Since the introduction of Islam into this world some fourteen centuries ago, and especially with things going on in recent times, it seems that people have tried to condemn this religion. Since 9/11, there have been plenty of negative things on the news, and there are countless books and web sites criticizing and demonizing Islam. The purpose of this paper is to hopefully clear up some misconceptions about Islam and just briefly touch upon what this religion is all about. You may or may not agree with my beliefs, but all I'm doing is presenting the Islamic beliefs, so there's no reason to get offended.
"What is Islam?"
First let's take a look at how Allah, or God, describes Islam in the holy book, the Qur'an: "…Today I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My favor towards you, and have consented to grant you [Islam] as a religion: a commitment to live in peace" (5:3).
As we've seen, Islam essentially means to commit yourself peacefully to God. Islam was not meant to be some strange, revolutionary religion, but rather a continuation of what was sent previously and a finalization of established religion. The basic concept of Islam is to believe that God is One, and to live a proper, moral life so that we can go to Heaven. It's a pretty common sense religion, overall, and it's the natural way of life. We need to breathe air and replenish ourselves with food and rest, and thus have no choice but to commit ourselves to God. Human life and our ability to function the way we do, the earth and its environment, and the particles that compose everything, it's not all just coincidental. God created all this, and who better to thank for everything than God? Animals and plant-life have no choice but to submit to the will of God, and thus can technically be referred to as "muslims." Humans, however, God has endowed us with free will. Life is a test.
As some people know, Islam is one of the world's three major religions (Christianity and Judaism being the other two), and also stems from the basic teachings of Abraham (peace be upon him). Some people may be drawn away from Islam because of what they've heard on the news or Internet. It's totally understandable that people might be somewhat afraid of the unknown, and I'm no exception. Some people might also be drawn away because Islam becomes a way of life, and it's not enough to just say, "I'm a Muslim." There are religious obligations that some may not want to deal with, and there are dietary prohibitions as well.
Islam is based on five pillars: bearing witness that God is One and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His last messenger, performing the five prescribed prayers each day, fasting in the Islamic month of Ramadan, giving alms for the needy, and making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca once in a lifetime if one is physically and financially able to do so.
By having to pray five times a day, it kind of teaches discipline and responsibility, and keeps a person from engaging in bad things. The Islamic prayer ("salaat" in Arabic) is about glorifying God, not just asking for something. One way to look at it is if you bathed five times a day, you'd probably be pretty clean. Likewise, if you pray five times a day, you can become spiritually cleansed. Prayer can be done individually or with a group of people, as is done in mosques around the world. A Biblical verse that coincidentally starts to sort of describe the unity of purpose, form, and Arabic recitation in Islamic group prayer is: "For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent" (Zephaniah 3:9). Fasting allows us to realize what the less-fortunate feel like, and also makes us grateful for everything we have because we are fasting by choice, whereas some people in poverty simply don't have a choice. The purpose of fasting is not to make oneself suffer, though, and actually might have some health benefits. Almsgiving is also good because it helps the needy and only 2.5% per year of one's cash or capital on non-essential property is required; this is called "zakat" in Arabic. If God gives us much, then it's good to likewise share our wealth and help the needy as feasible. Additional charity is called "sadaqa" in Arabic.
Being a Muslim is about enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and having faith in God. As much as some people hate this religion, Islamic civilizations of the past have contributed to society and have perhaps made our lives today better and more advanced. Examples include knowledge on mathematics (i.e. algebra, Arabic numerals), science, medicine (including the concept of a hospital), and architecture (just look at pictures of mosques). A good example of advanced life in the past is Cordoba, Spain. It was under Islamic rule for a time, when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together peacefully and prosperously. It is also said that the Europeans learned from Islamic civilization, which helped them to get out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.
"Who or what is Allah?"
"Allah" is actually Arabic for "God." It's the same Supreme, Omnipotent God that a number of non-Muslims believe in. What's wrong if people stick to their religion's original language? Interestingly, the Hebrew "Elohim" or "Eloah" doesn't sound too far off from the Arabic "Allah." Another interesting point is that the languages of three main prophets in Islam (Moses = Hebrew, Jesus = Aramaic, Muhammad = Arabic) look somewhat similar, and are all read from right to left. I believe the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is "Aleph," while in the Arabic alphabet it's "Alif." Plus, the Bibles that so many Americans read are, after all, translations from the original languages in which it was written. There are Arab Christians in the Middle East who read Bibles that do say "Allah." Arabic is their language. Thus, I don't think people should let differences in language cause ignorance.
