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Muslim Imam Interview and Analysis, Research Paper Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2553

Research Paper

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world (Foreign Policy, 2007) yet arguably it is also the religion with the highest level of negative perceptions in America. The origins of this trend can be traced to the tragic events of September 11, 2001 because the terrorists claimed Islam as the inspiration behind their actions. Both Islam and Christianity claim to follow Abrahamic teachings yet a great distrust currently exists between the followers of both religions. Thus, I decided to interview Imam Ameen A. Omar at Masjid Al-Shareef in Long Beach, California to understand Islam from the perspectives of Muslims.

Masjid Al-Shareef can be reached at 2104 Orange Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90806-5713 and the mosque has been in operations since 1972. It was built under the guidance of Imam Haroon Abdullah who converted from Christianity to Islam (Masjid Al-Shareef). Masjid Al-Shareef started out as a place for daily prayers but now functions more as an Islamic Center than a mosque. In addition to hosting daily prayers, Masjid Al-Shareef also operates Sunday School and Al-Shareef Learning Center for the children of Muslim Community.

My first question was regarding the purpose of life according to Islam and Imam Omar responded that the purpose of life according to Islam is best explained by the five pillars of Islam on which the foundation of Islam stands. These five pillars are faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca (Islam101). Imam Omar explained that faith means professing belief in the ‘Oneness’ of Allah and Muhammed as the final messenger of Allah, prayer refers to daily five prayers that are obligatory for all Muslims, charity refers to payment of a certain proportion of one’s income to poor, fasting refers to abstaining from food and drink during the holy month of Ramadhan, and pilgrimage refers to at least once in a lifetime trip to Holy Kaaba in Mecca.

Imam Omar pointed out that faith, prayer, and fasting are mandatory for every Muslim without exception while charity and pilgrimage are only mandatory for those who have the economic means to fulfill these two obligations. Responding to my question regarding the implications of these five pillars of Islam, Imam Omar stated that Islam strives for a balance between both worldly life and religious obligations. Islam doesn’t want its followers to forget about Allah in their daily life which is why five daily prayers were made obligatory. Imam Omar reminded me that Islam attaches greater importance to the life hereafter which is eternal while worldly life is short and temporary. Imam Omar recited a quotation of Muhammed from the internet to emphasize his argument, “I take oath by Allah (and say) that the similitude of this life with the life hereafter is like the quantity of water which remains on the finger after it was dipped into the sea.” (As-Sidq). Similarly, charity has been prescribed to ensure more equal distribution of wealth in the society because excess of wealth makes one forget the purpose of life which is to live according to the commands of Allah and the teachings of Muhammed.

I pointed out the fact that almost all Muslim countries have Islam as official state religions and the influence of the religion can be seen in the laws of the state. Imam Omar responded that it is indeed in accordance with the teachings of Islam because in Islam the concept of the separation of state and church doesn’t exist. The Muslim ruler according to Islam is a Khalifa and Muhammed intended only one Muslim ruler or Khalifa for the entire Muslim community. This is because Islam doesn’t believe in geographical boundaries and sees all Muslims as part of the same Muslim nation or Ummah. Imam Omar claimed that the source of Islamic laws is Allah itself because they mainly come from the Quran and Muhammed’s teachings. Quran was revealed to Muhammed by Allah through the angel Gabriel over a period of about twenty four years and Muhammed taught only what his Allah told him. Because Allah knows everything and is the most just, thus, man-made laws cannot be superior to the laws chosen by Allah for his people. Imam Omar emphasized that Islam provides guidance for everything in life and that includes politics as well as how a ruler is supposed to act. This is why in Islam there is no separation of church and the state because a ruler is a representative of Allah on the earth and will be answerable for his actions.

One of the questions I asked was that when there were already Judaism and Christianity to promote Abrahamic teachings, why a need for new Abrahamic faith rose. This is especially puzzling since Islam confirms many of the things already contained in Christianity and Judaism such as virgin Mary and Moses’ directly speaking to the god. I also pointed out that an addition of new faith would only have treated further confusion as Muslims and Christians seem to compete with each other today for the title of true followers of God’s word. Imam Omar responded that Islam indeed confirms many accounts and teachings in Judaism and Christianity but both the Old Testament and the New Testament were changed at places, thus, creating a potential for confusion regarding God’s commands.

