Islam: An Alternative to Chaos
An insightful overview of the basic concepts of Islam as provided by the Adhan and Fatihah.
A lecture delivered at Rice University, Houston, Texas, in November 1994. Originally entitled “What is Islam?”
Ladies and gentleman, brothers & sisters, members of the faculty, students, and lovers of God and spirituality I welcome you and bid you all my heartiest Salaams. (Salaam Aleikum!)
Our topic tonight is Islam so it is fitting to greet you all with the greeting of Islam and that is “Salaam!” For those of you who may be unfamiliar, the word Salaam means Peace and the name of the religion under discussion tonight is derived from this word Salaam and is called Islam. The Arabic word Islam simply stated means submission, and as we have seen it is derived from a word meaning PEACE. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of GOD. Or to look at it another way it implies complete submission to the will of God‑Who provides a WAY (a methodology) to peace. And it is here we encounter the most basic element of the Islamic Faith, submission that is primal to the modus‑operandi of Islam ‑it is inherent in the basic underlying structure of Islamic theology and is also the desired goal of the spiritual seeker, whether this desire is manifested consciously or unconsciously.
Before I undertake the development of my discussion of Islam I would like to remind the audience that Islam like many other things in the world means many different things to many different people. And this would include also the so-called Muslims themselves. So I have used the Qur’an as my primary source to establish a working definition of the Religion of Islam.
There is an old American Indian saying that many of us may have heard in the past, and that is: ” Unless you have walked in another mans moccasins (shoes) you do not know that man” ‑you have no idea of what he or she thinks or feels ‑ you have no idea of why that person does certain things ‑ in other words you are not familiar with his operational system. You cannot in good conscience make critical judgments about his behavior unless you have insight into the inner workings of his mind ‑again! Into his operational system -hence the subtitle of this Talk is “An Insiders View”.
Let us look at some basic statistics concerning the Islamic world. These statistics are taken from both the World book Encyclopedia (1982) and an information Pamphlet issued by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia (1989). The population of the world is estimated at about 5 billion (1982) the population is expected to double by the year 2021 ‑that is only 27 years away.
THE MUSLIM WORLD:
The Muslim population of the world is around one billion ‑in simple terms the ratio is 1 to 5, or ‑1 out of every Five inhabitants of the planet earth is a Muslim. Lets take a closer look.
Most Muslims live east of Karachi. 30% of Muslims live in the Indian sub‑continent, 20% in sub‑Saharan Africa, 17% in Southeast Asia, 18% in the Arab world, 10% in the Former Soviet Union and China. Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan comprise 10% of the non-Arab Middle East.
Although there are Muslim minorities in almost every area, including Latin America and Australia, they are most numerous in the Soviet Union, India, and Central Africa. And of particular interest is the fact that there are an estimated seven million Muslims here in the United States, half of these are Black (African Americans).
With that many Muslims in the world and for many of us who might have an innate fear or uninformed repulsion for Islam and Muslims this might be too close for comfort. In light of this “Closeness”, it behooves all of us to know something about these Muslims.
Americans For the most part are usually friendly and assertive when it comes to meeting new people, because at one time or another historically we were all New People. But much depends on the circumstances and the environment in which we encounter new faces. The opportunity to meet new people will present itself to all of us right after this talk when the refreshments are being served. We have a choice to either comment about the talk with the Friends we came with or mingle with some of these new faces and take a chance. As well informed as you may think you are ‑ I would be willing to bet you that you are unaware of most of the basic beliefs of Islam and The Muslims. If you are as secure in your own belief system as many of these Muslim students are there should be a healthy exchange.
Islam is the name of the religion and its Followers are called Muslims. The English word religion is a close approximation of the Arabic word DIN which means religion/creed/ Faith/and belief, however implicit in the word DIN is the concept of a complete system ‑total‑because Islam is called by the people on the Inside “DIN‑ALLAH”‑(The system of God) ‑ and this system is laid out clearly, step by step in the Qur’an. Also basic to a correct understanding of Islam is the concept of Tawhid (Oneness/Unity). The concept of the unique Oneness of God ‑and the unity of His creation.
Islam being a complete way of life‑presupposes the possibility that it (Islam) is also a culture. As such, all cultures that have become permeated with Islam inevitably have become subcultures of Islam. One brilliant example of the transformative potential of Islam is found in the Mongol invasion of Persia, they came as barbarian invaders, and left as Muslims.
