Islam and the Islamic Notion of Revelation
By Raymond Taouk
Today we are living in a time in which we are living in a time in which we are beginning to witness the revival of Islam.
This is something that Hiliare belloc the great English Historian of the 20th Century had prophetically states in his work "the great Heresies". In this book written in the late 1930's he states that "Millions of modern people of the white civilization—that is, the civilization of Europe and America—have forgotten all about Islam. They have never come in contact with it. They take for granted that it is decaying, and that, anyway, it is just a foreign religion which will not concern them. It is, as a fact, the most formidable and persistent enemy which our civilization has had, and may at any moment become as large a menace in the future as it has been in the past. The suggestion that Islam may re-arise sounds fantastic but this is only because men are always powerfully affected by the immediate past: one might say that they are blinded by it. "
A brief History of Islam
The fact that most of the Mohammedans are mainly located in the far east is because the people known as today's “Arabs”, from whom Islamic religion spread, were descendents of Ishmael, the son of Abraham who was born of the slave woman agar to whom God said he would multiply her seed. This is why the Ishmael is recognized as a prophet in the Islamic Religion (he is placed after Abraham but before Isaac ).
These sons of Agar dwelt on the Arabian peninsula and were roughly divided between a nomadic and a more or less urban oasis culture.
The Tribal-society aspect of pre-Islamic Arabia explains many of the things that can be found in Islam today. For example, it was perfectly in line with Arab morality to mount raids on other tribes in order to obtain wealth, wives, and slaves, and so the tribes were constantly at war with one another. These desert tribes lived by the code "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". Vengeance was extracted whenever anything was done to hurt any member of the tribe. Forcing people into slavery or kidnapping women, hold them in a harem, and raping them at will was considered just and proper.
The harsh Arab climate produced a harsh tribal society in which violence was the norm. And violence is still an attribute of Islamic societies.
The Arab population was Polytheistic in orientation. The male and female spirits existed in trees; stones, rivers and mountains, and so they were they worshiped a various number of different “gods”. Sacred magic stones were believed to protect the tribes. The Quraysh tribe had adopted a black stone as their tribal magic stone and had set it up at the Kabah. This magical black was kissed when people came on their pilgrimage to worship at the Kabah. It was no doubt an asteroid/meteorite that had fallen out of the sky and thus was viewed as being divine in some way.
The Quraysh tribe, (Muhammad's tribe) which was one of the more larger and more important tribes saw to it that there was an idol for every religion at the pagan temple called the Kabah (a another version of the Roman Parthenon – the temple dedicated to all the Gods. The word Kabah is Arabic for "cube" and refers to the square stone temple in Mecca where the idols were worshipped. The Ka’bah was a cube shaped construction which was about 50 feet high with side 40 feet wide enclosing an empty, windowless room with marble walls. This temple contained a virtual smorgasbord of deities with something for everyone. At least 360 gods were represented at the Kabah and a new one could be added if some stranger came into town and wanted to worship his own “god” in addition to the ones that were already represented. - This Kabah will later play a major role in Islam because it is by means of this Kabah that Mohammed will claim to prove the apostolic character of his religion by simply saying that Abraham and Ishmeal had built the Kabah even though there is no historical proof that Abraham or Ishmeal were ever in Mecca.
The Beginning of Islam
The founder of Islam is Muhammad (AD 570 - 632). Muhammad's father died before he was born, and his mother died while he was still young. He was sent to live with his rich grandparents, who later sent him to live with a wealthy uncle, who in turn passed him on to a poor uncle who raised him as well as he could.
The Quarish tribe, to which Mohammed belonged, had established itself in the south of Hijas (Hedjaz), near Mecca, which was, the principal religious and commercial center of Arabia at the time of Mohammed. They had become the masters and the acknowledged guardians of the sacred Kaaba, within the town of Mecca — then visited in annual pilgrimage by the heathen Arabs with their offerings and tributes — and had thereby gained such preeminence that it was comparatively easy for Mohammed to inaugurate his religious reform and his political campaign, which ended with the conquest of all Arabia and the fusion of the numerous Arab tribes into one nation, with one religion, one code, and one sanctuary.
