Islam, Part I
For years I have been troubled by the religion of Islam. Of
course, I can''t say I really understood it that well so these next
few essays are as much about educating myself as they are about
stating an opinion.
One of my sports heroes is Muhammad Ali. I always bemoaned
the fact that he didn''t know when to stop because there is no
doubt that Ali could have done a world of good as a peacemaker.
And as a disciple of Islam, Ali seemed to me to be the perfect
representative of his religion. No one can doubt that over his
career, since he adopted the faith, he has been sincere in his
beliefs. Unfortunately, most of us only see the other side of the
religion he espouses. Is it any wonder then, that anti-Muslim
prejudice is as strong as ever when for decades now we have seen
suicide bombers and terrorists, purporting to represent the best of
Islam, attempt to destroy (or at least disrupt) the civilized world''s
way of life?
In my Week in Review of 10/30/99, I included a quote from
strategist Jack Wheeler which I found compelling.
"Islam has tragically become a religious dead-end, ruined by the
great social poison of the 20th century, envy. Marxism and
Communism are fueled by class-based envy towards ''the rich
exploitative bourgeois,'' nazism fueled by race-based envy
towards ''the rich exploitative West.'' And what is the source of
envy? Impotence. The hatred of the success of others due to the
conviction that you are not capable and competent enough to
similarly succeed, so your goal becomes to destroy that which
you can not achieve for yourself."
The recent reaction to the possibility that EgyptAir 990 may have
succumbed to a suicide pilot is an example of the inflamed
feelings of many in the Middle East. The thought that somehow
the U.S. and Israel are out to get Muslims. Just yesterday in the
Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pipes wrote an op-ed piece on the
public reaction in Egypt to this tragedy. "Conspiracy thinking can
be found anywhere, but in the Middle East it dominates at the
highest levels of the government, the media, the academy and the
In order to understand Islam, it only makes sense to begin by
defining some key terms and principles. To some of you this may
seem simplistic. If so, you can pick up the story next week.
Islam was founded by the prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the
early 7th century. More specifically, members of the faith, who
call themselves Muslims, date the beginning of the Islamic faith
from AD 622, the year of Muhammad''s "Hejira" (or journey)
from Mecca to Medina. [We will cover this in far greater detail
At the heart of Islam stands the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.
According to Muslim belief, the Koran contains the actual word
of God (Allah) as revealed by the angel Gabriel to the prophet
Muhammad. Muhammad is said to have received these
revelations over two decades beginning AD 610 and ending in
632, the year of his death. The 114 suras (chapters) of the Koran
are the source of Islamic belief and a guide for the whole life of
The central teachings of the Koran are that there is no God but
Allah and all must submit to Him, that Muhammad is the last of
His many messengers (which have included Abraham, Moses and
Jesus), and that there will come a day of judgement.
Muslims submit to the will of Allah through five basic precepts or
First, the shahadah, "there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is
Second, salah, five daily ritual prayers. At the Mosque a Muslim
performs ritual ablutions (the washing of one''s body or part of it)
before praying to God in an attitude of submission, kneeling on a
prayer mat facing Mecca with head bowed, then rising with hands
cupped behind the ear''s to hear God''s message.
Third, zakat or alms-giving. [I see, kill the rich and make life
even more miserable for the poor...sorry.]
Fourth, sawm, fasting during Ramadan.
Fifth, Hajj, the pilgrimmage to Mecca.
Let''s just formally define some of the terms tossed out above.
Mecca: The holiest city of Islam and the birthplace of
Muhammad. Only Muslims are allowed in the city. Mecca was
originally home to an Arab population of merchants. When
Muhammad began his ministry here, many rejected him and he
was forced to flee (the Hejira) to Medina in 622. In Mecca the
Great Mosque enclosed the Kaabe, the central shrine. Each
pilgrim who undertakes the Hajj (the pilgrimmage) circles the
shrine 7 times, touching the Black Stone for forgiveness. The
Black Stone is said to have been given to Abraham by the
Ramadan: Ninth month of the Islamic year, set aside for fasting.
Throughout Ramadan, the faithful must abstain from food, drink
and sex between sunrise and sunset. [At night, I guess it''s party
till you drop.] During Ramadan, the faithful are also encouraged
to read the whole of the Koran in remembrance of the "Night of
Power," when Muhammad is said to have received his first
revelation from Allah via Gabriel. [I can just picture the typical
Muslim homestead around this time of year. Little Osama, "Oh
Mom, do we have to read the Koran again?!" "Yes, the whole
During the 8th century, Islam experienced rapid growth. The
Koran was soon supplemented by the informal, scriptual
elaborations of the "sunna" (Muhammad''s sayings and deeds)
collated as the "Hadith."
While Islam stresses the importance of the unity of the summa
(nation) of Islam, several distinctive branches developed, as
Sunni: The traditional orthodox branch of Islam, followers are
called ''Ahl as-Sunnah'' ("People of the Path"). It is followed by
90% of Muslims. Sunnis accept the Hadith and they differ from
the Shi''a sect in that they accept the first four caliphs (religious
leaders) as the true successors of Muhammad.
Shi''a: 2nd-largest branch of Islam. Shiites believe that the true
successor of Muhammad was Ali, whose claim to be Caliph was
not recognized by Sunni Muslims. It rejects the sunna and relies
instead on the pronouncements of a succession of holy men called
Imams. [In Iran, Ayatollah Khomenei''s Shiite theocracy stressed
the role of Islamic activism in liberation struggles.]
Sufism: Mystic philosophical movement that stresses the
capability of the soul to attain personal union with God. With
Sufism is the Dervish community. The chief devolution of
dervishes is "dhikr" (remembering of God). It''s encouragement
of emotional display and hypnotic trances has earned dervishes
the epithet "whirling." [If you see one approaching you on the
street, cross to the other side quickly.]
Next week, the life of Muhammad.
Note: For the record, I am a Catholic who goes to church on a
regular basis. I suspect I may, over the next few weeks, offend
some of you once we get into the guts of the story. It is only my
intention to blast the terrorists and dirtballs who hide behind the
cloak of Islam.