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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tauheed: understanding the Divine, monotheism as given in Islam

As is well known, Tauheed, or Monotheism, is the fundamental principle of Islam. A person is considered a Muslim, accepted in the Islamic family of over 1 Billion members, by making a public statement acknowledging that Nothing deserves worship except God. This is known as the Shahaadah , the act of witnessing. [ft.1]

It is worthy to note the beginning words of the Shahaadah in order to understand the profound nature of the Islamic teaching further. In Arabic, we say Laa e-laaha ill- Allah. , usually translated as "No deity except Allah", or, as in the previous paragraph, "Nothing deserves worship except God". The word for "No" [ Laa ]
is a negation of a something with continuity or lasting.

This shows that God is a reality which exists beyond our limited concepts of time and space. This shows that there has never been a period in which Allah has not been in charge, or has not been the Lord, nourisher and sustainer. [ft.2]

Traditionally God has been described by Muslims as having Ninety-nine names, or adjectives. One such name is Al-Awwal , The First, while another is Al- AKhir. , the Last.

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that The best Dhikr[ contemplation] is Laa- e-laaha ill Allah.[Tirmidhi (hasan), Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-iman, from Jabir ibn `Abd Allah].

By constantly recalling that statement of Tauheed, be it verbally, mentally or by other means, one's faith and devotion increases, and one will embrace what God has willed and avoid that which God has condemned.


Islam teaches that God is alone in his Lordship, and thus, should be worshiped alone as well. Prophets, Saints, etc.. should not be invoked in worship or in requests. Such acts constitute what is known as Shirk , a Polytheism which is utterly useless and spiritually defeating.


AND [YET] THEY WORSHIP [THINGS] OTHER THAN GOD, THAT WHICH CAN NEITHER BENEFIT NOR HARM THEM...25:55



And place your trust in the Living One [Al-Hayy] who does not die, and celebrate his praise, and he is sufficient as aware of the sins of his servants[ft.3] 25:58



In contrast to the practice of other faiths, the Muslims do not have portraits of The Divine, never seek to give human form to the Divine, and even have avoided portraying the face of the Prophets in order to avoid any potential for idolatry.[ft.4]

Any portrayals of the Divine through imagery, paintings, etc.etc. would be inadequate, and give a false or unwarranted image of God. This even extends to the terminology used in reference to the Divine. Most strands of Christianity, for example, will acknowledge the existence of God as One, and are counted as among the Monotheistic religions, yet the Islamic view of the Trinity is that such an idea, which teaches that God is manifested in the "persons" of God "The Father", The "Son" Jesus Christ, and the "Holy Ghost", creates a picture exactly the opposite of God as One, and thus should be rejected.



And do not proclaim 'Trinity' [Thulathaa], Stop! It is best for You, as Allah is one deity [alone]. He is Glorified[ and above] from even having a son. To him belongs what is in the heavens and the Earth, and Allah is sufficient as a disposer of affairs. 4:171


The reader should notice that both the Trinity and ideas of the Divine having children are refuted. The reason is simple when one examines the end of this verse, telling us that God Almighty controls the Universe, is the creator of all and All-Knowing, Aware, and Eternal. Under those circumstances, a "son" is not needed, nor is it necessary for God to be manifested in human flesh.

We are also told in the Glorious Qur'an:



Say: He is Allah alone! Allah the eternal. He does not give birth, nor was he given birth to, and nothing exists like him. 112:1-4


Verse 3 repeats two particles of negation in the Original Arabic text [Lam]. The particle Lam negates the past tense verb. In other words, God cannot be described in terms of having been "born"[Lam Yoolad], as that would imply that God had at some point a mother, father, etc... and thus strike at the Monotheistic foundation. God should not be described as having given birth, or siring, children, as that would imply some sort of Divine Family, which would also contradict the Monotheistic foundation.

For a Quranic description of the Divine, or rather the way we should see the Divine to the limit of our immediate capabilities, I would suggest reading 24:35, 2:255, and 59:22-24. Also 112:1-4 as cited above.

{Shamsuddin Waheed is an Imam, Quranic Arabic instructor and lecturer. He is frequently called upon in developing Interfaith relations and understanding, Quranic study and other such activities. He can be reached at waheed79-at-yahoo.com or his website www.islaminviewforum.com}


Footnotes.

[1] The second part of the Shahaadah reads "Muhammad is God's messenger" [ Muhammad Rasool Ullaah ]

[2] The author has explained this in more detail in The Divine Throne: an examination of Ayatul Kursiyy 2:255 which can be found at[http://islaminviewforum.com/index.php?showtopic=59] as well as other magazines and online sites.

[3] The Qur'an [ 51:56] teaches that humans have been created to serve God. To worship God is not limited to Prayer or ritual, but to the entire life of progression, spirituality and goodness. The verse here seems to be referring to the fact that God knows the "sins" of all in the creation.

[4] An example of this can be found in The Message , a Movie about the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Produced in 1976 by Moustapha Akkad, it represented the Prophet not with a face, character or even voice, but rather by a peaceful musical composition whenever required. see http: //www.imdb.com/name/nm0002160/bio

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Jesus in Islam


The Messiah

A very important personality to Muslims, Jesus Christ is mentioned by name in the Qur'an twenty-five times. He was Al-Maseeh [The Messiah], awaited by the Jewish people. The Jewish people expected a leader to defeat their enemies in a military conflict, however Jesus had a much greater and more difficult of a task, i.e. a mission of spiritual priorities and renewal, a rejuvenation of the intent of the law [of Moses], rather than blind obedience to ritual and tradition.

Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you Hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the most important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. [Matthew 23:23-24]


..Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. The second is this-'Love your neighbor as yourself' there is no commandments greater than these [Mark 12: 29-31]


Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. [ Luke 11:42]

Died for mankind's sins?

The current ideas associated with the Messiah in Christendom, such as his death-sacrifice as atonement for mankind's sins, is not supported by Islamic teachings. We would like to point out some of the following Biblical texts food for thought.

