Did you hear the one about the young man who was caught carrying a bomb on an airplane? When arrested, he claimed that he always carried a bomb with him on airplanes. After all, he said, what are the odds against there ever being two bombs on the same plane?
Ever since 911, we hear about a bomb on an airplane and we immediately think “Muslim.” It’s not “ethnic profiling,” it’s just fact. Every single terrorist act in America since 911, every single bomb brought or attempted to be brought onto a commercial airplane within or bound for America was perpetrated by a Muslim- either born or converted.
What has happened to the world in which we live? Where have all these Muslims come from in our lives? When I was a child I not only never met a Muslim, I had never seen one. And today, there are over 2 billion Christians and 1 ½ billion Muslims in the world and by most estimates Islam is the fastest growing religious population in the world.
Compare that with a paltry 13 million or so Jews and it’s a wonder anyone has even heard of us at all! So tonight I am going to share with you a basic Islam primer – think of it as “Islam 101” or maybe “Islam for Dummies”. Of course in this world of ours, the only dummies are those who continue to ignore the rapid rise of Islam and the threat to religious, social and political freedom that the influence of Islamic fundamentalism is having on the entire world in which we live.
Just this week someone forwarded me an article about the sudden rise of anti-Semitism in Sweden and the heart wrenching story of a holocaust survivor who as welcomed with open arms by the Swedish people 60 years ago and who today has had swastikas painted on her door, threatening calls and constant harassment from a now hostile social environment. Hostile because of one thing – the rise of Muslim immigration, influence and power in Sweden in the last decade.
So here is a short primer, the promised “Islam 101” for those who know little about the religious tradition of Islam.
I. What is Islam?
Simply put, the religion of Islam is the acceptance of and obedience to the teachings of God as revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
II. What are the basic beliefs of Islam?
There are six basic beliefs of Islam:
1. There is one, unique God, and Mohammad is his last prophet.
2. God is called Most Gracious, Most Merciful, Most Beneficent, All-hearing, All-Seeing, All-Knowing and anyone can talk to God directly without need of intercession.
3. Muslims believe in angels who are honored creatures who worship God and act by God’s command – for example, the angel Gabriel brought down the Quran to Muhammad.
4. Muslims believe in the prophets and messengers of God starting with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus with God’s final message to human beings revealed to the prophet Muhammad.
5. Muslims believe in the Day of Judgment or the Day of Resurrection when all people will be resurrected for God’s judgment according to their beliefs and deeds.
6. Muslims believe that human beings have free will to choose right or wrong.
III. How does one convert to Islam?
Simply by saying with conviction, “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah” – This means: “There is no true god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God.”
To be a Muslim one should also:
• Believe that the Holy Quran is the literal word of God
• Believe that the Day of Judgment is true and will come
• Accept Islam as your religion
• Not worship anything or anyone except God
IV. What are the fundamental obligations of being Muslim?
These are contained in what is called The Five Pillars of Islam:
1. “The testimony of Faith” – The Shahada “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah” – There is no true god but Allah, and Muhammad is God’s Prophet.”
2. Prayer – five times a day at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and night.
3. Giving Zakat (Support for the needy). Like Tzedakah but meaning in Arabic “purification”
4. Fasting in the month of Ramadan (from dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations.
5. The Pilgrimage to Mecca (Haj) once in a lifetime.
V. What is the Quran?
According to Islam, The Quran is the last revealed word of God. It is the primary source of Muslim faith dealing with wisdom, doctrine, worship, business, law and ultimately the relationship between God and God’s creatures. Written in Arabic, revealed to Mohammad. Mohammad was born in Mecca in 570, and at age 40 received his first revelation from God which continued for the next 23 years. These together form the Quran.
Mohammad called both Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” and thought they would be natural allies and anticipated their acceptance. Jews rejected Mohammad’s claim of prophecy, and the Quran claimed that Abraham was an ancestor to the Arabs through Ishmael and that Islam is the true monotheistic faith..
