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Questioning Religion Ethnography Interviewer: Rasheed Pollard Interviewee: Faheem Lea (Imam)

1. What does religion mean to you? Religion means everything to me. For me it is a system of beliefs, ideals, practices, and mannerisms that define and refine me as a person, and keeps me in tune with God Almighty first and foremost, as well as with the world around me. 2. Do you believe that your religion is the only correct religion? No. The Quran says: To each of you We prescribed a law and a method [5:48] The previous nations, particularly the Jews and the Christians have revealed religions that are honorable, so we dont believe that we have the only correct religion, but we like to believe that we have the only acceptable religion. 3. What are the foundational beliefs of your religion? The foundational beliefs of Islam are 5, and these foundations are the minimum requirements for belief which makes one a Muslim: 1. The testimony of faith, called the shahaadah, and that consists of testifying to believing in God Almighty, whose name in the Arabic language is Allah, and testifying to believing that Muhammad, who was born in the year 570 and died in 632, was the final Prophet and Messenger of God, which implies that he was the pinnacle of all of the previous prophets and messengers from the time of Adam, and throughout history with Abraham, Moses, Noah, David, and so on. 2. The ritual prayer, called the salaat, which is a series of movements consisting of standing, bowing, and prostration. It is a duty that is performed at a minimum of 5 times throughout the day and night. 3. The obligatory charity, called zakat, and it is roughly a 2.5% taxation of ones disposable income, after obligations and necessities. It is the rate across the board, whether one is rich or poor, and a person is exempt from this obligation if they dont have the means to pay it. 4. The ritual fasting, called siyaam, which is observed during the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar which is named Ramadan. It is observed by abstaining from food, drink, sexual intercourse and bad behavior during the daylight hours. It is customary for one to partake in a light meal before the daybreak to sustain energy, and when the sun sets and the fasting period has ended, it is time to eat! However, the evening meal should still be in moderation.

5. The pilgrimage to Mecca, called hajj, and it is a commemoration of the story of Abraham and his wife Hagar. According to Islamic tradition, Abraham took his wife Hagar (he had two wives, the other being Sarah) to the desert and told her that he was commanded by God to leave her there. They had a small son name Ismail. He left her there with no provisions, and after some time, the baby began to cry, and Hagar ran back and forth between two small mountains frantically in search of food or water, and it was at this time that a well of water sprang up in the middle of the desert, and she was able to nourish herself and the child. This well is called the well of Zamzam, and it still exists to this day. The hajj ritual is also for paying tribute to one of Allahs sacred symbols on the earth, the Kabah which most people describe as a black box. As Muslims, we believe that this is Allahs House on Earth, and it is also noteworthy to mention that the Kabah is the location of the exact center of the Earth, according to some studies. What that means, I am not sure, but it is something interesting. Because of the hardships and difficulties that are related to this foundational belief in Islam (travelling, health, cost, etc.), it is required to observe at least once in ones lifetime, and that is only if one has the ability (particularly financial), and if one is unable, then the responsibility is absolved. 4. Explain the importance of prayer. The importance of prayer, besides it being the direct communication with the Almighty, is the desired result of it according to the Quran, where it says: ..And establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing.. [29:45]. There is also a saying of the Prophet Muhammad where he asked: If a person had a stream outside his door and he bathed in it five times a day, do you think he would have any filth left on him? The people said, No filth would remain on him whatsoever. The Prophet then said, That is like the five daily prayers: God wipes away the sins by them. 5. How often do you pray? I observe the aforementioned minimum requirement of the daily ritual prayers, which is 5 times throughout the day and the evening. However, outside of that, there are many optional prayers that have merit, like getting up in the middle of the night, and prayer in general, in the form of supplications is highly recommended at any time. 6. Do you believe in the afterlife? Not only do I believe in the afterlife, but I believe in the journey of the soul in the afterlife, which according to Islamic tradition, begins at death. Then there is questioning in the grave, then a domain between death and the afterlife where all of the souls ever born are housed (called barzakh in Islam), then there is the resurrection, the Judgment Day, and the final abode. 7. Do you believe in heaven and/or hell? Yes, the whole purpose of observing all of these rituals in Islam, as well as striving to observe proper conduct, is because of the belief of heaven and hell, and the hopes of entering heaving and avoiding hell.

