Articles

CHAPTER 6: What is the Religion of Islam? Part 1

Islam is an Arabic word used to describe the willing submission to God’s will; that is, to conduct one’s life according to divine prescription.  A Muslim is one who accepts, affirms and follows the precepts of Islam.  Submission to the will of God is thus mandatory in order for a person to be considered a Muslim.

The religion of Islam is a qualitative set of beliefs and actions ordained by God, which Muslims are expected to perform in return for God’s blessings.  It is not acquired by inheritance, gender, color or race, but is rather an honor given to all those who work hard and strive for the sake of their relationship with God. As indicated by Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), God does not value human beings by ethnicity, but looks only at their hearts and deeds. This relationship of full submission to the will of God, the Most Powerful, Most Merciful and Absolutely Just, cannot be superseded by any other affiliation.  Submission to the will of God therefore entails much more than mere passive obedience and has certain responsibilities.

So, what is the primary mission of the human race on earth as prescribed by the Islamic faith?  

This is a very important question and God provides the answer in the second surah of the Qur’an:

. . . your Lord said unto the angels: Lo!  I am about to place a viceroy (vicegerent) in the earth;

(The Cow, Surah 2; 30)

The perfect vicegerent is one who has the ability to take personal initiatives in life, but whose independent actions always reflect the will of God.  Further in the Qur’an, we are given more details about our role:

And  let  there  emerge  from  you  a  group  who  invite  to  goodness,  and  enjoin  right conduct and forbid indecency.  Such are they who are successful.

You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind.   You enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and you believe in Allah.   And if the People of the Scripture had believed it had been better for them.   Some of them are believers; but most of them are evil livers.

(The Family of Imran, Surah 3; 104, 110)

In fulfilling our mandate as vicegerents on earth, we are enjoined to spread goodness, associate with those who promote virtue, and forbid vice. To guide us in achieving this mission, God sent Prophets or Messengers with specific instructions, as noted in this passage of the Qur’an:

Allah surely has shown grace to the believers by sending unto them a Messenger of their own who recites unto them His revelations, and causes them to grow, and teaches them  the  Scripture  and  wisdom;  although  before  (he  came  to  them)  they  were  in flagrant error.

(The Family of Imran, Surah 3; 164)

 

The Pillars of Islam

The foundation of our faith needs a platform of certain pillars on which to support our submission to the will to God. To be God’s vicegerents on earth, we must acquire basic characteristics or qualities to strengthen us in resisting both our own selfish motives and the temptations imposed on us by Satan. To develop these qualities, we must modify our habits and faithfully follow the path of God.

The basic beliefs and actions are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and they are given to help us overcome the various trials and tribulations of this life; in essence, they show us what to do when we encounter hardship.  Without these pillars of the Islamic faith, Muslims could not achieve the spiritual standards required in order to fulfill their mission on earth.  These pillars are:

1.   Belief in the oneness of God and in the divine mandate of all God’s Messengers or Prophets, of whom Muhammad (PBUH) was the last. This first pillar is the core foundation upon which all intentions and actions of Islam are based.

2.   To perform the Salat, or five regular daily prayers.  The Arabic meaning of salat is a prayer of connection or contact.  Prayers are times of one’s direct presentation before God; they are like spiritual meals, a habit that keeps believers in close contact with their Lord. During these times, worshipers are expected to purify their hearts so as to recharge their energy for performing other tasks well. Through prayer, Muslims perceive the continual nearness of God and are motivated to direct their lives in positive, peaceful and contented ways.

Prayers are preferably performed in congregational groups at mosques. In these public gatherings, Muslims stand and bow in tight formation. Then they gracefully lower themselves to the floor in reverence to the Creator (prostration), a state that elevates humanity higher than any worldly achievements.

It is obligatory for Muslim men to attend the Friday congregational prayer, or Jumma. Women can choose to join men at the mosque or offer their prayers at home. Traditionally, the mosque area is kept clean and devoid of distractions. It should be a place of tranquility where every individual can connect directly to God without any intrusion. When Muslims present themselves before God, they ask for forgiveness (including for wrongs of which they may not be aware), as well as grace and bounty.

An adult Muslim offers all five prescribed prayers every day. The first of these comes before sunrise and the last is offered at night. The pre-dawn prayer helps us to prepare ourselves spiritually and mindfully for the day ahead. The other daytime prayers re-energize us to keep up the good work and the final late-night prayer helps us to reflect on our cumulative daily deeds. Daily prayer serves as a safety net against slipping into sin, just one of its many benefits.

3.   Paying charity dues for the poor. Paying a small amount of our worldly wealth (zakat) helps to increase sympathy and harmony between the rich and poor. In this spirit, one can perform daily tasks with a sense of social responsibility.

4.   Observance of Fasting. Fasting, especially during the lunar month of Ramadan, is a soul-strengthening act comparable to taking a practice examination to prepare for the real one. If questioned or intimidated during this time, Muslims may respond by saying “I am fasting.”

During fasting, healthy Muslim adults abstain from all food, drink and marital intimacy from before dawn until after sunset. It is akin to being in a spiritual “boot camp” in order to de-tox from the everyday world, elevate our moral standards, and renew our relationship with God. If one can temporarily abstain from basic human needs, one is better able to resist temptations to forsake the law of God. Fasting helps to develop patience, selflessness, and to build a sound social and moral conscience. It enhances our overall potential to perform our role as vicegerents.

If we imagine life as a ladder of performances, positive achievements take us up the rungs and losses or failures take us down. Similarly, our adherence to religion is like a spiritual ladder, in which fasting helps us to move upward. For Muslims, the intense concentration during Ramadan is like studying to obtain a degree.  After the conclusion of each Ramadan, Muslims have achieved one more spiritual degree that further enables them to meet the trials of life with a healthy and positive attitude.

