An overview of Islam

The religion of Islam has many millions of adherents throughout the world. Islam, the correct name for religion of Mohammed, is the infinitive of the Arabic verb “to submit”; while ‘Moslem’ the correct term for one who follows that religion is the present participle of the same verb. Within a century of the death of its founder, the Moslem empire stretched from the South of France through Spain, North Africa, Central Asia to China. Some decades ago it appeared that in many parts of the world Islam was a dying religion but of late there has been a tremendous revival of interest in what is really a religio-political system, as the laws of Islam are civil and religious. Today we still hear of ‘the world of Islam’. The place where this ‘world’ was born and developed was Arabia, often referred to as the “Cradle of Islam”. The religion of Islam centres around Mohammed, the “prophet of Arabia”.

Sixth century Arabia

Arabia—“the island of the Arabs”—is the world’s largest peninsula bounded by the Red Sea on one hand, the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates on the other; while the southern side protracted toward the Strait of Ormuz is washed by the Indian Ocean. Along the western side, a chain of lofty mountains follows the coastline at times, receding to form a broad margin of lowland called the Teharra. Between the sea and the crest of this range is the mountainous region of the Hejaz in which lies the two cities of Mecca and 280 miles north of it Medina. A large amount of trade passed through the peninsula and across the Steppes of Arabia. These trade routes were long and perilous, hence the necessity for caravans traveling at fixed periods and by determined routes. The Arabs themselves had little knowledge of or interest in anything beyond their own merchandise and their own deserts. The people lived in widely scattered tribes with no form of central government. The distinctive feature has ever been the independence of the tribe, the family, the individual. Personal hostilities and tribal wars occurred incessantly. Blood feuds were frequent; even when united by blood or interest they seemed ever ready on some insignificant thing to separate and abandon themselves to implacable hostility.

Ancient Arab religion

Arabia was as unfavourable to religious reform as to political cohesion or union. The foundation of the Arab faith was a deep rooted idolatry. They worshipped crude stone idols and heavenly bodies, practising a vast amount of superstition. They were polytheists but believed in one supreme God. Other gods were considered to be lesser deities and mostly female in character. The focal point of this pagan worship was an annual pilgrimage even long before the time of Mohammed. The modern Islamic ceremonies of pilgrimage are substantially the same as in Mohammed’s time only with some modifications introduced by Mohammed himself. In Mecca there was located the Kaaba (Cube), a cubical building known as the house of Allah (in Arabic, allah means God). When Arabs came to Mecca to trade at the annual fairs, they performed the customary rites of pilgrimage at the Kaaba, which contained some 300 idols. To kiss the black stone or touch it in the eastern wall and walk round the “sacred edifice” seven times was regarded as meritorious at all times and all seasons.

There were two pilgrimages that could be made: the lesser pilgrimage in addition to the acts already mentioned included the going back and forth seven times with quick steps between the peaks of two little hills, Safa and Marwa. It could be performed with merit at any season of the year, but especially in the sacred month Rajab. Before entering the ‘holy territory’ surrounding Mecca, they assumed a pilgrim garb and at the conclusion of the ceremonies shaved their head. The greater pilgrimage could only be performed in the Holy month Dzul-Hijj. In addition to the ceremonies of the lesser pilgrimage it included a tour of a small granite hill by the name of Arafat, about 10-12 miles east of Mecca. The country for several miles round Mecca was considered as sacred. Four months of the year were universally sacred, Dzul-Cada, Dzul-Hijj, Moharram and Rajab. During these periods there was a truce, and tribes refrained from warring. Hostile feelings were suppressed and amnesty reigned throughout Arabia. Pilgrims were then free to visit Mecca. Moslem legend ascribes the building of the Kaaba to Abraham. The story goes that Hagar, wandering in the desert with her son reached the valley of Mecca. Ishmael left crying on the ground kicks around in childish passion when from a spot beneath him there bubbles forth a stream of water. It is the well, Zem Zem. This water was considered holy. Arab tribes from the Yemen attracted by the water settled there. Ishmael grew up amongst them and married the daughter of their chief. In fulfillment of a vision, Abraham is about to offer his son when his arm is stopped and on a subsequent visit to the place the patriarch, assisted by Ishmael, erected the Temple where it now stands and reconstituted the rites of pilgrimage. The custodians of the Kaaba were the Koreish tribe who consequently held a position of some authority, and their importance was added to by the fact that they provided water and food for the pilgrims at Mecca. Mohammed the founder of Islam was a member of the Koreish tribe.

