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~Jesus and Jihad~

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    ~Jesus and Jihad~

    If we have more people like Asma, no doubt, any one can understand the basic mentality of Islam and Muslims.

    Muslims of different countries bring local culture to religious teachings, nearly creating their own branch of Islam. The essence of Islam is captured in the Qur'an, but the interpretation of the Qur'an is influenced by two things: native culture and a country's Islamic scholars, called the ulema. You may think native culture is not so influential as to cause a religion to differ strongly from country to country. But this is entirely possible.

    For example, in Colorado, where I grew up, many people really value their right to bear arms, the Second Amendment. In Massachusetts, where I went to high school and college, people tend to be more liberal than Colorado folks, so they focus on issues such as First Amendment rights of free speech. In California, where my grandparents live, people are more individualistic and focus on other aspects of the Bill of Rights. Such varied interpretation, or focus on particular aspects, is what happens with Islamic beliefs.

    Each country has a tradition and culture that pre-date Islam and influence how those Muslims practice Islam and what they emphasize. For example, haven't you ever noticed how Catholic nuns, at least the orthodox ones, cover their heads, sometimes their whole body and look a lot like women from Arab countries who cover from head to toe? Obviously, nuns didn't pick this up from Muslim women. Actually, evidence suggests that women in pre-Islamic Arabia wore the head cover, called hijab in Arabic. In addition, European women of the Renaissance era wore head covers to signify that they were important or of the upper classes. Hijab, though practiced by Muslims, is probably a leftover of pre-Islamic Arabian culture.

    Regardless of the country though, all Muslims adhere to the Five Pillars, which are quite clear and do not require much interpretation. The Qur'an and other sacred texts of Islam are complex and open to interpretation.

    A major difference between world Muslims and American Muslims in interpreting the Qur'an and other texts is that there is no ulema (group of religious scholars) leading American Muslims, as there is in each Islamic country. Rather than turning to religious teachers who base their opinions on 1400 years of interpretation, American Muslims must solve their own theological problems from their own perspectives. As a result, some immigrant American Muslims may have become more actively and consciously religious than they would have been in their home countries. They begin interpreting the Qur'an and other religious literature themselves when they have a question, as opposed to consulting the local scholars, simply because there are none available.

    The use of the word jihad exemplifies the differences between world and American Muslims. In the Middle East, where a country's leadership is defined by their stance against American hegemony, jihad has come to mean the struggle against Western countries' influence and power in the world and particularly America, perceived as bent on destroying the Arab way of life. Some Middle Eastern Muslim countries like to paint controversies as Islam versus America. In truth, the debates are usually over politics and arguably non-Islamic culture.

    In America, Muslims understand jihad for what it really means: struggle. That's right, jihad merely means struggle, not holy war or war against all Americans. Consistent with the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad's life, it often applies to an inner struggle to strengthen one's beliefs against corrupting and anti-Islamic forces. In America, jihad often means resisting the temptations of some aspects of life in America -- like drinking or having sex outside of marriage, or just finding the time to pray five times a day.

    slam was founded on the same principles and ideas the US was. Shocking as this may sound, Islam itself, though practiced by many in the East, is a part of the Western culture America is based on, with clear theories of right and wrong and belief in one God. When we say "Western culture," we mean peoples who see themselves as descendants of Abraham. Often, we'll hear politicians or scholars use the word "Judeo-Christian" to describe an ethic or value that is a part of Western culture. The two phrases, Western culture and Judeo-Christian, are almost interchangeable, in fact. What really lies at the heart of both phrases is monotheism. Western culture and Judeo-Christian ethic are defined by belief in one God, also the major belief of Islam.

    The phrase really ought to be "Judeo-Christian-Islamic" though, for Islam is a part of the Abrahamic tradition and is strongly monotheistic. It's a little known fact that Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was a direct descendant of Abraham, through Hagar's son Ishmael (Ismail in the Qur'an). The Qur'an also acknowledges the origins of Judaism and Christianity through Isaac, Ishmael's brother. In addition to the Abrahamic roots, the Torah, Old Testament and Qur'an have similar stories and casts of characters. Like Ishmael and Isaac were brothers, Muslims believe that Jews and Christians are their brothers, "Brothers of the Book," as they are called in the Qur'an. For that reason, Muslims are required by the Qur'an not to force Islam on others and to respect the rights of non-Muslims in freedom of worship.

