Islam: Religious Beliefs
Muhammad claimed that Gabriel commanded him to proclaim. The Islamic creed that spread as the great proclamation was “La ilaha illa ‘llah!” which means, “There is no god but God!” In more words, the Surah embodies the Muslim spirit and is part of their daily prayers:
In the Name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate:
Praise be to Allah, Creator of the worlds,
The Merciful, the Compassionate,
Ruler of the day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, Thee do we ask for aid.
Guide us in the straight path,
The path of those on whom Thou has poured forth Thy holy grace.
Not the path of those who have incurred Thy wrath and have gone astray.
When it comes to views of humanity itself, Islam differs greatly from the Eastern religions.
“In India the all-pervading cosmic spirit comes close to swallowing the individual self, and in China the self is so ecological that where it begins and ends is hard to determine. Islam and its Semitic allies [by which Smith means Judaism and Christianity] reverse this drift, regarding individuality as not only real but good in principle.” (Smith, 240)
This autonomy of spirit leaves Islam to embrace the idea of an eternal heaven and promote social and personal responsibility. Every action is seen as somewhere along a scale of good and evil, and Muslims see this as one of their religion’s strengths. They say that Allah revealed his oneness to Abraham, the Ten Commandments to Moses, the Golden Rule to Jesus, and the rules as to “How we should love our neighbor” to Muhammad. Of course, this severely limits Jesus by categorizing Him with mere men and reducing His often very hard teachings to the phrase “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The moral goals of Islam can be found in the roots of its very word – surrender and peace. Muslims seek to repay evil with good, to freely forgive and to live in gratitude to Allah - their word for ‘infidel’ sounds much like ‘one who lacks gratitude.’ There are many levels of heavens and hells, and on Judgment Day Muslims believe all souls will judge themselves – Allah will force them to look neutrally at their own lives. The ultimate goal of life if servitude of Allah, for “to be a slave to Allah is to be freed from other forms of slavery – ones that are degrading, such as slavery to greed, or to anxiety, or to the desire for personal status” (240).
Allah is in total control of human existence, and Smith admits that “in Islam human freedom stands in tension with God’s omnipotence, which points toward predestination” (240-241). They see Allah’s infinite omnipotence as reason to fear him, and this holy fear should bring one to doing good, which leads to inner peace.
Then there is the Muslim notion of jihad, or holy war. But their own Koran says, “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Koran 2:257). Muhammad is said to have argued, when asked about the Jews in Medina, “Will you then force men to believe when belief can come only from God?” (Smith, 255) and the Smith adds, “God’s compassion and mercy are cited 192 times in the Koran, as against 17 references to his wrath and vengeance” (237).
As another defense, Muslims argue that violence has been used no more in their religion than in others, though Smith excludes Buddhism from that list, and then adds, “Islam’s record of the use of force has been no darker than that of Christianity” (225). Furthermore, Muslims teach that the greatest jihad is the war of one’s own heart, in giving it completely to Allah.
A life given to Allah doesn’t allow one to box him into the religious sector of a Muslim’s life; instead, Islam encompasses every aspect of it.
“Westerners who define religion in terms of personal experience would never be understood by Muslims, whose religion calls them to establish a new kind of social order. Islam joins faith to politics, religion to society, inseparably.” (249)
To ensure that every Muslim is totally committed to Allah, Islam practice centers around its famous five pillars, the first of which is shahadah. At least once a Muslim must profess, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” In everyday life, however, Muslims are known to use the first part - La ilaha illa ‘llah - as a healing phrase for coping with anything life throws at them, and as a reminder to bring them peace.
The second pillar is prayer, which Muslims repeat five times a day – upon waking up, at the time of the sun’s zenith in the sky, at the time when the sun is at mid-decline, at sunset and before going to bed. Although Muslims do not have an official day of worship, they often gather in the mosques on Friday afternoon to pray together.
The daily prayers bring a Muslim’s focus to Allah and keep their will in line with his. They praise him, thank him and humbly offer supplications. The very pose that a Muslim assumes during prayer symbolizes his nothingness before Allah and the rising up again symbolizes rebirth.
Charity is the third pillar of Islam. Every Muslim is required to give 2 ½% of everything they own (not just their money, but food and clothes and such as well) to the needy. This includes slaves, debtors, strangers and wayfarers.
The fourth is Ramadan. The month in which Muhammad both “received his initial revelation and (ten years later) made his historic Higrah (migration) from Mecca to Medina” (247), Muslims celebrate it with a fast, sunrise to sunset, from food, drink and smoke, every day. Following a lunar calendar, Ramadan sometimes falls in the winter, sometimes in the summer, but it awlays excludes those in war, those travelling, and any sick, weak or old. The fasting teaches Muslims to control their earthly desires, reminds them of their own frailty and encourages genuine compassion for those truly in need.
Finally, every able Muslim is expected to visit Mecca on pilgrimage at least once. Upon arrival, man, woman and child, prince and pauper, put on two sheet-like pieces of clothing so that perfect equality is expressed outwardly before Allah.