(January 2002 – Volume 8, Issue 1)
Before September 11th, most of us had little understanding of, and/or interest in the Islamic religion, but all of that has changed. What kind of people, we now want to know, purposely destroy so many innocent lives in the name of their God? Evil and wicked people we understand, but the Muslim fanatics claim to be righteous. They seem to actually believe that they are waging a great war between good and evil, and that they are the ones wearing the white hats. What, if anything, does Islam teach that could lead these men to murder people, even at the expense of their own lives, while believing they are pleasing God? Are the terrorists representative of the Islamic faith or a fanatical fringe? These are important questions, especially in light of so much misleading information about Islam pouring from our media.
The Islamic religion has five basic beliefs or doctrines:
- There is one and only one God. Monotheism is central to Islam. God is omnipotent and has four fundamental functions: creation, sustenance, guidance, and judgment.
- There have been many prophets, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.
- God created angels (jinn), some of which are good and others evil.
- The Quran (often spelled “Koran”) is God’s full and final revelation.
- The final Day of Judgment is coming, followed by heaven for the faithful and hell for the lost. Eternal judgment will be based totally on the deeds of individuals.
Islam also teaches five “Pillars of the Faith.” These are duties that a Muslim must perform in order to work his, and possibly her (we will discuss this later) way to paradise:
- Confess the creed, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet.” This confession must be made publicly by every Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime.
- Pray five times a day. In prayers, Muslims face the Kaaba, a small, cube-shaped structure in the courtyard of the great mosque of Mecca.
- Keep the annual fast during the month of Ramadan. During the fasting month one must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset. In addition one must refrain from all sinful thoughts and actions during the month and feed at least one poor person, if able.
- Give alms to the poor (one fortieth of one’s income).
- Make a pilgrimage to the Kaaba at Mecca, once in a lifetime, if able.
Besides these “Pillars of the Faith” Muslims are forbidden to consume alcohol or eat pork. Islamic social philosophy is based on the belief that every sphere of society should be permeated with Islamic values. Islamic Law should be in force throughout the world, even over those who do not accept the religious teachings of Islam.
As can be easily seen, Islam is a purely works-based religion. God is pleased, and heaven is attained by fulfilling certain duties. One duty not mentioned above but believed by many Muslims to ensure paradise, is jihad or Holy War. While jihad is defined differently by various Muslim leaders, many Muslims believe that jihad is war against infidels (non-Muslims) who stand in the way of the spread of Islamic Law. Anyone who dies in a jihad is guaranteed eternal life in Paradise, which is in actuality, the only means whereby Paradise is guaranteed.
A Little History
At age forty Muhammad claimed that the angel Gabriel appeared to him near Mecca (in modern Saudi Arabia) in A.D. 610 and commanded him: “Recite!” As he began to recite, the first supposedly inspired words of the Quran (which literally means “recitation”) were revealed. It should be mentioned that Muhammad was illiterate and his “inspired recitations” would only be written down by his followers years later. At the time, the Arabs of the region, which included nomadic Bedouin tribes, worshipped a number of deities and spirits, although Judaism was practiced by many, and even a sprinkling of a corrupt form of Christianity was to be found. In the early days Muhammad looked upon Judaism with favor, adopting some of their religious rites and biblical concepts (monotheism for example). While he added to it, Muhammad did not reject the Old Testament Scriptures, believing men like Noah and Abraham to be true prophets. He did not seem to have the same knowledge of Christianity, but he taught that Jesus too was a great prophet and that the four New Testament Gospels were legitimate. At first he believed that his newly found religion would actually be a means of uniting the pagans and Jews. When the Jews ultimately rejected Islam, Muhammad was angered. He accused them of rejecting truth, and declared himself to be the greatest of all prophets and his message the final word of God, superior to all past revelations. Toward the end of his life Muhammad “barred Christians and Jews from visiting the Kaaba and by ‘divine command’ declared their continued exclusion until they confessed the supremacy of Islam or consented to pay tribute.”
The Islamic faith had a slow start. After four years only some forty individuals had been converted. At that point Muhammad turned his attention to Mecca. The citizens of Mecca eventually rejected his message, forcing Muhammad to head to Medina in 622 (it is from this event that the Islamic calendar is dated). The people of Medina immediately rallied around the self-proclaimed prophet, those who opposed him were crushed, and war on Mecca was declared. In 630 Mecca surrendered and the power of Islam was on the rise. Unfortunately for Muhammad he would only live another two years, dying of a fever at age sixty-three. Nevertheless, in Muhammad’s lifetime he and his armies butchered thousands in the spread of Islam. Muhammad’s army fought sixty-six battles, twenty-seven of which were led by Muhammad. He said, “I have been ordered by Allah to fight with people until they testify there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.” Those who succeeded Muhammad would follow in his footsteps, winning converts throughout the world by means of military conquest for hundreds of years. Islamic warriors, over the next several centuries, would conquer vast territories for Allah, as far east as China, much of North Africa and into Europe, where they were victorious over Spain and were finally turned back in France.
Internally the Muslims were at war as well. After the assassination of Ali, who was the fourth successor (called caliph) to Muhammad, a power struggle ensued between the House of Ali and the House of Umayyad. A permanent division developed over this strife, with the House of Ali (defeated in battle) becoming what we call today the Shiites, and the House of Umayyad the Sunnis. Then, as well as now, the Shiites have been the more radical of the sects, often resorting to violence and rebellion throughout their history.
Today there are 1.2 billion Muslims, and Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. In the United States there are approximately 3500 mosques, with 4 to 5 being added weekly.
