Islam – A Religion of Peace
Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ
Some times back under the title ‘The Missing Muslims’, a national English daily brought out a well known fact. The Ahmedabad edition of The Indian Express published a series of front-page reports about the Muslims in India.The investigative reports proclaimed that the Muslims in India especially in Gujarat are widely discriminated. According to 2001 census the Muslims form 13.43% of the Indian population. But their representation is much less than their population in areas like government and private jobs, education, the three service forces of army, navy and air-force, law, police and semi-government forces, etc.
I see three reasons for this discriminatory approach against Muslims. First, there is wide spread ignorance about the Muslims; second, there are prejudices and misunderstandings about Muslims; and third, self-seeking and communal forces knowingly foster enmity and hatred towards Muslims.
In this situation I feel a two-fold needs. First,there is need to know the true religion of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, so that we can understand our Muslim brothers and sisters; and second, there is need to do all in our power to do away all injustice and discriminations against the Muslims.
The word ‘Islam’ indicates not only the Islam religion but also tells us the relationship between God and people. In that relationship Muslims acknowledge their submission to God, Allah. In other words, people need completely to submit themselves to God. All Muslims accept this fact and proclaim “Allahu Akbar” meaning, “God is the greatest.” Muslims are the people who submit themselves completely to Allah and accept Mohammed as his last prophet. Today Islam has spread all over the world. Some fifty countries have Muslim majority. In the countries like Lebanon, Senegal, Nigeria there are Christian Presidents or Prime Ministers even through the Muslims are the majority in those countries. When we take these things into consideration we understand the spirit of tolerance and the openness of the Muslims.
On the other hand, terrorist organizations like Al-Qaida and some Muslim rulers who deprive the religious freedom of non-Muslims in their countries as well as some communal minded Muslim priests portray the Muslims in a bad light. But basically Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. ‘Islam’ is an Arabic word. The root of the word ‘Islam’ and of ‘Salaam’, meaning peace, is one and the same. It means peace. In Islam Muslims are expected to submit themselves to Allah and live in peace.
As I understand, Islam holds five basic tenants. The first tenant is the belief of Muslims expressed in the saying “la ilah illillah muhammadursullillah” meaning Allah is the only God and Mohammed is his messenger. Muslims believe that Allah is all-powerful and Hazarat Mohammed is the greatest and the last Prophet of Allah. Islam does not have any rites and rituals of worship. Muslims believe that people will get to heaven or hell according to their deeds and acts.
A second basic tenant is ‘Namas’ meaning prayer. Muslims are enjoyed to pray five times a day. Priests in Mosques call the people five times to pray. Many Muslims either go to a mosque or find an appropriate place to pray five times every day. In my long travels I am always impressed by the faith of the Muslims who pray without fail five times a day even in long train journey.
The third basic tenant of Muslims is almsgiving. Almsgiving is important in most religions. But I know that in comparison with other religions the followers of Islam give more alms than others. There is a command of almsgiving in Koran. Among the Muslims both the rich and poor people give alms. Even the poor Muslims give alms sharing the little, which they have.
The fourth basic tenant of Muslims is ‘Roza’ or fasting. Koran commands all healthy people above the age of 14 years to observe fasting from sun rise to sun set every day in the month of Ramjan. During the fasting time the Muslims do not even drink water. At the end of the fasting the Muslims often enjoy dinner parties with relatives and friends including non-Muslims.
The fifth basic tenant of Muslims is the ‘Haj’ or pilgrimage to Mecca. It is compulsory for Muslims to make the Haj pilgrimage once in their lives, if they are healthy and wealthy to undertake the pilgrimage. Mecca is in the centre of Islamic history. In Mecca Kaba – house of God – is the most holy place. There is a black stone there, which is believed to be given by the Angel Gabriel. The Muslim pilgrims go round the Kaba and kiss it.
As I understand, like the five basic tenants of Islamic faith, brotherhood and equality are very important among the Muslims. Thanks to them, there is no caste or distinction of high and low among the believers. All believers are equal in front of Allah. This sense of equality attracts many people to Islam. In Islam there is no high caste or low caste. All are the children of the same Allah.
Like brotherhood and equality, the Muslims also give importance to morality. According Islamic teaching the purpose of life is to lead a good life. In this life a Muslim can live a happy life and attain life eternal in the next life by leading a life according to the law of Allah and being submissive to Allah in all things and also by behaving well with all other people. The Islamic morality deals both with one’s religious and social life.
Koran exhorts the Muslims to live justify and morally. Koran commands the Muslims to maintain ethical and moral values and live with justice with all the people. So Islam opposes strongly the exploitation of the poor and the dalit (oppressed) people. In Islam while helping the poor and the dalit people, the Muslims make efforts to see that these people are able to live with pride and self-respect. So in Islam prayer and service go together like two sides of the same coin.