ISLAM -- AN ALTERNATIVE TO CHAOS
(An Insider's View)
“What is Islam?” A lecture delivered at Rice University, Houston,
Texas in November 1994
An insightful overview
of the basic concepts of Islam as provided by the Adhan and Fatihah.
gentleman, brothers & sisters, members of the faculty, students, and lovers
of God and spirituality I welcome you and bid you all my heartiest Salaams. (Salaam Aleikum!)
Our topic tonight
is Islam so it is fitting to greet you all with the greeting of Islam and that
is "Salaam!" For those of you
who may be unfamiliar, the word Salaam means Peace and the name of the religion
under discussion tonight is derived from this word Salaam and is called Islam.
The Arabic word Islam simply stated means submission, and as we have seen it is
derived From a word meaning PEACE. In a religious
context it means complete submission to the will of GOD. Or to look at it
another way it implies complete submission to the will of God‑Who
provides a WAY (a methodology) to peace. And it is here we encounter the
most basic element of the Islamic Faith, submission that is primal to
the modus‑operandi of Islam ‑it is inherent in the basic underlying
structure of Islamic theology and is also the desired goal of the spiritual
seeker, whether this desire is manifested consciously or unconsciously.
Before I undertake the development of my
discussion of Islam I would like to remind the audience that Islam like many
other things in the world means many different things to many different people.
And this would include also the so-called Muslims themselves. So I have used
the Qur`an as my primary source to establish a working
definition of the Religion of Islam.
There is an
old American Indian saying that many of us may have heard in the past, and that
is: " Unless you have walked in another mans moccasins (shoes) you do not
know that man" ‑you have no idea of what he or she thinks or feels ‑
you have no idea of why that person does certain things ‑ in other words
you are not familiar with his operational system. You cannot in good conscience
make critical judgments about his behavior unless you have insight into the
inner workings of his mind ‑again!
Into his operational system -hence the subtitle of this Talk is "An
Let us look
at some basic statistics concerning the Islamic world. These statistics are
taken from both the World book Encyclopedia (1982) and an information Pamphlet
issued by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia (1989). The population of the world is
estimated at about 5 billion (1982) the population is expected to double by the
year 2021 ‑that is only 27 years away.
WORLD: The Muslim population of the world is around one billion ‑in simple
terms the ratio is 1 to 5, or ‑1 out of every Five
inhabitants of the planet earth is a Muslim. Lets take
a closer look.
live east of Karachi. 30% of
Muslims live in the Indian sub‑continent, 20% in sub‑Saharan
Africa, 17% in Southeast Asia,
18% in the Arab world, 10% in
the Former Soviet Union and China.
comprise 10% of the non-Arab Middle East.
Although there are Muslim minorities in
almost every area, including
Latin America and
Australia, they are most numerous in the
Central Africa. And of particular interest is the fact that there are an estimated
seven million Muslims here in the
United States, half of these are Black (African Americans).
With that many Muslims in the world and for
many of us who might have an innate fear or uninformed repulsion for Islam and
Muslims this might be too close for comfort. In light of this
"Closeness", it behooves all of us to know something about these
For the most part are usually friendly and assertive when it comes to meeting
new people, because at one time or another historically we were all New
People. But much depends on the circumstances and the environment in which
we encounter new faces. The opportunity to meet new people will present itself
to all of us right after this talk when the refreshments are being served. We
have a choice to either comment about the talk with the Friends we came with or
mingle with some of these new faces and take a chance. As well informed as you
may think you are ‑ I would be willing to bet you that you are unaware of
most of the basic beliefs of Islam and The Muslims. If you are as secure in
your own belief system as many of these Muslim students are there should be a
Islam is the
name of the religion and its Followers are called Muslims. The English word
religion is a close approximation of the Arabic word DIN which means
religion/creed/ Faith/and belief, however implicit in the word DIN is the
concept of a complete system ‑total‑because Islam is called by the
people on the Inside "DIN‑ALLAH"‑(The
system of God) ‑ and this system is laid out clearly, step by step in the
Qur`an. Also basic to a correct understanding of Islam
is the concept of Tawhid (One‑ness/ Unity). The concept of the unique One‑ness of God ‑and the
unity of His creation.
Islam being a complete way of life‑presupposes the
possibility that it (Islam) is also a culture. As such, all cultures
that have become permeated with Islam inevitably have become subcultures of
Islam. One brilliant example of the transformative potential of Islam is found
in the Mongol invasion of Persia,
they came as barbarian invaders, and left as Muslims.
