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Shia Islam’s Answer to Anyone Who Believes Prophets Sinned

Of all the groups of people who believe in God’s prophets (Jews, Christians, Sabeans, Muslims, and more), Shia Muslims are the only ones who contend that all prophets of God (starting with Adam) were infallible in everything they said and did. This belief is the core belief that distinguishes a Shia from any other kind of Muslim and from any other adherent to an Abrahamic faith.

All prophets (and God-appointed interpreters of Scripture who came between prophets) are and were infallible in everything they said and did.

Sounds like a nice thing to say doesn’t it? How can we know it’s true?

Through logic. God gave humans the capacity to reason for a reason. You think science has the monopoly on reason and logic and proofs? Nothing in Islam is said to be true except through reason and logic and proofs. (Which is, incidentally, why a lot of converts to Islam cite Islam’s ability to answer their tough questions using logic as a factor in their conversion.)

Let’s start with the premise that God is absolutely just in every aspect and that God HAS to be absolutely just—he is incapable of being unjust. (This can be proven too, but I’m not going to cover that proof here since I’m writing for an audience who would agree that God is absolutely just.)

God created creatures of choice (e.g., humans for just one example—there are others) and creatures of no choice (e.g., animals, vegetation).

Because of God’s absolute justice, creatures of choice need to be put to the test in order to manifest their capacity of having choice. It would not be fair of God to put humans to the test without telling us what the test is and how to pass it, so he has sent Scripture to humankind to tell us what the test is and how to pass it.

The manual for humankind (Scripture) has to come from the absolute just being himself–if we were to rely on human ideologies as our source for what the truth is and how to pass the test, we would be led astray because humans are not all-knowing and are subject to being led astray.

God communicated to us what we need to know about the test (life on earth) through prophets. There have been 124,000 prophets to humankind counting Adam. In Islam, the prophets who were given the special task of communicating God’s laws to us are called messengers. All messengers were prophets, but not all prophets were messengers. Prophets call people to God’s right path in accordance with the previously revealed Scripture.

If God’s manual for this life were to land in our hands and we were to receive no correct interpretation of the manual, our own fallibility would lead us astray. We can see this from our own human history. Left to fallible human interpretation of Scripture, how many sects of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have formed? It would be unjust of God to make us rely on interpretations of other humans; absolute justice dictates Scripture be interpreted for us by an infallible person whose knowledge of the Scripture comes directly from God; absolute justice dictates that that person be infallible in everything they say and do.

What about people whose lifespans did not intersect the lifespans of prophets and messengers? It would be unjust for them to be left without an infallible interpreter of Scripture (infallible in interpretation and infallible in word and deed)…and, indeed, they were not so left. Between each prophet or messenger and the next prophet or messenger, a God-appointed infallible interpreter of Scripture existed. A chain of infallible interpreters of Scripture connect each prophet, and each one is announced publicly by the existing prophet or messenger or interpreter before his death.

Before Jesus departed from earth, he appointed, by God’s command, the infallible interpreter who was to carry on the true message after him. It was Simon Peter. Shia Muslims contend that had the church stayed with his teachings (and with his God-appointed successors’ teachings) instead of being led astray by Saul/Paul, who was not an infallible interpreter, Christianity would have stayed in line with God’s right path and Jesus’ true teachings.

An infallible prophet, messenger, or interpreter has existed and will exist at every second of time for as long as humankind exists in this test (life on earth). Their existence is necessary in order for our test on this earth to be just.

The infallible interpreter of Scripture appointed by God and announced publicly by Prophet Muhammad at Ghadeer Khum (the pond of Ghadeer) was Ali, given the title of Imam indicating his mandate from God to guide humankind until the next Imam’s appointed time. Shia Muslims are possibly the only people left on earth who know of and keep track of the chain of infallible interpreters (Imams) that existed between the last messenger’s death and the Day of Judgment when all humans’ tests culminate in a perfectly just judgment. And, yes, of course there is an infallible Imam (interpreter) alive today on earth. He is the last one; the one who will be alive on earth when Prophet Jesus returns to finish establishing the kingdom of God on earth.

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Islam Explained Part 5 of 5: Uncovering the Myths of Islamic History

First publication of a pamphlet from Intellectual Muslim

Throughout history, Islam has encountered opposition from both its rivals and its own followers. Even during the early years of Islam and under the prophet’s leadership, a group of Muslims (or so-called companions) opposed and sometimes violated the prophet’s commands at various occasions. While there existed true companions of the prophet who took upon themselves the responsibility of propagating and delivering the authentic message of Islam, there were those who viewed embracing Islam as a means for taking over the leadership of the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the world. Consequently, Islamic history has been written by those who used Islam for their own advantage disregarding the corruption and misguidance of its leaders and caliphs.