"[John the Baptist said] Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves 'We have Abraham as our father' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" [Matt. 3:8-10]


In this Biblical text, we have a lesson of personal responsibility and deeds which must be shown to have some sort of positive effect. Otherwise, faith is not useful to the believer. Also of interest, from the Bible, is Matt. 12:33, 13:31-34.

The same essential teaching is given in the Qur'an.

...And none can bear the burdens of another. Then, to your Lord is your return, he will tell you the truth of that which you disagreed about [Q 6:164]
None can bear the burden of another, man has nothing, except what he worked for, the result of his work will be seen {by God}. [Q 53:38-40 also see vv.41-48]


Son of God

Another point of difference between the Islamic teachings and Christian perspectives is the idea that Jesus Christ is the "son of God". In the Bible, this phrase, as well as similar phrases, are clearly used in a metaphorical sense, and should not be taken in a literal, physical sense. Please see as examples from the Bible Genesis 6:2,4, Exodus 4:22, Luke 3:38 and many other passages.

I have often pointed out in discussions and lectures with Christians that in many Eastern cultures, phrases such as "Father" "son' "Uncle" "Aunt" etc..are used to denote familiarity and respect, and is not understood to refer to blood-relationships.

To avoid such confusion, the Qur'an advocates using clear and unambiguous language when discussing the Divine, and the relationship to creation.

Say: He is God alone. God the eternal. He did not give birth, nor was he given birth to, and nothing exists like him. [Q 112:1-4]

In numerous other Quranic texts, the doctrine of God having children is addressed. Concerning Jesus himself, we are told:


Surely in God's sight, [the status of] Jesus is similar to that of Adam.He created him from dust, then said to him 'Be' and he was. [Q 3:59]


Divinity


It is well known that Islam does not accept the doctrine of Jesus' Divinity. Even from the Bible, we can find that Jesus prayed { Matt. 4:2}. If Jesus prayed, then to whom was he praying? To himself? Nonetheless, the doctrine has entered mainstream Christian ideology, and while we are not concerned here with how it entered the Christian religion, it should be noted that many in Christian ranks, on the basis of their own Biblical understanding, have not accepted this idea. Nonetheless, the Qur'an does claim to have a Christology that is pure and representative of the teachings of Jesus. Some examples are given below.

A man given scripture and wisdom, and designated as a Prophet, will not tell people 'Worship me' and not God. However, he would say 'Become devoted worshipers of the Nourisher {of the Universe}. You have taught scripture, and you have studied it.
And he would never order you to take angels and Prophets as Lords. Would he order you to rejection {Kufr}, after you have been submissive {to God}. [Q 3:79-80]



A vivid picture of the day of Judgment is given in the Qur'an, in which God is depicted as asking Jesus if he ever proclaimed Divinity for himself. To this, Jesus replies:

...I did not say to them anything except what you ordered me to say 'Worship God, my Lord and your lord... [ Q 5:117]

____________________________________________________________________

All Biblical quotes are taken from the NIV study Bible [2002, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

All Quranic texts are translated from the original Arabic by the author.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Introduction to Islamic teachings

For all those readers interested, we have prepared some brief works which will serve as an introduction to the teachings of Islam. Any further inquiries into religion, as well as our other writings, CDs and lectures, can be made by leaving a message here or by e-mail.

The timeless religion [PDF format] by Shamsuddin Waheed

An introduction to the Qur'an [PDF format] by Shamsuddin Waheed.

Women in Islam [PDF format] by Faith Barrow-Waheed

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Race consciousness and Islam: some thoughts on group identity and religious traditions.

It is often said that the World population of Muslims constitutes an Ummah. After all, we are told, according to several sources, the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, said, that the Muslims are like a body, when one part is in pain, the whole is in pain. 1 Did he also not say "There is no superiority of an Arab over a Non-Arab, neither of an Non-Arab over an Arab, neither of a White over a Black, neither a Black over White.."? 2

These two sayings attributed to the Prophet, as well as other sayings and Quranic verses, have been understood by many Muslims, especially those who have accepted Islam in a Western environment, to teach that one must actually erase one's connections to their own prior culture and identity, and to adopt the culture and identity of others, to become immersed in an ultra-conservative "Islamic" culture.

Thus, it is not that unusual to see in Western cities men in traditional Indian or Arabic clothes, donning a Jalabiyyah or a Shalwar Kameez, believing this is a reflection of Islamic norm. It is also common for such enthusiastic converts, especially in the period early after their conversion, to be quite argumentative with other Muslims, urging them to follow suit in their choice of wardrobe. They often say that it is Sunnah, the Prophet's tradition, to somehow adopt this style.

Authentic Islamic culture?

To address this issue, one must understand that first and foremost, Islam is a religion, an ideology of Divine Origin whose main focus is spiritual. The Five pillars of Islam all revolve around theological constructs, and while it is indeed true that all Muslims share this in common, it does not seem prudent to call this a "culture". All societies and groups that have accepted Islam have many common features that have entered their cultures, but for a Muslim the only requirements are to obey God and his messenger (Muhammad) and to apply Islamic principles to life as much as possible.

The application of teachings not covered in the five pillars, what one may call secondary principles (Furu'), varies in style from place to place. Let us take an example of one such command from the Qur'an itself:

And say to the believing women, they should lower their gaze, guard their modesty, and place their head scarves [Khumuri-hinna] over their bosoms...[ 24:31]


This Quranic instruction has been applied in various ways in the Muslim world. While the intent and affect are the same, the style and method of application has varied, from the Tudung and Baju Melayu of the Malaysian Muslims, the various garments and scarves in the African countries, and so forth. All these have attempted to obey this Quranic directive, thus creating their own unique expressions.

Perhaps another good example is removing one's shoes upon entering a residence. This is done, religiously, upon entering a Mosque or when commencing prayers. These are the only times when it is necessary, but nonetheless removing shoes at the door of a house has entered the culture of many Muslims. We have pointed out these things to show that to accept Islam does not require abandoning one's culture, the only requirements are to Obey God and his messenger. Don't make the religion hard, as that is not the wish of God.