Osmosis so to speak ‑even the Mongols who at that time were the enemies
of Islam could not escape the transformative power of Islam.
testify to the fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and
that in a very few years Muslims will make up the vast majority among the
inhabitants of the planet earth. Islam is currently experiencing a Global
Renaissance and we here in America
and the West must try to understand this unique phenomenon. As we speak, IT
is growing in numbers around us. And the purpose of this talk tonight is an
attempt to slip the moccasins of the Muslims on your feet, so to speak ‑so
you will appreciate for a brief moment in time, "the insiders view".
Let us allow
God (Allah) an opportunity to speak and describe to us by way of His book the Qur`an just what this religion is, but more
importantly what it is not.
In the third
Chapter, Ali Imran, the 19th verse. God has revealed to the Prophet Mohammad: "Innad-deena ind‑Allahi Islam " meaning:
"Indeed! The only religion with God is Islam". Implying that the
message that God has sent, time after time through a constant succession of
Prophets and Messengers is the religion of Peace, via Submission.
And Again In the Second Chapter which is called
Al‑Baqarah and begins with the words "Alif/Lam/
Kitab" ‑meaning: "This is the Book;
there is no doubt in it, (it is) a guidance to those who safeguard themselves
with full awareness of divine laws." Who believe in the unseen and
establish the prayer, and spend out of what We have
given them". "And believe in that which has been revealed to YOU (Muhammad)
and that which was revealed to the other Messengers before you, and are sure of
the hereafter". Qur`an: Chapter II verses 1-4.
been described by the Outsiders, as being a Judeo-Christian Religion;
containing elements of the Jewish and Christian beliefs the classification is
well taken but it needs some clarification. Islam is not a mixture ‑a
stew (if you will) of different religions ‑but uses as a point of
departure, many references to the previous Messengers and Prophets of God that
had preached on Earth during different developmental periods.
It must be
remembered that Islam views religion as a Continuum and capable
of constant development, ad‑infinitum. And as such, selectively
incorporates what preceded it as well as what will Follow it. Otherwise the
discoveries that have been attributed to the Muslim scientists and researchers
during Islam's so-called Golden Age would not have been possible. You cannot
limit a religion or a belief system to a definition any more than you can
contain the known universe in a glass. It is arrogance on the part of man to
assume that he can explain away any portion of God's creation with a simple
potential inherent in Islam if viewed from the standpoint of the continuum
is both infinite and eternal. Islam, for most of the world’s uninformed, is the
"New Kid On The Block" of religions, so to
speak, and as such has a long way to go. You may say: “1,400 years is but a
drop in the bucket of time”. But give it another thousand years or so and it
may get up off the ground like a giant rocket and pull mankind into a Future
quite unimaginable. This is said in jest, but beneath the humor lay a profound truism.
is made of the Prophets and Messengers some may be familiar to you and some may
not -‑ But interestingly enough the "Fathers of Monotheism" are
mentioned for the most part in the Qur`an as Muslims
(meaning, that they were faithful servants of God) and had carried their
particular message to their particular
people ‑the message being specific and sufficient for that time.
believe emphatically in the existence and the message of the earlier Prophets ‑and
Muslims are cautioned by God in the Qur`an not to
mention the Prophets names without adding, "Peace be Unto Them".
only applies to Abraham and Moses but particularly in the case of Jesus whom
the Muslims call: "Isa‑Ibnu Maryam", (Jesus the son of Mary) who is revered as
"Ruh‑Allah" the Essence (soul) of
God. There is a lengthy Chapter in the Qur`an entitled
MARYAM (Mary)‑ and For your information the Qur`an
supports her Virgin birth and the Miraculous Powers that were given to her son
by God ‑the only difference is that the Muslims do not believe that Jesus
is the Son of God ‑ They Fully acknowledge his role as a beloved prophet
of God ‑but view him in the same light as all of the previous Prophets
including Mohammad ‑They were men ‑and as men they were mortal,
(would experience death) ‑their special role and their special powers
were not their own, but were given to them (on loan so‑to‑speak)
From the source of all power, Allah! (God) himself.
system ‑ what is it based on? How can we get a glimpse of it without
poring through a long selected bibliography or sitting through a semester of
confusing terms and even more confusing historical incidents like the crusades?
a simple religion, but that
does not imply in any way or by any stretch of the imagination that the people
are simple. What I mean by that is that the Basic Formula is simple ‑but
as we witness in the Formula E=Mc2, it’s
expression is simple but it is filled with endless potential ‑ the same
applies to Islam it is filled to the brim with untold potential. A potential that has eluded both the Outsider and many who claim to
be on the Inside.
