirect their religious tradition back to the earliest pure Islam.  Sufism (inner) is the mystical dimension of Islam. The scholars have defined Sufism as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”.

Definition of God:  God is singular; it means divine oneness, absolutely and totally transcendent – far beyond all human conceptions of Him.  That is why Muslims reject visual images of God on the ground that such images tempt us toward idolatry “Shirk” which is the gravest mistake a Muslim can makes.  God is defined as “He is God, the Everlasting Refuge, who has not begotten, and has not been begotten, and equal to Him is not any one”.  God is also referred to as “all compassionate, all merciful, forgiving, generous, loving, powerful, eternal, knowing, wrathful,  just, the guardian, the majestic, and the superb”.

The Prophet:  Mohammad, the Prophet of Muslims, also called (the Messenger of God), was born in 570 CE in the city of Mecca.  According to Islamic beliefs, at age 40, he received his first revelation of Quran from God while meditating in a cave in the surrounding mountains of Mecca.  Muslims have always insisted that their prophet was only a human being who has delivered God’s message to them.

The Quran:  Muslims believe that their holy book, the Quran, was revealed from God to Prophet Mohammad verbally through the angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years and was memorized, recited and written down by the Prophet’s companions after every revelation.  The Quran, written in Arabic and comprises of 114 chapters, is about law and spirituality.  The Quran tells Muslims not just how to worship God but also how to lend money, divide estates, enter into contracts, and punish criminals.  For over 1.2 billion Muslims, Islam is a way of life as well as a religion.   The Quran emphasizes on helping the weak and the needy in this world, as well as life after death and the paradise.

Shariah” (Islamic Law):  “Shariah” (right path) is the most important dimension of Islam that emphasizes on law over theology which extends to all aspects of life; family, social, economics, and politics.  And, “Fiqh” (interpretation of Islamic Law) is based on both the Quran and the Hadith, a secondary body of scripture comprising thousands of accounts of the words and deeds of Prophet Mohammad.

Jihad” (Struggle): To Muslims, Jihad has two meanings:  The spiritual struggle against pride and self-importance, and the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam.  The physical struggle includes preaching, teaching, working for social justice, and war.  Prothero says “While it is incorrect to translate Jihad as “holy war,” the plain sense of this struggle in the Quran and contemporary Islamic practice is both spiritual and military.”  Islamic law emphasizes on defending the rights of noncombatants.

What is “real” for this religion?  One God, the Quran, and Prophet Mohammad
What is not real?  Worshiping idols and believing in Trinity
How is the “real” organized for this religion?  By The Quran and Hadith
What is valuable and what is not valuable for this religion?  Islamic Law and Jihad is valuable.
Where does real knowledge come from for this religion? From the Quran
What must followers of this religion do? Must follow the five pillars of Islam
What must they not do? Associate any partner with God, Killing innocent people, bribery, stealing, gambling, adultery, eating pork, physical and psychological intoxication.

Does it matter that we were raised in societies that were shaped by these faith traditions? Do our cultures and our political and social systems reflect these underlying ways of thinking about the world?  YES, religion matters.

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