Although reading an English translation of the Qur'an will give you the meaning, it is said that there is nothing comparable to the original, sublime Arabic in which this holy book was revealed. It is also said that people in the past were brought to tears when verses were recited to them by Prophet Muhammad or his companions, and I've also witnessed this type of incident in person.
I once heard something foolish about Muslims worshipping the moon. One has to understand first that there were pagan tribes in Arabia prior to the introduction of Islam. Whatever they were worshipping, and if they considered that thing to be "the God," surely they would have used something like the Arabic word "al-Lah" to describe it. In reality, Muslims don't worship the moon. It says plain and simple in the Qur'an: "Do not bow down on your knees to the sun nor the moon: bow down on your knees before God [Alone], Who created them, if you have been worshipping Him" (41:37).
What bothers me about this moon god blasphemy is that a Christian friend told me his Christian mother had a pamphlet regarding this. This was probably the final breaking point that motivated me to make this web site. My mom never had anti-Jewish or anti-Christian pamphlets. Saying that Muslims worship the moon is no more credible than saying Christians worship the sun, for Sunday ("dies solis" in Latin) -- known as "the Lord's Day" by many Christians -- is named after the Roman god of the sun ("Solis"). The birth of Christ is now generally celebrated on December 25th, although this date was used to celebrate "Natalis Solis Invicti" ("Birthday of the Invincible Sun God") for probably a good four centuries after Jesus' time by a pagan religion called Mithraism. Even the sacred Christian holiday of Easter is named after the pagan Saxon goddess of fertility known as "Eastre."
One of the beauties of Islam is that the God of Islam is not just a statue, the God of Islam is not a man of a certain race, the God of Islam is not just the God of one country, and the God of Islam does not just love one race of chosen people. The God of Islam made us all from one male and one female, and made us all different for a reason (49:13). The God of Islam is the one true, immortal, supreme God of everyone. He doesn't fail at or regret certain things, He doesn't get tired or need rest one day of the week, He is incapable of dying, He doesn't need to make any sacrifices since He owns everything, and He doesn't need to humble Himself to Satan or anyone else.
Another important thing to mention is that Islam rejects the concept of Trinity, because in Islam God is so great that nothing is equal to Him. It's possible that "Trinity" came about some time around 325 CE when Constantine the Great had the Council at Nicaea declare Trinity to be the only "legal" faith of the Roman Empire; this is also when the cross became the "official symbol" of Christianity, according to Catholic author Charles Panati. The emperor was perhaps afraid of the spread of Arianism, a system of Christian theology that eliminates some or all divinity from Jesus (peace be upon him), and which was founded by Arius (256-336 CE). The followers of Arianism were thus deemed heretics and expelled from the land. I'm not sure what other influences the mighty Roman Empire may have had on modern-day Christianity. Verses from the Bible that seem to confirm the "God is One" ideology are Deuteronomy 6:4-5 in the Old Testament and Mark 12:28-32 in the New Testament. Here are some Qur'anic examples of God's greatness and sovereignty:
"He holds the keys to the Unseen; only He knows them! He knows whatever exists on land and at sea; no leaf drops down unless He knows it, nor any seed [lies] in the darkness of the earth, nor any tender [shoot] nor any withered [stalk], unless it is [written down] in a clear Book" (6:59).
"Thunder hymns His praise while angels stand in awe of Him" (13:13).
"God is the Light of Heaven and Earth!" (24:35).
"God is the One Who created Heaven and Earth as well as whatever lies in between them, in six days. Then He mounted on the Throne. You (all) have no patron nor any intercessor besides Him. Will you not bear this in mind?" (32:4).
"He knows what penetrates the earth and what issues from it, and what falls down from the sky and what soars up into it. He is the Merciful, the Forgiving" (34:2).
"Blessed is He Who holds control over Heaven and Earth, and anything in between them. He has knowledge of the Hour and to Him will you be returned" (43:85).
"He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Innermost. He is aware of everything!" (57:3).
"He is God [Alone] besides Whom there is no [other] god, the Sovereign, the Holy, the [Source of] Peace, the Secure, the Preserver, the Powerful, the Compeller, the Magnificent: glory be to God ahead of anything they may associate [with Him]!" (59:23).
"Who was Muhammad?"
To give an extremely brief biography on Prophet Muhammad, he lived from about 570-632 CE, and was born in Arabia. His father actually died shortly before he was born, and his mother died while he was a young child. Despite the hardship of not having his parents around, he still had a loving uncle to help raise him. Throughout his childhood and as he grew older, people respected him for being kind, noble, and extremely trustworthy. This was before anyone would have thought he was to be a prophet of God.
