Rahim Snow

is redesigning Islam

The Idea of America

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America the Beautiful...Who are you beautiful for?
[source: Elvert Barnes]

I love the idea of America: of inalienable rights, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, of being made equal, of justice for all. It’s what made many of us come here and it’s what makes many of us stay here.

But beneath the veneer of our July 4 fireworks, our Black Friday sales, and our gated communities, we are a sick nation. Our red-white-and-blue imperialism, our self-righteous capitalism, and our segregated classism have made us weak and delirious. We are fumbling feverishly into a fearful future.

When blood flows only to the right side of the body and not the left, what can a body do except to get sick and start dying? When the idea of America is offered to some, but not all, the whole nation suffers from chronic inflammation on the inside. The right side of the body may wish that the left side should die off soon so it can live peacefully, but that’s not how the human body works nor the national body.

There is no doctor that can heal us: no king, no president, no messiah. Nothing can heal our ailing people except the work to extend the idea of America to all. Only our shared calling to recognize the humanity of humans and the childhood of children—without exception—can restore us. Every neglect, every abuse, every murder, every conflict, every war points us back to this shared calling.

So let us do the hard work to massage the places in our hearts and minds that have become numb to inequality. Let us do the hard work to reach people in our communities that have become blind to compassion so we can invite them to look on the larger family of humankind with new eyes. Let us do the hard work to pay attention, speak up, and help in every way so that the idea of America does not remain a fleeting promise but a living force in the life of all who call this nation their home.

Ramadan Reflection 10: What the Quran Says About Finding Hope

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For everyone living on earth, life is full of mistakes, trials, disappointments, failures, unpleasant surprises, and tragedies.

The Quran offers consolation and hope to those who find themselves in a hopeless place.

The following translations of the Quran are adapted from those made by M. M. Pickthall. His translation is a bit dated, but it still carries a certain charm.

O ye who believe! Seek help in steadfastness and prayer. Lo! God is with the steadfast.
Quran 2:153


And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and crops; but give glad tidings to the steadfast,

Who say, when a misfortune striketh them: Lo! we are God’s and lo! unto Him we are returning.

Such are they on whom are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. Such are the rightly guided.
Quran 2:155-157


O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to God, in order that ye may succeed.
Quran 3:200


Lo! those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape the persecution) and strive in the way of God, these have hope of God’s mercy. God is Forgiving, Merciful.
Quran 2:218


By the night enshrouding
And the day resplendent
And Him Who hath created male and female,
Lo! your effort is dispersed (toward divers ends).
As for him who giveth and is dutiful (toward God)
And believeth in goodness;
Surely We will ease his way unto the state of ease.
Quran 92:1-7


By the morning hours
And by the night when it is stillest,
Thy Lord hath not forsaken thee nor doth He hate thee,
And verily the latter portion will be better for thee than the former,
And verily thy Lord will give unto thee so that thou wilt be content.
Did He not find thee an orphan and protect (thee)?
Did He not find thee wandering and direct (thee)?
Did He not find thee destitute and enrich (thee)?
Therefore the orphan oppress not,
Therefore the beggar drive not away,
Therefore of the bounty of thy Lord be thy discourse.
Quran 93:1-11


Have We not caused thy bosom to dilate,
And eased thee of the burden
Which weighed down thy back;
And exalted thy fame?
But surely after difficulty comes ease,
Surely! after difficulty comes ease;
So when thou art relieved, still toil
And strive to please thy Lord.
Quran 94:1-8


O ye who believe! Remember God with much remembrance.
And glorify Him early and late.
He it is Who blesseth you, and His angels (bless you), that He may bring you forth from darkness unto light; and He is ever Merciful to the believers.
Quran 33:41-43

Ramadan Reflection 9: What the Quran Says About the Beauty of Nature

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In Islam, the Quran is not the only reliable source of knowledge that contains the signs/verses (ayat) of God. Nature itself contains those signs and verses as well so that it becomes another reliable source of knowledge alongside the Quran.

