‘World Religions: Islam”

June 23, 2019


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
June 23, 2019

World Religions: Islam
Quran 5:110

This morning I want to start with a deeply theological question… Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? How many of you think it is a fruit? How many of you think it is a vegetable? You may both be right! Technically speaking (from a botanist point of view) it is a fruit. It has the reproductive body of a seed plant. But from a culinary point of view, it is a vegetable. It is most often cooked in savory dishes and is prepared like a vegetable. And you may not believe this, but the Supreme Court has even had to weigh in on this issue! In 1893, the high court was forced to rule on whether imported tomatoes should be taxed under the Tariff Act of 1883, which only applied to vegetables and not fruits. Although both sides cited dictionary definitions of the two words, the court sided unanimously with Team Vegetable.

We are continuing on with our sermon series on World Religions today. So far we have explored Judaism, Buddhism, the three Abrahamic traditions and today we are exploring the tenets of Islam. Our purpose in doing this series is to learn what our brothers and sisters of other traditions have in common with us and how we differ. We are not here to judge – but to learn and to grow by discovering how others find their paths to God.

As we discussed last week, we have a shared history with Jews and Muslims. We worship the same God and share the stories from the Torah. We share the same prophets – from Abraham to Moses, David to Jesus. Many Old and New Testament events are related in the Quran and Muslims respect Jews and Christians as “People of the Book”. An example of this overlap is our tradition word for today. It is a section of the Quran:

[The Day] when Allah will say, “O Jesus, Son of Mary, remember My favor upon you and upon your mother when I supported you with the Pure Spirit and you spoke to the people in the cradle and in maturity; and [remember] when I taught you writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when you designed from clay [what was] like the form of a bird with My permission, then you breathed into it, and it became a bird with My permission; and you healed the blind and the leper with My permission; and when you brought forth the dead with My permission; and when I restrained the Children of Israel from [killing] you when you came to them with clear proofs and those who disbelieved among them said, “This is not but obvious magic.” Surah 5:110

Worldwide, there are 1.5 – 1.8 billion Muslims; 6 million are in the United States. The largest Muslim populations live in Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Islam is the 2nd largest of the 3 monotheistic religions. Islam is also the fastest growing religion in the world today. Natural growth is the main reason because Muslim women have the highest fertility rates in the world. According to the Pew Research Center, by the year 2050 Muslims will equal the number of Christians for the first time in history.

Islam is an Arabic word that means “peace and submission”. In fact, when Muslims greet one another, they say “Salam”, the root word of Islam, which means peace. Islam was founded by Muhammad, who was a merchant in Mecca during the 7th century CE. He often retreated into the mountains outside of the city to meditate. It was during this time that he received the first of many revelations from God through the angel Gabriel, asking people to believe in one God, to help those in need, and to lead better lives. He began to proclaim this message publicly and win converts. But the local religious and political authorities mocked and then persecuted him.

In 622 CE, Muhammad fled Mecca because of this persecution and lived in the nearby city of Medina. There were battles between Mecca and Medina and ultimately Muhammad and his followers were victorious. Muhammad went back to Mecca and stopped the worship of pagan idols and re-claimed the ancient shrine where Abraham worshipped God. He also started important social reforms, including:
• Women could inherit and bequeath property
• Women and men were equal in the sight of God
• Regulations were established for ethical business practices
• Rules were established for distribution of family inheritance, marriage and divorce

The Islamic concept of God is that God is loving, merciful and compassionate. God is quoted in the Quran as saying to Muhammad, “My mercy prevails over my wrath.” Muslims also believe that every person is born innocent and free from sin. They believe that reason and understanding are important aspects for faith in God – that people are not to follow in blind faith.

One of the things I truly respect about Muslims is that their faith is an active faith – not limited to Friday, which is their holy day – but it is a daily activity. Because Islam means submission, it requires them to actually submit themselves and their lives. They call this the 5 pillars of Islam:
1. Declaration of Faith: “There is but one God, and Muhammad is His Prophet”
2. Prayer to God five times daily in unity with other Muslims
3. Charity to support the community and sustain the poor
4. To fast, eat and drink nothing during the daylight hours of the 9th month of the lunar calendar which is called Ramadan. During this month Muslims practice self-control and focus on prayers and devotion. During the fast, Muslims learn to sympathize with those in the world who have little to eat
5. To make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, health and means permitting

Let’s take a moment to debunk some common myths about Islam…

Some people say that they don’t worship God since they often refer to God as Allah. That is false. Allah is simply the word “God” translated into Arabic. Muslims worship the same God revealed in the Jewish and Christian tradition. Many Muslims in Western cultures who speak English refer to their deity as God when they are speaking English, because that is the English translation and they refer to the deity as Allah when they are speaking Arabic.

Remember when I started with the question about tomatoes? Fruit or veggie? There are many opinions about Islam. And some of them are like the ideas about tomatoes. There are the facts. Tomatoes are actually fruit. But some people will continue to insist that tomatoes are vegetables because that is how they seem.

