<< About Islam: A peaceful faith

By Beeta Baghoolizadeh, 17, Palos Verdes Peninsula HS
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L.A. Youth staff writer Beeta Baghoolizadeh researched the following answers to questions from the staff of L.A. Youth.

Explain the difference between the words Islam and Muslim.
The word Islam refers to the religion, and the word Muslim refers to a person who follows the teachings of Islam. So to call someone an Islam sounds just as strange as calling someone a Christianity or a Judaism.
     The word Islam is not an adjective. Islamic is the proper adjective. Muslim can sometimes be used as an adjective, but Islam is always a noun.

Is Allah God?
Allah is God. Allah is the Arabic word for God, just as Dios is the Spanish word for God, or Khoda is the Farsi word for God. The language of Islam is Arabic, which is why many people misunderstand Allah to mean the Islamic God. God is Allah, just as Allah is God.

Does the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, say that women must wear head scarves?
The Qur’an does not explicitly say that women should wear scarves. It does, however, instruct women to be modest and cover themselves, as it does for men. In the Qur’an the first thing it says in this respect is that men must lower their eyes and then says the same for women. Then it tells men to dress modestly, and tells the same to women. The Qur’an does make a reference to the jilbab which was a garment used to cover breasts, but it does not say that women must wear scarves. To wear a scarf is solely a woman’s choice. Many do it because they believe that, among other things, the Qur’an is referring to wearing a veil in this passage. In a mosque, most women wear scarves as a show of respect, the same way men are more inclined to wear long sleeves and long pants to a mosque.

Who is Mohammad? Where does Mohammad fit in the line of prophets?
Prophet Mohammad was the messenger of God who lived about 1,400 years ago. He was God’s medium to spread the word of the Qur’an, which was revealed to him by the angel Gabriel. He was a follower of Abraham’s religion, which he called "Islam," meaning submitting to God’s will, which is exactly what Abraham, and Mohammad, did. Abraham had two sons—Isaac and Ishmael. In the Judeo-Christian belief, Abraham sacrificed Isaac, who was Moses’s and Jesus’s ancestor. In Islam, Abraham sacrificed Ishmael, who was Mohammad’s ancestor.

Is Jesus the messiah in Islam?
Actually, in Islam, we do consider Jesus to be the messiah. We believe that on the Day of Judgment, he will return to the world. As a Shi’a, I believe that he will return with another man called Mahdi, but Sunnis and Shi’as alike agree that Jesus will return. Sunni and Shi’a are two schools of thought in Islam.

Why is Jesus not considered the son of God as in Christianity?
In Islam, we believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, just like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Mohammad. He was a messenger for a group of people on behalf of God, but he is not the son of God because we believe that God was not given birth to, nor does He give birth to anyone. For us, "there is no God but God."

What does Islam think of terrorism?
Islam condemns terrorism. There could not be a crime more horrendous in Islam than that of taking someone else’s life, or your own. We believe that lives are precious, and the only one who can choose who dies and who lives is God, not a human. There is a Surah in the Qur’an that says that if you kill one person, then it’s as if you killed all of mankind, and if you save one person, then it’s as if you saved all of mankind.
     There is nothing that says "Yes, be my guest, attack the countries that you don’t like." The thing that gets distorted, however, is the part where the Qur’an allows for people to arm themselves in case of an attack. Basically, you can fight only when you have to defend yourself. But, of course, terrorists conveniently ignore that part. The Qur’an does not justify their violence.

What is a religious leader called?
There’s a variety of things one can call a religious leader, depending on the mosque one goes to, but the most common ones are Sheikhs and Imams, which are scholars who have studied Islam and have been formally educated about it.