Mohammed

He was born in the Arabian city of Mecca—45 miles inland from the Red Sea port of Jedda—into the pagan Koreish tribe which claimed descent from Abraham through Ishmael. Many of the tribe were traders whose caravans made journeys to Syria and other places. Mohammed was a name rare among the Arabs, but not unknown, derived from a root signifying ‘the praised’. His father Abdullah died six months before his birth; having set out on a trade expedition and on the way back, he took ill at Medina. Mohammed’s mother Amina, died when he was 6 years old. Infancy and part of the childhood of Mohammed was spent with a nurse Malima among the Bani Saad. It was in his sixth year that his mother took him to Medina and he was consequently cared for by his grandfather, Abd Al-Muttalib, who was the acknowledged chief of Mecca, and in charge of the Kaaba. After his death, Mohammed’s uncle, who was a poor trader called Abu Talib, looked after him. During his early teens, Mohammed is known to have accompanied his uncle upon at least one trading journey and may well have joined in others.

While on such journeys, he came into contact with different faiths. Ceremonies and words from these he later incorporated into Islam; fasting and regular set prayers being examples of this. That he did gather such a knowledge is supported by the Koran. At one period he was employed in tending sheep and goats on neighbouring hills and valleys around Mecca. He used, when at Medina, to refer to this employment and say that it fitted in with his prophetic office. Many authorities ascribe to the young Mohammed a correctness of deportment and manners which was rare among the people of Mecca. He lived in the family of Abu Talib and was prevented because of limited means from occupying any prominent position in Mecca. When he was 25 years old, he married a wealthy widow named Khadija, for whom he was working as a caravan manager. She was a member of the Koreish tribe. Of the early years of his married life little is known. He appears to have had a growing revulsion to the paganism of his tribe and particularly to the plural deities they worshipped. It may have been during these years that he sought to probe into Jewish and Christian teaching. As a result of his marriage, he became a person of importance and owing to his wife’s wealth , he no longer had to work and had leisure for uninterrupted meditation in the mountains adjacent to Mecca.

It is said that Mohammed and others used to go from time to time to a cave 3 miles from Mecca to meditate and worship. One night in the month Ramadam, he and his family were at this cave and there he received his first “revelation”, given to him by the angel Gabriel. According to tradition, the angel came to him with a thrice-repeated command, “recite”. Since Mohammed was thought to have been unable to read or write, many say that this first revelation was Sura Chapter 96 which has the title, “al-Alaq” which means the clot/embryo (coming from the Arabic word Alaqub as it is used in the Koranic account of man’s creation) and it reads as follows—“read in the name of thy Lord who creates, creates man from a clot (congealed blood), read and thy Lord is most generous who taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not”.

After some 2 years other revelations came in various forms. Sometimes he saw the angel and on other occasions he heard a voice, even the sound of a bell, through which the words of an angel came. There were times when the revelations came in a dream and at other times they were in the thoughts of his mind. When these revelations came his whole frame appeared agitated. With perspiration pouring down his face, his emotions were deeply stirred and at times he seemed in a trance falling to the ground foaming at his mouth. The revelations always came in the arabic language and he spoke the words that he received and they were written down by people who heard them coming from his lips. After his death, these revelations were collected and formed the Koran. Mohammed was convinced that the words that came were not his own, but the very word of God: he being only a reciter. What Mohammed taught, and the system of belief that he founded, suggests very clearly that he was not controlled by the Holy Spirit but by another spirit. The heart of the message which Mohammed received was that there is no God but Allah, the one true God. Man is God’s slave and it is his first duty to submit to God and obey him. God’s goodness and mercy are seen in his provision for all needs. He will reward with the pleasures of a sensual paradise those who worship him and do good deeds.

The Hegira, Medina and significant changes

When Mohammed made the claim that he was a prophet sent by God there were only a few who at once believed him – his wife, Khadija, a young cousin Ali, and his adopted son Zaid. Then a merchant later known as Abu Bakr professed faith in Mohammed. There were others who later joined but the leading people of the city whom Mohammed was eager to win, ignored him and soon began ridiculing him. They accused him of sorcery and fraud, yet he continued with his teaching, strongly condemning their idolatry. Opposition became more intense and because of the opposition of the Meccans it was decided that the Meccan Moslems should go to Medina where Mohammed had relations from his mother’s side. Accounts record that over 100 of his followers left Mecca by night, leaving Mohammed, Ali, and Abu. Finally they escaped and hid in a cave until the Meccans who were determined to kill gave up the search. Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina on 20 June is known as the Hegira or Hijrah. The Moslem calendar is dated from that year—AH 200 means 200 years after the Hegira—since it is believed that Islam only began when the prophet and his followers established their community in Medina. Today in Moslem lands, documents etc are dated from the Hegira.