Next Myth… Most Muslims are Arabs. This is false. Most Arabs are Muslims, but most Muslims are not Arabs. They are from Indonesia, Bangladesh and India.

Another myth… Muslim women are more submissive than women in other cultures. This is false. Some would argue that Muslim women, in fact, have been treated better than women in other cultures!
• For example, women in Islam were given the right to vote 1,400 years ago, centuries before other women. Of course, like many other cultures, patriarchal culture can corrupt Muslim culture.
• Did you know that Muslim women receive the dowry themselves instead of their fathers receiving the dowry (this was initiated by Muhammad himself) and they keep whatever is theirs during a divorce (whatever they earn and whatever is their family property), but the husband’s earnings and property is split?
• The historical record shows that Muhammad consulted women and weighed their opinions seriously. At least one woman, Umm Waraqah, was appointed imam over her household by Muhammad.
• Women contributed significantly to the canonization of the Quran.
• Muhammad’s last wife, Aishah, was a well-known authority in medicine, history, and rhetoric.
• The Quran refers to women who pledged an oath of allegiance to Muhammad independently of their male kin.
• Some distinguished women converted to Islam prior to their husbands, a demonstration of Islam’s recognition of their capacity for independent action.
• Forced marriages, honor killings, female genital mutilations, and the confinement of women to their homes are all forbidden in Islam. These are cultural traditions that fly in the face of true Islamic teachings.
So what about their head coverings, you ask? Why do certain Islamic women cover their heads? Remember that Islam literally means submission. Women and men dress modestly out of reverence for God. Neither gender is to wear tight fitting clothing or revealing clothing. And head coverings have been worn by religious women throughout time and in our own culture by Catholic nuns, Mother Teresa, Amish and Mennonite women, Jewish men, and many Middle Eastern people of both genders for millennium. We must remember that part of keeping an open mind is not judging others based on our own beliefs – but considering their choices and their beliefs. What I may think about Amish people not using buttons or zippers, it is not my decision and it is not mine to judge.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is characterized by a number of sects or denominations. The most significant is between Sunni and Shiia.
• Sunnis make up 87% – 90% of the worldwide Muslim population.
• Shiites make up approximately 10%
The major difference between the groups has to do with which authority they accept as the Holy Prophet and successor of Muhammad. There are other significant differences and each sect has a variety of groups split out into smaller groups.

The word “jihad” is frequently interpreted to mean “wage holy war”. This is not an accurate interpretation. In fact, it means “a striving”. Islamic jihad does not consist in killing and being killed but in striving hard to win the pleasure of God. The highest form of jihad is the struggle of a human soul to rid it of vices and ties to the material world and elevate the soul to be near to God. Another type of jihad is defending Islam against unprovoked aggression and attempt to physically destroy Islam by its enemies.

Terrorism, unjustified violence, and the killing of non-combatant civilians are all absolutely forbidden in Islam. Islam is a way of life that is meant to bring peace to a society whether or not its people are Muslim. The extreme actions of those who claim to be Muslim are violating its very tenets and are fanatics who should be compared to fanatical Christians and fanatical Jews. Extremism and fanaticism are problems not exclusive to Islam. As a Christian, I do not want to be held accountable for the actions of televangelists who have multiple jet planes and mansions paid for by the offerings of their congregants. I don’t want to be associated by sexually deviant priests and clergy… or outrageous pro-life murderers …. Or by lunatics like Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Murrah Federal Building … or many of the school and church shooters who identified themselves as Christians. The same is true for the majority of Muslims. Christians and Muslims are like tomatoes. We are supposed to be categorized as fruit. But some of us insist despite all the facts that they are veggies.

After 9-11, I personally witnessed the distress and grief of the Islamic community in Wichita and their tireless effort for months to ease the pain caused by terrorists they denounced over and over again.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist for Islam, nor do I want to sound like an expert. I am neither. I have 5 years experience as a friend and host to the Annoor Islamic School in a Christian Church building. What I will tell you from a personal point of view is that Islam is very peace-oriented and family- oriented. Parents – both mothers and fathers – take on a huge responsibility for raising children. Other than the Mormon Church, I have never experienced this kind of community spirit and way of life. It swept me up and gave me hope to see children and people of all kinds being loved and cared for and embraced so generously by an entire organization. It was like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on steroids. Everyone took care of everyone else – no matter the age or ability or social standing or likability. It was like a church of any kind ought to be!

Resources Used:
www.oxfordislamicstudies.com “Women and Islam”
www.30factsaboutislam.com Ayden Zayn
www.islamreligion.com “Core Values of Islam” by Imam Kamil Mufti 27 May 2013
www.pbs.org “Basic Facts About Islam”.
www.cnn.com “Islam Fast Facts” Nov. 12, 2013.