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Home >> Articles

The Silver Lining
By: Mohamed Elmandjra

In these times of great tragedy, it is hard for all of us to even start expressing the thousands of emotions and thoughts that overwhelm our minds and our hearts. The sheer size of the catastrophe that hit America on Sept 11th 2001 is unprecedented, not to mention the fact that such violence hitting right in our home is a reality we have not faced before.

Yet we are witnessing the incredible reaction of this nation that is turning adversity into a strength building event rather than a defeating force. Thus turning a problem into "an opportunity" as only America can do it.

As an American the repeated images of violence made me feel sick and outraged but then I quickly realized that as an Arab-American and a Muslim I would have to deal with additional emotions and pain. This unspeakable act was somehow being linked to my cultural heritage and my religion! Somehow the constant and careless association in the media between the words "Islamic" "Arab" and "terrorists" had been so strong that I started to have a strange feeling of guilt! I was made to feel guilty by "unfounded association"… and that was impossible to bear.

Perhaps the ordinary reaction would be to feel like screaming that our name is being soiled, our beliefs being distorted and abused and worse we were now at risk in the land where our children were born. Inevitably we would then feel depressed and helpless in front of the impossible task of telling everybody around us how wrong this was…

But this is America, and there is nothing "ordinary" about this land. Something unique started to happen. People around me came to express their sympathy! Said they felt sorry for me and could imagine how awful it must be to be associated to this tragedy in the minds of some (ignorant) people … When I went to pray for the victims, non-Muslim members of my city council were present at the Friday prayer showing their support… The Mayor was shown on TV at a mosque saying how wrong it is to think Islam had anything to do with the horror, finally colleagues asked to know more about the "real Islam"….and magically a problem was turning into an opportunity, an opportunity to share my thoughts, an opportunity to speak about my faith, an opportunity to get closer to my neighbor.
So here it is: Islam at a glance.

Definitions:

"Islam" is an arabic word which means peace and acceptance, 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 accord with the teachings of God. Mohammed was a messenger who carried the word of God, not a divine being who is worshipped. "Allah" is not a separate god, it is just the arabic word for "God".The Qur'an is the Holy Scripture of Islam and is a direct transcription of the word of God as revealed to the prophet Mohammed.
Islam is not a "new" religion, rather it is in essence the continuity of the message and guidance that God revealed to His other messengers.
"Say: We believe in God and that which he has revealed to us and that which he has revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them and to Him we submit" Qur'an 3:83.

The five pillars of Islam:

Every action done with the awareness that it fulfills the Will of God is considered an act of worship in Islam. But there are five specific acts that define the framework of the Muslim spiritual life : 1) Declaration of Faith : "I bear witness that there is no one worthy of worship except God and that Mohammed is His servant and messenger". Every Muslim must declare formally his or her faith. 2) Prayers : are prescribed five times daily and are aimed at strengthening the belief in God and inspiring higher morality. 3) Fasting during the month of Ramadhan. This means abstention from food beverages and sex drom dawn to sunset. It teaches willpower, sincerity, social conscious and compassion for those bearing hardships 4) Zakkah (Charity) is a mandatory contribution based on the earnings of the well to do and rich. It is spent on the poor and the needy . The payment of Zakkah purifies one's wealth and helps to establish a social welfare. 5) Pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) once in a lifetime provided one has the physical and financial means to undertake the journey

The concept of worship:

Islam does not teach ritualism ,it places great emphasis on intention and action. Worshiping God does not require any specific location or ceremony, worshiping God is avoiding wrong-doing and being just and compassionate. The Qur'an presents this sublime concept as "It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or the West but righteous is he who believe in God and the Last Day and the Angels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives his wealth to kinsfolk and to the orphans and to the needy and the wayfarer and those who ask, and sets slaves free and observes proper prayer and pays Zakkah. And those who keep their treaty when they make one and the patient in tribulation and adversity and times of stress, such are those who are sincere, Such are the God fearing". Qur'an 2:177

The Sanctity of the Human Being:

The human being is the highest creation of God and he has a free will to make decisions. God shows him the right path and the life of the Prophet provides the model for achieving salvation and success. Islam stands for the sanctity of human life and confers equal rights on all without distinction of race nationality or gender. The law of God applies equally to the prince and the pauper, the saint and the sinner. Islam protects all noble values and human rights. Freedom, equality, justice and the right to life and security are of prime concern in Islamic principles. "Whosoever kills a human being for other than murder or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, he whosoever saves the life of one it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind…" Qur'an 5:32

Islam places great emphasis on social justice .It opposes all those who exploit oppress and deal unjustly with people "O you who believe: Be steadfast witness for God in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal unjustly. Be just that is closer to piety" Qur'an 5:8

Universality and Humanism:

The message of Islam is for the entire human race and does not distinguish between races genders or social status "all creatures of God form the family of God and he is the best loved of God he who loveth best His creatures" said the Prophet Mohammed. Islam insists on the balance between individualism and collectivism. It encourages the individual to better himself and be responsible for his choices "Man shall have nothing but what he strives for" Qur'an 53:39; but it also awakens social responsibility and respect for the others. The Prophet said " All mankind is a fold every member of which shall be the keeper or sheperd onto every other and be accountable for the entire fold" and also " the believer in God is he who does not jeopardize the life and property of any other".

Continuity of the message of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, Sanctity of life, Humanism and social responsibility, these are some of the major principles of Islam.

Of course, it is impossible to give but a brief snapshot of some Islamic concepts I tried to choose some that were particularly relevant during these dark hours of the human history. So these are a few of the basic concepts of a faith that has been abused by a few criminals to "justify" their crimes, a faith that has been distorted by the media in the West to come to symbolize violence and terror.

So for you who had the intelligence to ask and the patience to read, I hope that it is clearer now that one can bear an islamic name like "Ossama or even "Mohammed" and still be Islam's worst enemy by acting in a mad destructive way. Fortunately as is always the case there are many more good decent humans than evil creatures, and good will prevail.

The Qur'an says "you may be liking something and it is bad for you , you may be hating something and it is good for you" . I hate what happened on September 11th 2001, but if it advances all of us toward more Tolerance and Compassion, and if it rids the planet of the scourge of terrorism, it is good for me.

Mohamed Elmandjra
14th of September 2001

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