Islam by Osmosis so to speak ‑even the Mongols who at that time were the enemies of Islam could not escape the transformative power of Islam.
Statistics testify to the fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and that in a very few years Muslims will make up the vast majority among the inhabitants of the planet earth. Islam is currently experiencing a Global Renaissance and we here in America and the West must try to understand this unique phenomenon. As we speak, IT is growing in numbers around us. And the purpose of this talk tonight is an attempt to slip the moccasins of the Muslims on your feet, so to speak ‑so you will appreciate for a brief moment in time, “the insiders view”.
Let us allow God (Allah) an opportunity to speak and describe to us by way of His book the Qur’an just what this religion is, but more importantly what it is not.
In the third Chapter, Ali Imran, the 19th verse. God has revealed to the Prophet Mohammad: “Innad-deena ind‑Allahi Islam ” meaning: “Indeed! The only religion with God is Islam”. Implying that the message that God has sent, time after time through a constant succession of Prophets and Messengers is the religion of Peace, via Submission.
And Again In the Second Chapter which is called Al‑Baqarah and begins with the words “Alif/Lam/ Mim” – “Dhalikal Kitab” ‑meaning: “This is the Book; there is no doubt in it, (it is) a guidance to those who safeguard themselves with full awareness of divine laws.” Who believe in the unseen and establish the prayer, and spend out of what We have given them”. “And believe in that which has been revealed to YOU (Muhammad) and that which was revealed to the other Messengers before you, and are sure of the hereafter”. Qur’an: Chapter II verses 1-4.
ISLAM has been described by the Outsiders, as being a Judeo-Christian Religion; containing elements of the Jewish and Christian beliefs the classification is well taken but it needs some clarification. Islam is not a mixture ‑a stew (if you will) of different religions ‑but uses as a point of departure, many references to the previous Messengers and Prophets of God that had preached on Earth during different developmental periods.
It must be remembered that Islam views religion as a Continuum and capable of constant development, ad‑infinitum. And as such, selectively incorporates what preceded it as well as what will Follow it. Otherwise the discoveries that have been attributed to the Muslim scientists and researchers during Islam’s so-called Golden Age would not have been possible. You cannot limit a religion or a belief system to a definition any more than you can contain the known universe in a glass. It is arrogance on the part of man to assume that he can explain away any portion of God’s creation with a simple definition.
The potential inherent in Islam if viewed from the standpoint of the continuum is both infinite and eternal. Islam, for most of the world’s uninformed, is the “New Kid On The Block” of religions, so to speak, and as such has a long way to go. You may say: “1,400 years is but a drop in the bucket of time”. But give it another thousand years or so and it may get up off the ground like a giant rocket and pull mankind into a Future quite unimaginable. This is said in jest, but beneath the humor lay a profound truism.
Much mention is made of the Prophets and Messengers some may be familiar to you and some may not -‑ But interestingly enough the “Fathers of Monotheism” are mentioned for the most part in the Qur’an as Muslims (meaning, that they were faithful servants of God) and had carried their particular message to their particular people ‑the message being specific and sufficient for that time.
Muslims believe emphatically in the existence and the message of the earlier Prophets ‑and Muslims are cautioned by God in the Qur’an not to mention the Prophets names without adding, “Peace be Unto Them”.
This not only applies to Abraham and Moses but particularly in the case of Jesus whom the Muslims call: “Isa‑Ibnu Maryam”, (Jesus the son of Mary) who is revered as “Ruh‑Allah” the Essence (soul) of God. There is a lengthy Chapter in the Qur’an entitled MARYAM (Mary)‑ and For your information the Qur’an supports her Virgin birth and the Miraculous Powers that were given to her son by God ‑the only difference is that the Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God ‑ They Fully acknowledge his role as a beloved prophet of God ‑but view him in the same light as all of the previous Prophets including Mohammad ‑They were men ‑and as men they were mortal, (would experience death) ‑their special role and their special powers were not their own, but were given to them (on loan so‑to‑speak) From the source of all power, Allah! (God) himself.
About this system. what is it based on? How can we get a glimpse of it without poring through a long selected bibliography or sitting through a semester of confusing terms and even more confusing historical incidents like the crusades?
Islam is a simple religion, but that does not imply in any way or by any stretch of the imagination that the people are simple. What I mean by that is that the Basic Formula is simple ‑but as we witness in the Formula E=Mc2, it’s expression is simple but it is filled with endless potential ‑ the same applies to Islam it is filled to the brim with untold potential. A potential that has eluded both the Outsider and many who claim to be on the Inside.