Does the Qur’an say that a man can have multiple wives?
Before Islam came to Saudi Arabia around 600 A.D. the average man had 24 wives—most of whom he mistreated. And he spent unequal amounts of time with them. At that time, the tribal wars had sharply reduced the number of men available. And because women had virtually no rights or means of financially supporting themselves, having multiple wives was rampant. Islam set limits on this. The first limit said that men are allowed to have a maximum of four wives. This may sound like a lot, but it was a drastic cut compared to past the past. Furthermore, Islam demands that a man must have the permission of his first wife to get a second one, and so on. And the man must be capable of treating his wives exactly the same. Favoritism is forbidden. And because this is virtually impossible, a man can’t really have multiple wives and follow these guidelines. Today, practically no Muslims practice polygamy.

Explain Ramadhan and the fasting.
In the lunar Muslim calendar, Ramadhan is a month in the year. It’s a holy month is Islam because it was during this month that Prophet Mohammad first came in contact with angel Gabriel and the first few lines of the Qur’an were revealed to him. Even before he became a God’s messenger, Mohammad would travel to a cave called Manaah to meditate and fast for the entire month of Ramadhan with little contact with anyone. He would fast from sun-up to sun-down, and contemplate philosophical ideas. Later, during the revelations of the Qur’an, the full instructions for fasting were sent down and that it is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Qur’an even says that Muslims are not alone in fasting, fasting has been prescribed in different forms to every religion.

Explain why Muslims pray five times a day and why it’s toward the east.
The point of prayer (known as salat or namaz) is to allow us to have a direct connection to God. Unlike other religions, Islam is a very personal religion without a true "middleman." Religious leaders are not required for Muslims to have a "conversation" with God. Muslims pray five times a day-at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening—so that at different times of the day we remember that God is with us and that we are never alone. It’s also a humbling experience that helps us remember that the only "thing" worth worshipping is God.
     We pray toward Makkah, the holiest Muslim city, because Makkah is home to the Ka’ba. Muslims don’t pray toward it because we worship it—we don’t—but because it’s a symbol to us. It’s a symbol of unity, because all Muslims in the world pray towards it at the same times of the day.

Why are men and women are separated at a mosque during prayer?
Men and women are separated at a mosque during prayer because prayer is a time for concentrating on God and one’s conversation with Him. Men and women can either be side to side, or one in front of the other. It depends on how the mosque was built, and how it would best accommodate people during prayer. When it’s separated to front and back, then the women are usually in the back simply because men are known to become distracted more easily than women, and because Islam trusts women to not get sidetracked from prayer. And because the prayer includes bending over and prostrations, to be in the back is a comfort for women, because they don’t have to worry about who is watching them from behind.

What is the role of women in Islam?
Contrary to what many people think, women are highly regarded in Islam. Its repeated says in the Qur’an that men and women were created equally. Eve was not created from Adam’s rib. Actually, before the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Mohammad, female infanticide was rampant on the Arabian peninsula, because boys were favored, but Islam put a stop to that. In fact, the Prophet only had daughters to carry on his name. Islam also granted women their rights, something that was unheard of at that time, like rights to inheritances, a say in her marriage-arranged marriages without the approval of the bride are forbidden in Islam, voting, or even a simple thing like education. A chapter in the Qur’an is called Al-Nisaa, meaning "Women," and another is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, called Maryam.

What is the history of the Qur’an as the holy book on Islam?
Muslims view the Qur’an as the completion of religious texts revealed through the prophets. The Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Mohammad during the holy month of Ramadhan, when the angel Gabriel showed himself to him. At this time, the Prophet was illiterate, and Gabriel’s first command was "Read!" as the first line in the first chapter revealed starts. The Prophet, amazed, tells Gabriel "I can’t read!" but the angel persists, demanding that the Prophet read in the name of God. And the Prophet recites the first line of the Qur’an that had been revealed to him by God.
     The Qur’an is the only book that was directly relayed to humankind in the word of God. It was revealed over the period of 23 years, and consists of 114 chapters. The Qur’an is like a guide to leading your life, it answers every question possible and reminds people of their duties, obligations and roles as individuals. The Qur’an addresses everyone: men, women, the old, the young, the rich, the poor. It was written for all of humankind.