Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Pope Speaks

It was an indecorous moment for the new Pope when he decided to dip into the retention pond of Medieval Catholic polemics against Islam, though he could have just as easily found plenty to quote about Protestants (the abject heretics) or Jews (“Christ-killers” who apparently ate children). Why Pope Benedict would choose a 14th century screed to quote from is a question to ponder. Certainly, Pope John Paul would not have taken this direction, and not because he was more adroit in the ways of ecumenical pleasantries. Pope Benedict’s predecessor simply chose another spiritual paradigm.

There was one thing, however, that Pope Benedict said in his now infamous statement that deserves address and is not, taken alone, an insulting query: What did Muhammad bring that was original? This should be answered especially when considering the slew of neologisms (“Islamic Fascism,” “Radical Islam,” “Islamists,” “Jihadis,” etc) that make more ornate the mythology surrounding Islam in the West and that turn Muslims abroad into a convenient abstraction. So I’ll answer the Pope’s question, taking cue from the Quran itself. Prophet Muhammad was not sent to innovate, but to reinstate, to confirm, and to complete the Abrahamic message, unmolested by any political or pagan religious pressure, a message that bears the whole point and mission of the religion project: No god but God; He’s the Creator and everything else is created, and only God is worthy of worship, unswerving devotion, and faith. This was the mission and message of all the pre-Abrahamic Emissaries, the Israelite Prophets (Jacob to Jesus), and the Ishmaelite Prophet, Muhammad, the final one, as Muslims believe. What differed between these luminaries was a matter of detail in sacred law that conformed to variant climes and times. But their core message never tarried from the interior of the Abrahamic Meaning. Islam’s obsession had nothing to do with innovation. On the contrary, it was innovation that obscured and altered the original message of the emissaries of God.

Islam and Christianity do share many common beliefs, but they are also separated by divergent salvation narratives. How people attain to Heaven in the Hereafter is not a small matter, I know. But the issue of who’s right or wrong was never meant to be settled here on earth, nor was it ever meant to produce fodder and rancor directed toward the "other." Folks of all religious bent are welcome to offer their views and communicate the tenets of their faith. But nobody has an advanced ledger with the names of all who will be admitted into Paradise or its antithesis. So our responsibility in this life is to search for common ground not because it is a new liberal philosophy, but because it is one of the core purposes of religion, namely, to set aright the affairs of humanity and to live as harmoniously as possible.

Like Islam, the beginnings of Christianity had to deal with an idolatrous milieu. But unlike the Islamic context, pagan Roman Empire was dauntingly powerful, a civilization by any common measure, while Arabia had no “government” per se, nor any other sense of a cohesiveness or recognizable “whole” that compares with the Romans. But Arabia had something going for it that the Roman established lacked: beneath the Arabian idolatry, the memory of Arabia was Abrahamic: the Pilgrimage, the Ka’ba of Makkah, the count of months and their sacredness, and, however forlorn, a once strict belief in the oneness of God – all of which had been long stamped in the region with Abrahamic legacy.

The Muslim month of Ramadan, a month of fasting and nightly prayer vigils, is actually an excellent example of the point of this entry. The Quran introduces the Fasting of Ramadan like this: “O Believers, fasting is prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those before you.” This is quintessential Religion, a continuation of a message that by all logic should not change at an essential level since God Himself is as He always has been. The path of salvation for the first man should be essentially identical to the last, an unbroken narrative with a good ending that depends entirely on God's mercy. In Islamic theology, the human being is born pure. The concept of Original Sin is essentially homeless in our tradition. We inherit genetic traits from our parents, not their wrongdoing. Forgiveness, pardoning, and mercy are of God's essence, and He generously bestows them for the cool price of belief and sincerity. Islam is young only in the sense that its “advent” has an historical moment, seventh century Arabia. But it is timeless in the sense that its very purpose is to keep the Record real and relevant.


Anonymous irving said...

