“We need a value consensus between the west and Islam on democracy and human rights to combat Islamic fundamentalism. We can’t do it with bombs and shooting-that will only exacerbate the problem.” These are words of an international relations professor at Gottingen University Germany, Bassam Tibi while speaking about the relationship between the west and the Islam religion as quoted by Ontario consultants on religious tolerance (2008). Islam religion is considered the second largest religion worldwide after Christianity and it makes up 20% of the global population. If the Islam’s current growth rate is anything to go by, then it is expected that by 2020, the number of Muslim faithful will outnumber that of Christians (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2008). The term Islam has its foundation in the word ‘salam’ which generally means peace and the Arabic word ‘Muslim’ refers to a person who is in full submission to God’s will. For these faithful, Quran is the word of God which was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).They worship God who goes by the name Allahm an Arabic word for “the one true God” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 2008). This essay entails conducting an interview to find answers to some of the questions regarding Islam religion
The site and Location where the interview was conducted
I visited the Imam Hussein Mosque at Karbala here in Iraq. The city of Karbala is situated in south-central Iraq which is about 100 km from Baghdad. It is considered as one of the holiest places after Mecca, Najaf and Medina. The shrine of Imam Hussein, who is Prophet Muhammad’s grand son, is located in the same city and that is why it is very important to the Muslims. According to my interviewee, Sheikh Abdul Kharim Hassan, the mosque was built just above Hussein tomb. The mosque is characterized by so many features including the shrine. The site of the minaret, dome and the Imam’s tomb are just exquisite since they are covered with pure gold, with the screens made up of silver. The avenue that leads to another shrine said to be of Hussein’s half brother, Abbas, from Hussein’s one is wide and also lined with trees. All those tombs and shrines are all beautifully decorated.
The summary of the interview
There is a strong relationship between Islam religion and politics. God is the head of a state and sovereignty comes from him and the moment one goes against a particular Muslim state, he is an enemy of God. This is the main reason most Muslims believe in radicalism. It can be said at this point that not all Muslims are radicals. It is regrettable to say that the main motivation behind terrorism is radicalism which is a kind of an ideology in regards to culture and social aspects of life. Just like a totalitarian government, it is just trying to suppress other ideologies. It borrows from so many philosophies and customs in the religion and many Muslims have become motivated politically in almost every aspect of their lives.
Sheikh Abdul considers the question on why Muslims promote hate as influenced by the recent occurrence of terrorist attacks in various places in the world. Sheikh Abdul reiterated that, “I just want to thank you for using the word ‘some’ but not ‘all”. The mistake the world is making about Islam is generalizing.” He agreed that there are some Muslims who are promoting hate and this could be attributed to some factors. There are very conservative Muslims in our midst and most of the time they express displeasure with some of the cultures in the world especially the western. The western culture is perceived to be overly materialistic and this does not go down well with some Muslims. Westerners are said to be emphasizing so much on sex, money and entertainment and these are seen as a danger to the Muslim’s way of life. The Muslim world is generally discontented with the westerns moral standards which are anti-Allah. Due to this, a kind of resentment of the western culture has been developing over time and this has been worsened by the western, especially the United States’, foreign policies which are being perceived as both anti-Islam and anti-Arab. For example, the support the US gives to Israel, and the sanctions against some of the Arab countries. Speaking about the US, it has been so concerned about promoting human rights and democracy all over the world with the exception of the Middle East and other Muslim states. The question that was asked at this point by the Sheikh was, “How do we expect them to react?” From all these resentments and discontentments among many Muslim conservatives and radicals, one would expect them to promote hate especially towards the west. This explains why there are so many jihadist and ‘Osama Bin Ladens’ in the world today promoting hate.