THE CALL that we hear most of the time when Islam is being discussed or Muslims are being portrayed is important to our discussion. It holds a vital key to our discussion. We are usually shown a tall tower‑like structure called a minaret, and at the top standing on a balcony of sorts we usually see a man with his hands raised to his ears singing a delightfully long and exotic melody ‑that song is The Call and is sung to summon the Faithful to prayer. It is called The ADHAN, and within the intricate tonal arabesques of the Divine Call are contained the Credo of Islam. The Call will be our First point of departure in an attempt to explain the most fundamental beliefs of Islam.
Secondly we will examine the First Chapter of the Qur’an ‑which is called Al‑Fatiha (The Opening.) The title also contains one of God’s attributes (or names) Al-Fatah ‑which describes The Creator’s ability to open (expand & increase) that which HE has created.
The Call and the Fatihah will be used to illustrate the skeletal framework of Islam and expose its basic beliefs.
1. Allah Ho Akbar!
2. This statement is repeated four times and means: “God is The Greatest”.
3. Ash hado anla ila ha illAllah! This statement is repeated several times whereby the singer (caller) testifies that: “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God”.
4. Ash hado anna Mohammada rasoolullah! This statement is also repeated several times and serves to testify that: “I bear witness that Mohammad is the Prophet of God”.
5. Hayya Ala Salat! Is a command that means: “Come to Prayer!” It is repeated several times.
6. Hayya alal Falah! Is a Promise, which means: “Come to Success”.
7. There are some Muslims who add to the call “Hayya al khayril amal” which is an exhortation that means: “Come to the greatest of deeds”. And finally recapitulates the original statement.
8. Allah Hu Akbar: “God is The Greatest!”
9. And concludes with the statement “La ilaha ilallah! Meaning: “There is none worthy of worship but God.
This is quite a unique call, and it has a profound affect on the people who hear it. The Adhan/Call is heard throughout the World Five times a day ‑we can consider this the First feature on the “Clock‑Face” of the Cycle OF activities of the Muslim.
The system is cyclical and revolves, and the believer following the system also revolves around and within this cycle of activities. At this point in time all activities become sacred and sacralization is as follows, using the nomenclature of Mirchae Elliade:
1. Sacred Space: is defined as (the place of prayer).
2. Sacred Time: is defined as (the time initiated at the Call). And inclusive of the time involved in worship and prayer).
3. Sacred Activity: is defined as: (Worship, Prayer, & Dhikr).
Of particular interest is the concept of “The Center”, whether it is the center of activity or the center of the world ‑this concept is very important to man especially when he is engaged in trying to Focus his activities. This concept is expressed in Latin as Axis‑Mundi. “(X) marks the spot”. We often hear nowadays the expression “Centering”, or finding ones center used quite a bit these days. How, one must ask, is that ascertained by a Muslim? What is the center in Islam, and how does a Muslim go about centering his self?
From the viewpoint of Islam the world in its entirety is considered a Mosque, a place of prayer ‑hence, sacred. But Mecca and the Sacred House (Kaaba) that sits at its center has been designated by God as the Center (Qibla) or direction for the Muslims. The Muslims (including all of mankind) have a designated center (x) and a sphere within which to operate.
Suffice it to say that the WHOLE WORLD and all that which lay beyond are the legitimate spheres of activity for the Muslim, Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually.
There can be no religion or identity For the Muslim without the performance of these Five Prayers – the conscious response to this Call – statement by statement – the Muslim is reminded, and reiterates the call. He confirms that yes: “God is Greatest!” By repeating mentally or audibly “Allah hu‑Akbar”! And at that precise moment the transformative powers of the system begin to play upon the consciousness of the believer.
There is no Islam ‑no religion ‑ no Identity as a Muslim ‑ without the constant acknowledgement of the greatness of God (Allah).
The system begins like the so‑called “cranking up of an automobile” ‑the spark that ignites the internal combustion system of the Muslim begins and ends with the statement that God is not only great ‑but is in Fact THE GREATEST.
This statement puts the believer in his or her place ‑it levels the playing field so to speak, and eliminates excessive pride of ones self, family, tribe, nationality, status or achievements ‑the statement strips away the personal ego‑oriented personality and renders the believer (hopefully) a humbler, more obedient, more attentive worshiper ‑its intention is to peel away the veneer of separateness, and create within the believer the yearning to become totally and completely immersed in the presence of GOD.