5.   Pilgrimage to Makkah, or Hajj. The Hajj is required only of those who can afford it.  The preparation and process of pilgrimage represent a special time for Muslims to be closer to their Lord; the entire experience heightens one’s sense of God’s presence, supremacy and mercy.

Muslims consider pilgrimage as one of the two highest celebrations of their faith; the second is the festival of ‘Eid al-Fitr, immediately following the end of Ramadan. The Arabic word ‘Eid means to repeat and to reaffirm our human contract with God.

Islam has refined the concept of celebration from its lower level of basic, simple and materialistic pleasures to a refined and integrated experience of joy within the spiritual framework of thanksgiving to God.  Muslims consider ‘Eid as a reward and prize from God for our spiritual achievements. While three to five million make the annual Hajj to Makkah (modern-day Mecca), the entire Muslim world celebrates ‘Eid.

Able Muslims are required to perform the Hajj at least once in their lives if they can afford it.  The ritual begins in the holy city of Makkah, the birthplace of Islam as preached by Prophet Abraham and later by Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Prayer be upon Them).  According to Islamic teachings, pilgrimage, if performed properly, cleanses the soul and wipes away sins. The rituals involved include traveling 30 kilometers outside Makkah to a place called Arafat and throwing pebbles at three pillars representing the devil’s temptations. On the plain of Arafat, worshippers spend the day making supplications to God and reflecting on their lives. They then return to the vast tent-city of Mena which is 10 kilometers outside Makkah, to complete the five-day Hajj.

The pilgrimage is also marked by an important Muslim holiday called ‘Eid al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice.

On this day, pilgrims are expected to slaughter a sacrificial animal symbolizing obedience to God. The meat is traditionally divided into three portions; one for the poor, one for friends and relatives, and the third for their immediate families. Muslims everywhere begin ‘Eid al-Adha by slaughtering an animal, which is divided in the same manner.

This occasion helps foster two entwined concepts: to reaffirm our divine and social contracts with God and with society.  Muslims believe that God ordered Prophet Abraham to call for a pilgrimage to Makkah. Abraham responded saying, “My voice cannot reach too far.” God responded that Abraham’s job was to call and the rest was for God to do.  The faith of Prophet Abraham and of his son, Prophet Ismael is also remembered during the sacrifice of animals at ‘Eid al-Adha. Abraham saw himself in a dream sacrificing his son Ishmael for God and when he told his son, Ishmael replied, “Do what you have been ordered, you will find me patient, God willing.”  But as Abraham prepared to slaughter his son, God sent a ram instead. This occasion illustrates how completely Prophets Abraham and Ishmael (Peace be upon Them) submitted to God’s commands.

By the act of pilgrimage, Muslims repeat their commitment that they will continue to surrender their will voluntarily to the commands of God. The act of sacrificing an animal also symbolizes the importance of social responsibilities for Muslims.

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) reportedly said that the route to paradise requires many acts of hard labor, such as feeding the hungry, supporting the poor and needy, protecting the vulnerable, and showing unconditional love to others.  Undertaking a pilgrimage reinforces and heightens our sense of social responsibility. In this way, the pillars of Islam serve as the means for us to act appropriately as God’s vicegerents on earth.

Articles of Islamic Belief

The articles of faith represent Islam in theory, while the Five Pillars are about faith in practice. In addition to the Pillars, certain beliefs go hand in hand in the Muslim’s mind and heart. These are: to believe in Allah (God), the angels, divine scripture, the messengers and prophets, the Last Day, and divine destiny (both the good and bad). These six articles of faith are  prerequisites for all Muslims.

Belief in the oneness of God, the Most Capable, gives comfort in Allah’s supremacy, enabling us to follow God’s commands and to expect the promised rewards. This belief also affirms that no one else can interfere by objecting to God’s decisions or preventing God’s punishment or reward.

Belief in the Prophets and in Muhammad (PBUH) as the last of them is essential to unify our sources of inspiration.

Belief in the Day of Judgment, or Last Day, is necessary to guide us in working toward the Hereafter and in understanding the limited function of this life; this belief sustains our motivation to focus on worldly tasks.

Belief in divine destiny is important in our understanding that everything that happens to us, good or bad, is a form of trial for our endurance in this life, since absolute justice can only be experienced in the Hereafter.

Belief in the existence of paradise and hellfire is necessary to develop the principles of divine accountability and reward in our live.

With the establishment of these basic articles of faith, Muslims are expected to follow what is good and avoid what is wrong. Adhering to the Five Pillars and Articles of Faith strengthens a Muslim’s ability to consistently resist temptation and to carry out the duties of obeying God’s commandments.  In doing so, we answer God’s call to humanity in the Qur’an:

O you who believe!  Fulfill the covenants.

(The Table Spread, Surah 5; 1)

What is the Holy Scripture of Islam and how do we know it is authentic?

The Scripture of Islam is the Qur’an and for Muslims it contains the infallible revealed words of God conveyed by Angel Jibril (Gabriel) to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To this day, the Qur’an is considered the finest work in the Arabic language and is held to be above all challenges.  It is the ultimate manifestation of God’s grace to humankind, combining ultimate wisdom and beauty of expression. The Qur’an is unique in that it reforms and enhances both previous divine revelations (the Hebrew Torah and Greek New Testament) without destroying them.

It salvages what is useful, then modifies and builds on it to present a new   conceptual frame of reference. Its teaching takes us from being impulsive and selfish to a state of order and discipline. The commands of the Qur’an are crystal clear, as are its affirmations that previous revelations were corrupted, misunderstood, or misused. The Qur’an speaks God’s commands fully on its own and does not require outside supporting views.

An important feature of the Qur’an is that there is no specific chronology in its text. It can be read in any order and as long as the entire content are covered, one can obtain a clear understanding of its major precepts without additional references. The Qur’an interweaves diverse facets of our social life and experiences. It teaches that everything, past, present and future, points to a single, overarching reality – the existence of a Supreme Lord, ruler of all, and that any departure from this scripture leads nowhere. It describes the rise and fall of nations, makes observations about the natural world, and discusses the development of human society and psychology in ways that remind us how all of these elements merge in our lives.

