Subject Of Islam
One of the strangest facts in today’s world is that Islam, a religion which in many ways is almost identical to Christianity and Judaism, should be so poorly understood in Europe and America. Since there are millions of Moslems in the world, and since they control many strategic areas of the earth it is essential that we understand them better.
Mohammed, the inspired man who founded Islam, was born about 570 AD at Mecca. Orphaned at birth, he was always particularly solicitous of the poor, needy, widows, orphan, slaves and the downtrodden. At 20 he was already a successful businessman and soon he became the director of camel caravans of a wealthy widow. When he reached 25, his employer recognising his merit proposed marriage. Even though she was 15 years senior, he married her and as long as she lived, he remained a devoted husband.
By 40 this man of the desert had secured for himself a most satisfying life, a loving wife, fine children and wealth. Then, Moslems believe, in a series of dramatic and terrifying events, he began to revive through Archangel Gabriel a revelation of God’s word.
Like almost every major Prophet before him, Mohammed fought shy of serving as the transmitter of God’s word, sensing his own inadequacy. But the angel commanded, ‘Read’. So far as we know, Mohammed was hardly able to read or write, but he began to dictate those inspired words which would soon revolutionize a large part of the earth; “There is but one God”.
Mohammed’s message infuriated those rich Arabs whose faith required many idols, and he and his few followers were driven from Mecca, his home. Forced now to fight in defense of the freedom of conscience which he preached, he became an accomplished military leader. He repeatedly went into battle, out-manned and out-speared as much as five to one, he won some spectacular victories.
Later he became head of the state, and the testimony even of his enemies is that he administered wisely. The wisdom he displayed in judging intricate cases became the basis for the religious law that governs Islam today. In his final years, he was invited to become a dictator or a saint, but he rejected both temptations, insisting that he was an average man to whom God had sent another of his periodic messages to the world.
By the force of his extraordinary personality, Mohammed revolutionized life in Arabia and throughout the Middle East. He preached a religion dedicated to one God and he lifted women from the bondage in which desert custom held them and preached general social justice.
Moslems think it particularly ironic when Mohammed is charged by Western writers with having established a voluptuous religion. Especially considering the fact that he abolished alcohol so that even today all good Moslems are teetotalers. He ordered individual prayers five times each day. In a nation that reveled in feasting he instituted a most rigorous daytime fast lasting a full month each year.
Western critics have based their charges of voluptuousness mainly on the question of women. Before Mohammed, however men were encouraged to take innumerable wives, he limited them to four only and the Qoran is explicit that husbands who cannot maintain strict equality between two or more wives must confine themselves to one.
A widespread misunderstanding arises from Mohammed’s promise of paradise. In a land of blistering drought and sandstorms he predicted that evil men would suffer the tormenting fires of hell. Whereas good men will experience cool breezes, comforting streams and beautiful hours.
Western imaginations, unfamiliar with this last word hour, defined it by analogy with one of the ugliest words in English and jumped to the conclusion that Mohammed’s paradise was to be a sexual debauch. They were wrong. A hour is a fair-skinned, blacked woman created from musk and spices, incredibly beautiful and perpetually virgin.
In all things, Mohammed was profoundly practical. When his beloved son Ibrahim died, an eclipse occurred, and rumours of God’s personal condolence quickly arose. Whereupon Mohammed is said to have announced-” An eclipse is a phenomenon of nature. It is foolish to attribute such things to the birth or death of a human being.”
At Mohammed’s own death an attempt was made to deify him, but the man who was to become his administrative successor killed the hysteria with one of the noblest speeches in religious history. “If there are any among you who worshipped Mohammed, he is dead. But if it was God you worshipped, he lives for ever.”
These things explain why people who follow the religion of Mohammed do not like to be called Mohammedan
Islam And Sufism > Subject Of Islam > The Book
The Quran is probably the most often read book in the world, surely the most often memorized, and possibly the most influential in the daily life of the people who believe in it. Unlike the New Testament, which is written in an exalted style, it is neither poetry nor ordinary prose, yet it possesses the ability to arouse its hearers to ecstasies of faith. Its rhythms have been compared to the beat of drums to the echoes of nature and to the chants which are common in all early societies.
It is written in Arabic, and devout Moslems have often insisted that it must not be translated into any other language. One might expect that such a wish would have limited the spread of Islam. On the contrary, all over the world men have laboured to learn Arabic, not an easy language just to be able to read their holy book and pray in the original.
The Qoran was revealed to Mohammed between the years 610 and 632 AD in the cities of Mecca and Medina. Devoted scribes wrote it down on “scraps of paper, bark and the white shoulder blades of animals. The early revelations were dazzling assurances that there was only one God, Merciful and Compassionate; He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, and the Fashioner. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory and He is the Mighty, the Wise.
It was this message that inspired men to revolutionize their lives and their nations. In later years, when Islam began to penetrate large areas of Arabia and had acquired much power, the revelations dealt with the organisation of society its laws, procedures and problems.
