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ISLAM: A PORTRAIT

by Dr. Ghulam Haider Aasi
Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and the History of
Religions, American Islamic College, Chicago; Trustee of the
Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions

Islam is the proper name of religion which Allah, the Alone God, revealed to mankind through the series of human messengers- prophets in human history and completed in His final revelation of "Al-Quran al-Karim, Kalam-Allah" (the speech of God) sent down upon the Prophet Muhammad (570-632 CE) "Salla-Allahu alayhi wa Sallam" ("may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him"; this blessing on the names of honored prophets is sometimes abbreviated in print to SAAWS or SA). Within history, Islam is embodied in the Qur'an and in the "Sunnah" (the sayings, actions and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad) in its final and eternal form.

The term "Islam" derives from the root letters "s.l.m." ("Ar. Sin, Lam, Mim") which means "to be in peace," "to be secure" and "to be integral, whole." Hence, Islam means one's conscious submission to the Will, Law, and Guidance of Allah, the Almighty Alone God and thus to be in peace with one's own self, with all creatures and with the Creator and Originator of all that exists. One who consciously surrenders one's whole being to God and commits oneself to pattern one's life on the divine guidance communicated and exemplified by the human messengers-prophets sent by God is called a "Muslim." The Qur'an describes Islam in two ways: 1) as the primordial or natural religion (religio naturalis) of the innate nature with which Allah created mankind (Q.30:30), and 2) as the religion which was completed and consummated in the Qur'an, the final and definitive Divine Writ from Allah.

Allah, the Exalted Almighty Alone God, declares in the Qur'an that all the universe and creation surrenders to Him either willingly or unwillingly and that all must return to him (Q.3:83). Whereas the universe surrenders to God's law by its innate nature and is endowed with order, humankind obeys the guidance of God through its divinely endowed moral choice and free will.

"Glorify the name of your Sustainer, the All-Highest,
Who creates all that exists, then forms it in its best mold,
determines its nature with the proper measure and guides it
towards its fulfillment." (Q.87:1-3; tr.by M. Asad)

Allah created humanity, endowed them with an innate awareness of Him, empowered them with faculties of reason and cognition, and made them to inherit the earth, testing their free choice of good and evil by their obedience to or denial of Allah's universal guidance. Qur'an unequivocally declares the unity, uniqueness and universality of Allah, the unity and equality of all mankind, the universality of His guidance to all mankind through the human messengers-prophets, and the unity and indivisibility of the Truth. Allah created Adam, the first human being, made him and his progeny inheritors of the earth ("Khalifat-Allah fi al.Ard") and endowed them with the requisite faculties to be His trustees on earth. His messengers-prophets, starting with Adam and culminating in the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS), conveyed and exemplified His guidance to their communities.


Historical Establishment

Muslims believe in the historical crystalization and establishment of Islam within the religious experience of the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS). He actualized the Will of God as embodied in the Qur'an by his beautiful model, the Sunnah, and raised a society of true Muslims. His Companions, rightly guided Caliphs and Imams, carried out his tradition, transmitted it to the following generations and established it in history.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS) was born at Makkah (Mecca) in what is now Saudi Arabia in 570 CE. From a very young age he came to be known as Al-Amin, the honest and trustworthy. At the age of 25 he married a righteous widow, Khadijah, who was 15 years his senior. When he was in his 40s, he was called upon by Allah to deliver His final guidance and message, the Qur'an, to mankind and to bring about the "Ummah Muslimah," the community of submitters to Allah. The Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation sent down upon him through the agency of angel Jibrail (Gabriel) while he was meditating in the cave of Hira'. It reads in translation as follows:

"Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created. Created man out of a germ cell. Read, for thy Sustainer is the Most-Bountiful One. Who has taught man the use of the pen. Taught man what he did not know. Nay, verily, man becomes grossly overweening whenever he believes himself to be self-sufficient: for, behold, unto thy Sustainer all must return." (Q96:1-8; tr.by M. Asad)

In Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad called upon the Arab idolaters of his time to believe in One Alone God, Allah ("Tawhid"), and not to ascribe divinity to aught beside Allah. As a result of the scathing criticism of the Qur'an against idolatry and its various forms of Associationism (shirk) the Makkan oligarchy turned to persecuting Muhammad and his followers. It became so harsh and harrying that the Prophet was commanded to migrate along with his Makkan followers to Yathrib.

