Finally! An Intro to Islam!

16 10 2009

I have studied most of the world’s religions, practiced many, and looked for what Truth could be found from them.  But, being a Jew, and a woman, I abstained from Islam.  They didn’t want me, I didn’t want them, it was fair.  But, with the advent of this blog, I could not turn my back on Islam: it is simply too large a religion to sweep aside as if it did not matter, especially since I will be getting into much newer and much smaller religions as time goes by.

…cue far-away harp music leading to non-sequitur…

When I was younger, now nearly 30 years ago, I had a roommate in Denver.  Her name was Martha Brummett, and I had the good fortune to see her once, between those golden days all those years ago, and her untimely passing last year.  She met her partner, Liz, the night I met my ex, almost to the same minute.  Mercury had just gone Stationary Direct, and, I cast a chart to show her in the morning, asking whether I had found the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with.  When I woke up in the morning, I looked at the chart, but the Ascendant was a few minutes off what I thought I remembered it being.  As I was scratching my head, Martha came out of her room, in her very disreputable bathrobe, and said, “ah, I see you found the chart I left for you.”, and, of course, I knew what had happened.  I said to her, “you met someone last night, someone you will spend the rest of your life with.”  She just guffawed her Martha guffaw, and, she and Liz started dating, and, sure enough, she had found the person she would, indeed, spend the rest of her life with.  As a happy aside, I spent 14 years with my Stationary Direct person before finding my true love, so, if you get into a relationship when Mercury goes Stationary Direct, expect to stay there for awhile.

I miss Martha very much.  She was a good friend; she was smart; she was funny; she was a rebel; and she died too young. 

After her passing, I, like so many other people, started writing about her on her FaceBook page, and some of us, people who had never met before, but had heard of each other through Martha, became friends.  And that is how I came to know Susan Cain.  Susan has studied Islam as I have studied other religions, and, now, without further ado, I let her start talking about Islam in her own words.



In the 21st century, there is a vast canyon filled with fear, uncertainty and distrust of Islam. This canyon separates the West from the East. Christians from Muslims. I am speaking from the perspective of an American raised in a predominantly Christian society.

We’ve always viewed the lands of the East as mysterious and with a religion that is unknown to us, Islam. We have been taught to distrust the people there for many years. Remember the Iranian hostage crisis that toppled the presidency of Jimmy Carter? In my lifetime, that was when Iran became the face of Islam to the West. Because I was young, the only thing I understood about that time was that there were dangerous people in the Middle East holding innocent people as hostages to make a point I did not understand either. I knew they were Muslims. I was too young to be bothered with watching boring news about politics, so I relied on the people around me to form my opinions. Besides, our newscasts were all basically saying the same things as those around me. Yes, these people, these Muslims certainly could not be trusted and were evil.

As I look back to that time, I remember seeing seeds of hate I had not known before. The Middle East went from being exotic lands filled with mystery and the mystical, deserts and oases, kings and pharaohs to lands filled with people who hated Americans and kidnapped and killed them.

We were already suspicious of Muslims before 9/11, so it was very easy to believe the fear, lies, and hate being spread about them & encouraged by our government for 8 long years. We were taught hate and prejudice on a federal level for a sustained period of time. That makes it very difficult for an average American to defend Islam in the U.S.

The only way to overcome this fear and prejudice is to understand what true Islam is. I’m not talking about the Islam that has become defamed and used by terrorists to justify a “holy jihad” against innocent citizens. Those people are not practicing the Islamic faith, they are using it. They are making a good religion into a cult movement feared by the world.

If we simply understood the 5 Pillars (duties) of Islam whose purpose is to unite all Muslims into one community, we might begin to understand that Islam is a religion that demands high character in its followers. We could distinguish between a true Muslim and a terrorist cult member because those who do not adhere to these 5 pillars are not representing Islam.

It is believed that translations of the Qur’an into languages other than what it was written in are “corrupted” versions of it; it has Man’s interpretations in it. However, I cannot write in Arabic nor can I understand the language. So, for my purposes here, I must provide my explanations in English. Anything said here will be as true to the original source as possible.

There are 5 pillars (duties) of Islam that all Muslims are required to follow:

1) Shahada: {“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad peace be upon him is the Prophet of Allah.”} This is the set statement of the Shahada. A Muslim must profess his belief in the One God, Allah, and the path to Allah can be attained through his prophet Mohammad peace be upon him. Allah is the name of the only God in Islam. Allah is a pre-Islamic name coming from the compound Arabic word Al-ilah which means the God, which is derived from al (the) ilah (deity).

2) Salat: the requirement to pray 5 times a day at set times: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. Every Salat is performed facing east toward the Ka’bah in Mecca.
The Ka’bah is a cube-shaped building in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and is the most sacred site in Islam. The building predates Islam, and, according to Islamic tradition, the first building at the site was built by Abraham of the Old Testament & the Torah. The building has a mosque built around it, the Masjid al-Haram. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayers, no matter where they are. The prayers are essentially praise and adoration for Allah, but may include personal requests. (More about the Ka’bah in the 5th pillar.)