You may ask yourself: “Don’t the systems of Yoga and Meditation strive for the same meditative states of mind?” And the answer is a resounding Yes! – however, there is a qualitative difference when it applies to Islam in that the object during the meditative state is to become One with Allah ‑ not to deny the existence of God by voiding Him from the mediator’s mind. It is a very subtle difference and does not add up to a hill of beans for most of us. It is essentially a meta‑physical exercise, without a doubt, because we are dealing with something that is higher than man ‑”the Omnipotence, and The Omniscience of the Creator of the heavens and the earth”.
This is an insiders view, and at this point of the talk many of you might be thinking that it is not so very different after all from your own (Outsiders) view.
Within every Muslim, and I dare to say every spiritual seeker, there is a potential Gnostic lurking in the shadows … “one who desires to be Alone, and at one‑ness with God. Alone, yes, quite alone and uniquely singular.
The Muslim, is hard pressed to maintain a balance. He must Struggle (Jihad al Akbar) to maintain a balance between his desire to be in THE PRESENCE OF GOD, and live as a human in THIS WORLD. He must create a MIZAN ‑ a Balance between the Haqiqah (the inner) & the Shariah (The Outer law). Allah advises the Muslim to, “Seek The Middle Way” ‑ The Balanced Way.
Having examined the Call as an index into the system of belief of the Muslims we will next look into the first chapter of the Qur’an, The Fatihah as I had promised earlier, as an indicator of the system of belief ‑a further probe into the Why’s and the How’s.
Some scholars have suggested that the whole Qur’an is contained in the Fatihah. The Muslims often refer to the Fatihah in such endearing terms as the Ummal‑Kitab meaning The Mother of the Book, and as Surah Hamd meaning the Chapter of Praise. You will also hear it referred to as The Seven Oft repeated Verses”.
The Muslim worshiper invokes these seven verses as an introduction to his daily prayers ‑there is no worship without the recitation of this Chapter ‑ again we reach another pivotal point in the system, The Fatihah.
If you will be so kind as to follow me I will lead the way through its recitation verse by verse with a loose literal translation of the words.
1. “I Begin in the name of God, The Generous (a-Rahman) and The Merciful (ar-Rahim)”.
2. “All praise is due God, The Creator (Rab), Nourisher and Sustainer of All The Worlds”.
3. “The Generous (Ar‑Rahman) ” The Free‑Giver, (A‑Rahim) .”
4. “Master (al-Malik) of the Day of Judgment”.
5. “You do we Worship and Your aid do we seek”.
6. “Guide us on the Straight (direct) Path”.
7. The path of those pious ones who have preceded us, and not the path of those who chose to go astray”.
The translation that is supplied on both sheets is valuable but I must remind you that it is impossible to translate accurately the meaning of these verses ‑ I can only approximate a sense of what is commonly understood, and recommend that you take these verses into meditation as has been recommended by The great Masters of the Faith for your own personal analysis and development. Each one of you here in the audience can take this Fatihah into your meditation and use it as a Mandala of sorts. If it is Gods will, you will experience an Opening.
It has been suggested by The Masters that you read the Qur’an as if it is being revealed to you personally. You are now the recipient of Divine Revelation and must be made aware of the great responsibility that goes along with this gift from God.
The message is Simple enough for any man or woman to understand it. In the Arabic as you have heard, it is both captivating, and compelling. I do not think it necessary to elaborate at this point on the formula – it is self-explanatory.
Again I would like to remind you that the Miracle that is attributed to the Prophet Mohammad is the Miracle of The Qur’an. Miraculous not in the sense that he wrote it, or that he was the author of it ‑ but no! He was chosen to receive and deliver this Revelation that is looked upon as the Final Revelation. And he ‑(Mohammad) in turn The Final Prophet. This Book (Qur’an) is looked upon as the Seal of Revelation ‑and the Prophet appropriately is looked upon as the Seal of The Prophets.
It is only by a careful examination of the belief system of Islam that we are going to Find the answers to many of the questions that plague the man on the outside, the non‑Muslim, the media, the critic, and the Orientalist ‑ Answers to the questions that must be asked by any reasonably intelligent person who watches the News. What do you think when you hear the word Islam used in the media?
More often than not the term Islamic is followed by the labels: Fundamentalist! Terrorist! Suicide Bomber! Fanatic!. Most, if not all are negative. That is the usual assessment from the Outside.
How true is this assessment? And since we are dealing with fundamentals the question must be asked what is a Fundamentalist?