This is what inspired Muslims in the past to explore the natural world as a revelation of God. This gave rise to mathematicians, scientists, physicians, artists, poets, architects, philosophers, and so on. These early Muslim explorers saw the signs of God’s beauty and artistry in all the things they were exploring in the world.

The following translations of the Quran are adapted from those made by M. M. Pickthall. His translation is a bit dated, but it still carries a certain charm.

1

God sendeth down water from the sky and therewith reviveth the earth after her death. Lo! herein is indeed a sign for a folk who hear.

And lo! in the cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from betwixt the refuse and the blood, pure milk palatable to the drinkers.

And of the fruits of the date-palm, and grapes, whence ye derive strong drink and (also) good nourishment. Lo! therein is indeed a sign for people who have sense.

And thy Lord inspired the bee, saying: Choose thou habitations in the hills and in the trees and in that which they thatch;

Then eat of all fruits, and follow the ways of thy Lord, made smooth (for thee). There cometh forth from their bellies a drink divers of hues, wherein is healing for mankind. Lo! herein is indeed a sign for people who reflect.
Quran 16:65-69

2

Lo! God (it is) Who splitteth the grain of corn and the date-stone (for sprouting). He bringeth forth the living from the dead, and is the bringer-forth of the dead from the living. Such is God. How then are ye confused?

He is the Cleaver of the Daybreak, and He hath appointed the night for stillness, and the sun and the moon for reckoning. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Wise.

And He it is Who hath set for you the stars that ye may guide your course by them amid the darkness of the land and the sea. We have detailed Our revelations for a people who have knowledge.

And He it is Who hath produced you from a single being, and (hath given you) a habitation and a repository. We have detailed Our revelations for a people who have understanding.

He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, and therewith We bring forth buds of every kind; We bring forth the green blade from which We bring forth the thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from the pollen thereof, spring pendant bunches; and (We bring forth) gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate, alike and unlike. Look upon the fruit thereof, when they bear fruit, and upon its ripening. Lo! herein verily are signs for a people who believe.

Quran 6:96-100

3

He hath created the heavens and the earth with truth. High be He Exalted above all that they associate (with Him).

He hath created man from a drop of fluid, yet behold! he is an open opponent.

And the cattle hath He created, whence ye have warm clothing and uses, and whereof ye eat;

And wherein is beauty for you, when ye bring them home, and when ye take them out to pasture.

And they bear your loads for you unto a land ye could not reach save with great trouble to yourselves. Lo! your Lord is Full of Pity, Merciful.

And horses and mules and asses (hath He created) that ye may ride them, and for ornament. And He createth that which ye know not.

And God’s is the direction of the way, and some (roads) go not straight. And had He willed He would have led you all aright.

He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, whence ye have drink, and whence are trees on which ye send your beasts to pasture.

Therewith He causeth crops to grow for you, and the olive and the date-palm and grapes and all kinds of fruit. Lo! herein is indeed a sign for people who reflect.

And He hath constrained the night and the day and the sun and the moon to be of service unto you, and the stars are made subservient by His command. Lo! herein indeed are signs for people who have sense.

And whatsoever He hath created for you in the earth of divers hues, lo! therein is indeed a sign for people who take heed.

And He it is Who hath constrained the sea to be of service that ye eat fresh meat from thence, and bring forth from thence ornaments which ye wear. And thou seest the ships ploughing it that ye (mankind) may seek of His bounty and that haply ye may give thanks.

And He hath cast into the earth firm hills that it quake not with you, and streams and roads that ye may find a way.

And landmarks (too), and by the star they find a way.

Is He then Who createth as him who createth not? Will ye not then remember?

And if ye would count the favour of God ye cannot reckon it. Lo! God is indeed Forgiving, Merciful.

Quran 16:3-18

Ramadan Reflection 8: What the Quran Says About Interfaith Understanding

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[Islam is considered the latest articulation of the religion that God has articulated over and over again in different places and different times to different peoples.