During his years in Mecca, Mohammed never claimed that he had performed a miracle to prove that he was a prophet. When asked for a sign to convince the people that God had sent him, he replied that his miracle was the Koran. Mohammed considered the scriptures of the Jews and Christians to be true, but he said that the followers of these religions had misinterpreted them. In leading his followers in worship he faced towards Jerusalem as he was eager to win the allegiance and support of the Jews. When he rode into Medina on his camel many urged him to become their guest. Not wishing to offend any by a refusal, he allowed his camel to decide for him. When the camel sat down to permit the rider to dismount it was at that spot Mohammed established his residence and built the first mosque. It is said that his first sermon was preached on a Friday with the result that Friday became the day for congregational worship. The political situation in Medina was confused. There was no central authority to keep the peace among the various tribes. Soon Mohammed was able to become the civil as well as religious ruler in the city. It was in the second year of the Hegira that his break with the Jews became complete. He had at first observed their day of atonement, but then instituted in its place the Ramadan month of fasting. He also instituted a feast of sacrifice in memory of Abraham, sacrificing the ram instead of his son. It was at this time having broken with the Jews and referring to them as hypocrites, that a revelation came to him to change the prayer direction to Mecca. Tradition has it that as he was standing in front of followers in a mosque leading in their prayers and facing Jerusalem he suddenly turned about and completed the worship facing Mecca. This turn about meant launching forth on a new course. Islam was now being established as an independent religio-political system.

The struggle for Mecca

Although Mohammed had advanced his course in Medina, his real target was Mecca. He knew the opposition of the Meccans stemmed from political and commercial considerations. If they would not believe they must be made to believe. He had tried peaceful means and failed. He began harassing them and making raids on their caravans and blocking roads to Mecca. Mohammed sent out a party in the ‘sacred months’ when it was the custom of the Arabs to refrain from war. The violation of these months was justified by a revelation that came to him. At the battle of Badr (AH 2) about 300 Moslems attacked and defeated a thousand Meccans. The booty was divided, 1/5 being kept by Mohammed to be used by him in helping the needy. This became a precedent to be used in the spoils of war. The victory convinced his followers that they were on the winning side. It also induced many pagan Arabs to come to Medina and submit to Mohammed as ruler; thus many previously unconvinced people from Medina turned to Islam. In the following year, the Meccans attacked Mohammed at Uhud and defeated him and his Moslem forces. He himself was wounded and 70 Moslems killed. This disaster for the Moslems lost Mohammed the support of many of his allies, including the Jews. The Jews had been unhappy over Mohammed’s victory at Badr and some of them composed and recited verses in which they ridiculed the people of Medina for submitting to a man who had slain his own people in battle. Moslem historians tell of at least 4 Jews, one of whom was a woman, who were assassinated by the zealous followers of Mohammed for this crime—they were not even rebuked by Mohammed for what they had done. In AH 5, the Meccans sent an army estimated at 10,000 men, against Medina; the battle that ensued has become known as the battle of the Ditch or War of the Trench because of a trench which Mohammed had dug around the town. The siege ended in failure for the Meccans and the Koreish never again tempted to oppose Mohammed by force.  He made a treaty with the Meccans and signed a 10 year truce which would permit him and his followers to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The following year, Mohammed entered Mecca as a pilgrim with about 2000 followers. Mohammed destroyed the images to the various gods and made the Kaaba the focal point of the Islamic pilgrimage.

Mohammed died in 632 AD as he was making preparations to organize an expedition against Syria. This planned expedition outside Arabia was the first indication that Islam was to extend beyond its borders to become a force to be reckoned with in the world. It is said that a grave was dug at the very place where he died. Later, a mosque was built there and his grave became a place of pilgrimage. At the time of Mohammed’s death, the whole of Arabia had been subdued and the tribes were paying taxes to him. Abu Bakr succeeded Mohammed as Caliph for 2 years. Some of the tribes refused to continue paying taxes and to accept his leadership. He sent armed forces to subdue them and to collect the taxes. After his death, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, ruled as Caliph until his assassination 10 years later. During his reign and as a result of his initiative and drive, Islam expanded to Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya and Iraq. Many Moslems considered him to be second in importance to Mohammed himself. The above countries were under Byzantine domination (Byzantine was the Eastern Roman empire centred at Constantinople) and did not offer any real resistance to the Moslem forces. They were regarded more as liberators than invaders. They welcomed the Islamic forces and the whole Nile delta was captured by about 10,000 men. The Moslems built garrison towns on the edge of the unoccupied desert which became centres of Arab government. The people in the areas were obliged to go to them for trade and business and thus to learn Arabic. Non-Moslems had to pay a tax and to avoid payment, many transferred their allegiance to the Moslem faith. They felt themselves to be in a better position than when under the Byzantine rulers. Uthman ibn Affan succeeded Umar as Caliph at the age of 70. Ali, a cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed (being married to Mohammed’s daughter, Fatima) was elected the next Caliph.

SECTS IN ISLAM

The main sects base their divisions upon their descent from the grandsons of the prophet or his close followers.

1. The Sunnis.  This is the largest group in Islam and their name derives from a word that means “principle” or “path.” The sunnah, or example of Muhammad is described as a main pillar of Sunni doctrine. Sunnis recognize four major legal traditions: Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanafi, and Hanbali. All four accept the validity of the others and a Muslim might choose any one that he/she finds agreeable to his/her ideas. The more recent Salafi movement among Sunnis, which refuses to categorize itself under any single legal tradition, claims to derive its teachings from the original sources of Islam.