An excellent essay, and true as rain. How wonderful for the Pope if he had quoted the Islamic Principles of Peace instead, and called on all Christians to embrace their Muslim brothers and sisters.

Ya Haqq!

9/17/2006 10:11 PM  
Blogger Celal Birader said...

"Only I have the full and final truth. All others are now are mistaken" is the stance of every false teacher. 1 John 2:18-19

9/28/2006 2:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exactly Celal. Prophet Muhammad taught what was common to all the prophets before him. He never claimed it was only he who had he truth.

9/28/2006 1:50 PM  
Blogger Celal Birader said...

Dear Anonymous, First, ask yourself how did Mohamed know "what was common to all the prophets before him." ? Did he make literal appeal to Scriptures (i.e. Bible) as the writers of the New Testament do on over 300 occasions? No, in fact the Koran is a re-write of and not an appeal to the Bible. Why is that an important distinction? Because he was de facto weaving his own "truth" and then himself giving it the stamp of "all the prophets".

10/04/2006 5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as you're criticizing the Pope - I have an idea that might be profitable for you.

Take on the Islamic press, why don't you?

Namely the fun-loving folks at Al-Jezeerah who are featuring an animated cartoon on their website.

In the cartoon, Pope John Paul II is releasing doves into the sky over St. Peter's. Gunfire erupts. The doves fall to the cobblestones. Benedict XVI, of course, has rifle in hand.

You might note - as you address Al-Jezeerah - that the last time gunfire erputed in St. Peter's Square it was at the hands of a TURKISH MUSLIM.

And the target was JOHN PAUL II.

No wonder you Muslims speak so highly of him.

One of your boys tried to kill him, failed, and the Pope forgave him.

You know, if you took care of cleaning up your own violent mess, you'd be busy 48 hours a day, and you wouldn't have any time left over to criticize the Pope whose only offense was to reference (REFERENCE, mind you!) a quote that says out loud what MANY very intelligent people in the West have been wondering as we listen to your imams and mullahs spewing hate all across the Islamic world.

Oh - and by the way - did you notice that while the Pope was denounced in MOSQUES from London to Rome (in the Western world), not one voice was raised in his defense in the CATHEDRALS pf Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance.

That would be because WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BUILD HOUSES OF WORSHIP in most Islamic countries.

But then, I suppose the concept of "reciprocity" as regards freedom of religion is as odious to you as the concept for self-reflective criticism.

Rules for everyone else - but no accountability for Islam.

10/12/2006 1:16 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Anon, this post was not about criticism of the Pope. If you'd read, you'd see that it was an attempt to say that a question was asked that should be answered. Also, you have no idea what I feel about the "press" in the Muslim world, yet you seem to be my unofficial biographer. As for the man who shot the Pope, he's my guy as much as Tim McVeigh was one of your guys or Son of Sam was one of your guys. A crook is a crook; a thief is a thief; assassin an assassin (attempted). If this is beyond you, then perhaps you need to engage in self-inspection.

10/12/2006 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes . . . it was an ATTEMPTED assassination . . . thanks for clarifying that.

As for McVeigh and Son of Sam, I'm not aware that they shouted "Viva el Cristo Rey" - roughly the equivalent of "Allah Akbar" - before their violent deeds. White militias and serial killers don't identify themselves as specifically religiously motivated as your boys do.

By the way, I notice you failed to address the issue of RECIPROCITY. Care to take that one on?

And you can move on from that to address the anti-Semitic and anti-Christian content of the textbooks used at the several Islamic academies that function under our freedom of religion ethos here in the USA.

Then a listing of the Catholic schools permitted in Islamic countries would be a valuable resource tool for those of us who aren't buying the "tolerant Islam" line just yet.