This emigration of the Prophet Muhammad and his Makkan Muslims who since then were designated "Muhajirun" (migrants in the Cause of Allah) in 622 CE marked a watershed point in the history of mankind. The Muslims' religious calendar, known as "Hijri", is based on this most meaningful and significant event. The city of Yathrib since then came to be known as Madinah (abbreviated from Madinat al-Nabi, city of the Prophet) and it was here that the Prophet was able to establish "Ummah Muslimah," the religio-moral and socio-political community of Muslims, commonly known as the Islamic city state of Madinah.

Within a decade this nascent and model Muslim community was successful in establishing Islam in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula; in addition, the Prophet sent missions to all the surrounding rulers and empires including both the superpowers of the time, the Persian Sasanid and the Byzantian Roman Christian empires. Just months before his death, the Prophet Muhammad addressed all mankind during his Farewell Pilgrimage to Ka'bah, in Makkah and made the eternal message of Allah universally known and established. Some of the salient parts of this historic address are the following:

"O, mankind, listen to what I say: I do not know whether I will meet you ever at this place after this year. O, mankind, verily your lives, your honor and your property are inviolable and sacred like this day and this month until you meet your Sustainer. You will definitely meet your Sustainer and He will ask you of your deeds.... Whoever is entrusted with any trust, he must return the trust fully. Verily, all usury is abolished but you have your capital. Wrong not and you shall not be wronged. Allah has decreed that there is to be no usury.... You have rights over your women and they have rights over you.... Listen and understand, O, mankind, I am leaving with you the Divine writ, the Qur'an and the Sunnah of His Prophet. If you stick to it you will never go astray. This is a self-evident fact. You must know every Muslim is a brother to another Muslim. All Muslims constitute one brotherhood. One is only permitted to take from a brother what he gives willingly, so wrong not yourselves. O, Allah, be witness I have conveyed." (Ibn Hisham, "Sirat al-Rasul")

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 10H/632 CE, the Ummah was first led by the four rightly-guided Caliphs (10-40H/632-661CE), followed by the dynastic rulers. Both the historical spread of Islam and unprecedented expansion of Muslim rule through all the continents known at the time, within less than a century after the death of the Prophet, changed not only the map of the world but also transformed the destiny of human history and world civilization. By 711 CE, Islam had crossed Gibraltar in the west, Caucasus in the north, Sudan in the south, and reached India and China in the east. Muslim "Caliphantes" ruled most of the world, from Al-Andalus, Spain (711-1492 CE) to Asia and Africa, at the period when Europe and the West were still in their dark and Middle ages. Islam made lasting contributions to human civilization and transformed ancient regional civilizations into a world civilization. The so-called Western civilization would never have emerged had there not been the integrating Islamic civilization across the European Dark and Middle ages and the Renaissance.

This "pax Islamica", however, was never immune from internal disintegration or from external repulsions and reconquests. The Christian reconquest of Spain, the Inquisition and the Crusades set a course of historical conflict between the West and the Muslim world of which European Colonialism and Western Neo-imperialism have been the historical corollaries. Despite all these geo-political changes and socio-economic conflicts, Islam continued to spread, gaining adherents in all parts of the world. Today, Muslims total over a billion and their geographical spread is throughout all the continents. The historic spread of Islam has never been due to its early conquests alone; rather, its appeals are the egalitarian bonding of all believers into universal brotherhood (Ummah) and providing them with the spiritual truth of God-consciousness (Tawhid and Taqwa) that transforms their lives to be meaningful and purposeful.


Main Sources

For Muslims the essential sources for all aspects of life are: (a) the Qur'an, (b) the Sunnah and Hadith, (c) "Ijma" (traditional consensus of the Companions of the Prophet and teachings of the "Imams" for the Shi'ah), and (d) "Ijtihad" (reasoning and analogical deduction based on the Qur'an and "Hadith" to derive solutions for new problems).