That means different messengers have been sent in the past who have established different religions. As long as such a religion affirms the oneness of God and the importance of ethical relations among people then it is a religion that God accepts.

The following verses from the Quran give glimpses of this interfaith/multi-faith understanding.

The following translations of the Quran are adapted from those made by M. M. Pickthall. His translation is a bit dated, but it still carries a certain charm.]

There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in God hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. God is Hearer, Knower.
Quran 2:256

Verily We sent messengers before thee, among them those of whom We have told thee, and some of whom We have not told thee; and it was not given to any messenger that he should bring a portent save by God’s leave, but when God’s commandment cometh (the cause) is judged aright, and the followers of vanity will then be lost.
Quran 40:78

Lo! We did reveal the Torah, wherein is guidance and a light, by which the prophets who surrendered (unto God) judged the Jews, and the rabbis and the priests (judged) by such of God’s Scripture as they were bidden to observe, and thereunto were they witnesses. So fear not mankind, but fear Me. And My revelations for a little gain. Whoso judgeth not by that which God hath revealed: such are disbelievers.

And We prescribed for them therein: The life for the life, and the eye for the eye, and the nose for the nose, and the ear for the ear, and the tooth for the tooth, and for wounds retaliation. But whoso forgoeth it (in the way of charity) it shall be expiation for him. Whoso judgeth not by that which God hath revealed: such are wrong-doers.

And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah – a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil).

Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which God hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which God hath revealed: such are evil-livers.

And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which God hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ.
Quran 5:44-48

Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans – whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and doeth right – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.
Quran 2:62

Ramadan Reflection 7: What the Quran Says About Mary and Jesus

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[In Islam, Mary has an honored status with God and Jesus is one of the great messengers of God, along with all the other prophets in the Bible.

The following verses from the Quran tell some of the story of Mary and Jesus and John the Baptist. Other parts of the story are told in other verses, but this set of verses gives us a taste of how much Christianity is part of the same family of religions as Islam. This is what makes all Christians our sisters and brothers in faith.

The following translations of the Quran are adapted from those made by M. M. Pickthall. His translation is a bit dated, but it still carries a certain charm.]

Lo! God preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of ‘Imran above (all His) creatures.

They were descendants one of another. God is Hearer, Knower.

(Remember) when the wife of ‘Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower!

And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female – God knew best of what she was delivered – the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast.

And her Lord accepted her with full acceptance and vouchsafed to her a goodly growth; and made Zachariah her guardian. Whenever Zachariah went into the sanctuary where she was, he found that she had food. He said: O Mary! Whence cometh unto thee this (food)? She answered: It is from God. God giveth without stint to whom He will.

Then Zachariah prayed unto his Lord and said: My Lord! Bestow upon me of Thy bounty goodly offspring. Lo! Thou art the Hearer of Prayer.

And the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: God giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) John, (who cometh) to confirm a word from God lordly, chaste, a prophet of the righteous.

He said: My Lord! How can I have a son when age hath overtaken me already and my wife is barren? (The angel) answered: So (it will be). God doeth what He will.

He said: My Lord! Appoint a token for me. (The angel) said: The token unto thee (shall be) that thou shalt not speak unto mankind three days except by signs. Remember thy Lord much, and praise (Him) in the early hours of night and morning.

And when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! God hath chosen thee and made thee pure, and hath preferred thee above (all) the women of creation.

O Mary! Be obedient to thy Lord, prostrate thyself and bow with those who bow (in worship).

This is of the tidings of things hidden. We reveal it unto thee (Muhammad). Thou wast not present with them when they threw their pens (to know) which of them should be the guardian of Mary, nor wast thou present with them when they quarrelled (thereupon).

(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! God giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto God).

He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous.

She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me? He said: So (it will be). God createth what He will. If He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is.

And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel,

And will make him a messenger unto the Children of Israel, (saying): Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird, by God’s leave. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead, by God’s leave. And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you, if ye are to be believers.