8. Describe how you envision the afterlife. The vision of the afterlife, although we have vivid descriptions of them related to us in the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that are called hadith, cannot really be grasped by the human imagination. For example, the Quran describes the likeness of the fruit of the Paradise (heaven) is similar to what people had in the worldly life, but not exactly the same. The Quran says: And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow. Whenever they are provided with a provision of fruit therefrom, they will say, "This is what we were provided with before." And it is given to them in likeness.. So they will recognize that fruit is being similar, but at the same time, nothing like theyve ever seen. The Prophet Muhammad also has said that Allah has said: I have prepared for My pious servants which no eye has ever seen, and no ear has ever heard, and no human heart has ever perceived. Also, the afterlife, if one has succeeded in the worldly life, will be such that there is no pain, no worry, no suffering, and no depressioneternal bliss. 9. How do you imagine Allah to look? One of the unique features of the Islamic belief is our belief about Allah is such that we dont give any imagination to how He looks, because He has no form, no shape, and even though we refer to Him as He, He has no gender. He is totally and absolutely unlike anything that the human mind can conceive. One of the principles in Islam concerning Allah is that whatever you imagine Allah to be, He is the opposite, and that is not in the literal sense (i.e., if you imagine Him up, then the opposite of that is down), but in the sense of Him not being like anything you can conceive of Him. Allah has unique characteristics, or in other words, there are characteristics of God that make Him God Almighty. Some of those are Him being pre-eternal, living without dying, and total and absolute dissimilarity to contingent and created beings. 10. Have you ever questioned your religion? I have had questions about my religion in the sense that I didnt understand everything, and there have been instances where it has led to doubt, but what I have found is that in Islam, just like other religions, some of the knowledge is empirical, some of it is spiritual, and some of it is supernatural, and hence, not all of it is meant to be understood entirely. That is important to understand, because oftentimes people think they have to know everything about a particular issue before they believe it, especially with regards to religion. Another issue about faith in Islam is that we believe that faith increases with more knowledge and practice, and decreases with ignorance and neglect, so the goal is to have the intention to learn and practice sincerely, and Allah will take care of the rest. 11. Do you raise your children as Muslims? Yes, I provide for them a Muslim upbringing, but it is upon them when they reach the age of discernment [puberty] to decide if they want to do it on their own. The Quran tell us: There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion [2:256] The most important things to impart to children are concepts more than rituals, and if they grasp the concepts, they can embrace the regulations with relative ease. That is the approach I use with my children.

12. Do you respect the teachings of other religions? Yes 13. Why or Why not? I am bound to by the mandates of the Islamic religion to respect the teachings of other religions, specifically Jews and Christians. Not only respect, but dialogue as well. Allah gives Jews and Christians an honorary title in the Quran of Ahlul Kitab (the People of the Book, meaning what we have today in the form of the Torah and the Bible), and He encourages us to come to common terms where applicable. The Quran says: "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you.. [3:64] This is what the Prophet Muhammad was inspired through revelation to say to the Jews and Christians, but it extends to every other faith as well, which is intended to promote dialogue and mutual understanding and respect. 14. Were you born Muslim? If not, why did you convert to Islam? I wasnt born into the Islamic faith, and I converted because of the simple concepts that Islam promoted, the main one being a very clear understanding of who and what God is, as well as who and what He isnt. In addition to that, whenever I met a practicing Muslim, they always seemed to have a distinction about them, and when they spoke, it was with intelligence and great manners. That sparked my interest, and then when I learned what it was about and read up on it for myself, I was convinced. 15. What's your favorite story or verse in the Quran? My favorite verse in the Quran is the one that says: Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion. [3:185] As for my favorite story in the Quran, then it is hard to choose one, because all of them are interesting, especially the stories of the previous prophets before the Prophet Muhammad. All of them contain valuable lessons, and the goal of them is to help to make our hearts firm in our own faith by learning about the experiences of others. 16. Do you believe in the story of Jesus? There are plenty of stories about Jesus, and a lot of them are surrounding his deification, whether he was the Son of God or the Son of Man, his crucifixion and resurrection, and his return. There have been plenty of debates, arguments, refutations, and discoveries concerning Jesus, so it depends on which story we are addressing, but from the Muslim perspective, we believe everything about him except him being one of three in a trinity, and his crucifixion on the cross. The Quran gives a great summary about the status of Jesus when it says: Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, "Be," and he was. [3:59] If we go back to the points mentioned earlier about the characteristics of the Almighty that are unique to Him that make Him who He is, then this disqualifies Jesus as being equal to God in any respect. There are many controversies surrounding Jesus, but the fact that he was born-which there is no dispute about-then this alone means he cannot be

equal along the Almighty in any capacity, because to be equal with the Almighty, one would have to have those equal and absolute characteristics. Jesus is a created being. 17. Do you believe that Jesus was the last prophet? I believe that Jesus was the last prophet and messengerbefore the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, and as we stated earlier, he [Muhammad] is the cumulative result of all of those previous prophets and messengers. 18. Who do you believe is the last prophet? The Prophet Muhammad is the one whom I believe is the last prophet. The Quran says: "Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, but he is the Messenger of God and the last of the prophets. [33:40] 19. Have you taken the pilgrimage to Mecca? No I havent yet, but I hope to inshaallah (God willing). 20. Define Religion. I gave a definition of what religion means to me already, so now I will give a definition of religion defined by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, which he says is a "unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things." [The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life].That mirrors closely what I believe religion to be for me, because belief in Allah the Almighty, which is expressed in following the Prophet Muhammad in his practices of sayings, worship, and mannerisms, and put together in a system that is called Islam is sacred to me.