January 10, 2011 | Section: Articles | 203 reads
11 Reasons to Explore Islam
By Dr. Ismail Faruqi
Within Islam it is both legitimate and right to ask the question: “Why Islam?” Every tenet in Islam is subject to analysis and contention. No other religion is willing to subject its basic fundamentals of faith to such questioning. For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the most rational of Christian theologians, stopped the use of reason when it came to the basic fundamentals of Christian faith. He then tried to justify faith. So to ask “why Christianity?” is an illegitimate question. However, Allah invites the question as to “why Islam?”.
1. Rational System
Islam is also a rational system which not only allows questions but raises knowledge to a new level of dignity and respect. No other religion has exalted knowledge and its pursuit, as has Islam. In fact, for the first time in human history, a religious book invited people to question the creation of the universe and stated that in it (the universe) were signs for people of knowledge. Everything in Islam is subject to rational pursuit.
Islam has only forbidden the questioning of one thing and this is something which reason cannot handle. However, this does not imply an anti-intellectual attitude. The only thing which Islam has said is not within the capacity of the human mind to question is the essence (dhat) of God. This will always escape a person, as He, Allah, is transcendent. However, His will, His purpose, His works, His intentions and His effects can be known.
Even the rites of Islam can be examined rationally. For example, logical and rational explanations can be made for the time of Prayer, the number of rakats or units in Prayer and even why we must bend our toes when we do. Of course the Muslim will always be aware that the answer he has obtained by rational enquiry is not exhaustive. It cannot be definitely accepted as explaining all the facts. It could be erroneous or incomplete. However, Islam encourages its followers to ask “why Islam?”. Islam is an intellectual and historical religion. There are no secrets and no mysteries which cannot be understood by an ordinary person.
2. Easily Understandable
Islam does not present stumbling blocks to the mind. It does not make claims which overwhelm the mind. Islam does not present to a person that which the human intellect cannot grasp. Anyone can understand Islam as it is a universal religion. However, for example, Hinduism legitimizes idolatry for the less educated, as it says, not all people can understand the higher religion of the Brahmans.
3. Universal Message
Islam does not force a person to choose between various religions as it has included the essential teachings of all religions in its universal message. The Islamic concept is that, to every people, Allah sends a Messenger and that in their present religion or ideology they must have retained some kernel of truth from the original teachings of that religion which was, of course, the teachings of the primordial religion (deen al-fitra) or, in other words, Islam.
Islam views inter-religious dialogue as an internal discussion, not as a discussion with outsiders because, from its perspective, all mankind are members of a universal religious brotherhood. So the differences Islam has with other religions are regarded as internal differences. Of course, Islam criticizes some Jews and Christians who have wrongly interpreted their faith, however, this criticism is based on the fact that they have strayed from the original teachings of their religion.
Islam, therefore, was the first religion in the world to call for the critical examination of religious texts. The Muslim says, in effect, to other religions: “Let us together examine the Holy Books of our religions and compare the contents with the original teachings of our respective religions and examine how far we have adhered to, or gone astray from these original teachings.” Muslims, therefore, never attack other religions.
However, for the Hindu, if he has not been born in India, he is unclean; for the Jews the sacred law only applied to them and for the Christian there is no salvation outside the Church. Islam, however, accepts the personal morality and values of Jesus, the concept of liberating a human being from materialism found in Hinduism, as well as the practical ethics for harmony in human society as found in Confucianism.
4. Religious Tolerance
Islam is tolerant of other religions and regards them as religiously legitimate or de jure. In accepting other religions as legitimate, Islam, therefore, accepts their adherents. No other religion has given equal treatment to other religions as has Islam for over 1400 years. As we well know, Judaism and Roman Catholicism were illegal in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, it was illegal to have any religion other than Catholicism, and Muslims and Jews had to choose baptism, exile or death. In the Middle East, some Christian sects, which were brutally eliminated by their fellow Christians in Europe, have survived after fourteen centuries of Muslim rule. Secular regimes do not respect religion. They look down upon religion; either they believe any religion will do or they believe no religion is acceptable. The tolerance of other religions in Islam comes from respect because Islam says in every person there is an embryonic fitra or purity planted in all human beings at birth and in every religion there is a basic kind of the original deen al-fitra.
5. The Human Being’s Innocence
Islam declares a person to be born with a clean slate. The human being was not born evil but rather he was created good and equipped by nature to fulfill his duties. From the Islamic point of view, the drama of a person’s life is something that takes place after birth and not before. Islam does not record a human being as a degradation of the divine as it regards a human being as having instincts which are pure and good.
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