It is said that the Koran (or Quran) was delivered by Allah to Muhammad. Much like the Bible is to Christians; the Koran delivers to Muslims guidance on how to live a virtuous life, as well as being a historical text of events in the area, and those which occurred around the Prophet Muhammad. It is said that to understand the differences between the Muslim sects, it is relevant to delve into Islamic history. “Some basic issues within Islam today, such as the strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims began at this time and better understanding of how the disputes began is needed.” (Biedzynski, 2005). Theological scholars will often discuss the correlation of different religions within texts and history, but it is evident within the Suras of the Koran, that not only were Jews and Christians recognized, but many biblical names are also mentioned, including Jesus, Moses and Mary. In fact, the Koran recognizes many similar figures for the same reasons Christianity and Judaism does, which perhaps serves as a further example on the connection all three religions have in recounting historical events.
The fundamentals of Islam are perhaps best explored through the principles governed by the Five Pillars of Islam. Essentially these are: a profession of faith, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and charity. In order for a Muslim to be considered for heaven, and their place with Allah, it is vital for them to adhere to the Five Pillars. The first, Shahadah, or tenet of Islam, is often recited in prayer, and is an affirmation made that Mohammad is the Prophet of Allah, and there is only Allah. Arguably, this is an important pillar, and fundamentally the foundation of all Islamic practices.
The second pillar, or Salat, is not only the act of praying five times a day, but is also regarded in death, and an act of purification of the spirit, as mentioned in Sura 87, “prosperous indeed is he who purifies himself recollects the name of his Lord and performs prayers” (lines 14-15). There is no division in prayer, only unity:
“The words of the prayer are, essentially, those of Surat Al-Fatihah and other parts of the Quran chosen by the devotee. Thus our prayers become Allah’s words. The prayers in the form of the Friday prayer are also a weekly lesson in human equality and community solidarity” (Ayoub, 116).
Zakat, or almsgiving is the Third Pillar of Islam. It is the form of charity that is practiced not only during Ramadan, but annually. The concept is to ease economic stress on the less fortunate, and is considered as an act of the virtuous who “have faith in the unseen, observe regular worship, and give alms of that which we have bestowed upon them” (2:3). The concept begins with the notion that everything belongs to Allah, and people are merely looking after it – from this earth to financial success. As is often said of charity beginning at home, the concept of zakat also starts at home, and closest friends and relations, before branching out into the community, or as stated in the Koran, “they thus give food for love of Him to the destitute, orphan, and captive” (76:8).
Whilst zakat and charity is made during Ramadan, the holy month is best observed through fasting. It is the forth Pillar of Islam, and is a similar notion in remembering those less fortunate around us. It is also a significant month, historically:
“Fasting, however, has a crucial significance for Muslims. It was during the month of Ramadan that Allah granted victory to Muslims over the Makkan associators in the Battle of Badr” (p125).
It was also during Ramadan, that the Koran was given to Muhammad, as noted in Sura 2. During Ramadan, it is significant that Muslims remain pure, and abstain from sexual intercourse, ill tempers or bad language. They also fast from sunrise to dusk, and offer charity to their community and family.
The final Pillar of Islam is the Hajj, a pilgrimage which should be made at least once in a lifetime by every Muslim. The journey involves a pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Ka’ba built there. Historically, the pilgrimage reminds Muslims of Ibrahim, and retracing of the steps he made. Rituals within the Hajj also retrace Hajar’s search for water in the barren mountains. Sura 3 speaks of how it is an ‘obligation’ for people to perform the pilgrimage, and also details how Muhammad made his first Hajj. Pilgrims who complete the annual Hajj are considered to be ‘reborn’, and able to start anew. It is considered a cleansing, but is also historically poignant:
“During the Hajj important religious and political movements were born, momentous decisions and ideas were taken and exchanged, and crucial calls to jihad in the way of Allah and against oppression, tyranny and wrong were proclaimed. The Hajj is our teacher, our social and political guide, and a source of blessing in our lives” (p129).
There are many things within Islam that are considered taboo, the consumption of pork and the act of suicide are two of them. Such things are called “haram”, and are labeled as forbidden acts that detract from the fundamentals of Islam. Pork is forbidden, quite simply because it is considered unclean. The Koran matter-of-factly states, “He has forbidden for you only carrion and blood and swine-flesh and that which has been immolated in the name of any other than Allah; but he who is driven thereto, neither craving nor transgressing” (16:114-115).