The Qur’an enjoins us to critically study our behaviors and beliefs by teaching us to approach religious questions through reason and logic. It also exposes human weaknesses and biases tenaciously, directly and openly, debating and challenging our human misconceptions. It invites us to investigate its contents and in doing so, accentuates the importance of proof and evidence in arguments. It exposes the flawed logic of some common approaches to religious questions, such as our false reliance on circumstantial evidence. It warns us against the tendency to lose ourselves in pointless debates  over insignificant details.

For each divine message, there must be proof.  In the case of the Prophets, all were given miracles from God to support them. For the Prophets sent before Muhammad (PBUH), their miracles were temporary since their messages were meant to convince the people of their own time that a final divine revelation was imminent.

What proof is there that Islam was the final message revealed to all humans?

To answer this question convincingly, the religion of Islam must meet one important criterion: there must be an applicable Islamic miracle containing convincing evidence for all civilizations to come thereafter.  This criterion can only be met in a Scripture filled not only with divine wisdom but one which is also internally consistent. Muslims assert that the Qur’an meets this criterion.

Therefore, to judge the religion of Islam, one must go to the source and study the Qur’an, not be deceived by the social or political status of nations that allegedly practice Islam. Similarly, the practice of any individual should not be taken as evidence for or against any religion or its scripture.  Divine scriptures are sent to be followed, but individuals may follow some, or none, and at the same time describe themselves as believers of any faith they wish, especially in today’s open and democratic society.  To properly examine the Qur’an, we must first reject self-doubt, along with the mindset that religions revealed in the ancient past are somehow not good enough to contribute to our current civilization.  To examine the Qur’an, one should try to answer the following questions:

How was the Qur’an preserved?

Is there more than one version of the Qur’an?

Have there ever been any changes made to the Qur’an?

Can anyone produce verses like those in the Qur’an?

Is there inconsistency in the Qur’an?

Are the Qur’anic verses similar to Muhammad’s (PBUH) version?

Is there proof that it could not have been written by a human?

The Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) the Prophet of Islam, more than 1,400 years ago over the course of 23 years.  It is divided into 30 parts, with each part comprising a varying number of chapters, or surahs (pl. surat).  The Qur’an was revealed and is maintained in its original classical Arabic language, the language understood most accurately by contemporaries of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  Its beauty, coherence and wisdom have remained unchallenged ever since by all believers who have mastered Arabic grammar.  Any translators or interpreters who are not proficient and experienced in classical Arabic grammar cannot render the Qur’an in an accurate or coherent form. During Muhammad’s lifetime and under instructions from him, scribes wrote the revealed verses on palm leaves, pieces of pottery, parchment, stone tablets, or any other available material. When the Prophet died, the entire Qur’an was preserved in the memories of his many Companions as well as having been recorded in writing. Many other followers throughout history also memorized the Qur’an and almost every Muslim has memorized at least part of it. During the first Caliph’s time, all the Qur’anic material was collected and by the fourth Caliph’s time (644-56 CE), six authorized copies were established.

Most scholars of Islam emphasize that any attempt to translate the Qur’an is inevitably imperfect, and therefore translations should be more accurately labeled as “Translation of the meaning of the Qur’an,” not “Translation of the Qur’an.” This is in very clear distinction to the holy books of other religions, such as Christianity, whose Bible has been published in nearly every written human language and dialect and reinterpreted numerous times to fit the social and ethnic climate in which it is read. For the Qur’an, however, there has been no change in its original text: Muslims believe that it is absolutely prohibited to change any Arabic word or even a letter. This linguistic diligence attests to an enduring commitment by Muslims down through the centuries to maintain the Qur’anic language in its original form. For this reason, there are no different versions of the Qur’an regardless of how many different languages into which its meaning is translated.

Although today there are more Muslims worldwide who speak other languages than Arabic, the fact that there are still millions who do speak, read and write it has helped to maintain the Qur’an unchanged and unadulterated in its original Arabic text. Additionally, other important factors have helped to protect the linguistic integrity of the Qur’an as well. For example, all Muslims are encouraged to read and memorize all or part of the Qur’an in its original Arabic, regardless of what their birth-language might be. During prayers, Muslims also recite some verses from the Qur’an in their original Arabic form.   During congregational worship, individuals who have memorized more chapters from the Qur’an often are given the honor of leading the prayers.

During the lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims attend additional prayer gatherings at which a recitation of the entire Qur’an is completed. Despite its length and detail, it is not uncommon to encounter “ordinary” people everywhere who have persevered in committing part or all of the Qur’an to memory. In fact, thousands of institutions have specialized in teaching memorization of the Qur’an.  Often with the guidance of such institutions, tens of thousands of Muslims – even some children – whose mother tongue is not Arabic have memorized the Qur’an.

There are three hypotheses for the source of the Qur’an. The first is that some anonymous Arab author(s) wrote it. Second, the Prophet (PBUH) himself wrote it. And thirdly, the Prophet received the sacred text through God’s inspiration.

The first option can be rejected immediately for the simple fact that Qur’anic teachings go directly against the pagan Arab culture that existed at the time of its revelation and no Arab individual or group ever claimed authorship.

The second suggestion, that Muhammad (PBUH) drew a composite refined text from pre-existing Jewish and Christian sources, contradicts the actual contents of the Qur’an.  Those who accused the Prophet of having been influenced by contemporary Jewish and Christian beliefs ignored the fact that the Qur’an was not only revealed in a different language (Arabic), but also clarified misconceptions that had intruded into previous scriptures over time.   The Qur’an asserts that each nation received the same essential teaching through contemporary messengers.  The meaning remained the same; humans must submit their will to God.