At age 40, Muhammad had been spending much time going to a cave by himself to meditate and to think about things. One night the archangel Gabriel came to him. This is when it was revealed to him that he was to be a messenger of God. Gabriel commanded Muhammad to read. Undoubtedly frightened, Muhammad exclaimed that he couldn't read. To make a long story short, some words of the Qur'an (verses 1-5 of chapter 96) were deposited into Muhammad's memory, and he suddenly recited them, after which Gabriel disappeared. The story of how the Islamic holy book was first revealed to Muhammad possibly goes along with what the Bible says in Isaiah 29:12.
Over the next 23 years, the Qur'an was revealed piece by piece to Muhammad (which was possibly explained in Isaiah 28:9-13). Coincidentally, he died not long after it was completely revealed. Since then, the Qur'an has been preserved verbatim in its original Arabic, and Islam has provided a peaceful, moral, complete, sensible way of life for many people throughout the world.
If Muhammad made all this up, he did a pretty good job. He didn't claim divinity or say he could perform miracles. As God tells Muhammad directly in the Qur'an, "You are nothing but a warner;" (35:23). He also passed up worldly pleasures that he could have had, some of which were offered to him by his opponents, and instead put his life and his followers' lives on the line to spread the message of Islam. If God did indeed command Muhammad to do so, what choice would he have?
One might say that Muhammad had compassion and mercy like Jesus, along with better leadership and diplomatic skills than Moses (peace be upon him). There's a good example of this. The Quraish tribes of Mecca were always attacking Muslims and even violated a peace treaty. When it was time, Muhammad and ten thousand Muslims (possibly referred to in Deuteronomy 33:2) marched back to Mecca to re-claim it in a bloodless victory. Muhammad and his ten thousand companions could have destroyed these people, considering all they had done to Muslims, but he forgave them, giving the example of how Joseph (peace be upon him) forgave his brothers. Another interesting thing is that Jesus apparently said he came to bring division (Matthew 10:34), whereas Muhammad came to bring brotherhood.
While the Qur'an is believed to be the unchanged Word of God, Muhammad's other sayings were recorded separately and are known as the Hadith. In the Hadith, Muhammad teaches about the importance of having a good heart, avoiding selfish/narcissistic behavior, caring and having good intentions for others, speaking kindly or remaining silent if unable to speak kindly, being generous to neighbors and guests, and doing good deeds to make up for bad ones. Muhammad also taught the importance of moderation in all things, and Islam is a balanced religion, sometimes referred to as "the middle way."
"What do Muslims believe about Jesus?"
In Islam, we believe that Jesus is one of the most important prophets, but don't attribute divinity to him or anyone else besides the One God, Creator of all. We believe that Jesus was a man approved by God and could do miracles via God's assistance, and that he was sent as a messenger to the Children of Israel. A particular verse in the Bible that ironically seems to describe the Islamic view is this: "Yemen of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:" (Acts 2:22).
Muslims don't believe that Jesus was God or Son of God, but rather a faithful servant of God, someone whom God filled with compassion and mercy; someone close to God, but not physically part of Him. Muslims believe in Jesus as the Messiah (which does not mean "Son of God"), his miracles, and his second coming. We don't worship Jesus or any other human, whether they were a messenger of God or not. We also don't say that Mary (peace be upon her) was Mother of God, because the Islamic belief is that God creates, but was not created. Mary, however, is highly respected in Islam, and there's even a chapter in the Qur'an named after her. The term "Mother of God" may have been coined about three centuries after Jesus' time, by theologians in Alexandria. Then, Mary may have officially been declared "Theotokos" ("God-bearer") at the Council of Ephesus during the 5th century CE. Of course, this idea was created by people, and the term "Mother of God" is probably not anywhere in the Bible.
We believe in Islam that God is the only saviour, as it teaches in the Old Testament: "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour" (Isaiah 43:11). Muslims also believe in the virgin birth that Mary gave to Jesus (3:45-51), but we don't say that God "begot" a son. It says in the Old Testament, "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?" (Malachi 2:10). It also teaches in the Qur'an how easy it is for God to will something into existence: "Once He wishes anything, His command only needs to tell it: 'Be!'; and it is!" (36:82). Such is the greatness of God.
"What about obtaining salvation?"
