Introduction to Islam
It’s the nature of the way I do this column that it’s the things I’m most intrigued by that I spend the least time with. It’s like this: I’m most curious about the rarest of spiritual experiences, but since I generally only return to a church, temple, synagogue or mosque once, I learn the least about the experiences I’m most interested in. Since the vast majority of religious edifices are Christian, I also write the most about the doctrine I know the most about. It’s kind of a problem, really, and means I should probably rethink aspects of this column, as its third anniversary passes.
I feel that way about Islam. I know next to nothing about it, but I imagine I know far more than most of the readers of this column. For example, I attended prayers at the local mosque back in December 2007 (Community spirit), so I have the tiniest bit of experience but even less knowledge.
That’s a long way of saying that I was quite happy to run across the little book Introduction to Islam by Zahid Aziz. It was designed to teach absolute beginners and children the basic tenets of Islam. The 66-page book took me two hours to read—an hour of which I was on the elliptical trainer at the gym—and I feel I’ve exponentially increased my understanding. So let me give you a quick thumbs up on the book: If you’re interested in gaining a little insight, it’s worth the $6. Sad to say, I think I’ve come to understand why Muslims and Christians and Jews always seem to be fighting, despite the fact that each religion requires members to be respectful of the others, and each teaches, in general, the same things.
It’s not as simple as Yahweh/God and Allah being different names for the same god. Each is considered by its representative religion to be superior to the other. It’s a basic tenet of Islam that the Christian god is just an aspect of Allah. And Christians and Jews say something very similar with the First Commandment: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was the final prophet. All the spiritual teachers who came before him—Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha—were Muslims, “people who had made peace, with God as well as with man, through submission to God.” In other words, all religious history was steps leading up to the culmination of Islam through Muhammad in about 600 A.D.
The argument makes a certain amount of sense—that God would build upon previous teachings—sort of like math is built upon earlier lessons: numbers to addition and subtraction to multiplication and division, etc. In fact, it reminds me of certain ideas from the Bahá’í faith. And now that I think about it, Christianity teaches the same idea with regard to Judaism, and the Lotus Sutra teaches the same thing with regard to older forms of Buddhism.
Be that as it may, Introduction to Islam lists the five basic Muslim beliefs. I’d hope that people who are looking for some understanding might compare these five tenets with those of their own faith. Islam requires the belief in:
1. God, who possess the most perfect and excellent qualities.
2. Angels, who act upon the heart of each person, inspiring him to do good.
3. Prophets and Messengers of God, who were sent to all the nations of this world, who taught virtue by their own high moral example.
4. Books of God, which were revealed to all the nations through their respective prophets, containing guidance on how man should live and conduct himself.
5. Life after death, when each person shall become conscious of all the deeds, good or bad, he/she did in this life, and shall face the consequences.