Horton: Understanding the pillars of Islam

The religious roots of Islam and Christianity share similar positive wisdoms.

We heard much in the news about the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. It was an event that shattered any complacency about security and power.

All the military might of the United States, and the World Trade Centre towers in New York City were, in effect, brought down by terrorists armed with box cutters.

When we try to understand 9/11, we come to the question of what truly reflects the teachings of Mohammed.

Many cultural practices have been absorbed into fundamentalist Islamic sects, practices contrary to the Koran and to basic human rights Mohammed supported.

Most of what Westerners find objectionable in the behaviour of some Moslems is culture-based.

That behaviour would horrify Mohammed, peacemaker and respecter of all regardless of religion, race or gender.

One way to commemorate this anniversary is to educate ourselves about Islam, which looks to Jewish and Christian roots and teaches much similar wisdom.

Misunderstanding Islam and discriminating against Muslims has caused much suffering.

Mohammed’s earliest revelations were about how folks should treat their neighbours—caring for the poor and widowed and orphaned— practicing the fundamental equality that had been part of nomadic culture, but was eroded in prosperous mercantile cities like Mecca.

His followers came from many different clans, which was a cause for concern  since loyalty to one’s clan had always come first in Arab culture.

He succeeded at the impossible-seeming task of unifying dozens of warring tribes.

Not all tribes became Moslem, but all became sworn allies.

Mohammed was puzzled by religious intolerance, especially between Jews and Christians.

The words of the first Edict of religious tolerance in Europe, advocated by my own religious ancestors in Transylvania in 1568, are actually from the Koran: “Faith is the gift of God, and cannot be compelled.”

Mohammed was also vehemently anti-racist. For his time, Mohammed was a champion of women.

The Koran declares that women have the right to inherit property, to keep their dowries, to be merchants in their own right, and to be educated.

Nowhere does it mention the veil. Nor was taking up to four wives an indulgence, let alone evidence of lechery.

The Koran is clear. Widows and orphaned wards were best cared for by marriage—and with clan warfare common, there were many of them.

But if a man couldn’t treat them all the same, he must stick to one wife.

As Karen Anderson,  author of A History Of God, points out, there was little room for individualism in a nomadic lifestyle always on the edge of survival.

The pillars of Islam are concrete, external practices that are quite clear-cut.

When we took our children to visit the local mosque last spring, the local Imam explained this too us.

What most interests the Imam, an engaging and compassionate man, is how to live a just and caring life.

He believes that the practices of his faith—praying five times a day, helping the poor and fasting to remember what it is like to be hungry, pilgrimage to Mecca— help him stay in tune with “the great light that is God,” so that the small light within him can grow and shine.

And when he is tuned in to that light, he acts out of the moral, generous, caring side of his human nature, rather than the greedy, self-centered side.  Isn’t that what most religions aspire to at their best?

Our world can’t afford the level of Islamaphobia we have seen in the past decade.

May the 9/11 anniversary we recently commemorated remind us that we are called by the Spirit of Love to build bridges of understanding across the gaps of religion and culture.





Rev. Linda Weaver Horton is minister of the Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna.


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