The Qur’anic version of stories found in the Judeo-Christian Old and New Testaments are sometimes different. For example, in the Qur’an King Solomon was chosen and guided by God and never was a worshiper of idols. Similarly, in the Biblical account, God tests Abraham’s faith by instructing him to sacrifice his son Isaac but at the last moment a ram is sent as a substitute for the boy. In the Qur’an, it is Abraham himself, whose interpretation of a dream initiates the drama, and the son – Ishmael, not Isaac – willingly offers himself before being saved by God’s intervention. An even more critical difference between the Qur’anic and Biblical narratives is that the Qur’an insists Jesus was never crucified. From these and other examples, Muslims understand that the Qur’an will often correct Biblical accounts in which details were changed or lost over time.

The Qur’an states that the name Ahmed (another name for Prophet Muhammad, PBUH) is mentioned in the Bible. Examples of some Biblical prophecies of Islam are: “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and I will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them orders I shall command them,” (Deuteronomy 18:18); and “When he, the spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he shall show you things to come” (John 16:13).

The second hypothesis, and a  very important question to consider, is the possibility that Muhammad (PBUH) himself wrote the Qur’an.  The answer becomes obvious through carefully considering the following points:

1.       Before the Message, Muhammad (PBUH) was known to be trustworthy. He never persecuted anyone, nor was he accused of telling lies.

2.       Muhammad was functionally illiterate; having never attended school or had a tutor, he never perfected the skills of reading or writing. Instead, the Prophet (PBUH) spent all his time and wealth to preach Islam. 

3.       He (PBUH) never recited or wrote poems, nor did he show any interest in scientific matters. He never taught prior to receiving the message.   Thus, it is impossible for a human with his background to compose the most perfect Arabic text at the age of 40 or suddenly declare scientific truths that no other human being could possibly have known at the time.

4.       Scholars of the Arabic language agree that the characteristics of Muhammad’s collected sayings are completely different from those of the powerful, grand and authoritative style found in the Qur’an.

5.      Over the course of 23 years, the Prophet (PBUH) maintained consistently that the Qur’an was from God. For the first 13 years, he and his family, as well as his followers were persecuted because of the contents of the message of Islam. If the message had originated with one human being, it would have been difficult to maintain consistency; the temptation to compromise, even to stop preaching entirely, in order to avoid or reduce persistent persecution could have been overwhelming. But Muhammad  never strayed from his commitment.

6.       On multiple occasions in the Qur’an, the grammatical imperative repeats the divine command, “Say” showing that the Prophet (PBUH) is only a receiver and conveyor of God’s message. In many places, the instructions of God are directed at educating the Prophet himself, affirming the authority of God and the humbleness of the human receiver. Moreover, in many verses the Prophet is instructed to reply with specific answers to God’s testing questions and to perform certain actions instead of giving pleasing responses to unbelievers.  Here are some examples from among many illustrative Qur’anic passages:

Has it never occurred to them that their companion is not a madman; he is merely a plain Warner. They ask you about the Hour of Doom and when will it take place. Say: ‘Knowledge about it rests only with my Lord: He Himself will disclose it at the proper time.’ Heavy is its burden in the heavens and the earth.  It will not come gradually but all of a sudden.    They  ask  you  as  if  you  yourself  were  in search  of  it.  Tell them:  ‘The knowledge about it rests only with Allah though most people do not understand’.

(The Heights, Surah 7; 184, 187)

Ask forgiveness for them (O Muhammad), or ask not forgiveness for them; though you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them.   That is because they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger, and Allah guides not wrongdoing folk.

(The Repentance, Surah 9; 80)

They will ask you concerning the Soul.  Say: ‘The Soul is by command of my Lord, and of knowledge you have been granted but little.’ And verily We have displayed for humankind in this Qur’an all kinds of similitudes, but most of humankind refuse anything save disbelief. And they say: ‘We will not put faith in you till you cause a spring to gush forth from the earth for us; or you have a garden of date palms and grapes, and cause rivers to gush forth therein abundantly; or you cause the heaven to fall upon us piecemeal, as you have pretended, or bring Allah and the angels as a warrant; or that you have a house of gold; or you ascend up into heaven, and even then we will put no faith in your ascension till you bring down for us a book that we can read.  Say (O Muhammad): ‘My Lord be glorified!  Am I nothing save a mortal messenger?’ And nothing prevented humankind from believing when the guidance came unto them save that they said:  ‘Has Allah sent a mortal as (His) messenger?’ Say: If there were in the earth angels walking secure, We had sent down for them from heaven an angel as messenger.’ Say: ‘Allah suffices for a witness between me and you Lo!  He is Knower, Seer of His slaves’.

(The Night Journey, or The Children of Israel, Surah 17; 85, 89-96)

And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a Warner unto all humankind; but most of humankind know it not. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): ‘I exhort you unto one thing only: that you stand up, for Allah’s sake, by twos and singly, and then reflect:  There is no madness in your comrade.  He is nothing else than a Warner unto you in face of a terrific doom’.

(Sheba, Surah 34; 28, 46)

And if they deny you, (O Muhammad), messengers (of Allah) were denied before you. Unto Allah all things are brought back.

(The Creator, or The Angels, Surah 35; 4)

Say (O Muhammad, unto humankind): ‘I ask of you no fee for this, and I am no impostor. Lo!  It is nothing else than a reminder for all humankind’.

(Sad, Surah 38; 87, 88)

Say (O Muhammad): ‘Lo!  I am commanded to worship Allah, making religion pure for Him (only). And I am commanded to be the first of Muslims’. Say:  ‘Lo! If I should disobey my Lord, I fear the doom of a tremendous Day. Lo! You will die, and lo! They will die; Then lo! On the Day of Resurrection, before your Lord you will dispute’. Say (O Muhammad, to the disbelievers): ‘Do you bid me worship other than Allah? O you fools!’ And surely  it has been  revealed  unto  you (Muhammad)  as  unto  those before  you (saying):  If you ascribe a partner to Allah your work will fail and you indeed will be among the losers. Nay, but Allah must you worship, and be among the thankful!