This phenomenon is not unique to Islam though. During the medieval ages, the Christian church exploited the message of Jesus to influence the lives of the masses and to suppress opposition, freedom of speech and freedom of knowledge-seeking. However, unlike Christianity in which the retaliation to the church has resulted in adopting secularism, there is little mention of similar incidents by Arabs and Muslims when looking into the history of Islam. A religion as great as Islam will manifest its greatness only by admitting the shortcomings committed by those who claimed to be followers of the religion while their motivation was earthly gains rather than following the teachings of Islam.

Hanging Onto the Profitable Status Quo

When Prophet Muhammad was chosen by Allah to deliver his message, Arabs (especially the elite) did not deny the existence of Allah nor did they find the message of Islam to be human-made or false. However, Arabs knew that Islam would take away their wealth, pride, and elatedness in two aspects. Firstly, Mecca was the center of the pilgrimage, and the Meccan tribes made huge monetary gains during these seasonal pilgrimage markets through trade and commercial transactions. Secondly, there were around 360 idols each of which was owned by a main tribe. Arabs considered these idols to be mediators between them and Allah; hence, Meccan tribes were in charge of caretaking for these idols which was a profitable business. As a result, Meccans realized that submitting to Allah meant to give up power, wealth, and arrogance and to be equated in treatment with slaves. To avoid power loss, they attempted to compromise the message of Islam either by offering the prophet leadership and money (which he clearly rejected) or by waging war on Islam and Muslims.

Plotting for Future Leadership

However, there were other Arabs who foresaw the importance of Islam in the future as means to rule others in the name of God. These Arabs embraced Islam with the expectation that they would eventually utilize their Islamic seniority to justify the legitimacy of their leadership after the death of Prophet Muhammad. This group included some who embraced Islam before the migration to Medina and many others who had no choice but to embrace Islam as the prophet took over Mecca and freed it from idols. It is those people who ended up ruling the Islamic world for tens of years after the death of the prophet. Condemning their motivations, the Quran speaks clearly to those Arabs “The Badwins say, ‘We believe.’ Say, ‘you have no faith; but you (only) say, ‘We have submitted our wills to Allah,’ for Faith has not yet entered your hearts.” [Chapter 49, Verse 14 of the Holy Quran]

Opposition to the Prophet

Some of those Muslims who later on took leadership of the Muslim nation have been cited opposing the prophet and exhibiting ill-mannered behavior. One of them was condemned in the Quran because of his disrespect to the prophet, “Those who shout out to you from without the Inner Apartments—most of them lack understanding.” [Chapter 49, Verse 4 of the Holy Quran] Some others never gave up their arrogance after embracing Islam and were condemned because of their arrogance as clearly mentioned in the Quran, “He frowned and turned away, because there came to him the blind man.” [Chapter 80, Verses 1-2 of the Holy Quran]

The Death of the Prophet

The prophet did not leave the Islamic world without a named leader. His cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib (hereandafter “Ali”), was clearly declared a few months before the death of the prophet to be his successor. The confusion and near-fighting amongst Muslims before the death of the prophet is clear in all Islamic history narrations. The prophet requested the companions to write his last testament; however, some Muslims (the ones who later took over leadership) refused and even accused the prophet of hallucinating thereby rejecting a basic concept of Islam which is the infallibility of prophets. While the true companions were busy burying the prophet, Meccans were busy arguing with citizens of Medina about who should be the successor of the prophet, ignoring the fact that the prophet had commanded them to take Ali as the leader.

After the death of the prophet, these caliphs made sure to repress all voices who challenged their legitimacy as caliphs. It is clear that these Meccans viewed Islam as a power-sharing religion to be divided among tribes. This is made clear when they argued by saying that Banu Hashim (the tribe to which the prophet belonged) could not possibly take ownership of both the message of Islam and the leadership of the Muslim nation.

Islam Without the Prophet

The post-prophet stage in Islamic history witnessed the use of religion to achieve earthly gains. During this era, wars were waged on neighboring nations with three choices given to the inhabitants, Islam, taxation, or death, a demand which clearly contradicts the commandments Allah stated in the Quran and the prophet’s way of preaching Islam to others. To convince Muslims (most of whom were faithful and honest,) these rulers utilized the media which was led by some scholars to interpret the scriptures justifying these wars and their merits. Compensated for and bought out by rulers, these scholars stood up in mosques encouraging Muslims to join the “jihad” army. They even made up hadiths to repress opposing views, especially those of the progeny of the prophet whom the prophet named as imams to lead Muslims after his death.

Forty years after the death of the prophet, the spread of Islam made it from the Persian Gulf all the way to the Atlantic Ocean including parts of Europe. Caravans full of women, young kids, gold, and other treasures were taken all the way to the center of the caliphs’ kingdoms in Damascus and Baghdad to be used by the members of the royal family and their followers. It is clear from the teachings of Islam that waging wars is not an allowable way to spread Islam Rather, it should spread as it did to the Indo-China subcontinent—by the high level of personal and commercial integrity exhibited by Muslim tradesmen which encouraged others to learn about and discover the Islam that shaped such behavior.

