Thursday, April 21, 2016

A survival guide to Islam (the one without ISIS)

The Qur'an mentions mountains, the sea and the sky.
Copyright Shafiq Morton
MUSLIM scholars say God created what we know as Creation because there was darkness, and He wanted to be known. The Qur’an says that God – known as “Allah” in Arabic – is not an angry, vengeful God.

He is a God of Truth, a God of Mercy and a God of Compassion. The Qur’an – which is regarded as the uncreated word of Allah – has been preserved intact since its Revelation over 1,400 years ago. It opens with: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious and the Supremely Merciful”.

The Qur’an, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the Archangel Gabriel over a period of 23 years, talks to mankind, and not just to Muslims. God says in the Qur’an that people will have different beliefs – and that he created man into nations and tribes, not to despise one another, but to know one another.

God created us in spiritual form first, and gathered our souls together in a pre-historic Heavenly place, asking: “Am I not your Lord?” And before we all entered the material world as human beings, our spirits answered in unison: “Yes, Lord, You are our Lord.”

Because God created light out of darkness, truth is Light. This is the Light of an open heart, the Light of Knowledge and the Light of Divine Love, for it is said in Islam that God’s Mercy far precedes his anger, and that his love for us is infinitely more than a mother pining for her lost child.

Islam simply means “peace” and “submission to God”. The Arabic word “salam” means peace, and Muslims greet each other with this greeting to remind themselves of this. Peace is the greeting of the Angels, and the Divine salutations of God’s 124, 000 Prophets He sent to earth.

99% of Mercies are not perceived by us

According to Muslim scholars, God’s Creation has many dimensions, most of which we cannot see. In fact, God tells us Himself that 99% of His Mercies are not perceived by us.

When God decreed Creation He created three kinds of beings. The first was the Angels, shaped out of pure Divine Light. The second was the jinn (the genies) moulded out smokeless fire, and finally, there was man – shaped out of primordial clay, or DNA. Satan, who was a pious genie, was told to prostrate before God’s proudest Creation, Adam. But in a fleeting moment of jealousy and arrogance, he refused.

Satan, once a beloved servant of God, deemed his fiery essence to be superior to the clay of Adam. For his primeval act of racism, he was cast out of prehistoric Paradise and given respite until Judgement Day to act out his nafs, his basic desires.

Because God wanted Himself to be known, He gave man (and the jinn in a semi-parallel universe) one of His most precious gifts – consciousness. And this is why, in a Divine unfolding, Cain had to slay Abel, and why Adam had to be cast out of Paradise. There is no concept of original sin in Islam.

The point is that to recognise the good we had to know the bad, and so Cain was infused with the envy and greed of Satan when he lusted for his brother’s wife. To realise the sweetness and elevated consciousness of Paradise, we had to grovel in the dirt of the material world. To know the true Majesty and Compassionate Mercy of God, Adam had to learn about forgiveness.

Because Islam means “peace and submission to God” in its absolute sense Muslims deem that every person is born “Muslim”, is born in a state of Islam, though that person may go on to embrace other beliefs during their lifetime.

Muslims believe that there can only be one God, one Creator. If there had been two Gods, or more, Creation would have been in conflict with itself. Worlds and universes would have devolved into a soup of unfathomable chaos as the pantheon of gods clashed.

The power of natural beauty.
Muslims respect and revere all of God’s 124,000 Prophets, with some enjoying more textual prominence than others. Of the 124, 000 prophets, 313 were regarded as Messengers (those given some form of revelatory text).

What we know is that God revealed 100 pages and fourteen books. Adam was given 10 pages, his son Seth (or Shith) was given 50 pages, Idris (Enoch or Akhnukh) was given 10 pages and Abraham was given 10 pages. Moses (or Musa) was provided 10 pages prior to the Torah, the Injil (or the Gospel) was granted to Jesus, the Zabur (or the Psalms) were sent to David and the Furqan (the Qur’an) was revealed to Muhammad.

Adam is regarded as the Father of Mankind, Abraham is seen as the Patriarch, Moses is respected as the Lawgiver, Jesus is loved as the Great Healer and Muhammad is saluted as the Final Messenger, a Prophet for all people and for all times. The name “Muhammad” derives from the word “Ahmad”, the praised one. Muhammad was the first to be called “Muhammad”.

In Islam life is sacred, and the Qur’an echoes the Jewish Torah when it says that the one who kills someone without compunction has killed the equivalent of mankind. Suicide bombing, the murder of innocents and the wanton destruction of the environment, are expressly forbidden in Islam.  

It is only logical that a loving, Merciful God would embrace all his Creation, that He would also love his animals and plants. There is special mention in the Qur’an of the camel, the cow, the dog, the pigeon, the ant, the bee, the spider and even the pig, as well as the fig, the date and the olive.

In fact, the Qur’an continually reminds mankind of nature – of its seasonal fruits, of the soil’s fertility, of the intrinsic harmony of the seas, the rivers, the skies, the moon, the sun and the stars.

Islam is a way of seeking knowledge, the first word of revelation being “read”, with a wider import of going forth and understanding. In fact, the three most mentioned words in the Qur’an are God, knowledge and justice – Allah, ‘ilm and ‘adl.

To this effect an Arabic poet wrote that ignorance was darkness, because it was a “death before a death”. The Prophet once told his Companions that the scholars were the inheritors of the prophets as they bequeathed knowledge instead of gold.