  • The Qur'an. Muslims believe in the Qur'an as verbatim revelation from Allah, sent down upon Muhammad through the agency of the angel Gabriel during Muhammad's prophethood, 610-632 CE. The whole Qur'an was sent down upon the Prophet piecemeal, was memorized, written and publicly transmitted upon its revelation. Its uniqueness as an inimitable miracle and the eternally definitive words of God, its historical preservation, regular and authentic transmission and dissemination are essential beliefs of Islam. It comprises 114 "surahs" (chapters) which are designated as Makkan or Madinan according to the place of their descent upon Muhammad.
  • Sunnah and Hadith. The second universal source of Islam is the Sunnah, which comprises sayings, actions and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad. Their reportage in narration is called Hadith. Six collections are recognized as authentic by the Sunni Muslims; the Shi'ah recognize Al-Kulini's collection, entitled "Al-Kafi," as earliest and authentic.
  • Ijma. Sunni Muslims believe in the consensus of the Muslim scholars and the community as the third source of Islamic law whereas the Shi'ah take the teachings and interpretations of the Imams as binding.
  • Ijtihad. This names the total effort of a religious scholar to discover both the intent of the Islamic law and the correct answer to a new problem in light of the first two material sources called "Nass" (divine text), through a well-defined systematic procedure of "Qiyas" (analogical deduction).


Beliefs and Observances

A. Articles of Faith (Arkan al Iman)

Muslims believe in six articles of faith which are derived from revealed sources, the Qur'an and the Sunnah. (Q.2:285; 4:136, 150-152)

  1. Belief in "One Alone God, Allah". He is Unique, Infinite, Transcendent, Creator and Sustainer of all that exists. "Nothing is like unto Him." (Q.42:11) He Alone is worthy of worship. All else is His creature and servant. He is Unique both in his essence ("Dhat") and in His attributes ("Sifat"). "His are the beautiful names (99 beautiful names described in the Qur'an ) and all that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him ...." (Q.59:24; 7:180; 17:110; 20:8)

  2. Belief in the eternal life of Hereafter" ("Al-Akhirah"). Muslims believe in the end of the world, in Resurrection, in the resurrection of whole person after death ("al-Ba'th"), in the Day of judgment ("Yawm al-Hisab") and in eternal Hell and Paradise.

  3. Belief in angels. Muslims believe in angels as creatures of Allah, eternally busy in His service, glorification and Praise: "... they never disobey God what he commanded them to do and do what they are ordered." (Q.66:6; 16:50)

  4. Belief in Revelations from God, commonly known as belief in the Books from God. Muslims believe that Allah revealed His messages and guidance to different messengers at different times and places. These include the scrolls of Abraham, the Torah to Moses, Psalms to David, "Injil" to Jesus, culminating in the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad.

  5. Belief in human messengers-prophets of God. Muslims believe that Allah chose certain human beings as His prophets and messengers to convey His guidance and to exemplify it for their people. All peoples have a prophet from among themselves who conveyed the guidance and norms of God to them in their own language. Muslims believe that the series of prophets starts with Adam and includes Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus, and culminates in Muhammad, who is the Seal of the office of Prophethood. The office of Prophethood is indivisible. May God's blessing and peace be with all of them. (Q.10:47,14:4, 16:36, 21:25, 28:59, 33:40)

  6. Belief in the Decree and Plan of God. Muslims believe that all happens, good or evil, with the decree of God and nothing can fail His Plan. ("Qada wa Qadar").


B. Pillars of Islam ("Arkan al Islam")

  1. Shahadah: The statement of faith. A person becomes a Muslim when out of one's own will and conviction one bears witness to the fact that there is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger (and final prophet and servant).