The Islamic perspective is that the same basic, rudimentary message has been taught since the beginning of time, and thus everyone has had an equal chance to go to Heaven. In Islam, we consider Adam (peace be upon him), the first human, to be a prophet. First off, Adam knew that God is One, and that He created everything. Second, Adam knew that Satan was evil, that death was now inevitable, and that there would be a final judgement, so it was important to live a good, moral life. By the way, it mentions in the Qur'an that Adam repented after having been misled by Satan (20:122), so I don't think we need to worry about being punished for Adam and Eve's mistake. God is just. In Islam, we believe that every child is born in a natural and pure state, free of sin; this is known in Arabic as "fitrah." One might go as far as saying this is what God meant if He did indeed say man was created in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27); however, God would create no creature quite on the same level as Himself.
There have been many messengers since Adam's time who have basically preached or reinforced the same message, while Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (considered the final messenger, or "seal of the prophets") were the three main prophets. Of course each established religion has differences when it comes to customs and traditions and such, but I consider those little things to be details, and feel "the big picture" is more important.
It states in the Qur'an that no one shall bear another's burden (17:15, 35:18, 39:7). It also says, "That no burdened soul shall bear another's burden. That every man receives only what he makes an effort for: so his effort shall be noticed; then he will be rewarded to the fullest extent" (53:38-41). Why would God punish all of mankind for someone else's sins? It says throughout the Qur'an that God is forgiving and merciful, not cruel and unjust. There seem to be verses in the Bible that possibly confirm the rational idea of each person dying for his/her own sins. It says, "…every man shall be put to death for his own sin" (Deuteronomy 24:16, II Kings 14:6). It also says, "…but every man shall die for his own sin" (II Chronicles 25:4). Then it says, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezekiel 18:20).
The Qur'an mentions how some Jews and Christians might argue about who gets into Heaven and such, even though they quote from the same Book (2:113), but we learn in the Qur'an: "Rather anyone who commits his person peacefully to God and is acting kindly will receive his earnings from his Lord. No fear shall come upon them nor will they be saddened" (2:112). Again the Qur'an says, "…anyone who believes in God and the Last Day, and acts honorably will receive their earnings from their Lord: no fear will lie upon them nor need they feel saddened" (2:62). This rational idea is confirmed another time in the Qur'an in 5:69. Another example: "Whoever acts honorably, does so for his own soul's sake; while anyone who commits evil, merely does so against his own interests. Your Lord is never unjust towards His servants" (41:46). And yet again it says, "God will show anyone who believes in Him and acts honorably into gardens through which rivers flow, to live there for ever" (65:11).
"What about the dietary prohibitions in Islam?"
As for eating pork, the Bible also prohibits consumption of swine (Deuteronomy 14:8). In the New Testament, I found Matthew 8:30-33 and Mark 5:11-13 unrelated but somewhat interesting. Religion aside, it seems that people think of pigs to be dirty animals who will eat anything, despite how smart they might be. There is also supposed to be a disease possibly found in pigs, called trichinosis. In any event, there's plenty of other meat to eat, so it's not a big deal. I like chicken and lamb, as well as seafood. Plus, the cow is a versatile animal. We have hot dog alternatives made from beef, for instance, as well as beef patties, ground beef, and other food products.
We are not supposed to use drugs (you know what type of drugs I'm talking about) because they can alter the mind and cause one to do things that they normally wouldn’t do, not to mention be harmful to one's health or even fatal. The reasons for not drinking alcohol are obvious, as we've heard all too often on the news about drunk drivers causing accidents and possibly killing people, and people who get drunk and abuse their families either physically or emotionally. It seems like the Bible kind of teaches about being sober (Titus 1:7) and being "not given to wine" (Titus 2:12). I also found Luke 21:34 and Numbers 6:3 interesting. Perhaps the best way to avoid stupidity (Isaiah 28:7) or health issues caused by drugs and alcohol is to avoid them altogether.
"Does Islam require people, especially women, to dress a certain way?"
The obvious stereotype that might come to one's mind is that women in Islam must cover themselves completely. There is something called "hijab" that pertains to the covering dress of women. There is also a figurative meaning to this, which is for one to cover your soul from sin. This can start off with covering the body to a certain extent. The full body coverings one might see on the news aren't necessarily required, but there are strict standards set by certain countries. That doesn't represent all of the Muslim world. More commonly, the hijab is a covering of the head. A woman's hair, for all intents and purposes, can be an object of attraction. Interestingly, it seems the Bible also mentions something about women covering their heads (I Corinthians 11:6). By the way, isn't Mary, mother of Jesus, usually portrayed in artwork wearing a head covering?
The Qur'an doesn't require that people dress like ninjas. What's important, as the Qur'an teaches, is guarding one's modesty in public. It says in the Qur'an that in public people should lower their gaze (i.e. not lust), and cover their private parts and bosoms (24:30-31). By dressing modestly (both men and women) one can avoid being stared at, whistled at, or otherwise being flirted with undesirably. Another advantage, which may just be minor, is that one can reduce the chance of skin cancer by exposing less of their skin in the sun.