What about Muslim unity?

Strength exists in diversity. This is demonstrated in the last pillar of Islam, the Hajj. One will see in Makkah during the pilgrimage people of all colors, ethnicities, social and economic backgrounds, all gathered together for the worship of Allah. Another good example is the Salaah, performed in the same language, Quranic Arabic, in an universally recognized format. An Arab Muslim can go to a Mosque in Nigeria and find that the Salaah is performed in the same manner.

The spiritual practices of Islam create an environment in which brotherhood, tolerance, love and compassion can thrive and flourish. This does not require uniformity in thought, understanding and appearance.

And if God had so willed, he would have made you one 'Ummah', but [differences exist in order to] test you in what you have been given. So, compete with each other in goodness..[ Q 5:48] 3

Is Nationalism compatible with Islam?

The term 'Nationalism' means different things to different people. It can mean ethnic pride to one, racism and discrimination to another. There is nothing inherently wrong with national or ethnic pride, on the contrary, caring for and supporting worthwhile causes in one's community is noteworthy and commendable from an Islamic point of view.

This is especially important for Western Muslims to understand, as we are so quick to express solidarity with Muslims in other lands, suffering in 'Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, etc.. and yet refuse to vote, on the grounds that it is of "no concern" to get involved in "Kafir politics". Too many of us who live in the West will engage in propagation work and not work to pay our bills and support our families.

Islam is a force of reality and spirituality. It should make us change for the better, not the worse. It is to be a source of enlightenment to the believer, and a source of mercy and assistance to any observer. It should not cause us to reject involvement in actions which are of benefit to our native societies, regardless of their religious label.

[God swears ] By the time, surely, humans are in consistent loss, except those who believe, do righteous works, and enjoin mutual [calling to] truth, and mutual [reminders of ] patience. [103:1-3]

Surely God does not change the condition of a people, until they change what is in themselves[13:11]

O believers! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones [66:6]

On the other hand we have an equally distressing reality, and that is isolationism. Isolationism can be a vice, and not a virtue. Attitudes against Inter-racial marriages, or those that cross tribal or caste lines display ignorance of Islamic teachings, a lack of internalization of the words of Allah. Another example of isolationism is the idea prevalent among new Muslims that social interactions with the "disbelievers", even among Non-Muslim family members, are discouraged, creating unneeded tensions and bad feelings.


"O Mankind! Surely We have created you from a man and a woman; made you into nations and tribes, so that you will know each other. Surely, the most honorable of you in God's sight is the most dutiful [to God] among you"[ 49:13]
"And among his signs is the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, as well as the differences in your languages and colors. Truly, in these are signs for intelligent people"[ 30:22]

Islam is not a tribal or "group" religion. It is an invitation for all mankind. All of us are God's creation, and if we feel or treat someone different because of their tribal, religious, or racial label, we are actually treating that person as if they have been created by a different god. If we do that, then we are internalizing as well as externalizing Shirk, the worse sin. God wants us to love each other, to learn from each other. If we miss that lesson, then we have strayed far away from God, the Lord of the worlds.

In short, a balance must be found between ignoring one's own needs by advocating a cause far away, and the equally dangerous self-defeating isolationism, a feeling that one's own "Muslim group" is better than other Muslims on the other hand.

This balance is found not in reading inspiring words, but in true internalization of the words of Allah, of seeing all people as God's creation, worthy of respect and decent treatment, despite differences in opinion, theology, color, caste or ethnic origin.


Footnotes

[1] Mubarakpuri, Safi-ur-Rahman, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (Riyadh: Dar-us-Salam publications, 1996), pp. 466

[2] Sahih Bukhari 71:2026

[3] Obviously this verse refers to God's desire for diversity in his creation, not a single, monolithic picture. Also of interest is that this statement appears in a context of debate between the Muslims and the People of the Book.







Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Best Hadeeth: past, present and future

This article was published in a few Muslim publications. In it, I argue that Muslims need to be forward looking and not stuck upon our leaders' opinions or historical issues of little or no relevance today. I look forward to your feedback.

The Best Hadeeth: Past, Present, and Future

“Allah sends forth (naz-zala) the best hadeeth, a book of repetition and consistency, the skins of those who fear their Lord shake concerning it, then, their skins and hearts soften to remembrance of Allah. That is Allah’s guidance, He guides to it whom He wills. And whomsoever Allah allows to be misguided, then there is no one to guide him.” (Qur’an 39:23)
The message of this verse deserves serious contemplation. By examining this verse, we discover that in fact, it corrects many of the misconceptions we have concerning God and revelation. The second word of this ayah ‘naz-zala’ denotes a constant act. Allah is continuously revealing “the best hadeeth.” This is important information, for it helps us to clarify many misconceptions we hold concerning God and His revelation.
Often when reading the Qur’an, we read about God’s work as historical narrative only. We don’t think that these stories have much relevance to our lives today. This is a mistake! The work of God is always taking place. The Qur’an is the best hadeeth because Allah has given it the ability to speak to us, to give us guidance and enlightenment at all times, all situations, and all circumstances!
Let us examine more of this beautiful ayah. “…a book of repetition and consistency, the skins of those who fear their Lord…their skins and hearts soften to the remembrance of Allah. That is Allah’s guidance…” Certainly when we study Al Qur’an, we encounter many commands over and over again. It is given in such a format in which only the studious, God-respecting person can find guidance and appreciate its style. Elsewhere, we learn “None shall touch it, except those who are pure” (Qur’an, 56:79), mean the Qur’an is not for everybody, only for those who are serious about spiritual and intellectual development.
The Qur’an does not contain details on every aspect or command. However, it does something greater! It inspires the sincere believer to always strive to become a better and more effective soldier for Allah. That is the whole point of religion! It is not to force us to adopt the personality of a religious figure or to abandon our thoughts and feelings for those of another. Thus, we read “That is Allah’s guidance!”
The guidance of Allah is indeed the best guidance. We are to ask for it everyday. The form of guidance will change, as our lives, both collective and personal, are in continuous change. We are not to all have the same thoughts. To expect uniformity on all issues is unrealistic and by nature hazardous to our spiritual health!
In summary, we can and must benefit from our past, be it stories given in scripture or our past as civilizations, nations and groups. However, it is our present and future realities that we must focus on. If we fail to recognize this fact, our children will not be interested in Islam! They will see Islam as an impractical, boring faith held by their parents and grandparents. If we remember that the Qur’an and Islam will outlive all of us, that it is practical for all ages, that it does not center around any particular groups or personality ourselves, then our children will grasp that. They will study the religion and contribute towards a better world!