  2. Salat: Every male and female adult Muslim is obliged to offer five daily worship-prayers. (Q.4:103, 2:177)

  3. Sawm: Fasting during the month of "Ramadan," the ninth month of Muslims' lunar calendar and abstaining from food, drink, sex and all sorts of idle and immoral acts from dawn to sunset. (Q.2:183-187)

  4. Zakat: Sharing wealth. Every Muslim who has his savings for a year is obligated to pay a fixed portion of it to the needy, the poor and those who are under debt. Wealth-sharing purifies the giver's wealth from greed and stinginess and reconciles the hearts of the recipients. (Q.9:60)

  5. Hajj: Pilgrimage. All Muslims who can afford the journey to Ka'bah, in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, both physically and financially, are obliged to perform the pilgrimage once in their lifetime; it is usually made during the first ten days of the last month of the Muslim "Hijri" Calendar, "Dhu-al. Hijjah." Pilgrimage at other times is called "Umrah." (Q.2:189-179, 3:97)


Schools of Law

With the developing needs of the Muslim "Ummah", the expansion of the Muslim empire, and changing situations, there arose a need to derive laws from the revealed sources and to develop a systematic method for doing so. Though there were many legal opinions in the beginning, by the end of third century "Hijrah," four schools of law were recognized as othodox among the Sunni Muslims: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali. Among the Shi'ah, two became prominent: Ja'fariyah of the Twelver Shi'ahs of Iran and Zaydiyah (Fivers) of Yemen.


Theological Schools

At its earliest stage Muslim theological speculation emerged in response to internal political differences. The murder of Uthman (d.656 CE), the third Caliph, and subsequent civil wars raised important issues, including: Who is a true believer? what is the nature of faith (Iman) and its relation to Islam (submission to God's law)? what qualifies a person both to be the leader and member of a truly believing Community? Variant responses to these questions split the Ummah first into different political views and groups, then resulted in sects:

  • Khawarij
    The first explicit political and theological schism was of the Khawarij (Secessionists) who called for extreme piety and idealistic egalitarianism. They fought against all claimants of political rule. Some even rejected the need for any governing institution. Their pursuit of a pure society later led them to fanaticism and violence. Continuous rebellion against every government and ever-increasing internal dissension and disunity almost eliminated their role and existence. Those who survived took refuge in the rugged mountains of North Africa and Yemen.

  • Shi'ah
    The second major schism represented, in its earliest phase, primarily a socio-political critique against the rulers; later it became a permanent sect or branch of Islam. The name "Shi'ah" was given to the partisans of 'Ali (d.661 CE), the son-in-law of the Prophet, the fourth rightly-guided "Caliph" of the Sunnis and the first "Imam" of the Shi'ah. They developed the doctrine of "Imamah" over and against the Sunni Khilafah. According to this view, the legitimate successor of the Prophet was 'Ali, their first Imam, whose succession then continued in his descendants who are thus political and religious leaders. These "Imams" are divinely inspired, infallible, and authoritative interpreters of the *Qur'an*. Later, debating the legitimacy of different Imams, Shi'ism split into numerous sects. Their main branches are:

    a. Ithna 'Ash'ariyyah (Twelvers) believe in the 12 Imams and hold that a son, Muhammad al-Muntazar, was born to the 11th Imam, Hassan al-Askari (d.874) but went into concealment until he will reappear at the proper time to set the whole world in order. They subscribe to the legal school "Ja'fariyyah," have been established in Iran since the "Safvid" period (1501), and are the largest branch of Shi'ah.

    b. Zaydiyah consider Zayd b. Ali (d.740), the second grandson of Husayn, to be the fifth and final Imam. Zaydiyah follow the Zaydi school of Islamic law and are closer to Sunnis. They established themselves in Yemen.

    c. Isma'iliyah take Ismail's (d.760) son Muhammad as the impending "Mahdi". They split into many offshoots such as Fatimids, Qaramitah, Druz, Nizaris and Agha Khanis, continuing to present times.

  • Sunnis The majority of Muslims -- more than 90 percent of all Muslims in the world -- identify themselves with the term "Ahl-al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah," or People of the Tradition and the Community, commonly known as Sunni in distinction to non-orthodox sects and groups. Among them, two main theological schools and dispositions became permanent. In their classical terms, these are known as "Mu'tazilah" and "Ash'ariyah". The first tendency represents rationalist philosophical theology while the second emphasizes the absolute primacy and total sufficiency of the revealed texts, the Qur'an and the Sunnah.


