A Way of Life

Islam

A Way of Life
Sunday, September 23, 2018

Muslims do not worship Muhammad. He is a prophet . . . [and] because of his pure submission to God alone, [he] serves as the model of the perfect human being. His holiness lies not in his own being, but in his pointing away from himself and toward the Holy One. —Mirabai Starr [1]

There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam. Like Christianity and other religions, there is a great deal of variety within Islam. Just as not all Christians are extremists, the majority of Muslims are not terrorists. As many Christians disagree on theology and hermeneutics, so Muslims have different ways of interpreting their sacred text and tradition. Over the next week I’ll share some background, drawing from Karen Armstrong’s work, and then turn to one stream within Islam, Sufism. I hope this brief introduction will help you recognize God’s image and likeness in your Muslim brothers and sisters and learn more about their faith! 

Religious historian Karen Armstrong describes the origins of Islam:

In 610, Muhammad ibn Abdullah (c. 560–632), a merchant of the thriving commercial city of Mecca in the Arabian Hijaz, began to have revelations that he believed came from the God of the Jews and Christians. These divine messages were eventually brought together in the scripture known as the Qur’an, the “Recitation,” and its text was finalized a mere twenty years after the Prophet’s death. The religion of the Qur’an would eventually be known as Islam, a word that means “surrender” to God, and was based on the same basic principles as the two other monotheistic traditions.

The Qur’an has no interest in “belief.” . . . Theological speculation that results in the formulation of abstruse doctrines is dismissed as zannah, self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can prove one way or the other but that makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian. Like any religion or philosophia, Islam [is] a way of life (din). The fundamental message of the Qur’an [is] . . . an ethical summons to practically expressed compassion: it is wrong to build a private fortune and good to share your wealth fairly and create a just society where poor and vulnerable people are treated with respect. [2]

The five “pillars” of Islam are a miqra, a summons to dedicated activity: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage. This is also true of the first “pillar,” the declaration of faith: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet.” This is not a “creed” in the modern Western sense; the Muslim who makes this shahadah “bears witness” in his life and in every single one of his actions that his chief priority is Allah and that no other “gods”—which include political, material, economic, and personal ambitions—can take precedence over his commitment to God alone. In the Qur’an, faith (iman) is something that people do: they share their wealth, perform the “works of justice” (salihat), and prostrate their bodies to the ground in the kenotic, ego-deflating act of prayer (salat). [3]

References:
[1] Mirabai Starr, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Monkfish Book Publishing: 2012), 52.

[2] See Qur’an 92:18; 9:103; 63;9; 102:1.

[3] See Qur’an 90:13-20.

Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (Alfred A. Knopf: 2009), 99.

Image Credit: Muslims Praying toward Mecca (detail). Engraving.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the Qur’an, faith (iman) is something that people do: they share their wealth, perform the “works of justice” (salihat), and prostrate their bodies to the ground in the kenotic, ego-deflating act of prayer (salat). —Karen Armstrong
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