And (I come) confirming that which was before me of the Torah, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden unto you. I come unto you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to God and obey me.

Lo! God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.

But when Jesus became conscious of their disbelief, he cried: Who will be my helpers in the cause of God? The disciples said: We will be God’s helpers. We believe in God, and bear thou witness that we have surrendered (unto Him).

Our Lord! We believe in that which Thou hast revealed and we follow him whom Thou hast sent. Enrol us among those who witness (to the truth).

And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and God schemed (against them): and God is the best of schemers.

(And remember) when God said: O Jesus! Lo! I am gathering thee and causing thee to ascend unto Me, and am cleansing thee of those who disbelieve and am setting those who follow thee above those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection. Then unto Me ye will (all) return, and I shall judge between you as to that wherein ye used to differ.

As for those who disbelieve I shall chastise them with a heavy chastisement in the world and the Hereafter; and they will have no helpers.

And as for those who believe and do good works, He will pay them their wages in full. God loveth not wrong-doers.

This (which) We recite unto thee is a revelation and a wise reminder.

Lo! the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, then He said unto him: Be! and he is.

(This is) the truth from thy Lord (O Muhammad), so be not thou of those who waver.

Quran 3:33-60

Ramadan Reflection 6: What the Quran Says About Moses and Pharaoh

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[In Islam, Moses is one of the great messengers of God, along with all the other prophets in the Bible.

The following verses from the Quran tell the story of Moses from birth to the beginning of his mission to Pharaoh when God assigns Aaron to help him. The rest of the story is told in other verses, but this set of verses gives us a taste of how much Judaism is part of the same family of religions as Islam. This is what makes all Jews our sisters and brothers in faith.

The following translations of the Quran are adapted from those made by M. M. Pickthall. His translation is a bit dated, but it still carries a certain charm.]

We narrate unto thee (somewhat) of the story of Moses and Pharaoh with truth, for folk who believe.

Lo! Pharaoh exalted himself in the earth and made its people castes. A tribe among them he oppressed, killing their sons and sparing their women. Lo! he was of those who work corruption.

And We desired to show favour unto those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them examples and to make them the inheritors,

And to establish them in the earth, and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts that which they feared from them.

And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: Suckle him and, when thou fearest for him, then cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. Lo! We shall bring him back unto thee and shall make him (one) of Our messengers.

And the family of Pharaoh took him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a sorrow, Lo! Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts were ever sinning.

And the wife of Pharaoh said: (He will be) a consolation for me and for thee. Kill him not. Peradventure he may be of use to us, or we may choose him for a son. And they perceived not.

And the heart of the mother of Moses became void, and she would have betrayed him if We had not fortified her heart, that she might be of the believers.

And she said unto his sister: Trace him. So she observed him from afar, and they perceived not.

And We had before forbidden foster-mothers for him, so she said: Shall I show you a household who will rear him for you and take care of him?

So We restored him to his mother that she might be comforted and not grieve, and that she might know that the promise of God is true. But most of them know not.

And when he reached his full strength and was ripe, We gave him wisdom and knowledge. Thus do We reward the good.

And he entered the city at a time of carelessness of its folk, and he found therein two men fighting, one of his own caste, and the other of his enemies; and he who was of his caste asked him for help against him who was of his enemies. So Moses struck him with his fist and killed him. He said: This is of the devil’s doing. Lo! he is an enemy, a mere misleader.

He said: My Lord! Lo! I have wronged my soul, so forgive me. Then He forgave him. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.

He said: My Lord! Forasmuch as Thou hast favoured me, I will nevermore be a supporter of the guilty.

And morning found him in the city, fearing, vigilant, when behold! he who had appealed to him the day before cried out to him for help. Moses said unto him: Lo! thou art indeed a mere hothead.

And when he would have fallen upon the man who was an enemy unto them both, he said: O Moses! Wouldst thou kill me as thou didst kill a person yesterday. Thou wouldst be nothing but a tyrant in the land, thou wouldst not be of the reformers.

