Islam 101: Session 1: Introduction, Abraham, and Sacrifice
Session 2: The Jahiliyah
Adam discusses pre-Islamic Arabia.
For information on “Fate” see Farid Esack, “The Qur’an: A Users Guide” page 34.
Session 3: Muhammad and Khadija: A Love Story
Session 4: The Nature of the Qur’an
Session 5: Tawhid, the Oneness of God
Session 6: The Archaic Sacred and the Tawhid of Being Human
Islam, Friendship, and the Race To Do Good Deeds
I’ve known Esmail for about three years now. He’s always been gracious, warm, and jovial. Esmail is quick to smile and eager to form friendships. We’ve had numerous long discussions about Islam, Muhammad, and about his own life – the fascinating stories he tells about his early years in Iran and the last 40 year living as a Muslim in the West are enthralling.
Because Esmail has a passion for discussing religion with people, I invited him to come to our church to talk with us about Islam. For many of us, the only thing we know about Islam is what we hear on television or on radio. Esmail allowed us to break away from many of those stereotypes and put a face and name with Islam. For example, many of us believe that Jews and Muslims are inherently at odds with one another. Yet Esmail told us that, for many years, the Islamic Cultural Center where he worships has been sharing worship space with a synagogue.
As always, Esmail was gracious and warm. As Esmail introduces us to Islam, he told us that the word islamcomes from the Arabic words for “peace” and “submission.” Hearing Esmail talk, one knows that this does not mean submission to a tyrant god bent on violence, but submitting our wills and desires the God that the Qur’an reveals to be Grace and Mercy. (For example, 113 of 114 suras, or chapters, of the Qur’an start, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.) Islam asks Muslims to act upon God’s Grace and Mercy by caring for others, especially for the widows, orphans, the poor, and the oppressed. Esmail embodies those attributes and implicitly challenges me to act upon God’s Grace and Mercy. That, I think, is what inter-faith friendships are all about.
But Last night was the first time I’ve seen Esmail in emotional pain. It started when he began to discuss the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He somberly claimed, “Before they hijacked those planes, they hijacked my religion.” He used Qur’anic verses to bolster his rejection of terrorism. At the same time he claimed that we must never use the violent methods of the terrorists to stop terrorism. Violence only breeds violence and we inevitably become terrorists ourselves. He called for action, but action based on patience and persuasion rather than on violence.
And that’s one of the things that I love about Esmail. He calls people to account, but he abhors using violence – even using violence against violent people. He recently told me that he would like to be a pacifist, but cannot, for there are times when violence may be necessary.
As a mimetic anthropologist, I’m always looking for internal critiques of violence. Islam doesn’t avoid the fact that humans are prone to violence, but Islam also critiques that violence. The word islam is in itself a critique of violence, for the goal is peace. When a Muslim uses violence, he or she has obviously missed the goal. Now, some might assume that Muslims believe peace will come only when the world is converted to Islam. This accusation is false and is refuted by the Qur’an. For example, one of the Qur’anic verses that Esmail and I like to quote comes from chapter 2:148. It discusses people of different religions and claims, “Each community has its own direction to which it turns: race to do good deed and wherever you are, God will bring you together. God has power to do everything.”
If we could all follow the example of Esmail and race to do good deeds, the world would be a much better place.
The Qur’an and Failure
Ramadan: The God of the Marginalized
Adam discusses the importance of Ramadan. Ramadan critiques the popular misunderstanding that the God of Islam is a God of power, might, and conquest. Ramadan claims that the God of Islam is the God who cares about the poor, hungry, and marginalized of culture. Muhammad critiqued the pre-Islamic Arabian view that Fate was in control of life. The Jahaliyya, or Age of Ignorance, believe fate controlled who was rich and powerful and who was poor and marginalized. There was little incentive for the rich to care for the poor. Muhammad challenged this view, and fasting during the month of Ramadan forces Muslims to identify with and care for the poor, weak, and hungry.