that we hear most of the time when Islam is being discussed or Muslims are
being portrayed is important to our discussion. It holds a vital key to our
discussion. We are usually shown a tall tower‑like structure called a
minaret, and at the top standing on a balcony of sorts we usually see a man
with his hands raised to his ears singing a delightfully long and exotic melody
‑that song is The Call and is sung to summon the Faithful to prayer. It
is called The ADHAN, and within the intricate tonal arabesques of the Divine
Call are contained the Credo of Islam. The Call will be our First point
of departure in an attempt to explain the most fundamental beliefs of Islam.
will examine the First Chapter of the Qur`an ‑which
Al‑Fatiha (The Opening.) The title
also contains one of God's attributes (or names) Al-Fatah
‑which describes The Creator's ability to open (expand & increase)
that which HE has created.
The Call and
the Fatihah will be used to illustrate the
skeletal framework of Islam and expose its basic beliefs.
Ho Akbar! This statement is repeated four
times and means: "God is The Greatest".
Ash hado anla ila
ha illAllah! This statement is
repeated several times whereby the singer (caller) testifies that: “I bear
witness that there is none worthy of worship but God".
Ash hado anna Mohammada rasoolullah! This statement is also repeated several times and serves to testify that:
"I bear witness that Mohammad is the Prophet of God".
Is a command that means: "Come to Prayer!"
It is repeated several times.
Hayya alal Falah! Is a
Promise, which means: "Come to Success".
some Muslims who add to the call "Hayya al karil amal" which is an
exhortation that means: "Come to the greatest of deeds". And finally
recapitulates the original statement.
Hu Akbar: "God
is The Greatest!"
concludes with the statement "La ilaha ilallah! Meaning: "There is none worthy of
worship but God.
quite a unique call, and it has a profound affect on the people who hear it.
The Adhan/Call is heard throughout the World Five
times a day ‑we can consider this the First feature on the "Clock‑Face"
of the Cycle OF activities
of the Muslim.
is cyclical and revolves, and the believer following the system also revolves
around and within this cycle oF activities. At this
point in time all activities become sacred and sacralization
is as follows, using the nomenclature of Mirchae Elliade:
Space: is defined as (the place
Time: is defined as (the time
initiated at the Call). And inclusive of the time involved in
worship and prayer).
Activity: is defined as: (Worship, Prayer, & Dhikr).
particular interest is the concept of "The Center", whether it
is the center of activity or the center of the world ‑this concept is
very important to man especially when he is engaged in trying to Focus his activities. This concept is expressed in Latin as Axis‑Mundi. “(X) marks the spot”.
We often hear nowadays the expression “Centering”, or finding ones
center used quite a bit these days. How, one must ask, is that ascertained by a
Muslim? What is the center in Islam, and
how does a Muslim go about centering his self?
From the viewpoint of Islam the world in its
entirety is considered a Mosque, a place of prayer ‑hence, sacred. But
Mecca and the Sacred House (Kaaba) that sits at its center has been designated by God
as the Center (Qibla) or direction for the Muslims.
The Muslims (including all of mankind) have a designated center (x) and a
sphere within which to operate.
to say that the WHOLE WORLD and all that which lay beyond are the legitimate
spheres of activity for the Muslim, Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually.
There can be
no religion or identity For the Muslim without the performance of these Five
Prayers - the conscious response to this Call - statement by
statement - the Muslim is reminded, and reiterates the call. He confirms that
yes: "God is Greatest!" By repeating
mentally or audibly "Allah hu‑Akbar"!
And at that precise moment the transformative powers of the system begin to
play upon the consciousness of the believer.
There is no
Islam ‑no religion ‑no Identity as a Muslim ‑ without the
constant acknowledgement of the greatness of God (Allah).
begins like the so‑called "cranking up of an automobile" ‑the
spark that ignites the internal combustion system of the Muslim begins and ends
with the statement that God is not only great ‑but is in Fact THE
This statement puts the believer in his or
her place ‑it levels the playing field so to speak, and eliminates
excessive pride of ones self, family, tribe, nationality, status or
achievements ‑the statement strips away the personal ego‑oriented
personality and renders the believer (hopefully) a humbler, more obedient, more
attentive worshiper ‑its intention is to peel away the veneer of
separateness, and create within the believer the yearning to become totally and
completely immersed in the presence of GOD.