    Contemporary Movements

    Most of the revivalist or reform movements -- pejoratively called fundamentalist or neo-fundamentalist groups in the West -- derive their thought and arguments from Ash'ariyah and its sister traditional theologies.

    Feasts and Festivals

    Muslims observe a lunar calendar of 354 days. The two most important religious feasts celebrated by all, everywhere, are the two "Ids":

    • Id al-Adha, the feast of Sacrifice and Hajj, is celebrated on the tenth of "Dhu al-Hijjah," the 12th month. Congregational worship prayer is offered in the open or in big mosques. Every household slaughters an animal, and meat of sacrifices is shared and distributed.

    • Id al-Fitr is celebrated on the first day of "Shawwal", the tenth month, to give thanks for completion of the fasting of "Ramadan" and asking God's forgiveness. "Id-Salat" is offered in congregation in the open or in mosques. On both "Ids", charity is given, gifts are exchanged, open houses are maintained, visits are made to friends, neighbors, relatives and even to graveyards. Generosity, hospitality and caring are hallmarks of these feasts.

    • In addition to the two "'Ids" there are other optional small holidays or historical celebrations such as fasting on the tenth of the first month, vigil on "Laylat al-Qadr," popularly on the 27th night of the fasting month of "Ramadan," celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Mawlid al-Nabi) on 12th of the third month and on first "Muharram", as the "Hijri" new year day, etc. Shi'ah particularly commemorate the martyrdom of Husain (d.680), the grandson of the Prophet, during the first ten days of "Muharram."


    SUFISM

    One of the most enduring contributions of Islam to human spirituality is its mystical tradition and dimension, generally known as Sufism, more correctly called "Tasawwuf." It is unfortunate that, more often than not, Islam has been perceived as a political, legalistic, orthopraxic and this-worldly religion due to its distinctive emphasis on the Transcendence and complete otherness of Unique and Alone God. The historical fact, however, is that it is the Islamic spiritual reality rather than Muslim imperium or an Islamic state which made Islam a universal religion. This stream of spiritual experience has been carried on by Sufis who have been the mystics and scholars of traditional Islam up to the present. Sufism sees the essence of the human in his being "of God, in the world" rather than "of the world, for God." It sees humans innately bound with God due to the primordial covenant of their souls witnessing to the fact of God's lordship. (Q.7:172)

    It is human forgetfulness of God and absorption in the material world that makes them alienated from their essence. (Q.59:18-19) Hence, to gain one's real self is to be in constant remembrance of God ("Dhikr" ; Q.13:28) and to detach oneself from the transitory material world. True submission (Islam) is to make one's heart, not just head, the real throne of God where God manifests Himself both as Transcendent and Immanent. Realizing such presence of God requires one to experience the absolute love of God, by dying in Him and living in Him. Out of their religious experiences, Sufis derived the doctrines of "Fana" (dying in God or annihilation of the human self and attributes in God) and "Baqa" (living with God and acquiring divine attributes). They systematically developed and explained the different stations and states through which every genuine mystic has to tread on the path of spiritual experience of reality. While the primary requirement for a Muslim is to abide by the rules and regulation of the Islamic law and rituals ("Shari'ah"), that observance does not guarantee the spiritual experience of God and His vision.

    By devoting and pledging oneself to God through the experienced guide, one can tread the path of spiritual reality ("Tariqah"). Within the variety of these religious-spiritual experiences, the mystics of Islam introduced their orders and provided institutions where adepts lead initiates to the experience of spiritual reality.