During the prophet’s time, Islam was never preached by force. To call for Islam, the prophet only sent written messages to other rulers inviting them to Islam. Contemporarily, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Islam is growing rapidly in Europe and the USA as Muslim communities migrate to the west.

Contemporary Events

The early scholars who misled Muslims set forth hadiths that promote violence in the name of Allah justifying the oppression by unjust rulers. According to some hadiths, a Muslim is supposed to obey his ruler even if the ruler is unjust and oppressive. Rulers throughout Islamic history have made sure that scholars continue promoting such hadiths which are in clear contradiction to the Quranic teaching “to relieve people (be they Muslims or non-Muslims) from oppression.” Umayyads, Abbasids, Ottomans, and current Muslim leaders have dominated the media to gain legitimacy and consequently deprive Muslims of their basic rights.

However, many Muslims have realized that such hadiths are made up by bought-out scholars. The revolutions that have taken place in Middle East in the second decade of this century are nothing but a way of rejecting what ancestors have falsely set forth and an initial step towards the return to the true teachings of Islam. With the new methods of media technology (internet and online social networks), corrupt leaders no longer dominate media and Muslims have (finally) realized that literature that promotes violence is not Islamic but is made up by bought-out scholars. Therefore, distorted history and misguidance by these scholars are the main reasons for the defaming of Islam in the name of God for centuries, and there is a new hope that Muslims are to admit the wrong-doing by their rulers and preach Islam by example.

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Islam Explained Part 4 of 5: The True Meaning of Jihad

First publication of a pamphlet from Intellectual Muslim

Do you imagine (O Muslims) that (all of) you will enter paradise, when Allah has not yet known those (of you) who have striven hard (in His way), nor yet known those (of you) who are steadfast? [Chapter 3, Verse 142 of the Holy Quran]

Imam Jafar al-Sadiq said “The Prophet of God dispatched a contingent of the army (to the battlefront). Upon their (successful) return he said ‘Blessed are those who have performed the minor jihad and have yet to perform the major jihad.’ When asked ‘What is the major jihad?’ the Prophet replied ‘The jihad of the self (struggle against self).” [Al-Majilisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 19, p.182, Hadith no. 31]

Imam Ali said “One who struggles against himself as to obey God, in the eyes of God, his station is that of a pious martyr.” [Al-Amidi, Ghurar ul Hikam wa Durar ul Kalim, Hadith no. 3546]

Misconceptions About Jihad

Since the tragic events of 9/11, the media have attempted to link the term jihad to not only those catastrophic events but to any other event in which a so-called “Muslim” commits an act of violence. Specifically, the media have portrayed the term jihad to mean “holy war.” On January 4, 2011, a guest on Fox News, when discussing the bombing of a church in Egypt, said a holy war is being fought in the Middle East now “not because we (America) want it to be, but because al Qaeda and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and various other radical Islamists and jihadists, they say it’s a religious war. That’s what a jihad means.” This statement could not be further from the truth. The purpose of this brochure is to demystify the term jihad, to give a better understanding of what the term means, to explain the two types of jihad, and to show how jihad applies in Christianity and is thus not a concept that applies exclusively to Muslims.

Definition of Jihad

If one were to inquire about the term jihad with any Arabic language expert he/she will tell you that jihad does NOT mean “holy war.”  Rather, the word jihad literally means to strive or to work hard for something.  For example, Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence is called a jihad in Modern Standard Arabic.  Moreover, the terminology of jihad is also applied to such movements as the fight for women’s liberation. In the Arabic language and Islamic terminology the meaning of striving for something can be bifurcated into two distinct dimensions: the major jihad and the minor jihad.  Each is discussed in turn below.

Major Jihad

The major jihad is the spiritual struggle. It is the struggle between two opposing forces within a person: (1)The divine power (the soul) that attracts the human being to conduct acts of goodness and kindness and (2) the satanic power (bodily desires) that tempts a person towards darkness and shame and invites a person to commit acts of evil and sin. In other words, the major jihad is the struggle against evil ideas, desires, and the powers of lust and anger. A person must strive against these evil desires and try to obey God’s commands and desires. As stated in the Holy Quran “Not equal are those believers who sit still, other than those who are disabled, and those who strive in the way of Allah with their wealth and their selves.” [Chapter 4, Verse 95 of the Holy Quran]

This struggle is much more difficult than fighting in a battlefield. Islamic teachings profess that one who succeeds in the major jihad can rise above the status of angels, and one who fails in this struggle can descend to a level below that of animals.

