Faith and Islam

“The way of God’s Messenger is the way of Love. We are the children of Love. Love is our mother.”  – Rumi

For Muslims worldwide, this time of year is a very sacred time. Through the abstention from food and drink along with Quranic reflection and prayer, Muslims commemorate a fundamental moment in their religious story, that is, the moment when the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quranic scriptures from the Archangel Gabriel. However, while this sacred time of year is marked with great amounts of joy within the Muslim community, Islam’s image has been subjected to great amounts of scrutiny and misinterpretation throughout the world.

Whether through media, personal experiences or conversations with friends, the Islamic tradition is often interpreted in a suspicious and a less than positive light. Driven by the fear of the religious other, society has majorly imaged Islam grotesquely and associated its religious story with violence, terrorism, oppression and hate.

Even more, society has vilified adherents of the Islamic faith making it so that the world looks upon any Muslim – no matter if she is a good person – with a fearful suspicion. Society’s fear of Islam has pushed Muslims into the dehumanizing and vilifying margins while deafening non-Muslim ears to counter Muslim stories of transformation and peace. Society’s placing of Islam into the dehumanizing and vilifying distance has demonized my sisters and brothers of Abraham and has slandered their name and faith.

Thus, in light of all this, how do I – a lover of God,  a follower of Christ, a human being – respond? Do I respond with the majority in fear? Or do I respond with love? I will choose to respond with love, for I believe as my Christian tradition has taught me that,

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.” – John’s Gospel

In the following post, you will read two posts from two Muslims, Najwa Mardini an American Muslim and Mohamed Khattab an North African Muslim write about what the Islamic faith is to them. Enjoy!

What is Islam? 

“Islam is a monotheistic religion, the core beliefs of Islam are that one believes in Allah which in the Arabic language means God, and that the Prophet Muhammad Peace and Blessings be upon him is his last and final messenger. Furthermore, followers of Islam believe in all of the previous prophets mentioned in the bible, they believe in Moses, Noah, Ishmael, Abraham, and Jesus. The word Islam comes from the Arabic word that means submission which is derived from the root of a word meaning peace. There are five pillars in Islam, the first pillar is that one believes in Allah. One deity that is merciful and has power over all things. The second pillar is that one is required to pray five times per day. The third pillar is that one must give charity every year to the poor. The fourth pillar is that one must fast during the holy month of Ramadan, this is the 9th month in the Islamic Calendar. The fifth pillar is to perform pilgrimage at least once during one’s lifetime in the holy city of Mecca.” – Najwa Mardini

“The word Islam comes from the Arabic word salaam which means peace. So Islam is the religion of peace that believes in the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. We believe that there is only one creator to this world and we are all living to worship him.”

– Mohamed Khattab

What is a Muslim? 

A Muslim is one who submits to Allah SWT. A Muslim is one that believes that there is no God but Allah and the Prophet Muhammad PBUH is his last prophet and one who adheres to the five pillars of Islam.” – Najwa Mardini

“A Muslim is the person who submits himself totally to God and follow his words through the Quran.” -Mohamed Khattab

Who was Muhammad?

“Muhammad was the last prophet and messenger, he received revelation from God through the angel named Gabriel. Prophet Muhammad was an orphan, his father had passed away before he was born and his mother had passed away when he was six years of age. He was illiterate and despite that, revealed the Qur’an which is one of the miracles that Muslims believe in. He was raised by his grandfather and his uncle when his grandfather had passed away. He advocated for the rights of the elderly, women, and children; the most vulnerable populations at the time. He taught peace, humility, kindness, respect for all and love. He wanted women to have rights and established rules to protect women from losing their inheritance or being harmed in any manner because women were treated in an inferior manner at the time. The Prophet Muhammad PBUH, spread Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula during his life time and after he passed away, Islam continues to grow till this very day.”  – Najwa Mardini

“The Prophet Muhammad was a messenger – or we say the final messenger – like Abraham, Moses and Jesus that were sent to deliver and teach Gods word. The Prophet Muhammad was the final messenger of God that delivered the words of God’s word by means of the Quran.” – Mohamed Khattab

What is the Qur’an?