"What about that Ka'bah thing?"
The Ka'bah, located in Mecca, was supposed to have been built by Abraham and his first son Ishmael, in honor of the one true God. Ka'bah actually means "cube." Over time, pagan tribes had set up idols around the Ka'bah, but the advent of Islam returned it to its original glory, which Abraham meant for it to represent. Muslims do not, of course, worship the Ka'bah. It gives us a central location to face during prayer, which is necessary for group prayer if there is to be any organization. Plus, if all Muslims were praying towards the Ka'bah at the same time, and suppose that it somehow disappeared, then all these Muslims would essentially be bowing down towards one another. We would still be worshipping God alone, though. This symbolizes unity and brotherhood, as well as the Oneness of God.
"Does the Qur'an even have proof of anything?"
Of course there are plenty of people who believe that Muhammad was a false prophet and that Islam is completely fake. Some people in the past questioned Muhammad as to why he couldn't produce miracles or signs, but if he was able to do so, people might start worshipping him instead of God. Some people might question why the Qur'an is shorter than the Bible, or why it doesn't have detailed accounts of the prophets' lives or all their proclamations, but the Qur'an teaches us the lessons from those stories rather than a complete history. That's what's important. As for its authenticity, the Qur'an was put into Muhammad's memory during a period of about 23 years and memorized by his companions, whereas the Bible may have been hundreds of years in the making. It's nothing impossible that Arabic-speaking people could memorize the Qur'an, it being in their own tongue, because, as God says, it was made easy to memorize (54:17).
Honestly, though, I don't really know how to prove the Qur'an is a true holy book. I guess it's just a matter of faith. Quite simply, you either believe it or you don't.
Although some people make it seem like you either have to choose religion or science, I wonder if perhaps there can be a balance. There are some scientific theories that seem preposterous and against what the holy books teach, but they are just theories. Then again, there are more modern scientific discoveries that might confirm what was revealed in the Qur'an about fourteen centuries ago.
For instance, the Qur'an says, "He is the One Who created humanity out of water…" (25.54). The human body is supposed to be made up of 60%-80% water, and of course humans need to replenish themselves with drinking water in order to survive. "Have you not seen how God sends down water from the sky and lets it trickle through the earth into springs? Then He produces crops of different colors by means of it; next it withers away so you see it yellowed; then he turns it into stubble. In that is a Reminder for prudent persons" (39:21). Any farmer in the past could have known this, but it's just another example of how water is necessary for life. It's also worth pointing out that the Qur'an was revealed in Arabia, a desert country, where bodies of water are not abundant like they are in other countries.
Another interesting verse, "He brings forth the living from the dead and brings forth the dead from the living, and He revives earth following its death. Thus shall you (all) be brought forth [again]" (30:19). The last sentence seems to be referring to Resurrection Day, but God gives us many signs. "Among His signs are the creation of Heaven and Earth, as well as the diversity in your tongues and colors. In that are signs for those who know" (30:22). This shows that God made us different for a reason, and Prophet Muhammad condemned racism in his last sermon before his death. He even freed slaves and said they are our brothers.
"Among His signs are [the fact] that the sky and earth hold firm at His command" (30:25). It's interesting how the planets do float in space and maintain a certain distance from one another. "He is the One Who starts out with creation; then He performs it all over again" (30:27). Perhaps this is referring to the ecosystem. "Glory be to the One Who has created every kind of species such as the earth grows, their own kind, and even some things they do not know!" (36:36). It couldn't have been that long ago in history that humans entered into studies of microbiology, so imagine what else there is yet to be discovered.
"Blessed is the One Who has placed constellations in the sky and set a beacon in it, plus a shining moon! He is the One Who has granted night and daytime in succession…" (25:61-62). This implies that certain star formations weren't just coincidental, but perhaps as some type of guide that humans could use. I believe there are at least 88 constellations currently recognized by the International Astronomical Union. Also worth noting is that it says "shining moon," which sort of implies that the moon reflects light, rather than creates its own light. The sun is referred to as a "blazing lamp" (78:13). Further proof that the sun is the actual source of light: "He has set the moon as a light among them, and set the sun up as a source of light" (71:16). The Qur'an also mentions how God "…placed the sky as a roof" (21:32), which is apparently referring to the atmosphere.
