Our world has changed so much over the last twenty years.
If Islam was mentioned at all on the TV before the events of 9/11 in the USA, it was usually something to do with the Middle East and, most often, the situation in Palestine.
Islam and Muslims, though, were perceived as something foreign, having little to do with most people’s lives.
Since 9/11, the TV and the newspapers are full of Islam and Muslims, and the perceived threat they pose to people living in the West has become a constant theme of political debates and newspaper editorials.
Over the past twenty years, also, there has been a marked increase in the number of Muslims migrating to Western countries, for various reasons, so Muslims have become more visible on the streets of Western cities.
If for no other reason than to find out the truth about what Islam and Muslims are really like, people who are not Muslim should try to find out more.
If only to make sense of what they are daily seeing on their television screens, people need to sort out in their minds what is true and what is not. In other words, they need to know what Islam is really like.
Could Islam really be a religion of violence and fanatics, diametrically opposed to Western values?
Or could the actions of individuals and groups not be a true reflection of Islam and Muslims?
If for this reason alone people were to take a look at Islam, our world would be a better place. Isn’t it true that we often fear that which we don’t know?
A lot of unnecessary fear and misunderstanding would be dispelled if people could take the time to see what this Islam is really all about.
First of all, people need to know that Islam isn’t a “foreign” religion. It certainly isn’t a religion just for Arabs. In fact, there are more Muslims living in Indonesia than in all the Arab countries put together. Arabs make up about eighteen per cent of the world’s Muslims and Islam can be found in every country.
If a person changes his religion, for example, and becomes a Muslim, he is not also asked to become an Arab or a Pakistani. Whilst some new Muslims might find it appealing (and even romantic) to dress in Arab clothes for the first time, this has nothing to do with the essence of Islam.
Muslims believe that Islam has existed since the beginning of time and that it is the natural religion of mankind.
They believe that Almighty God (or Allah as he is known in the Arabic language) has spoken to His Creation down through the centuries through prophets, whose names are familiar to us all. Their names are household words: Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus are just a few of them.
The last in this long line of prophets was Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who didn’t invent or found Islam, but to whom was revealed the Quran over a period of twenty-three years. The Quran confirms all that had gone before that was true and it corrects all that had become distorted from the past over time.
This Quran, too, has many familiar themes and ideas within it, which would be easily recognized by a Western audience. It has the story of Adam and Eve; of Moses and the Children of Israel; of Jesus and his virgin mother. In fact, Mary the mother of Jesus is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the whole of the Bible.
The essence of Islam is very simple. In fact, Muslims have made its message seem so very complicated, yet it can be summed up in two sentences: that there is no god but the One God in heaven; and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last in a long line of prophets sent by this God to His Creation. Everything else in Islam exists to support this central belief and to help Muslims live it out in their lives.
In fact, when someone becomes a Muslim, all that is required of them is that they say in front of witnesses (and believe and understand what they are saying): “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
This central message speaks to all people, if only we could unpack it properly and divorce it from seeming Arabic and foreign. It is called the Shahadah.
Take the example of a man, for example, from Nepal, who lost everything in the recent devastating earthquake. Let us imagine that he is not religious at all. As he is scrabbling with his bare hands in the rubble of his building, however, looking for his son, it is natural for that man, with tears streaming down his face, to cry out to heaven:
“Save my boy! Take my eyes, but save my boy!” Somehow, even though he is not religious, he knows deep in his heart that there is a God and he cries out to that God for help.
Take a man from Japan. The Japanese are famously polite and courteous, but are not overly religious. Imagine that man standing on the beach as he sees a wall of water thirty feet high coming towards him, it is natural for him to cry out, “Save us!”
Islam speaks to both of these men. Islam, of its essence, revealed since the beginning of time, teaches that there is indeed a God in heaven. It also teaches something about that God. He is indeed remote from His creatures, but at the same time He is so close to them and “knows every leaf that falls from every tree.”
The second part of Islam’s central message emphasizes this: that this One God speaks to His Creation, for He cares for them and wants them to live in a good way. The purpose of the prophets, and also the message of the last Prophet, was to tell people how this God wants them to live.
Now all of that doesn’t seem a threat to the West, does it?
That message, divided into two parts, doesn’t seem opposed to the values held by most people in New York and London and Paris. In fact, since according to Muslims Islam is the natural religion of mankind that has existed since the beginning of time, it stands to reason that it would resonate in the hearts of most people.
If people who are not Muslim could cut through all the hype and the sensational news headlines to see the essence of Islam they would not be fearful or left wondering what threat this religion poses to their daily lives.
In fact, once they delved a little further they would see that this Islam is actually a blessing to their country and a blessing in their own lives.
Read Part 2