And a man came from the uttermost part of the city, running. He said: O Moses! Lo! the chiefs take counsel against thee to slay thee; therefor escape. Lo! I am of those who give thee good advice.

So he escaped from thence, fearing, vigilant. He said: My Lord! Deliver me from the wrongdoing folk.

And when he turned his face toward Midian, he said: Peradventure my Lord will guide me in the right road.

And when he came unto the water of Midian he found there a whole tribe of men, watering. And he found apart from them two women keeping back (their flocks). He said: What aileth you? The two said: We cannot give (our flocks) to drink till the shepherds return from the water; and our father is a very old man.

So he watered (their flock) for them. Then he turned aside into the shade, and said: My Lord! I am needy of whatever good Thou sendest down for me.

Then there came unto him one of the two women, walking shyly. She said: Lo! my father biddeth thee, that he may reward thee with a payment for that thou didst water (the flock) for us. Then, when he came unto him and told him the (whole) story, he said: Fear not! Thou hast escaped from the wrongdoing folk.

One of the two women said: O my father! Hire him! For the best (man) that thou canst hire in the strong, the trustworthy.

He said: Lo! I fain would marry thee to one of these two daughters of mine on condition that thou hirest thyself to me for (the term of) eight pilgrimages. Then if thou completest ten it will be of thine own accord, for I would not make it hard for thee. God willing, thou wilt find me of the righteous.

He said: That (is settled) between thee and me. Whichever of the two terms I fulfil, there will be no injustice to me, and God is Surety over what we say.

Then, when Moses had fulfilled the term, and was travelling with his housefolk, he saw in the distance a fire and said unto his housefolk: Bide ye (here). Lo! I see in the distance a fire; peradventure I shall bring you tidings thence, or a brand from the fire that ye may warm yourselves.

And when he reached it, he was called from the right side of the valley in the blessed field, from the tree: O Moses! Lo! I, even I, am God, the Lord of the Worlds;

Throw down thy staff. And when he saw it writhing as it had been a demon, he turned to flee headlong, (and it was said unto him): O Moses! Draw nigh and fear not. Lo! thou art of those who are secure.

Thrust thy hand into the bosom of thy robe it will come forth white without hurt. And guard thy heart from fear. Then these shall be two proofs from your Lord unto Pharaoh and his chiefs. Lo! they are evil-living folk.

He said: My Lord! Lo! I killed a man among them and I fear that they will kill me.

My brother Aaron is more eloquent than me in speech. Therefore send him with me as a helper to confirm me. Lo! I fear that they will give the lie to me.

He said: We will strengthen thine arm with thy brother, and We will give unto you both power so that they cannot reach you for Our portents. Ye twain, and those who follow you, will be the winners.

Quran 28:3-35

Ramadan Reflection 5: What the Quran Says About Peace and Kindness

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[The following translations of the Quran are adapted from those made by M. M. Pickthall. His translation is a bit dated, but it still carries a certain charm.]

Blessed be He Who hath placed in the heaven mansions of the stars, and hath placed therein a great lamp and a moon giving light! And He it is Who hath appointed night and day in succession, for him who desireth to remember, or desireth thankfulness. The (faithful) servants of the Beneficent are they who walk upon the earth modestly, and when the foolish ones address them answer: “Peace.”
Quran 25:61-63

The believers are naught else than brothers. Therefore make peace between your brethren and observe your duty to God that haply ye may obtain mercy.
Quran 49:10

And serve God. Ascribe no thing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and unto the neighbour who is of kin (unto you) and the neighbour who is not of kin, and the fellow-traveller and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess. Lo! God loveth not such as are proud and boastful.
Quran 4:36

And (remember) when Luqman said unto his son… O my dear son! Establish worship and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity, and persevere whatever may befall thee. Lo! that is of the steadfast heart of things. Turn not thy cheek in scorn toward folk, nor walk with pertness in the land. Lo! God loveth not each braggart boaster. Be modest in thy bearing and subdue thy voice. Lo! the harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass.
Quran 31:13,17-19

