Welcome to my 4th post in my series Learning About Islam.
As I mention in a previous post ‘Learning About Islam ~ My Questions’, my initial exploration into what Islam is all about left me with quite a few questions. Obviously I didn’t get these answered all at once! In fact, I didn’t even think of all these questions at the same time. Rather, they developed over several months, just spinning around in the back of my mind.
Seeking answers to these questions also didn’t occur all at once. Instead, I’d see something and want to know more. Below is a summation of some of the information I found that lead to ‘answers’ for my questions.
(NOTE: these answers may not be true or accurate. They are simply what I found and observed on my own during my time of information seeking)
4 ~ What do I want to learn about Islam?
At some point I realized I wanted to learn about Islam, so I needed to figure out what was it that I didn’t know and what did I want to know more about? This was only a very basic initial exploration, so the questions and answer reflect that.
1) What is Islam?
What did I knew? I knew Islam was a religion. I actually thought it was closer to something like Hindu.
What I discovered ~ Islam is a monotheist religion, like Christianity and Judaism. Allah (god) is the exact same god that Christians and Jews believe in. Muslims (the collective name for people who follow Islam), believe that Allah made Muhammad a Prophet, the last prophet that there will ever be before some type of end of days and such.
2) Are there any basic rules?
What I knew? I knew Muslim women wore a variety of types of head coverings. I knew that it was still largely considered a patriarchal religion. I knew that they fasted once a year for a month, called Ramadan.
Here I was really interested to know more, I wondered how people fasted for about 30 odd days without dying.
What I discovered ~ Muslims fast from sun-up to sundown during Ramadan. Muslim women do wear head coverings and this can be due to many factors, most significantly is the belief that Allah wants them to be modest and protected from men or others who are not family. Yes it is a patriarchal religion, by our western standards and definition it is.
Islam has 5 pillars, which is the bases I guess for everything
- Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
- Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
- Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
- Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
- Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca
3) Is the Muslim God the same as the Christian God?
Turns out, they are the same God. If we are all believing in the same God, just in slightly different way, I don’t really understand how there can be so much fighting and hate between them.
4) Why do I only see people kneeling & bowing?
This is how Muslims pray. I guess if you back a few years (or maybe it still happens in some churches), people would kneel in church to pray, etc.
It is similar in Islam, they kneel and ‘prostrate’ before Allah. It is very ritualized, with specific prayers being recited in a certain way. Always in Arabic.
Maybe that’s why non-Muslim people struggle with Islam. As an outsider, it is really difficult to connect with and understand. And let’s be honest, to the western ear, it doesn’t sound positive/safe/normal… I’m not sure what the right description is for this, but the language puts people in a state of unease. Maybe that’s due to the difference in how the languages are spoken, or the medias negative portrayal. (when do you see Arabic in a movie and how often is that followed by a Muslim extremist blowing something up?… it’s pretty regular).
5) Where is the English version of the Quran?
Turns out, there isn’t an ‘English version’… at least not solely English. Muslims believe that in order to keep the Quran true and pure, without significant changes, that it was always be in Arabic.
You can get Qurans with translations in the book, so it contains both Arabic and English, usually with commentary from the translator to help explain some key challenges.
For example, according to the Quran I was recently gifted (thank you!), the translated word ‘Lord’ (example, our Lord Allah), is not an exact translation. The Arabic word is Rabb, but it doesn’t have a direct translation to English and means several different words. ‘Lord’ is just the closest word to Rabb in the English language.
6) What’s the difference between the religious coverings people wear?
The different types of head coverings seem to fall into 2 categories.
Religious variations and cultural variations.
Religious variations seem to be when the Quran is interpreted to mean a woman should completely cover herself, including the eyes (e.g. Burka) or if the face can be left open (e.g. hijab)
Cultural variations seem to be more around the style, how it’s worn, color variations, length, type of material, etc.
Well, there you have it. Part 4 is done.
Stay tuned for part 5 where I attempt to discover where all this hate is coming from.