Human life and spirituality: a Quranic perspective

The last section of the Qur’an, commonly called Juz’’Amma[ft.1] contains the most vivid references to Judgement day, Paradise and Hell, and the Hereafter. Yet, in the midst of reading about subjects related to the end, we also encounter tidbits of information about the beginnings as well. Take, for instance, the following Quranic statement “Surely, Man has been created very impatient” [70:19]

The verb Khuliqa [“created”] is passive, showing that mankind had no choice or option in the manner of his beginnings. A seemingly negative quality has been placed, in the Quranic narrative, in human nature. We next read “When touched by a portion of evil, fretful; and when touched by a gain [Khayr], stingy” [70:20-21]

Some may actually read into these Quranic observations a validation of the idea of Original sin, as found in most strands of Christianity. It is our view that such a view would be incorrect for several reasons, the main one being that original sin is usually presented as punishment brought about by the sin of disobedience committed by the first human pair[ft.2] , the atonement of which is found in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ[ft.3],. In addition to being “impatient” , the Qur’an also states that humans are “hasty”[ 17:11, 21:37] as well as “weak” [4:28, 30:54]

The question is obvious-for what purpose has God created humans with these negative characteristics? To answer this question, we look to the human child itself as the perfect example.These characteristics are certainly there in the newborn. They have a function! These characteristics are in need of channeling properly. A newborn is certainly In need of its loving family to provide food, shelter, and clothing. The parents have the role of not only providing these needs, but of also instilling morals and ethics in the child,. These lessons influence the child to adolescence, to adulthood.

The Qur’an has provided the guidelines by which humans are to evolve into what may be termed spiritual adulthood. “[Humans are generally impatient] except those who pray, are consistent in their prayers, who recognize that in their wealth there exists a right for the [needy] of those who ask and those who do not, who confirms the day of judgment, who fear the punishment of their Lord, ..Who guard their chastity, Who are trustworthy in contracts and agreements, who are honest in testimony, who guard their prayers, it is they who are honored in paradise” [70:22-35]


These steps are summarized in a very short text; “[God swears ] By the time, surely, humans are in consistent loss, except those who believe, do righteous works, and enjoin mutual [calling to] truth, and mutual [reminders of ] patience: [103:1-3]
Life is education, and the Qur’an is essentially providing the format and content of education, a stable foundation for maturation.

“Which then is best? He whose foundation is built upon dedication to God, and [seeking] his pleasure? Or he whose foundation is built upon a sand cliff, ready to crumble to pieces?” [9:109]

If any of these steps, as given in the Quranic texts cited, are missing or lacking in human life, spiritual maturity, happiness and contentment can not be attained.

So, condemned are those who pray [Musal-leen], who observe prayer in a negligent manner, who do so[i.e. pray] to be seen, and [yet] refuses the assists neighbors” [107:5-7]


"And when they meet those who believe, they say ‘We believe’ [as well] and yet, when with their devilish [minded compatriots] they say ‘Surely, we are with you, we were simply joking]. God throws back their mockery on them, gives them rope in their trespasses, they wander blind [spiritually], it is they who have bartered guidance for error, their business transaction [actually] has no gain, and they are not guided. Their comparison is that of one who kindles a fire, when it is lighted around him, God took away their light, leaving them in darkness, they cannot see”[ 2:14-17]


[They were asked] ‘What led you to the Hell?’ They will reply ‘We did not pray, we did not feed the hungry, we used to engage in vanities with the vain, we dismissed judgment day as a false [myth] until there came to us the true reality” [74:42-47]

We should not make the mistake of assuming that “simply by” observing the steps given in the Qur’an , instant gratification will automatically follow. The steps are constant, a process of trial and error, which is in itself a learning experience.

“O believers! Fasting is prescribed on you, as it was on those before you, so that perhaps you will grow in dedication to God” [2:183]

O mankind! Worship your Lord, who has created you as well as those before you, so that perhaps you will grow in dedication to God” [2:21]


Prayer and fasting, perhaps the most commonly practiced rituals in all religious traditions, are rituals designed to change one’s attitudes, to deepen one’s understanding and spiritual perception. If failure occurs, then it must be done again and again.

For Muslims, prayer is a requirement daily, fasting is a requirement for a minimum of one month, and so forth.[ft.4]

This article is a call for personal spiritual cultivation, in essence a reminder to ‘grow up’. This process may even require a re-examination of other aspects of our existence, from the concepts we hold, to the company we keep, to even the food we eat, and the income we earn! [ft.5]

An apt statement from the Christian scripture reads:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” [1 Cor. 13:11, NIV]

We conclude with the following supplication in mind, arguably the most often read prayer in the world.

With the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise is due to God, the Cherisher and sustainer of the Worlds. The Compassionate,The Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. It is you we worship, and it is you we seek assistance from. Guide us on the straight path. The path of those on whom you have bestowed blessings, not that of those you are angered with, nor of those misled” [ Qur’an 1:1-7]



Footnotes

[1]The Qu’an is divided into 114 chapters [Surahs], almost evenly into 30 sections [Ajza’] allowing for the entire text to be read in a monthly period. Its style is somewhat disjointed, for more thoughts on this, see our pamphlet in PDF format “An introduction to the Qur’an” available at http://islaminviewforum.com/index.php?act=...h&type=post&id=
]

[2] Islam rejects the notion of original sin, and teaches that all humans are responsible for their own actions. The Qur’an repeatedly states “And no soul shall bear the burdens of another” [6:162, etc...]