It also emerged from the interviews that the Sheikh is one of the Muslims who believe that Islam culture is about love. He gave a scenario of what happens in the pilgrimage to Mecca. All the Muslims from all walk of life; professions, wealth, class, education and geography among others, usually stand shoulder to shoulder which is one way of promoting love. The Quran also talks about love; for example, Quran (49:10) says that “make peace between your two contending brothers’. In another place, Quran (3:103) says that, “and hold fast, all together by the rope which God (stretches out for you) and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favor on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love.” Thus the Quran requires them to propagate love and this should be demonstrated in every part of their lives.
When the question on Why did Muslims kill Americans on September 11th, the sheikh reprimanded me for generalizing. He was quick to state that it was not Islam that committed the offence but a few people who are Islam faithful. In fact the Sheikh took the opportunity on behalf of all Muslim brothers to apologize to the American people. He quoted the Quran (2:28) which says that, “God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity to bear pain” and thus he believes that God is with them while they are still recovering from the events of that day. The appropriate question at that point as was suggested by the Sheikh was; what has American done to Muslims to have this atrocious crime committed against them? To start with, some Muslims see America as inherently opposed to Islam. This is evidenced by the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia which has been protecting its monarchy from revolutions and in the process; they are occupying the two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. This is the main reason Bin Laden gave for the attacks. Other reasons include; US invasion of Iraq, sanctions on Iran, and US support of Israel among others. Thus most of these attacks signify the Muslims’ discontentment of American policies in the Middle East hence the attacks had nothing to do with Islam.
During the interview, it also emerged that Muslims do not fear Americans. The best word that can be used is hate but not fear. As a matter of fact, it is the other way round; Americans fear Muslims especially after the terrorism attacks in US. Sheikh had learnt from some reliable sources that people are so afraid in America that they are calling for the registration of all Muslims by the government and curtailment of their civil rights, which he thinks is unfair. The interviewee also mentioned that “it can be said that American Muslims are the ones who are living in fear because of how the Americans view the religion.” It is sad when people have started thinking of Islam as a cult and not religion.
Another fact about Islam is that the religion itself is not prejudicial; in fact its way of life is the most anti-racist and anti-prejudicial. From historical times, Muslims have been open towards other people of other religions and cultures. Sincere and practicing Muslims have always tolerated others irrespective of their ranks. However, this has not been the case lately and thus prejudice has become a sad reality among the Muslims. There are Muslim countries which are very prejudicial in their laws and social customs and racism and other forms of discrimination have characterized them.
Sheikh Abdul commented on the regional differences in Islam religion. As it is well known, Islam is diverse and it can be said to be of many colors. The religion cannot be considered to be “straight and narrow” but “straight and broad”. There is no much difference when it comes to beliefs. All Muslims believe in the five pillars of the religion; witnessing, culture, prayer, zakah (alms), fasting and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). However, the difference comes in regards to culture. Different Muslims manifest their cultures differently; for example, the Islamic culture of Indonesia is very different from the one of Senegal, the Nigerian one is very different from the one of Arabs. For instance, the Nigerian women prefer outfits of bright colors, a practice which contradicts that of Arabic women who prefer black outfits; however, both are acceptable.
When it comes to politics, US foreign policy has much to do with how the Muslims view Americans. Most of their actions are viewed as anti –Islamic; for example, its support for Israel. Through this, the Muslims view Americans as supporting the killing of Muslims and Palestinians. Another example is the attack of Iraq which left many Iraqis dead in the violence that escalated after the invasion. All these deaths have been blamed on the Americans.
Regarding holidays in Islam, the first one the sheikh mentioned was the Muharram which is the first month in the Islam liturgical year. The second one is the Mawid al-Nabi, which is the prophet Muhammad’s birthday as well as Eid-al-Fitr which concludes the month of Ramadan. The forth one is the Eid-al-Adha which concludes the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In addition, the religion of Islam is a way of life and can only be said that the interviewee’s life is Islam and Islam is his life. He tries as much as possible to live as required of him by the religion and thus everything about him has in one way or another been influenced by it. Saying the five prayers a day has really made him a stronger person. With Allah in his mind all the time, it has made him a better person and the most important of all is the peace he always has in his heart.