The Christian or Jew who reads the Qoran finds himself on familiar ground a good deal of the time. Many revered names from Christianity and Judaism appear in the Qoran. For example, five of the important chapters are entitled Noah Jonah, Joseph, Abraham, and Mary. Lacking specific chapters of there own, but playing quite important roles are Jesus, Adam, David, Goliath, Job, Moses, Lot and Solomon.
Islam is partly founded on the words of four Prophets who lived before Mohammed; Jesus, Noah, Abraham, Moses. The Qoran does not acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God and that He suffered death upon the Cross. If Jesus were acknowledged the child of God, Moslems believe it would compromise God’s oneness, the belief which is the cornerstone of Islam. It would, moreover be difficult thereafter to contend that Mohammed was the bearer of the final perfect revelation as Moslems do.
It is this dedication to one God plus practical instruction that makes the Qoran unique. Each Islamic nation contains many citizens who are convinced that their land will be groaned well only if its laws conform to Quran
Islam And Sufism > Subject Of Islam > Traditions
In addition to the Quran Islam relies upon ‘traditions’, what Mohammed said and did. These are largely affectionate campfire gossip, the odds and ends that would be remembered after a great man had died.
About 200 years after Mohammed’s death, more than 6,00,000 separator anecdotes about him were still current, and several great scholars undertook the job of checking them for historical validity. More than 5,97,000 were rejected. The remainders called the Hadith, are accepted by all good Moslems.
Much of Islam’s common sense comes from them. For example, one dark night Mohammed had to escort his wife home from the mosque. On the way he saw two men giggling in the shadows so he called them to him, lifted his wife’s veil and said, “See, it is my wife with whom I walk.” When the strangers protested that they trusted him, he said; “I was not worried about your trust of me. I did not want your faith to be affected by your suspicions.
Once a Jew came to the Prophet and protested that Mohammed’s chief assistant had outraged Jews by claiming that Mohammed was more exalted than Moses. The Prophet said to his assistant: “You should not have said this. The feelings of other people must be respected.”
Also some of the profoundest elements of Moslem faith and culture derive from these traditions. Every Moslem, before beginning a meal or entering upon any other task, repeats ‘In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Beneficent’. This is the opening verse of the Qoran. Moslems greet each other with the traditional salutation “peace be on you.” The whole ritual of congregational prayer is taken from the traditions, including the well-known call to worship.
Some traditions influenced Western behaviour. On one occasion, Mohammed saw a donkey being branded on the face. When asked why this was being done, the herdsmen said, “The Romans taught us this to prevent theft”. Mohammed reflected a moment and said: “An animal’s face is the most sensitive part of its body. If you must brand, then do it on the flanks, where the flesh is thicker”. And the custom spread.
As a successful general, Mohammed left many traditions regarding decent conduct in war. “Faithfully carry out all covenants and agreements. Avoid treachery and do not disfigure the enemy dead. Do not slay children, women, old men or persons dedicated to the service of religion. Do not destroy sacred objects, orchards or crops.
Throughout the traditions Mohammed appears as a saintly man, one whom devout people of all religions would have recognised immediately as deeply concerned about the nature of God. He preached that slaves should be set free, that fathers should not kill unwanted baby girls, that those oppressed by society inherit the earth, that peace is much proof that Mohammed hoped for the day when all who shared a common belief in God would exist together in peace. It is well documented that, on one occasion, when a deputation of Christians visited him, he said, when time for prayers arrived, “Conduct your service here in the mosque. It is a place consecrated of God.
No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam. By the time of Mohammed’s death (AD 632) Islam controlled a great part of Arabia. Soon it triumphed in Syria, Persia, Egypt, and the lower borders of present Russia and across North Africa to the gates of Spain. In the next century its progress was even more spectacular.
The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts that idea, and the Quran is explicit in support of freedom of conscience. The evidence is strong that Islam welcomed the people of many diverse religions, so long as they behaved themselves and paid extra taxes. Mohammed constantly taught that Moslems should cooperate with the “people of the Book” (Jews and Christians).
Islam And Sufism > Subject Of Islam > Important Facts
Many Westerners, accustomed by their history books to believe that Moslems were barbarous infidels, find it difficult to comprehend how profoundly our intellectual life has been influenced by Moslem scholars in the fields of science, medicine, mathematics, geography and philosophy. Crusaders who invade the Holy Land to fight Moslems returned to Europe with new ideas of love, poetry chivalry, warfare and government. Our concept of what a university should be was deeply modified by Moslem scholars who perfected the writing of history and who brought to Europe much Greek learning.
More than most religions, Islam preaches the brotherhood of all races, colours and nations within its fold. Mohammed himself probably had the same skin colouring as Jesus, a very suntanned white but today his followers embrace all colours: black men from Africa, yellow men from China, brown men from Malaya, white men from Turkey.
For long periods in history Moslem nations strayed far from the spirit of Mohammed. If one focus only upon the worst Persian and Turkish caliphs one can easily condemn Islam as a religion that failed. But one can find such similar dark spots in the history of Christianity. If one looks at the enormous good that Islam has achieved, however, one sees the permanent greatness of this religion.