You may ask
yourself: “Don't the systems of Yoga and Meditation strive for the same
meditative states of mind?” And the answer is a resounding Yes!
– however, there is a qualitative difference when it
applies to Islam in that the object during the meditative state is to become
One with Allah ‑ not to deny the existence of God by voiding Him from the
mediator's mind. It is a very subtle difference and
does not add up to a hill of beans for most of us. It is essentially a meta‑physical
exercise, without a doubt, because we are dealing with something that is higher
than man ‑"the Omnipotence, and The Omniscience of the Creator of
the heavens and the earth".
an insiders view, and at this point of the talk
many of you might be thinking that it is not so very different after all from
your own (Outsiders) view.
Muslim, and I dare to say every spiritual seeker, there is a potential Gnostic
lurking in the shadows ... "one who desires to be Alone, and at one‑ness
with God. Alone, yes,
quite alone and uniquely singular.
The Muslim, is hard pressed to maintain a balance. He must Struggle
(Jihad al Akbar) to maintain a balance between
his desire to be in THE PRESENCE OF GOD, and live as a human in THIS WORLD. He
must create a MIZAN ‑a Balance between the Haqiqah
(the inner) & the Shariah (The Outer law).
Allah advises the Muslim to, "Seek The Middle
Way" ‑The Balanced Way.
examined the Call as an index into the system of belief of the Muslims we will
next look into the first chapter of the Qur`an The Fatihah as I had promised earlier, as an indicator of the system of belief ‑a
further probe into the Why's and the How's.
scholars have suggested that the whole Qur`an is
contained in the Fatihah. The Muslims often refer to
the Fatihah in such endearing terms as the Ummal‑Kitab meaning The Mother of the Book, and as
Surah Hamd meaning the Chapter of Praise. You will
also hear it referred to as The Seven Oft repeated Verses".
The Muslim worshiper
invokes these seven verses as an introduction to his daily prayers
‑there is no worship without the recitation of this Chapter ‑ again
we reach another pivotal point in the system, The Fatihah.
If you will be
so kind as to follow me I will lead the way through its recitation
verse by verse with a loose literal translation of the words.
"I Begin in the name
of God, The Generous (a-Rahman) and
The MerciFull (a-Rahim)".
"All praise is due
God, The Creator (Rab), Nourisher and Sustainer of All The
(A‑Rahman) " The Free‑Giver, (A‑Rahim) ."
of the Day of Judgment".
"You do we Worship and
Your aid do we seek".
"Guide us on the
Straight (direct) Path".
The path of those
pious ones who have preceded us, and not the path of those who
chose to go astray".
The translation that is
supplied on both sheets is valuable but I must remind you that it is
impossible to translate accurately the meaning of these verses ‑ I
can only approximate a sense of what is commonly understood, and
recommend that you take these verses into meditation as has been
recommended by The great Masters of the Faith for your own personal
analysis and development. Each one of you here in the audience can
take this Fatihah into your meditation and use it as a Mandala
of sorts. If it is Gods will, you will experience an Opening.
It has been suggested by
The Masters that you read the Qur`an as if it is being revealed to
you personally. You are now the recipient of Divine Revelation and
must be made aware of the great responsibility that goes along with
this gift from God.
The message is Simple
enough for any man or woman to understand it. In the Arabic as you
have heard, it is both captivating, and compelling. I do not think
it necessary to elaborate at this point on the formula – it is
Again I would like to
remind you that the Miracle that is attributed to the Prophet
Mohammad is the Miracle of The Qur`an. Miraculous not in the sense
that he wrote it, or that he was the author of it ‑ but no! He was
chosen to receive and deliver this Revelation that is looked upon as
the Final Revelation. And he ‑(Mohammad) in turn The Final
Prophet. This Book (Qur`an) is looked upon as the Seal of
Revelation ‑and the Prophet appropriately is looked upon as the Seal
of The Prophets.
It is only by a careful
examination of the belief system of Islam that we are going to Find
the answers to many of the questions that plague the man on the
outside, the non‑Muslim, the media, the critic, and the Orientalist
‑ Answers to the questions that must be asked by any reasonably
intelligent person who watches the News. What do you think when you
hear the word Islam used in the media?
More often than not the
term Islamic is followed by the labels: Fundamentalist! Terrorist!
Suicide Bomber! Fanatic!. Most, if not all are negative. That is the
usual assessment from the Outside.
How true is this
assessment? And since we are dealing with fundamentals the question
must be asked what is a Fundamentalist?
