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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Common misconceptions about Islam

Introduction

Islam is the religious choice of a fifth of humanity, it is the dominant faith in areas of the world rich in resources and strategic importance. It has influenced countless trends in philosophy, culture, theology, and the practical sciences. It has not only given us 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab(1), it has given us figures as diverse as Rumi (2) and Muhammad Ali.

Despite these presence of these undeniable facts, there persists a number of myths and misconceptions in the minds of people, Some of these myths have their origins during the time of the Crusades(3) while others are of a more recent creation,

While misconceptions may be held and perpetuated out of simple ignorance, we have to admit that outright distortions of the Islamic message are spread via mass media, movies and the like, out of political interests. In short, the religion of Islam and Muslims are a convenient scapegoat.

This brief article seeks to address the leading misconceptions on Islam. Comments/questions are welcome, and as time allows this writer will seek to address them all.

Who or what is 'Allah'?



Allah is the Arabic name for 'God'. Literally, it is a contraction of two words,"Al" and "Ilah", "The" "Object of worship". It refers to the One and Only God!

It may come as a surprise that Arabic translations of the Bible have God referred to as "Allah"!

The concept of the Divine as given in Islam can be found in well known Quranic references "Say: He is God alone, God the Absolute, He has not given birth to any, nor was he born to any, and there is nothing like him." ( Q 112:1-4)

"He is God {Allah}, besides whom there is none deserving worship but him. (The one who) knows the hidden and the apparent, He is the Merciful, The Compassionate. He is God, besides whom none deserves worship but Him, The Sovereign, The Sacred, The Source of Peace, The Guardian (4) of faith, the Protector, The Mighty, The Powerful, The Great. Glory belongs to God, he is exalted above what is [wrongly] attributed to Him. He is God, The Creator, The Maker, The Creator of Form, To Him belongs the most beautiful of names. To him belongs glory, in the heavens and the earth, and He is The Mighty, The Wise." {Q 59:22-24}


Is Allah a moon god?

This particular assertion has been made in recent years by a handful of Christian polemicists in books and, more popularly, comic-book leaflets. The gist of their argument is that a pantheon of deities were deemed worthy of worship by the Arabs of Muhammad's time, and he simply picked one, a deity associated with the moon!  This, the argument continues, is why the traditional calendar is lunar, mosque domes often have a crescent moon adorning it, and the reason why many Muslim nations have a crescent on their flags!

There is a plethora of evidence to refute this notion and this has been addressed succinctly by others(5), however, this Quranic evidence should be sufficient for an honest reader.

"Do you not see that verily, to God is submissive who is in the heavens, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, animal life as well as a goodly number of humans..?{ Q 22:18}

In another Quranic verse, we read that the pagans were asked "If you ask them 'who created the heavens and the Earth and subjected the sun and the moon, they will reply 'God".." [Q 29:61].

The Qur'an repeatedly speaks of both the moon and the sun as being used to measure time [6:96, 10:5, 55:5] and under the control of God. The Qur'an has never given legitimacy to a view that the Moon has Divine properties, or that "Allah" was synonymous with a moon deity!

Allah cannot be seen physically by human beings, because, ultimately, we would not be able to grasp Him in a full and complete manner, This is why God is never depicted in human form [or any physical form for that matter] and no pictures are present in prayer halls. Indeed, we find that if any decorations adorn the Mosques, it would be quotations from the Qur'an itself, designed to remind the visitor of the greatness of God.

"And the mosques are for God, therefore do not supplicate any other than him."[Q72:18]


Islam as the teaching of Prophets preceding Muhammad and coming through Muhammad

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "submission to God". The one who does the act of submission is called a "Muslim". If one were to read about the characters of old, particularly in the Jude-Christian dispensation, we find that indeed, they taught their followers submission to God. It is true that there are some differences in emphasis and rituals, however the core of submission remains.