3) Zakat: the practice of charitable giving (alms giving) by Muslims based on accumulated wealth. 2.5% of one’s wealth must be spent for the poor and needy. Zakat must be performed if financially able. There are 2 types of zakats, but too much detail can be overwhelming and isn’t necessary here. Just as an extra bit of info, there is a required minimum (nisab) yearly contribution total of approximately $3,000…again, if you can afford it. You can’t just drop your money in a collection box and walk away. There are 4 principles a Muslim must observe when giving Zakat: A1) The giver must declare to Allah his intention to give the Zakat. A2) The Zakat must be paid on the day that it is due. If one fails to pay the Zakat, people think he is refusing to fulfill God’s wishes. A3) Payment must be in kind. This means if one has a lot of money then he needs to pay 2.5% of his income. If he does not have much money, he needs to pay in a different way. For instance, if he has a lot of cattle, then he pays in cattle instead of money. A4) The Zakat must be distributed in the community from which it was collected.

4) Sawm of Ramadan: There are 3 types of fasting (sawm) recognized in the Qur’an: ascetic fasting, fasting for repentance or compensation, and ritual fasting. Ritual fasting is required during the month of Ramadan. Muslims must abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk during this month, and are to be especially aware of all other sins. The fast is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to Allah, to express their gratitude to and dependence on him, to atone for their past sins, and to remind them of the needy. During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language, gossip and to try to get along with people better than normal. Obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. I’d like to add that some Muslims are exempt from following the fast of Ramadan if there are extenuating medical circumstances or other reasons fasting may be harmful for them.

5) Hajj: The Hajj is a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia that every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must make at least once in their life. It is a yearly observance, but since the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, the date varies each year. This year it will happen near the end of November. The Prophet was born approximately in 570AD in Makkah (Bakka, Baca, Mecca). Mecca holds the holiest site in all Islam, the Masjid al-Haram (‘Sacred Mosque’), and was declared a site of pilgrimage by the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him in 630. That was the year of his triumphant return to the city after years of exile in Medina. Inside the Sacred Mosque is the Ka’bah, a large cubical building said by Muslims to have been built by Abraham. In the Ka’bah is the “black stone”, an object Muslims believe was given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel. The name Ka’bah comes from the Arabic word meaning ‘cube’, and refers to the cube-shaped stone structure inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. As the focal point for worship during the daily prayers, it unifies all Muslims: wherever they are in the world, Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca and the Ka’bah. This direction is known as the qiblah.

In my next blog, I’d like to take these 5 Pillars apart and explain how they shape a Muslim’s character. But the primary purpose of Islam, its beliefs and rituals is one thing:
to provide people with the tools to lead as righteous a life as possible as taught by the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. The goal of every true Muslim’s life is to live in such a way that he/she will be welcomed into Allah’s (God’s) kingdom for eternity, to be a person whose every action glorifies and loves their god, and to be a person who acts in the interest of others more than themselves. What more common goal does any religion need in order to be understood and respected, not feared?

“Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in Allah (God) and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” Quran (2:62)




One response

20 10 2009
Mette Damgaard

Sharia – Islamic law also called – is the name of a barbaric legal system, as Muslims emitter of Islam’s holy book the Koran and the hadith, ie. Reports of how Muhammad and his first four successors (khaliffer) behaved. The system is so far from the modern Western and Danish opinion as anybody can imagine. Including Sharia operates with crimes that are quite unknown in Denmark today, including sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, alcohol, blasphemy, unbelief and apostasy from Islam. All things which we think belongs in Denmark privacy and should not be covered by criminal law.

Conversely, operating the Sharia with a series of “rights” that must occur modern Westerners unacceptable. Slavery is allowed. The same goes for polygamy, just as there is no criminal age of consent for sex with girls, if you mind you have acquired them legitimately. Sharia law also protects Muslims from having to endure insults the Prophet Muhammad. This is punishable as blasphemy, ie. with death.

A fundamental aspect of Sharia is the sharp divide between men and women, because women in fact banished to the status of the man’s property and and enjoy far fewer rights – often bordering on pure lawlessness. Women have half the inheritance of men. They must their lives be governed by a male guardian. Do not usually travel alone outside the home and not without their guardian’s consent. They are subject to severe restrictions in terms of appearance and dress. They are referred to the gender-segregated schools, are often excluded from certain professions, etc..

Furthermore, it is characteristic of Sharia, that the penalties are incredibly brutal. Sex before marriage is punishable by public flogging; adultery with stoning to death, theft with amputation of hands or feet; blasphemy with beheadings, etc. After the general Danish Sharia judicial philosophy is also quite unacceptable. Eg. counts a female witness is only half that of a male, and there is no possibility of appeal, when the conviction occurred.

In addition, the Sharia wherever it is wholly or partially imported unit (eg Pakistan, Sudan and the Muslim parts of Nigeria) is often practiced quite arbitrary, even by its own merits. People who do not profess to the accepted beliefs within Islam, Christianity or Judaism are quite lawless. For example. Buddhists and atheists, and followers of different Islamic orientations so as Bahai and Ahmadyya stands outside the law and can be killed easily.

Since Sharia is claimed to be ordained by God himself, is beyond ordinary human reason. It can not be discussed. There can not be voted on. It can not be changed. And it can obviously never be replaced by human laws, as we know from our democratic system. It is even forbidden to criticize or protest against the Sharia, because such a course should be seen as a criticism of God’s clear commandments.

Muslim demands to introduce Sharia a very important part of a wider Islamic community perception. The goal is an Islamic government based on totalitarian regimentation and dictatorship during a priesthood. Thus implies a Sharia society form if possible worse than the one they know from Nazism and Stalinist dictatorships.
I look forward to your interpretation of Sharia! with great respect from Mette

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