Some excerpts from the book “Islam and Muslim” (196) – Al-Ahsa Islamic Center (Discover Islam Series Issue #1)
“ISLAM” and “MUSLIMS”:
Definitions and description
2. Who is a Muslim?
Any person, anywhere in the world, who submits himself/herself to the will of the One True God and who organizes his/her life according to the teachings of the last Prophet of God. A Muslim is one who practises Islam.
3. Where do the names “ISLAM” and “MUSLIM” come from?
These are God-given names, found in the QUR’an – the final revelation from God.
The only [true] way of life (or religion) in the sight of God is ISLAM. (Qur’an, chapter 3: verse 19)
… It is He Who has named you MUSLIMS, both before and in this [Revelation];.. (22:78)
4. Can Islam also be called “Mohammedanism”, and Muslims called “Mohammedans”?
No. These are inaccurate terms coined by non-Muslim Western scholars, the “orientalists”. Muslims reject these terms, since they offend the very spirit of Islam. Muslims do not worship Mohammed (peace be upon him) but regard him as a human who was a Prophet and Messenger of God; nor is Islam limited to Mohammed (pbuh) alone, but goes much beyond this and recognizes all other Prophets of God with respect and reverence.
7. Does the word “ISLAM” have any meaning?
Yes. “ISLAM” means total submission or self-surrender to the will of the One True God. It has a further shade of meaning: peace. In fact, these two meanings are not separate, but are related to each other. Thus, “Islam” is the attainment of peace through a loving and total submission to the will of the One True God.
10. What about the names of other religions? Do they also have functional meanings?
No. The names of other religions are essentially the identification titles rather than descriptive and functional names.
1- These names have no particular intrinsic significance; they were simply derived from the name of a person, as in the case of Christianity, which was named after Christ, Buddhism after Buddha; or from the name of a tribe, as Judaism was named after the tribe of Judah; or after the name of a place, as Hinduism was named after Hind (a variation of Sindh, or Indus in English). By contrast, the name “Islam” represents the central principle of God’s religion: total submission to the will of God. It is an attributive or a descriptive title, a name with great significance.
2- These names were not given by God, or the Prophets of God, or even by their followers; these were adopted by the people outside the faith, like the name Christianity which was first referred to by pagans and the Jews in a derogatory manner. But the name “Islam” was given by God.
3- These names were adopted not during the lifetime of the respective prophets, but much later.
ISLAM BEFORE MOHAMMED (PBUH)
16. Isn’t Islam a new religion founded or started by Mohammed (pbuh)?
No. Islam, as a matter of fact, is the world’s oldest religion. Mohammed (pbuh) never claimed that he brought to the people a new religion. The Holy Qur’an mentions:
The same religion He has established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah – that which We have revealed to you (O Mohammed) – that which We enjoined on Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, that ye should remain steadfast in religion and make no divisions therein. (42:13)
Say ye: “We believe in God, and that which has been revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and to the Prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between one and another of them, and to Him we submit [in Islam]”. (3:84)
18. Do you mean that the religion of Jesus (pbuh) was likewise Islam?
Yes, his religion was no other than Islam. Consider the following points:
1- As Jesus (pbuh) submitted his will to the will of the One True God, he was a “Muslim”. In the Bible we find many references indicating that Jesus was teaching people “to believe in the One True God, and to keep the commandments of God, or to do the will of God”. The single word (in Arbic) for this concept is “ISLAM”. Some examples of Jesus’ (pbuh) teachings from the Gospels:
My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to complete His work. (John 4:34)
I can do nothing on my own. As I hear I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will, but the will of Him who sent me. (John 5:30)
… There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. (Matthew 19:17)
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the Only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (12:50)
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. (Matthew 5:17,18)
2- Jesus never claimed that he founded “Christianity”, or any religion for that matter. In fact, the word “Christian” was used for the first time by Pagans and Jew derogatorily, after Jesus (pbuh) had left this world. The Bible states:
… And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:26)
As for the word “Christ”, it is an English derivative from the Greek word “Kristos”, meaning “anointed” (messiah in Hebrew). Jesus spoke neither English nor Greek; his language was Armaic, a sister language to Arabic and to classical Hebrew.
3- Also, we find Jesus (pbuh) with Islamic observances, like: praying, fasting, greeting others, etc. Examples:
a- He prostrated in prayer, like Muslims.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed… (Matthew 26:39)
b- He fasted for forty days. (quotation Matthew 4:2)
c- He greeted people saying: “Peace be unto you”, which means Assalam Alaikum in Arabic, as Muslims do.