An example of the greater jihad is the mandatory obligation to fast during the month of Ramadan. Fasting is obligatory on every adult Muslim. Fasting is the perfect example of the greater jihad. Fasting enables a person’s soul to be liberated from the shackles of wishes and desires and moves a step further toward the lofty summits of knowledge and intellect. One moves a step closer to the kingdom of God by rising above all mundane needs. For this purpose, fasting puts a restriction on all such things which cause an increase in our desires and incline us toward pleasure. When a person endures such constraints, bonds with this world are broken and one comes closer to the Creator. Fasting also strengthens the spirit of sacrifice in a person and urges one to show compassion to people who are less fortunate. To experience hunger and thirst in a fast brings one closer to the poor and makes one realize their needs.

Minor Jihad

The minor jihad is the armed struggle. However, by no means does this mean unjustified use of violence in any circumstance. Aggression against any people, regardless of their religion, is NOT permitted in Islam. As stated in the Holy Quran, “he who slays a human being for other than murder (as punishment for killing another human being) or for spreading corruption in the land (it shall be) as though he has slain all mankind; and he who saves a human life, it shall be as though he has saved the entire mankind.” [Chapter 5, verse 32 of the Holy Quran] On the other hand, self-defense is an absolute right of every person and nation. Therefore, the minor jihad can be equated to self-defense against harm. Islam has allowed the minor jihad only to defend the Muslim people and their land and to maintain peace in Muslim society. Thus, it is clear that suicide bombers are acting against all tenets of Islam.

Jihad in Christianity

Jihad is not a concept exclusive to Islam. This concept is prevalent in the teachings of Christianity. The concept of minor jihad, or war in self-defense, is found throughout Christian teachings. Jesus is well known for his emphasis on love, forgiveness, and “turning the other cheek.” Thus, some find it shocking to find Jesus advised the disciples to buy a sword in Luke 22:36: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” This begs the question, “Did Jesus in this verse advocate the use of a sword for self-defense purposes?”

It is true that Jesus said to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-42. Nevertheless, many scholars do not believe pacifism is the essential point of his teaching in the Bible. The backdrop to this teaching is that the Jews considered it an insult to be hit in the face, much in the same way that we would interpret someone spitting in our face. This principle, rather than simply being a pacifist, would thus seem to be that Christians should not retaliate when insulted or slandered (see also Romans 12:17-21). Such insults do not threaten a Christian’s personal safety. The question of rendering insult for insult, however, is far different from defending oneself to protect oneself, family, friends, and society as a whole.

Self-defense, thus, is a tenet of Jesus’ teachings. Christ himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:14) When protecting one’s family or neighbor, a Christian is unselfishly risking his or her life for the sake of others. Therefore, not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission.

Furthermore, the major jihad in both Christianity and Islam has the exact same meaning; to strive against sin. There is no mention in the New Testament of this “striving” (jihad) being tied to anything except the spiritual life. This is clearly illustrated when Jesus told his disciples to “Strive to enter in at the narrow gate…”

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Islam Explained Part 3 of 5: Shia-Sunni Explained

First publication of a pamphlet from Intellectual Muslim

What is the meaning of the words shia and sunni?

Shia means “followers” or “supporters.” Later in Islamic history, the term came to be applied to the followers of Ali ibn Abi Talib (hereandafter “Ali”), the successors of Prophet Muhammad.

Sunna means “habit” or “usual practice.” Later, the term came to be applied to the Muslim group who claimed to be the followers of the habit of the prophet. In English, we generally use a different form of the word when referring to this sect—sunni.

Why is this topic important?

The Shia-Sunni topic is very important not only for Muslims but for everyone else in the world. The Shia-Sunni division is most felt in the Arab countries which control most of the oil distributed to the world. A slight instability in that region is quickly felt in the streets of California and New York where cars and factories pay steeply for the energy to produce and operate. For example, during the writing of this document in 2011, there is a major uprising in Libya. Even though Libya produces only 2% of the world’s oil supply, the price of oil rose to a record. If the Shia-Sunni division leads to civil wars in those regions, may Allah forbid, oil production there will halt resulting in jobs lost and poverty here in the U.S.

What is the historical background of the terms?

Prophet Muhammad was the head of the young Islamic state in Medina. Under his rule, two competing tribes (Aws and Khazrej) were united—the two tribes had been engaged in civil wars for years. Muslim immigrants from Mecca to Medina comprised a third group. A fourth group was comprised of seemingly Muslim hypocrites who could be categorized as one of two kinds: 1) citizens of Medina who were wary of the prophet upsetting the status quo, 2) a subset of the immigrants from Mecca to Medina who knew that Islam would emerge victorious eventually and were so reserving spots in the powerful new state. This specific group would come to play a major role in successfully dividing Muslims until this day.

