by Saleem Ahmed
People ask, “How can Islam be a religion of peace?”, when the Qur’an requires Muslims to kill “unbelievers” and promises paradise to Muslims who die “killing unbelievers”; when suicide bombers go about killing innocent people indiscriminately; and when it seems we rarely hear moderate Muslim speaking out against their extremist fellow-religionists.
But how can Islam be a religion of war, when the Qur’an also says, “invite all to the Way of Your Lord with wsdom and beautiful preaching and discuss with them in manners most gracious”, and it affirms that Muslims can eat with and intermarry with “People of the Book” (Jews, Christians and other believing in the Eternal Being). In fact, the Qur’an affirms that God sent messengers all over the world, all of whom are to be respected equally, with reformers to come every century.
Let’s be frank. Just like the Old Testament, both peace verses and war verses exist in the Qur’an, the Muslim sacred text. The former echo the book’s proactive ethos; the latter, temporary shifts in guidance when prophet Muhammad was under attack.
It is also to be noted that the message on spirituality remained unchanged throughout Muhammad’s 23-year ministry; the message on temporal matters shifted as his status changed from “fugitive” seeking followers to “statesman and warrior” leading a nation.
The Qur’an is not arranged chronologically; context of revelation of many verses also remains unclear. For example, prohibition against trusting Jews and Christians (revealed around 622 CE) and permission to eat with and intermarry with them (632 CE) occur 46 verses apart in the same surah (chapter), and in reverse chronological order. Some Muslims believe Muhammad had instructed his followers on the arrangement of verses; others believe this was done later. Perhaps both occurred to varying degrees.
With each side painstakingly presenting Qur’anic guidance supporting its position but ignoring the “other,” objective readers find it difficult to understand the Qur’an’s “bottom line.”
While Muslims generally follow the Qur’an’s peace path, a minority, including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, follow its war path, to “fight unbelievers, rectify injustices, and gain martyrdom” via their “jihad (holy wars).”
The Qur’an affirms it was revealed “in stages,” with later guidance on any subject superseding earlier guidance. Since the last guidance Muhammad received (632 CE) “perfected” the religion, gave it the name Islam (which means “Peace”) and permitted Muslims to eat with and intermarry with the “People of the Book,” this is the true Muslim paradigm.
The Qur’an’s declaration that God sent messengers to all nations of the world (124,000 according to Muhammad), requires Muslims to consider followers of all spiritual paths
as “People of the Book.”
This inspired formation in Hawaii of the All Believers Network (Belnet). People worldwide are invited to join Belnet and participate in an International Interfaith Conference in Hawaii in 2011. Encouraged by the Hawaii state legislature, this will explore spiritual commonalities across religions and reflect on how we can move from exclusion to inclusion in our respective faiths. (Hopefully there will be a follow-up 3-day Conference in 2012).
An Interfaith Symposium:
ONE REALITY, ONE HUMANITY, CONVERGING PATHS
Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Unity Church of Hawaii, 3608 Diamond Head Circle, Honolulu, Hawaii
To discuss and celebrate some of the commonalities among the world’s religions, and to explore the idea that the same Reality is shared by all.
Saleem Ahmed was born in India, raised in Pakistan, and now lives in Hawaii. He considers all three his home. He earned his doctorate in Soil Science from the University of Hawaii in 1965. Currently he works as a financial specialist.
Dismayed by how some Muslims were maligning Islam, Saleem started studying the Qur’an and hadeeh during the Iranian hostage crisis (1979-80). His findings led to the publication of his first book on Islam, Beyond Veil and Holy War: Islamic Teachings and Muslim Practices with Biblical Comparisons (2002). Encouraged by the positive response he received from moderate Muslims and non-Muslims – and simultaneously dismayed by the more recent extremist Muslim actions via suicide bombings and disruption of life in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Saleem was prompted write his second book, Islam: A Religion of Peace? (2009). With the general support he has received for the founding of the Pacific Institute of Islamic Studies (PIIS), we should expect other books from him and colleagues investigating other aspects of Muslim life, including interfaith thinking and action.
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