… came Jesus and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you. (John 20:19)
20. What about the Muslim position regarding the Hindu Lords Rama and Krishna and also regarding Buddha?
These persons could also be prophets of God who were raised up in their respective parts of the world (India), since according to the Qur’an, God has sent prophets and messengers to every nation throughout history. According to a saying of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), the number of prophets raised up in the world was around 124,000; only 25 or so have been mentioned by name in the Qur’an. If indeed Rama, Krishna and Buddha were prophets, their teachings have certainly been corrupted. This is understandable when we consider that in those very olden times writing materials were not developed or readily available, communication was primitive and perfect preservation of the original material for a long time was very difficult. When we can notice misconceptions about the personality of Jesus (pbuh), who lived only 2000 years ago, no wonder there has been a much more severe distortion in the original teachings and actual personalities of the earlier prophets, having less authentic historical records. Myths and stories about them, circulating among their followers now, bear no authenticity or authority from God.
Therefore, we can say that there is every possibility that Rama, Krishna, and Buddha also were equally the prophets of God, their original teachings having not been preserved intact.
22. How do Muslims regard other religions?
Muslims regard other religions as stages or links to the same faith. They do not regard them as religions (plural), but rather as the same original religion (Islam) which later lost its purity in various degrees at various times and places, and because of the historical factors took different names.
Therefore, Islam should not be seen as in competition with any of these so-called religions, but rather is to be viewed as the true and purified form of all these religions.
23. If Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was sent for all the people of the world, shouldn’t his coming have been prophesied in earlier Scriptures?
Yes. Though the earlier Scriptures are not preserved in their original form and have undergone changes with the passage of time, still we find recognizable glimpses of such prophecies pointing to Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Examples:
Prophecies about the advent of Mohammed (pbuh) in earlier Scriptures world-wide indicate that:
a- The source of all the revelaed religions is the same, or in other words, the religion of all the earlier prophets was the same (“Islam”).
b- The awaited Prophet, i.e. Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), is the universal Prophet. All people should now follow his teachings.
MUSLIMS & ISLAM TODAY
31. If it is claimed that Islam is the true religion, then how is it that we find some bad examples among the Muslims?
This is unfortunate. But it is the case in all societies in the world that we find some bad examples. It has something to do with the nature of the people itself rather than with the religion. Muslims are also human beings, not supernatural, and are prone to commit mistakes and to go the wrong way. Satan, the enemy of man, and always active in trying to keep man away from the right path, succeeds at times.
The bad behavior found among Muslims is mainly due to a lack of proper Islamic knowledge, the influence of materialistic societies, and weak faith in their hearts. Therefore, it is not correct to judge Islam by the behavior of Muslims, but it is Muslims who should be judged by the Islamic principles.
33. Can you give examples of Muslim contributors?
A handful of brief examples illustrating the famous Muslim contributors:
– Ibn Sina, known to the West as Avicenna, (980 – 1037 C.E. – Christian Era, or Common Era). He was a multidimensional personality with varied interests, ranging from natural sciences to art. He wrote on diverse fields like philosophy, medicine, geometry, astronomy, theology, philology and art. His famous works include: “Kitab al Shifa” (Book of Healing) and “Qanun fil Tibb” (The Canon of Medicine), a medical encyclopedia which remained supreme in the West for over 600 years.
– Al-Razi, known to the West as Rhazes, (865 – 925 C.E.), was one of the greatest physicians of all times. His classic work “Al Hawi” or “The Comprehensive Book”, is an encyclopedia of over ten volumes. He was the first physician to write a book on pediatrics. He also wrote “Kitab ul Asrar”, a classic of chemistry.
– Al-Khawarizmi, known to the West as Algorizm (Algorithm), (780 – 850 C.E.), a celebrated mathematician, remembered as the “Father of Algebra”, combined the Greek and Indian Traditions of mathematics and introduced the Arabic numerals to Europe. His book “Hisab al Jabr wal Muqabla” is an outstanding work on algebra. He was a celebrated geographer as well. His work on geography: “The shape of the Earth” was an advancement of Ptolemy’s work. He was responsible for the production of the first map of the world (830 C.E.).
– Ibn Al-Haytham, known to the West as Alhazen, (965 – 1040 C.E.), was a mathematician and physicist who revolutionized the science of light, and was the forerunner of the modern science of optics. He wroet 62 treaties on different subjects.
– Jabir Ibn Hayyan, known to the West as Geber, (died 803 C.E.) was the “Father of Chemistry”, who was credited with the discovery of several chemical compounds and wrote about a hundred books on chemistry and pharmacology. Until the 18th century his treaties were the most influential in Europe and Asia.
– Al Baytar (d. 1248 C.E.) was the greatest botanist and pharmacist of Spain. His books on pharmacology “The Complete Book of Simple Drugs” and “The Sufficient Book of Simple Drugs” were regarded as landmarks in the development of pharmacology.
– Al Jahiz (776-868 C.E.) wrote the most famous book on zoology “Kitab al Haywan” (the Book of Animals) and was the first scientist to note changes in birds’ lives through migration.
– Jabir Ibn Aflah was the first astronomer to design a portable celestial sphere to measure the movements of celestial objects.
– Al Kindi, known to the West as Al-Kindus, (801 – 873 C.E.) wrote 265 treaties on subjects like physics, arithmetic, astronomy, medicine, pharmacy, philosophy, comparative religion and politics.