During the presence of the Holy Prophet, the first three groups abandoned their differences and strove to propagate Islam and defend it from non-believers in Mecca. But only hours after the prophet passed away, all four groups competed to appoint a caliph despite the clear command from the prophet that Ali was to be the leader after him. Before the prophet passed away, he had appointed the obvious best Muslim in all regards, Ali, to be his successor. The prophet had said about Ali, “I am from Ali, and Ali is from me. He is the only representative of me.” After the prophet’s death, each group wanted to seize leadership. The Meccan hypocrites emerged as the winner by exploiting the differences between the Aws and Khazrej. The Meccan Abu Bakr became the leader of all groups.

A few influential Muslims sided with the righteous leader, Ali, and refused the quick nomination of Abu Bakr that had been conducted on the sly while Ali was absent, preparing the burial of the Holy Prophet. The individuals who sided with Ali were called shiatu Ali, and that was the first appearance of the group that was to be called shia.

There is no accurate date of when the other group was called sunni, but it is no later than the 8th century A.D. The term sunni used to refer to the collectors (i.e., actual people) of hadith (sayings, actions, and concurrences of the prophet.) These collectors relied on the sahabah (sing. sahabi) of the prophet as their source. A sahabi is anyone who lived during the prophet’s time period and saw him, not necessarily meeting him, or heard him speak, even for a brief moment. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, one of the four lines of Sunni jurisprudence and the leading authority of the Hanbali doctrine, widened the term to also include the adherents of all four Sunni subgroups.

Both Shias and Sunnis refer to the Quran as the first source of knowledge and to the prophet as the second. Their difference lies in how, or rather, from where, they get the information about what the prophet said and did. Sunnis refer to the sayings, actions, and concurrences of the prophet (hadith) as relayed by sahabah. Shias refer to the sayings, actions, and concurrences of the prophet as relayed through the infallible progeny of the prophet.

Is the Shia-Sunni issue only a political dispute?

Muslims believe that all prophets were infallible in their words and actions. The appointment of Ali by Prophet Muhammad to head up the Islamic state after the prophet’s death was an appointment free from error and originated through revelation from Allah (Arabic for God) to the prophet shortly before his death. This appointment was designed to direct and preserve Islam under the ruling of the most pious, the bravest, and the most knowledgeable person, Ali. He was to teach Muslims, and the world, about the interpretations of the Quran and distinguish correct from false teachings. Ali sought power in order to establish a just civilization, not to gain political power. But because power was shifted from Ali to unqualified people, oppressive rulers emerged and started causeless wars and oppressed people. The new kings started unlawful expansion wars to polish their image as propagators of Islam. From that day until today, the Islamic world has never experienced the just and good leadership that Allah has designed.

Why does it matter if you are a Shia or not?

Allah has declared many times in the Quran that to be worthy of his mercy, Muslims ought to follow the teachings of the prophet.

And whatsoever the messenger giveth you, take it. And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain (from it). And keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is stern in reprisal. (59:7)

And obey Allah and the messenger, that ye may find mercy. (3:132)

It is clear that obeying the prophet is equal to obeying Allah. The fate of the ones who disobey is made clear:

And whoso disobeyeth Allah and his messenger, lo! his is fire of hell, wherein such dwell for ever. (72:23)

It is essential to know what Allah is commanding us to do in these verses—Allah’s commandments are equal to what the prophet taught us what we must do and not do.

There have been numerous affirmations by the prophet that after his passing, Muslims should follow Ali, the head of the prophet’s progeny. For example, “I am about to answer the call (of death). Verily, I leave behind two precious things (thaqalayn) amongst you: the Book of Allah and my Ahl al-Bayt. Verily, the two will never separate until they come back to me by the side of the pond (in the hereafter).” Even famous Sunni scholars view this hadith as authentic:

  • al-Hakim al-Naysabouri in his book Al-Mustadrak ala al-Sahihayn
  • Muslim Bin Al Hajjaj in his book Saheem Muslim
  • Al-Nasa’I in his book Khasai’l Ali Bin Abi Talib
  • Ahmad bin Hanbal in his book Al-Musnad
  • Ibn Kathir in his book Tafseer al-Quran al-Adheemand many others more…

Honest investigators of the hadiths and the verses from the Quran will lead to only one conclusion—that Ali is the only one who must be followed to reach Allah’s happiness. Picking any other leader is putting oneself in the category of the ones who disobey the Holy Prophet.

How to handle the Shia-Sunni division

It is forbidden in Islam to force one’s opinion on others per the teaching in the Quran:

There is no compulsion in religion. (2:256)

Each soul earneth only on its own account, nor doth any laden bear another’s load. (35:18)

Unfortunately, anti-Shia remarks stream non-stop from Wahabi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia—“Shias are worse than Christians and Jews,” “Shias curse the sahabah of the prophet,” etc. These remarks have been the fuel for many suicide bombings in Shia-dominant Iraq that resulted in the killings of thousands of men, women, and children. Stopping these remarks would be a first step to ease the division between Shias and Sunnis. These sheikhs should be held accountable for their hate speech.

