Society of Saint Pius X Africa

Understanding Islam

 

Fr. Gnana Pragash Suresh

Catholics should have a working knowledge of the fastest-growing religion in the world. Here is an outline of a creed that was always Catholicism’s enemy.

Historical background

 

1. Biblical background

The Old Testament tells us that God's glorious plan of redemption was initiated through Abram. With this man, God made an everlasting covenant and God changed his name to Abraham, the father of many nations (Genesis: 17,5). This covenant was later to be fulfilled through the Seed of one of Abraham's descendants, the promised Messiah.

"For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a slave-girl and the other by a free woman." (Galatians: 4,22). Abraham had two sons. His first son. Ismael, was born of the Egyptian bondwoman named Hagar. His second son was Isaac, who was born of Abraham's wife, Sara. God laid the foundation for the fulfilment of His covenant through Isaac, the son of Sara, the freewoman. It was through Isaac's seed that the Messiah would later appear (REf. Genesis Ch. 17).

Even though Ismael was Abraham's first son, God chose to fulfill His covenant through Isaac, his  younger son. All the future prophets of God and the Messiah would appear only from the lineage of Isaac, the chosen son of Abraham, without any exception.

In favour of Sara and her son Isaac, agar and Ismael were expelled from the household of Abraham and consequently, from the heritage and lineage of the decendants of Isaac (Genesis: 21,10). The Arabian nations (the desert dwellers) are descendants of Ismael but not of Isaac. So, on that day, a great division was born between the children of Ismael and the children of Isaac and the Messiah.

 

2. Pre-Islamic Arabia

Muslims frequently argue that since Islam and the Qurun [or Koran: the Muslim 'Bible'--ed.] were sent down out of heaven, no earthly source or materials could have been used in their construction. They begin with the assumption that such things cannot be. But the truth is that the Islamic faith and the Quran itself can be completely and sufficiently explained in terms of pre-Islamic Arabian culture, custom and religion.

Archaeological and linguistic work done since the latter part of the 19th century has unearthed overwhelming evidence that Muhammad constructed his religion and the Quran from pre-existing material in Arabian culture as the following will show us.

a. The meaning of Islam

The very word Islam was not revealed from heaven nor was it invented by Muhammad. It is an Arabic word which originally referred to an attribute of manliness and described someone who was heroic and brave in battle.

God chose to fulfill His covenant through Isaac, his younger son. All the future prophets of God and the Messiah would appear only from the lineage of Isaac, the chosen son of Abraham, without any exception.

The word Islam did not originally mean submission, as many people have supposed. Instead, it referred to that strength which characterised a desert warrior who even when faced with impossible odds, would fight to the death for his role.

b. Pre -Islamic tribal life

The tribal-society aspect of pre-Islamic Arabia explains many of the things that can be found in Islam today. For example, it was perfectly in line with Arab morality to mount raids on other tribes in order to obtain wealth, wives and slaves, and so the tribes were constantly at war with one another. These desert tribes lived by the code '-an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth ". Vengeance was extracted whenever anything was done to hurt any member of the tribe. Forcing people into slavery or kidnapping women, holding them in a harem, and raping them at will was considered just and proper.

The harsh Arab climate produced a harsh tribal society in which violence was the norm. And violence is still an attribute of Islamic societies. It is very interesting to note that the English word "assassin" is actually an Arabic word. It comes from the Latin word assassinus which is taken from the Arabic word hashshashin. Hashshashin literally means "smokers of hashish" and was used as a description of those Muslims who smoked hashish to whip themselves into a religious frenzy before killing their enemies.

It came into the European vocabulary through the Muslim sect called "The Assassins" who believed that Allah had called them to kill people as a sacred duty.

c. Pre-Islamic Religion

 

Worshiping at the Kabah, Mecca

The Arab population was basically animist in orientation. The male and female spirits existed in trees, stones, rivers and mountains, and they were worshipped and feared. Sacred magic stones were believed to protect the tribes. The Quraysh tribe had adopted a black stone as their tribal magic stone and had set it up at the Kabah. This magical black stone was kissed when people came on their pilgrimage to worship at the Kabah. It was no doubt an asteroid that had fallen out of the sky and thus was viewed as being divine in some way!