    So Muslims, Christians and Jews have similar beliefs, similar holy books, similar teachings, and the same ancestral roots. Once we understand this, we realize the tremendous connection between these three religions: they are essentially tracks on the same railroad line. Granted, there are differences, but there are more similarities than we realize. These three religions exist on the same Judeo-Christian-Islamic trajectory as expressions of belief in one God. God is called Elohim or Yahweh in Hebrew, Lord or God in English for Christians, and Allah in Arabic. Doesn't it make you think that all Jews, Christians and Muslims are praying to the same God if the only real distinction for the term "God" is what language it's spoken in?

    Many people nevertheless, refer to Islam as an Eastern religion. It is true that there are many Muslims who live in what we call the "East," like Asia. However, Eastern religions (meaning non-Western ones) are actually religions or belief systems, more accurately, that are not monotheistic. Hinduism, for example, is an Eastern religion because it emphasizes belief in many gods and is not, therefore, a part of Western culture. Buddhism is also an Eastern religion and not a part of Western culture because it does not hold that there is one, omnipotent being. Eastern religions significantly add to our world's diversity.

    People often make the mistake of calling Muslims "Muhammadans" after their beloved Prophet Muhammad. This term is incorrect though because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad as they would God.

    Muhammad was God's mouthpiece on Earth. The Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad one day in 610 AD, while Muhammad, who was 40 at the time, was meditating in a cave on Mount Hira, near Mecca. The angel Gabriel (Gibreel in the Qur'an), the same angel that we read about in the Bible, came to Muhammad and compelled him to recite the word of God.

    Muhammad, in my opinion, had the greatest mid-life crisis known to mankind. Here he was, at the age of 40, reciting poetry as instructed by an angel. He ran home to his wife Khadijah and told her his story, thinking that he may be going crazy. He could not read or write. So how could he be a poet? Khadijah showed faith in her husband and asked him to repeat what the angel had told him, what is now the first Surah or chapter of the Qur'an. She recited it back to him: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Khadijah became the first convert to Islam.

    These revelations continued for 23 years, until Muhammad died around 632 AD. God was sending His message to Earth through Muhammad, and Muhammad recited the beautiful poetry of the Qur'an, which was first recorded orally by his companions and later written down. Muslims believe that the Qur'an today has not been tampered with or altered, and each of the 114 Surahs or chapters is exactly the same as it was when Muhammad first began reciting it in Arabic in the cave near Mecca. The Qur'an is God's exact words, according to Muslims, which in order to be accurately understood, must be read in the original Arabic. Translations will not necessarily capture God's exact meaning. As a result, many Muslims feel it their duty to learn Arabic and read the Qur'an as God meant it to be read and heard. Translations of the Qur'an are not titled "The Qur'an" but more often "The Meaning of the Qur'an" as translations are not exact replicas of God's words.

    Besides sharing the story of Adam and Eve with the Torah and the Old Testament, the Qur'an also describes the stories of Noah's Ark, Joseph and his coat, the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary. In addition, all three books stipulate the Day of Judgment, Resurrection of mankind, and the existence of Heaven and Hell. The Qur'an cites Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets of Islam too, with Muhammad being the last prophet. The Qur'an, Muslims believe, is the final seal of God's earlier revelations to mankind as expressed in Judaism and Christianity.

    Are you shocked at the similarities? It's especially surprising to read that Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet. Unlike Judaism, Islam acknowledges Jesus as a prophet of God, who taught His word on Earth. Jesus' life has taught me much, even the Christian stories about his love and kindness. We are all familiar with the Christian version of Jesus' birth, that the angel Gabriel (he sure was one busy angel!) told Mary that she will give birth to the son of God, that he shall be the incarnation of God on Earth, the Son of Man, and she shall name him Jesus.
    "'Behold (O Mary!)' The Angel said,
    'God has chosen you, and purified you,
    and chose you above the women of
    all nations. O Mary, God gives you good
    news of a word from Him, whose
    name shall be the Anointed, Jesus son of
    Mary, honored in this world and
    in the hereafter, and one of those brought
    near to God. He shall speak to the
    people from his cradle and in maturity,
    and shall be of the righteous.'

