Lesson 4: Building Mosques and Burning the Koran

All three of our reading groups wanted to talk about Islam. Last week I reported on the college group’s discussion of Ben Laden’s assassination. That one took place at the end of the school year. At the beginning of the year the high school group wanted to look at building a mosque near Ground Zero and burning the Koran in Florida. I felt they needed to know something about Islam before discussion and tried to offer a concise summary in the following paper. Because I am on vacation, I have included a report of their discussion following the paper.

  WHAT IS ISLAM?

Lately a lot of people have been asking if there something about Islam that fosters violence. Those questions became very public when some Muslims wanted to build a mosque near Ground Zero and a Florida pastor claimed God told him to burn the Koran.

Years ago one of St. James missionaries was Bruce Schein who was known as Lutheranism’s unofficial ambassador to Islam. His thoughts might help us get a picture of the Islam most Muslims practice. He observed Islam is more about practice than doctrine. There are all sorts of Muslims and therefore many versions of Islam. Arguing that Islam means simply “submission”, Bruce defined a Muslim as anyone who submitted to God by observing the Five Pillars of the Faith. These create a rhythm giving God a place in their daily lives. Usually at this point he would shrug his shoulders and claim he could be regarded as a Lutheran Muslim.

The First Pillar is Faith that confesses “None is worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” To make this confession is to believe the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God. Mohammed might be the last prophet, but Islam also accepts Moses and Jesus.

The Second Pillar is Prayer that is performed five times during the day when the Call to Prayer is heard. “God is Great. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God. Come to prayer! Come to success! God is Great!” A Muslim stops wherever he is to remember God, creating a rhythm that keeps contact with God and his will.

The Third Pillar is Alms. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity proclaims a social justice that includes care of the needy. In many ways, ethics is epitomized by how Muslims use their finances. They believe everything belongs to God and is to be managed according to his will.

The Fourth Pillar is Fasting that takes place during the month of Ramadan. All abstain from food, drink, and sexual relations from dawn to dusk. This self-purification and self-restraint is supposed to facilitate an awareness of the presence of God and his purposes in life.

The Fifth Pillar is Pilgrimage or the hajj. Every Muslim is expected, if physically and financially able, to make the journey to Mecca once in their life time. During the Hajj all dress alike without distinctions of class and culture. The Hajj shows the international nature of the faith as well as to the ultimate equality of all before God.

Notice there is nothing about a jihad that commands killing unbelievers or committing suicide for the faith. Most Muslims I know believe these have nothing to do with their faith. Instead they are Muslims, because they believe in justice that they interpret as living a strict moral life. Islam as well as Judaism and Christianity enabled its people to break the cycle of violence that was destroying their societies.

Bruce was always reminding me all religions change due to historical circumstances. During some periods Islam was more tolerant, scholarly, and just than Christianity. He blamed much of the current attitudes and actions on the effects of colonialism and the way the Christian world has treated the Islamic.

I am not sure Bruce offers the last word in understanding Islam. However, I am certain he offers a more reasonable beginning of our conversation than what we have been hearing from too many religious and political celebrity types.

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  1. Pastor Fritz Foltz says:

    The discussion supported Bob’s observation that we are not very competent when it comes to understanding Islam. The media reports on the actions and proclamations of Islamic Fundamentalists that hardly represent most Muslims. The young people reflected our ignorance as they got bogged down making technical distinctions between a community center and a worship area, measuring the distance from what they regarded sacred ground, and asking about questionable businesses already present. When they realized they were responding emotionally, they began to ask me to explain Islam. I probably spoke more at this meeting than at any other during the year. It also was more academic than the rest.

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