The Quraysh tribe (Muhammad's tribe) saw to it that there was an idol for every religion at the pagan temple called the Kabah. The word Kabah is Arabic for “cube" and refers to the square stone temple in Mecca where the idols were worshipped. The temple contained a virtual smorgasbord of deities with something for everyone. At least 360 gods were represented at the Kabah and a new one could be added if some stranger came into town and wanted to worship his own god in addition to the ones that were already- represented.

The lucrative trade routes and the rich caravans formed the cultural link between Africa, the Middle East, the East and the West. It is therefore no surprise to find stories in the Quran whose origins can be traced back to the religious stories of Babylon, Egypt, India, Persia and Greece.

d. Pagan Rituals

The pagans of pre-Islamic Arabia taught that everyone should bow and pray towards Mecca (the religious and trade centre of Arabia with its Kabah) during certain set times of the day. Everyone should also make a pilgrimage to Mecca to worship at the Kabah at least once in their life. Once they arrived at Mecca. the pagans ran around the Kabah seven times, kissed the black stone, and then ran about a mile to the Wadi Mina to throw stones at the devil. They also believed in the giving of alms and condemned usury. They even had a certain month in which fasting was to be done according to the lunar calendar. That these pagan rites comprised the religion in which Muhammad was raised by his family is acknowledged by all.

The dominant religion that had grown very powerful just before Muhammad's time was that of the Sabeans. The Sabeans had an astral religion in which they worshipped the heavenly bodies. The moon was viewed as a male deity and the sun as the female deity. Together they produced other deities such as the stars, The Quran refers to this in sura 41.37 and elsewhere.

They used a lunar calendar to regulate their religious rites. For example, a month of fasting was regulated by the phases of the moon. The Sabean pagan rite of fasting began with the appearance of a crescent moon and did not cease until the crescent moon reappeared. This would be later adopted as one of the five pillars of wisdom of Islam.

Finally, the influence of foreign religions, such as Judaism, Zoroastrianism (from Persia), Hinduism, Buddhism, Greek and Egyptian mythologies, and Christianity, was also present in pre-Islamic Arabia. It is no surprise to find that the Quran contains remnants of religious stories that can ultimately be traced back to these religions.

So, the religious ideas and rites found in Islam and the Quran can clearly be traced back to the influences of pre-Islamic culture. custom and religious life. Archaeologists have unearthed many examples of pre-Islamic art which includes their idols and symbols of worship. Mecca contained one of the most important, the Kabah, in which was placed the black stone, long an object of worship.

 

3. The Beginning of Islam

The founder of Islam is Muhammad (AD 570 -632). Muhammad was born in Mecca to Abdullah and Aminah. He was born into the Quraysh tribe, which was in control of the city of Mecca and which acted as the custodian of the Kabah and of the religious worship centred around it.

Muhammad's father died before he was born, and his mother died while he was still young. He was sent to live with his rich grandparents, who later sent him to live with a wealthy uncle, who in turn passed him on to a poor uncle who raised him as well as he could.

According to the biographers and early Muslim traditions, no outstanding achievements were accomplished by Muhammad in his early life. He was a normal Arab boy who enjoyed talking with those who traveled in the caravans. He loved to explore the desert and particularly the caves.

According to the early Muslim traditions, the young pagan Muhammad experienced different visions. There is a trustworthy account in which Muhammad claimed that a heavenly being had split open his stomach, stirred his insides around, and then sewed him back up! (Ref: Sura 94:1}

Muhammad's life was uneventful as a young man. At the age of 25 he was tending a caravan. The woman who owned it was 15 years older than he was and a widow. She fell in love with him and married him. Together they had two sons, though both died young, and four daughters. After he married the wealthy widow, Muhammad lived a life of leisure and his duties were limited to running the family stand in the market.

At the age of 40 Muhammad experienced once again a visitation. As a result of his religious experience, he ultimately claimed that Allah had called him to be a prophet and an apostle. It must be pointed out that there was no tradition of being a "prophet" or "apostle " in Arabian religion.

According to Muslim traditions, an angel of Allah called Gabriel appeared to Muhammad to reveal the Quran which was supposed to have been written by Allah from eternity. But it was revealed to Muhammad in parts. There are no human authors of the Quran. Allah speaks through the angel Gabriel to man, and man is the receiver and not the originator or the Quran.