    Islam and Other Religious Traditions

    No other religious scripture addresses the issue of the religious diversity of mankind as directly as the Qur'an. It emphasizes the unity and universality of One Alone God, unity and equality of mankind, unity of the Truth and universality of God's guidance to all mankind through human messengers-prophets, starting from Adam and culminating in the Prophet Muhammad who is the final messenger and the mercy to all the worlds. ("Rahmatan lil'alamin," Q.21:107; 7:158; 34:28; 33:40)

    The Qur'an declares that God created all mankind as one religio-moral community ("Ummah wahidah"). It was humanity's exercise of freedom of will and claim of self-sufficiency (Q.96:6-7) that led to differentiation and to deviation from the innate nature. Then God, out of His universal grace, raised among them messengers who conveyed God's guidance to them in their own languages. (Q.16:36; cf:35:23-25; 23:44; 10:47; 14:4 and more)

    Whereas each community ought to have accepted the universality of God's messages and believed in His messengers-prophets, their mutual jealousy and attempts to appropriate God's favor turned them instead to splitting the one and true religion of God and dividing into sects and mutually exclusive communities (Q.23:51-53; 21:92-94; 30:30-32). Yet even this religious diversity with different symbols and rituals is categorized by the Qur'an as God-willed reality so long as it does not fall into the worship of false deities (idolatry) and does not deny universal fundamental principles of truth and morality. (10:19; 11:117-119; 16:93; 42:8)

    "All mankind were once one single community; (then they began to differ) whereupon God raised up the prophets as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, and through them bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, so that it might decide between people with regard to all on which they had come to hold divergent views. Yet none other than the self-same people who had been granted this (revelation) began, out of mutual jealousy, to disagree about its meaning after all evidence of the truth had come unto them. But God guided the believers unto the truth about which, by His leave, they had disagreed: for God guides onto a straight way him that wills (to be guided)." (Q.2:213; tr.by M. Asad

    "And unto thee (O Prophet) have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein. Judge, then, between the followers of earlier revelation in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high, and do not follow their errant views, forsaking the truth that has come unto thee. Unto every one of you have We appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie then with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ." (Q.5:48; tr. by M. Asad)

    Qur'an rejects any claim of appropriating God's truth or favor. No person, race or nation is chosen of God. Any claim on God's unilateral covenant or saving grace by any atonement is vehemently rejected by the Qur'an. For God all humans are equal. What characterizes one as noble is one's God-consciousness ("Taqwa") and carrying out His norms of universal ethics.

    "O' mankind, Behold, We have created you all from a male and a female and have made you into tribes and nations so that you might come to recognize one another as (interdependent and equal), verily noblest of you before God is one who is most conscious of Him, verily, God is all knowing, all aware." (Q.49:13; tr.by M.Asad)

    Islam abolished and condemns all forms of racial, tribal or national prejudices which cause one to stand by one's own people in an unjust cause over and against truth and justice. (Q.5:2, 8)

    The Qur'an reconfirms the fact of earlier revelations from God and hence it gives to the adherents of "Torah" and "Injil," Jews and Christians, the appellation of "Ahl-al-Kitab," the people of the revealed scriptures. Though the Qur'an explicitly identifies the Jews and Christians as "Ahl-al-Kitab", the term in its general import and implicit Qur'anic allusions extends to all religious traditions which might concur with identifying their religious sources as derived from one and the same Divine source. Thus the Prophet also included Zoroastrians in this category. With the spread of Muslim rule over Asia, India, and Africa, some Muslim jurists later included both Hindus and Buddhists in the category of "Ahl-al-Dhimma" which, by extension, absorbed all non-Muslims who chose to be the subjects of the Muslim rule.

    Islam does not identify people in terms of political, geographical, ethnic, racial, or national entities; rather, it categorizes them in terms of their religio-moral commitments and religious traditions. As Professor Dr. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, the Founder-Director of International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Kuala Lumpur, maintains:

    "We Muslims not only tolerated non-Muslims but also opened our doors of lands and houses even, our hearts and minds to make them feel at home amongst us."

    But what made Muslims the pioneers of religious coexistence was their recognition of non-Muslims as legal citizens based on rules derived from the teachings of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. And it was on these grounds that Muslims worked out the detailed legal rights and duties of non-Muslims vis-a-vis the Muslims as a part of Islamic law. Muslims were the first to recognize non-Muslims as "religio licita", providing them legal religio-cultural autonomy. Every Muslim goverment or leader is obliged by the Prophetic command to safeguard the rights of non- Muslims with special care ("Dhimmat-Allah wa Rasulihi").