– Al Jazari’s (12th century C.E.) “The Book of Knowledge and Mechanical Contrivances” became a standard work on mechanics.
– Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1395 C.E.) was the first historian to write on the philosophy of history and civilization. His monumental work in seven huge volumes entitled “The Book of Examples and Collections from Early and Later Information Concerning the Days of Arabs, Non-Arabs and Berbers” is a reference work concerning the rise and decline of civilizations.
– Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1369 C.E.) was a famous traveler who started his travels at the age of 20, set out for pilgrimage to Mecca and began a journey of three decades and 75,000 miles, covering North Africa, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Nile, the Red Sea, Asia Minor, Black Sea, Crimea, Constantinople, Afghanistan, India and China.
THE MISTAKEN NOTIONS
39. What about “jihad” or ‘holy-war’?
Jihad is another misunderstood and misinterpreted term. Usually, it is interpreted as waging a ‘holy-war’ against non-Muslims, or as religious intolerance. The word ‘holy-war’ (harb-muqaddasa in the Arabic language) does not occur in either in the Qur’an or in the Prophet’s traditions – the basic sources of Islamic teachings. As for religious intolerance, this is totally against the teachings of Islam. Islam uphold the sanctity of all human life and protects the freedom of beliefs and worship for the followers of other religions.
The meaning of the Arabic word jihad is ‘to strive, to struggle, or to exert’. The prime jihad, as the Prophet (pbuh) explained it, is at the level of one’s own ‘self’, which is the struggle against one’s evil intentions and inclinations, or for self-purification. At another level, it is a struggle in the community or society to remove evil, indecency and oppression, but this is to be done by using wisdom and means that are just and fair. There is yet another level of struggle on a wider scope wherein force is allowed, but under certain conditions and restrictions. This is aimed at restoring peace and justice in society, and is not to be motivated when carried out with ethnic or nationalistic prejudices. To defend oneself against an evil or against oppression is a basic human right; likewise every nation in the world has the right to safeguard itself against oppressive powers.
40. How about the matter of four wives – the question that is commonly associated with Islam?
To have more than one wife was not invented or introduced by Islam. It has been, and still is, a universal practice among mankind. Even in countries which are proponents of a “one-wife” theory, the practice of a man having relations with more than one woman does exist unofficially, even if it is not called polygamy.
The misunderstanding on this issue develops if the marriage to more than one wife is somehow considered as a religious requirement or as a licentious and irresponsible behavior towards a woman. The fact is that Islam has permitted polygamy as an optimal solution to certain social problems, allowing a certain latitude to human nature but only within a strictly defined framework of the law.
We find in the Bible that the Prophets are known to have had more than one wife, and that no Prophet has prohibited this practice. We do not find that Jesus (pbuh) himself even uttered a single word against polygamy.
The Islamic viewpoint, in brief, is as follows:
1- In Islam, marriage is not a business deal negotiated by two parties. It is something solemn and sacred. It is a contract to which God Himself is the first witness or the first party, and it is concluded in His name, in obedience to Him and in accordance with His commands. Its major elements are chastity, social integrity, human stability, spiritual elevation, love, peace and mercy. The Qur’an states:
… He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between you (or your hearts); verily in that are signs for those who reflect. (30:210
2- For a man to marry four women is not an injunction or a requirement; it is a”permission” or a “concession” which is given with certain ‘conditions’ to be fulfilled by a man who wants to marry more than one woman, such as dealing justly with all of them in providing food, housing, clothing, kind treatment, etc.
… Marry women of your choice, two or three or four, but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly [with them] then only one, … (4:3)
3- This permission is given for a man to “marry”, and not to ‘buy’ or ‘seduce’, nor is license given for lewdness and lust.
… provided you seek [them in marriage] with gift from your property – desiring chastity, not lust … (4:24)
It is not an open-ended permission; it puts restrictions on the number of women to be taken in marriage – up to four, as well as on the overall situation. In fact, Islam is the only religion that has put such restrictions on plurality in marriage.
Willingness on the part of the woman is an essential requirement for the marriage to be lawful. No one can force a woman to marry a married man, or any other man, for that matter.
4- Islam is the religion for all people and for all times. So, it has to be flexible enough to suit all situations in human life, in all places; it has to offer solutions to all human problems. Thus, when women outnumber men in a society (e.g. as a result of war or natural disasters), or when a woman is not capable of bearing children, or when a widowed or divorced woman needs protection for herself and for her young children, etc., a man’s taking her as an additional wife would be a humanitarian gesture and a good solution for all concerned. Then she can enjoy full social status and respect rather than becoming a victim of unhealthy and immoral circumstances or of loneliness.
5– Islam is a practical and a balanced religion. It recognizes man’s polygamous tendency, and instead of going against it, it rather molds it in such a fashion that is not harmful to him or to the society. On the other hand Islam allows him to have more than one wife, making him responsible in his conduct towards each one, and on the other hand it prescribes severe punishment for extra-marital relations.