January 27, 1996 in Features

Holy Submission Islam Teaches Its Followers To Work For Just Treatment Of The Poor And Vulnerable

Paul Galloway Chicago Tribune
 

He’s 40, a successful businessman, and married to a devoted, well-to-do woman who has bankrolled his ventures. They’re the parents of lovely children and live in a boom town that has become an international center of trade and finance where great fortunes are being made.

Yet he’s deeply worried. His society, which once felt an obligation to help its poorest and weakest members, now worships competition and individualism.

The rich pay lip service to religion, but they’re convinced they control their own destiny and owe nothing to the needy, who obviously are underserved.

The free market is king, and traditional “values had been superseded by a rampant and ruthless capitalism.”

Ordinary citizens, who tend to be religiously rootless and see little rhyme or reason to their existence, are fearful and insecure.

Our businessman, who’s faithful to what he believes is the one true God, is certain that if his people don’t learn “to put another transcendent value at the center of their lives and overcome their egotism and greed,” they’ll destroy themselves, “morally and politically, in internecine strife.”

The quoted passages and the description of Mecca in the early seventh century are from the chapter on the birth of Islam from Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God” (Ballantine).

The central figure in this dramatic account, of course, is Mohammad, the final prophet, Islam’s Messenger of God.

It is the year 610 and, as is his custom, Mohammad heads with his family to Mount Hira just outside the city during Ramadan for contemplation and prayer. Such spiritual retreats are common in this ninth month of the Arab calendar.

On the 17th night, while sleeping alone in a mountain cave, his life - and the world - would soon be forever changed. He is jarred awake, Armstrong writes, and is aware of being “enveloped by a devastating divine presence.”

He later tells of having a vision of an angel, who had ordered him: “Recite!”

He refused. He was not one of those strange soothsayers who claimed to be a medium for deities’ messages. The angel made his command a second and third time.

“This was no pretty naturalistic angel,” Armstrong writes, “but an overwhelming ubiquitous presence from which escape was impossible. (Mohammad) had had that overpowering apprehension of numinous reality, which the Hebrew prophets had called kaddosh, holiness, the terrifying otherness of God.”

Armstrong continues: “Finally … (Mohammad) found the first words of a new scripture pouring from his mouth. … The word of God had been spoken for the first time in the Arabic language, and this scripture would ultimately be called the qur’an : the Recitation.”

Mohammad would hear the angel’s voice: “Thou art the apostle of God and I am Gabriel.” And then the vision.

Terrified, Mohammad considered suicide. His wife, Khadijah, persuaded him that the experience had been real and true.

And the revelations were just beginning.

Armstrong writes: “Unlike the Torah … which according to the biblical account was revealed to Moses in one session on Mount Sinai, the Koran was revealed to (Mohammad) bit by bit, line by line and verse by verse over a period of 23 years. …

“As each new segment was revealed, (Mohammad), who could neither read nor write, recited it aloud, the Muslims learned it by heart, and those few who were literate wrote it down. Some 20 years after (Mohammad’s) death , the first official compilation of the revelations was made.”

Mohammad did not consider himself to be founding a new religion but bringing the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus to his tribe, the Quraysh.

Islam means to surrender or submit. In a religious context, it means submission to God. “Muslim” was the word for those who submitted to God’s will.

“In practical terms,” Armstrong writes, “Islam meant that Muslims had a duty to create a just, equitable society where the poor and vulnerable are treated decently.”

It is hard for Western people to appreciate the majesty of the writings of the Koran, Armstrong notes, because Arabic is especially difficult to translate:

“As its name suggests, it is designed to be recited aloud, and the sound of its language is an essential part of its effect. … The early biographers of (Mohammad) constantly describe the wonder and shock felt by the Arabs when they heard the Koran for the first time. Many were converted on the spot, believing that God alone could account for the extraordinary beauty of the language.”

Ramadan, a period of spiritual reflection and attention to right living, began last Monday and ends Feb. 21 with the holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. The fasting at Ramadan is one of the five pillars, or central practices, of Islam.

xxxx 1. FIVE PILLARS STRUCTURE ISLAMIC SPIRITUAL LIFE Every action done with the awareness that it fulfills the will of God is considered an act of worship in Islam. However, it is the specific acts of worship termed the Five Pillars of Islam that provide the framework of Muslim spiritual life: The declaration of faith. “I bear the witness that there is no one worthy of the worship except God (Allah), and Muhammad is his servant and messenger.” Prayers are prescribed five times daily as a duty towards God. Prayer strengthens and enlivens belief in God and inspires man to higher morality. It purifies the heart and controls temptation, wrongdoing and evil. Fasting during the month of Ramadan. This means abstention from food, beverages, and sex from dawn to sunset and curbing evil intentions and desires. It teaches love, sincerity, and devotion. It develops patience, unselfishness, social conscience, and willpower to bear hardship. Zakah is a proportionately fixed contribution collected from the wealth and earnings of the well-to-do and rich. It is spent on the poor and needy in particular and the welfare of the society in general. Hajj, or pilgrimage to Ka’bah in Makkah, once in a lifetime, provided one has the means to undertake the journey. Knight-Ridder

2. MAJOR ISLAMIC HOLIDAYS Ramadan: A monthlong period of self-sacrifice. During this time, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown, abstaining from water, food, drink, sex, gambling and even music. Eid-ul-Fitr: The celebration at the end of Ramadan. To many Muslims, this day is equal to Christmas for Christians and Hannukah or Rosh Hashana for Jews. Eid-ul-Adha: is observed after hajj, observed in memory of Abraham’s devotion to God. Knight-Ridder


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