It also says, "He wraps night up into daytime and wraps daytime up in night, and regulates the sun and moon; each runs along on a stated course. Such is God, your Lord! Control belongs to Him; while the ones whom you appeal to instead of Him do not control a wisp" (35:13). This tells us that the world isn't stationary. When it says God "wraps up," that makes sense with the spinning of the earth. I'm not very knowledgeable on the Solar System, but I believe the sun spins on its own axis, the planets also spin on their own axes, and then the planets rotate around the sun while each planet maintains a certain distance from the sun.
More on the sun and moon, "The sun dare not overtake the moon nor does night outpace the day. Each floats along in its own orbit" (36:40). People back then probably didn't understand much about orbits and such. As for shadows, "Have you not seen how your Lord lengthens shadows? If He so wished, He would make them stand still" (25:45). This may seem insignificant, but perhaps in the old days shadows could be used to tell time, like by using a sundial. The verse goes on to say that God "…placed the sun as an indicator for them," which seems to confirm my little theory.
Perhaps the most astounding scientific item in the Qur'an is the explanation of how God creates human life. "He has created you (all) from a single soul; then made its mate from it…He creates you in your mothers' wombs, one creation following upon another creation in three [stages of] darkness. Such is God, your Lord. Control belongs to Him; there is no god except for Him. Yet you disregard [Him]!" (39:6). That "single soul" is probably referring to Adam, and Eve is probably the mate made from Adam. The "three stages" are probably the trimesters (I believe about 13 weeks each) of the pregnancy. As for what goes on inside the womb, the Qur'an says that God "created man from an extract of clay," then "placed him as a drop of semen in a secure resting-place" (i.e. womb), then "turned the semen into a clot," then "the clot into tissue," then "the tissue into bones," and finally "clothed the bones with flesh" (23:11-13). And another passage: "He started out by creating man from clay; then He made his progeny from an extract of discarded liquid; next He completed him and breathed some of His own spirit into him. He has granted you hearing, eyesight and vital organs…" (32:7-9).
I still think it's a difficult task, one beyond my capability, to prove to someone that the Qur'an is a true holy book, but these were a few things I found interesting and wanted to share.
"Is Islam really an evil, violent, terrorist religion?"
No. For starters, it should be mentioned that sometimes a country or establishment will try to set up a government or leadership based on extreme views that supposedly stem from religion or other ideologies. That doesn't necessarily mean that its views are true or right. This is not limited to Islam, but any other religion or cult, and corruption can even take place within the US government.
Islam does permit fighting in self-defense. It allows fighting until there is no more persecution, but also states that if the opposition seeks peace that you should also do so (8:39-40). It says that those who have been wronged and driven from their homes unjustly are permitted to fight back (22:39-40). Basically, you are only supposed to retaliate as much as you have suffered (22:60). The Qur'an also states, "Religion with God means a commitment to peace" (3:19). Even our typical Arabic greeting ("Salaam," for short) means "peace."
"Jihad" is an Arabic word that some might consider to be overused. It is often incorrectly referred to in the media as "holy war," but the correct translation for jihad from Arabic to English is something more like "struggle" or "strive." Sorry, but it was probably the Christian Crusades that gave birth to the concept of "holy war." The concept of martyrdom also came about through Christianity, with Stephen supposedly being the first Christian martyr after Jesus' time, around 35 CE. Jihad can be taken as physically fighting in defense of your religion if you are being persecuted as the Jews were during the Holocaust, but it also has a figurative meaning. Jihad is an inner battle that takes place within one's self. For instance, when we are tempted to do something that we know is wrong, and overcome that temptation, we win the battle. One might say that by defeating evil within oneself, one brings himself closer to God. The Arabic word "jihad" shows up in the Qur'an at the end of a chapter titled "The Spider," and the English-translated word is "strive" (29:69).
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict obviously does not help Islam maintain its image of peacefulness, but what's going on there is a complex issue involving not only religion, but also politics and perhaps some bad history. One might say that the media only gives one side of the story. If they express any sympathy towards the Arabs, then people get mad. With the hostility that's been going on, some Palestinian kids in that region have lost their fathers. They probably want some vengeance, but what are kids with rocks going to do against big tanks? As of this writing, America has given more financial aid to Israel than to any other country, so of course they can build a strong army and won't have a difficult time decimating Arabs. Of course I'm not condoning suicide bombings and such, but I'm also not saying that either side is completely innocent or guilty. The whole situation is a mess and I just want it to stop.