[3]This doctrine is expressed in the following words “For we know that our old self was crucified with him[Jesus] so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” [Romans 6:2, NIV]


[4] Prayer is observed five times daily by practicing Muslims, and fasting in the month of Ramadan [per 2:185]. Of course, a great many Muslims pray and fast much more than this.


[5] Prayers and supplications should be directed to God Alone, according to Islamic teachings. Personalities, alive or dead, are of no assistance, despite whatever stature they hold. The Qur’an repeatedly addresses this point, in one verse we read “The parable of those who take for protectors other than God is that of a spider who has constructed for itself a house[i.e. spider web]. It is the weakest of houses, the spider web, if they only knew” [29:41]

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said “Allah the almighty is good and accepts only that which is good…then he [Muhammad] ,mentioned [the case of] a man who, having journeyed far, is disheveled and dusty and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying ‘O Lord, O Lord!’ while his food is unlawful, his clothing unlawful, and he is nourished unlawfully, so how can he be answered?!” [Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, Ezzedinne Ibrahim, page 40, Muslim, The Holy Koran publishing house, Beirut, Lebanon, 1979]

American politics, some thoughts on the smear campaigns

Generally, I don't speak or write much on Politics, especially American Politics, as I recognize that people have different, and often, very strong emotions about it. There is no need to antagonize anyone about things which are beyond my control, however I have now come to see that this was a wrong approach.


Last night, I watched a PBS program which detailed the smear campaigns that Political parties and their paid agents wage. It actually showed, among other things, how these agents attempt to spread false information about an opponent, and still attempt to not be traced. Among these false rumors, we have

[A] "Barack Obama is a "secret" Muslim". In fact, Obama is a Christian, who regularly attends Sunday Church Services. It is true that he has Muslim ancestry, but he is not a Muslim. In any case, that clearly is meant to appeal to those who hold onto fears based upon ignorance and religious prejudices.

[B] John McCain has an "illegitimate Black Child". In fact, he has an adopted Bangladeshi daughter. This is really below the belt. Instead of focusing upon the ideas and aspirations of the candidates and their parties, one finds out there nothing but this sort of ugly comments. This also shows that Race, despite the many gains over the last 35 years, still acts as an important issue in Politics. This also shows that Racism is still alive and well. This is one reason why I believe Obama himself will not win. Please don't take this post as an endorsement for one candidate over another, these are just my observations.

The information on the attacks on McCain can be found at http://www.bartcopnation.com/dc/dcboard.ph...=8&topic_id=522



[C] Postcards were reportedly sent out claiming to be from Mitt Romney, wishing everyone a happy holidays and containing Mormon texts in support of Polygamy [ Romney himself a Mormon, although the Mormon church has not endorsed Polygamy for 100 years]. Certainly these were not sent out by his camp, but was rather a clever way of embarrassing him.


What came to mind when watching this program was the Islamic teachings regarding Slander, backbiting, as well as false testimony. Those found guilty of slander-especially as it relates to accusations regarding adultery and the like, are actually liable to prosecution and physical punishments, as well as the fact that their testimony would never be allowed in Court again [Qur'an 24:4].


Frankly, with the political environment like this, I have no confidence in voting. I am not advising anyone to not vote, I am just stating an emotion. If opponents cannot be decent and human enough to focus on the issues of importance, what about the average voter? The Politicians want us to vote for them, and will go to great lengths to convince us to cast our vote for them, by appealing to our fears, emotions, and by slander whenever they can get away with it. It's not honorable, certainly not "Christian" behavior, and should be discarded.


All comments are welcome.

Regards,

S.Waheed

Friday, January 4, 2008

Faith and obedience: spiritual freedom vs.blind obedience




And say : 'O My Lord, Increase my Knowledge'! [Qur'an 20:114]


The Importance of acquiring an education has been the subject of great emphasis by teachers, politicians, community leaders and the like. The lack of knowledge, we are told, limits one's abilities to function, in a holistic sense, in society.

The same sort of lesson or moral is also applicable to Religious knowledge and education., whether we refer to an individual or a society. Dedication to God, when combined with ignorance or lack of knowledge, is quite dangerous and could actually damage a society culturally as well as spiritually.

I recently watched an Indian film called Chingaari ("Spark"), which depicted a Hindu priest who yielded unquestioned power in a small village of mostly illiterate residents. This priest abused his position to the extent that he engaged in cart blanche rape of a woman. Later, when she sought to marry another man, this priest was able to convince the villagers to kill the rival suitor, on the grounds that this was indeed Divine Will. Although a fictional account, this movie reminded me of the dangers of blind faith and unquestioning obedience. These dangers are not limited to Hindus, but to Muslims and all other groups as well.

"Islam" is a "faith" which has been revealed from God Almighty to prevent these very dangerous things from taking place. The very first word of the Qur'an given to the Prophet Muhammad was "Read" [ Iqraa ]. In this world today, complete with Internet, mass media, and television, it is much easier to obey this Divine command. Keeping that in mind, Taqleed, the deference to so called 'authorities' without self- confirmation, should no longer exist among any Religious community.

I have come across Muslims, born in Muslim societies to Muslim families, unaware that prayer is obligatory at least 5 times daily. I have come across Muslims who are unwilling to take seriously any text which was not published by their own particular group, race or sect. The same sort of examples exist among Christians, Jews and other people. This is not what is desired in religion. Religion should give us the basis by which we develop our relationship with God and how we act and live in society. Religion is not to be a tool of oppression, stagnation, or mental slavery.

I call upon all our readers to actively seek out information on any issue which they are curious about. Do not allow someone to tell you "don't read this person" or "That is not what you should read". Have an open mind, and your soul will expand to greater heights. Let the naysayers proclaim what they wish, they cannot stop anything. Trust in God alone, for he is the ultimate source of happiness, contentment and knowledge.