And as for self-inspection: as the newspapers witness in overabundant ways, if you concentrated on Islamic self-inspection you'd be way too busy to worry about us. We've been issuing mea culpas for years now - for the Crusades, in fact! Which - correct me if I'm wrong - were a response to the violent jihad which forced the conversions to Islam of the Christian communities of Northern Africa and the Middle East.

10/12/2006 9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another example of "ecumenical outreach" from that Great and Peaceful Religion so unfairly criticized in the Emperor's question quoted by Pope Benedict:

Vatican, Oct. 13 ( - Islamic computer hackers tried to disrupt the Vatican web site earlier this week, but failed, according to a report in the ANSA news service.

In an online forum for militant Muslims, a group announced plans for an assault on the Vatican computer network, which was said to be a form of retribution for Pope Benedict's criticism of Islam in his Regensburg speech. Police later confirmed that there had been a concerted effort by hackers to penetrate the Vatican site, but computer-security experts were able to detect and repel the attack.

The nature of the attempted attack was not clear. Some observers in Rome believed that the Islamic group was planning a "denial of service" attack, in which a web site is bombarded with many thousands of simultaneous visits, overloading the available bandwidth and making it impossible for others to reach the site.

In fact the Vatican site has functioned normally, with minimal noticeable slowdowns, through the week. Vatican security personnel are remaining vigilant in case of another effort by the hackers.

10/14/2006 6:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An Invitation to Paradise

I performed the istikhaarah salaah on the evening of Thursday, 7th September 1995 and pleaded for guidance from Allah, The One Who Is Above weaknesses. By the Grace of Allah, The One Who Is Most Kind to His slaves, I had the most marvellous dream. In my sleep that evening, I saw myself standing in the venerated presence of, and about two metres away from our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger) in the Rauda al-Jannah. The Holy Messenger of Allah (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger) was immaculately dressed in pristine white apparel and white turban. I felt entirely insignificant. I was in the company of the fountainhead of virtue. I, also, was dressed in white robes and a white turban, and stood with my back towards the qiblah. Tears of happiness streamed down my cheeks. The Holy Prophet (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger), who was sent by Allah, The Creator and Cherisher of all things, as a Warner and a Mercy to the worlds, stood and looked at me. I said in Afrikaans: “Yaa Rasulullaah, ek het vir U kom wys my familie – Suleiman, Dawood, Rifdah, en Makkia.” In English, this reads: “O Messenger of Allah, I have come to show to yourself my family – Suleiman, Dawood, Rifdah and Makkia.”

I woke with a song in my heart. Allah had honoured me with the society of the best of mankind. The dream was etched in my memory with an astonishing clarity. I shall never forget it. It was, to me, a precognition of the predestination of Allah, The One Whose Will Reigns Supreme, and an invitation from al-Madinah al-Munawwarah.

By the words “Yaa Rasulullaah” (“O Messenger of Allah”), I knew that I had definitely dreamt of the Holy Messenger of Allah (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger). That I spoke in “kombuis” Afrikaans was enlightening. I had much to think about. The reason for my not mentioning my wife’s name (as part of my family) in the list of introductions to the Prophet (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger) later became apparent to me – she had introduced herself on our first pilgrimage in 1991! The same could be said for myself – I also had not introduced myself in the dream, as I, likewise, had first travelled to Madinah then. The dream held another eye-opener – I had referred to Suleiman, Dawood, Rifdah and Makkia as ‘my family’ and not as ‘my children’ (as we do in the west). In this lay a poignant lesson – although Makkia forms part of our family, she is adopted (and not ours biologically) and therefore not of ‘our children’! For inclusiveness and especially in du’aa, I later familiarised myself with referring to them as ‘my family’, rather than ‘my children’. I would also refer to them as ‘the children’ in du’aa.

Always thereafter, I wondered why our Cherished Prophet (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger) did not speak to me in the dream.

I related my experience to anyone who would listen.