    "She said: 'O my Lord! How
    shall I have a son when no man has
    touched me?'
    He said,: "Even so; God
    creates what He wills. When he
    decrees a thing, He says
    to it, 'Be!' and it is."

    Where do you think the above passage is from? The Bible? When I start to tell people about how Muslims view Jesus, I usually point out right away that we do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. My listener then naturally assumes that Muslims do not believe in the Immaculate Conception either. Sometimes, he or she will even say something like, "You know, I always had trouble buying that Mary was a virgin."

    I'll quickly add, "Muslims do believe in the Immaculate Conception though." "Really?" people ask shocked. Muslims believe that Mary, who is a very sacred woman in Islam with an entire chapter of the Qur'an devoted to her story, was a virgin, and that God chose her because of her unwavering faith to mother one of his most beloved prophets. The Qur'an also says that God created Jesus like He created Adam: with His divine breath, He brought Adam and Jesus into existence. The above passage of good news from God is actually from the Qur'an, Surah 3, verses 42-7! Not the Bible!

    So why don't we just say that Jesus is the son of God? It doesn't seem all that far off from what Christians believe, you may be thinking. It is a good question with an answer that reveals the identity of God according to Muslims. Muslims believe that God is a being, omnipotent and without certain human qualities such as gender, though he is described as having eyes and a few other human features. Muslims believe He can create a person but does not bear offspring.

    Nevertheless, God loved Jesus very much, so much so that he refused to let him die a gruesome death on the cross. Again, we are all very familiar with the Crucifixion story of the New Testament. Though as a Muslim I do not believe in that story, I am moved by the story and can see how so many people feel passionately about it. The idea that God would give his only son to die for mankind's sins is the height of altruism and love. It is the essence of sacrifice: we must give up things we love for a greater good often. It almost makes me cry thinking about Jesus' suffering on the cross for us and the humiliation he went through. I appreciate this story, but I do not believe it, as a Muslim.

    Muslims believe that Jesus preached God's word throughout his life, and when he was betrayed by Judas, God could not let his prophet die in so horrific a manner. So God brought his hand down to Earth and lifted him to Heaven. As a result, Jesus holds the distinction in Islam of being the only man to go to Heaven without dying. According to the Qur'an, Jesus shall return to Earth in some form, as a messiah, and die an Earthly death then.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    Perhaps because of my upbringing, going to a Catholic grade school and a Protestant high school, I've always seen the three monotheistic religions as descriptions of different parts of a large painting or mural. We all see a section of it and acknowledge that there is a big painting. Maybe, if we learned about each other's holy books -- each other sections of the painting -- we might be able to see the whole painting and reach a conception of God.

    Anybody who learns about religion or is born into a religion has to wonder, "Which one is correct?" Also, how can we all believe in God or a higher force, as with some Eastern religions, but have different holy books, rituals and so on? If you are an intelligent person and are close to people who are not of the same religion, you must eventually come to the belief that each religion represents a different route to the same destination.

    Though it's fine to believe this, I had always had a difficult time explaining that I believed that we all prayed to the same God in different ways. While most of the day, I was a totally rational person who presented evidence for her arguments, when asked how I viewed religious diversity, I reverted to new-age-sounding talk of each person picking a path that was best for them to reach the same place as everyone else in the end.

    At Wellesley, Dean Kazanjian told us on the Multi-Faith Council about how he teaches kids about religious diversity. He arranges the group in a circle and places a large box in the middle. This box has drawings on it, painting too. Victor asks the kids to describe the whole box out loud. He wants to know what it looks like. But the catch is that they can't get up and walk around and look at the box. They can only shift in their seat and describe what they can see -- some see corners; others see only the sides. Suddenly, the group realizes that the only way to describe the box is for all of them to share what they each can see with each other. In the end, having heard from the kids next to them, across from them and so on and knowing what they can see from their seat, the kids know what the whole box looks like.

