Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Islam - Muhammad

The founder of Islam is the prophet Muhammad. His full name is Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim. Alternate spellings of Muhammad are: Mohammed, or Muhammed. He was born June 8, 570 CE (Common Era) in the city of Mecca in what is today Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic faith is so associated with the name Mohammad that I remember as a kid we were taught that people belonging to this faith group were referred to more frequently as Mohammadans than Muslims or Islamists. Only weeks before his birth, Mohammad’s father died, followed a few years later by his mother’s death. Mohammad was subsequently raised by his grandfather, and then his uncle who trained him to become a businessman and a tradesman.

As is often the case with religious leaders and founders, very little is known about their childhood. It is said that while conducting business for his uncle, the young man, Mohammad, would exemplify the highest standards of integrity to the degree that he earned a nickname of El-Amin, meaning, “The one you can trust.”

During one of his business trips, he met a wealthy widow by the name of Khadija. Knowing of his reputation, she hired him to conduct her business affairs. By this time in his early twenties, he had become such an adroit businessman that he was able to earn a significant profit for her business ventures. The two grew close and eventually she proposed to him. When they were married he was about twenty-five, and she was nearly forty. They had six children together, two boys and four girls. Neither of the boys survived infancy.

With all of Mohammad’s prosperity, along with his stature in the burgeoning city of Mecca, he was not satisfied with life as it was. The rampant materialism, greed, and local idol worship which he experienced living in Mecca weighed heavily on him. In the year 610 during a personal retreat in a mountain cave outside of the city, he was engaged in fasting and prayer. He was supposedly visited by an overpowering presence. He was so overcome by this experience that he would not speak of it for several years. One version of what took place goes like this: “During the month of Ramadan, Mohammad received his first revelation from the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel said to Muhammad: ‘Iqraa,’ meaning ‘read’ or ‘recite.’ He replied, ‘I cannot read.’ Gabriel embraced Muhammad and after releasing him repeated: ‘Iqraa.’ Muhammad's answer was the same as before. Gabriel repeated the embrace, asking Muhammad to repeat after him and said: ‘Recite in the name of your Lord who created! He created man from that which clings. Recite; and thy Lord is most Bountiful, He who has taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not.’"

Thus began the formation of what would become the Muslim faith. This was also the impetus for the development of the Qur’an (Koran), the Muslim holy book. As the story goes, the Archangel Gabriel visited Mohammad routinely over the next twenty-five years. On each occasion Mohammad was instructed to write down the words given by Gabriel. This became the Holy Koran. During this time, Mohammad also wrote down his own thoughts and musings, developing a significant amount of material. “The Prophet's sayings and actions are recorded separately in collections known as Hadith. Muslims believe that Muhammad was a messenger of Allah (Arabic for The One and Only God) and [the] last of the prophets sent by Allah to guide man to the right path.”

The outcome of this experience would place Mohammad at a crisis point in his life: Would he continue as a now wealthy businessman, or would he follow a path outlined by Allah? Put another way, “Would he accept the mantle of ‘Prophet,’ and thereby lead this fledgling religion into the future, or simply continue on in life as he had always done?”

As history has borne out, he accepted the role as the Last Prophet of God, following the succession of the all the prophets, starting with Adam. “The Prophet's mission was to restore the worship of the One True God, the creator and sustainer of the universe.”

“Muhammad is the model of Qur'anic behavior for Muslims. They mention his name by adding "peace be upon him," a phrase used with the name of all the prophets. Muslims try to follow the Qur'an and the Prophet's example in every detail.”

One of Mohammad’s sayings reveals quite a bit about him, but poses a serious question as to where Islam is heading in our world today. He said, “Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms, and prayers? Making peace between one another: enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots.”

Mohammad died in 632 after being poisoned by a Jewish woman. What began as a religion comprised of some family members and a few friends grew to several hundred thousand by the time of his death. Today Islam is growing at a rate of 70,000 converts a day.

Next week we will consider the “Militant Mohammad.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Islam - 5 Pillars

Islam is a faith that was founded in the 7th Century C.E., which means Common Era, a term now used in place of the A.D. (Anno Domini). In recent years the use of A.D. has fallen into disfavor with historical revisionists, a term used for centuries to indicate the time from the birth of Jesus Christ to the present. With the continued secularization of American culture, historians are erasing the Christian influence from recorded history.

This week in our attempt to gain some understanding of a religion that is confusing to most of us in the Western world, we will briefly look at Islam’s Five Pillars of Faith. Over the years I have sat to discuss the Muslim faith with various leaders of this faith, from Navy chaplains to Imams in Manama, Bahrain, gaining insight into Islam along with written material. I have also spent time inquiring about the faith of friends who are Muslim. This in itself does not make me an expert on Islam, but rather a curious student.

The first pillar in Islam is the Profession of Faith. This is called Iman. This can be summed up in the statement, "There is none worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." This is called the Shahadah. All faithful Muslims profess this declaration.

The second pillar is Prayer, or Salah. This is the term used in identifying prayer offered five times a day by devout Muslims who stop, face in the direction of Mecca, bow to the ground and recite prayers. These prayers are ritually held in mosques where an Imam gathers the faithful. The Imam is selected by the members of the mosque because of his extensive knowledge of the Muslim Holy Book, the Koran, or Qur’an. The prayers are taken from the Qur’an and are recited in unison in Arabic. Personal prayers may be offered at any time and anywhere.

The third pillar is Charity, or Zakah. This is very loosely interpreted to cover just about anything from a large financial gift to a simple smile. The principle underscoring charity is that everything belongs to God; therefore, by whatever means you are financially equipped, you are to give of your largesse generously and with liberality to either poor brethren, or the local mosque. There is an expected annual payment of a fortieth of a person’s personal income and possessions.

The fourth pillar is Fasting, or Sawm. Most Westerners have become aware of the month of Ramadan when Muslims enter into a period of fasting. This is a daily exercise requiring the faithful to abstain from food, drink, and sexual relations with their spouses. The daily period of time for fasting is from sunrise to sunset. It is not a 24 hour daily fast lasting an entire month. However, at the end of the month, Muslims celebrate the breaking of the fast in what is called Eid al-Fitr. During this celebration people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family. The month of Ramadan for 2011 begins August 1st. "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint." (Qur'an 2:183)

The fifth pillar is Pilgrimage, or Hajj. The city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia is considered to be holy by Muslims. All able-bodied Muslims with the financial means are to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. Pilgrims to Mecca are to wear very simple non-descriptive clothing so as not to reveal any class distinction. Once in the city pilgrims are to circle seven times around the Ka’bah (a cube-shaped building supposedly going back to Abraham), and then seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa, in remembrance of Abraham’s wife, Hagar, who searched seven times for water in this same area according to Muslim teaching. The pilgrims later stand together on the wide plains of Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Mecca) and join in prayer for God's forgiveness in what is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgment.

As I move through this series of articles on Islam it is my intention to provide my own observations as suitable to the topic.

Next week I will begin an overview of Muhammad.