2. The Shiites (Shiahs). These form the second largest group within Islam and are the followers of Ali who insist that Mohammed appointed him as his successor by a divine revelation from God and that the Caliphate should, therefore, descend through his sons. The Shiites believe that there were 12 rightful “Imams” (their term for Caliph) who all descended from the family of Ali. They are strong in Iran where the “twelvers”, a particular branch of them hold sway. This sect is the state religion of Iran. The twelvers are descendants of the twelve Imams of the Ali-Fatima line which ended with Mohammed al-Mahdi (al-Mahdi means the guided one). It is believed that this last Iman did not die, but disappeared as a child. He will one day return to earth to establish his rule. The Shiites as a general body of Moslems feel that they are denied their rights by other branches of Islam. Other branches of this sect are:

a) The Zaidis—they exist for the most part in the Yemen and formed the main bulk of the royalist supporters in the 66-67 civil war. The Imam who was also the King of the Yemen was a Zaidi. This sect have their own law books.

b) The Ismailis also known as the Seveners. They form more of a secret society and have a large following mainly in Pakistan. They are also found in Syria and Lebanon.

3. The Kharijites. This is the earliest sect of any importance and exists today in North Africa under the name of Ibadiya. They maintain that any Moslem can become Caliph if he is elected by the whole community. They opposed Ali because he submitted his claim for arbitration before a select committee instead of before the whole community. They also contend that because it is the duty of Moslems to constrain men to do right and restrain them from doing evil, they have a solemn duty to kill apostates and unbelievers. Under this first principle, they sought to constrain Ali, but when he failed to heed their advice, they murdered him under the second principle.

4. The Murjia. Their name is derived from the word Irja meaning ‘to postpone’. They refused to condemn any Moslem in the belief that all judgment would be postponed till the last day. They are almost non-existent, but their beliefs remain within Islam. This teaching has led to tolerance of sin in all forms within Islam.

5. The Ahmadiyya. They are a Moslem missionary force that have made great headway in some countries. Their adherents are educated and keen propagandists. They would readily discuss differences between the Moslem and Christian faiths at any time. Their followers study the Bible and know it well. The movement was founded about 1880 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. He was born in the village of Quadian in north-eastern Punjab. He had a good education as a young man, but from his youth was subject to strange visions and dreams. He could see weaknesses in the customary interpretations of the Koran. About 1880 he concluded that God had called him to a special mission. Ten years later, he openly declared this, saying that God had instructed him to initiate followers. He expounded new doctrines basing a great deal on the Moslem belief in the Mahdi—a future Islamic Messiah. He then claimed that he was the coming “great one” of whom other religions foretold. He went on to teach that in him Mohammed had made his second advent in his capacity of Mahdi (the guided one). He was branded by the orthodox Moslems as a heretic, blasphemer, imposter and enemy of the faith. When he died in 1908, he was succeeded by a follower instead of by his son which led to a split in the movement. One branch founded their headquarters at Lahore and called themselves Ahmadi. The second branch also called themselves Ahmade but are known as Qadiani. Mirza Ahmad said of himself: “I am the light of this dark age; he who follows me will be saved from falling into the pit prepared by Satan for those who walk in the dark. I have been sent from God to lead mankind to the true God…”. The main teachings of the Ahmadiyyah are as follows:

a) No verse in the Koran can be abrogated (apparent inconsistencies are due to faulty interpretations).

b) Mohammed as “seal of the prophets” only testified to his genuineness and not to the finality of his office.

c) Hell is not everlasting.

d) Apostacy is not punishable by death.

e) Mirza Ahmad was the Mahdi (guided one).

f) Jesus is dead and did not ascend into heaven. This conflicts with the Koranic teaching. Ghulam taught that Jesus merely swooned on the cross and was taken down and revived by the application of a special ointment to His wounds. He taught that Jesus recovered so completely after 40 days He was able to make the long journey to Afghanistan and Kashmir whose people were the descendents of the 10 lost tribes of Israel. After living among them and ministering to them, Christ died a natural death at the age of 120. Ghulam later claimed to have discovered the tomb of Jesus in a street in Srinagar in Kashmir and that he had been given divine instructions for making the miraculous ointment which had revived Jesus and he sold it as a treatment for many illnesses. Orthodox Moslems deny the death of Christ and they quote Sura 4:157, “And they killed him not, nor did they cause His death on the cross, but made to appear to them as such”. The orthodox Islamic interpretation is that God substituted another in Christ’s likeness so that it was not actually Jesus who died on the cross but another. This implies that Jesus is alive but denies His vicarious death and resurrection. Ahmadiyya missionaries and adherents cleverly take texts out of context and by their apparent knowledge of the Bible leave many defenceless and wavering.

THE MOSLEM CREED

Islam has two sections – Iman meaning “faith” and Din, the religious practice which should be the result of that faith. Iman has been defined by orthodox Islam as confession with one tongue to one truth, and belief with one heart of one Moslem religion. There is one formal declaration of belief (Iman Mufassal) in the articles of the Moslem Creed which require a Moslem to believe in:

1. God.

2. The angels of God.

3. The books of God.

4. The prophets of God.

5. The day of resurrection and judgement.

6. Predestination to good and evil.

Moslems are also required to have a simple expression of faith in the teaching of the Koran and Traditions (Iman Mujmal).