“The words that the Prophet PBUH received from Gabriel were God’s words that were conveyed to the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him and today those words are compiled in what is known as the Holy Scripture for Muslims, the Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) over the span of 23 years. The Qur’an has not been changed or altered since it was revealed to the Prophet PBUH and written.”  – Najwa Mardini

Is Islam oppressive towards women?

“Contrary to popular belief and what is spread in the mainstream media, Islam is not oppressive towards women. In fact, women were oppressed globally before Islam spread; female infanticide was a widespread practice that the Prophet had abolished because people at the time viewed women as inferior beings in comparison to men. He also married a business woman named Khadijah, she was a feminist; very well respected among men during that time which was a rarity at the time.

Khadijah was also 15 years older than the Prophet PBUH which dispelled any age-related discrimination towards women. The Prophet set an example for men to wed women that were working, respectful, dignified, and advocated for equal rights for men and women. Furthermore, because Islam has many followers from different countries and backgrounds; sometimes, there is an issue regarding the mixture of culture and religion. Some are unable to distinguish between culture and religion and therefore assumptions are made based off of cultural practices that have embedded themselves under the cover of religion; it is crucial that one distinguishes between the two. There are a few commonly spread myths about women in Islam, one is that they are forced to cover and that they do not have freedom to do what they choose, the second one is that female genital mutilation is required for women to endure, and the third is that women are beaten by their husbands.

I will carefully explain and argue against these points; the first myth that I mentioned regarding women being forced to cover their heads with scarves is negated simply by the fact that many Muslim women choose not to cover their heads. The issue is that some people that are not well versed in their religion and make it so that the Muslim head covering, also referred to as hijab in the Arabic language is required because to some it can be a cultural symbol as opposed to a religious symbol. In the same respect that Nuns choose to cover in Catholicism, so do Muslim women, it is a way that makes them feel closer to Allah. Basically, those that force it need to understand that although the hijab is mentioned in the Qur’an, it is actually forbidden in Islam to force anyone to wear it; in addition, it is forbidden to force anyone into anything including forcing your beliefs on anyone. In regards to the second myth, female genital mutilation (FGM) has become a source of debate and criticism with all fingers pointing towards Islam being the culprit for such a humiliating practice. Islam does not condone anywhere in its teachings that FGM is encouraged or allowed; it is actually forbidden and punishable to mutilate anything on one’s body especially the genital area. FGM has a long history and is very encouraged in Africa, most specifically Ethiopia; in fact, FGM is a cultural practice, most of the population that resides in Ethiopia is Christian. Christians do not condone FGM and in the same way Muslims do not either; it is simply a cultural practice that has been misconstrued to be a religious practice.

Last but not least, the Prophet gave a famous last sermon before he passed away to all Muslims; he said protect, care for, and honor your women because they are your comfort. A man that abuses a woman emotionally or physically is considered a coward and Islam does not condone these types of actions. The Prophet PBUH used to help his wife clean the house; this was not a usual practice for men at that time, but he should be a role model for all men because he treated everyone with honor, love, and dignity no matter what background they were from.” – Najwa Mardini

“Islam raised the level of women, they were no longer chattels being passed from father to husband. They became equal to men with rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately across the globe, Muslim women are victims of cultural aberrations that have no place in Islam. Powerful individuals and groups claim to be Muslim yet fail to practice the true principles of Islam.

It is said in the Quran:

“O you who believe you are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the bridal money you have given them. And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and God brings a great deal of good through it.” (Quran 4:19)'” – Mohamed Khattab

Does Islam promote violent acts towards non-Muslims?

“The answer is, absolutely not. In fact, the verse brought up and misconstrued by mainstream media is contextual to a time when Muslims were being persecuted by a tribe called the Quraysh. The Quraysh were idolaters that did not allow for Muslims to practice their religion and prayers; they persecuted them by killing many of the Muslims. A verse was revealed to the Prophet PBUH in the Qur’an that basically tells the Muslims to stand up for themselves in self-defense but not to initiate war which is contrary to what many people assume and interpret. Scripture in general should not be interpreted by anyone because some of it is contextual to a certain story, time, and period. In the same manner; some of the scripture is timeless, for example, striving for the acquisition of good deeds in this life to go to heaven in the afterlife requires the same effort it required at the time of the Prophet PBUH; that did not change and that is timeless within the Qur’an. Treat others with kindness, love, and honor your parents, that has not changed.

