Islam 101: The East Through Western Eyes
While I was growing up in Lebanon, I was able to see what the United States and the Western world was all about. Radio and television connected me to the West. I knew what the latest trends and fashions were, who was famous, what was in and was out. Radio gave us the news and TV was loaded with American programming. However, there has always been a lack of information coming from East to West. In fact, there has been a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding about the Middle East over the centuries. Shrouded in a language foreign to many, its heavily censored media controlled and influenced by Islamic leaders and dictators, the mystery continues to this day.
Westerners do not understand Middle Eastern culture, its religion, Islam, and how Islam as a political and religious ideology drives and impacts every aspect of the culture and its people. Westerners come from a Judeo-Christian background, where the teaching of faith centers on love, tolerance, and forgiveness. They do not understand that the sword of Islam—so glamorized on film—represents hatred, intolerance, murder, and the subjugation of anyone not Muslim.
The West’s perception of the mysterious Middle East began to come into focus during the past forty years with the rise of the PLO and Ayatollah Khomeini. The world watched one terror attack after another: the 1971 Munich Olympic massacre, the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombing of the marines in Lebanon, the Achille Laurohijacking and murders, the Pan Am flight that exploded over Scotland, TWA flight 847, and the killing and taking of hostages in Lebanon. At every airport security checkpoint and with every X-ray machine, the crackdown on security at airports drove the dangers home. Terrorism began to be a recognizable problem—but not really in the forefront of our minds. Countries and governments failed to connect the dots and realize that even though these terrorist attacks happened in different countries and an different continents, the perpetrators, regardless of their names or what group they belonged to, had something in common: they were Muslims, and their intended victims were always Westerners, Christians, and Jews.
September 11 brought this reality home. At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, the clear blue skies above the New York skyline were changed forever by an explosion of fire and smoke. In less than two hours four airplanes struck U.S. targets. The compelling and horrific images remain etched not only upon the psyche of America, but of all humanity. Via instant live news coverage, people around the world experienced the mass murder of innocents unfold before their eyes. People across the globe shared the new reality of fear and sorrow inflicted on a massive scale by terror in the name of Islam and Allah.
We needed to learn more about those who in the name of Islam and in homage to Allah would kill and murder not only Americans but anyone who would stand against the tenets of their ancient religion. These warriors of Islam had come to the shores of America not only to destroy the towers in a major U.S. city, but to make a statement. Indeed, they had been making their statement of hatred, intolerance, and bigotry for some time through terrorist activities around the globe. On September 11, 2001, radical Islamists demonstrated they were ready, willing and able to take on any city, culture, or country—even the most powerful nation in the world—until they alone would rise to be the masters of all humanity.
The West began to ask questions: Who really knew what Islam stood for? What was the truth about Islam? Is it a religion of peace or not?
If most of the world has been confused by Islam’s relationship to terrorist attacks worldwide, then Yahiya Emerick, the author of Understanding Islam, offers this simple explanation. It’s all been a misunderstanding, he claims, perpetrated by the distorted views presented of Muslims in such films as Not Without My Daughter, True Lies, Black Hawk Down, Under Siege, and Delta Force. He declares that these films and their ste reo typical media messages have "served to paint Muslims as wife-beaters, bomb-throwers, and swarthy immigrants whose loyalty cannot be trusted."1
So let’s test these claims against the "true" religion. Let’s see if the actual statements found in the Koran support this view. Is Islam a peaceful religion? Or do the proponents of this "peaceful" religion have a hidden agenda? Does Islam pose a threat to Jews, Christians, and others who possess a religious worldview other than Islam? And do we really need to be all that concerned about the declaration of jihad throughout the world?
To begin answering these questions we must first take a look at the Arab Middle East, the birthplace of Islam, to learn how its people, their heritage, their customs, and their origins contribute to the twenty-first-century phenomenon called Islamofascism or Islamonazism. Unless we understand where Islam originated, who adopted it, and what they stand for, we will not be able to understand what is driving terrorists today—terrorists who commit murder in the name of Islam and claim it is their God-given right to do so.
Before the advent of Islam, the people of Arabia were polytheists and worshiped many gods, among them divinities such as Al Lat, the sun goddess; Manah, the goddess of destiny; Al-’Uzza, the most mighty; and Venus, the morning star.2 They performed rituals and made sacrifices and offerings to deities embodied in trees and or sacred rocks.
The year 600 A.D.—just prior to the life of Mohammed and the birth of Islam—found Christians and Jews with rich and flourishing settlements in Arabia where they had built strongholds in the city and vicinity. The city of Yathrib, later to become known as Medina, lay in an oasis 250 miles north of Mecca, and was especially prosperous. Mecca was important because of its location halfway along the west coast of the Arabian peninsula. The city was a commercial hub for traveling nomads. Merchants prospered and grew in numbers as trade and business opportunities increased with the influx of travelers and merchants.