1. Belief about God (Allah)

The pagan Arabs at the time of Mohammed worshipped many gods and goddesses, the images of whom were in the Kaaba in Mecca. They believed there was a supreme god called Allah who was lord of the Kaaba, but they were more attached to the other gods. Mohammed proclaimed that Allah alone was god and that the others were only idols which should not be worshipped. The name Allah refers to God’s essential being and is known in Arabic by a phrase that translates as the “essential name of God”. The name of God dominates the speech of many Moslems. When one promises to do some thing, he conditions his agreement by saying “if God wills”. When he sneezes, he is to say “praise god”; if he wanted to quicken the pace of his weary beast, he may call out “Ya Allah” meaning “O God”. It is the boast of Moslems that they are monotheists. All other names given to God are known as attributes of the divine being. According to tradition, these names number 99 and whoever recites them shall enter into paradise. The rosary (subha) is used by Moslims to assist them in reciting these names. The subha is a necklace of 99 beads separated into 3 sections containing 33 beads each. The sections are separated by two transversal beads with a much larger bead at the end acting as a kind of handle. The basic dogma in Islam is  “no God whatever but Allah”. Of his attributes (sifat) they hold that there are 7 principle ones”

a) Life (Hayat) by that they mean his existance has neither beginning nor ending.

b) Knowledge (llm) he knows all things visible or invisible, past or future. He never forgets, is never negligent and never makes an error.

c) Power (Qudra) Allah is almighty; his power is everlasting.

d) Will (Irada) He is able to do what he wills, he need not act, good and evil exist by his will. If a man is pious, it’s because of the will of Allah and if a man is an unbeliever, it is due to the will of Allah.

e) Hearing (Sama) He can hear every sound whether high or low.

f) Seeing (Basr) He sees all things even the steps of a black cat on a black stone at night.

g) Speech (Kalam).

A. His Unity. Belief in the unity of God really forms the corner stone of the Islamic faith. Moslems place the greatest possible emphasis on God’s unity. From the Koran, Sura 112:1-4, they say “He, Allah, is one; Allah is he on whom all depend; he begets not neither is he begotten ; and none is like him”. These are words most commonly quoted by Moslems to Christians. The association of other gods with God is the greatest sin possible to a Moslim.

B. His Greatness. “The Takbir” is the name given to the Arabic expression “Allahu Akbar” which means ‘God is great’. The Moslem repeats this name constantly and means no matter what a man can think of, God is greater than that.

C. His Revelation of his Wealth and Law (Tanzil). By the expression Tanzil (sending down), is meant the revelation or sending down of God’s message. It denotes the object of God’s revelation the Koran.

D. His Transcendance (Tanzih). The Moslem believes that God is really unknowable. He holds himself aloof from man and he cannot be really known by man, whatever man thinks of him, he is something different.

2. The Angels of God

The Koran has much to say about angels. The pagan Arabs thought that some of the angels were the “daughters of Allah” and this was sternly rejected in the Koran. From the Koran, we find concerning angels,

a) Angels have life, speech and reason,

b) Angels have no carnal desire or anger—It is said that their food is celebrating God’s glory, their drink proclaiming God’s holiness, their conversation is commemorating God and their pleasure is worshipping God. They are said to be inferior to human prophets because they were commanded to prostrate themselves before Adam.

c) Every believer is attended by 2 recording angels, one of whom records his good reactions, the other his evil reactions.

d) Four are archangels, Gabriel, the angel of revelation, Mik’al the patron of the Israelites, Iprofil who is to sound the trumpet at the last day and Azrail, the angel of death.

e) Eight angels support God’s throne.

f) There are 2 angels by the name of Munkar and Nakir who examine the dead in their graves on the night after burial.

g) The angels intercede for man and celebrate the praises of the Lord.

h) The angels act as guardian angels to men.

Then there are the angels known as “Jinns” (the ‘genie’ of Arabian tales) and it is said God created them 2000 years before Adam. They were created from smokeless fire like the devil and their chief abode is in the mountains of Qaf which encompass the whole earth and the devil is said to be their father.

Concerning the devil, Mohammed taught that the devil enters into a man as blood in his body; that every man has an angel and a devil appointed over him; that every child of Adam except Jesus and Mary is touched by the devil at his birth and it is the devil’s touch makes the infant cry out at birth. The devil was created from fire and had the name “Azazil”, the Arab name is Iblis. He is also known as Ash Shaitan or the chief devil. Iblis is said to have possessed authority over the animal and spirit kingdom before the creation of Adam. He was expelled from Eden because he refused to make submission to Adam. See Sura 7:11-18. v11 says “make submission to Adam so they (the angels) submitted, but not Iblis. He was not of those who submitted”.