As Muslims see it, this thread of teachers, scriptures and Prophets ended with the coming of Muhammad. He comes, according to Islamic teachings, as a Mercy from God to be felt universally [Q 21:107], as the Last of the Prophets with the final scriptural revelation { Q 33:40}, and with teachings that correct certain important misconceptions and that will act as an ultimate criterion for judgement between what is authentic and what is spurious, { Q 27:76 and 25:1].

As part of the Muslim practice, we are to pray for peace and blessings to be bestowed on all the Prophets and do not allow any disrespectful language about them.

Islam's relation with Jews and Christians 

The modern discourse has placed the three monotheistic religions alongside each other as reflective of the shared roots in Abraham, thus, the term Abrahamic religions.

While it is true that Islam has strong theological disagreements with the other two faiths, the Qur'an repeatedly calls them as "People of Scripture" and allows both marital and other social ties [Q 5:5].


Terrorism/Violence to spread religion

This is perhaps the greatest myth perpetuated by forces with political interests. It is imagined that Islam has taught its followers to spread the faith at the point of a sword, however, this is far from the truth. The Qur'an itself says "There is no compulsion in religious affairs, as truth stands clear from error.."[Q 2:256].

It says further "And say; Truth is from your Lord, so he who will accept, let him accept, and he who will reject, let him reject..[Q 18:29].

The Qur'an tells us that Noah says to his interlocutors "Shall we compel you to accept while you are hateful of it?" [ Q 11:28]

So we should be able to see clearly that using violence as a means to spread religion is not correct as far as Islam is concerned. In today's world, forces both inside and outside the Muslim community seem to believe otherwise, but all of that is connected to political causes and often are simply masks to disguise other agendas!

Islam is a missionary religion, it does seek to call people to investigate it and accept it. However, it does so by telling the "caller" to use "wisdom and articulate expressions" { Q 16:125}. The Qur'an refers to itself as a scripture given in order to influence people to think [Q 12:4, among other texts], so it is clearly against a blind faith.

Jesus

Depicted as a Prophet and great teacher, Jesus is mentioned by name twenty five times in the Qur'an. Muslims affirm his virginal birth and view him as the Messiah, although the understanding we have on the meaning of that differs from mainline Christianity.

This article does not seek to enter into details on that(6), nonetheless what we should convey is that belief in Jesus as Messiah is part and parcel of Islam. He is loved and respected by Muslims, even though our understanding of his significance differs from Christians,

Women

Increasingly in the West the issue of how women are treated and viewed in Islam has been raised. The most visible Muslim women are of course those who wear Hijaab or other well-recognized dress associated with Islam.

It can be said that certain parochial cultures have a negative attitude towards women, but that reflects their own views, not necessarily the teachings of the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad. In the time before Arabia accepted Islam, the Arabian custom was to view females with little regards, even practicing female infanticide! The Qur'an, in one of its earliest texts, addressed this horrific practice [Q 81:8-9]. Islam as taught by Muhammad himself gave inheritance rights, leadership roles, rights in choice of marriage and freedom with their own incomes. Indeed, we have an entire Quranic chapter entitled "The Women" [An Nisaa'].

There are guidelines for dress for women, but what is often ignored is that there is a dress code for both men and women. The Qur'an does directly speak on how women should dress [Q 24:31 and 33:59] but what is often ignored is that the context of these regulations, particularly in the Qur'an's chapter 24 as referred to above, speaks on men and women abstaining from inappropriate staring, and behavior in general. In other words, the dress code is connected to a wider set of behavioral guidelines.

How those guidelines are carried out will vary from culture to culture. Nigerian clothing styles differ from those in the Arab world, but so long as modesty and appropriate respectful guidelines are observed, they are all equally Islamic or allowable in Islam!

For women, the dress code includes the covering of the whole body, including hair. This actually seeks to create an environment of respect and appropriateness. It has no relation to oppression of women.


Endnotes

(1) 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab {d.644 C.E.} was initially a foe of Islam, even wanting to kill Prophet Muhammad, but his heart was touched by the Quranic message and he went on to become a strong defender of the faith, even at one point becoming the leader of the Muslim community after the Prophet's death. He is well known for his modesty and sense of justice for all.