Jihad is a hugely misunderstood concept of faith

The word “jihad” means “to struggle to one’s utmost” in all endeavours, and does not primarily refer to “war”, or even “holy war”, as is so commonly believed.  In fact, the Arabic word for war is “harb”, and not “jihad”. The Prophet Muhammad once told the Muslim army as it marched back to base from battle at Tabuk that it was returning from the lesser jihad (war) to the greater jihad (the struggle against the self).

This is a hugely misunderstood concept of faith, the Prophetic axiom often undermined by extremists who wish to reject it on the basis of a weak narrator in its chain, adding that it is apologetic and untrue. They fail to understand that jihad – as we’ve said above – is a comprehensive process of the mind, the tongue, the pen, the hand and, only finally, the sword.

Authentic scholars accept the spirit of the Hadith on the basis of its accepted truth, as its underlying questions of self-remonstrance, the pursuance of knowledge, worship and piety are fully supported by the Qur’an, whose principles remain the defining ones.

Moreover, most of the Qur’anic verses on jihad refer to specific historical incidences only, and according to the rules of Qur’anic exegesis, cannot be used by the scholars to justify law-making. A Qur’anic edict on the betrayal of the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, and the Qur’anic exhortation for the Prophet to ruthlessly punish the miscreants, only applies to the instance mentioned – it applies to no other.

Unfortunately, extremists have failed to tell the masses of their gross literalism and their betrayal of this basic Shari’ principle, so we are incorrectly exhorted to kill unbelievers “wherever they are”.

Essentially, Islam is a way of being grounded in absolute simplicity, love and devotion. Before God all people are equal, and God will forgive sinners for as long as they sincerely repent. Or as a gnostic saint once said: “the tears of a sinner wipe away the misdeeds of a hundred years”.

The practice of Islam is based on Five Pillars:
  •        That God is One, and that Muhammad is His final Messenger.
  •        The practice of five daily prayers.
  •        Zakat, payment of alms tax (about 2% of one’s residual wealth) to the poor. 
  •         Performance of the Ramadan Fast (if one has the health).
  •         Performance of the Hajj (if one has the means).

If a Muslim cannot fulfill any of the last three obligations due to ill health, war, poverty or other valid reasons, there are equivalent (but hugely less taxing) acts laid down by Sacred Law that can equally compensate for them.

The Shari’ah, the Sacred Law, is primarily derived by competent scholars from the Qur’an and the practices and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (the Sunnah and the Hadith). The next stage is the use of applied reason (called ijtihad), deductive analogy (called qiyas) and ‘ijma, which is academic consensus – and, interestingly, not as common a phenomenon as one might think.

The word “Shari’ah” means a watering hole

The word “Shari’ah” means a watering hole, and classical scholars define Shari’ah as something providing relief, not suffering or punishment. The maqasid – or the purposes of Shari’ah – are defined by the protection of faith, the protection of life, the protection of family, the protection of the intellect, the protection of  property and the protection of the character.

This has to be extended as much to non-Muslims, as it has to Muslims. It is well-known that the Prophet encouraged his Companions to make non-Muslims their neighbours. It has to be understood that the application of Shari’ah – via Fiqh – is not a monolithic system at all. The four great Imams of jurisprudence, Imam Malik, Abu Hanifah, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Hanbal did not agree on a host of legal issues.

This reflects the ethos of the Prophet himself, who tolerated difference and the use of reason as long as it was expressed with God-fearing deference, sound reason and respect for the other. In fact, Islamic law is not a static work of unbendable principles, but a dynamic and evolving system dealing with the issues of the day.

Mandatory limb amputations, mass executions and stonings do not reflect the intended language of the Shari’ah, nor does ISIS vigilantism and the selective rulings of so-called Islamic leaders. Amputation, execution and stoning – revelations in the context of their era – are used in the Qur’an to indicate the ultimate resort in addressing grave transgressions. Classical jurists all concur that compassion, reasonability, reliable witness and strict due process have to be the backbone of Shari’ah.  

For example, if a person has been negligent with their goods and they are stolen, the thief is automatically given a lesser sentence. If there is a shortage of food, a thief will not have his hand amputated – a ruling followed by the Caliph ‘Umar in the 7th century. This was the same ruler who once ordered four witnesses in an adultery case to be flogged. He absolved the alleged adulterers because the one witness had differed slightly from the others.

Allowance for forgiveness

As can be seen, mitigation is a critical element of any religious judge’s arsenal as all legal principles and applications are governed by their context. There is also allowance for forgiveness or shades of retribution in the case of murder where the aggrieved party may petition the sitting Qadi to grant a more lenient sentence, or for blood money to be paid.

Hugely misunderstood is that a fatwa, the legal opinion of a scholar, is just that – a legal opinion. A fatwa does not enjoy the status of a “hukm”, which is a legal ruling that binds the parties to the legality of that ruling.

A person has a right to interrogate a fatwa, which has to be issued in light of the accepted interests of a particular community. A fatwa against the smoking of tobacco, for example, is merely an understanding – a recommendation – that smoking is unlawful. However, it is not a de-facto law for which the smoker can be punished.

Under an Islamic State (in reality a non-existent institution today) non-Muslims have to enjoy full constitutional rights. The Caliph, or ruler, has to grant them freedom of religious practice, the freedom of association, the ownership of property, the ability to trade and he has to accord them personal respect.

And finally, Islam is a matter of the heart. God does not judge us by our outward appearances. As Muslims we cannot sit in the judgement of what is between another person’s ribs; that is a secret between God and His servant, not between man and man.

May you go in Peace.

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