Islam 101

I’m going to break this down Barney-style because frankly I’ve seen some pretty ignorant things written on both sides of the aisle recently. First off, I am not a Muslim, I am a Catholic, but if you think I can’t explain the basics of Islam because of that, you should look up the word, “fallacy”. Furthermore, I cannot explain Islam in a single post. But I’m going to give you the basics and some of what Islam means to Muslims and you.

I’ve given this class a dozen or so times to keep my soldiers informed and every Muslim who sat in had no issues with it. Nonetheless, when you talk about religion someone will inevitably be uncomfortable. My Muslim friends who are going to read this will no doubt correct me on some of these things, and may even get offended, but they’ll be ok. Someone needs to explain this stuff, if only to stop some people from embarrassing themselves. Anyway, if we can’t talk about this then the bad guys have already won.

Now the basic basics. Islam does not mean “Peace” (“Religion of Peace” is just great branding). Islam is the Arabic word for, “Submission to the Will of Allah”. Allah is the Muslim name for the God of Abraham in the Bible. Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Jews and Christians see themselves as heirs of Isaac, Muslims see themselves as heirs of Ishmael. Mohammad, the first great prophet of Islam, was a descendant of Ishmael. So the takeaway here is three of the biggest religions on the planet share the same deity.

Within Islam, there are two major denominations: Sunni and Shia. The difference between the two goes back to a dispute over who succeeded Mohammad when he died in 632 CE. Sunnis believe Mohammad’s father in law, Abu Bakr, and the other three caliphs (successors) are the successors to Mohammad. The caliphate is the Islamic state ruled by the caliphs. Shia believe that Ali, Mohammad’s cousin and one of the aforementioned first four caliphs, is the sole successor. Shia believe that caliphs can only descend from Ali and that the Sunni caliphs are usurpers. In essence, Shia are more centralized and hierarchical from the few ayatollahs down to their imams and mullahs. And Sunnis are more decentralized from many caliphs down to Sunni imams and mullahs. (In Catholic terms, Ayatollahs are a combination of cardinals and archbishops, caliphs are like mini popes with secular and spiritual power, imams are like bishops and priests, and mullahs are more like deacons and ministers. These are generalizations but close enough for our purposes.)

Both Sunnis and Shia follow the same five tenets called the Five Pillars of Islam: 1: Shahadah, or the declaration that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is God’s Messenger. 2. Salat, or prayer five times a day. 3. Zakat, alms for the needy. 4. Sawm, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan which happens at a different time each year because it is based on the lunar cycle. And 5. Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every Muslim is supposed to do once in their lifetime. Jihad is NOT a Pillar of Islam. It’s a sacred duty, but not a pillar. Jihad means “struggle”. Now to make this amazingly complicated and misunderstood word digestible to us, think of it as synonymous with “spreading the faith” (its not quite correct, but good enough for us). Jihad is a religious duty of Muslims and whether that is done through violence or peace is a matter of choosing which passages they follow in the Koran.

Please note that I did not say “a matter of an interpretation of the Koran”. There is no interpreting the Koran. In Islam, the Angel Gabriel (you know, the one with the trumpet) revealed God’s Will to Mohammad and Mohammad wrote it down VERBATIM over 23 years. So to Muslims, the Koran is literally the Word of God. Mohammad didn’t add anything or interpret anything, he just wrote down what Gabriel said. This is different from the Bible which is the Word of God interpreted and written by human beings. So to make this clear:

Islam:
—–Title: Koran, Author: God, Publisher: Mohammad.
Catholicism and other non-literalist Christians:
—–Title: Bible, Author: multiple authors, e.g. Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Matthew, Mark etc., Editor: God.

That’s why Muslims get upset when someone burns the Koran. In Christian terms, it’s like someone taking the Holy Communion and setting fire to it.
So don’t f*****g do it.
So since the Koran is literally, yes literally, the Word of God to Muslims, it is legally binding to Muslims since no human law could be above God’s literal Will. (In contrast, the Bible is composed of human’s interpretations of God’s Will. The Bible is “figuratively” God’s Will since humans have been disregarding and reinterpreting what other humans say since we were living in caves). In the words of a man smarter than I am, “This. Is. Key”.

So let me say this again – the Koran is the literal Word of God to Muslims and NOT subject to interpretation. The Bible is only the Word of God as taught by the prophets and is therefore subject to interpretation.

Furthermore, in Christianity, Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, which is usually interpreted as God allowing a separate secular state. The Koran has no such phrase. The Word of God is The Law. Therefore, to a Muslim the Koran is legally binding. It is the law to a Muslim as much as the Constitution is the law in the United States. This is the MAJOR difference between Christianity and Islam: Christianity (and Judaism) is just a religion, Islam is not only a religion but it is also a system of religious jurisprudence based on Islamic law, called Sharia.
Sharia law is a combination of the Koran and the Hadiths (and a few other sources, see the book “Reliance of the Traveler”, it is the generally accepted English language translation of Sharia law). The Hadiths are the chronicles of Mohammad’s life used by Islamic scholars to enforce Sharia i.e. what did Mohammad do in a similar situation. To act like Mohammad is good, to not act like Mohammad is bad. Remember there is no interpretation OF the Koran or the Hadiths, the interpretation comes from translating modern day situations into Mohammad’s actions and God’s word as written down over a 20 year period 1300 years ago.