Glorified is Your Lord, Lord of Honor and Power. And peace be upon the messengers, and Praise is due to God, Lord of the Worlds Qur'an 37: 180: 182]

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Divine Illumination, an examination of Ayah an Noor, 24:35

Allah is the light of the Heavens and the Earth. The parable of his light is as if a niche, inside of which is a Lamp. The Lamp enclosed in glass, the glass itself comparable to a bright heavenly object [Kaukaab-un]. Lit from a blessed Olive tree, neither Eastern nor Western, whose oil is self-illuminating, although not touched by fire. Light upon Light, Allah guides to his light whom he wills, and [in addition] Allah does set forth [such] examples for mankind, and Allah is knowledgeable about all things” 24:35

I must confess my love for this verse. I have studied perhaps countless commentaries, both ancient and modern, ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ about this sublime Ayah, known as Ayat An-Noor or the Verse of light, and can never tire in hearing its recitation, in using it in my prayers, and in attempting to receive more “light” from it. All Muslims should feel thankful to the Almighty for placing such a text in the Last Scripture, and for protecting that scripture from corruption or deviation from his purposes [Qur’an 18:1]

The statement that The Divine being is “The light of the heavens and the Earth” shows that God’s guiding beacon is unlimited. It cannot be confined to the place of prayer [Mosque/Church, etc] nor can it even be confined to the scripture itself! This does not negate the Qur’an as the last scripture; it simply shows the existence and power of Allah which exists outside the confines of a book, tradition, or historical narrative. “To Allah belongs the dominion of the Heavens and the Earth. Surely, Allah is Independent, Praiseworthy. And if all the trees on the Earth were pens and the Oceans ink, and seven more oceans added to replenish [the ink], Allah’s words would not be exhausted. Truly, Allah is Mighty, Wise” [31:26-27]

The guidance from the Divine is a constant in the life and mind of the believer. The very fact that Muslims are to recite “Guide us upon the straight path” daily is enough evidence to prove that. In short, this shows that Allah is the ultimate source of light. This “light” is not only in the form of messengers, Prophets and teachers, but it comes in the form of goodly ideas, of ‘intuition’, and what can be described as ‘gut feeling’. Many of us can recall an occasion wherein we took a different direction from our usual practice which resulted in avoiding a catastrophe, saving our lives, or that of our loved ones.

The Divine light, we are told, is comparable to a lamp that is enclosed in glass. The glass protects the lamp from deterioration. Humans have created acrylic glass, which is used on helmet visors, Aquariums, and a number of other uses designed for protection. It seems logical to assert that the “glass” [zujaa-jah] spoken of here is indestructible. The glass surrounds and protects what is inside of it. The glass itself is the outer shell, that which is on display, and must look appealing. When describing Acrylic glass, we recall that it presents what ever is inside of it in a dignified and beautiful manner. Thus, Almighty Allah says “...Comparable to a bright heavenly object [Kaukaab-un]...”

The Divine Light is majestic because it encompasses or surrounds all of creation. The Light itself is quite bright and is really unaffected by any other factors. This is similar to the message of Ayatul Kursiyy [see article ‘The Divine Throne: An examination of Ayatul Kursiyy 2:255’], which shows that God’s rule and awareness encompasses the entire creation as well. There are forces interested in keeping this information away from the public, as they view it with jealousy, suspicion, or outright enmity. These interests wish to direct us to a very limited path which will be very dark, gloomy and stagnant. Many desire a deity or a religion which can be twisted to suit their own agendas or desires. Ultimately this approach fails, as we are taught. “ They desire to extinguish Allah’s light with their mouths, however, Allah will never permit [that], except that his light will be perfected, despite the hatred of the disbelievers” [9:32].

It should be noted that An-Noor is one of the names of Allah given in the Qur’an. How can the disbelievers, or anyone for that matter, attempt to blow out Allah’s light, which will be “perfected’? The answer is that Divine Illumination comes forth to the sincere and devoted believer, a light which those with diseased hearts are jealous of, and thus will attempt to downplay the believer. Allah does not allow that, but he makes the believer grow constantly.

Allah does not discriminate or prevent someone from his light because of race, color, social class or the amount of money in their bank accounts. Lit from a blessed olive tree, neither Eastern nor Western. The usage of “Olive” is also quite interesting. Olives are a common ingredient in dishes in the Middle East, and remains an important export for Middle Eastern economies today. Olive trees and olive oil were seen as a symbol of great power and vitality. The Qur’an elsewhere has this usage, as in the Divine oath “By the fig and the Olive” [Q 95:1]

The olive oil, as is the tree, apparently represents the powerful source of illumination which cannot be hidden. The illumination itself surrounds the mind of the believer, the actions and even the very person of the believer. The Quranic story of Joseph, peace be upon him, is another good example of this. We are told that women upon seeing him for the first time actually cut their hands with their dinner utensils in amazement [12:31]. The story does not suggest he performed some sort of miracle, or that he was an extraordinary character. On the contrary, it shows that Joseph was natural in his lifestyle as a believer, in an environment where such behavior was rare, and that attracted attention and admiration, and, eventually, the power and ability to change the society and save it from a catastrophe.

It should be noted that the Qur’an teaches that Hypocrites will seek to, when possible, take advantage of a light from sincere believers to their own advantage. Perhaps by using the presence of the enlightened believer to fool others in order to attain an advantage over others? To this, Allah teaches that all individuals are responsible for attaining their own enlightenment, by means of study, prayer, proper deeds and cultivation, and sincerity, not by piggy-back riding off of others. [57:12-15, also see 103:1-3]
The statement “Light upon Light” has been variously interpreted over the ages by Scholars, mystics, and Imams. I would venture to say that the Islamic foundation is referred to by the first mention of ‘Light’. By accepting that Allah is One and alone, that none deserve worship and devotion except him, the spiritual environment of a person is now ready for building up on that foundation more and more in the form of insight, faith, practice etc., thus, we have the second light [‘Light upon Light’]. A practical example in Muslim practice is the Salaah. The five daily prayers must be established, as they are obligatory in Islam. That foundation will allow you to move beyond the five prayers to performing the Tahajjud prayers, which, combined with Qur’an study, Fasting and a variety of other means, will certainly lead to spiritual growth and nourishment. These acts must be performed with the right intentions in order to be affective; otherwise the acts will be useless. We are warned of that by the statement “Allah guides to his light whom he wills…”

