Islam is in the news. Pictures crowd your television
screens. Muslims, as we call those whose faith is Islam, kneel
in prayer, forehead touching the ground. Countries with large
Muslim populations, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia, dominate the headlines. Questions about Muslims, mosques
and Mecca spark discussion in your history and religion classes.
Muslims are center stage in the drama being acted out in your
Muslims number over one billion members, or 20 percent of the
population, worldwide. Over seven million live in this country.
They are your neighbors, your classmates and perhaps your friends.
What do you know about these people and the religion that leads
them to God?
When you hear the word Muslim, what image enters your
mind? If it is an image of Osama bin Laden, it has little to
do with the Allah he invokes.
This issue of Youth Update seeks to help you in your quest
for knowledge and understanding. Wherever possible, familiar
Catholic practices and beliefs will be used to help you understand
As you discover how Islam guides the Muslim people
to live in service and love, you may gain a deeper appreciation
for the beliefs and practices of your own faith. Looking at
Islam can become a window for you to consider the ways God is
working in your life.
Rooted in Time
Catholics believe that Jesus is the pivotal person
in all of human history. Your lives of faith revolve around
your belief in Jesus.
Muhammad, born in Mecca around 570 A.D., holds
a prominent place in the Islamic religion, but as a prophet
and teacher, not as God made man. He used to spend time praying
in a cave. While in prayer, the 40-year-old Muhammad heard a
voice believed to be that of the angel Gabriel tell him that
he was the prophet of Allah. A short time later Muhammad was
told —to recite— what the angel said. It took him 23 years.
That recitation, as written, is called the Quran
(formerly spelled/pronounced Koran in English). The word simply
means —to recite.—
The Quran is the holy book of Islam, the very
words of Allah as heard by Muhammad and written down by his
listening helpers. Muslims commemorate the night when the Quran
was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad as —The Night of
Power and Excellence.—
As Christians, you believe the New Testament
is the word of God—s revelation for you. Its verses are used
by the Church in the eucharistic liturgy and public prayer,
and by you in your personal prayer. The Lord—s Prayer is but
one of its treasures.
You may even memorize verses that help you to
follow Jesus. Many people know the Eight Beatitudes (Matthew
5:3-11) by heart, for instance. —Love one another— (John 13:34)
is another often-quoted verse.
A big difference is that we would say these verses
in our own language. Muslims learn the Quran in Arabic. They
use its Arabic verses in public prayer and in private prayer
to help them submit their lives to Allah. Allah is not a —new—
God. Allah is the Arabic word for the same, single God
we both honor: the God of Abraham.
Muslims memorize verses of the Quran by heart.
Their imams, or teachers, have memorized them all. It
may surprise you to know that the Virgin Mary is mentioned more
in the Quran than in Christian Scriptures.
Muslims pray to Allah using 99 different names,
such as The Compassionate, The Merciful, The Holy, The Most
Kind. These names are almost all taken from the Quran.
There is a saying, —A picture is worth a thousand
words.— That may often be the case but in Islam, —One word may
be worth a thousand pictures.— Salam is the Arabic word
meaning submission or peace. Islam is derived from salam
and means —submission to God.—
You may think that surrender means to be forced
to give up something against your will. That is not the
meaning it has for Muslims—or for many other religious people,
to be sure.
Submission in a religious context is more like
the love of wife and husband. A husband and wife entrust their
lives to each other out of love. They surrender to each other
not only on their wedding day but also in many ways on each
day of their married lives. In word and action as well as in
silence and rest, Muslims seek to hand themselves over to Allah.
Isn—t it true that you love God because God has
first loved you unconditionally? Doesn—t God, through Jesus,
repeat to you over and over, —I love you, I have loved you and
I will love you—?
Pillars of Faith
What do you believe? This is an important question
because your actions will follow your beliefs.
For example, if you believe that friends influence
your behavior, you will choose your friends carefully. You will
choose friends who do not get involved with addictive substances.
If you believe friends have no influence over you, then it doesn—t
matter who you hang out with. It won—t matter if people around
you use foul language, are racist or are habitual liars.
As Catholics, you believe that Jesus is God—s
son who offers you a way of life to follow. Since Jesus lived
a life of forgiving love, you, his follower, will be forgiving
to those who harm you. Your actions follow your belief.
If you believe that Jesus gave his followers
guidelines to help them to do God—s will and to become closer
to God, then these will become one guide for living your everyday
Muslims believe that to submit their whole lives
to Allah is to experience true freedom. Just as you need help
to live in union with Jesus, Muslims need guidance to submit
Muslims have major beliefs that shape their religious
practice. The five pillars of Islam express their fundamental
way of life. As you look at them, it may help to consider similar
beliefs of your Catholic faith. In fact, the Catechism of
the Catholic Church also uses this language of pillars.
The four pillars of the Catholic faith are the
Creed, the sacraments, the commandments and the Lord—s Prayer.
These are familiar to you, just as these next five are basic
1. Faith is first. The first pillar is
the profession of faith. It states, —There is no God but Allah,
and Muhammad is his prophet.— This affirmation of one God makes
Islam a monotheistic (mono- means —one—; theo-
means —god—) religion like Christianity and Judaism.
This pillar also affirms Muhammad as the prophet
of God and the last and greatest prophet or —the seal of the
prophets.— Muslims believe in many prophets. Among them are
Abraham, Moses, Noah and Jesus. Muslims believe Jesus is one
of the greatest prophets but they do not believe he is the Son
of God. Muslims also believe in the virgin birth.
