Monday, May 17, 2010

Questions From A Christian Son to His Muslim Father: Question #1

My son, Bashiruddin Mahmud, became a Christian devotee some years ago. Although we fell out of contact for a number of years I would always remember him in my prayers. A couple of months ago, out of the clear blue sky, I received a Facebook message from him. He found me via the internet and we have since started communicating with each other for the first time after twelve years.  

A few days ago my son indicated that he had questions about Islam and asked if I would be willing to answer them. I said, "Yes...if I'm able." His first question and my answer is written below. I will share his other questions, with my answers, as he presents them. The idea here is to share with the readership of this blog the conversation between a Muslim father to his Christian son, who converted to Christianity after leaving the nest.
Question: Can you explain (elaborate) the differences between Radical Islam, Mainstream Islam, and the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam? If you would please touch on the major differences and also any similarities you think are relevant to sufficiently answer the question.

Answer: Islam is the term used in the Holy Qur’an to describe a religion and way of life.

Islam, is the name given by Allah to this religion (“…This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion.”  Qur’an 5:4), is an Arabic word which literally means obedience and peace. ISLAM is derived from the Arabic root "SALEMA": peace, purity, submission and obedience. So 'Islam' would mean the path of those who are obedient to Allah and who establish peace with Him and His creatures. Its followers are called Muslims.

Islam is not a new religion. It is, in essence, the same message and guidance which Allah revealed to all prophets before Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Allah says in the Qur’ân:

"Say, `We believe in ALLAH and that which has been revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus and other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and to HIM we submit." (Qur’an 3-85)

Given the above, the terms “Radical Islam” or “Mainstream Islam” are not used in the Holy Qur’an and therefore are not legitimate terms to describe the religion. The best that can be said about the terms “Radical Islam” or “Mainstream Islam” is that it is an effort to contextualize Islam so that it may be understood by the Occident. It is the Occident who coined the terms “Radical Islam” and “Mainstream Islam”.

Radical Islam: This term is understood to mean Islam’s war against the West. It presents dreadful and graphic depictions showing radical Muslims all over the world preaching hatred and exciting violence and Jihad against the West and the United States of America. It is propaganda prepared to scare the Christians and to get sympathy for Jews and Israel. Many Christian clergymen criticized this approach and say that it carries the wrong motives.

Before going further, we should be honest in self-criticism, and try truthfully to identify the causes of the war waged by radical Muslims against the West, particularly the United States of America. We should acknowledge the fact that for millions of Muslims all over the world, the image of America is troublesome: To them it seems as if the USA is determined to invade, occupy or dominate the oil-rich Muslim countries for economical gains. America calls for freedom and democracy, but at the same time it has supported world’s worst authoritarian dictators and oppressive governments in the past, such as the Shah of Iran and Pakistani army dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. The Muslim public feels that the U.S.A.’s attitude towards Israel is different as compared with the Muslim countries. Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, establishing illegal settlements, and use of force is not condemned by America. But any Palestinian resistance to Israeli illegal occupation is denounced as “terrorism” and is responded by Israel with overwhelming armed attacks. This causes further radicalization of resistance factions in Palestine and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

America is known as providing financial help in support of the military strength of Israel to maintain its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. The radical Muslims resent the fact that Israel is getting $3 to $6 billion of American taxpayers’ money every year. It equals to 15 million dollars each day. This financial aid is perceived as being used against the Muslims. They see the atrocities committed against their children; women and civilians conducted by means of the American money are convinced that the state of Israel also possesses weapons of mass destruction.

In addition, we should also understand that America’s close connection with the oil-rich Saudi Arabia is seen with suspicion by the Muslim radicals. The holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located in Saudi Arabia. The US armed forces’ presence in Saudi Arabia to protect the Saudi monarchy and its oil fields provides fuel to the fire to the radical Muslim agitators. The fact which is not well known to most of the Americans is that the Saudis profess a radical form of Islām known as Wahhābism, and the Saudi Kingdom most generously funds the theological schools known as madrasas all over the world. We should know that these madrasas are the breeding incubators of radicalism in Islām. In these madrasas, orphan and poor boys are admitted and trained to become Mujāhidīn. They are trained to make explosives and other weapons, and how to use them. Also, the students are brainwashed to become suicidal bombers. The Wahhābī Saudis also provide training to the imāms (religious leaders) from all over the world—including the United States. These imāms, trained in Saudi Arabia, come to the Western countries and lead Muslim congregations teaching and preaching radicalism to the young Muslims attending their mosques.

Mainstream Islam: The mainstream is by definition that branch of an organization which is most vocal and controls the policies of the organization. Thus we refer to the mainstream media as the most visible outlet of journalism, with the most access to the policy makers. The non-violent branch of Islam may be the numerical majority.

The aforementioned is defined by the Occident. Muslims may find themselves giving-in to these definitions, but from a Qur’anic perspective it isn’t a legitimate term. The term “Mainstream Islam” becomes convenient when trying to contextualize Islam within a social, political or economic arena.

The difference between “Radical Islam” and “Mainstream Islam” may be expressed in numbers. Islam is a pretty big thing. It has about a billion and a half adherents, about five times the population of the United States. The question may be asked ... how many people practice Mainstream Islam? And how many of the people practice Radical Islam? The radical/total people ratio is so small that it is unbelievably prejudiced to think that the entire religion is or endorses Radical Islam. That's like seeing a couple people in American with 9 fingers and thinking everyone in the country does. I know, repeat KNOW most Muslims are compassionate humane people. The violent people make up about .1 % of the Muslim population. Anyone who says otherwise are ignorant.