(The Troops, Surah 39; 11-13, 30, 31, 64-66)

Say: (O Muhammad): ‘If the Beneficent had a son, I would be first among the worshippers.

(Ornaments of Gold, Surah 43; 81)

Then have patience (O Muhammad) even as the stout of heart among the messengers (of old) had patience, and seek not to hasten on the doom for them.  On the day when they see that which they are promised (it will seem to them) as though they had tarried but an hour of daylight.  A clear message.  Shall any be destroyed save evil-living folk?

(The Wind-Curved Sand hills, Surah 46; 35)

Say (unto them, O Muhammad): ‘I pray unto Allah only, and ascribe unto Him no partner’. Say: ‘Lo! I control not hurt nor benefit for you’.

Say: ‘Lo! None can protect me from Allah, nor can I find any refuge beside Him.

(The Jinn, Surah 72; 20-22)

And when Our clear revelations are recited unto them they who look not for the meeting with Us say: ‘Bring a Lecture other than this, or change it.’ Say (O Muhammad): ‘It is not for me to change it of my own accord.  I only follow that which is inspired in me. Lo! If I disobey my Lord I fear the retribution of an Awful Day’. Say: ‘If Allah had so willed I should not have recited it to you nor would He have made it known to you, for I dwelt among you a whole lifetime before it came to me. Have you then no sense?’ Who does greater wrong than he who invents a lie concerning Allah and denies His revelations? Lo! Criminals are never successful.

And if they deny you, say: ‘Unto me is my work, and unto you is your work. You are innocent of what I do, and I am innocent of what you do.

(Jonah, Surah 10; 15-17, 41)

Those who disbelieve say: ‘Heed not this Qur’an, and drown the hearing of it; so that you may conquer. But surely We shall cause those who disbelieve to taste an awful doom, and surely We shall requite them the worst of what they used to do.

(They are Expounded, Surah 41; 26, 27)

7.       At no place in the Qur’an, will one find the slightest impression that the Prophet (PBUH) took credit for writing a single verse, even when respect for the Qur’an reached the highest possible level.  The following verses offer clear confirmation:

O our people! Respond to Allah’s summoner and believe in Him. He will forgive you some of your sins and guard you from a painful doom. And whoso responds not to Allah’s summoner he can nowise escape in the earth, and can find no protecting friends instead of Him. Such are in error manifest.

(The Wind-Curved Sand hills, Surah 46; 31-32)

Therefore flee unto Allah; lo!  I am a plain Warner unto you from Him; And set not any other god along with Allah; lo!  I am a plain Warner unto you from Him;

(The Winnowing Winds, Surah 51; 50-51)

And thus have We inspired in you (Muhammad) a Spirit of Our command. You knew not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen.  And lo! You surely do guide unto a right path.

(The Counsel, Surah 42; 52)

And if they deny you, say: ‘Unto me is my work, and unto you is your work. You are innocent of what I do, and I am innocent of what you do’.

And if you (Muhammad) are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto you, then question those who read the Scripture before you. Verily the Truth from your Lord has come unto you. So be not you of the waverers. And be not you of those who deny the revelations of Allah, for then were you of the losers. And if your Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together.  Would you (Muhammad) compel people until they are believers? Say (O Muhammad): ‘O humankind!  If you are in doubt of my religion, then (know that) I worship not those whom you worship instead of Allah, but I worship Allah who causes you to die, and I have been commanded to be of the believers’. And cry not, beside Allah, unto that which cannot profit you nor hurt you, for if you did so then were you of the wrongdoers. And (O Muhammad) follow that which is inspired in you, and forbear until Allah gives judgment. And He is the Best of Judges.

(Jonah, Surah 10; 41, 94-95, 99, 104, 106, 109)

So tread you the straight path as you are commanded, and those who turn (unto Allah) with you, and transgress not.  Lo!  He is Seer of what you do.

(Hud, Surah 11; 112)

And say not of anything:  Lo! I shall do that tomorrow, except if Allah will. And remember your Lord when you forget, and say: ‘It may be that my Lord guides me unto a nearer way of truth than this’. Restrain  yourself along  with those who cry unto their  Lord at morn  and evening, seeking His countenance; and let not your eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp of the life of the world; and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, who follows his own lust and whose case has been abandoned.

(The Cave, Surah 18; 23- 24, 28)

O Prophet! Keep your duty to Allah and obey not the disbelievers and the hypocrites. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise. And follow that which is inspired in you from your Lord. Lo! Allah is informed of what you do.

Men ask you of the Hour. Say: ‘The knowledge of it is with Allah only.   What can convey (the knowledge) unto you? It may be that the Hour is near’.

(The Clans, Surah 33; 1- 2, 63)

So know (O Muhammad) that there is no God save Allah, and ask forgiveness for your sin and for believing men and believing women.   Allah knows your place of turmoil and your place of rest. Will they then not meditate on the Qur’an, or are there locks on their hearts?

(Muhammad, Surah 47; 19, 24)

O Prophet!  Why prohibit you that which Allah has made lawful for you, seeking to please your wives?  And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

(The Banning, Surah 66;

O you wrapped up in your raiment! Keep vigil the night long, save a little – A half thereof, or abate a little thereof or add (a little) thereto – and chant the Qur’an in measure, for We shall charge you with a word of weight. Lo! The vigil of the night is when impression is more keen and speech more certain. Lo! You have by day a chain of business. So remember the name of your Lord devote yourself with a complete devotion.

(The Enshrouded One, Surah 73; 1-8)

O Prophet, do not move your tongue too fast to memorize this revelation

It is our responsibility to collect it in your memory, and make you recite it

And when it is recited, to make you follow it and then it is Our responsibility to explain it.

