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Sunday July 8, 2007 ■ CatholicNews

RELIGION

A Muslim boy kisses the Qurʼan, the sacred book of Islam (above). The Qurʼan affirms that “there is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God”.

ISLAM IS THE second largest religion in the world (after Christianity) with an estimated 1.3 billion followers. Islam draws its name from the Arabic terms for peace and loving submission to Godʼs will. Its followers consider it to be both a religion and guidelines for a complete way of life. Islamʼs historic records date from the time of the prophet Mohammed, who was born in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, in 570. Beginning at age 40, he began receiving revelations from Allah, the Arabic word for God, through the angel Gabriel. These revelations received over the course of 23 years were compiled during Mohammedʼs lifetime in a book known as the Qurʼan. Muslims believe the Qurʼan

contains the exact words of God, conveyed in Arabic. Muslim scholars around the world study its text in Arabic, because translations are not considered to be 100 percent accurate. (The Qurʼan is not seen as presenting a new revelation but rather as providing a complete, accurate, and final record of the message that had already been revealed to prophets throughout history.) Islamʼs origins are generally the same as those of Christianity and Judaism. They share many of the same prophetic revelations – for instance, Abrahamʼs message that there is but one God. Muslims believe Islam was founded by Allah and is a reiteration of events known to Jews through the Torah and to Christians in the Bible through the time of Jesus.

Muslims recognize a chain of many prophets – a great number of them familiar to Christians and Jews. The Qurʼan refers to 25 prophets, and treats Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed as the most significant. (They do not regard Muhammad as the founder of Islam but as Godʼs final prophet.) The Qurʼan considers Jesus one of Godʼs greatest messengers to humankind, acknowledging his virgin birth and the miracles he performed. Islam does not recognize Jesus as the son of God. However, it regards his mother, Mary, as the purest woman in all creation. In fact, the Qurʼan contains more passages about Mary than does the New Testament. (A whole chapter – Chapter 19: Surah Maryam – is named after her.)

ALL BUT ONE of the 114 chapters (“suras”) of the Qurʼan begin with the phrase, “In the name of God, the compassionate and merciful.” The opening “sura” lays out for us the way for understanding the Islamic image of God: “In the name of God, the compassionate and merciful: Praise to God, Lord of the universe. The compassionate, the merciful, master of the Day of Judgement. You alone do we serve; from you alone do we seek help. Lead us along the straight path, the path of those who experience the shower of your grace, not of those who have merited your anger or of those who have gone astray.” In Islam, as with the Jewish and Christian traditions, hearing was emphasized over seeing. Among Muslims you will not find painted images of God. Even images of the prophet Muhammad are very few. Rather the emphasis is on the word, spoken, heard and written. With Islam we are in the Abrahamic family of faiths, where God speaks and humankind hears. Prophets speak for God. The word of God is recited or preached and then takes written form. We are also in the same linguistic family of faiths. The word for God (actually “the God”) in Arabic, Allah, is related linguistically to the Hebrew “Elohim” and the Aramaic “Elah”. Allah is not the God of Muslims. Allah is God. God is great and above all; yet God can choose to reveal himself intimately. Throughout the Scriptures of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, we have two sets of images of God, ruling and thundering in majesty and as close as the wind on oneʼs face or the

whispering of a companion. The Islamic tradition has shown a preference for images of divine majesty. Muslims often say “In shaʼaʼllah”, “If God wills”. The hiddenness of Godʼs particular plan for us is emphasized because it is Godʼs plan that is the bottom line. The general outlines of this plan are familiar. God created the universe, directs it, chose to reveal at certain times through prophets, sealed this revelation with the recitations to Muhammad now in the Qurʼan and will judge at the end. The Qurʼan makes it clear that God begets not nor is begotten. He is omniscient, and created things know only what he allows them to grasp. His throne is said to stretch across heaven and earth; his sovereignty tires him not, for he is exalted and magnificent. With these descriptions of Godʼs awesomeness in the Islamic tradition, we can also understand the loving images too of a gracious and wonderful, loving and beneficent God that has allowed humankind to know his will and to know that he desires our company. Donʼt think that Muslims stop and pray five times a day or fast from sunup to sundown during Ramadan out of fear or obligation. Many have lapsed and do not do these things, but those who keep these practices do so out of love and thankfulness.
(Excerpts from “Who Is God for a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim?” by John Borelli directs interreligious relations in the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishopsʼ

Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.)

SOME HISTORIANS BELIEVE that there were pockets of Muslims in this part of the world as early as the 7th or 8th centuries. But the collapse of the Buddhist Shrivijaya trading empire near the end of the

13th century enabled Islam to spread in South East Asia through Muslim trading centres in the region. Islam preached moderation and social justice and conversions to Islam were voluntary and peaceful. By the mid-15th century, Islam had spread from Sumatra to Malacca and Brunei. The conversion of the Malaccan ruler

to Islam marked the start of the Malacca Sultanate. However its rule was brief because, in 1511, Portuguese forces captured Malacca. Brunei then established itself as the centre of Islam in South East Asia, and its sultanate remains even to this day. Today South East Asia is home to nearly 25 percent of the worldʼs Muslims.