We pray to the Almighty in the following words “Our Lord, perfect for us OUR LIGHT, bestow upon us your forgiveness, surely you are powerful over everything” [Q 66:8]



Shamsuddin Waheed is an Imam, Quranic Arabic instructor and lecturer. For further information, contact him via e-mail Waheed79-at-yahoo-dot-com or visit his website Islam in View

The Divine throne: an examination of Ayatul Kursiyy 2:255

Allah! Nothing deserves worship except He, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal. Slumber does not overtake him, neither does sleep. To Him belongs what is in the Heavens and what is in the Earth. Who possesses abilities of intercession, except by His permission? He knows what is between them, and what is behind them. None grasp of his knowledge, except by his will. His throne encompasses the Heavens and the Earth, He does not tire in protecting them both, and He is the Most High, the Magnificent

The above text has become a favorite to Muslims. It adorns the walls of most Muslim homes, mosques, and sometimes even automobiles. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) is said to have recited the text after every Salaah and it is popularly seen as an important text to recite when seeking the protection of Allah (in addition to the two final Surahs of the Qur’an).

How and why has this verse become so important to the readers of the Glorious Qur’an? It is known as the Verse of the Throne or Ayatul Kursiyy and is one of three texts which have a distinct manner of describing the reality of Allah (the other two texts being 24:35 and 112:1-4). This verse is important because it gives its readers criterion for ascertaining if something or someone is truly Divine. The Lord of the Universe does not have frailties or weaknesses of any sort. The Lord of the Universe is fully aware of His creation. He is knowledgeable of everything. Anything or anyone that does not possess the qualities that are mentioned in this verse must immediately recognize that he is not Divine.

Some of the traditional Commentators have taken from this verse an assumption that the Divine actually sits upon a chair or throne, much like the chairs we sit in. This assumption, although utterly contradicted by other texts in the Qur’an itself (112:4), is increasingly becoming popular today among the Muslims. Fairy tales have been created to support these type of ideas, to the extent that an uninformed observer would make the assumption that the Islamic conception of God is the same as the ideas surrounding the deities worshiped in Hinduism. That is dangerous! It is counter-productive to our efforts at spreading Islam. It is also harmful to our spiritual life to have a distorted understanding of the Divine Reality.

What is Kursiyy? It is a beautiful reference to the might, power and knowledge of Allah (S.W.T.). In the same way phrases such as The hand of Allah, the Face of Allah, etc. are clearly metaphors, pointing to the Divine abilities and power, Kursiyy here shows us the very foundation of Divine Rule. A throne or chair is a symbol of power and respect. Allah’s rule is not limited to the Qur’an, to the Masjid or to his worshipers. The relegation of the spiritual to the church/sacred place and banishment from public life, politics and business is a myth according to this verse.

“His Throne (‘Kursiyyuhu’) encompasses the Heavens and the Earth.” There are numerous commentators who have explained the Throne in the same manner as this article. One would need only to consult Tafseer books to see that. If that is not convincing evidence, let us turn to modern Arabic. The word for notebook is Kurrasah, coming from the same root word as Kursiyy. What is a notebook? It is a book which contains written facts or information. Just as we have books, magazines, and the like in our possession, Allah also has within himself the ultimate container of knowledge and facts.

None can have knowledge of all. Our lives are in a state of constant change; so we are to ask Allah for His guidance each time we perform the Salaah. The practices of Salaah, Fasting, and contemplation (Dhikr) are designed to give us the mental and spiritual capabilities to grasp some of Allah’s knowledge and guidance for our practical implementation in this world. Remember that Allah’s messenger, before receiving the Revelation, was in the habit of retreating to Mt. Hira, outside his home city of Makkah, for prayer, and it was in the midst of such activities that he received the beginning of Qur’anic revelation.

All believers have the capacity to receive the guidance of Allah with drive, sincerity, dedication and patience. This guidance is not restricted to simply choosing the appropriate business venture or marriage partner. We are talking about the guidance that will fill your heart and mind with faith in Allah alone, the guidance which gives you the sort of insight and wisdom that others recognize, even if they don’t understand fully. It is explained in another manner in the Qur’an: “Light upon Light, Allah guides to his light whom he wills…” (24:35)

This doesn’t require a title, or the permission of some authority, as Allah is in charge and the Ultimate Authority .Therefore, when we pray or read the Qur’an, let us not do so in a hurry. Make the extra effort to understand the guidance of Allah. The Divine Throne is also based upon justice and Allah has said that He does not let the efforts of His sincere servants be wasted (2:143). Do not heed the calls of those who don’t understand, but depend upon Allah, the strongest and most reliable guide.

Shamsuddin Waheed is an Imam, lecturer and Quranic Arabic instructor. He can be reached at Waheed79-at-yahoo-dot-com or visit his Website Islam in View

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Deen in the presence of God: Inclusive or exclusive?

"Say: Will all of you teach God your religion? And God knows what is in the heavens, what is in the Earth, and his knowledgeable of everything" [Qur'an 49:16 ]

The above quotation is a very serious and important rhetorical question from the Almighty, one which we should always consider when we attempt to understand for ourselves the will of Allah and its function in our own lives and intellectual/spiritual components. God knows what exists in the entire creation, he is aware of who lives in the universe, and is best suited to judge his creation. That much is obvious, and is perhaps accepted by all Muslims as well as a number of Non-Muslims.

The Qur'an addresses the question of Deen in the presence of God in the following words:

"And whosoever desires a Deen that is not Islam [Ghayril Islaam] it will never be accepted from him, and he-in the end- will be among the Losers" [ 3:85]

From this Quranic ayah , as well as other texts, it is generally believed that the Islamic position is that "Muslims" will find salvation and happiness in the next life, and that all others are doomed to hellfire.