(The Resurrection, Surah 75; 16-19)

And do not join those who deny the revelations of Allah; otherwise you will become one of the losers.

(Jonah, Surah 10; 95)

Now is a good moment to ask again: Did the Prophet write the Qur’an?

His consistent recitation of phrases such as those in the foregoing passages certainly makes one wonder what motive he could possibly have, other than faithfully delivering the authentic message of God. Since the Qur’an completes the previous revelations sent by God, then it is understandable that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the last and the final seal of the messengers. In this regard Allah says:

And surely We have displayed for humankind in this Qur’an all manner of similitudes, but man is more than anything contentious.

(The Cave, Surah 18; 54)

Will they not then ponder on the Qur’an? If it had been from other than Allah they would have found much incongruity in it. O humankind!  The Messenger has come unto you with the truth from your Lord. Therefore believe; (it is) better for you.  But if you disbelieve still, lo! Unto Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth. Allah is ever Knowing, Wise.

(The Women, Surah 4; 82, 170)

O people of the Scripture!  Now has Our Messenger come unto you, expounding unto you much of that which you used to hide in the Scripture, and forgiving much. Now has come unto you light from Allah and a plain Book. Whereby Allah guides him who seeks his good pleasure unto paths of peace. He brings them out of darkness unto light by His decree, and guides them unto a straight path.

(The Table Spread, Surah 5; 15-16)

In contemporary post-modern societies, God is no longer considered necessary as the source of wisdom and authority because current logic concludes that spiritual virtues and morality are the result of evolution.  That is why unbelievers may find themselves on a path opposite to that followed by Muslims. The Qur’an has dealt with this subject in detail. When people approach its teaching with a humility and a sincere search for the truth, they will find valid reasons for the purpose of religion in their lives. The Qur’an invites us from the outset to think about and examine its message.  It also informs us about appropriate responses to those who challenge the scripture and provides trustworthy assurances of its truth.

Central to Islamic belief is that reasoning and contemplation are necessary to attain the fruits of faith, yet at the same time we are warned when human reasoning is fruitless.  The Qur’an continually demonstrates rational proof of Allah’s omnipotence, indicating for example, that the wonders of creation are signs for those with insight. It teaches that disbelief is in fact an infirmity of the human mind; in other words, a mental illness.

In fact, the literal meaning of the Arabic term for disbelief is defined as that which covers or conceals. Thus, when describing unbelievers (people who cover their minds), the Qur’an asks: “Do they not examine the earth?  Do they not look at the sky above them?  Do they not look at their own creation and how they are made?”

In fact, in one of the first revelations that Muhammad (PBUH) conveyed to humankind was the imperative command Iqra, (you must / you are ordered to) Read.

Read: In the name of your Lord who creates, Creates man from a clot.

Read: And your Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who teaches by the pen.

Taught man that which he knew not.

(The Clot, Surah 96; 1-5)

These few short verses above carry great significance for Muslims for the following reasons:

1.   The ability to do as these verses direct us is proclaimed by God as one of the great divine gifts.

2.   The five verses above were the first (chronologically) revealed to the Prophet (PBUH).

3.   These verses represent a crucial concept in Islam: that religion and belief in it are about spiritual and cognitive learning.  The Creator did not withhold knowledge from humankind.  On the contrary, through the intellect freely given to us, we are invited to understand, reflect and learn, so as to be the ultimate vicegerents. God made it clear that our knowledge and learning capacity are wholly divine gifts and we are warned from the outset that our own obstinacy is the chief barrier to receiving and accepting God’s revelations.

4.   The Arabic name for Surah 96 is Al-Alaq, a term that describes the very first stage, the embryo, of human creation. Its literal meaning is a small, firm blood clot, like a little object hanging from a surface or wall.  Modern embryology proves scientifically that the Qur’anic description is consistent with the early development of a fetus within the uterus.

The invitation to use our minds in reaching for God is further reflected in the Qur’an as in these examples:

Say (unto them, O Muhammad): ‘Who provides for you from the sky and the earth, or Who owns hearing and sight; and Who brings forth the living from the dead and brings forth the dead from the living; and Who directs the course?’  They will say: ‘Allah’.  Then say: ‘Will you not then keep your duty (unto Him)?’ Say: ‘Is there of your partners (whom you ascribe unto Allah) one that produces creation and then reproduces it?’  Say: ‘Allah produces creation, then reproduces it. How then, are you misled?’ Or say they: ‘He has invented it?’ Say: ‘Then bring a surah (of the Qur’an) like unto it, and call (for help) on all you can besides Allah, if you are truthful’.

(Jonah, Surah 10; 31, 34, 38)

Allah it is who raised up the heavens without visible supports, then mounted the Throne, and compelled the sun and the moon to be of service; each runs unto an appointed term; He orders the course; He details the revelations, that haply you may be certain of the meeting with your Lord. And He it is who spread out the earth and placed therein firm hills and flowing streams, and of all fruits He placed therein two spouses (male and female). He covers the night with the day. Lo! Herein verily are portents for people who take thought. And in the Earth are neighboring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and date palms, like and unlike, which are watered with one water. And We have made some of them to excel others in fruit. Lo! Herein verily are portents for people who have sense.

(The Thunder, Surah 13; 2-4)

The Qur’an challenges us to regard verses that explain creation as having equal authenticity with the others, for they clearly affirm the main point: the omnipotence and omniscience of Allah as Creator.

Say: ‘Verily, though humankind and the jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like thereof though they were helpers one of another’.

(The Night Journey, or The Children of Israel, Surah 17; 88)

Of utmost interest, the Qur’an also challenges people to reach out for their Creator.

He has created the heavens without supports that you can see, and has cast into the earth firm mountains, so that it quake not with you; and He has dispersed therein all kinds of beasts. And We send down water from the sky and We cause (plants) of every goodly kind to grow therein.