According to the biographers and early Muslim traditions, Mohammed’s mother died when he was a little boy and so he was raised by his uncle Abu Talib who brought him up a pagan and introduced him in the trade business but As a whole very little is known about his early life mainly because he was simply a normal Arab boy who enjoyed talking with those who traveled in the caravans. He loved to explore the desert and particularly the caves. According to the early Muslim traditions, the young pagan Muhammad experienced different visions in some of the caves he went to.
He got married at the age of 25 to a wealthy women named Cadijah who’s cammel trade he looked after, she was some 15 years older him, but it was through this marriage that he became much more acquainted with Christianity since his wife’s uncle (Zayd) was a Nestorian Christian who upbraided him for worshiping idols and instructed him in the faith. In fact Father Nicholas of Cusa, a well known Catholic Theologian and Philosopher of the 15th Century, quotes another Arab, in his work “ A scrutiny of the Koran” who states that Mohammed Himself had been influence by Sergius a Nestorian monk, which seems probable since most of the surrounding region and towns next to were Mohammed had lived had more or less accepted Christianity in one form or other.
Nevertheless at the age of 40 Muhammad (610) Mohammed began to experience have visions again. This time he claimed that Allah had called him to be a prophet (nabi) and an apostle (Rasul).
Muhammad at first shared his call only with the family and friends in secret. Indeed, his first converts were some members of his own family. But soon his message became public, and he became subject to ridicule and hostility by the population at large and even by members of his own family.
In order to appease his pagan family members and the members of the Quraysh tribe, he decided that the best thing he could do was to admit that it was perfectly proper to pray to and worship the three daughters of Allah: Al-Lat, Al-ussa and Manat! This led to the famous "satanic verses" in which Muhammad in a moment of weakness and supposedly under the inspiration of Satan succumbed to the temptation to appease the pagan mobs in Mecca (Sura 53:19).
Muhammad eventually fled to medina, in AD 622. This event is called hejira by the Muslims and marks the beginning of the Muslim era and calendar. In other words the year 622, is the year 1 in the Islamic Calendar.
While at Medina, Muhammad planned and organized the spread of his new religion. The only powerful method he could use was that of violence in the name of Allah - the jihad. This jihad was so successful, despite so many oppositions, that at Muhammad's death in AD 632 half of the Arabic world had become Muslim, and by AD 750 the Muslims had conquered the Persian and large parts of the Byzantine empire.
From reading the Koran one would not suppose that an enormous number of Arabs were Christians. Though the people of the Hijas were predominately pagan, many of the surrounding tribes had accepted Christianity. There were some members of the Quraysh tribe that had accepted Christianity but they were generally few. However all along the Mediterranean Christianity was already fully established. In fact it is reported that that when Muhammad entered Mecca in triumph in the year 630, paintings of Jesus and the virgin Mary, among others, were still visible on the inner walls of the Ka'ba.
The meaning of Islam
The very word is an Arabic word, which originally referred to an attribute of manliness and described someone who was heroic and brave in battle. However most expounders of the word will generally affirm that it means “submission” as the Moslems today understand it to mean. Most Moslem apologist will even go as far as saying the originality of this name is a sign of the divine origin of Islam and a clear indication that all must because Moslems since it is obvious to any believer that we must be in “submission to God”.
Divisions in Islam:
Despite the military success of the Muslims, Islam has divided into various sects of which the two largest are the Sunni and the Shiah. The Term “Sunni” is derived from the word “Sunnah” which means “Tradition”. The Shias have their own Sunnah, not identical to that of the Sunnis. The Sunni uphold the legitimacy of the succession of the first three caliphs, (Abu Bakr, Omar, and Uthman, while the Shiah defend the Divine right of Ali as against the successions of these caliphs whom they call "usurpers", and whose names, tombs, and memorials they insult and detest). The Sunni make up the larger about 85 % while the Shiah make up about 10%.The major difference is that Sunni is more like a Church founded on the consensus of the community, while the Shite hold to an authoritarian form of Government were the imams have the right of say which can not be contradicted by the community since they are seen as having a sort of impeccability/infallibility.