We have attempted to lay
out in the last half hour the most fundamental ideas and
concepts of the Islamic Faith. No person can consider himself a
Muslim without having at Rock‑bottom a firm conviction based on the
beliefs we have just laid out.
If what we have
discussed above is the case then the question must be asked what is
there about these beliefs that present a problem to the folks on the
The problem is that most
of these Muslims that we hear about from day to day in the media
live in areas of the world that have been directly or indirectly
influenced by western governments. Most of these Muslims are
struggling with the problems of either colonization,
post‑colonization, coupled with repressive governments that do not
permit Muslims to practice Islam according to the dictates of the
We have already stated
that Islam is a complete way of life ‑ it is a complete system which
includes all social activity including Government. God is the
Greatest, his Book and His Prophets serve as the ultimate guides for
the Muslims and the World in which they find themselves ‑ it becomes
clear that there is no separation of Church and State in Islam.
If the state does not
provide the necessary environment and the freedom to practice this
religion then a very great problem arises. As a result of
governmental control the Muslim is told that there will be
restrictions placed on his religion ‑ and he responds by saying
‑"NO! I will die first." Why? Because there is no life, no living
for the Muslim without his religion ‑He becomes a non-entity. And
that cannot be because Allah has told him in the Qur`an that Islam
is the Best and that God has made man His vice‑regent on the earth.
attention to these points please, because ‑they are echoes of the
many voices from within, the folk on the inside. We are living in
the year 2002 and are hearing or ignoring the cries of One Billion
After a careful
examination of history and the problems that have beset the Muslim
World since its inception one will come away with an understanding
of the facts surrounding the "Crying Out For Freedom", that we hear
around the world.
The media (the
antagonistic outside) has decided to interpret this cry as a threat
to a so-called Christian or non Muslim world. They are making an
attempt to convince us that Islam in its most fundamental aspect is
world threatening and must be destroyed by any means necessary.
Hopefully most of us are
aware to some extent that public opinion is largely shaped by the
media. It has been the case for eons, and it is up to the individual
to ferret out the truth. Hence, this evenings talk. The Muslims do
not have many opportunities to defend themselves and their lobby in
the halls of international justice is tenuous and almost
McLuhan wrote many gears ago "The Medium is The Message" (1967). He
also wrote " War and Peace in the Global Village" (1968.) In these
books he began‑to develop a theory that explains that electronic
communication ‑especially TELEVISION ‑dominates the life of all
Western peoples. And that in each major period in human history –
takes its character from the medium of communication used widely at
the time. As students we must keep this in mind so we will be alert
to what type of information we may be allowing to tint our lenses
And that cannot be done
without having the patience to sit and listen objectively, as you
are doing right now, to the other guy’s story, and to allow someone
the opportunity to help you create an overview of the world of Islam
which is both subjective and highly personal. A view that cannot be
provided by an outside source, no matter how scholarly or
authoritative it may appear to be.
Years ago Western
scholarship demanded that its proponents maintain strict levels of
objectivity ‑ We Historians know that it is almost impossible to
render an objective opinion or view of any sociological phenomena.
An opinion is almost always shaped and colored by the viewpoint or
perspective of its proponent.
The fact remains that
the insiders view and the outsiders view contain different
dimensions & proportions. And the question is asked how objective
can we afford to be when the flames of the Muslim Holocaust is
roaring in Front of our very eyes.
For the Muslim the
President is not the greatest, the State is not the greatest, the
King or Monarch who is currently sitting on his or her throne is not
In conclusion I would
like to reiterate the Fundamental Islamic belief that God has the
power to do all things ‑God is the First Al‑Awwal and He is
the Last Al‑Akhir.
For the Muslim, God
(Allah) is the Greatest, and I guess this is the one thing that
upsets most people who have become convinced that the State or the
Government or some leader is the greatest.
Separation is the major
cause of the suffering of mankind ‑separation from the source of
creation, which is God. The question must be asked: Since God is the
Creator is He not qualified to rule over His creation?
We can all
attest to the shattered condition of most of mankind, and I ask you
What are the
It is a Fundamental
belief of the Muslims that only God has the power to restore and
replenish, and the world sorely needs restoration and replenishment.
As we have seen that Islam IS an alternative to the chaos that
surrounds us, it leads to a condition of Peace through submission to
God (Allah) and on that note I leave you with the greeting of the
Muslims - it is the very same one that I used at the beginning of
our talk ‑ for the Muslim it is used for both greeting and parting
and it best summarizes our topic for the night:
Peace be with You!