3. The Books of God

Islam is a religion of revelation. God has spoken and has given his word to his prophets and to some of them he has also given books. It is said that the number of books given to the prophets is 105 so there are 105 books deemed as sacred, having been delivered by God to mankind. To Adam -10, to Seth – 50, to Enoch – 30, to Abraham -10, to Moses – 5, and they are referred to as “Taurat”. The books from Adam to Abraham are said to be lost, but all that is necessary for Moslems to know of these books is to be found in the Koran. Moslems claim that Christians have altered the books in the Scripture and that the Koran corrects previous scripture because it was given last. Moslems assert that the books of the prophets contain a mixture of truth and error and the Koran was given to correct these errors.

4. The Prophets of God

Tradition states that Mohammed said there were 124,000 prophets and 315 apostles or messengers. Of these, 9 are said to be “possessors of power and constancy”. They are Noah, Abraham, David, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. Three women are said to be prophetesses, Sarah because she received the news of Isaac’s birth by revelation, the mother of Moses who also received a Divine message and Mary who received news of the birth by an angel.

5. The Day of Resurrection and Judgment

The last day has many names in the Koran.

a) YAUM AL QIYAMA – day of uprising.

b) YAUM AL FASL – day of separation or decision.

c) YAUM AL HISAV – the day of reckoning.

d) YAUM AL BATH – the day of sending forth or awakening.

e) YAUM AL DIN – the day of judgment.

f) YAUM ALAKHIR – the last day.

g) YAUM AL MUHITH – the encompassing day.

h) AS SAAH – the hour.

At the resurrection, the body will be raised and united to the soul. One bone of the body – ‘Os Sacrum’ will be preserved uncorrupted until the last day at which time, the rest of the body will grow from it. Other teaching about the last day states that it will be preceded by 3 blasts of the trumpet – at the first blast, all creatures on heaven and earth will be struck with terror, at the second blast, all creatures on heaven and earth will die, at the last blast 40 years later, all will be raised for judgment. It will be a general resurrection of men, angels and animals; when all are assembled for judgment, the angels will keep them waiting for 40 years. After this, God will appear to judge them and Mohammed will intercede for them, after Adam. Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus have declined, feeling themselves unworthy of so great a task. Each person will be examined from his own book of deeds which will have all his words and actions recorded. The righteous will be forced to take their book in their right hand, but the unrighteous will be forced to take their book in their left hand which will be bound behind their backs. All deeds and words or, according to some, the books containing the records of these deeds and words will be weighed in a balance. One balance being over paradise, the other over hell.

The book of deeds

There is no way of salvation in Islam other than by works. When a Moslem is asked “Where are you going when you die?”, he will usually reply  that if his works are good, then he believes he will go to heaven. The book of deeds is kept for each person by two recording angels. An angel on man’s right side records his good deeds, an angel on his left side to record his bad or evil deeds. (In arabic these angels are called Kiram al-Katwin). In this book, every spoken word and every action great or small is written down. There are also to be books of nations read at this time – Sura 45: 28 “And thou shalt see every nation kneeling down, every nation shall be called to its book, today you shall be rewarded for what you did”.

Heaven

According to the Koran, life after death means progress and advancement far beyond anything conceivable in this world. In some passages of the Koran, Mohammed’s paradise can be summed up as a place where there are couches covered with rich brocades, glowing cups and luscious fruits. In the Moslem idea of heaven there is no relationship with the Christian teaching of a saved believer being changed into the likeness of Christ and worshipping the Lord. There are said to be 7 divisions to heaven – the highest being paradise (Al-Firdaus).

Hell

The Moslem hell has 7 divisions. ‘Jahannan’ refers to the sections of hell prepared for Moslems – a type of purgatory meant for purification. In this respect, it is like Roman Catholic teaching. The orthodox teaching is that all Moslems will go to hell. The degree and duration in hell is dependent upon the enormity of the sins committed by the person. For Moslems who have not committed great sins, hell will be cool and pleasant.

Predestination (sometimes referred to as Taqdir or Qadar)

This 6th article of the Moslem creed means that God is absolute in His decree of good and evil. Nothing comes to pass whether good or bad except by the divine will according to what God has engraved upon a preserved tablet by His pen of fate. A Moslem believes that God is not limited by any consideration whatsoever, whether moral or otherwise. It is Kama Yashau, ‘as he wills’—the phrase constantly used in the Koran. A tradition states God’s attitude thus, “These to heaven and I care not and these to hell and I care not”. No real responsibility is upon the person for what he does, all responsibility for his actions is laid upon God. On the basis of that teaching, man is judged for his deeds for which he is not responsible!  Some Islamic sects believe that man is  responsible for his actions to a certain extent.

