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Unlocking the Mysteries of Islam

Qur'anA few weekends ago, a friend of mine and I went to a free workshop titled “Unlocking the Mysteries of Islam.” We went not to criticize or confront anyone’s beliefs, but to find out more about Islam from actual Muslims who were willing to put together a workshop open to the public.

There were two presenters who each spoke about 15 minutes at the beginning, giving basic introductory information about Islam, after which they opened the floor to questions. My friend and I were sitting in the front row along with his mother and two other people who, based on their questions, were not Muslims, either. Most of the people sitting behind us seemed to be members of the Muslim community and, on occasion, helped to answer questions.

The whole experience was very educational, but just as importantly, very friendly and open. The two speakers were very personable and answered all our questions, letting us know up front that they didn’t have all the answers, but would tell us what they knew. Most of the questions came from the front row and it was almost as if we were simply having a conversation with the presenters, since they could see if we had puzzled expressions and would stop and let us ask for clarification on certain points.

Our questions ranged through topics such as interpretation of scripture, evolution, Heaven and Hell, sin, comparisons to Christianity, and redemption. We were never confrontational and we learned a lot about Islam that we hadn’t known before. We were there for two and a half hours and could have easily continued if we hadn’t had to leave the community center due to scheduling. My friend and I both agreed that it was a great educational experience.

There were a few points that really struck me as being notably different than Christianity (other than what might seem obvious to the casual observer).

The Nature of God or Allah

Muslims are very, very specific about the nature of Allah. By specific, I mean that they are very clear that the only things you can know about Allah are the things that are expressly spelled out in the Qur’an. They give no human attributes to Allah. If the Qur’an says that Allah has a face or that he created Adam with his hands, it means only that he has a face and hands… but not what they look like. They do not assume that the face of Allah looks like a human face nor that his hands look like human hands. One analogy given was a comparison between our hands and the hands of a clock. They’re both “hands” but don’t look anything alike.

There was no seventh day of rest in their creation story because the need for rest is a human attribute, one that Allah does not have, since it would imply that he was not perfect and all-powerful.

The Authority of the Qur’an

A question arose as to how they know that the Qur’an is the true word of Allah and, related to that, how the scripture was interpreted.

I don’t remember all the reasons, but one that struck me as interesting was that the Qur’an is in Arabic and has been in Arabic from the beginning. There are no multiple versions of it and the original Arabic text has been preserved since its beginning, so there’s no issue, as with the bible, of incorrect translations, lost chapters, or political interference. There are translations, but always from the original Arabic, which is the only true Qur’an.

One of the other reasons was the lyrical, poetic nature of the Qur’an in Arabic. Since Muhammad was an illiterate man, there’s no possible way he could have created it with such eloquence. Therefore, it must have been a divine revelation.

As for interpreting the Qur’an, they were very clear that it is never “interpreted.” It is taken completely literally (hence the “Nature of Allah” section above) and there is no need for any kind of interpretation. If the Qur’an says something, it’s true (literally). End of story.

Heaven and Hell

I believe they referred to Paradise and “The Fire” as what Christians would think of as Heaven and Hell. They were basically the same except for one point that I feel is a huge difference. When someone goes to “The Fire,” it’s not forever as it is with the Christian Hell. The Fire is a cleansing fire that will eventually cleanse someone of sin, after which he can go to Paradise. I found that to be infinitely more humane than Christian doctrine.

They also make no claims about whether someone goes to Paradise or the Fire when they die. In Islam, the final decision is up to Allah and Allah alone. There’s no “magic pill” for Muslims. They do what they can to follow the Qur’an and the laws laid down by Muhammad in hopes of reaching Paradise, but in the end, it’s Allah’s decision.

I found that a somewhat striking difference from Christianity (some versions) where “accepting Jesus” or “repenting your sins” or some other set of dutiful tasks is the sure way to Heaven. With Islam, there is no sure way, but there are things you must do to even qualify from the get-go.

Of course, a lot more information was covered than those three topics, but those three things stand out in my head as things that very clearly distinguish Islam from Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of what we talked about that had my friend and I shaking our heads in disbelief (pun intended). The theory of evolution isn’t valid (contradicts the Qur’an). Muhammad was a prophet. Muhammad spoke to Allah. Allah exists. The usual stuff.

One item that caught the attention of both my friend and me was something one presenter said about trees in the winter. He seemed to think that trees die in winter and are resurrected in spring. He cited that as one of the bits of evidence for the existence and greatness of Allah. I thought he was speaking metaphorically at first, but had my doubts. A brief conversation at the end which leads me to believe he was being literal.

The presenter was speaking to my friend when I joined the conversation.

“What do you think happens when you die?” he asked.

My friend said, “That’s it. I’m done. I’ll rot in the ground.”

The presenter replied, “What about the trees?” He pointed outside. “A few months ago they were dead. Now they are full of life.”

“They weren’t dead. They were just in hibernation.”

“Well, people refer to them as dead.”

My friend replied, “I’ve never heard anyone say that before.”

The presenter looked at me and asked, “How about you?”

I just smiled and shook my head. My friend said, “He’s an atheist, too.”

The presenter smiled at me and, with a small chuckle, asked “Are you the devil?”

I laughed and said I was not. We then exchanged very pleasent goodbyes and went our separate ways.

So he sort of backpedaled with the “dead tree” idea, but not so much as to make me think that he was being metaphorical when he said the trees died in winter. Whether that was just his belief or a tenant of Islam, I do not know.

We all got free copies of the Qur’an and some other informative literature about Islam which I have yet to read. The Qur’an is on my reading list, though, so I hope to learn a bit more before the end of the summer.

I’ll try to finish it before the trees die again.

2 Comments

  1. Brg says:

    Hello!

    Just wanted to comment on “There are no multiple versions of it and the original Arabic text has been preserved since its beginning, so there’s no issue, as with the bible, of incorrect translations, lost chapters, or political interference.”

    This is not true. The Qu’ran was compiled into a book after the death of Muhammad. Before that, it was written in different parts on any material the people penning what they heard Muhammad say could find.

    Then, as mentioned in Wikipedia: “In about 650, as Islam expanded beyond the Arabian peninsula into Persia, the Levant and North Africa, the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan ordered the preparation of an official, standardized version, in order to preserve the sanctity of the text (and perhaps to keep the Rashidun Empire united, see Uthman Qur’an). Five reciters from amongst the companions produced a unique text from the first volume which had been prepared on the orders of Abu Bakr and which was kept with Hafsa bint Umar. The other copies already in the hands of Muslims in other areas were collected and sent to Medina where, on orders of the Caliph, they were destroyed by burning or boiling. This remains the authoritative text of the Qur’an to this day.”

    See? There are no different versions because all the non-standard versions were destroyed.

    In 1970 an old version of the Qu’ran was found in Yemen. Apparently, it contains differences from the standard text; minor differences, but differences all the same. But access to this version has been restricted, unsurprisingly, by the Yemeni government.

    I recommend visiting http://kafirgirl.wordpress.com/ She did a very good job explaining this and many of the incongruencies in the Qu’ran and Islam, although she seems to be M.I.A. since January 2009.

    Brg

    1. Dan says:

      Thanks for the correction and all the information. I really appreciate it and find it interesting… yet not surprising, as I’m sure you didn’t! 🙂

      I should have been more clear in my post that the information was what was presented by the two Muslims leading the discussion, not a result of my research or anything that I specifically agreed with.

      The concept of the Qua’ran being “revealed” to an illiterate man in the desert is, to me, a silly concept to begin with, but add that to the information that you presented and it negates the claim of scriptural purity that the hosts were making.

      Thanks again!

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