And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of God, and do not separate. And remember God’s favour unto you: How ye were enemies and He made friendship between your hearts so that ye became as brothers by His grace; and (how) ye were upon the brink of an abyss of fire, and He did save you from it. Thus God maketh clear His revelations unto you, that haply ye may be guided, And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful.
Quran 3:103-104

Ramadan Reflection 4: Five Gems From the Quran

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[The following translations of the Quran are adapted from those made by M. M. Pickthall. His translation is a bit dated, but it still carries a certain charm.]

Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds,
The Beneficent, the Merciful.
Master of the Day of Judgment,
Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help.
Show us the straight path,
The path of those whom Thou hast favoured;
Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.
Quran (1:1-7)

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. (This lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light upon light. God guideth unto His light whom He will. And God speaketh to mankind in allegories, for God is Knower of all things.
Quran (24:35)

He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days; then He mounted the Throne. He knoweth all that entereth the earth and all that emergeth therefrom and all that cometh down from the sky and all that ascendeth therein; and He is with you wheresoever ye may be. And God is Seer of what ye do.
Quran (57:4)

And when My servants question thee concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright.
Quran (2:186)

Say: He is God, the One!
God, the eternally Besought of all!
He begetteth not nor was begotten.
And there is none comparable unto Him.
Quran (112:1-4)

Ramadan Reflection 3: Aga Khan III on the Difference Between Shia and Sunni

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The name “Ali” in Arabic calligraphy. Source unknown.

[Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III (1877-1957) was a Muslim leader and statesman. He was the 48th Imam of the Ismaili community, the first president of the All-India Muslim League, and the President of the League of Nations from 1937-38. The following excerpt is from a chapter entitled “Islam, the Religion of My Ancestors” from his book, World Enough and Time: The Memoirs of Aga Khan (1954).]

According to the Sunni school, the majority of Muslims, the Prophet’s religious authority came to an end at his death, and he appointed no successor to his secular authority. According to Sunni teaching, the faithful, the companions of the Prophet, the believers, elected Abu Bakr as his successor and his Khalif; but Abu Bakr assumed only the civil and secular power. No one had the authority to succeed to the religious supremacy, which depend on direct Divine inspiration, because the Prophet Mohammed and the Koran declared definitely that he was the final messenger of God, the Absolute. Thus, say the Sunnis, it was impossible to constitute an authority similar to that of the Papacy; it remained for the Faithful to interpret the Koran, the example and the sayings of the Prophet, not only in order to understand Islam but to ensure its development throughout the centuries. …

The Sunnis are the people of the Sunna or tradition. Their Kalama or profession of faith is “There is no God but God and Mohammed is the Apostle of God.” To this the Shias add: “And Ali, the companion of Mohammed, is the Vicar of God.” Etymologically the word “Shia” means either a stream or a section.

The Prophet died without appointing a Khalif or successor. The Shia school of thought maintains that although direct Divine inspiration ceased at the Prophet’s death, the need of Divine guidance continued and this could not be left merely to millions of mortal men, subject to the whims and gust of passion and material necessity, capable of being momentarily but tragically misled by greed, by oratory, or by the sudden desire for material advantage. These dangers were manifest in the period immediately following our Holy Prophet’s death. Mohammed had been, as I have shown, both a temporal and a spiritual sovereign. The Khalif or successor of the Prophet was to succeed him in both these capacities; he was to be both Emir-al-Momenin or “Commander of the true believers” and Imam-al-Muslimin or “spiritual chief of the devout.” Perhaps an analogy from the Latin, Western world will make this clearer: he would be Supreme Pontiff as well as Imperator or temporal ruler.

Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, the husband of his beloved and only surviving child, Fatimah, his first convert, his bold champion in many a war, who the Prophet in his lifetime said would be to him as Aaron was to Moses, his brother and right-hand man, in the veins of whose descendants the Prophet’s own blood would flow, appeared destined to be that true successor; and such had been the general expectation of Islam. The Shias have therefore always held that after the Prophet’s death, Divine power, guidance and leadership manifested themselves in Hazrat Ali as the first Imam or spiritual chief of the devout. The Sunnis, however, consider him the fourth in the succession of Khalifs to temporal power.

The Imam is thus the successor of the Prophet in his religious capacity; he is the man who must be obeyed and who dwells among those from whom he commands spiritual obedience. The Sunnis have always held that this authority is merely temporal and secular, and is exerted only in the political sphere; they believe therefore that it appertains to any lawfully constituted political head of a state, to a governor or to the president of a republic. The Shias say that this authority is all-pervading and is concerned with spiritual matters also, that it is transferred by inherited right to the Prophet’s successors of his blood.

Ramadan Reflection 2: Aga Khan III on the Basics of Islam

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Turkey-03259 - Interior of the Blue Mosque from Flickr via Wylio
The Blue Mosque in Turkey © 2013 Dennis Jarvis, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

[Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III (1877-1957) was a Muslim leader and statesman. He was the 48th Imam of the Ismaili community, the first president of the All-India Muslim League, and the President of the League of Nations from 1937-38. The following excerpt is from a chapter entitled “Islam, the Religion of My Ancestors” from his book, World Enough and Time: The Memoirs of Aga Khan (1954).]

I shall try, to give in a small compass a clear survey of the fundamentals of Islam, by which I mean those principles, those articles of faith, and that way of life, all of which are universally accepted among all Muslim sects. …

First it must be understood that, though these fundamental ideals are universally accepted by Muslims, there does not exist in Islam and there has never existed any source of absolute authority; we have no Papal Encyclical to propound and sanction a dogma, such as Roman Catholics possess, and no Thirty-nine Articles like those which state the doctrinal position of the Church of England. The prophet Mohammed had two sources of authority, one religious which was the essential one of his life, and the other secular which, by the circumstances and accidents of his career, became joined to his essential and Divinely inspired authority in religion.

According to the Sunni school the majority of Muslims the Prophet’s religious authority came to an end at his death, and he appointed no successor to his secular authority. According to Sunni teaching, the faithful, the companions of the Prophet, the believers, elected Abu Bakr as his successor and his Khalif; but Abu Bakr assumed only the civil and secular power. No one had the authority to succeed to the religious supremacy, which depend on direct Divine inspiration, because the Prophet Mohammed and the Koran declared definitely that he was the final messenger of God, the Absolute. Thus, say the Sunnis, it was impossible to constitute an authority similar to that of the Papacy; it remained for the Faithful to interpret the Koran, the example and the sayings of the Prophet, not only in order to understand Islam but to ensure its development throughout the centuries.

Fortunately the Koran has itself made this task easy, for it contains a number of verses which declare that Allah speaks to man in allegory and parable. Thus the Koran leaves the door open for all kinds of possibilities of interpretation so that no one interpreter can accuse another of being non-Muslim. A felicitous effect of this fundamental principle of Islam that the Koran is constantly open to allegorical interpretation has been that our Holy Book has been able to guide and illuminate the thought of believers, century after century, in accordance with the conditions and limitations of intellectual appreciation imposed by external influences in the world. It leads also to a greater charity among Muslims, for since there can be no cut-and-dried interpretation, all schools of thought can unite in the prayer that the Almighty in His infinite mercy may forgive any mistaken interpretation of the Faith whose cause is ignorance or misunderstanding. …

All Islamic schools of thought accept it as a fundamental principle that for centuries, for thousands of years before the advent of Mohammed, there arose from time to time messengers, illumined by Divine Grace, for and among those races of the earth which had sufficiently advanced intellectually to comprehend such a message. Thus Abraham, Moses, Jesus and all the Prophets of Israel are universally accepted by Islam. Muslims indeed know no limitation merely to the Prophets of Israel; they are ready to admit that there were similar Divinely inspired messengers in other countries—Gautama Buddha, Shri Krishna and Shri Ram in India, Socrates in Greece, the wise man of China and many other sages and saints among peoples and civilizations, trace of which we have lost. Thus man’s soul has never been left without a specially inspired messenger from the soul that sustains, embraces and is the universe. …