A second step would be the forthcoming of non-Wahabi Sunni scholars from Egypt, the head of the Sunni world, to condemn the hate crimes committed by Wahabis against Shias. Thirdly, Shias need to promote awareness about the true teachings of Islam amongst Muslims themselves. Last, but not least, Shias should be forthcoming to tell the world about Shia teachings. It is a personal responsibility, especially for ones who live in the West and have a notable level of freedom.

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Islam Explained Part 2 of 5: Islam and Culture

First publication of a pamphlet from Intellectual Muslim

What Is From Islam and What Is From Culture?

The last prophet of God may have been born into an Arab nation, but that does not mean Islam is only for Arabs anymore than it means Jesus’ message was only for Jews.

We in America tend to think that most Muslims are Arab, but a look at the statistics shows that that just is not true. According to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, more than 60% of the global Muslim population is in Asia, and only about 20% is in the Middle East and North Africa where Arabs are centralized. China, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. each have millions of Muslims.

Muslims themselves, and non-Muslims, need to realize that some of the things a Muslim does are dictated by the culture in which he or she lives and some of the things are dictated by religion—there is a fine line between cultural and religious influence.

The Quintessential Muslim Country Is Not…

In the collective American psyche, Saudi Arabia is the quintessential Muslim country which is unfortunate because many of the rules governing life in Saudi Arabia are not based in Islam, and not everyone knows which are and which are not. The infamous example of women not being allowed to drive is a law based on culture, not on Islam.

Even if a law in Saudi Arabia is said to be based on Islam, that does not mean it is based on true Islamic teachings. The Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia violates Islamic teachings, and it is well-known that the ruling family pays off clerics to preach untruths that suit the ruling family.

The Average Muslim Is Not…

Muslims who are raised in a predominantly Muslim culture do not always realize the boundaries between their cultural practices and the practices that are based in Islam. For example, many Somali immigrants in the U.S. think that Muslim women are not allowed to wear pants/trousers. While they may not wear pants in their culture, Islam does not prohibit women from wearing pants.

TV Is Not…

Muslims who instigate violence are surely not examples to look to see what Islam teaches. Christians say it again and again—do not look at the behavior of Christians to judge Christianity. We Muslims ask others to apply the same wise words when judging Islam. Do not judge Islam by the bad actions of Muslims.

…the Place to Find Out What Islam Really Teaches

One would think that the obvious way to find out what Islam teaches is to read the Quran, and , yes, we do not discourage reading the Quran, but it can also be another source of confusion. Like Lesley Hazleton says in her short speech titled On reading the Koran, “I know many well-intentioned non-Muslims who’ve begun reading the “Quran, but given up, disconcerted by its otherness… Part of the problem, I think, is that we imagine that the Quran can be read as we usually read a book—as though we can curl up with it on a rainy afternoon with a bowl of popcorn within reach, as though God…were just another author on the best-seller list.”

The Quran has clear and difficult verses, abstract and obvious verses, abrogating and abrogated verses, public and specific verses, unlimited and limited verses, and other verses which humans cannot understand. The Quran itself speaks to this:

It is He Who has sent down to you (O dear Prophet Mohammed—peace and blessings be upon him) this Book (the Qur’an) containing the verses that have a clear meaning—they are the core of the Book—and other verses the meanings of which are indistinct; those in whose hearts is deviation pursue the verses having indistinct meanings, in order to cause turmoil and seeking its (wrongful) interpretation; and only Allah knows its proper interpretation; and those having sound knowledge say, “We believe in it, all of it is from our Lord”; and none accept guidance except the men of understanding. 3:7

The Quran should be read alongside a trusted commentary. Here is one we recommend: S. V. Mir Ahmed Ali (Translator), The Holy Qur’an, Translation and Commentary

Another reason that reading the Quran may not be the best route for getting answers is that it would take a long time to read the entire Quran and the answer sought may not even be in the Quran. Many times people just want quick answers to a few questions.

Because so many Muslims conflate cultural practices with religious practices, there is a good chance of getting misinformation by asking any Muslim one knows or can find. It is best to ask questions of a Muslim who has been to seminary or who has read extensively about Islamic law, and, unfortunately, finding the imam (pastor, cleric) of the closest mosque is not a good way of finding a Muslim who has been to seminary. That is because most mosques are run by Wahabi or Sunni Muslims, and those sects do not require their clerics to have been to seminary in order to serve as a cleric. Shia Muslims DO require their clerics to have been to seminary, so looking up a Shia mosque is a good way to find a cleric who has been to seminary. It is also true that Shia clerics will be able to accurately present both sides of what makes Sunnis and Shias different because it is a part of their seminal studies whereas Sunni clerics are generally ignorant of Shia Islam’s true viewpoints.

Islam Is As Native to America As Christianity Is

For many of us Americans, our study of history ceases upon graduation from high school, and since history textbooks for children in America do not talk about Muslims being in America before Columbus was, we tend to think that contemporary Muslim immigrants are bringing Islam to America for the first time.