(2) Jalaluddin Ar-Rumi [d. 1273 C.E.] was a great poet, philosopher and spiritualist. The Western world absorbs his poetry and often he is seen as having been divorced from Islam. While there is admittedly some controversy surrounding him in Muslim discourse, nonetheless he saw himself as totally in line with Islam. One quote attributed to him says "Be in the community of those who receive Divine Mercy, don't abandon the Sunnah of Ahmad [i.e. Prophet Muhammad], rather, be commanded by it." A book has recently been published, which I have yet to obtain, that speaks on this attempt to divorce Rumi from Islam. The book is called Rumi's Secret by Brad Gooch. A review of it, as well as a very pleasant overview of Rumi's reach, is to be found at [url] http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-erasure-of-islam-from-the-poetry-of-rumi[/url] .

(3) Some of these myths are described well in the book Holy Wars: The Crusades And Their Impact On Today's World by Karen Armstrong [New York, 2001].

(4) Al Mu'min is rendered here as "The Guardian", but it has been variously interpreted. Tafseer Al-Jalalayn has it as informing us about God who is "The truthful, who conveys the truth of miraculous creation". I'raab Al Qur'an  mentions three different interpretations, which include God's "Protecting of his servants from danger." " The Protector of his closest ones [Awliyaaa'] from his own wrath." and "That the believers will testify on judgement day and their testimony will be truthful, verified as true by God.."  This work, by the 10th century Egyptian scholar Abu Ja'far Ahmad bin Muhammad Isma'il An-Nahhas, is a wonderful reference source for examining the grammatical possibilities of Quranic words. The edition we have is published by Dar Al Ma'rifah, Beirut, Lebanon.

(5) The famed Muslim debater and academic Dr. Shabbir Ally has published a thorough refutation of the moon god theory. It can be found at [url]http://www.beautifulislam.net/christianity/robert_moreys_moon_god_myth.htm[/url].

(6) The Islamic understanding of the role of Jesus is explained by this writer at [url] http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/01/jesus-in-islam.html[/url].







Thursday, February 9, 2017

Remarks at Press conference [2/6/17]

( Below are my remarks made at a gathering organized by the Interdenominational ministers alliance, with regards to the various actions taken by the new Trump administration. A write up on the event itself can be found at[url] http://www.toledoblade.com/Religion/2017/02/07/Community-comes-together-in-unified-show-of-support.html[/url]]


We gathered here almost a year ago with the same interests, same concerns, and, almost to a person, the same people present then are present here once again.

In the back of our minds, we believed that we would never reach a point where we would have to gather once again for the same issues.

There is much fear and feelings of uneasiness that is increasingly becoming prevalent these days, particularly in the Muslim community.

Yet, in the midst of that, we have gathered! Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of other faiths and with no faith, coming together because we see the same realities and want to change that picture or that reality into something better!

So perhaps we should view these things as blessings in disguise.!

The African American Christian theologian, Dr. Cornell West, recently said "Justice is what love looks like in public."

So if we are calling for love and acceptance for all, we are calling for justice. If we are calling for justice, we are calling for love.

Yes, we do invoke God, but we also come as a show of unity. We will not allow race, religion and class to divide us. If we are truly for love, we have to be for universal justice.

We call upon the new administration to exercise justice, to act with rationality and responsibility.

More than this, we call for all of us-as a society-to be inward-looking, to address our own thinking and our own souls- to abandon irrational fears and xenophobia, to truly make America great again by strengthening education, infrastructure, and real communal growth.

Thank you!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Considering the Day of Judgement: Is it close ?

[Note: The following is an edited version of Friday Khutbah delivered at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam. The opening Hamd has been omitted, the two sections of the Khutbah have been merged into one for the purposes of this article, and the Arabic quotations have been shared only selectively.]

Gratitude for Friday Prayer

We begin by expressing gratitude to Allah for Jumu'ah prayers, especially in a Non Muslim environment, because it provides a spiritual injection that is so needed in order to maintain a healthy spirituality.