Islam teaches that a person who dreams of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger) has dreamt the truth and has in fact seen the Holy Prophet, and not (mistakenly) anyone else in his or her dream. Based on this reassurance, I believed with certainty that, as long as we held firmly onto the Shari’ah, my family and I would receive divine assistance to get to the Hijaz.

More than fifteen Jamaa’ah people had gone on Haj in 1997. In 1998, thirty-six persons had performed the holy journey. Twenty-one Jamaa’ah pilgrims had answered the call in 1999. The year 2000 had twenty-five Jamaa’ah Hujjaaj. Just eight people had gone during 2001. This time, more than a hundred went.

It was a good year, 1422AH. The Haj of that year brought new meaning to the lives of many and helped to heighten the spirit of camaraderie among the members of the ’Ibaad-u-Ragmaan Qadiri Jamaa’ah. Travelling to and staying in the Holy Land has always meant a lot to me. This journey was especially fulfilling. Every day was better than the one before, every moment sweeter than the previous one. Better travelling companions I could not have hoped for.

At 6pm on 24th December 2001, we left Cape Town for Johannesburg. Two days later, we left Johannesburg on Flight KQ 0461 for Nairobi and Jeddah. On 27th December 2001, we arrived by bus in Makkah al-Mukarramah from Jeddah. We completed the rites of ’Umrah.

If monetary outlay was the standard by which such things were measured, the Great Mosque in Makkah must have ranked as the principal wonder of the world. Billions of Saudi riyal had gone into its expansion and upkeep.

Brown tiles had replaced the hand-hewed granite stones of the Holy Ka'aba. Embroidered Quranic texts glistened above head-height on the kiswah.

Falcons had ousted the finches from the Great Mosque. Gliding majestically from the 89-meter-high minarets, these magnificent hunting birds soared elegantly on the warm air currents high above the Masjid al-Haram. They were showing off, I thought.

At around 16:00 on 2nd January 2002, we went by bus from Makkah to Madinah and reached there the next morning. Al-Masjid al-Nabwi, complete with underground parking and a first floor, had been enlarged to include two inner courtyards. There, big, state-of-the-art, umbrella-shaped sunshades sheltered visitors against the sun. Enlarged to hold more than a million worshippers, the Holy Mosque boasted golden grilles, precast terrazzo cornices and large brass doors. Plush woollen carpets enhanced the stylish décor.

After performing the necessary Salawaat, I carefully walked into the Rauda al-Jannah. A heavenly fragrance caught my attention. My mood moved from a state of grace to the very mountain-top of spirituality. Clad in white robes and a white turban, and standing with my back towards the qiblah, I stopped about five feet from the brass lattice that separates one from the holy graves. My spirit rested. I was unable to stop the tears from running into my beard. Choking back my emotions, I managed to greet the Messenger of Allah (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger). I softly added: “Yaa Rasulullaah, ek het vir U kom wys my familie – Suleiman, Dawood, Rifdah, en Makkia.” (“O Messenger of Allah, I have come to show to yourself my family – Suleiman, Dawood, Rifdah and Makkia.”)

I also greeted the Holy Prophet’s illustrious companions, Sayyidina Abu Bakr al-Siddiq and Sayyidina ’Umar al-Faruq (may Allah, The One Who Is Best Informed of all things, Comfort them with His Unending Satisfaction).

Alhamdu-lillaah. My dream of our Free-handed Prophet Muhammad had come true after more than six years. Allah, The One Who Feeds us against hunger and Makes us secure against fear, Had Guided us through the flawless personality of our Prophet (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger). Our Blameless Prophet Muhammad (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger) is the guiding light of those who do good deeds. There is no man greater than him. He is the spirit of truth and the master of those who warn against evil. The most honoured person in the Sight of Allah, our Generous Prophet remains the model that guides others to the straight path. Our Chivalrous Prophet Muhammad (May Allah Convey His Peace and Blessings upon the Holy Messenger) is the Sayed of the people of paradise.

11/22/2006 9:04 AM  

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