    Most religions hold the belief that God, or the omnipotent being, is bigger than us as humans, an omnipresent and therefore larger than life entity. So, if God is bigger than us, wouldn't it be hard for just one of us to perceive Him? It would be like trying to see all of the moon's surfaces, even the ones facing away from us, without a telescope, on one dark night. But if a force or presence is bigger than us, and we all tell each other what we can see of it, we have a shot at seeing or realizing the entire presence. When we try to see all of God by describing our religions to each other, we confirm our own faith in our religions and enhance our belief in God.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    So what happens when Muslims immigrate from different countries with different cultures to the US and mix with Americans, born and raised in American culture, who have converted to Islam? We end up with a new version of Islam: American Islam. What is American Islam? I believe it is a return to the Qur'an without the influence of pre-Islamic Arab culture. All of the cultural baggage must be set aside at an American mosque because it is very likely that not everyone is from the same country. Since they won't agree on rituals and practices determined by culture -- such as whether men and women pray together or separately -- and they don't have an ulema to settle the issue, they must decide for themselves and turn to the only guidance they have that is not culturally biased: the Qur'an.

    As a result, I believe American Islam is a purer form of Islam than practiced in some Islamic countries because of the absence of cultural amplifications. If anything, American culture has influenced American Muslims to be better Muslims. For instance, following the example of American Christian and Jewish congregations that use their facilities as a community center, American Muslims also have made their mosques into family gathering places. In Islamic countries, mosques were not necessarily community centers, and women and children did not necessarily attend for a variety of reasons. Now, in the US, the mosque has evolved into a place where American Muslim men, women and children gather to pray and conduct other, community-strengthening activities. This is great for Muslims!

    In addition, American Muslims have re-read the Qur'an from an American perspective, paying special attention to passages that emphasize American values -- self-respect and gender equality among others. With Muslims in America, this is Islam's chance to prove its inherent compatibility with the West minus all the cultural baggage. Islam in America is Islam's chance to prove that it can stand the tests and rigors of time, change and culture.

    American Muslims are making use of modern technology in their exercise of Islam's strong moral principles. For example, American Muslims have adopted the use of a watch to announce the adhan (call to prayer) and listen to audio cassette recordings of Qur'anic recitations. American Muslims also have put the Qur'an and other Islamic texts on CD-ROM, the Internet and television and video programs that spread the word of Islam in a way that has not been done before. This adaptation of Islam to modern forms of communication is changing the way Muslims learn Islam.

    My family was shocked and elated when Valli, my young cousin, who has trouble pronouncing some words proclaimed upon hearing good news, "Subhan-Allah!" Valli watches Islamic educational videos of a Muslim muppet named Adam that are produced by Sound Vision, an American Islamic production company. From Adam, Valli had learned the proper pronunciation and use of this Arabic phrase expressing God's greatness. When his parents settled in America, they had no idea that he would someday learn Islam through the "Barney medium."

    With advances like Adam and re-discovery of Islam's commonalties with Western culture, being Muslim poses less and less of a barrier to being American; in fact, being American makes it easier to be a Muslim and vice-versa. As a result, American Muslims are achieving ever greater success in professional and personal life, accomplishments that benefit all Americans.

    American Muslims believe in Jesus' message. As Jesus did his own jihad, teaching people the laws of God, the one and only God, American Muslims are doing their own jihad everyday. They are trying to live God's words in their daily lives.

    Good American Muslims are good American citizens. American Muslims want to co-exist with their "Brothers of the Book" and all fellow Americans. It hurts us when we are labeled as nothing more than terrorists, especially when we know there is so much more to Islam than the extremists would have the world believe. American Muslims are waiting for the time when they are accepted as good citizens and fellow Americans by the rest of America. I think Jesus would have wanted that!

    Asma Gull Hasan is one of my fav. authors. It's great to see people like you Angel are willing to understand the concept, tradition and culture of Islamic Society. Thanks for sharing this link.

    Peace Be Upon You,


    Pakistani Tiger

    Glory of Islam Will Never Be Extinguished


      nice afticle

      "Our Lord! forgive us our sins and anything we may have done that transgressed our duty; establish our feet firmly and help us against those that resist faith." Quran(3:147)
      Both Halal & Haram r evident but between them r doubtful things, most ppl have no knowledge about them. So whoever saves himself from suspicious things saves his religion & honor, & whoever indulges in suspicious things indulges in Haram.


        thanks angel for sharing the article.

        its worh reading..

        "Philosopher, Orator, Apostle, Legislator, Conqueror of Ideas, Restorer of Rational beliefs.... The founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?"