Monday, March 13, 2017

Our Mission to Muslims, Week 2

This week, we had the first in our two session crash course covering Muslim doctrine and practice. Week 3 will cover the Muslim view of God, Muhammad, and the Qur'an.

First, we followed up on a topic from Week 1 and looked at a video on Ann Holmes Redding, the former Episcopal priest/practicing Muslim in Seattle.

Second, we looked at the new Sports Hijab, just announced from Nike. My thought was that with 500 million Muslim women in the world, it's hard to believe they never came out with this until now.

Third, we surveyed Muslim practice by looking at the Five Pillars.

Practicing the Faith: the Five Pillars of Islam 

1. Shahadah – the Creed. The daily declaration of faith for a Muslim is, Ashud anna, la illaha illa Allah wa Muhammad rasul Allah (“I witness that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”). Muslims take on a duty to witness to the world. The second part affirms the existence of one God by negating the existence of any other god or creature that people might worship. Islam is emphatically monotheistic. The third part of the creed witnesses that God sent prophets to humankind and that Muhammad was the last (and thus the greatest or definitive) prophet, or messenger who received the revelation from God.

2. Salah – Daily Prayers. The offering of five daily prayers are the duty of every Muslim. They perform the recitations and physical movements of salah or salat as taught by Muhammad. In the salah, Muslims recite specific words and selected verses from the Qur’an while standing, bowing, kneeling with the hands and forehead touching the ground, and sitting. Each of the five prayers can be performed within a window of time: (1) Fajr -between dawn and sunrise, (2) Zuhr - noon to mid-afternoon, (3) Asr - between midafternoon and just before sunset, (4) Maghrib - at sunset, and (5) Isha - after twilight until nighttime. The repeated affirmation that "God is great" forms the structure prayer. One can also see a few refutations of Christian claims as well as something reminiscent of the "Glory be." To get a sense of what Muslim prayer is like, we watched a video of the shortest prayer, which is the first of the day.
Prayer time is determined by local time and the direction is always toward the Ka’bah in Mecca. Each prayer time is preceded by a ritual cleansing called wudu. At the end of the prayer, and throughout their lives, Muslims may also pray informally, asking for guidance and help in their own words. If two or more Muslims pray together, one of them will be the imam (prayer leader), and the others form rows behind the imam. In fact, the term "mosque" means "a place of prostration."

3. Zakah – Almsgiving. The word for this duty of charity means "purification," indicating that a person is purified from greed by giving wealth to others. When Muslims have cash savings for a year, they give 2.5% of it as zakat. Zakat on other forms of wealth, such as land, natural resources, and livestock is calculated at different rates. Paying the zakat reminds Muslims of the duty to help those less fortunate, and that wealth is a gift entrusted to a person by God rather than a possession to be hoarded selfishly. Muhammad set the precedent that zakah was collected and distributed locally, and what remained after meeting local needs was distributed to the larger Muslim community through the general treasury.

4. Sawm – Fasting in Ramadan. During this one month each year, Muslims fast by not eating or drinking anything between dawn and sunset. Fasting is a duty for adults, but many children participate partially on a voluntary basis. The fast begins with sahoor (a pre-dawn meal). While fasting, Muslims perform the dawn, noon and afternoon prayers, and go about their normal duties. At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a few dates and water, then pray, then eat iftar (a meal that breaks the fast). Iftar is usually eaten with family and friends, or at the masjid, which hosts meals donated by community members for all. After the evening prayer, many Muslims go to the masjid for congregational prayers that feature a reading of one thirtieth of the Qur’an each night. They complete the whole Qur’an by the end of the month, which is a celebration of the revelation of the Qur'an.

5. Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca. The basic act of worship in Islam is the pilgrimage to the city of Mecca (or Makkah) during the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Dhul-Hijjah. The hajj rites symbolically reenact the trials and sacrifices of Prophet Abraham, his wife Hajar, and their son Isma’il (not Isaac, as in the Torah) which included Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isma’il in response to God’s command. Muslims must perform the hajj at least once in their lives, provided their health and finances permit. The hajj is performed annually by over 2 million people and different nations are given an annual number of pilgrims allowed to go on the hajj by Saudi Arabia. In the last decade, the Saudi kingdom has spent tens of billions of dollars upgrading the facilities for the hajj.

Sects of Islam 

Islam consists of roughly 84% Sunnis, 15% Shiites (largely Iranian) and 1% unorthodox.

Sunni means “tradition,” and Sunnis regard themselves as those who emphasize following the traditions of Muhammad and of the first two generations of the community of Muslims that followed Muhammad. Sunnis believe that the successor to Muhammad (a Calif) should be elected, while Shi’ites believe a bloodline succession should be followed. Sunnis formed the concept of Islamic law called Shari’a (literally: “the way to the watering hole”). The highest authority is the Qur’an (God's revelations), followed by the Sunnah in the Hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and the consensus of the community called the ijma. This ijma became the final resource for law and ethics among Sunnis.

A number of movements to reform Islam have originated in the 20th Century. Most are Sunni movements, such as the Wahhabis (the puritanical version of Islam in Saudi Arabia), the Muslim Brotherhood (of Egypt), and Jama`at-i-Islami.

Shia Islam is the second largest group, and largely Persian rather than Arab. Shi’ites are the “party of Ali,” who believe that Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali was his designated successor (imam) and that the Muslim community should be headed by a descendent of Muhammad. As a result, they believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib was the first real Imam (leader), rejecting the legitimacy of the previous Muslim caliphs accepted by Sunnis: Abu Bakr, Uthman ibn al-Affan and Umar ibn al-Khattab. Different branches accept different descendants of Ali as Imams. In contrast with Sunnis who have a more egalitatian leadership, Shi’ites believe their imams to be a fully spiritual guide, inheriting some of Muhammad’s inspiration. The movement also glorifies martyrdom, has a mystical side, and firmly believes in theocracy as the best form of government.

Sufis are Islamic mystics. In response to the growing legalism of mainstream Islam, Sufis went beyond external requirements of the religion to seek a personal experience of God through forms of meditation and spiritual growth. A number of Sufi orders exist, analogous to Christian monastic orders. Most Sufis are also Sunni Muslims, although some are Shi'ite Muslims. Many conservative Sunni Muslims regard Sufism as a corruption of Islam, although most still regard Sufis as Muslims.

Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas are 19th Century offshoots of Shi'ite and Sunni Islam, respectively. Bahai’s consider themselves a new religion, originating from Shi'ite Islam as Christianity originated from Judaism. Ahmadiyyas regard themselves as Muslims. Most other Muslims, however, deny that either group is a legitimate form of Islam. Druze, Alevis, and Alawis are other small, sectarian groups with unorthodox beliefs and practices that split off from Islam. Druze and Alevis do not regard themselves as Muslims and are not considered Muslims by other Muslims. Alawis have various non-Islamic practices, but debate continues as to whether they should still be considered Muslims. Sikhism is a pacifist blend of Islam and Hinduism, resulting in what might be called a “monotheistic atheism.”

Nation of Islam is a black nationalistic Muslim cult of the USA invented by Wallace Fard and Elijah Muhammad. Fard was a white man believed to be Allah incarnate. In 1975, Elijah’s son and successor Warith Deen Muhammad introduced reforms to bring black American Muslims into the mainstream of Sunni Islam. Some disagreed with the reforms, like Louis Farrakhan who leads his own reboot of the Nation of Islam.

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