We know from historical records that involve Native Americans and from linguistic studies of Native American languages that Islam and Muslims were in America before Columbus. Islam and Muslims also came to America with the slave trade from Africa, and it was voluntary Muslim immigrants who built the first known mosque in America. Some Muslims in America can trace their generations in America further back than some descendants of European immigrants who want to send Muslims “back where they came from.” Needless to say, unless you are a Native American in America, we could all be sent back to where we came from.

Islam Is American

According to a 2007 Pew Research Center report, 35% of Muslims in America were born in America. These Muslims born in America were probably were raised in one of three types of households: 1) a household where the Muslim parent(s)/caregiver(s) were the ones who migrated to America and their children were born here, 2) a Muslim household that has had many generations raised in America, or 3) a household where the parent(s)/caregiver(s) were not Muslims. One in three Muslims in America are as indigenous as any other American (Native Americans notwithstanding).

Culture and Islam in Practice

One may not realize that practicing Muslim households in America can look quite different from each other given the different cultural influences on different Muslims. God has commandments to be followed, and some are manifested based on cultural norms.

Food

Beef is allowed for Muslims to eat provided that the animal was raised humanely and slaughtered according to Islamic law. The kind of food the beef is made into is the cultural manifestation—casseroles, hamburgers, kebabs, biryani, tacos, etc.

Female Clothing

A female Muslim must cover her hair and neck, and her clothing must be loose, opaque, and cover most of her skin. Given that these requirements are met, the style of clothing that Muslim women wear varies greatly and is a cultural manifestation. Pakistani-Americans like to wear their ethnic shalwar kameez (pant/tunic set) in America; Iranian-Americans like to wear long suit coats and pants/trousers; Somali-Americans like to wear long skirts and blouses; and Muslim youth will often wear the latest mainstream trends but with modifications for modesty (e.g., pants worn under a dress; a long-sleeved shirt under a maxi dress with spaghetti straps). These are generalizations to illustrate a point—in reality, Muslim women mix and match styles from many cultures and choose what to wear based more on where they are going than anything else.

To see the kind of clothing an American convert to Islam may wear, check out Shukr Islamic Clothing.

Worship Services

Because most Muslims in America today are first-generation immigrants, worship services in most mosques reflect immigrant languages and cultures. Able-bodied congregants sit on the floor, are physically separated by gender, and have non-English programming. As converts to Islam and second/third-generation immigrants age and take responsibility governing congregations, and as they graduate from seminary, immigrant cultural aspects of mosques in America will wane. Mosques will take on some American cultural aspects as long as they do not conflict with requirements of Islam.

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Islam Explained Part 1 of 5

Shortly we will publish the first of four pamphlets from an organization called Intellectual Muslim. Intellectual Muslim, another Minnesotan organization that promotes the true teachings of Islam, is about to release four informational pamphlets in what promises to be a continuing series, and Islamic Media gets first dibs on publishing them!

Their pamphlet series seeks to make clear some misunderstandings and just plain confusing aspects of Islam. Insha Allah next week we will publish on this blog the first pamphlet titled “A Quick Introduction: Shia-Sunni Explained.”

Following titles are:
What’s From Islam and What’s From Culture?
Uncovering the Myths of Islamic History
The True Meaning of ‘Jihad’

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Why I Wear The Hijab

As a Muslim woman, I believe that God wants women to enter the social realm as equal to men in their humanity. The interaction between people of the opposite sex shouldn’t be influenced by sexuality. The hijab (in both the physical and moral forms) eliminates the sexual element from interactions between unrelated men and women, thus focusing on the point at hand and setting appearances aside. My hijab helps remind me what should truly matter in my interactions with others—working together as humans first and foremost, and my being a woman shouldn’t affect that.

This simple piece of cloth has the amazing effect of making me aware of my actions and thoughts so that I can strive to be the chaste, modest, and pure woman I deserve to be. By prescribing the hijab, Islam in no way teaches the woman to be ashamed of her femininity; in fact, I see my hijab as a way for me to value what God has given me. I choose who I share my femininity with; I also choose how I portray myself in public. And when I am in public I want to be treated and respected based on my personality and intellect.

Why isn’t that enough these days? Why all the attention and emphasis on looks? Can we deny that a woman’s body has misused as a sexual object, an accessory and a tool to sell products? Isn’t it sad how many women and young girls these days are suffering from eating disorders just to fit into the standard of what is considered beautiful? By wearing the hijab I chose to liberate myself from having to fit into an ever-changing standard of beauty. I chose to follow God’s standard of beauty which is about becoming a better human being. So next time you see me wearing my hijab, please don’t feel sorry for me. Just know that I consciously put it on to obey God, not a man…

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My Hijab is Between God and Me, Please Stay Out of It!!

