08 November 2001


In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful...
These words begin 113 of the 114 surahs of the Qur'an, the Book of the words revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Qur'an's beauty and severity shine through even English renderings.

While the Qur'an is the heart of Islam, much can be learned from Muhammad's extra-Qur'anic utterances and deeds, preserved for us in the Sunnah, of which his sayings are called the Hadith.
Still more is revealed in the Salah, the Islamic way of prayer, which involves the whole person, body and soul, in reverence to the Creator, five times per day, with special observances for Islamic Holidays.

In the Qur'an it is twice written (2:62, 5:69):
Surely, those who believe, the Jews, the Christians, the converts; all those who believe in God and in the Hereafter, and do righteousness, will receive their recompense from their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
Surely, we can all get along.

But, reading between the lines of the Qur'an we see that while Jews and Christians initially supported the Prophet because he was teaching monotheism, they felt betrayed when they realized that his teachings diverged from theirs. When two Arab-Jewish tribes who had previously pledged their support to the prophet fought against him at a critical battle in Medina, the Prophet considered them to have committed treason, and he had the men of those tribes executed. This incident has since been considered by Muslims to be an example of the treachery of Jews, and by Jews to be an example of the brutality of Muslims. Thus the seeds of misunderstanding were sown.

This misunderstanding is amplified by those Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have become what the Qur'an calls People of the Book, those who use the narrowest interpretations of their respective Scriptures to justify making enemies of one another.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all claim to worship the one true God of Abraham. Let us take those claims at face value, and respect each other as brothers and sisters proceeding along parallel paths to our Lord. We could in principle even briefly pray together.

This is not to ignore our differences. Muslims do not observe Jewish Law and ritual, nor do Muslims and Jews accept the Divinity of Christ (nor his death on the Cross and subsequent Resurrection). And neither Jews nor Christians accept the authority of the Prophet and the Qur'an. But Muslims observe Islamic Law and ritual, and honor the Hebrew Prophets, among whom Muslims count Jesus. Our differences are not so great that God cannot overcome them. Let us remember that Islam's Prophet was the first to say so.

The central narrative of Islam is the story of the first Muslim community, from the first revelation received by the Prophet until his death. The community underwent periods of violent struggle for its very existence, until it finally triumphed over its enemies. The Qur'anic revelations during the periods of struggle naturally dealt with war, and have led many to develop a warlike understanding of Islam, an understanding that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional in a world in which weapons of mass destruction are becoming increasingly available.

Islam has divided into two major movements, Sunni, and Shi'i originating in a dispute as to who should succeed the Prophet as leader of the Islamic world. Minor movements include the Amahadis, the Nation of Islam in America, and the Druse. A new universalist religion, Baha'i, emerged from the Shi'ite Islam practiced in Iran during the 1800's. A blasphemous perversion of Islam is believed by certain terrorists and the regimes and sects (like the Wahhabis) that support them — they transgress the rules of engagement prescribed for jihad, the sacred struggle.

Sufism is the mystical or esoteric tradition in Islam. Islam's esoteric tradition began with with the teachings of the Prophet and his Companions (Abu Bakr, Ali, Salman al-Farsi and Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, may Allah be pleased with them). In this tradition there are three levels: Islam (submission to God's Will), Iman (faith), and Ihsan (perfection). Muslims strive to journey through these stages until they experience the Beatific Vision of God. Tassawuf is the discipline of achieving Ihsan, and one who achieves it is called a Sufi (Saint).

Islam is not so much a religion of orthodoxy (right belief) as of orthopraxy (right action). To become a good Muslim, one need only recite the profession of faith (shahada — "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his last Prophet."), keep up prayer (salat — five times a day, facing toward Mecca), give alms to the poor (zakat), fast (sawm) during daylight for the month of Ramadan, and make the pilgrimmage (hajj) to Mecca at least once during one's lifetime if one is able. This last, the hajj, has been a transformative experience for Muslims, including Malcom X, who shed his racism in Mecca. Muslims believe in God, the Qur'an (and therefore in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and Prophets mentioned in it), fate and destiny, the unseen realm and the day of Judgement, and the angels. Many Muslims also believe in the jinn (singular jinni, also written genie), because they are mentioned in the Qur'an.

Islamic Links:

Al-Qur'an al Kareem: English Translation and Arabic Text
Blogging the Qur'an: a serious reader's companion.
Searchable Hadith
IslamiCity in Cyberspace
Masud Ahmed Khan bills itself as a resource on traditional Islam.
About.com: Islam
Faith, Practice, and Law in Sunni and Shi'i Islam
Finding the Law: Islamic Law (Sharia)
A Shi'ite Encyclopedia
Lila Forest suggests the International Sufi Order and a Cherag's library.
Q-News, the Muslim Magazine of Britain
Islamicfinder helps you find all things Islamic, including mosques near you
Ijtihad: a Return to Enlightenment
al-Tafsir: the most comprehensive resource for Qur'anic study on the internet

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