2. Prayer expresses faith. Daily
prayer is the second pillar of Islam. Prayer is the name given
to that special communication between you and your God. Words
are one way to express the longings of the heart. This is true
between you and your best friend as well as between you and
For Muslims, prayer is one form of worship. It
expresses their love for Allah, the All Merciful. The prayer
of Muslims is an act of faith in Allah that strengthens and
supports their effort to submit to Allah in all things. Muslims
pray in private and also with the community at their place of
worship, called a mosque.
Muslims pray five times a day facing the city
of Mecca. They follow certain rituals for washing and for standing,
bowing or kneeling during prayer. The position of a Muslim—s
body during prayer reflects an inner attitude—just as your kneeling
or genuflecting in church reflects an attitude of respect and
Some Muslims also use a tasbeh—with its
99 beads—to praise God using the 99 names. In fact, the use
of the tasbeh is thought by some to have inspired the
Catholic custom of the rosary.
3. Love follows prayer. The third
pillar of Islam is almsgiving (alms means —something
given freely to the poor—). Muslims care for the poor in their
communities by giving two and one half percent of their annual
income to provide for the needs of others. They believe sharing
their wealth purifies their will from selfishness. Giving alms
helps Muslims to submit all things to the will of Allah.
Such almsgiving is also part of the way Christians
seek to love God, especially during the season of Lent. You
may remember St. John—s reflection that you cannot love God
whom you do not see unless you love your neighbor whom you do
see. Love for both Christians and Muslims is not about words
but about faith in action.
4. Fasting makes love the priority.
Another pillar of Islam is fasting. During the holy month
of Ramadan, Muslims go without food, drink and sexual intercourse
from sunrise until sundown. The fast is to remind people that
life is more than the body and its physical needs. Every part
of life is a gift from Allah, and proper use of Allah—s gifts
is a way to praise him and submit to his will.
Fasting has always been recognized as a way to
purify the will from selfish attachment and to see clearly the
experience of others in the world. On December 13 of this past
year, Pope John Paul II asked Christians to fast and pray for
peace. This date coincided with the end of last year—s holy
month of Ramadan.
The pope offered a prayer that —the shared action
of faithful mortification [denying oneself food] will cause
an increase in mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims—who
are called, now more than ever, to come together as builders
of justice and peace.— You can see that the pope was inspired
to make this invitation because of the events of September 11,
5. Pilgrimage is a journey of love. The
final pillar of Islam is the obligation to make a pilgrimage
to the holy city of Mecca. The pilgrimage is to be completed
by those in good health who are financially able to make the
Catholics are familiar with the idea of pilgrimage,
though it—s not seen as a religious requirement. Catholics may
make pilgrimages to Rome to visit St. Peter—s Basilica or journey
to Jerusalem to visit the places where Jesus, our savior, lived
and preached the gospel. Some visit the places where Mary is
said to have appeared. The shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in
Mexico and the shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal are
When you take a trip, you prepare for the journey.
Pilgrims say prayers and worship God with specific rituals at
the holy places they visit.
Mecca is the site of the Kaaba, believed to have
been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. Medina is also holy
to Muslims, though not as central as Mecca. Muhammad was buried
in Medina and the first Islamic community was established there.
Jerusalem is also sacred to Muslims. Muslims believe that Muhammad
traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem and ascended to heaven at Solomon—s
Temple, where the Dome of the Rock now stands.
Being able to visit these holy places is a great
privilege to Muslims that helps them to deepen their faith and
love. If you could visit the holy shrines where Christ walked
and taught in the Holy Land you might share a similar deepening
of faith. The gospels would probably come alive for you in a
Jihad and Beyond
Muslims have many other beliefs, practices, traditions
and accomplishments—just as Catholics do. I—m going to summarize
just a few that have either been over-emphasized or totally
neglected in recent reports about Islam.
1. Jihad. You have heard the word
jihad in the context of terrorism and battle. For Muslims,
this word refers to the struggle and exertion necessary to overcome
selfish appetites in order to do the will of Allah.
Media references to jihad as holy war
reveal a more controversial understanding of a defensive struggle
to protect Islam, much like the just war tradition in Catholicism.
2. Friday worship. Before midday
prayers on Fridays, a religious leader (imam) will give
a talk based on a passage from the Quran or a story about Muhammad.
Before coming into the mosque or room designated for prayer,
Muslims remove their shoes and prepare by ritual washing. Worshipers
will find no images in a mosque, but an empty niche shows the
direction of Mecca.
3. Muslims have made great contributions to
knowledge and culture. Muslims are a people whose
faith has inspired splendid architecture. Just as faith led
Christians to build Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and St. Peter—s
Basilica in Rome, the Islamic faith has inspired buildings such
as the Taj Mahal in India and a magnificent structure in Spain
called the Alhambra.
Muslims have pioneered in math, giving the world
algebra. Their philosophers and scientists have contributed
to a greater understanding of the material and spiritual world.
Honoring God's Will
Islam is not something far from you. It is a living,
dynamic experience of people living in submission to Allah.
Muslims invite you to understand who they are,
what they believe and why they live as they do. Many of them
are glad to know about Christianity and to learn from you the
meaning of your religious beliefs and practices.
Submission to God—s will is central to Islam.
It is also central to you as a Catholic Christian. It is found
in the Lord—s Prayer, —Your will be done.—
This mutual commitment to God—s will unites you
to your Muslim sisters and brothers. In your living faith, the
hope of peace is born in the world.