“You’re in America now; you can take that scarf off!” a well-meaning woman once told me. “Your family isn’t around, so they won’t know if you took off your scarf” a classmate told me on another occasion. While neither of them spoke out of ill intent, I couldn’t help but to feel offended by their words. Not by their lack of knowledge about my religious obligation to wear the hijab, but by their suggestion that I was weak, oppressed, and could not think for myself. What is it about my headscarf that gives people the impression that I am a weak woman?

I want you to take a minute and think of a Muslim woman wearing the hijab in America today. Think of the stares and the comments she endures while going about her day like any other American. Would a weak person really put themselves through this if being ‘normal’ meant just taking off a piece of cloth that covers their hair? Yes, I can take my scarf off in America, and yes, if my family isn’t around they won’t know if I take it off. I appreciate the reminder. But really why do Muslim, Christian, and Jewish women still wear it? The simple answer is because they believe it is what God wants women to do. Muslim women do not wear the hijab because they are forced to wear it by their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sons, as is usually thought in the western world. They wear the hijab to submit to God’s will and obey His command—not the command of any man.

Was Mary, the mother of Jesus (peace be upon them) forced to wear a headscarf? Are head-covering Christian or Jewish women who cover forced to do so? Muslim women cover their hair because they CHOOSE to do so. The next time you see a woman covering her hair, ask her sincerely why she wears it. With all the rhetoric surrounding individual freedom and liberty, I am unable to comprehend why a Muslim woman’s choice to wear a hijab is not respected.

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“You Know Christianity Is Right Because No Christian Converts To Islam”

“You know Christianity is right because no Christian converts to Islam.” That’s one of the arguments I overheard a Christian friend telling my Muslim husband in support of, obviously, Christianity holding the key to the Truth.

Had it been another time and place, I would have presented myself as evidence that some Christians (even ones by his definition—baptized-as-an-adult-by-immersion, born-again, evangelizing, trusting-Christ-for-salvation Christians) do become Muslims. It wasn’t the right time because I was a fairly new Muslim at the time that conversation took place, and I wasn’t ready to face the wrath that was sure to follow telling my Christian friends that I had become a Muslim. (I have since experienced that wrath.) They had no way of knowing I was a Muslim because I was not yet guarding my modesty with a headscarf.

It wasn’t the right place either. We were all guests at the wedding of mutual Christian friends and were enjoying the reception. Well I wasn’t enjoying the reception—I was being berated by one of my friends for having married a Muslim. I had graduated and moved three years prior, and I hadn’t kept in touch with these college friends, so the big scandal was that I had married a Muslim.

Christians DO become Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of Christians in our lifetimes, from all denominations, male and female, of all ages, have become Muslims based on the merit of Islam alone. I, and they, believe Islam is the Truth.

Watch these YouTube videos to hear the stories of just two of the Christian converts to Islam:
Brother Philip Converts to Islam #1
Brother Chris Converts to Islam #2

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Benjamin Franklin Didn’t Believe Anything a Muslim Doesn’t Believe

Although Benjamin Franklin faithfully paid his annual dues to the only Presbyterian church in Philadelphia in order to support its ministers, he seldom attended public worship. The reason he gives us in his own words. He says of one particular preacher, “…his Discourses were chiefly either polemic Arguments, or Explications of the peculiar Doctrines of our Sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting and unedifying, since not a single moral Principle was inculcated or enforc’d, their Aim seeming rather to make us Presbyterians than good Citizens.” (p. 90)

However, Benjamin Franklin WAS a religious man. He composed his own framework for religious belief and set it in writing in a work called Articles of Belief & Acts of Religion which he used for himself in private instead of attending church.

Ben Franklin publicizes his core religious beliefs more than once in The Autobiography and Other Writings. They are:

“I never doubted, for instance, the Existence of the Deity, that he made the World, & govern’d it by his Providence; that the most acceptable Service of God was the doing Good to Man; that our souls are immortal; and that all Crime will be punished & Virtue rewarded either here or hereafter.” (p. 89)

  • “That there is one God who made all things.
  • That he governs the World by his Providence.
  • That he ought to be worshipped by Adoration, Prayer & Thanksgiving.
  • But that the most acceptable Service of God is doing Good to Man.
  • That the soul is immortal.
  • And that God will certainly reward Virtue and punish Vice either here or hereafter.” (p. 104)

“Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we render to him is doing good to his other Children. That the soul of Man is immortal, and we will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this.” (p. 259)

There is nothing strictly Christian about Benjamin Franklin’s beliefs. Both Christians and Muslims believe all six of those points, and it can be argued, as I will in another post, that his last belief reflects Islam more than it reflects Christianity.

The Book I Referenced

The Autobiography and Other Writings
Benjamin Franklin
edited and with an introduction by Kenneth Silverman
Penguin Books USA Inc.
Introduction and notes © 1986 Viking Penguin Inc.
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More Updated Similar Book

Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings (Library of America)

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