That is a brief historical overview, however Before I get into the Islamic notion of revelation I want to mention something about the other sources of Islamic authority and the Islamic beliefs so that you can understand what place the Koran holds in Islam and what it teaches the Moslems.
The theology of the Koran is quite simple and thats what makes it most suitable for your any Godless pagan to embrace. – The Joe 6 pack religion.
It is a monotheistic - A strict belief in one God, who they call "Allah". "Allah" has 99 names. For the Moslem Our Lord Jesus Christ is merely a prophet, one of the many prophets with Mohammed being the last and the greatest of the Prophets and so the Moslems do not pray to or worship Mohammed, -not in the strict sense any way. They pray to Allah - They believe that with Mohammed the canon or revelation from God was finally closed. Their will be no more - Its true that some Moslems deny this point but a general rule those are the tenants of the great body of Moslems.
For the Moslems Islam supersedes Christianity and Judaism in the way Christianity Superseded Judaism so according to them it is incumbent on all Christians to be come Muslims and So we Should all convert and become Muslims.
Similarities and Differences:
Moslems do believe in heaven and Hell, good and bad angels. They believe in the Devil - the Shaitan -or iblis- who was condemned to hell because he refused to worship Adam - this same idea is found in the Talmud. They do Believe in Adam and Eve, but they deny Original sin since for them the sin of Adam did not loose anything for the rest of men but only for Adam alone.
The pagan element that Mohammedans have maintained about angels is a believe in the spirits they call jinn, these spirits are said to have originated in fire and function as mediators between angels and humans. They claim that there are good and bad Jinn and that Mohammed had converted some of them to Islam.
While the Muslims do believe in Heaven and Hell, their notion of Hell is similar to ours, but their notion of heaven is clearly pagan although not totally since, they claim that Heaven has 7 levels. The seventh Level is the highest - somewhat equivalent to our heaven. There you are in the presence of Allah.
However the average Moslem is more familiar with the other levels of heaven which are presented in a materialistic and sensual way since these places a mans sexual desires are fulfilled to the limited - a place which St. Alphonsus says is only fit for beasts!
In fact if you really want to understand why some Mohammedan would strap some bombs on himself and gladly let them explode at the cost of his life, it is precisely because he is promised heaven in return for killing the infidel. And so he goes to his death looking forward to an eternity of bliss in a land were there will be milk and honey and all wine and you can drink along with the most beautiful girls called "Houris" to fulfill their every desire!
Although the Koran does lay down most of what I have said so far about the Islamic beliefs, yet all most all the other things Moslems believe are derived from three other sources besides the Koran:
I. The Hadith, a record of words and deeds of Muhammad by his relatives and friends;
II. The Sunnah, or acts of Muhammad;
III. The Ijma, consensus of the Muslim community or of its leading scholars.
The reason that Mohammedans have other authorities other than the Koran is that from the very beginning it was clearly understood that the Qur’án could not give all the rules for all the situations encountered by a Muslims in daily life.
Even during Muhammad’s lifetime a supplement to his message proved to be necessary; his deeds and words were written down so as to be an example for future moslems on how to conduct their lives. These stories about Mohammed were passed down orally until the 9th century before they were systematically collected and written down into what is know as the Hadith. The Hadith Together with the Sira, constitute the Sunnah - that is the traditions of the Prophet.
While no absolute canon of the Hadîth has ever been established, nevertheless certain compilers are recognized as more trustworthy - those compiled by al-Bukhari (d. 256 A.H., 870 A.D.), are regarded as most sahih - most true . The Hadith itself from a historical point of view as far as its reliability is a collection of hearsay statements which is not really worth the paper it's written on, it is not only doubtful but like the Koran it is also latent with contradictions (Islam by Alfred Guilaume, pg. 106) but even then while I might undermine the Hadith because of the fact it is historically unreliable for reasons I don't have the time to get into but what you have to at least understand as that in practice it almost plays a far greater roll than the Koran does for the average Muslim since without the Hadith, the Koran the Koran doesn't stand as a Pillar of direction for Moslems on how to function in their daily life as Muslims and being Arabs unless a law is set down they will kill one another over even the smallest things.
