Todd Buchanan, Nederland. After 9/11, the first thing I read on Islam was Huston Smith’s chapter on Islam in his book, The World’s Religions. At the outset, Smith quotes the former Newsweek columnist Meg Greenfield: “No part of the world is more hopelessly and systematically and stubbornly misunderstood by us than that complex of religion, culture and geography known as Islam.”
What is Islam? The word means the peace that comes when one surrenders one’s will to God’s. How did the faith come into being, and what do average Muslims believe?
Early in the seventh century of the common era, in a society plagued by tribal conflict and growing economic disparity, one known for his uprightness, but not the poet’s gift, began reciting some extraordinary verse. He was Muhammad ibn ‘Abdallah, and the communications claimed to be revelation, from the same God who had sent His message to others before, including the Jews and Christians.
This all-powerful God was also the Most Merciful. He was the God of Abraham, who provided the supreme example of submission. The people who accepted this newest revelation and followed its prescriptions were Muslims, those who submit to God’s will. The revelations were compiled and preserved in the Qur’an, as well as in the memories of the many millions over the centuries who memorized them in their entirety.
As the Most Merciful provides for all of humankind’s spiritual and physical needs, He urges us to worship Him alone, to be constant in prayer and regular in charity, to care for the poor and dispossessed, and to be patient in pain and adversity. Indeed, according to Islamic scholar Frederick M. Denny, the greatest form of success in this life is “to be blessed with the faithful, accepting patience that endures all misfortunes and seeks the final outcome only in God’s justice and reward. Success in this sense is itself believed to be proof of God’s abiding presence.”
Muslims do not believe in original sin, or that Eve tempted Adam. Instead, humans are born with a sound religious foundation, or fitra, but are naturally forgetful and need constant reminding of their origin and purpose. Hence, the five daily prayers. If this many prayers seem to interrupt the day, that’s the point. One’s relationship with God comes first, and out of that comes one’s obligation to others and society. We have free will with the expectation that we will choose to submit to our Maker, for there is to be no compulsion in religion (Qur’an, 2:256).
For the first time in Arabian society women had real rights: female infanticide and the sexual abuse of slave girls were banned, as was the denial of inheritance to women. Many of the abuses of women which Westerners associate with Islam, such as honor killings and marrying daughters off without their consent, are cultural and have no basis in the Qur’an, or the example of Muhammad.
One of Muhammad’s biggest challenges was to tame the formidable institution of tribalism, and in place of a multitude of gods, each associated with a specific tribe, the revelations asserted that there is One God, and by implication one humanity. “In a society riven with class distinctions” writes Huston Smith, “the new Prophet was preaching a message that was intensely democratic. He was insisting that in the sight of his Lord, all people were equal.”
God explained that He created humans to the bewilderment of the angels, who feared that beings with free will would be capable of terrible things. God knew we would also be capable of gratitude, and in turn compassion toward others.
In an effort to demystify Islam for the rest of us, members of the Islamic Center of Boulder will present an overview of Islam on Sunday, October 2, 2016 beginning at 11:45 a.m. at the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church, just west of the roundabout. Food will be included. The event is free.
Todd Buchanan lives in Eldora.