In addition to commerce, Mecca had another attraction that drew visitors: a sacred rock, a black stone enshrined in the Kaaba representing multiple Arabian gods, and where Arabs worshiped for many centuries prior to Mohammed and the advent of Islam. (The Kaaba is an example of how Islam appropriated aspects of previous religions as its own, just as it appropriated the Jewish Temple Mount in Jerusalem as Mohammad’s point of ascent into heaven.)
Mohammed was born into the Quyrash tribe in Mecca around 570 a.d.3 Around the age of forty, he began receiving revelations which would become the foundation for a new religion later to be called Islam and its followers Mohammedans. In the Koran, this event is described as a sudden explosion one night on Mount Hira where Mohammed spent a month each year. He was visited in his sleep by the angel Gabriel who commanded him to begin reciting. There was about a three-year gap between these first revelations and those that would follow in fragmented fashion, making up what is now known as the Koran.4
Mohammed preached that the Koran is the correctly written word of God, and any other work allegedly written by God is tainted. The Koran is not only the only untainted version of God’s word, but is also a "full and final revelation."5 It is because of this understanding and belief in Islamic doctrine and its teaching that radical Muslims today believe that Islam is the superior religion on earth and should be treated accordingly. Therefore, no man-made laws, contracts, negotiations, or conduct that contradicts the Koran should be respected. They believe that all nations must submit to Islam and that Sharia law (Islamic law) should be the governing code of conduct throughout the world.
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Five basic Islamic doctrines are embedded in the Koran, and there are five foundational pillars by which those who espouse Islam practice and carry out the beliefs of their religion.
The first doctrine is that there is only one God and He is self-sufficient and without partners. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and the creator of all that was and is and what will be. The second doctrine is that there have been many prophets sent by God. These prophets include Noah, Abraham, Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed. The third doctrine is that while God is self-sufficient, He also created angels, of which there are both good and evil. The fourth doctrine is that the Koran, not the Bible, is God’s entire and final message to the people. The fifth doctrine is that a final judgment day is approaching for all, when the evil will descend into hell, while the good will ascend into heaven.6
THE FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM: FOUNDATIONS OF FAITH AND EMPIRE
Profession of Faith: Iman.
Iman is the basic belief in the Oneness of God and the Prophet Mohammed. It is the creed, pivotal confession, and profession of Islam (Shahadah) which declares, "Allah is the greatest. There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet." Each Muslim must profess these words. For Muslims it confirms that God, as they know Him, is a unique being, unlike any other.
Second, Muslims adhere to regularly scheduled prayers, or Salat, that take place five times during the day. These are physical prayers and are considered a critical act of worship. During the prayers, which Muslims can do alone or with a congregation of other believers, they face Mecca. Through a series of ritual prayers that are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall, they reconfirm themselves and submit to Allah in every area of their lives.
It is important to stress how important the daily prayers are to the Islamic faith. Once the Islamic faith has been embraced, it is expected that the follower perform this prayer ritual five times daily. The prayer is used as a form of worship for Allah and a link for the follower to commune with Him, away from any other distractions. It is required that the prayers be said in Arabic, not in the person’s native tongue, as Arabic is the perfect language of the Koran as given by Allah and is unchangeable.
Giving of Alms: Zakat.
Third, practicing Muslims agree to a financial obligation or Zakat, which is a form of almsgiving or charity. Muslims believe that all they have belongs to Allah. Any wealth they may possess is given by God and entrusted to them. But Islam gets a little more specific about what is expected in the way of giving. Zakat requires that Muslims annually donate one fortieth of their income to the needy.7Only the poor are exempt from this form of prescribed charity.
Fourth, every year, at the celebration of Ramadan, Muslims fast or perform Sawm. From dawn until sundown, believers do not eat, drink, smoke, or have sexual intercourse. All those who are well enough must fast and abstain in this way for the entire duration of the holy month of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar.
The fifth pillar of Islam requires everyone who is able to make a pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca. This trip must be undertaken once during the lifetime of every Muslim. It takes place during the twelfth month of the year and demonstrates a final act of submission to Allah.8 Muslims congregate at the shrine of the Kaaba in Mecca. They kiss and touch the black stone as they circle the Kaaba dressed in white to symbolize purity.
