Understanding Islam
by Thomas Lippman

Thomas Lippman was a reporter assigned for several years to Egypt and the Middle East. Islam in Arabic means submission (to the will of God). It is the name of the religion founded in 610 A.D. by Mohammed. A person who believes in Islam is a Moslem or Muslim, which means "one who submits." Sometimes Westerners call them Mohammedans, but this is offensive to them because it implies that they worship Mohammed as Christians worship Christ. But they do not worship Mohammed, they only worship God.

Some Moslems are upset when English-speaking people refer to the Moslem deity as Allah. Different languages have different words for the English word God. The Arabic word is Allah and the Hebrew word is Yahweh. If you are speaking or writing in English about the god of Mohammed or the god of Abraham, use the word God. Moses, Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed all dealt with the same character whose English name is God.

Mohammed preached that there is only one god and that we should not worship anything or anyone except God. Mohammed did not claim to be God or the son of God. He said God is the all-knowing spirit who created the universe. God does not have a physical body, and He does not beget children.

God has revealed His commandments through the Hebrew prophets, such as Abraham and Moses, and through Jesus. In all of these revelations God gave a consistent message: He is the only god. He deserves all the credit, and He doesn't like it when people worship false idols. This theme occurs over and over again in the Old Testament, but the Jews kept forgetting it and frequently reverted to worshiping golden calves and lending money at interest. So God sent Jesus to reform the Jews and to spread the word that there is only one wonderful, loving, all-powerful, benevolent god, and they had better do what He says or else. Jesus wandered around preaching this message and converting some people to the true religion. But the Jewish rabbis rejected Jesus, and, when he died, his disciples right away changed his religion by inventing the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), and Christianity reverted to polytheism. Not only that, the Christians established an elaborate Roman Catholic hierarchy with numerous intermediaries between the individual and the 3-part god: priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, the pope, saints by the dozen, and the blessed Virgin Mary. Idolatry became rampant among Catholics.

God watched all this for 600 years until he couldn't stand it any more. Then He decided it was time to send one more prophet to remind people that there is only one God and that He knows what you are doing and you better watch out. This time He chose an Arab named Mohammed to be His messenger. (The Arabs were even more idolatrous than the Jews and the Christians. Each Arab tribe worshiped several different gods. But, at least they had an excuse, God had never revealed Himself to them before.)

So Mohammed preached monotheism to the Arabs. He made his message as simple as possible: There is only one (1) God. Worship Him (God). Don't worship nobody else. Don't worship Mohammed. Don't worship Jesus or Moses or Abraham (even though they were great prophets of God). They were not God. Only God is God, and there is only one (1) of Him. God has no sons or daughters or other kin. Worship God. He (God) insists that you worship Him. He likes it very much. He (God--the one and only) will let you live forever in Paradise if you worship Him and do what He commands. If you don't worship Him, and only Him, then, when the Judgment Day comes, He will send you to Hell, where it is very hot and uncomfortable. Any questions so far?

Also, don't worship the way the Church or the clergy tells you to worship. There is no legitimate Church or clergy. And don't make statues, icons, or representations of God. That is sacrilegious. There are no intermediaries between you and God: no saints, no sacraments, no organizations, no priests. All Moslems are equal before God. Each Moslem must face God directly and be accountable for his own actions.

Mohammed tried to avoid the mistakes that Jesus made: (1) Mohammed did not say when the Judgment Day was coming. He said it is entirely up to God. So, Mohammed's predictions cannot be disproved. (2) By emphasizing that there are no intermediaries between the individual and God, Mohammed prevented the establishment of a church and a priestly class, which could have changed his message to suit their purposes. (3) He avoided vague and mystical theology, which is open to different interpretations. (4) He made Paradise sound attractive to men by describing it as an oasis where the faithful, adorned with green silk and silver bracelets, will lie around on soft couches and be attended by dark-eyed virgins who will bring them refreshing drinks in silver goblets. (5) Mohammed did not claim to be anything other than a man. He did not perform any miracles, and he denied that anyone else ever performed any miracles. He said Jesus did not die on the cross and then get resurrected. Someone else was crucified in Jesus' place. (6) Mohammed appreciated sex. He said, "Women are your fields. Go, then, into your fields as you please." (7) He rejected the total pacifism of Jesus. Instead he said, "Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. God does not love the aggressors." (2:190)

Despite his efforts to state his message clearly,

"Less than 30 years after the death of Mohammed, the brotherhood of Islam that he preached was buried in the graveyard of political rivalry and caliphal intrigue. It has never been disinterred."
When Mohammed died, some of his followers thought that the Moslems needed a temporal leader, a caliph, to administer the political power that Mohammed had built up. Naturally, this led to bitter disputes in which all the values that Mohammed preached were ignored by those who wanted to grab power. Three of the first four caliphs were assassinated. The other one ruled for only 2 years and died of natural caused before anyone could knock him off.