As for suicide, Muhammad speaks of an eternity in what can be considered Hell. People, who committed suicide, would spend their days reliving the experience. “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire” (Sahih Bukhari 2.446). It is with this in mind, that the concept of Jihad should be explored.
Jihad in itself is war (and defense) on the behalf of Islam. It is something that was often declared against those who cause ill towards a community, or as subtle as protecting a community against non-Muslims, or cleansing the soul of ill-thought and sin. In recent times, it has been extorted and abused by violence. The main aim of jihad in society is to eradicate wrongdoing and oppression (Ayoub, 191). Jihad is therefore an affirmation through action to Allah and Islam, as considered in Sura 47, “if you lend support to Allah, he shall grant you support and firmly strengthen your steps” (47:7). Jihads could involve absolving sin through study of the Koran, or sacred texts; and even through the act of the Hajj, to cleanse through action. Jihad, as it is portrayed today, is only one form, and often times not fully considered under Islamic Law.
Islamic Law is what governs Muslim society, and understandably, it adheres to what appears in the Koran. Suras 4 and 5 outline measures that should be undertaken through accidental death, murder and stealing. Concepts such as compensation or blood-money, for example, are paid out to the family of one accidentally killed. Stealing, was dealt as a stark punishment, however, with a thief losing the hand they used to steal with: “And the male thief and the female thief, cut off their hand as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is All-Powerful, All-Wise” (5:38).
The Koran, and specifically Islam’s relationship with Christianity and Judaism, outlines the historical relevance to the connections the religion has with them. It does not dispute their existence, or indeed significant people within both religious texts, rather it is almost reliant on them:
“The Qu’ran sees itself not only as depending on the Torah and Gospel for its own claim to authenticity, but also as ‘confirming’ the truth which they contain while at the same time superceding them. [..] We need to interpret our scriptures in ways that promote a meaningful dialogue which will lead to a true fellowship of faith” (98-99)
Many Muslims today acknowledge resemblances in religious practices, or are often comforted to find similarities. The same can be said vice-versa, though as more people from Judaic and Muslim background learn that not only do their scriptures acknowledge each other, but have similarities in prayer: “Men and women sit separately. Services can be led by any male member of the community. In mosques, as in synagogues, Orthodox or not, there are no human symbols of God” (Hirschfield, 2006).
It should also be considered, that many within Judaism and Islam need only look within their own verses to see the similarities- or as noted by a filmmaker keen to see open-dialogue, “educated by Muslims about the 99 names for God and the stories of Muhammad, Ms. Broyde-Sharone tries, in turn, to educate Jews about Islam. It is not a hateful monolith, she emphasizes. It is diverse just as Judaism is diverse” (Hirschfield, 2006).
The same can be argued for the appearance of Jesus within the Koran, and the religious ‘divide’ between the Bible and the Koran. Many Suras speak of not only him, but of Mary as well. “A verse in the Quran says, “Behold! The angels said, ‘O Mary! God gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and in (the company of) those nearest to God.'””(Oakland Tribune, 2003).
The foundation of Islam not only lies within the text of the Koran, but also within each individual Muslim and their interpretations of the text. Whilst Muslim countries and communities seem to have differing opinions on the taboo of suicide, or the overwhelming support of a ‘jihad’, the Pillars of Islam remain intact as a guiding frame of the religion. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam and practitioners are influenced by their own communities, history and political leaders, so it is perhaps no surprise that all three monolithic religions look to each other for validation.
Muslim musings on Jesus, Bible(s) and Dan Brown
Oakland Tribune. Jun 23, 2006. FindArticles.com. 25 Sep. 2007. (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20060623/ai_n16507597 )
Ayoub, M. M., Islam: Faith and Practice
The Open Press, Islamic Book Trust 2001.
Biedzynski, J. Historical Atlas of Islam.
Journal of Third World Studies. Fall 2005.
Hirschfield, R. God and Allah need to talk: L.A. filmmaker spearheads Jewish-Muslim dialogue.
National Catholic Reporter. Oct 6, 2006. FindArticles.com. 25 Sep. 2007. (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_43_42/ai_n17093198 )