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The five pillars of Islam describe the duties of every Muslim. As the main religious text of Islam the Koran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet. The Koran is the divine and sacred foundation of Islamic law. It is written in 114 chapters, also called "suras." It contains guidance, commandments, rules, ethical regulations, historical recreations, and wise sayings that pertain to every aspect of daily life. Not one word has been changed over the centuries.9
The Hadith is the accompanying book of the Koran, from which Muslims derive spiritual nourishment and daily guidance for life. The Hadith is a written record of the oral traditions, passed down from Muslim to Muslim, about the Prophet Mohammed’s life, actions, and deeds. The Hadith is a record of what the prophet was supposed to have said and done and is second in authority only to the Koran.
An additional body of text vital to Islam is Sharia, the Islamic holy law. Sharia is an Arabic word meaning "way." Islamic jurists gave this name to a set of laws to govern and guide Islamic believers. The Sharia spells out an obligatory set of rules, designated by God the supreme legislator, to be followed and obeyed. Sharia law discusses in detail rules governing marriage, divorce, child rearing, interpersonal relationships, food, clothing, hygiene, prayer, and even commercial and criminal law. These rules are meant to help Islamic believers to live and maintain a harmonious society.
Many Islamic practices, such as fasting, tithing, daily prayers, and profession of faith, have much in common with Christianity and Judaism. However, what makes Islam different from other religions is its call to kill and subjugate all other members of other faiths. The terrorists of today as well as imams in mosques throughout the world are calling for the death of millions of people around the world in the name of Islam. They are calling for jihad against the infidels, citing suras and verses from the Koran and Hadith to support their call to action. In order to understand why terrorists quote the Koran as the foundation behind their actions, we must come to understand Islam as a political and religious ideology.
Islam is central to the lives of Muslims. Understanding this very important fact is key to understanding the Islamic world and how it relates to the rest of the world. For Muslims, their loyalty and identity revolve around their religion. Even though Muslims and non-Muslims may live in the same community and have the same nationality, in the Islamic world it is religion and not national identity that defines their society and determines who belongs to it and who does not. For example, a Muslim Palestinian will feel a closer bond with and loyalty to a Muslim Albanian than to a Christian Palestinian even though the two Muslims speak different languages and come from different countries. Both Muslims share a divinely guided past and common sense of destiny. Both belong to the supreme religion of earth—Islam—and both are superior beings blessed by Allah and given authority over all other people because of their faith as professing Muslims.
The Ummah: Political Authority and Communal Life
Muslims believe that Allah is the sole true sovereign. He revealed to Mohammed all matters of life, politics, and religious law, and gave him authority to rule over all. The ummah is the political and religious community of Islam. It unites Muslims in all nations and makes them equal to one another, with Allah as their god and Mohammed as their po liti cal authority.
The Prophet Mohammed founded and ruled an Islamic empire not only as prophet but also as head of state. His po liti cal and legal authority was accepted only because of his religious status. Because of the precedent set by the Prophet Mohammed, the religion of Islam is not merely one segment of life, it regulates life completely, from the social and the political to the diplomatic, economic, and military. This combination of religion and politics as one is the foundation of Islam, an inseparable political/religious ideology of Islamic governments, and the basis of Muslim loyalties.
In Islam’s view, the world and mankind are divided into two irreconcilable groups: Dar Al Islam, the house of Islam, which is made up of believers, and where Islamic law reigns; and Dar Al Harb, the house of war, made up of non-Muslims, where infidels (known as kuffars, or nonbelievers) live. This of course refers to those of us who do not believe and profess Islam.10
In Islamic teaching, all people will one day accept Islam or submit to its rule. Based on Islamic teaching Islam cannot recognize political borders or permanent peace treaties. According to Ibin Taamiyah, a fourteenth-century Muslim jurist, any act of war against Dar Al Harb is morally and legally justified, and exempt from any ethical judgment. It is this ideology and belief that is the driving force behind those radical Muslims who work to impose Islam in its seventh-century practices upon the civilized world.
"Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah."11 (Koran 8:39)
Radical Islamists are commanded to wage jihad until victory.
Jihad is another very important component of Islam, and we must learn about it by examining history, not by listening to the Council on American Islamic Relations or other Islamic talking heads on television. Jihad is a communal religious duty for all Muslims young and old throughout the world. The Koran informs its followers that there is always a holy war being fought, and instructs its followers to participate. During the early centuries of Islamic expansion, fighting with the sword against the enemy infidel was the main commandment of jihad. Many Islamic pundits in the West today explain that jihad is mostly a spiritual struggle and not a military one. However, when you examine the history of Islam and the commandments of the Koran that endorse jihad as a military tool, it becomes clear that the term jihad refers mostly to war against nonbelievers. For example, the Koran sura 9:29 commands Muslims to "fight against those who do not believe in God or the judgment day, who permit what God and his messenger have forbidden, and who refuse allegiance to the true faith."
Excerpted from They Must Be Stopped by Brigitte Gabriel.
Copyright © 2008 by Brigitte Gabriel.
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher.