By Babush Caridade
Jun 21, 2013
"Discover for yourself what Islam is and what it stands for", was the suggestion of Fr. Paul Jackson SJ, as he introduced us, to the world of Muslims. With an anxious heart I, along with my companion, set out for Phulwari Sharif, (Patna, the capital of Bihar, a state of India) to discover Islam in its followers, which had been an alien religion to me. In this paper I would like to deal with some profound truths that I discovered in my search into the ways of Muslims, whom I met in Phulwari Sharif, live out their religious calling. Since most of the people whom we met are the scholars of the Book, my reflections are also based on the Book. Here and there we met some of the ordinary people and I have made an attempt to give their views also in this paper.
Islam the religion: The root of the Arabic word Islam is ‘slm’, that is, peace, which denotes peace from Allah and peace with man. Further the Quran emphatically underlines “in the remembrance of Allah the hearts find peace” (13:28). Indeed peace is the happy and natural state of man ensuring freedom from disorder and disharmony. Thus, Islam is the religion which brings peace and orderliness to mankind when man commits himself to god and completely submits himself to his will and guidance. Islam means submission to the will of Allah and the one who submits his life is a Muslim. Very simply Maulana Nizamuddin Sahib, the Amir-i-Sharia, told the seriousness and meaning of this to me in the following words: “In the measure I submit myself to Allah, in that measure I am a Muslim. Therefore being a Muslim is an everyday affair.”
A Muslim is the one who believes in One God and strives for total reorganization of his life according to His revealed guidance and the sayings of His prophets. He also works for building human society on the same basis. According to them, Islam is not a new religion. It is in essence the same message and guidance which Allah revealed to all prophets as it is said in the Quran: “Say ‘we believe in Allah and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes, and in (the books) given to Moses, Jesus and the prophets, from their Lord. We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will (in Islam) (3:84).
Muslims believe that Quran is the word of God revealed to Muhammad through the agency of the Angel Gabriel. The Quran was revealed from God piece by piece on various occasions to answer certain questions, solve certain problems, settle certain disputes and to be man’s guide to the truth of God and eternal happiness. It was revealed in Arabic and it still and will remain in its original and complete Arabic version, because God has made it His concern to preserve it, to make it always the guide for man and to safeguard it against corruption. The central teaching of the Quran is to live and let live. Without any cause do not give trouble, and whatever you have, share with the less privileged. ‘Unto God is your becoming’ is the steady refrain of the Quran’s summary of life.
Calling Islam ‘Mohammedanism’ and Muslims ‘Mohammedans’ is a misnomer. It implies that the religion takes its name after a mortal, namely, Muhammad, and that Islam is not more than another ‘ism’ just like Judaism, Hinduism, Marxism, etc. Secondly it implies that non-Muslims might think of the Muslims as worshipers of Muhammad or as his believers. Thirdly, outsiders may think that the religion was founded by Muhammad and therefore takes its name after the founder. The Muslims believe that the original founder of Islam is God himself, and the date founding of Islam goes back to the age of Adam.
God in Islam: The Quran gives the essence of the oneness of God as follows: “In the name of Allah, Most gracious, Most merciful, say: He is Allah, the One; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth none, nor is He begotten and there is none like unto Him” (112:1-4). Therefore they have a great respect and reverence for Allah and that in turn inspires them to develop a sincere love for their religion and their fellow Muslims. Their total confidence in Allah and His mercy is praiseworthy. Therefore they profess, "La Ilaha ill ‘Allah"[there is no god but Allah]. This is the crux of Islam.
The unique usage of Allah as a personal name of God is a reflection of Islam’s emphasis of the purity of the belief in God which is the essence of the message of all God’s messengers. Because of this, Islam considers associating any deity or personality with God as a deadly sin which God will never forgive despite the fact He may forgive all other sins.
Jesus in Islam: Invariably whomever I met had something to tell me about the place of Jesus in Islam. It was indeed a surprise for me to hear that Muslims do not take the name of Jesus without saying Hazrat Eesa or Eesa alai-hias-salaam. What had startled me more was the fact that the name of Jesus appears twenty five times whereas the name of the Prophet appears only five times in the Holy Quran. Some of the titles that are given to Jesus in the holy Quran include Ibn Maryam [son of Mary], Masih [Messiah or Christ], Abdullah [servant of Allah], Rasullullah [Messenger of Allah], etc. Jesus is also spoken of as ‘the word of God, the spirit of God, the sign of God,’ etc. Another fact that surprised me was their expectance of the Second Coming of Jesus towards the end of the world.
The Qur'anic account of Jesus emphatically rejects the concept of his divinity and divine sonship but presents him as one of the great prophets of God. The Quran makes it clear that the birth of Jesus was without a natural father but through the spirit of God (19:21), but it does not elevate him as Son of God. Like other prophets, Jesus also performed miracles. For example, he raised the dead and cured the blind and the lepers but while showing these miracles he always made it clear that it was all from God. According to the Quran He was sent to the children of Israel. He confirmed the validity of the Taurat, which was revealed to Moses, and he also brought the Glad Tidings of a final messenger after him. “And remember Jesus, the son of Mary, said: ‘O children of Israel! I am the messenger of Allah sent to you, confirming the Taurat which came before me, and giving Glad Tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad’” (61:6).
The Quran refutes the claim of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. It says, he was raised up to God. Even the Quran says that Jesus will come back and all the Christians and Jews will believe in him before he dies.
Concept of Human person: Islam believes that a human being is made of four elements: fire, water, air and earth. He enjoys an especially high ranking status in the hierarchy of all the known creatures. He occupies this distinguished position because he alone is gifted with rational faculties and spiritual aspirations as well as powers of action. He occupies the position of God’s viceroy on earth. A human being is dignified, potentially capable of good and noble achievements. According to Islam every human being is born ‘Muslim’. This means that the very course of birth takes place in accordance with the will of God, in realization of his plan and in submission to his commands. It also means that every person is endowed with spiritual potentialities and intellectual inclinations that can make him a good Muslim, if he has the right access to Islam and is left to develop his innate nature.
The Islam also believes that every person is born free from sin and all claims of inherited virtue. He is like a blank book. When the person reaches the age of maturity he becomes accountable for his deeds and intentions if his development is normal and if he is sane. Man is not only free from sin until he commits sin but he is also free to do things according to his plans on his own responsibility. This dual freedom clears the Muslims conscience from the heavy pressure of inherited sin.
According to Islam man must work out his salvation through the guidance of God. This means that in order to attain salvation a person must combine Faith and action, belief and practice. Faith without action is as insufficient as action without faith. And Islam also believes that God does not hold any person responsible until He has shown him the right path. This is why God has sent many messengers and revelations and has made it clear that there would be no punishment before giving guidance and sounding the alarm. But the person who willingly and knowingly violates the law of God or deviates from his right path will be punished for his wrong deeds.
Islam believes that in human nature, which is created by God, there is more good than evil, and the probability of successful reform is greater than the probability of hopeless failure. The fact that God cares for man and takes a stand in his interest proves that man is neither helpless nor hopeless, but is more appreciative of and inclined to do well than otherwise.
Women in Islam: Though we did not have direct contact with the Muslim women, but Sr. Neelu DSA talked to Muslim girls on our behalf. Most of the girls responded that they are proud to be Muslim girls. They also believe that their religion is their security which guarantees a lot of rights for its womenfolk. According to some girls, “Islam allows for equal opportunities to both the sexes in the pursuit of knowledge". They assert that in Islam "spiritual attainment is not exclusive for men as women have as much right over purification as men". Women in Islam enjoy rights according to their status - as mothers, as daughters, as wives and as individuals.
They believe that Purdah gives them freedom and security. In an age when the security of women is at risk in every corner of our country, molestation and rape of women have become routine, Purdah protects them from the lustful eyes of men. Islam teaches its followers to find heaven in one's mother and to consider one's wife as his mirror. It advises the guardians to educate their girl children. Through its teachings, Islam protects its women from all kinds of injustice and domestic violence. It calls upon the husbands 'to treat their wives with kindness, justice and respect. They are prohibited to inflict any pain or injury on their wives even in anger'. The women take pride in this aspect that their religion guarantees them the right to property, which is absent in most of the other great religions of the world.
Talaaq is something that has been haunting me for a very long time. Therefore I wanted to make use of this opportunity to explore the why and how of Talaaq. From my childhood I have been fed by the print media that Talaaq in Islam is an evil practice, which is used by the Muslim men to keep their wives under their subordination and exploit them to the maximum. Secondly I was told that only men have the right to give Talaaq and women in Islam have no forum to register their complaints against their life partners. But the few days that I spent with the Muslims taught me what Talaaq truly is, its requirements and its effects upon the husband and the wife.
For the first time I came to know that in Islam women too could give Talaaq on certain circumstances. In Islam women too have some hope for liberation, liberation from human monsters who come into their lives in the form of their husbands. Through 'Kula' Islam gives its women the right of separation from a husband with whom it is almost impossible to live and bring up a family. Secondly Islam encourages widow remarriage. Many Muslim guardians do not take efforts to educate their girl children. Dowry is forbidden in Islam, but I have been told that due to the influence of Hindus, in many parts of India Muslims also practice this inhuman and barbaric system. According to Maulana Nizamuddin Sahib, the Amir-i-Sharia, there are 75% of the cases related to dowry rather than Talaaq in the Imarat-i-Sharia.