One saying in vogue among the Muslims is that "the worst Muslim is better than the best Christian" [Ft. 1] allegedly because the 'Muslim' will recite the Shahaadah at various times in life as well as when close to death, thus securing a place in Paradise. [Ft. 2]

It is our hope to examine the Quranic teaching in whole on this subject, to determine the validity of these common assertions, and perhaps, God-willing, offer an explanation that will put to rest this question, among my fellow-Muslims- and Non-Muslims- for their information and consideration, as a source of assistance spiritually.

Islam

It is a common misconception that Islam first entered the human sphere with the coming of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad :saws:. This is a view that is not supported by the Qur'an. [Ft. 3]

The Qur'an asserts that all of the prior scriptures and messengers taught the same religion, i.e. Islam. One example reads:

"Say: We believe in God, and what has been revealed to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Issac and Jacob-in that given to Moses, Jesus and all the Prophets-We make no distinction between anyone of them and we are for him submissive [Muslimoon]"[ 2:136]

"The road established for you in that religion was also enjoined upon Noah..and that given to Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Stand firm in religion, do not make division in it.."[ 42:13]

This "Islam" is not the Islam found in contemporary Muslim practice! The Al-Faatihah [Qur'an Surah #1], central to prayer as conducted by today's Muslim practice- was not central to prayer as conducted by Abraham, Moses and the other prophets, as The Qur'an had yet to come to the world.

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "Submission to God". Similarly, the word "Muslim" is a rather generic term describing one who does the act of submission [see fts. 4-5]

Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah, upon whom be peace, born in the year 570 C.E. in Makkah, Arabian peninsula, was simply the last and final Prophet, to whom God sent the final book, known as the Qur'an. He is the exemplar model as to how the Qur'an should be put into practice. [Ft. 6]

The Qur'an and Muhammad are simply the completion of the entire process of revelation and teachers, a continuation of that sublime legacy, not a new religion or a faith different from that taught before.

"This day I have perfected your Deen for you, completed by favour upon you, and chosen for you Islam as your Deen" [ Qur'an 5:3] [ft. 7]


What about other religions?

It is certainly true that the Qur'an has asserted that Islam is the religion which is accepted by God [see Qur'an 3:19]. However, let us pay close attention to the verse cited at the beginning of this article.

" And whoever desires a religion that is not Islam..." [3:85]


It is quite unfortunate that many commentators have focused upon the words "Islam" "It will never be accepted from him" and have overlooked the word "desires"[Yab-tagh].

Surely, in this vast world, filled with creatures and beings that far outnumber those of our own race, creed or cast, there are many among the Christians, the Jews, and others who have a desire to serve God, love God and live according to Godly principles.

Admittedly the Qur'an asserts that some views and ideological positions of the various religions are incorrect, nonetheless it has also expressed God's mercy, forgiveness and unlimited compassion all the same:

"Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, Christian, Sabian- who believe in God and the last day, who perform righteous deeds, on them shall be neither fear, nor grief" [2:62, also see 5:69 ] [see ft.8]


In the midst of condemnation of bad behavior, we are told:

"They are not all alike. From the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] are a group that are standing true, reading God's signs in the evenings prostrating [to God]" [2:113 also see 2:114]

The Qur'an has placed great emphasis on faith in God, as well as deeds that exemplify that faith, such as charity, prayer, etc..and not on recitation of formulas, as that which places one in a position to receive God's blessings in this life and the next.

"And some people say 'We believe in God and the last day' and yet-they are not believers" [2:6]

"So condemned are those who pray, who are negligent in their prayer, who pray to be seen, and that refuse neighborly deeds"[107 4-7]

If God rewards my faith, why should I follow the Qur'an and Muhammad?

The Qur'an has been sent from the Divine being to humankind to be a source of assistance, nay-guidance, to clarify misunderstandings and false notions. It is imperative to investigate this claim, especially when one has faith in the existence of God and Divine Justice. Muhammad, to whom it was sent- was God's final Prophet, a messenger to all humanity and himself a source of mercy insofar as showing that humans are perfectly capable of overcoming adversity and Satanic enmity. [see Q 33:40 and 21:107]

To accept these principles is to accept that God becomes the center of life, an existence of happiness and purpose, and not centered upon sect, tradition, or race. Such narrowness limits one's spiritual life to naught.

The Qur'an informs us that:

"The messenger [Muhammad] believes in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the believers. Say:We believe in God, his angels, his books, and his messengers. We make no distinction between his messengers, and we say 'We hear, and we obey'.."[ 2: 285]


Those who accept the Islam as given in the Qur'an and the person of Muhammad the Prophet of God will be rewarded twice, for the life of virtue before, and for the new path [ 57:28].

Muslim tradition tells us that one who accepts Islam will have his prior sins wiped clean, and are even suggested to bathe prior to publically accepting Islam [by the Shahaadah], as a symbol of a new life.

Footnotes

[1]- This saying has been attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, however it is not in the authoritative collections such as Sahih Bukhari. In fact, This author has been unable to find a source for this alleged statement.

[2] "He who says 'Laa Ilaa-ha Ill-Allah' while dying will enter paradise' Sunan Abi Dawud, 3:190

[3] Numerous Quranic texts show this, see 3:3-4, 3:84, etc..

[4] Islam is a verbal noun [Masdar].

[5] Ism al-Faa'il in Arabic grammatical terminology. Other examples include 'Mujrim' [Criminal] 'Mukhlis"[ Sincere person], etc...

[6] see 33:21

[7] Many Muslim scholars believe this to be the last verse revealed to the Prophet.

[8] It is popularly assumed that these sort of verses are "abrogated" by 3:85 and 3:19. This is an example of how feelings of group solidarity and political intrigue can influence the interpretation of the Quranic text in a wrong fashion. This author does not accept the idea of Abrogation [Man-sookh] when dealing with the Qur'an. Muhammad Asad has also rejected this notion, see his The Message of the Qur'an [1980 Gibraltar, Dar-Andalus books].

Many traditionalists do accept this theory. I would suggest reading Ibn katheer's comments on 2:62 [Tafseer al-Qur'aan Al-'Adheem] for their perspective.