We have a hadeeth, deemed 'hasan' in the hierarchy of tradition judgement, in which it is stated that Judgement day will occur on a Friday. Certainly, it is debatable if this means a literal "Friday", as the day after Thursday, or if it simply refers to a moment of great gathering [which is the essential meaning of "Jumu'ah" in Arabic, but is used now in Arabic and many other languages as referring to "Friday"], however, it should be enough of a foundation to generate an interest, an awareness, that judgement day is a reality!

As we read in the Qur'an: "Our Lord, Indeed, you will gather people (innaaka Jamee'un Naas) on a day in which there is no doubt, Indeed, Allah does not fail in his promise." (Q 3:9).

Serious social shifts


The knowledge of its precise moment is unknown to us, and our understanding of its signs can always be defective, nonetheless, we should think about the reality of a final day.

The Prophet Muhammad                   صلى الله تعالى عليه وسلم      is reported to have said "Indeed, among the signs of the hour is (1) Knowledge being elevated [away]. (2) Abundance of Jahl [ignorance, in thinking and behavior]. (3) Abundance of Zinaa [improper sexual relations] [4] Abundance of the consumption of intoxicants [Khamr].
ان من اشراط الساعة ان يرفع العلم و يكثر الجهل و يكثر الزنا و يكثر شرب الخمر

We have another narration which has the words "Knowledge will be low and ignorance clearly visible." [Bukhari and Muslim] يقل العلم و يظهر الجهل 

These narrations present to us serious social shifts! In particular we should pay attention to the last narration quoted above, I believe these words don't simply refer to the disappearance of religious information, but rather, to historical knowledge, scientific information, being dismissed or downplayed, and, replaced with fictionalized, concocted falsehoods! In today's discourse this is called "alternative facts"!

Jahl [as appears in the original Arabic] is ignorance of knowledge, but also -in Quranic usage-refers to action. It refers to a culture that values hatred, stupidity, violence and xenophobia. The Prophet says that such a culture will be present and prevalent in the age that is close to the moment of Judgement. This seems to be a precise description of what is happening in today's world!

Returning to the first hadeeth, we have to say that there is no better place to be than the Masjid on Friday! Even if the Imam does not speak on the subject of  Judgement day, he does refer to Allah, The call to prayers refers to Allah, and Allah is called upon in prayer.

In another report, we have it that Abu Hurairah himself asks the Prophet "when is the hour?" He replies;" when the trust (Amaanah) is destroyed, wait for it then.". He was then asked "How is the trust destroyed?". The Prophet responds "When leadership is given to those other than its proper holders." اذا وسد الأمر الى غير اهله فانتظر الساعة


The Prophet speaks what God tells him to speak

There is doubt presented today as to the veracity of narrations like this, or even the whole hadeeth enterprise in general. However, for these particular narrations, the truth of them cannot be denied! Thus, they cannot be ignored because they really hit the mark!

The Qur'an says that "He [Muhammad] does not speak out of his own desires, nay, he only recites that which has been sent to him." [ Q 53:3-4]

We cannot understand fully subjects such as the Judgement day, because they are ultimately God's business. To seek to speed up or hijack God's will is an act of idol worship, arrogance in itself [Q 16:1].

We are not advocating anything firmly other than that we should be conscious of standing before Allah. Even if a person rejects the concept of Judgement day, they all accept that we will face death,
So be conscious of Allah, that we will have to face Him, be conscious of how you live your life and how you spend your time in this world,

Lessons from these narrations

These narrations should encourage us to become educated and refined in a better way. It has to be a continuous process.  Degrees mean nothing when the spiritual, moral and cognitive features are corrupted.

Progress by the use of prayer, and study. We are to study the Qur'an as well as the important subjects. We are to also be humble enough to recognize our limitations, and not do as people tend to do these days by speaking authoritatively on subjects they have no knowledge of. Thus, climate change is denied because of the words of politicians, and not according to physical facts.

Going out of our lanes of abilities is a sign of ignorance, which the Prophet asserted would be a sign of the coming day of resurrection. Let us not follow that trend, but rather, follow Allah's Book and Allah's final Prophet.