This is the Creation of Allah.  Now show me that which those (whom you worship) beside Him have created. Nay, but wrongdoers are in error manifest!

(Luqman, Surah 31; 10-11)

Has not man seen that We have created him from a drop of seed?  Yet lo!  He is an open opponent. And he has coined for Us a similitude, and has forgotten the fact of his creation. He said: ‘Who will revive these bones when they have rotted away?’ Say: ‘He will revive them Who produced them at the first, for He is Knower of every creation, Who has appointed for you fire from the green trees, and behold! you kindle from them.’ Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like of them? Aye that He is!  For He is the Creator, the Knower.

(Ya Sin, Surah 36; 77-81)

And prostrate yourself unto Him (a portion) of the night.  And glorify Him through the livelong night. Lo! These love fleeting life, and put behind them a grievous day. We, even We, created them, and strengthened their frame.  And when We will, We can replace them, bringing others like them in their stead. Lo! This is an Admonishment, that whoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet, you will not, unless Allah wills. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise; He makes whom He will to enter His mercy, and for evildoers has prepared a painful doom.

(Man, Surah 76; 26-31)

The Qur’an even tells us about potential arguments against its authority.

Say (O Muhammad, to the disbelievers): ‘If there were other gods along with Him, as they say, then had they sought a way against God of the Throne. And nothing prevented humankind from believing when the guidance came unto them save that they said:  Has Allah sent a mortal as (His) messenger?’ Say: ‘If there were in the earth angels walking secure, We had sent down for them from heaven an angel as messenger’.

(The Night Journey, or The Children of Israel, Surah 17; 42, 94, 95)

And when it is said unto them: What has your Lord revealed? They say:  ‘(Mere) fables of the men of old. That they may bear their burdens undiminished on the Day of Resurrection, with somewhat of the burdens of those whom they mislead without knowledge.’ Ah! Evil is that which they bear! Those before them plotted, so Allah struck at the foundations of their building, and then the roof fell down upon them from above them, and the doom came on them whence they knew not.

(The Bee, Surah 16; 24-26)

And they say: ‘O you unto whom the Reminder is revealed, lo!   You are indeed a madman! Why bring you not angels unto us, if you are of the truthful?’ We send not down the angels save with the Truth, and in that case (the disbelievers) would not be tolerated. Lo!  We, even We, reveal the Reminder, and lo!  We surely are its Guardian.

(The Rocky Tract, Surah 15; 6-9)

They who disbelieve say: ‘You are no messenger (of Allah)’. Say: ‘Allah, and whoever has true knowledge of the Scripture, is sufficient witness between me and you’.

(The Thunder, Surah 13; 43)

And when a token comes unto them, they say: ‘We will not believe till we are given that which Allah’s messengers are given’.  Allah knows best with whom to place his message. Humiliation from Allah and heavy punishment will smite the criminals for their scheming.

(The Cattle, Surah 6; 124)

And We know well that they say: ‘Only a mortal teaches him’.   The speech of him at whom they falsely hint is outlandish, and this is clear Arabic speech.

(The Bee, Surah 16; 103)

And they say: ‘lo!  This is mere magic; When we are dead and have become dust and bones, shall we then, really, be raised (again)? And our forefathers?’ Say (O Muhammad): ‘Yea, in truth; and you will be brought low. There is but one Blast, and lo! They behold’.

(Those Who Set the Ranks, Surah 37; 15-19)

Here, the Qur’an asks us to think of our Creator.

Glory be to Him Who created all the sexual pairs, of that which the earth grows, and of themselves, and of that which they know not!

(Ya Sin, Surah 36; 36)

Nay, but they marvel that a Warner of their own has come unto them; and disbelievers say: ‘This is a strange thing: When we are dead and have become dust?’  That would be a far return! We know that which the earth takes of them, and with Us is a recording Book. Nay, but they have denied the truth when it came unto them, therefore they are now in troubled case. Have they not then observed the sky above them, how We have constructed it and beautified it, and how there are no rifts therein? And the earth have We spread out, and have flung firm mountains therein, and have caused of every lovely kind to grow thereon. A vision and a reminder for every penitent slave.

(Qaf, Surah 50; 1-8)

In the Qur’an we are reminded that if this book was from a source other than God, then surely we would have encountered many discrepancies and inconsistencies. In this context, our salvation must be seen as too precious to allow anyone to dictate blind-faith doctrines to us without scrutinizing them for ourselves. Faith should not require propagators and correctors to offer excuses for skewed interpretations that demand blind obedience. A truly unchanged religion of God must convince humanity in many ways that it is faultless and unchanged by the hands of people. Thus the Qur’an challenges all of us:

Will they then not meditate on the Qur’an, or are there locks on their hearts?

(Muhammad, Surah 47; 24)

Why don’t they research the Qur’an? Don’t they realize that if it was from someone other than Allah, they would find many discrepancies in it?

(The Women, Surah 4;  82)

 

Science in the Qur’an

The time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was marked by excellence in language, although there was no knowledge of science such as basic chemistry, electricity, physics, mechanics; these disciplines were all but unknown to Arabs of that era. Surprisingly, descriptions of scientific matters not yet known or understood at the time of the Prophet are found in the Qur’an, for it was revealed already containing issues intended to address civilizations to come. This foresight is consistent with what Allah teaches:

We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth. Does not your Lord suffice, since He is Witness over all things?

(They are Expounded, Surah 41; 53)

In Islam, science and religion are clearly in harmony. Unlike what occurred during some of the darker intellectual periods of Christian history, the Qur’an shows that scientific investigation is not a heresy, but is welcomed. Fortunately many good books have been written on this subject and are easy to access from bookstores, Islamic centers, libraries, or online.