One might say that oppression is worse than murder, so it's possible that Palestinians would adopt the "Give me liberty or give me death" mentality, rather than let themselves get put into a genocidal situation. That sounds American enough, right? But why does America support Israel so much? I don't know, but surely there are several reasons. One thought is that there's political/financial motivation. Another thing is that the Christians of America apparently believe Israel to be the "promised land," so they might feel the "chosen" Israelis have every right to expel Arabs from their land. Once they gain control of the land, perhaps a certain prophecy would be fulfilled, which might allow for the return of Jesus. There might also be some racial hatred. Some people think Arabs are "good-for-nothing-but-oil sand niggers." A Jewish rabbi named Yaacov Perrin once said, "One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail" (New York Times, 2/28/94, page 1). Do people get to choose what country they're born in, and what race they will be? I'm not Arab, but it's still not my fault I'm the skin color that I am.
Terrorism, of course, is not permitted in Islam. Murder is prohibited in a section of the Qur'an that is similar to the Ten Commandments (17:33). It also states that killing an innocent life is equivalent to killing all of mankind, while saving a life is equivalent to saving all of mankind (5:32). It teaches in the Qur'an that the "eye for an eye" concept is understandable, but forgiveness is the best option (5:45). Forgiveness is like charity. As it says in the Qur'an, "Anyone who commits his person peacefully to God and acts kindly has grasped the Firmest Handle! Towards God lies the destiny of matters" (31:22).
"Why was Muhammad sent as a prophet when all that needed to be revealed had been done?"
Well, the Jews didn't readily accept Jesus as a messenger of God either, did they? It's completely understandable that Jews and Christians would react the same way to Muhammad. I think Muslims and Christians will agree that Moses, the first major prophet, was taught that God is One and that He alone should be worshipped, not the sun or moon or statues. He was also taught about living a moral life and avoiding sin.
The Bible and Qur'an both mention how when Moses was away for a while, his people started worshipping a statue of a calf in his absence. This is just an example. If the Jews corrupted their religion over time (Deuteronomy 31:26-29), then it made sense that another prophet should be sent to teach what is right. If you read Deuteronomy 18:18, doesn't it prophesy another prophet?
A number of "minor prophets" were sent to the Jews, and then came Jesus with many God-given powers, but they even rejected him. One theory is that if possibly they broke their covenant (Deuteronomy 9:24, Deuteronomy 28:15), after everything God had done for them, perhaps it was time for a change. What if centuries later, it was time for another prophecy to be fulfilled? Arabs are supposed to be the descendants of Ishmael (Genesis 21:17-21), and despite the fact that some people look down on Arabs and say that Ishmael was illegitimate offspring of Hagar (Abraham and Sarah's "bondwoman"), is it a tiny bit possible that God still promised something good for the Ishmaelites (Genesis 17:20, Genesis 21:13)? Would it be fair for God to despise one race of people on earth and punish them, and then in the Hereafter punish them again for eternity, even though it's not our fault for being born into a certain race? (I'm sure some people would like to say "yes" to this.) Didn't God not allow Abraham's first wife Sarah to conceive a child, but did allow Abraham to marry Hagar with Sarah's permission and conceive a child (Genesis 16:2-4)? Why did God wait for Ishmael to reach his coming of age prior to letting Sarah conceive? I'm just throwing out some ideas, but I'm not trying to offend anyone.
Furthermore, over time, Christians divided up their religion into sects (I found Matthew 10:34 and Luke 12:51 unrelated but worthy of note). I hear terms like Protestant, Mormon, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Evangelist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Jehovah's Witness, but I don't really know specifically what the difference is between each group. Different Christians apparently have some differing beliefs, even though they read from the same holy book. Plus, some people are deemed as "Saints" and seemingly worshipped or prayed to as an intermediary between them and God. In Islam, we believe that God is so great that there is no need for an intermediary. Although we might not get a response, we can have direct communication with Him through prayer. Anyway, these things would explain why Muhammad would be sent to teach mankind once and for all that God is One and that we should worship Him alone, and that we should live a moral life because we will eventually be judged on Judgement Day between Heaven and Hell. Muslims don't worship Muhammad, of course. As it says in the Qur'an, he was just a messenger, or warner (18:110, 27:91-92). He wasn't just sent to the "lost sheep of Israel," but as a mercy to all mankind, which is another beauty of Islam.