We have attempted to lay out in the last half hour the most fundamental ideas and concepts of the Islamic Faith. No person can consider himself a Muslim without having at Rock‑bottom a firm conviction based on the beliefs we have just laid out.
If what we have discussed above is the case then the question must be asked what is there about these beliefs that present a problem to the folks on the Outside.
The problem is that most of these Muslims that we hear about from day to day in the media live in areas of the world that have been directly or indirectly influenced by western governments. Most of these Muslims are struggling with the problems of either colonization, post‑colonization, coupled with repressive governments that do not permit Muslims to practice Islam according to the dictates of the Qur’an.
We have already stated that Islam is a complete way of life ‑ it is a complete system which includes all social activity including Government. God is the Greatest, his Book and His Prophets serve as the ultimate guides for the Muslims and the World in which they find themselves ‑ it becomes clear that there is no separation of Church and State in Islam.
If the state does not provide the necessary environment and the freedom to practice this religion then a very great problem arises. As a result of governmental control the Muslim is told that there will be restrictions placed on his religion ‑ and he responds by saying ‑”NO! I will die first.” Why? Because there is no life, no living for the Muslim without his religion ‑He becomes a non-entity. And that cannot be because Allah has told him in the Qur’an that Islam is the Best and that God has made man His vice‑regent on the earth.
Pay strict attention to these points please, because ‑they are echoes of the many voices from within, the folk on the inside. We are living in the year 2002 and are hearing or ignoring the cries of One Billion People.
After a careful examination of history and the problems that have beset the Muslim World since its inception one will come away with an understanding of the facts surrounding the “Crying Out For Freedom”, that we hear around the world.
The media (the antagonistic outside) has decided to interpret this cry as a threat to a so-called Christian or non Muslim world. They are making an attempt to convince us that Islam in its most fundamental aspect is world threatening and must be destroyed by any means necessary.
Hopefully most of us are aware to some extent that public opinion is largely shaped by the media. It has been the case for eons, and it is up to the individual to ferret out the truth. Hence, this evenings talk. The Muslims do not have many opportunities to defend themselves and their lobby in the halls of international justice is tenuous and almost nonexistent.
As Marshal McLuhan wrote many gears ago “The Medium is The Message” (1967). He also wrote ” War and Peace in the Global Village” (1968.) In these books he began‑to develop a theory that explains that electronic communication ‑ especially TELEVISION ‑dominates the life of all Western peoples. And that in each major period in human history – takes its character from the medium of communication used widely at the time. As students we must keep this in mind so we will be alert to what type of information we may be allowing to tint our lenses ‑so‑to speak.
And that cannot be done without having the patience to sit and listen objectively, as you are doing right now, to the other guy’s story, and to allow someone the opportunity to help you create an overview of the world of Islam which is both subjective and highly personal. A view that cannot be provided by an outside source, no matter how scholarly or authoritative it may appear to be.
Years ago Western scholarship demanded that its proponents maintain strict levels of objectivity ‑ We Historians know that it is almost impossible to render an objective opinion or view of any sociological phenomena. An opinion is almost always shaped and colored by the viewpoint or perspective of its proponent.
The fact remains that the insiders view and the outsiders view contain different dimensions & proportions. And the question is asked how objective can we afford to be when the flames of the Muslim Holocaust is roaring in Front of our very eyes.
For the Muslim the President is not the greatest, the State is not the greatest, the King or Monarch who is currently sitting on his or her throne is not the greatest.
In conclusion I would like to reiterate the Fundamental Islamic belief that God has the power to do all things ‑God is the First Al‑Awwal and He is the Last Al‑Akhir.
For the Muslim, God (Allah) is the Greatest, and I guess this is the one thing that upsets most people who have become convinced that the State or the Government or some leader is the greatest.
Separation is the major cause of the suffering of mankind ‑separation from the source of creation, which is God. The question must be asked: Since God is the Creator is He not qualified to rule over His creation?
We can all attest to the shattered condition of most of mankind, and I ask you all:
“What are the alternatives”?
It is a Fundamental belief of the Muslims that only God has the power to restore and replenish, and the world sorely needs restoration and replenishment. As we have seen that Islam IS an alternative to the chaos that surrounds us, it leads to a condition of Peace through submission to God (Allah) and on that note I leave you with the greeting of the Muslims – it is the very same one that I used at the beginning of our talk ‑ for the Muslim it is used for both greeting and parting and it best summarizes our topic for the night:
“Assallamo Aleikum!” Peace be with You!