    The Qur'an categorically prohibits coercion in matters of religion, be it by sheer force or implicit deceptive ways. Muslims are obliged to call mankind toward submission to God by wisdom, good example, and sincere exhortation, not in argument, but with kind manner. (Q.2:257; 16:125) Such imperatives of the Qur'an provide Muslims with a clear call to humanity; Muslims repeat and try to live by the following guidelines in their interreligious dialogues and cooperations:

    "Say, O followers of earlier revelation, come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common -- that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught beside Him, and that we shall not take human beings for our lords beside God." (Q.3:64; tr.by M.Asad)


    Cooperation, Peace, Justice and Virtue

    The main objective of every venture of interreligious dialogue and cooperation is to bring about justice, order and peace in the world. Cooperation in furthering virtue and justice and in ending evil and aggression is among the most distinctive imperatives of the Qur'an. (Q.5:2 & 8)


    A Personal Plea

    While I am writing these words early in July 1993, I cannot help but express my extreme disappointment in all world bodies and conferences, including religious organizations, with regard to the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In his open letter addressed to: "All of Those Who Still Believe in Love and Divine Justice," my dear colleague and friend Dr. Mustafa Ceric, Supreme Head of Islamic Community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, writes:

    "We, the Muslims of Bosnia, have been betrayed. All that remains to us is the hope that people who believe in love and justice, particularly the religious leaders of the world's major faiths, will stand with us.

    We call upon: all the Muslim "ulama" of the world in the name of Muslim altruism; on the leadership of all the Christian denominations -- Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and all others -- in the name of Christian love and mercy; on the Jewish Rabbinate in the name of supreme justice; on every Buddhist leader in the name of Buddha's Compassion; on Hindus, Confucians, Taoists, Parsis, Baha'is, in sum, every religious leader as well as secular humanists in the name of their principles, to help us....

    "Let them voice love in the face of hatred, justice in the face of murder. And let them voice their religious vows here in Sarajevo, the city of mosques, churches, synagogues and temples where different faiths and traditions have always lived in peace . . . where today genocide of Bosnia's Muslims is carried out."

    As I repeat this cry for justice and appeal to human conscience, my heart is rending with pain. Will the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago and other conferences of religious leaders stand to change the situation?


    Islam and the Parliaments of the World's Religions

    At the 1893 Parliament, Islam was not represented properly. Alexander Russell Webb, a singular American new Muslim, made a genuine effort to bring across the true teachings of Islam to the West, but to no avail. Since its historical inception to the present, Islam has been grossly misunderstood and distorted in the West. Most of the papers on Islam were read and written by Christian missionaries active in the Muslim world at the time. They not only explained away Islam, but also reasserted more stereotypes, a legacy which continues to the present. Whereas for centuries distortion of Islam and stereotypes of it were created and carried out by the missionaries and mercenary Orientalists, today this distortion continues by the Western media and by those who are antagonistic to Islam.

    Muslims hope and pray that interfaith meetings such as the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicago will lay the foundations of proper understanding of Islam in the West and America, and that the Western world will see in Islam the panacea rather than the threat to the needed just world order.


    ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    First, all praise and thanks are due to Allah. I am also grateful to American Islamic College, both to its administration and community, for providing me with the time and facilities to work for the Parliament. For the preparation of this article, I am extremely thankful to International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Kuala Lumpur; to its Founder-Director, Dr. Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas; and to all its members for providing me with time and facilities. Special thanks are due to Ms. Nor Azimah for her typing.

    Most of all, my heartfelt gratitude is due to my wife, Zubaida and to my children: Humaira, Sumaira, Irfan, Rummanah and Salman. Without their continous support and unceasing sacrifices I would have never been able to make contributions to these good causes.

    Finally, I acknowledge Joel Beversluis, the Editor of this SourceBook, whose constant encouragement and unceasing forbearance brought this to publication.

    May God Almighty bless all!

    Taken from A SourceBook for Earth's Community of Religions


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