Ahmadiyya Interpretation of Islam: Ahmadi Muslims believes in the Messiah and the Ahmadiyya interpretation may be best viewed by subject.

Sanctity of Life: The Holy Qur’ān teaches sanctity of human life and reaffirms the Biblical teachings that whosoever unjustly kills a single person, it shall be as if he slaughtered all mankind; and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had protected the life of all mankind (5:33). “You kill not the life which God has made sacred” (6:152). Killing of the innocent and committing suicide both are grievous sins in Islam. The Quran forbids suicide (4:30), and it is an unforgivable sin in Islam.

The Qur’ān gives comprehensive instructions against all evil thoughts and plans, all kinds of abusive behavior and every form of cruelty and inequity. The Qur’ān gives injunctions to protect the person, property, honor or good name of another person. The Qur’ān declares it in unambiguous words, God does not love those who create disorder on earth (5:65) and (28:77); He does not love who are unjust (3:57); and does not love those who exceed the limits (2:191) and (5:88).

What is the true meaning of Jihād? Jihād does not mean “Holy War.” It means striving, contention and taking action dedicated to a noble cause: In Arabic language, Jihād is a verbal noun derived from the root jahada, which is defined as exerting one’s utmost power, effort, endeavor, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation (An Arabic-English Lexicon, Edward Lane).

As a matter of fact, Jihād in Islām is of different kinds. Various terms have been used to make distinction between them, such as: Jihād of the heart, Jihād of the tongue, and Jihād with the pen. The greatest Jihād in Islām is remaining firm in faith, and to overcome sinful temptations of one’s own self.

Jihād in the Bible: For Christians it would be easy to understand the concept of Jihād by some examples taken from the Bible: In Luke 13:22-24, the Bible says about Jesus Christ, “And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying towards Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, ‘Lord, are there few to be saved?’ And he said unto them: Strive to enter in that narrow gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” This striving and making an utmost effort to enter the narrow gate–(that the Holy Qur’ān calls it the straight path) is the highest form of Jihād in Islām.

From Islāmic perspective, St. Paul was asking the Philippians to engage in a Jihād when he wrote to them,'"That ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1: 27)

In Islām, striving by means of the Qur’ān is called the Great Striving—Jihādan Kabīran (25:53). 

Again, in the First Epistle to Timothy, St. Paul wrote,"This charge I commit onto you … fight a good fight; holding faith, and a good conscience." (Timothy, 1:18) 

In the same Epistle, St. Paul wrote,"But they that will be rich fall into temptation and snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee from these things and follow after righteousness, goodness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses." (Timothy, 6:9-12)

This fighting the good fight, holding faith and good conscience, laying hold of eternal life is what we call the real Jihād in Islām. It is entering through the narrow gate. It is staying on the straight path.

The next form of Jihād is the struggle to improve the quality of social life by removing societal evils and establishing good moral values. This is Jihād against poverty, ignorance, disease, hunger, immorality and crime. Social and moral reformation under the guidance of the Qur’ān is called the “Jihādan Kabīran”—a “mighty striving”—the Great Jihād (25:53). 

The last form of Jihād is to repel an armed aggression in self-defense for maintaining religious freedom. As compared to other forms of Jihād, fighting against an armed and aggressive enemy is called in Islām Jihādan Saghīran—the lesser Jihād. 

The Qur’ān says,"Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made because they have been wronged—and Allāh indeed has power to help them—Those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allāh’—And if Allāh did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allāh is oft commemorated. And Allāh will surely help one who helps Him. Allāh is indeed Powerful, Mighty" (22:40-41)

This concept of Jihād is closer to the Christian doctrine of “just war.” But it is not called a “holy war” in Islām. Modern Occidental thought, strongly influenced by Crusades-era terminology of “holy war,” tries to portray Jihād as an Islāmic war against all the non-Muslims. But most clearly, the permission to fight back is not to destroy the churches, temples or synagogues. On the contrary, the Qur’ān makes clear that it is to protect them along with protecting the mosques. In other words, it is to protect religious freedom for all those who worship God in accordance with their own faith traditions.

The great spiritual Jihād of standing firm in faith against satanic temptations and social evils is of permanent nature—an ongoing obligation for all the Muslims. But the lesser Jihād, fighting in self-defense is only occasional and isolated, and is to be conducted only in a crisis situation. Only a legitimate head of state has the authority to declare war. Any preacher or so-self-made leader, or scholar has no right to pronounce an armed struggle against an aggressor. Moreover, the strict rules governing the conduct of warfare are to be obeyed; for example, non-combatants cannot be killed. Women, children, elderly and the clergy or monks cannot be targeted. Property cannot be destroyed. Disfiguring of dead bodies is prohibited. Prisoners of war are to be treated humanely. 

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that the doctrine of Jihād has been entirely perverted by the so-called “fundamentalists” or "radical Muslims" and needs to be rescued, and the offenders stopped by all possible means.

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the only Islamic organization to believe that the long-awaited Messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian. Ahmad(as) claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus(as) of Nazareth and the divine guide, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (as). Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that God sent Ahmad (as), like Jesus(as), to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and re-institute morality, justice and peace. Ahmad’s(as) advent has brought about an unprecedented era of Islamic revival. He divested Islam of fanatical beliefs and practices by vigorously championing Islam’s true and essential teachings. He also recognized the noble teachings of the great religious founders and saints, including Zoroaster(as), Abraham(as), Moses(as), Jesus(as), Krishna(as), Buddha(as), Confucius(as), Lao Tzu and Guru Nanak, and explained how such teachings converged into the one true Islam.

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