Under Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula, Jews made great advances in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, chemistry during what is called the “Golden age of Jewish culture.” Jews living in Muslim lands are known as Dhimmis and were allowed to practice their religion and administer their internal affairs subject to certain conditions, like paying a special tax, being prohibited from bearing arms or giving testimony in most Muslim court cases. Periodically there were forced conversions and massacres, and Jews were confined to walled quarters called “Mellahs,” which were the Muslim version of the ghettos of Europe.
Judaism and Islam have some common roots – both have dietary laws which forbid pork, both have fasting and giving to the poor. There is a variety of attitudes and behaviors of Islam over the centuries directed toward Jews from tolerance and positive relationships to massacres and hostility.
Many Quranic verses preach tolerance towards the Jews; others make hostile remarks about them (similar to hostile remarks made against all those who didn’t accept Islam); still another promises Jerusalem to the Jews. Muhammad fought against and killed many Jews, while he made friends with other Jews.
So in the end, the Qur’an and its interpreters have a great many conflicting things to say about the Jews. Jews are said to be treacherous and hypocritical and could never be friends with a Muslim. Yes, in some places it teaches toleration of Judaism as a monotheistic faith. There is also reference to Jews as descended from apes in another place or at least the notion that Jews who break the Sabbath turn into apes. In the end, references to the Jews are mostly negative, although the Quran specifically clears the Jews of killing Jesus. In some places the Quran differentiates between good and bad Jews. Muhammad said, “He who wrongs a Jew or Christian will have myself as his indicter on the Day of Judgment.” Yes, another hadith says: “A Jew will not be found alone with a Muslim without plotting to kill him.
Obviously with 1.5 billion Muslims and 56 countries with Islamic majorities around the world, it is both impossible and unfair to cast broad indictments against an entire religion of such magnitude and with such diversity of populations throughout the world. For example, the single largest population of Muslims in the world isn’t found in a Middle Eastern country, but in Indonesia with about 200 million.
Still if you imagine that 90% of all Muslims want to live in peace with other religions and peoples of the world and only 10% of all Muslims in the world are radicalized and adhere to an extreme fundamentalist ideology – think of what that really means. 10% of 1.5 billion is 150 million people – 150 million is as if almost one half the entire population of the united states were radicalized Muslims. Just imagine the damage, the terror, the chaos 150 million fundamentalist Muslims can do in our world.
The rise of Islamic extremism in America is something for all of us to worry about. Just a few months ago in December at the annual conference of the Muslim American Society to an audience of over 1,000, Rafiq Jaber, former President of the Islamic Association of Palestine, described Jews to the audience as “the worst kind of people.”
Hamed Ghazali, Chairman of the MAS Council of Islamic Schools and professor at the Islamic American University in Michigan, told the audience in that “Allah gave us the Jews” as the primary historical and religious example of those who “take the wrong path.”
Other speakers argued that the eradication of the state of Israel is a religious duty. Sheikh Raghib Al Serjani, an author and physician from Egypt, declared in Arabic, “It is the duty for all Muslims to liberate all of Palestine from the North to the South… it’s a duty for all Muslims to liberate one complete full land of Palestine… It’s not just about liberating Al Quds. (the temple mount) It’s all occupied!”
In 2009 alone, an alarming number of American Muslim extremists were charged, convicted or sentenced on terrorism charges, including terror plots in the U.S. and abroad. From the shootings at Fort Hood and at an Army recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas to plots in New York, Chicago, Massachusetts and elsewhere, the suspects were fueled by an extremist ideology that demonizes America, Israel and Jews.
America is perhaps the only country in the world founded on the principal of religious freedom, of the separation of church and state, and the fundamental civil liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This is why the Jewish people have flourished in America like in no other society in the world. And we will continue to flourish and to stand up to protect the civil liberties of all, including the growing population of Muslims in America.
If there is ever going to be a society that will help encourage Muslims to discover their own path of religious moderation is will be America. I believe it is our obligation and challenge to engage with the Muslim community here in LA and throughout the country, to help create a society where we and they can discover that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us, while keeping ever vigilant to protect our own people, our own safety, our own religious liberty for ourselves and our children.