What surprised me most was the attitude of the scholars of the Book who said that Purdah gives respect to women and they are meant to be inside the Purdah, therefore they should wear the Purdah. Within the Purdah they can do any job, but not outside of it. Secondly, the women do not have the self-control that is why the policy of triple Talaaq does not apply to them. If they want to give Talaaq the husband writes and gives to his wife to give Talaaq in front of the Qazi. Thirdly, they are the cause of sin of men; therefore they cannot go to mosque for the Namaaz. If they go to the mosque the Purdah will have no importance.
The role of the Mazar in Islam: During my stay I had an opportunity to visit many Mazars in and around Phulwari Sharif. While some Muslims do have a great faith in praying through the intercession of the faithful departed, which is very much Christian, others do not subscribe to this view. According to Mr. Junaid Alam, Principal of Fiqh Institute, and other scholars of the Book, the devotee does not require an intercessor to pray to Allah. A believer can pray to Allah directly, praying in a Mazar through the departed person is un Islamic. But I must admit that the particular Mazar that we visited seems to be a place of prayer and worship for many Muslims and non-Muslims of that area as I witnessed a number of Muslims and others coming there to pray and recite the Kalima. Because they believe that the great saints are in the presence of Allah and their intercession can help them to fulfill their desires and solve their problems. The common people also have the great sense of gratitude towards these saintly persons; therefore once their desires are fulfilled they come and express their gratitude.
Religious Training In Islam: The basic and important elements of the spiritual training of the average Muslim from childhood onwards are drawn from the Quran. Islamic spirituality is a Quran-centered spirituality. The Quran is not an ordinary book but is God’s own word to the Prophet Muhammed ‘inscribed upon his heart’, a personal encounter with the God who speaks. A Muslim takes pride in memorizing the Quranic verses and reading the Quran thus establishing a personal relationship with God. I had an opportunity to visit a few madrasas, especially, the Fiqh Institute. I was amazed to see the discipline of the students of these institutions whose whole concentration is directed towards their texts. Here they are introduced to Islamic training. They have to do a detailed study of the Holy Quran. Along with the reading and memorizing of the Holy Quran they are also taught Islamic jurisprudence. These institutions offer a lot of scholarships and other benefits to help their students to complete their education. I found most of the teachers of these institutions well read in Urdu literature.
According to them religious instruction is very important and it is the base for any other education. One's life has to be built on the tenets of his religion's teaching so as to lead a happy and contented life. They do believe that the sincere following of the teachings of Allah will certainly guarantee bliss not only in this life but also in the life to come. Therefore Islam stresses very much the religious formation of its faithful.
Another important fact that was observed by me was that the scholars of the Book are very conservative while other people, who are especially secular educated or poor, were more open-minded. The exclusive focus on religious studies and on rote learning means that Madrasa products are necessarily narrowly conservative. But in this regard one more thing we have to remember, that is, the madrasa education does give them an employment to become qazis, muftis, Imams, etc. It is these people, the so called ‘scholars of the Book’ who control the religion and have made the religion very conservative and blind to the signs of the times and contemporary necessities.
Life after death in Islam: The explanation that Islam gives about the necessity of life after death is what the moral consciousness of man demands. Actually, if there is no life after death, the very belief in God becomes irrelevant, or even if one believes in God, having once created man, he is not concerned with his fate. According to all Muslims the Islamic God is a God of justice. Hence evildoers and sinners must have their share of punishment and the virtuous his bounties and favors. God’s attribute of mercy has its full manifestation in his attribute of justice. People suffering throughout their life for His sake, and people oppressing and exploiting other people all their life, should not receive similar treatment from the Lord.
The Quran also says that this worldly life is a preparation for the eternal life after death. The belief in life after death not only guarantees success in the hereafter but also makes this world full of peace and happiness by making individuals most responsible and dutiful in their activities. Similarly the denial of life after death has its consequences not only in the hereafter but also in this world where all kinds evil and corruption become rampant in the society and ultimately it will be destroyed.
What surprised me is that according to some scholars of the Book there is no chance of heaven for those who do not believe in Islam, even if they live a good moral life. The others did say that if one lives a good moral life and believes in the religion other than Islam he can go to heaven because of his good deeds, but the atheist will never go to heaven. The common people do believe that heaven is meant for those who do benevolent works and those who live a good moral life in spite of any religion they practice.
Conclusion: 'Reality is the best teacher' has been once again proved right in this learning experience at Phulwari Sheriff among the Muslims, who try their best to lead a life guided by their religion. This exposure helped me to look at Islam as objectively as possible. It opened my eyes to see critically the goodness in its followers. Besides, I have learned to relate with Muslims in a non-judgmental way. The conservative attitude of the Muslims does not sadden me, because it took two thousand years for the Catholic Church to open up, even not fully. So the time will come I do believe that the Muslims (especially the scholars of the Book) will also change their perspective and become more liberal. But the question is how can I, a Christian and a Jesuit, be an instrumental to bring in this change in the Muslim society and religion?