The Quran (or Koran)
The Muslims regard the Quran as the inspired revelations given to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel over the approximately twenty-two years of the prophet’s life. It contains 114 chapters (called suras) of various lengths (from three to three hundred and six verses) and is about the size of the New Testament. In addition to the Quran, the Muslims have a second source of authoritative writings known as the Hadith. The Hadith contains the body of traditions based on what the Prophet said or did regarding various issues.
The Quran has a number of unique features that have led to much confusion, both within and without the Islamic camp. First, it is considered inspired only in Arabic and so is memorized in Arabic by boys in school, even though they often do not understand the words they are memorizing. Secondly, except for the opening sura, the book is arranged according to the length of the surahs rather than chronologically. This would be of little consequence except that the Quran has the doctrine of abrogation. That is, Muslims believe that the teachings found in earlier surahs can be replaced by revelation in later surahs. Christians believe in progressive revelation as found in the Bible; in other words, as God inspired His Word He added to previously given revelation, but He never contradicts Himself. Muslims, however, understand that the latter teachings in the Quran can completely negate the former teachings.
It is because Christians, and many Muslims, do not understand this doctrine of abrogation coupled with the nonchronological order of the Quran that they do not understand what is going on in the Islamic world at this time. On the one hand, many Islamic leaders will claim that their religion is a peaceful one, and quote passages from the Quran to prove it. On the other hand, other Islamic leaders will call for terrorism and jihad and base their call on the same Quran. Most of us would view this a simple matter of how the Quran is interpreted, but such is not the case. The peaceful passages within the Quran are found in the early days of Muhammad’s recitations, during a time when he felt that his new religion would be a unifying factor among “People of the Book” (Jews, Christians and Muslims). When his doctrine was ultimately rejected by Jews and Christians he turned on them and “was given” new “revelations” of war and hate to replace the former ones of peace. The surahs, which teach jihad against Jews, Christians and unbelievers, are all found in the later time frame of the Quran. Passages of a later date include 2:190-193,216; 4:74,89,91,95,101-102; 5:33,51; 8:12,39,60,65,67,69; 9:5,29,30,73; 47:4; 59:2-4,5,14 and 61:4. While such passages are scattered throughout the Quran, they are all chronologically of later origin and have, according to the doctrine of abrogation, replaced the former teachings on peace.
Jihad (Holy War)
One of the unique facets of Islam is jihad. Jihad means, “to struggle,” and to some modern-day Muslims it is simply a “struggle with self.” History, as well as the Quran proves, however, that jihad most commonly is understood to mean the holy war waged by the Muslim people throughout the ages, in order to reform the earth against those who reject Islamic law. According to Islamic law, the world is divided into three houses: the House of Islam, consisting of Muslims; the House of Peace, nations and peoples with whom Muslims have peace agreements; and the House of War, the rest of the world. It is the goal and duty of Muslims to spread Islamic law until it dominates the world. “Unlike other religions, Islam has as one of its most basic tenets the endless pursuit of jihad, the ongoing holy war being fought for conversion and domination, and all true Muslims believe in it and pursue it to some extent or another.” The methods of jihad are varied however. Some Muslims might attempt economic jihad, others spiritual. But to many fundamentalists, the Muslims who take the Quran seriously and literally, spilling the blood of infidels (all who reject Allah) is true jihad. The power behind this type of jihad is promised rewards. According to David Hunt, “The only sure way in Islam of achieving Paradise is to sacrifice one’s life in jihad. Yes, suicide is forbidden as self-murder. But to sacrifice one’s life in killing infidels carries the highest reward. And what reward does Paradise bring to the jihad martyr? He is promised a palace of pearls in which are 70 mansions; inside each mansion are 70 houses and in each house a bed on which are 70 sheets and on each sheet a beautiful virgin. He is assured that he will have the appetite and strength of 100 men for food and sex. This fantastic dream is fed to Muslim boys from earliest childhood.”
But does the Quran support the use of the sword in the spread of Islam? A strong case can be made in the affirmative since over one hundred verses command the Muslims to use violence to spread their faith. Following are some examples:
Sura 8:12 – Remember Thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.”
9:5 – Fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (This is called “The verse of the Sword.”)
17:16-17 – When we decide to destroy a population, we send a definite order to them who have the good things in life and yet transgress; so that Allah’s word is proven true against them: then we destroy them utterly. How many generations have we destroyed after Noah?
21:11 – How many were the populations we utterly destroyed because of their iniquities, setting up in their place other peoples.
5:33 – Those who make war against Allah and his apostle and spread disorders in the land shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the country.
8:68 – It is not for any prophet to have prisoners until he has made wide slaughter in the land.
The following are taken from the “Hadith”, which is the traditional teaching of Muhammad that is outside the Quran but is considered Islamic Law. These are to be accepted with authority by all Muslims:
Hadith 4:196 – Muhammad said, “I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, none has the right to be worshipped but Allah.”
9:57 – Muhammad said, “Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him.”
9:50 – Muhammad said, “No Muslim should be killed for killing a Kafir (infidel).”
Just for interest we will include one quote from the Quran concerning women:
4:34 – “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them…. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart, and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them.”
Women in Islamic society are decidedly second class. Apparently in the early days (perhaps still true today in some circles) women were not considered to have souls. As a result, how women fit into eternal reward seems to be uncertain. Since the great reward in Paradise for men is women, what will be the reward for women? I have been unable to find an answer to this question. At any rate, few Islamic women read the Quran or are involved in the study of their faith. In many countries they are not allowed into mosques and indeed seldom appear in public.
The subject of our next paper will be an attempt to understand the mindset behind the recent act of terrorism.