The beliefs that are laid down for the Moslem to believe are 6 major beliefs:
The Beliefs of Islam
The 6 Major beliefs of Islam, according to the Quran and Muslim tradition:
I. Belief in Allah
II. Belief in the prophets
III. Belief in the day of Judgment (therefore belief in heaven and hell);
IV. Belief in the revealed books;
V. Belief in the angels;
VI. Belief in fate or providence – Calvanistic idea of Predestination.
Every Muslim must believe and profess these beliefs. If any Muslim renounces Islam or becomes an apostate, he will be liable to the greatest punishment, death and hell. Another Islamic belief is that is that it is absolute necessity for all male Children to be circumcised, while some Islamic sects prescribe it also for women. Divorce and Polygamy are allowed, Pork along with alcohol are forbidden as "harram" – evil.
The obligations of Islam
Muslims also hold to the teaching of “faith and good works” and totally reject the protestant notion “justification by faith alone”. Upon every Muslim there are incumbent various obligations which they are bound to observe. They are the following:
I. Belief in the oneness of Allah and his prophet Muhammad;
II. Offering of daily prayers;
III. Almsgiving; - They do believe in good works and reject the idea of "faith alone"
IV. Observing the fast of Ramadan (30 days); - Ramadam follows a luna Calendar. During the month of Ramadam Muslims can not eat or drink during day time hours - not even their own saliva!
V. Performing hajj to the Kabah in Mecca once in a lifetime, if possible.
The Islamic notion of Revelation:
The Islamic bible equivalent is the Koran. The word Koran comes from the Arabic to recite or read since it was originally given to Mohammed as a recitation which he inturn recited to others who wrote it down. This revelation was intended to recieted by all who accepted its message, that is why most devoute moslems now great portions of the Koran from memory. The Koran is roughly equivalent in length to the New Testament and divided into 114 sections, known as suras. The book's are organizing principle according to size.
While the Koran hold a similar prominence in Islam as the bible does in Christianity, yet strangely enough their notion of revelation is totally different. As you know, the Catholic teaching on revelation of the Sacred Text of the Bible is that various human authors wrote the various books or letter that they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost while nevertheless maintaining their liberty and their various styles, temperaments and different degree's of human knowledge. For the Moslems on the other hand the Quran was suppose to be send down from heaven directly by God by the intermediary of one Man, the Prophet Mohammed who while he disclaimed having any power to perform miracles, claimed that the divine revelations enshrined in the Quran were themselves miraculous sign's of his apostle ship. In the Koran Mohammed expressly states regarding the Koran that "God Himself and His holy Spirit composed this most true book.”- Surah 16:101,
For the Moslem because the Quran is supposed to have come down "unfettered" by human intervention, is thus the truest and clearest statement of Allah's word, and therefore supersedes all previous revelations, even annulling those revelations, as they have supposedly been corrupted by the limitations of their human authors.
The Quran itself though is seen as merely a transcript of an uncreated and eternal tablet or book that had preexisted in heaven in which is written all that has happened and that will happen. It is suppose to have been reveled to Mohammed by the intermediary of the spirit of God.
The physical Qur’án, that they have in written text for them , is only the visible copy of that eternal and uncreated Quran. The Uncreated and eternal Quran is called the Mother of the Book. The role of Mohammed was to speak the truths of this Uncreated Koran, so that it could take on earthly form, and thus carry Allah's eternal message to the world. And so not seen as a book in the ordinary sense, nor is it comparable to the Bible, either the Old or New Testaments. It is for the moslems an expression of Divine Will. If you want to compare it with anything in Christianity, you must compare it with Christ Himself. Christ was an expression of the Divine among men, the revelation of the Divine Will. That is what the Quran is for the Moslems. If you want a comparison for the role of Muhammad, the better one in that particular respect would be Blessed Virgin Mary. Muhammad was the vehicle of the Divine, as she was the vehicle of the word of God... (Charris Waddy, The Muslim Mind [New York: Longman, 1976], p.14)
For this reason as funny as it might sound, Islam has had and continues to have its own Arians, etc who debating and persecuting each other over the nature of the Quran as being created or uncreated. Some say it's created while others deny it! After years of blood shed on the issue it is commonly held that the Koran is uncreated.