The Koran

The Koran is the sacred book of Moslems written in Arabic and considered by them to be the inspired Word of God. The word Koran, means ‘the collected things’ according to some; others say it means ‘the reading’. The word itself is used several times in the book. The Koran contains 114 chapters or Suras of varying length which were received piece by piece by Mohammed. The first revelation was given in the month of Ramadan, now the Moslem fast month. Mohammed related the Koran verbally to his followers who memorized it. Tradition says that some parts were written on palm leaves, on stones, on shoulder blades of animals. A number of versions of the revelations were in circulation, but when several of the reciters were killed in the battle of the garden, Olhman, one of Mohammed’s principle followers ordered an official version to be compiled in AH 30. He instructed Zaid ibn Thavit and others to prepare a copy in the Koreish dialect. This version became official and copies were sent to all the principal Moslem cities. Some Moslem writers say the first copy was made by Abu Bakr and that Zaid commanded copies be made from it. The fact that several persons had a hand in the compilation of the written form is claimed by Moslem teachers to be a proof of its divine origin and preservation. The Koran is written in poetic style. Every chapter other than the 9th which, some say, was once part of the 8th, begins with the words “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate…”.

How Moslems View the Koran

Every Moslem child is taught to memorize the Koran or at least the most relevant verses in it. Hence the Moslem can always bring these memorized passages to the defence of his faith. They believe the Koran to confirm the books of the former prophets and to complete them, Mohammed being the final prophet. They believe the Koran is eternal and uncreated having existed in heaven—a miracle from God. Since it is believed that the Koran was brought form heaven in its original arabic form, this language is considered an essential part of it. It cannot, therefore, be translated like other books and till recently, Moslems have been reluctant to publish translations of their holy book for the millions who do not know Arabic. In a translation, the Koran is a difficult book to read, lacking continuity and abounding in repetition. However, when read aloud in Arabic by a good reader in a Mosque or on radio, it makes a tremendous impression on those who listen, even when they do not understand the meaning. Moslems consider the Koran to be the unique miracle of their prophet since no one has been able to produce the equal of it. Believers treat their copies of the Koran with reverence, often keeping them wrapped in beautiful covers and never placing anything on top of them. They dare not touch it until they have washed and purified themselves, nor do they hold it below waist level, such is their reverence of this book. In the eyes of the Moslem, the pages of the Koran are pure and their directions are right.

Moslem practice

The religious duties of a Moslem can be summed up under five categories generally called the five pillars of Islam. Since God is the Master and man is His slave, God has appointed certain tasks which believing men and women must perform. They should perform these tasks not only because God requires it, but also out of gratitude to God for His goodness. The doing of these deed is very meritorious. In the day of judgment, they will be weighed in God’s balance and will help to cancel the evil deeds which are placed on the other side of the balance. These five pillars of faith are usually held to be : prayers, fasting, alms-giving, pilgrimage to Mecca and holy war. They are all described by the Arabic word IBADAT (worship). It is derived from the word ABAD meaning slave.

1. Prayers. Wherever one goes throughout the Moslem world, he will see Moslems at prayer. Every adult believer, male and female, is duty bound to perform the ritual of prayer five times every day – at daybreak, at noon, in the afternoon, in the evening after sunset and in the early part of the night. The call to prayer is sounded out from minarets and housetops in thousands of towns and villages. Before praying, a Moslem must remove his shoes, wash his feet, hands, parts of his face and turn towards the Kaaba at Mecca. When he cannot go to a mosque to pray, he may pray wherever he may happen to be – at work, on a journey or in the middle of other duties. He will carry a bottle of water with him for the ablutions and if water is not available, he will use sand or earth symbolically. In prayer, he recites the appointed phrases in the Arabic language. He first says, “Allahu Akbar”, meaning “God is great” and then he recites from the Koran. He bows, kneels and touches his forehead to the ground twice. This completes one rakah meaning or, bow. In the five times of prayer or worship during the day, 17 rakahs must be performed. The worship is acceptable to God if performed properly even if the worshipper does not understand the Arabic words he is repeating. On Fridays, a sermon is preached in the mosque as part of the prayers (a sermon may also be included in the last prayers of the day in larger and more central mosques). Friday noon prayer is the only congregational one. In large mosques a special area is reserved for women worshippers. The worshippers arrange themselves in rows and follow the leader (imam) in their physical postures. This serves to promote a sense of brotherhood in the Moslem community. The inside of the mosque is conspicuous by the absence of pews and pictures. The nearest substitute for pictures or icons is calligraphy using passages from the Koran and names of the prophet and his caliphs – all in Arabic characters which lend themselves to decorative purposes.

2. Fasting. Mohammed commanded that the 9th month of the year which is called Ramadan be observed as a time of fasting. Of the several Moslem fasts, this is the most important one and its observance is obligatory. Since the Moslem calendar is not solar, but lunar, Ramadan comes each year about 10 days earlier that the previous year. It comes sometimes in winter when the days are short and also in summer when the days are long and in some countries very hot. Moslems believe, based on a reported saying of Mohammed, that during Ramadan, the gates of paradise are open and the gates of hell closed and that all who keep the fast will be pardoned of all their past venial sins.

