This is the third and final sermon in my series on the Three Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam by discussing Abraham and his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who were both given promises by God to become great nations. Even though Ishmael is driven out of his father’s house by Sarah (the jealous and protective mother of Isaac), God watches over Ishmael and he becomes, according to the Quran, the father of Islam. Isaac becomes the father of Judaism and therefore a forefather to Christianity. (Please note that neither of these religions existed at the time of Abraham.) We all worship the same God.
The great ninth century Sufi, Bayazid Bastami, described the evolution of these three religions with this image: “its seeds were set at the time of Adam, they sprouted under Noah and flowered under Abraham. Grapes formed at the time of Moses, and they ripened at the time of Jesus. In the time of Mohammad, they were made into pure wine. ”
Muslims believe that God sends a prophet whenever humanity is in need of a course correction. This does not make any of the prior prophets (including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among others) wrong, just sort of outdated. Or, perhaps more to the point, many Muslims feel that people have distorted the true messages of the earlier prophets. So, Muslims believe that Muhammad is the most recent prophet to have been sent by God and therefore the most accurate, most relevant message.
So, part two focused on Judaism: Covenant, Sabbath and Blessing, and part three of this series will focus
on what I see as some of the key concepts and/or practices of Islam. I also believe that these concepts are not exclusively Jewish or Muslim, but contain spiritual wisdom for all of us if we care to look and listen. The three I’ve chosen to explore for Islam are peace, prayer and devotion.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
Let’s begin with peace, mostly because that is perhaps the least likely word that non-Muslims would use to describe a Muslim in our world today. And, yet, to moderate and progressive (and probably to most conservative) Muslims, this is an inherent characteristic of someone who follows Islam.
Summing up the teachings of Islam, the Islamic Society of North America makes this statement:
Islam is an Arabic word which means peace, purity, acceptance and commitment. As a religion, Islam calls for complete acceptance of the teachings and guidance of God. A Muslim is one who freely and willingly accepts the supreme power of God and strives to organize his life in total accord with the teachings of God. He also works for building social institutions which reflect the guidance of God.
To be a Muslim means to be a “peacemaker and one who submits to the will of God”
I had an Imam come speak to my religion class at Carthage College a few times and he made it very clear that there is no room for terrorism in Islam. In fact, Islam forbids all acts of violence and disorder in the world. He cited the following verses from the Quran:
- Sura 11:86 “And commit not iniquity in the earth, causing disorder”
- Sura 5:33 “… whosoever killed a person – it shall be as if he had killed all mankind”
The Imam was also adamant that Islam condemns aggression, hostility and mischief:
- Sura 5:3 “Help one another in righteousness and piety, and help not one another in sin and transgression.”
Jihad is a term that the media has co-opted and twisted to mean holy war. The true meaning of Jihad is “to struggle” and “to strive.” There are three levels of jihad. The Greatest Jihad is the struggle against one’s lower self. It is the internal struggle between wrong and right, error and truth, selfishness and selflessness, hardness of heart and all-embracing love. Our inner state is then reflected in words, actions and behaviors.
The Greater Jihad is about being in service to humanity and spreading peace in the world through the teachings of the Quran.
Finally, the Lesser Jihad is a war fought in self-defense only, and is regulated by 19 conditions.
While the Imam was very firm about Islam being a religion of peace, passages in the Quran can be found to support both a pacifist approach and active opposition to unbelievers. To me it seems very much the same way with the Bible. One can find ample evidence to love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and follow the non-violence of Jesus… or one can follow a God who smote the enemy, destroyed people who worshiped idols and generally caused much death and destruction in the Old Testament.
The prophet Muhammad’s farewell address gives us a very good sense of where he personally stood on this issue:
“God has made the lives, property and honor of every man sacred. To take any man’s life, his property or attack his honor is unjust and wrong. None of you can be a true believer until and unless he desires for his brothers what he wishes for himself. My movement is based on love.”
My question for us becomes: what does it look like for us to struggle with our lower selves? Can we strive to achieve a level of peace within and then bring that peace to the world?
Most of us are aware that Muslims pray five times a day. For someone like me who truly lacks any kind of discipline in any part of my life, I find this a truly amazing practice.
Their prayer ritual is called Salat, the obligatory prayers to be said at dawn, midday, late afternoon, just after sunset, and between sunset and midnight. Millions of Muslims do this every day as a highly spiritual practice connecting them to Muslims around the world and to all who have uttered the same words down through history.
These prayers are not just phrases to be spoken, they include a set of movements so that Muslims pray body, mind and soul. Prayer is thought to do the following:
- Strengthen belief in God’s existence and goodness and carry this belief into the depths of the heart and every aspect of external life.
- Purify the heart, develop the mind and conscience, comfort the soul
- Encourage good and suppress evil
- Awaken one’s innate sense of higher morality and higher aspirations.
- Words of praise and bowing express continual gratefulness and surrender to the One.
While mouthing the words and performing the outer actions they should be concentrating on the inner prayer of the heart. The prophet Muhammad reportedly said, “Prayer without the Presence of the Lord in the heart is not prayer at all.” In other words, they are expected to be prepared to pray by removing the hindrances from their hearts and minds. They should attempt to be attentive and open to the movement of the Divine while at the same time offering their whole self to the process.
This prompts me to wonder whether we just go through the motions of prayer, or worship, or volunteering, or devotional readings… or do we consciously strive to have an appropriate inner preparedness for giving of our hearts to the Divine and receiving within our hearts the Divine? What would this look like and feel like?
DEVOTION – love, loyalty, faithfulness, commitment, enthusiasm for a cause
I get a feeling of a deep sense of devotion that Muslims have to the Divine . At the very core of their faith is the intent to meditate on and give themselves (submit, if you will) to the will of God. They seek a change of heart, a oneness with God, and to live with peace and kindness. There is a devotion that is obvious, from their commitment to pray 5 times a day, to the millions of people who make a pilgrimage to Mecca, to the discipline and dedication it takes to fast (from food and drink) from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. It brings to mind the old 80’s song: “I’m hopelessly devoted to you…”
I find myself wondering: are we devoted to the Divine? Are we devoted to our spiritual paths? What does that look like, or what could that look more like?
I offer these Muslim practices of peace, prayer and devotion, to not only to give us insight into the Muslim understanding of, and relationship with,God, but also to offer us things to think about when it comes to our own spiritual lives.
Assalamo Alaikum (Peace be unto you),