Imam Omar claimed that Quran is the only holy book in which even a single letter or word has not been changed over the last fourteen hundred years which gives it more credibility than its predecessors. Imam Omar pointed out that had Bible not been changed, Quran might not have come. But after Quran was revealed, Allah himself took responsibility for protecting the book from alterations and this is why Quran has withstood the test of time. Imam Omar also claimed that Christians had been foretold of Muhammed’s coming but they removed those passages in the Bible just as Jews refused to acknowledge Jesus despite being foretold of his arrival. Muhammed was always supposed to be the end of the chain of prophets which includes  Moses and Jesus and this is why a Muslim cannot be a Muslim until he professes his faith in Muhammed as the last of all prophets.

When I asked about Muslim’s beliefs regarding Jesus, Imam Omar responded that in Islam Jesus is not the son of god and in fact, associating anyone with Allah is an unforgivable sin in Islam and is called Shirk. Jesus was a messenger or prophet of Allah just like Muhammed who preached Allah’s words to his people. But after Jesus died, his followers made modifications in the Bible which gave rise to the need of another holy book. Imam Omar pointed out that Muslims do believe in Jesus birth to a Virgin Mary and his miracles such as healing the sick, walking on the water, and bringing dead people back to life. Imam Omar added that miracles were not exclusive to Jesus but were performed by all prophets including Moses and Muhammed. To support his argument, Imam Omar mentioned how Moses made a way for his followers through the river while being chased by the Pharaohs as well as Muhammed’s division of the moon into two parts which he later rejoined.

Imam Omar also pointed out that there is a general perception due to global politics that Islam and Christianity are at war but a detailed study of the founding and early history of Islam says that Islam has the most differences with Hinduism than any other religion. Imam Omar informed me that Islam allows Muslim men to marry Christian and Jew women because they are also followers of the holy book but Muslim men cannot marry Hindu women unless the later agrees to accept Islam. Pointing out the differences between Hinduism and Islam, Imam Omar claimed that Islam is the most monotheistic religion in the world while Hinduism is arguably the most polytheistic religion in the world with millions of gods. Whereas Islam forbids Muslims to associate anyone to Allah, Hindus believe that their gods also have families. Imam Omar also claimed that Islam did come to address the changes made in the Bible but its main purpose was to address the pagan practices in Arab region at the time of Muhammed. Imam Omar also claimed that Islam offers the best teachings regarding human rights. In America, African Americans have gained equal rights only in the last few decades but Islam taught more than fourteen hundred years that one cannot be better than others on the basis of skin color, race, country, or wealth and the only basis for higher status in Islam is piety and obedience to Allah.

Regarding Jesus’ crucification, Imam Omar stated that Muslims believe in a different account of what happened. Muslims believe that Jews did try to crucify Jesus but while Jesus was in prison, God lifted him alive and turned one of the Jew soldier into a Jesus look-alike. Jews thought the Jesus look-alike is real Jesus and hanged him. Jesus did return after few days just like Christians now believe but where Muslims differ is that they don’t believe Jesus ever died. In addition, Muslims also believe Jesus will come as a Messiah near the Day of Judgment but in the end he will ask his followers to convert to Islam.

As I pondered over my interview with Imam Omar and compared it with my Christian beliefs, I reached various conclusions. First of all, Muslims believe in Christianity and Judaism as legitimate Abrahamic religions but Christians only acknowledge Judaism and not Islam as legitimate Abrahamic religion. Jews in turn do not acknowledge either Christianity or Islam as legitimate Abrahamic religions. A closer analysis reveals that the followers of three Abrahamic religions seem to acknowledge the religion/s that came before them but not the one that came afterwards.

I also concluded that without Judaism there would have been no Christianity or Islam. When we study Christianity, it appears to be an extension of Judaism with more things added. It is as if Christianity was trying to appeal to Jews by telling them that Christianity is an improvement over Judaism as it accepts Old Testament but also adds New Testament in order to become a more complete faith. Islam seems to have taken the same approach by incorporating both Judaism and Christianity elements and adding things to it as if to imply that it further improves upon its two predecessors.