In fact, the Qur’an is virtually devoid of factual inconsistencies, which is easily verified with only a few illustrative examples of issues that people of the Prophet’s era could not have known about or understood.  

1.  Organization of the Universe.

The Qur’an refers to scientific phenomena whose discovery is recent and would have held no obvious interest to followers of the Prophet.

a)  Consider the Qur’anic reference to the rolling up of the heavens like a scroll at the first creation and its parallel to the “Big Bang Theory.”

On that Day We shall roll up the heavens like a scroll of writings; just as We originated the first creation, so shall We produce it again – that is Our promise, and We will fulfill it.

(The Prophets, Surah 21; 104)

b)  The arrival on earth of metallic ores from deep space sources (such as impacting asteroids) as is currently believed by scientists, is described in the Qur’an:

Indeed We have sent Our Messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance (justice) that humankind may keep up justice.  And We brought  down iron wherein  is mighty power (in matters  of war), as well as many benefits for humankind, that Allah may test who it is that will help Him (His religion) and His Messengers in the unseen.  Verily, Allah is All-Strong, All-Mighty.

(Iron, Surah 57; 25)

c)  The Qur’an even refers to the encasing of planet Earth with seven layers of atmosphere:

And indeed We have created above you seven heavens (one over the other), and We are never unaware of the creation.

(The Believers, Surah 23; 17)

d)  Current scientific models propose that the beginnings of the cosmos, its stellar bodies and planets, were gaseous; this is also described in the Qur’an:

Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke, and said unto it and unto the earth: Come both of you, willingly or loth.  They said: We come, obedient.

(They Are Expounded, Surah 41; 11)

Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece; then We parted them, and We made every living thing of water?   Will they not then believe?

(The Prophets, Surah 21; 30)

e) The sun as a self-luminous entity, and the moon, reflecting the sunlight, move in programmed and measurable orbits which only became fully known centuries after the Qur’an’s revelation.

He is the One Who gave the sun its brightness and the moon its light, established her phases that you may learn to compute the years and other such counts (days, weeks, months).  Allah created them only to manifest the truth. He has spelled out His revelations for people who want to understand.

(Jonah, Surah 10; 5)

f)   The description of the sun as a source of light but not the direct source of daytime brightness; the words of the Qur’anic text are carefully and precisely chosen:

By the sun and his brightness, and the moon when she follows him, and the day when it reveals him, and the night when it enshrouds him.

(The Sun, Surah 91; 1-4)

Here God says that daylight shows the sun’s brightness, but not that the sun itself is the direct source of daylight. Modern science indicates the reflection of sunlight on minute crystalline structures which surround the earth’s atmosphere as a source of daylight. In fact, spaceships have confirmed the darkness of the universe after leaving earth’s atmosphere.  Once out beyond that atmosphere, the sun looks much like any other star, a concept compatible with the Qur’anic explanation of daytime brightness and modern science.  

This fact became known only after humans penetrated inter-planetary space. By no measure of imagination could the unlettered Prophet of Islam (PBUH) or any of his followers have conceived of this fact.

g)  God gives an example of how salt and sweet waters meet, yet remain  separate as if there is an unseen barrier between them. Arabs of Prophet Muhammad’s time would not have had the scientific insight to observe this proven fact as described in the following verse:

He has let loose the two seas (the salt and fresh water) meeting together. Between them is a barrier which none of them can transgress.

Then which of the Blessings of your Lord will you both (jinn and man) deny?

(The Most Gracious, Surah 55; 19-21)

h)   The description of fires on the ocean floor.

And by the sea, al mesjoor (kept filled) [or it will be fire kindled (on the Day of Resurrection)]. Verily the torment of your Lord will surely come to pass.

(The Mount, Surah 52; 6-7)

The literal Arabic meaning of al-mesjoor is “kindled with fires.” But early Muslims had no knowledge of the ocean depths, so they assumed that the oceans would burn with fires on the Day of Resurrection. The meaning of this verse is consistent with our present knowledge concerning real fire – volcanic activity – on the ocean floor. This was a wholly unknown phenomenon more than 1400 years ago.

The translation of this verse, as well as many others like it, illustrates the importance of keeping the Qur’anic revelation in its original Arabic language which confirms the accuracy of its content. Translations of scriptures in the absence of the original language can lead to serious misinterpretations.

i)  Here are several more examples to further illustrate the precision with which the Qur’an described scientific facts that were not discovered until much later:

[The state of a disbeliever] is like the darkness in a vast deep sea, overwhelmed with waves topped by waves, topped by dark clouds, (layers of) darkness upon darkness: if a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it! And he for whom Allah has not appointed light, for him there is not light.

(The Light, Surah 24; 40)

It is scientifically known now that the seven fractions of color disappear one after another during deep ocean dives. At approximately 100 meters down, objects can be identified by their shade only. Also, scientists have discovered that in deep waters there are layers of internal waves or currents caused by differing densities of water. Both of these effects are alluded to in the above verse.

j)  Again, the mechanism and source of rainwater is precisely mentioned in the Qur’an, such as the description in this verse:

Have you not seen how Allah wafts the clouds, then gathers them, then makes them layers, and you see the rain come forth from between them; He sends down from the heaven mountains wherein is hail, and smites therewith whom He will, and averts it from whom He will. The flashing of His lightning all but snatches away the sight.

(The Light, Surah 24; 43)

Now read the description of the water cycle on earth:

It is Allah Who sends the winds to raise the clouds; then He spreads them in the sky and breaks them into fragments as He pleases; then you see raindrops falling from their midst.  When He showers this rain upon those of His servants whom He pleases, they are filled with joy.

(The 

(The Romans, Surah 30; 48)

 

Do you not see that Allah makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then piles them up in masses, then you see the rain coming from inside them?   He also sends down hail from the clouds that look like mountains in the sky, afflicting there with whom He wills and turning it away from whom He pleases; the flash of His lightning almost takes away sight.

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