Now, only those who accept that the Koran is God’s Will are subject to Sharia law, that’s why it’s important for Muslims to jihad. The flip side of that is Sharia law only applies to Muslims. This is important because Sharia law has its own version of the Ten Commandments. And they only apply to Muslims. That means it is technically not a sin for a Muslim to lie to an infidel (especially to save face) or even kill an infidel. Therefore how a Muslim treats an infidel is based not on their version of the Ten Commandments but on how Mohammad treated infidels, because that’s how Sharia law works (i.e. what did God say or Mohammad do in a similar situation, in this case treat infidels, because the Muslim version of the Ten Commandments does NOT apply to infidels, only fellow Muslims).

Now because Sharia law was written over a twenty year period of Mohammad’s life, there are some inconsistencies. Most importantly for our purposes is the treatment of unbelievers, or infidels. In the earlier parts of the Koran, Mohammad advocated the peaceful coexistence and peaceful proselytizing of infidels. In later parts he most definitely does not. In fact, the very last passage of the Koran is called the “Verse of the Sword” which explicitly calls for violent death by the sword to all infidels. How a Muslim chooses between the two is whether they believe in Abrogation.

Abrogation is the Muslim belief that in the case of inconsistencies in Sharia (the Koran and Hadiths), whatever God said last in the Koran, or Mohammad did last in the Hadiths, is correct. Whatever came before is annulled, or abrogated, based on the belief Mohammad became wiser as more of the Koran was revealed to him. Which is actually kind of reasonable. But it also causes the world quite a few problems because like I said before the Verse of the Sword is the last passage of the Koran. Ergo, if a Muslim believes in Abrogation, he has the solemn duty to kill infidels by the sword, because he or she believes that that is God’s last word on the subject.

Now the vast vast majority of Muslims do NOT believe in abrogation, or if they officially do, do not act upon it. This is because if you accept abrogation, you are basically accepting that the world hasn’t changed since the 7th Century. Most of the Shia and Sunnis, particularly Sufists – followers of Sufism, a mystical and peaceful version of Islam, do not believe in abrogation, and choose the more peaceful parts of the Koran, i.e. the earlier parts. Only Salafists and Wahhabis, followers of Wahabbism, the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and extremists such as ISIS, Al’Maghreb, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda believe in Abrogation. For example, MAJ Nidal Hassan, the guy who killed 13 soldiers in Ft Hood, gave a class on the virtues of abrogation to his peers a week or so before he went on his shooting spree. That should have raised some red flags.
Anyway, that is why you will NEVER win a theological argument about Islam with a Muslim who believes in abrogation. Abrogation is logical, and the Koran is pretty specific about what Muslims should do to infidels in the Verse of the Sword. So it is VERY easy to argue this position, especially with literalists. (Thankfully most people are not literalist or logical to the point of suicide.) So it’s not even worth it to try and argue against it. This is the basis of all extremist religious propaganda. Luckily most Muslims do not take this position when it comes to violence, contrary to what you read or see in the news. Most Muslims see extremists and abrogationists as “takfiri” or “impure” Muslims. So the next time you hear someone referring to extremists as “jihadis” or “hajji’s” you slap that ignorant person. Jihad and the Hajj are good things to Muslims and they’re denigrating a good word by using it in that context. Also, using those words is essentially recruiting for the bad guys. If you need to refer to extremists by something else use “takfiri” or “daesh” (DAESH is the Arabic acronym for ISIS and sounds like “dahes”, the Arabic word for “sower of discord”)

Summary. In Islam:
-Koran = Islamic Word of God transcribed over 23 years, and Hadiths are a chronicle of what Mohammad did.
-Koran + Hadiths = Sharia
-Sharia only applies to Muslims therefore Muslims must Jihad to spread their faith so more are subject to Sharia
-Koran advocates both peaceful and violent Jihad
-Peaceful = early Koran, Violent = later Koran
-Abrogation: later is better. This is bad when it comes to infidels.
-Extremists: Abrogation in jihad
-Most Muslims: no abrogation in jihad
-Don’t get into a theological debate with an extremist Muslim, it’s not worth it.
-The vast vast vast majority of Muslims are not trying to kill you, though some most definitely are. But like anything else, don’t judge the many by the actions of the few.
-Calling an extremist a “jihadi” and “hajji” is ignorant. Use “takfiri” or “daesh”.
Anyway, Islam is obviously quite a bit more complicated than what I can explain in a single post but I hope it was informative.
Keep your comments civil. Thanks!

Addendum.
Also, I did skip over the two big elephants in the room. I did so purposely because you have to understand what I said above first before we can discuss the problems. The first is violence in the name of religion. Notwithstanding what I said above, Islam has a violence problem. Abrogation can be situational, and therefore very seductive. Even though I said the vast majority do not support violence, there are one billion Muslims on the planet, and the minority who do support violence is still a significant number. Globalization compounds their reach and influence. Right now, Islam is going through a civil war between those who support violence in the name of religion and moderates who do not. And make no mistake: the moderates are losing. Christianity went through the same thing in the 17th century, and it took the Thirty Years War for Christians to figure out that violence in the name of religion was a bad thing. The second is women’s rights. Islam has some issues here and makes Catholicism look like a bulwark of forward thinking. Islam is centuries behind Christianity with women’s rights even in moderate Islamic areas. In Islamic extremist held territory, it would be an insult to barbarians to call their treatment of women barbaric. Islam could use some help on the feminism front. So yes, all is not rosy with Islam. And yes, political correctness makes the problems worse. But people still need to understand the basics before they understand the problems.
Thanks!

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