Imam Omar claimed that Islam doesn’t acknowledge Jesus as son of god and merely a messenger like Moses before him and Muhammed after him. This may be because had Islam accepted Jesus as son of god, it would have been difficult to claim that Muhammed stands a rank above Jesus because no one can be closer to god than his own son. Another fact struck me as ironic that Judaism forbids eating pork but Christianity allows and Islam that came after Christianity also forbids pork. In some instances, Islam and Judaism seem closer to each other than either of them to Christianity. Both Islam and Judaism are quite specific as to how an animal should be sacrificed which is how we are familiar with the terms Halal(Islam) and Kosher(Judaism). Moreover, Muslims and Jews also believe that all sons should be circumcised while for most Christians, circumcision is a personal choice.

Christianity and Islam also seem to emphasize active preaching to outsiders while Judaism has been relatively a religion of insiders. Thus, it is no surprise that the followers of Judaism pale in comparison to Muslims and Christians who are members of the two largest religions in the world. Another similarity between Islam and Christianity is that they advertise themselves as the absolute paths to salvation. The Bible says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16-18, NIV (KingdomServants.Org). Jesus himself is believed to have said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (Bible.cc). Similarly, the Quran says, “Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam it won’t be accepted of him, and he will be one of the losers in the hereafter.” (IslamicFinder.Org). Thus, both Islam and Christianity claim to be the absolute path to heaven and do not offer any flexibility in this regard.

It seems ironical that two religions that agree upon so many beliefs including Genesis seem to have greater conflicts that entirely unrelated religions such as Hinduism and Christianity or Islam and Buddhism. One can argue that the rivalry is a result of similarities than differences because both religions want to portray themselves as the true word of God and a more accurate version of Abrahamic faith.

I often hear from Christians that Christianity being the largest religion of the world is an evidence of the fact that truth appeals to people. Muslims on the other hand contend that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world which means it has more appeal. In my opinion, there are fallacies in both arguments. The fact that these religions are the largest or the fastest growing is not in itself an evidence of them being the absolute truth but instead their large numbers and growth rates can be best explained by a closer examination of past and present historical facts. Both religions have also gotten help through military conquests in which conquered subjects would be forced to convert. In addition, both religions place huge emphasis on preaching to outsiders and it is not uncommon to hear of Christian Missionaries or Islamic Preaching Parties in Africa while one rarely hears about preaching parties from other religions. One reason Islam is the fastest growing religion is also due to high birth rates among Muslims and falling birth rates in the west. Islam is believed to lose as many adherents as it gains via conversions, thus, the growth of Islam has nothing to do with the religion itself but is more an outcome of non-religious factors such as population (Greene, 2011).

Some people may also notice that religions often measure other religions through their own standards which results in biased opinions. Muslims often cite that nothing has been changed in the Quran in terms of words used but Christians do not seem to give as much importance to the word as they do to the meaning. In addition, a significant number of Muslims do not speak Arabic as a first language yet they are required to read Quran in Arabic. Imam Omar did admit that like other languages, Arabic has also words with multiple meanings that depend on the context in which the words are used. Thus, there is always a danger of words being misinterpret during translation.

References

As-Sidq. (n.d.). Importance of Life Hereafter (Akhirah). Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://www.as-sidq.org/aakkhira1.html

Bible.cc. (n.d.). John 14:6. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://bible.cc/john/14-6.htm

Foreign Policy. (2007, May 14). The List: The World’s Fastest-Growing Religions. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2007/05/13/the_list_the_worlds_fastest_growing_religions

Greene, R. A. (2011, January 27). World Muslim population doubling, report projects. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from CNN Belief Blog: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/27/world-muslim-population-doubling-report-projects/

Islam101. (n.d.). The ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://www.islam101.com/dawah/pillars.html

IslamicFinder.Org. (n.d.). FAQs About Islam. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://www.islamicfinder.org/faq/list.php#24

KingdomServants.Org. (n.d.). No One Comes to the Father Except Through Me. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://kingdomservants.org/no_one.htm

Masjid Al-Shareef. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://www.masjidalshareef.com/?page_id=57

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