In a nutshell; Islam does not condone or encourage any type of violence, hate, or hostility towards non-Muslims. Islam instructs Muslims to treat everyone despite any differences in background, race, and creed with respect and dignity. One example out of the many documented is that the Prophet PBUH stood up during a funeral that was passing by him and his companions. When the prophet stood up in silence out of respect for the man that had passed away; the companions of the Prophet asked him why and informed him that the man that passed away was a Jew. The prophet then replied to his companions; “Is he not a human? “He taught them to respect anyone despite any differences. ” – Najwa Mardini

“Well that’s another unfortunate misconception concerning Islam. Being that Islam is a religion of peace, it is forbidden to use any sort of violence. Often, the media is extremely masterful in painting Islam to be a violent faith due to ISIS. Nonetheless, we must note that ISIS is targets Muslims more than non-Muslims in the name of Islam.” – Mohamed Khattab

What is Jihad?

“Jihad is an Arabic word; it means to struggle and or to strive. Unfortunately, this word has been twisted, misconstrued, and explained as the meaning in which one goes to war against non-Muslims which cannot be more far from the truth. The word Jihad symbolizes the struggle between a human and his or her desires that he or she has difficulty controlling. Muslims believe that God tests people through struggles during our journey on this Earth; each individual has a different struggle in this life. For example; someone may struggle with a drug addiction, alcoholism, arrogance, ignorance, selfishness, anger management issues, depression etc… Jihad in this context would mean to strive to win and not give in to our human desires or any struggles that we may have. It is literally the meaning of striving to get through life without succumbing to desires that may plague our soul.” – Najwa Mardini

“The word Jihad means submission to God. So, in everything we do as Muslims – praying, fasting and more – we practice our Jihad.” – Mohamed Khattab

How do Muslims view non-Muslims? 

“Muslims view non-Muslims as fellow human beings, the Prophet PBUH said in his last sermon that no one person is better than another except in his deeds, morals, and the way in which he and she treats others in a good way. Islam obligates Muslims to love and take care of our neighbors regardless of their faith and background. As a Muslim, I am not allowed to assume whether or not someone is worthy of going to heaven or hell. As Muslims, our belief is that only God can choose the fate of his creation. The Prophet PBUH said that if a Muslim refers to another person as an “infidel” that in that case there is only one “infidel,” it is the one who was arrogant and uttered those words. In addition, the word infidel simply means “unbeliever.”

It is an insult to call someone that and once again it has been used to propagate fear in Non-Muslims to assume that Muslims are insulting them. A real Muslim that believes in Islam in its truest form and understands the core beliefs of Islam will never utter that word toward anyone. Muslims believe that everyone despite their belief system will be accounted for on the day of judgement and that God will indeed count the good deeds of those that were not Muslim as well. Muslims are not allowed to force their beliefs on anyone and this is a very important note to make especially when politically charged statements are being disbursed everywhere influencing peoples’ beliefs about how they perceive Muslims and thus creating for a negatively charged environment that breeds ignorance and hate.”  -Najwa Mardini

“Non-Muslims are people that need guidance.” –  Mohamed Khattab

Can Muslims and non-Muslims peacefully exist together?

“Absolutely and it has been proven throughout history. There was a time in Cordoba, Spain up until approximately year 1492 when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in harmony. Of course, this is not the only isolated case, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony for centuries in Syria and Palestine which is also contrary to popular belief. Tolerance is a beautiful thing, if all humans would love each other and embrace each other’s differences, then we’d live in a utopian society. What many do not realize is that a lot of the conflict occurring right now during these dangerous and troubling times is politically motivated. Muslims can live together with Non-Muslims in peace, prosperity, and harmony; I believe if one would take out politics, human greed, and selfishness out of the equation every human can live in harmony with everyone else. I come from a background that is diverse; 25% of my family being Catholic and 75% being Muslim, I appreciate the best of both worlds and embrace these differences.” -Najwa Mardini

“Muslims and non-Muslims can peacefully live together. Egypt (where I am from) is an example of Christian and Muslim unity. For hundreds of years, Christian and Muslims have peacefully existed, even when terrorists try to break this bond by doing these acts to Christians in the name of Islam.” – Mohamed Khattab

In this sacred season, I wish my sisters and brothers of the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus a very happy and joyful Ramadan.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Jay How

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