Muhanunad at first shared his call only with the family and friends in secret. Indeed, his first converts were some members of his own family. But soon his message became public, and he became subject to ridicule and hostility by the population at large and even by members of his own family. At one point the hostility against Muhammad was such that people in Mecca laid siege to the section of the city where Muhammad lived.

In order to appease his pagan family members and the members of the Quraysh tribe, he decided that the best thing he could do was to admit that it was perfectly proper to pray to and worship the three daughters of Allah: Al-lat, Al-uzza and Manat! This led to the famous "satanic verses" in which Muhammad in a moment of weakness and supposedly under the inspiration of Satan succumbed to the temptation to appease the pagan mobs in Mecca (Sara 53:19). The story of Muhammad's temporary appeasement of the pagans is a fact of history that is supported by all Middle East scholars, Western and Muslim.

Because of the ridicule and fast growing hostility, Muhammad eventually fled to Medina, a town 250 mites away from Mecca, in AD 622. This event is called hijra by the Muslims and marks the beginning of the Muslim era and calendar.

While at Medina, Muhammad planned and organised the spread of his new religion. The only powerful method be could use was that of violence in the name of Allah--the jihad. This jihad was so successful, despite so many oppositions, that at Muhammad's death in AD 632 half of the Arabic world had become Muslim, and by AD 750 the Muslims had conquered the. Persian and large parts of the Byzantine empires. Muhammad based his new religion at Mecca.

 

4. The Law of Islam

The law of Islam is called the Sharia, which means the path to a waiting place. For the Muslims it is revealed/derived from four sources, which are:

i. the Quran, supposed to have been revealed by an angel to Muhammad;

ii. the Hadith, a record of words and deeds of Muhammad by his relatives and friends;

iii. the Sunnah, or acts of Muhammad;

iv. the Ijma, consensus of the Muslim community or of its leading scholars.

 

5. The Beliefs of Islam (Aqa'ed)

The beliefs of Islam, according to the Quran and Muslim traditions are six:

i, belief in Allah;

ii. belief in the prophets;

iii. belief in the day of judgment (therefore belief in heaven and hell);

iv. belief in the revealed books;

v. belief in the angels;

vi, belief in fate or providence.

Every Muslim must believe and profess these beliefs. If any Muslim renounces Islam be becomes an apostate and will be liable to the greatest punishment, death.

 

6. The obligations of Islam

Every Muslim is bound to observe the following obligations:

i. belief in the oneness of Allah and his prophet Muhammad;

ii. offering of daily prayers;

iii. almsgiving;

iv. observing the fast of Ramadan (3t1 days);

v, performing hajj to the Kabah in Mecca once in a lifetime, if possible.

 

Every Muslim is obliged to pray 5 times a day. He has to choose a mosque for prayers, if not he should turn towards the direction of Mecca from wherever he is. The prayer always begins with a profession of faith in Allah, which is: "La ilaha ill’Allah wa Muhammad rasul Allah - there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger."

The Quran has to be read daily, at least a chapter, and it has to be read in Arabic. There is also a rosary prayer called the tasbih which contains 100 beads. A Muslim has to say this at least once a day if he can, saying: "Al1 glory and praise be to Allah and thanks to him. A11 glory and praise be to Allah, the great".

The preferable and most suitable place of prayer is a mosque. Neither a woman nor a non-Muslim are allowed inside. According to Islam they would defile it! Before entering a mosque a Muslim must perform the ritualistic ablution prescribed by the Quran. If he finds himself in the middle of the desert at the time of prayer he should cleanse himself with desert sand!!

Friday is sacred for the Muslims and it is the best of all days according to Muslim traditions. For on a  Friday, according to Islam, Adam was created by God, expelled from Paradise and was readmitted. The day of judgment will be on a Friday. Muhammad too, according to Islamic tradition, was born ,on a Friday. So Friday is a day of prayer and good works for the Muslims.

According to the Quran Friday is so great and excellent that even the fire of hell which is stirred up every day at noon won't be stirred up on Friday because of its excellence! The Quran clearly states the existence of heaven and hell. Heaven is represented in a very materialistic, sensual and human way. Also, heaven is promised to those Muslims who would fight in the jihad and die in it.

(to be continued)

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