Once man has thus comprehended the essence of existence, there remains for him the duty, since he knows the absolute value of his own soul, of making for himself a direct path which will constantly lead his individual soul to and bind it with the universal Soul of which the Universe is, as much of it as we perceive with our limited visions, one of the infinite manifestations. Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism and not as monotheism.

Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allah-o-Akbar.” What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul. Imam Hassan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allah is the sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain.

There is a fundamental difference between the Jewish idea of creation and that of Islam. The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will. …

But having known the real, the Absolute, having understood the Universe as an infinite succession of events, intended by God, we need an ethic, a code of conduct in order to be able to elevate ourselves toward the ideal demanded by God. Let us then study the duties of man, as the great majority interpret them, according to the verses of the Koran and the Traditions of the Prophet.

First of all, the relations of man to God: there are no priests and no monks. There is no confession of sins, except directly to God. A man who does not marry, who refuses to shoulder the responsibilities of fatherhood, of building up a home and raising a family through marriage, is severely condemned. In Islam there are no extreme renunciations, no asceticism, no maceration, above all no flagellations to subjugate the body. The healthy human body is the temple in which the flame of the Holy Spirit burns, and thus it deserves the respect of scrupulous cleanliness and personal hygiene.

Prayer is a daily necessity, a direct communication of the spark with the Universal flame. Reasonable fasting for a month in every year, provided a man’s health is not impaired thereby, is an essential part of the body’s discipline-through which the body learns to renounce all impure desires. Adultery, alcoholism, slander and thinking evil of one’s neighbour are specifically and severely condemned. All men, rich and poor, must aid one another materially and personally. The rules vary in detail, but they all maintain the principle of universal mutual aid in the Muslim fraternity.

This fraternity is absolute, and it comprises men of all colours and all races: black, white, yellow, tawny; all are the sons of Adam in the flesh and all carry in them spark of the Divine Light. Everyone should strive his best to see that this spark be not extinguished but rather developed to that full “Companionship- on-High” which was the vision expressed in the last words of the Prophet on his deathbed, the vision of that blessed state which he saw clearly awaiting him. In Islam the Faithful believe in Divine justice and are convinced that the solution of the great problem of predestination and free will is to be found in the compromise that God knows what man is going to do, but that man is free to do it or not.

Wars are condemned. Peace ought to be universal. Islam means peace, God’s peace with man and the peace of men one to another. Usury is condemned, but free and honest trade and agriculturein all its formsare encouraged, since they manifest a Divine service, and the welfare of mankind depends upon the continuation and the intensification of these legitimate labours. Politically a republican form of government seems to be the most rightful; or in Islamic countries, which have witnessed the development of absolute monarchies with a great concentration of power within them, the election of the monarch has always remained a lifeless formula which has simply legitimized the usurpation of power.

After death Divine justice will take into consideration the faith, the prayers and the deeds of man. For the chosen there is eternal life and the spiritual felicity of the Divine vision. For the condemned there is hell, where they will be consumed with regret for not having known how to merit the grace and the blessing of Divine mercy.

Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God. But men and women, being more highly developed, are immensely more advanced than the infinite number of other beings known to us. Islam acknowledges the existence of angels, of great souls who have developed themselves to the highest possible planes of the human soul and higher, and who are centres of the forces which are scattered throughout the Universe. Without going as far as Christianity, Islam recognizes the existence of evil spirits which seek by means of their secret suggestions to us to turn us from good, from that straight way traced by God’s finger for the eternal happiness of the humblest as of the greatest—Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed.

Thus far I have described those tenets of Islam which are professed and held in common by all Muslims of any and every sect or subsect. …