There are also challenges to practicing the religion. According to the sheikh, a Muslim is required to live a selfless life because he or she is supposed to do everything that brings glory to Allah and thus they are forced to fight most of the human desires and this he said is not easy. Generally, following the commands of Allah and Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him), proves to be a challenge.
Similarities between the religions of Islam and Christianity
The first similarity between the two religions is that both of them emphasize on the idea of equality among the faithful. The second similarity is that they believe in hell and heaven, the Ten Commandments and angels (Zew, 2010) who are the servants and messengers of God. Satan and evil spirits exist and are human beings’ enemies and at the end of the world, they will be defeated (Ziya, 2008).
Moreover, both religions are monotheistic religions; belief in one God. God is omnipotent, immanent, omniscient and transcendent. God is the creator of all and He also makes covenants with human beings. In addition, both believe in the eschatology and the end of the world with both agreeing that, no one knows when it will come to pass. This will be followed by judgment where every human being will be destined either for heaven or hell .The other similarity is that both of them believe that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. They also believe in miracles, forgiveness by God when somebody repents and in prophets. Another similarity is that both have divine scriptures; the Bible and Quran and both of them have stories on Adam and eve, children of Israel and Moses among other key personalities (Ziya, 2008).
Differences between the religions of Islam and Christianity
The two religions conceptualize God differently. Muslims use the word ‘tawhid’ to refer to Allah which implies ‘absolute unity.’ Thus for them, God is one and there is no any distinction within Him. This contradicts the Christian belief in the Trinity where they believe in God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit and thus Christians have been described by Muslims as believing in three gods (Answering Islam, nd).
The two religions also understand the term ’revelation’ differently and this marks another difference. For Christians, God revealed Himself to man for the purposes of redemption, which is to save man and lead him to the life’s fullness, free from any bondage of sin. For Muslims, revelation is meant for guidance and thus God reveals Himself to man in order to guide him in this worldly life. Moreover, Christians believe that revelation is mediated and thus they believe that those people who wrote the bible were under the influence of the Holy Spirit. In this case, the Bible is the word of God through divine inspiration. On the other hand, Muslims believe the Quran is the word of God but unmediated one. They believe that prophet Mohammed had the words put in his mouth by Allah and nothing came from him. This is strengthened by the fact that he was illiterate at the time he wrote the book (Answering Islam, nd).
Another difference comes in the belief of sin and salvation. Christians believe that the original sin by Adam and Eve is responsible for the corrupted world and perverted human beings that exist. However, in Islam, there is nothing like the original sin. Although they acknowledge that Adam and Eve sinned, they were forgiven and thus, the human race does not suffer because of it (Answering Islam, nd).
In conclusion, it has emerged from the interview that, Islam is a religion of love. Although there are some people who promote hate and carry out killings especially in and against the Americans, there actions are not justifiable in Islam and they have nothing to do with the religion. However, this extremism against United States has been blamed on a number of things more so their foreign policy in the Middle East. Another thing is that the religion is not prejudicial but there are some Islamic country’s law and cultural practices that promote prejudice. When it comes to the comparing and contrasting of Islamic faith and that one of Christians, it has emerged that, the two religions believe in one God, revelation, prophets and resurrection. The difference comes in heir conceptions about God, sin and salvation and revelation.
Answering Islam. (nd). Islam and Christianity’s: lecture by a western ‘Islamologist’ and
theologian. Retrieved from http://www.answering-islam.org/Intro/comparison.html
Muhammad, T. & Muhammad, M. (nd).Interpretation of the meanings of the Noble Quran.
Dar es Salaam: Dar-us-Salaam publishers. Print
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. (2008).Aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attack: why
do “they” hate the west? Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/reac_ter13.htm
Sheikh Abdul Kharim. (2010). Personal Interview