Fr. Manuel P. Duetao
When the Golden Age of the church was about to end and Pope Gregory the Great was turning away from Eastern Mediterranean in order to extend papal influence throughout Eastern and Western Europe, there arose in Arabia a religious leader, Muhammad of Mecca, whose teachings had a remarkable impact.
Muhammad (AD 570-632) was an orphan at six. When about 25 years of age, he got married to a wealthy widow, Khadijah, who was almost twice his age but who bore him several children. His call as the prophet of Allah came in the year 610 when Muhammad believed he received periodic revelations from God. Some 650 of these revelations were collected and put into writing by Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (his son-in-law) to become the official version of the Qu’ran.
Muhammad proclaimed this message of Islam (Arabic for “submission to the will of God”): the impending judgment of the world, reward and punishment for each individual, and the teachings of Allah, the creator and judge. In addition, Muhammad added five main obligations of Muslim believers: (1) confession of faith: “there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”,
(2) prayer five times a day, (3) charitable gifts, (4) fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and (5) pilgrimage to Mecca.
The basic source of divine revelation for Islam is the Qu’ran. Together with the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) and the Ijma (body of laws), these three religious sources constitute the Sunna (the Path).
During the lifetime of Muhammad, there were no disagreements among his followers. Muhammad himself was the unifying factor. Upon his death, however, problems arose. Opinions differed as to how the goals of Islam should be carried out. There was no definite rule as to who should be the next leader. The vacancy of leadership was solved by the selection of the trusted Abu Bakr as caliph.
Within a century from the death of Muhammad, Islam had reached the Atlantic (Morocco) to the west and River Indus (Pakistan) to the east. These Islamic states had a coherent and homogeneous civilization or culture due to their basic Arab core. By the eighth century, Islam had penetrated to as far as Visigothic Spain and Frankish Gaul.
Devout Muslims claim they were out to conquer nations in a sincere effort to save the world with the forthcoming Last Judgment. Muhammad had made them feel this was their mission and, if necessary, to use force. And force was always necessary.
Three alternatives were offered to non-Muslims: (1) acceptance of the Qu’ran, (2) the payment of a special tax to remain non-Muslim, (3) the sword. On the part of Muslim soldiers, Muslim law gives 4/5 of the booty to them, making them wealthy (assuming they don’t die in battle). If they are killed, they are taught that they go straight to heaven! (One here realizes the reason for the Muslims’ zeal for battle.)
As Islam became widespread and included more non-Arabs, agreement became difficult and at last, impossible. As early as the years immediately following the death of Muhammad, questions were raised resulting in major divisions among Moslems that last even today.
The two major branches of Islam today are the Sunni and the Shiites. Both groups believe that they represent the correct development of the Muslim faith. Their parting of ways began in the period after Muhammad’s death when disagreement arose as to the qualifications and functions of his successors.
Of the estimated one billion adherents of Islam today, the Sunni make up around 85% and the Shiites the remaining 10 to 15%. However, the Shiites form the overwhelming majority in Iran while in Iraq, they number an estimated 60% of the population. The Sunnis are the majority in all other Islamic countries like Indonesia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
The Sunna. This is the orthodox or the conservative branch of Islam. It is so named because they emphasize the collection of Muslim traditions (the sunna).For a time, the Sunnis believed in the strict literal interpretation of the Koran and the traditional ways they practiced. Then came an honored Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari, a Muslim Arab theologian who helped the Sunnis to allow the light of reason in the interpretation of the Koran and Muslim tradition.
The Shiites. This is the non-conforming, unorthodox group.
The main difference they have with the Sunnis is the fact that Shiites believe in the tradition that Muhammad left the guidance of the faithful to Ali ibn Abi Talib (AD 600-661), husband of Fatima, therefore, also the son-in-law of Muhammad. Ali was disappointed at the succession of Abu Bakr as caliph in 632. Shittes believed Ali to be the divinely-appointed leader, the imam of the whole Muslim community.
Reflecting on the historical background of Islam, we now come to the question: Is Islam a religion of peace – or war? Of love – or hate?
Five times a day, devout Muslims everywhere kneel facing Mecca to recite the Fatihah: “Praise be Allah, the Lord of the world, the compassionate, the merciful.” When Allah, the Lord of the world is compassionate and merciful, how can we explain a lot of things: the eight years’ war waged by Iraq against Iran, the belligerent stance of Iraq even against other fellow Muslim countries that gave rise to “Operation Desert Shield,” the chemical weapons aimed by Saddam Hussein (a Sunni) against the Shiites of his own country, killing more than 15,000 women and children, all non-combatants! How do we explain the September 11 incident in New York, Osama Bin Laden, the Jemaayah Islamiyah, and our local Abu Sayyaf, MILF and MNLF?
Part of the answer may be in this: “…Muslim interest in widespread conquest lay in the fact that their existence up to now had been limited to the boundaries of their own infertile desert land. Before them now lay the riches of the land and the culture of the fertile and prosperous Mediterranean civilizations. It was not only the produce of the land that attracted them but treasures of science, art, and philosophy as well (Great Religions by Which Men Live By, Floyd H. Ross and Tynette Hills).
The Muslims reached as far as Frankish Gaul until they were stopped by the Carolingian leader, Charles Martel, in 732. They were driven out of Visigothic Spain by Don Fernando II, El Catolico, and Reina Isabel de Aragon in the fourteenth century. The Muslims had total control of the whole Mediterranean Sea until their disastrous defeat in the Battle of Lepanto in October 7, 1571 against the combined Genoese, Venetian, Spanish, and Papal fleet. (The victory of this smaller Christian fleet was later attributed by Pope Pius V to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary whose feast we now celebrate every October 7.)On the other hand, many overseas Filipinos are in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Kuwait. These countries help ease our country’s poverty by employing Filipinos.Is Islam a religion of peace – or war? Of love – or hate? The answer is a Roman saying: Quicumque pacem quaeret, paret bellum. Whoever wants peace, let him prepare for war.
Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent…Nevertheless, the religiosity of Muslims deserves respect. It is impossible not to admire, for example, their fidelity to prayer. The image of believers in Allah who, without caring about time or place, fall to their knees and immerse themselves in prayer remains a model for all those who invoke the true God, in particular for those Christians who, having deserted their magnificent cathedrals, pray only a little or not at all.— Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope
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