Nevertheless what is interesting about the Mohammedan claim of an uncreated Quran - even though we find it erroneous - the idea of a heavenly tablet was not a new idea invented by Mohammed the concept is as old as religion itself. This idea was familiar to the ancient heathens (of Mesopotamia), not to mention the fact that Talmudic Judaism, in its traditional literature has crowned the Torah as pre-existent.
In Christianity pre-existence is ascribed to the word of God, the logos but of course it has a different significance since the Moslems don't worship the Koran as God !
Nevertheless during Mohammed’s lifetime the verses that he recited and claimed to be revealed to him were written on palm-leaves, stones, the shoulder -blades of animals, and any other material that came to hand. because Mohammed could have his revelations at any time and so they often made use of what was handy.
While historically there were a number of different version of the Koran which contradicted each other, the Moslems wisely deceived to destroy them and decide on only maintaining one version because the Moslems feared that scriptural exegesis would pursue the course with them like it had taken among Jews and Christians who at that the time accused one another of corrupting and falsifying the text, it would have meant the end for this newly founded religion. The edition which they put out is till this day the authoritative text. Even though there are various versions of this text Only the original Arabic version of the Koran is God’s inspired word since English versions cannot give you the true meaning of the Koran .
The earliest copy of the Koran can be dated at around 790 AD which is about 160 years after the death of Mohammed but there are some earlier fragments which date about 100 years after the death of Mohammed. But its only logical that the bones, stones, palm leaves, tree bark, etc.., which contained some of the material on which the Koran was suppose to have been written that these materials perished. Since these materials by their very nature corrupt. In fact that is what even happened to the divinely inspired of Gospels and Epistles the New Testament. The earliest copy of the Koran can be dated at around 790 AD which is about 160 years after the death of Mohammed but there are some earlier fragments which date about 100 years after the death of Mohammed. Yet while its true that most Islamic Scholars will dishonestly affirm that they still have the original version, yet it not only could they not produce such a text but humanly speaking its not possible since those materials by nature decay.
Moslems no not only have a different notion of Revelation but also of prophet hood. But this teaching of Islam was clearly only a latter development since if you read the Koran the notion of prophet hood resembles the Christian understand. They firstly make a distention between one who is a Nabi -that is one who deliver simple admonitions and warnings, and One who is specially chosen to proclaim a special revelation , the rasûl – An Apostle.
Moslems claim that not only are all the prophets/Apostles – Rasul of Allah, are inspired by God to reveal his will to the world, but that these rasul/ prophets especially Mohammed (the seal/culmination of the prophets) were all without sin and infallible.
It's undeniably important to understand what Moslems do and don't believe since Islam today is a reality that we have to deal with. The Moslems today dwell not in some distant land across the sea but in the same countries in which we also live and so its important to have at least some understanding of one of the world's largest religions especially one which most westerners are more than likely to join since it appeals to the senses and isn't to difficult to follow and that would suit the lifestyle of most materialist godless people today.
On this note, I would like to leave you with the thoughts of Belloc on Islam who in response to the vital question "May not Islam arise again?" He responds, "In a sense the question is already answered because Islam has never departed. It still commands the fixed loyalty and unquestioning adhesion of all the millions between the Atlantic and further a field throughout scattered communities of further Asia. But I ask the question in the sense "Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Mohammedan world which will shake off the domination of Europeans still nominally Christian and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization?" The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam.”
It seems we are beginning to see that revival!
- CATHOLIC APOLOGETICS -