One of the few worthwhile things ever done by a caliph was to sponsor the recording of Mohammed's words in a book, The Koran. Not only did The Koran preserve Mohammed's message, it standardized the Arabic language and thereby promoted Arabic literature in general.

Islam was a reformation movement like Protestantism, but it preceded the protestant sects by 1000 years. Both Islam and Protestantism deny the authority of the pope, and they both stress that the individual can speak directly to God without going through the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Islam goes further than Protestantism. Islam says God is not divided into three parts. God is not a father. Jesus is not God's son--neither is anybody else. And the Holy Ghost is a fiction. The Trinity, which all Christians believe in, is a hoax that diverts attention from the one God.

You might think that the radical monotheism of Islam could not be open to different interpretations and that it would not spawn factions that fight each other. You would be wrong. There are several Moslem sects, and they don't get along with each other. Eighty-five percent of Moslems are Sunni Moslems, which makes them the mainstream from which the other sects diverge. One of the most troublesome minority groups is the Shiite sect. The Shiites are the ones who believe that if they die fighting for God, they will practically be guaranteed entry into Paradise. This belief makes them very radical and aggressive. Shiites are the majority in Iran. In the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, waves of teenage Iranian boys ran through mine fields and directly attacked Iraqi fortifications because they did not fear death. (Although many of them we not given a choice.)

Syria is run by a Moslem sect that only 11% of Syrians agree with. Members of this sect enlisted in the armed forces in great numbers because they were treated with more respect as soldiers than as civilian members of a minor sect. Eventually, they took over the military and then took over the government. They are secretive about their beliefs, and they are tyrannical now that they are in control.

Saudi Arabia was established by King Saud, whose family basically owns the country today. King Saud belonged to a fundamentalist Moslem sect that wanted to get back to the basic traditions of Islam. They were the Moslem equivalent of the puritans. This sect has been so influential that they have moved the Sunni Moslems so much toward their position that the two now swim side-by-side in the mainstream.

Mohammed was primarily interested in bringing monotheism to the Arabs, but he also wanted to appeal to the Jewish and Christian traditions. So he declared a shrine built by Abraham in the city of Mecca to be sacred, and he required all Moslems to face in the direction of Mecca when they pray (which they must do at least 5 times a day), and he required them to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetimes. He also incorporated some of the Jewish dietary laws into Islam (for example, he forbade the eating of pork). However, he didn't want to imitate everything in the Jewish religion, so he changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Friday, as the Christians had changed it from Saturday to Sunday. He replaced the Judeo-Christian concept of original sin with the idea that each individual is responsible only for his own actions. So baptism, the sacrament that is supposed to wash away the individual's inherited share of Adam's and Eve's original sin, is unnecessary. In fact, Mohammed got rid of all the sacraments. This was a good idea because if you don't have sacraments, you don't need a special class of priests to administer them. There is no Islamic church or clergy.

Islam has spread beyond the Arab tribes. Now the majority of Moslems are not Arabs. Malaysia and Indonesia each have more Moslems than the entire Middle East. Anyone can become a Moslem. It is a much less exclusive religion than Judaism. All it takes to become a Moslem is to publicly profess your belief in God. That is the first of the 5 pillars of the faith. Then you have to pray 5 times every day, observe Friday as the Sabbath, go to Mecca once, and not eat or have sex in the daytime during the month of Ramadan. Other inconveniences include the bans on alcohol, pork, and good music.

All things considered, Islam is more logical and more appealing to men than Christianity. However, its moral rules are not based on reasoned justice or sympathy for others. They are simply commandments--Do this because God likes it.--Don't do that because God doesn't like it. Why does God like some things and not others? Nobody knows.

The worst thing about Islam is that it sucks up to the same vain, jealous, vengeful, capricious, and tyrannical God that the Jews and the Christians worship. Although it is somewhat more pure than Judaism and Christianity, it is still a primitive religion based on fear and ignorance.

If there is an all-knowing creator of the universe, I can't imagine him being so vain as to require us to praise him and worship him. And I can't imagine him being so cruel and petty as to damn people to eternal torture for failing to worship him. If He knows all our thoughts, what need is there for prayer?

If there is a god, He must be much more intelligent and civilized than the men who invented the silly rules of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Year Read: 1992

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