Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What is Islam?

Click here for a PDF of referenced chapters & Verses

Islam is an Arabic word used to name the religion based on the Quran, a document that Muslims believe was inspired by divine will to Muhammad, Prophet of Islam.

The word Islam is most commonly used as a ‘proper noun’ when referring to the religion, but is more appropriately – from the linguistic and theological point of view- translated as the willful submission to God as the Master of our existence (2:112). This is a concept, as Muslims believe, that predates the mission of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh). The Quran repeatedly describes many pre-Islamic Prophets and Messenger of God as Muslims, the Arabic adjective for those submitting to the will of God. This description as being ‘Muslim’ was used for Prophet Abraham and his children Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, for Jesus and his disciples, and for several others (2:130 and 2:131, 2:136, 3:52, 4:125, 5:111, 10:84).

The word God (with capital G) in Islamic belief refers to the One and Only Deity that eternally existed, has no beginning and no end (112:1 to 112:4), has no material form, and is the only perfect entity. God cares about us, its creatures, and eventually will judge all of us on the Day of Judgment, rewarding the good-doers, and punishing the evil-doers. God has unlimited mercy and is all-forgiving (3:135, 4:48, 4:110, 4:116, 24:38). God is also all-knowing, all-powerful, just, compassionate, generous, and grateful to its creatures for recognizing and worshiping it.

The Arabic word for that Deity is Allah. It is not a name of an idol, or a local ‘Arabic Muslim god’, and it is the word used by Arab Christians and Jews to refer to the Lord in the Old and New Testaments. The Arabic word is unique as it has one form, no masculine, feminine or plural derivation. Grammatically and syntactically it is treated as masculine, without imparting any gender qualities on the divine entity it refers to. When the word Allah is used by an Arab of any religion, it ALWAYS refers to the one and only Deity that is eternal, and that initiated the existence of all that exists.

The five pillars of Islam: this term refers to the core belief and rituals without which one’s subscription to the religion preached by Muhammad, pbuh, is not complete. These five pillars are:

a. Testimony of Faith (Shahada in Arabic): “There is only one God, and Muhammad is a prophet of God”. Uttering these words- while believing in their content- is all that is required to be a Muslim (i.e., a human that submits to the will of the one and only God).

b. Praying to God (Salah in Arabic), universally accepted as five sessions of prayers every day.

c. Alms-giving (Zakah in Arabic) of a mandatory fixed portion of the annual savings of Muslim.

d. Fasting (Seyam in Arabic) the daytime of the month of Ramdhan (one of the 12 months in the lunar calendar)

e. Pilgrimage to the wholly mosque in Mecca (Hajj in Arabic) once in a life time if health and financial resources make it feasible.

Elements of faith: The believers in Islam, in the manner that Muhammad, pbuh, has conveyed to us, are required to believe in a divine message inspired by the one and only God to Muhammad (the Quran), in the existence of Angels, in the prior Divine writs revealed by God to previous messengers (e.g., the Torah revealed to Moses and the Bible revealed to Jesus, peace be upon them, and in the lineage of prophets sent to Mankind to guide them to God, e.g., Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Ishmael, Isaac, Lot, and the many prophets mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, without discrimination or preferential love or respect for one prophet over the others (2:285, 3:84). Believers must also believe in the Day of Judgment, the eternal hereafter, and in the existence of reward and punishment, and that God is the only Judge on that day.

Other important concepts in Islam:

- Faith is a choice, and no one should be coerced into conforming to a particular belief (2:256, 16:82).

- God is the sole judge of people who attain faith in any manner be it identical to or different from what Muslims believe (2:62, 2:272, 16:82, 22:17, 23:117)

- This life (i.e., before death) is worth living and enjoying, without forgetting that the life after is the ultimate goal (28:77).

- Muhammad, pbuh, is a human being and is not divine in anyway. He is an honorable messenger of God, the same way all the previous messengers and Prophets of God were, peace be upon them all (3:144, 33:40)

- People of the Book, is a respectful term used in the Quran to describe followers of Christianity and Judaism. According to the Quran, they are NOT by default the enemy of Muslims, nor evil. Amongst them are the good and the not-so-good, based only on their deeds. No general judgment is rendered on anyone based on their professed faith (3:113-3:115, 3:199, 5:69).

- The Torah and the Bible were revealed by divine will through God’s messengers, Moses and Jesus, and in them there is guidance to mankind (2:53, 5:44, 5:46, 5:69)

- Mankind is not perfect, and we all have limitations. God judges us based on His knowledge of our imperfection (2:286).

- Reason is the greatest gift from God onto Man. Critical thinking is a merit that God encourages (39:18)

- When faced with hatred, hostility and evil deeds, Muslims are obliged to respond only in a way consisted with truthfulness (5:8), kindest of manners and with wisdom and kind words (16:125, 23:96, 29:46, 41:34).

- Morality is not relative and is independent of how we feel about the others: Hatred and wrong doings of others towards Muslims does not justify committing injustice (5:8). Thus, an evil deed as repayment for an evil deed is not Islamically acceptable (23:96). The Prophet, in a narrated prophetic speech, also said “honesty in the face of treason and betrayal is better that committing betrayal to repay betrayal”. Likewise, love for family and clan etc, is not an excuse for deviating from the just path in their favor either (4:135).

(the references will be posted later today)

Islam Q&A

I will be posting my comments on 3 questions I received from a non-Muslim college student collecting information for a class project. The answers I put together are not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to give an overview using primarily verses from the Quran. It is important from my point of view to 'let the Quran speak'. The richness of Islamic literature of the early centuries has frequently detracted from the fact that it was the simple Word of God was the only message that the Prophet, pbuh, used, and it was the word of God that attracted the greatest generation that entered Islam (companions of the Prophet, Sahaba) .
I cannot believe why the Quran cannot function in this capacity again. It is true that the early Muslims spoke Arabic, but they were not all scholarly, rich, highly educated or sophisticated. Many of them where the poorest of the poor, the slaves, the ones whose mother tongue was not Arabic etc. Actually, the more sophisticated and highly educated citizens of Mecca (the Prophet's hometown) where the ones that caused most trouble for the Prophet.
This proved to me that you do not have to be a scholar in Arabic, or a professor of Islamic science, or someone that read every Tafseer book, to be able to feel the Word of God in your heart, or to understand what God want from you.
God said in the Quran (54:17):
"Hence, indeed, We made this Quran easy to bear in mind: who, then, is willing to take it to heart?"
*( وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ )*

Surely it may take more effort to read different translations. It may require some discussion with others. But it is worth it. Teh path to God will be easier the more we try to attain it. More over, the reward is more for the effort to reach the truch, not in the success in reaching it. And do not forget that God promised to help us if we try(29:69):
"But as for those who strive hard in Our cause -We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us: for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good."
*( وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ )*

That does not deny the value of the tremendous literary and scholarly work done by Muslims over the years, but the Message of God is still as powerful and accessible today as it was the day it was revealed to the Prophet, pbuh, and it should be at the forefront of our tools to tell the truth our Islam.

The next 3 posts will be the answers to those 3 questions
1. Islam: what is it?
2. Islam and Poverty.
3. Islam and Violence and War.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Muslim visibility Campaign: rationale and goals

[This is a 1 page document that summarizes why I think a visibility campaign for Muslims is necessary. I wrote it in a formal way to communicate my thoughts to people other than my friends. There is some repetition of you read the earlier post but I prefer to leave this document unchanged, for reference]

The logic of our thought process is as follows:

1- Events outside our control, as individual Muslims, have caused significant damage to our community's image. I am referring to constant barrage of violent uncivilized acts committed in our name, and publicized widely by the perpetrators.

2- The lack of knowledge about Muslims and Islam makes it easier for the Media, and the average individual to get fixated on an image of Muslims, collectively, as inherently evil people.

3- A significant percentage of the non-Muslim community believes that:

  • We, Muslims, are sympathetic to the terrorists,
  • That our religion condones and encourages terrorism against non-Muslims.
  • That, even though we do not agree with the terrorists, we are unable or afraid to express our opposition to terrorism against civilians.
  • And that most of the Muslims who oppose terrorism and are willing to express that, end up “qualifying” out statements, “watering it down”, and “looking for justifications and excuses” for those who commit terrorist acts.

In view of all of these perception problems, non-Muslim Americans are looking for a clear and unequivocal, unqualified and united message from Muslim Americans, and from their religious leadership, regarding where our religion stands on the issue of terrorism, and ANY attacks on civilians.

As Muslims in the West, it is our duty to be spokespersons for Islam, not by preaching, but by being a living example for what a Muslim should be.

If we are NOT VISIBLE as Muslim citizens in our communities, then we are unable to send the message that most of us are good people. Our VISIBILITY is pivotal to our message, and is the ONLY way we can dilute and counter the horrible image of Muslims and Islam in the Media. The visibility of the large number of Muslims in this society can be enhanced by actively engaging non-Muslim, and by participating in activities and behavior consistent with being good and caring citizens, simultaneously consistent with our Islamic values.

This was the thought process leading to our interest in a Muslim Visibility Campaign.

Our goals are to:

  • Get more Muslims to ACTIVELY show on a regular basis that they are members of the Muslim community. That is where simple measures can be effective: car stickers, T-shirts with campaign logos, characteristic Silicon Wristbands for the youth, etc.
  • Encourage different Islamic institutions to incorporate in their religious activities a message to the community on regular basis about the duties of the individual Muslim as a messenger for their religion, by their deeds (not by preaching).
  • Encourage Islamic institutions, religious and non-religious, to be more engaging in the public arena, with social services, event participation, communication to the media etc.

We are hopeful to get more communities on board with these goals. I know it is “ambitious”, but I feel we have no choice but to try hard. The trouble we are in as a Muslim community in the USA is not going away on its own, and it requires ACTIVE participation from ALL of us. Many of us have good intentions, but it is only the effort we put into trying, with Gods help, that is going to achieve the goals. Intentions alone will not suffice.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Muslim visibility Campaign

This is the logo I came up with while trying to describe what I want in a logo for a campaign that may encourage American Muslims to be actively more visible in the society. Most Americans do not realize there are a lot of Muslims around them, in all places, and all professions.

Many Americans think the only way for a Muslim to be, is the way they see on the news: angry, long bearded, dressed in traditional outfit of a far away culture, and is either praying or protesting in the streets, shouting 'Death to America'. Well, they are wrong. But we, Muslims, are not very helpful correcting this image either. Most of us do not make the effort to be visible; we either feel it is inappropriate to show our religious affiliation; feel scared of being 'too visible', or simply mind our own business, and we do not think it is any body's business to know who we are. While there are many occasions when any or all of these excuses are legitimate, there are more occasions when none of them is.

When few Muslims are visible as Muslims -most of whom are outstanding members of the American society- the more it is likely the quirky crazy ones showing on the TV news on daily basis become our public image. If the average American realizes they probably interact with, or even pass by 4-5 Muslims every day, it is less likely they will think that ALL of us are evil, violent or religious zealots.

They may not necessarily have to like very Muslim they meet, but that is a far cry from thinking that Muslims are, by default, inclined to violence and are hateful people. I hope the campaign I am dreaming of will gain momentum with time.

I am not a fool, and I know the chances of failure are much bigger than the chances of success but, as my friends got tired of hearing me say it, we do not have much choice.
If I do not do my best to make this place a more friendly place for my children, their children and any other American Muslim, I am not doing my job as a father, as a Muslim, or even as an American citizen.

The amount of emotional energy most Americans spend worrying about terrorism, sleeper cells, and home-grown fanatics is tremendous. I can only begin to imagine the toll it takes
on anyone when he or she feels that their neighbor, their work colleague or classmate is a potential terrorist, just because they believe in God in a different way. This is not a fun way to live.
As American citizens we owe it to our own people, the American people, to make every effort to ease their fears as much as we owe it to our fellow Muslims to help restore a neutral if not a bright friendly image to our religion and co-religionists.

My First Post

Well. Finally I took the plunge. This is possibly the worst time for me to start anything that may take more of my time, but it is too late now. I am hoping this blog may end up being a meeting place for many of my friends interested in discussing issues related to American Muslims and Muslims in general. We have these discussions any way all the time, so why not put it in a blog.

I also have an little 'ulterior' motive as will. I want to learn more about blogs, HTML, etc. So this is my way of doing it, and hopefully something more useful - than just me learning- will come out of this. I am a lousy typist, and I do not like proofreading my own words, so, if you find major typos you have been forewarned.

Also, English is not my first language, so if an expression sounds weird, try to guess what I was trying to say. This also means, I reserve the right to edit my posts if I realize that my wording did not convey what I really meant.

Now I have to find ore about how to make this blog private, at least initially. Hope to be back sometime soon.