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ISLAM as IDEA(1 of 2)

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Islam as Idea

Core Beliefs | Rival Interpretations of Hadith

Core Beliefs

The word "Islam" translates to "submission to God." For that, one needs to know God's will, and, as a belief system, Islam holds that God's will is revealed in the Koran.

Bernard Lewis writes:

In earlier times, the religious definition of Islam was clear and simple, and Muslims did not go through the agonizing struggles of the early Christians to define and agree [or disagree] on formulations of the finer points of doctrine and belief. For Muslims the task of definition was much easier and was classically formulated by an early authority: "All those are Muslims who testify that God is one and Muhammad is his Prophet, and who pray towards Mecca." note45

Moses with tablet

Moses again! Islam calls him Musa and considers him one of the prophets of Islam, as they do Ibrahim (Abraham) and Isa (Jesus).

The archangel Jibra'il

The archangel Jibra'il (Gabriel) with feathers and Christian paraphernalia. He is viewed as incorporeal but able to manifest himself into a form comprehended by human eyes. He is believed to have revealed the Koran to Muhammad sura by sura.

From the 600s, followers of Muhammad adhered to his claim, expressed in the Koran, that he was only a prophet. Mohammadan and Mohammadanism were words invented by European Christians that falsely suggested that Muslims worshipped Muhammad as they worshipped Christ Jesus. The Buddhists had the Buddha as their primary teacher. The Muslims had the Prophet Muhammad. And Islam had other prophets: Abraham, Moses, Jesus. Muslims believed that prophets were sent by God to various nations and that Muhammad was the last of the prophets. The first Muslim, they believe, was the Adam of Jewish mythology.

It was Islamic orthodoxy that there was only one god. The Muslims believed in spirits as angels and demons – Jinns – but they chose not to label these as gods.

In accordance with the Prophet Muhammad's wishes that he not be worshipped as a god, there would be no images of the Prophet in mosques. The orthodox remained hostile to the worship of any images, and they refrained from imagined views of God's appearance, holding that nobody knew what God looked like. There would be no images of God drawn as Michelangelo did on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Muhammad the Prophet drew from Judaism, and they took seriously what it says in Exodus 20:

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.

Arabic was believed to be God's language, given to Adam. Prayers were in Arabic. And proper Arabic was what was found in the Koran. The Koran, it was claimed, contained no words of foreign origin. And the Koran could not be translated. Muslims would choose to consider the Koran in English not a translation but a description.

Like Jewish scripture, the Koran was poetry – not written entirely for clarity as is secular law or history as written by Thucydides. The Koran consisted of allusions (indirect references) not clear to everyone who reads them. Passages in the Koran would be interpreted differently. Commentators would struggle to explain the allusions and the circumstances that had surrounded Muhammad at the time of the revelations. Others would not be concerned with circumstances. Some Muslim theologians would echo Plato's theory that reality and truths were eternal. With Moses and Jesus as part of the Koran, some held that these two preached Islam and that scripture before the Koran were corruptions corrected by the Koran. Islam held that the Jew Abraham was central to history. And Islam held Jesus as having been granted miracles by God, but they denied that Jesus he was sacrificed by God in compensation for humanity's sins.

Muslims believed in sin, and they had their own lists of prohibitions similar to Judaism's Ten Commandments, including prohibitions against theft, murder and adultery. But they did not believe in original sin. They viewed infants as having been born pure. They believed redemption by sincere apologies made in the privacy of one's own prayers rather than public displays or confessions. They believed in heaven and hell, hell being where one suffers eternal pain. And they expected the coming of a Day of Judgment.

Muslims saw justice as a fundamental part of Islam. The Koran, 16:90, reads: "Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice..." Muslims have seen themselves as needing to be socially and politically involved as a part of serving justice, and they have been critical of Christianity's withdrawals, as to monasteries and what they see as Christianity's sweet sounding but unrealistic pacifistic declarations.

The Muslims were traditional, however, in their attitude toward women. One example of this is the testimony of women being worth only half that of a man. The Koran 2:282 reads:

Get two witnesses out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women so that if one of them errs the other can remind her.

One more example is the law regarding inheritance, expressed in 4:176 of the Koran:

If there are brothers and sisters, the male receives twice the share of the female.


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