Also, doesn't it possibly prophesy another prophet's coming in the New Testament (John 14:16-17, John 14:26, John 15:26-27, John 16:7-14)? "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you;" (John 16:7). The Qur'an does say good things about Jesus, and it would be fair to refer to Muhammad as a "comforter" or "counselor" based on his personality traits, like how he was kind to people and resolved disputes. Plus, those Biblical passages mention the "Spirit." The "Holy Spirit" or "Holy Ghost" is believed in Islam to be none other than the archangel Gabriel (which apparently isn't specified in the Bible, except for a possible implication early in Luke), and Muhammad spoke the Qur'anic words that God sent via Gabriel. It makes sense when it says, "…for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak…" (John 16:13), because Muhammad simply recited the Qur'an as it was revealed to him and inserted into his memory by God through His messenger angel.
It is said that Muhammad's personal sayings, or the Hadith, were not quite the same (frankly, not as divine) as the Word of God that is known as the Qur'an, so he couldn't have written the Qur'an as some disbelievers would like to allege. Another example of the Qur'an's miraculous nature is that it has been preserved word for word in Arabic for so long. In addition, should Muhammad not have been able to perform miracles to deceive others, or claim divinity, if he was a false prophet (Matthew 24:24, Revelation 19:20)?
There's something else I found interesting. In the New Testament, it says: "And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not: but confessed, I am not Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No" (John 1:19-21). It sounds like the Jews were expecting more than just Christ, perhaps based on prophecy. John had already answered that he wasn't Christ or Elias, but then he was asked if he was "that prophet," so I wonder who that referred to in reality. Christ and Elias are once again separated from the third entity -- "that prophet" -- when it says: "And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?" (John 1:25).
It's hard to say for sure if any of these Biblical passages really did prophesy Muhammad, and I hope I didn't take things out of context or offend anyone with these ideas. I understand no Christian would want to even consider that the Bible would prophesy Muhammad, but I'm just saying that since the Bible has prophesied so many things, is it at least a tiny bit possible it would have hinted one of the world's major religions to come after Jesus' time?
"What if I still don't like Islam?"
It's okay if you feel that way, but the doors of Islam are always open for those who want to learn more, from objective Islamic sources rather than biased or hateful sources. I just want people to respect Islam, and allow Muslims to practice their religion without fear of harassment. One of the gifts God gave humans is free will. Some people like to demonize Islam and make it seem bad (perhaps because they're upset about how quickly it spread after its introduction), but in the Qur'an it says: "Truth comes from your Lord. Let anyone who wishes to, believe, and let anyone who wishes to, disbelieve" (18:29). If there truly is an after-life, we'll find out soon enough. Then God can punish and reward people accordingly, for He is the best of all judges.
It teaches in the Qur'an, "There should be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). The Qur'an refers to Jews and Christians as "People of the Book" (4:171), which sounds respectful. However, it seems like some Jews and Christians look down on Muslims as infidels. I even read somewhere that Catholic theology holds the belief that Abraham is in purgatory while Muhammad and his followers are destined for the Inferno; I hope this isn't true, but I don't know.
I want there to be synagogues, churches, and mosques so people can practice religion and glorify God. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in God and the Hereafter, so at least we've got that going for us. Non-believers could have all got together and destroyed places of worship, but it says in the Qur'an that God protects "churches, synagogues and mosques where God's name is mentioned frequently" and that "God supports anyone who supports Him" (22:40).
Growing up I had many bad things said to me. Of course I can't hold a whole group of people responsible for a few people's actions. Similarly, all Muslims can't be held responsible for terrorism, all Catholic priests can't be held responsible for child sex abuse, all Germans can't be held responsible for vicious acts performed by Nazis, and so on. Most of the people I've known throughout my life here in America -- no matter what religion, culture, or race -- have been decent people. If I sense someone might not be good (meaning they may not be nice to me or would want to harm me), I just try to avoid them. Even when people have been mean to me, I just tried to ignore them.
I think we should all respect one another's beliefs and live in peace. We're all human, and only human. I believe that in a sense, we are all one community and will eventually return to God Almighty (21:92-93). It's important to me that I'm a Muslim, and I don’t ever want to leave Islam. I don't understand why people bash Islam so much and make our faith seem so bad. What will make people happy? If all Muslims were eradicated from the face of the earth, or if all Muslims converted to your religion? What do you want?
There are still many questions that don't have answers. I'm not that knowledgeable on religion, nor do I plan to become a religious scholar of some sort. I don't know if people will ever completely agree on religious matters. If someone wants to hate me for being Muslim, in other words for saying "God is One," then I guess that's just the way it is. If someone thinks I'm going to go to hell for my beliefs, whether they proclaim it or not, then I suppose that's their prerogative. I don't want to live in enmity with anyone.
"You have your religion while I have my religion." (109:6)
All quotes from the Bible have been cited using the name of the book, chapter number, and verse number. All quotes from the Qur'an have been cited using only the chapter number and verse number.