Regulations Governing the Fast:

a) The fast cannot start until some Moslem is able to state he has seen the new moon. This leads to frequent diversion of opinion.

b) The fast must be kept by young people from the age of 10 or 12. Certain classes of persons are exempt from fasting such as the sick, the infirm and travelers on a journey of more than 3 days, but even these are expected to make up the fast from the days they have missed as soon as they are able.

c) The fast commences from the first light of dawn, as soon as a white thread is distinguishable from a black thread and it continues until sunset. During this period not even one’s own saliva should be swallowed. If the fast is broken by letting a drop of water go down one’s throat while he is cleaning his teeth, he must atone by keeping another fast. For the rich who can rest in their homes and can sleep through the day, Ramadan is not so difficult, but for working people the day without food or drink is long and exhausting as they wait for the signal to let them know they can break the fast. All night they are free to eat. It is said there is more feasting in this month than any other time of the year. There is also much sickness because of the irregularity of the diet and much quarrelling because of short tempers.

d) During the month of Ramadan, an additional twenty rakah are performed at the night prayer.

3. Alms giving. Since Mohammed was once an orphan and poor, it is natural to find an emphasis in the Koran on the duty of helping the poor and orphans. Each Moslem adult is required to give alms if he possesses property as described in the law. Property for this purpose includes camels, bulls, cows, sheep, goats, horses, gold, silver, articles of merchandise, the fruit of the earth; household property, weapons, tools etc. are not included. The alms-giving or taxation was designed to help the poor and a collector was appointed for this purpose. The most common time for collectors of taxes seems to be on Fridays and this is the time when the poor and beggars multiply on the streets to receive alms. The following classes of people are entitled to receive help from the officially collected alms: people whose property is below taxable value; people who have no property at all; the collectors of alms; people who are in the path of service of God; those engaged in religious warfare; travelers.

4. Pilgrimage to Mecca. Mohammed himself made the pilgrimage to Mecca and performed all the customary rites and his example became law for his followers. Every Moslem who has the means to make the journey to Mecca should do so at least once in his or her life. Accordingly, every year in the month of the pilgrimage which is the 12th month of the Moslem calendar (being Dhu al-Hijjah) hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world make their way to Mecca. A person who has completed the pilgrimage takes the title Hajj (meaning pilgrimage) or Hajji, i.e. Hajji Mohammed Farra. The dying of the hair, beard or both with the reddish-brown dye, henna, is a sign that a person has been on the Hajj.

Duties of the Pilgrim:

Three actions in the pilgrimage are obligatory and thought to be instituted by God Himself.

a) To wear no other garment but the IHRAM which consists of two seamless sheets of white cotton, each 6 feet long by 3 1/2 wide. One is thrown over the back exposing the right arm and shoulder and knotted on the right side. The other is wrapped around from the waist to the knees and knotted in at the middle.

b) To stand on the mountain of Arafat.

c) To make a circuit around the Kaaba 7 times.

Five other duties in the pilgrimage are said to be also obligatory, but the omission of which does not constitute an unpardonable sin:-

a) To spend a night between the 9th and 10th of the pilgrimage month at Al Muzdalifa – a place half way between Mina which is a valley and Arafat.

b) To run the distance between the mountains of Al-Saffa and Al-Marwa.

c) To perform the Rama or Rujaa of the throwing of stones—originally at three stone pillars, but now three stone walls—in order to stone the devil. The ritual is aid to commemorate Abraham’s pilgrimage to Mecca when he threw seven stones at the devil at Gabriel’s command!

d) To make an extra circuit around the Kaaba if the pilgrim is a non-Meccan.

e) To shave the head after the pilgrimage is over.

A tradition attributed to a saying of Mohammed is, “He who makes the pilgrimage for God’s sake and does not talk loosely nor act wickedly shall return as pure from sin as the day he was born. Verily the pilgrimage puts away poverty and sin, like the fires of a forge remove the dross”.

5. The holy war (Jihad)

We learn from the Koran that a revelation came to Mohammed that he should make war on the idolaters of Arabia and force them to submit and become Moslems. The followers of Mohammed used the sword to extend their empire throughout the Middle East, N. Africa and Spain. In more recent times, pagan people have been forcibly brought into the fold of Islam. Some Moslems have always looked forward to a time when they would be able to conquer non- Moslems and establish Islam as the religio-political system of the world. The Holy War is regarded as a divine institution and its purpose is to advance Islam. People against whom the Jihad is directed are to be invited to accept Islam. Those who accept will be given full citizen rights of the country. Those who refuse will be made to pay a tax and will be looked upon as inferior citizens. Theses who will neither embrace Islam nor pay the tax, they have their families and property taken from them. Moslems who die fighting in a Holy War are assured of paradise and special privileges there. Some Moslems interpret Jihad in a spiritual manner and say it means a striving for the cause of God which must be advanced, not from the sword, but by peaceful means such as missionary effort. Such an effort is being actively promoted in many lands and large numbers of converts are being made to the religion of Islam.

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