SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
SPEAKER 2: What is Islam? Islam means submission to the will of God in Arabic. It's a verbal noun. So in the simplest sense, a person who submits to the will of God is a Muslim. A law in Arabic is the generic word for God. And unlike what many people have assumed, it's the same generic term for God that we use in English, capital G-O-D.
In the Muslim view, Islam is the embodiment of God's providential message for all of humankind. It has been transmitted to humankind in the form of God's own unadulterated word, which gives guidance and has been unmediated by any human agency.
This same message, according to the Islamic way of understanding things, has been articulated time and again, since the very beginning of creation, at the beginning of time. It's been articulated time and again by a series of prophets and messengers, all of whom would be well known to Christians and Jews familiar with their own scriptures, prophets, and messengers, such as Moses and Jesus in particular.
In any case, God has dispatched these in the Muslim view to various human communities in different languages from the very beginning of time. And the Islamic scripture that we've had a look at and that we're going to be talking about in more detail in a moment refers to some 28 prophets and messengers that God has dispatched to various human communities.
While Islam, then, and God's word, and message for humankind is implicitly understood to be timeless and uncreated, having co-existed with God from before the creation of the world, at the same time God is said to have revealed this very message to a final prophet, the seal of the prophets, the very last in that long series of messengers and prophets sent to the various communities of humankind, a person who also became a model for human behavior. That individual, namely Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, who lived in the Arabian Peninsula from the end of the sixth century into the beginning of the seventh century.
His career as a prophet and as the messenger of God, a lot in Arabic, begins around 610 and ends with his death in the Arabian Peninsula around 632 so that the career of the prophet, the moments in time when he is said to be receiving these messages from God in serial form lasts about 22 years, as I said, ending with his death in 632.
The collection of all of those utterances received by the prophet and transmitted by the prophet to professional memorizers, utterances in Arabic revealed to him are called the Quran in Arabic, which is the Arabic word for recitation. And as previously mentioned, this is God's timeless blueprint for all of the cosmos and guidance for all of humanity.
In the sense that this message is timeless and was with God as God's word from before the creation of the world, the Quran and Islam are disconnected from the historical process. But simultaneously, when we speak about the prophet and that period of time during his life when the word of God was revealed to the prophet Muhammad, we see that, simultaneously, Islam is part of the historical process as much as it is removed from it.
The prophet Muhammad, according to the Quran and according to Islamic tradition is the unlettered prophet, which probably means illiterate, a sign that the document that is the Quran, is God's unadulterated discourse unmediated by any human agency, including that of the prophet who is merely the vehicle for Muslims through which God's word is transmitted in its most perfect form to humankind for all time in the Arabic language.
Here, we have illustrations of some of the artistic veneration with which Muslims treated the word of God in the Arabic language from different times and different places in different calligraphic and artistic styles. The first folio that we have is an illustration of a Quranic manuscript, probably from 13th or fourth century Islamic Spain or North Africa in a [INAUDIBLE] that is called Maghribi, peculiar to the Western style of calligraphy in the Islamic world.
Next, we have a manuscript from probably the ninth or 10th century in a style that's called Kufic. You can see that it's a very, very different calligraphic hand, a very different style of ornamentation, a bit more austere, but very, very beautiful, nevertheless.
Finally, we have an elaborately decorated Quranic leaf, probably from the 13th or 14th century, a Yemeni hand that is from Yemen. And this diversity is reflective of the fact that Muslims over time and place all shared in common the notion of venerating the representation of the word of God through Arabic calligraphy. But the treatment, the calligraphic style as well as the other artistic elements that were added to all of these folios differs over time and place.
Arabic calligraphy of the Quran in particular became the most important art form in the Islamic world. And later on, we'll have a chance to talk about the context of that in the larger scheme of Islamic art and architecture. Because Allah, whose word we've been discussing, is contained in the Quran, because Allah, God, is the same creator familiar to Christians and Jews from their scriptures, Judaism and Christianity necessarily have a tremendous amount in common with Islam.
Specifically, Islam shares a sacred history with Judaism going back to the creation, down through Moses and Israelite antiquity and with Christianity, down through Jesus. This means that if a Christian or a Jew were to pick up any copy of the Quran, probably an English translation, they would find a tremendous amount of material that would be familiar to them, mention of many of the prophets familiar from their respective scriptures, historical personages familiar from Israelite lore, or the history of early Christianity, all mentioned in various places in the text that is the Quran.
Let's have a look at one of these, and you'll see what I mean. This is from the second chapter of the Quran, verse 136. "Say, we believe in God and that which is revealed to us in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, to Moses, and Jesus, and the other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. And to God, we have surrendered ourselves."
This is an example of a number of texts that we could find almost anywhere in the Quran, giving us a sequence of prophets familiar from Israelite, Jewish, or Christian lore, usually in exactly the same sequence as one would find them in the scriptures of those religions and usually playing very much the same role so that these are not different figures. But it's the Islamic way of relating the same sacred history of humankind.
We find stories relating to Noah, and Adam, and as this phrase said, Isaac, Ishmael, and the tribes. Moses and Jesus in particular are very important prophets in the Quran. Because like the prophet Muhammad, they are messengers, meaning that they came to their respective religious communities with a book containing the revelation of God so that the Quran, you might be surprised to know, refers many, many times to the Torah, which God revealed to Moses and through Moses to the Israelite tribes and similarly and by analogy in a way different, obviously, than Christians would understand.
The Quran understands that Jesus was the recipient, similarly, of a scripture, the Injil, or the gospels. That was used to constitute the community of Christians that gathered around Jesus. So we have, in each of those instances, a community being constituted by a divine revelation, which are in the Quran's frame of reference, the self-same revelation in each case.
What this tells us is that the Quran acknowledges the essential convergence of each of these revelations, the fact that they certainly come from the same divine source and contain essentially the same message as the Arabic Quran, which is venerated by Muslims as the word of God. Let's take a look at another very famous text from the Quran which illustrates not some kind of historical convergence in terms of the sacred history of humankind, but rather a conceptual convergence with which Jews or Christians in particular would be very familiar.
The first chapter of the Quran plays a very important role in Muslim liturgy. It's one of the most recited text of all of Quranic lore. It begins, "[NON-ENGLISH]." In English, "In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, praise be to God, Lord of the universe, the compassionate, the merciful, sovereign of the day of judgment. You alone. we worship. And to you, alone, we turn for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, not of those who have incurred your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray."
I like to tell my students or ask students, is there anything in this text that either a Jew or a Christian in the seventh-century Arabian Peninsula or around the Near East would find incomprehensible, bizarre, or even offensive? Absolutely not.
The text speaks of the same monotheistic God familiar to Judaism and Christianity, speaks of the demand that this God makes upon human beings for righteous behavior and as a consequence of having made these demands, that human beings will be judged ultimately by this God for their behavior on the day of judgment.
It also reflects an awareness of the supremacy and the centrality of God in God's created universe and the secondary role and place of humankind in that universe, the dependence of human beings upon God and God's guidance and hence, the necessity for God's guidance in the form of the Quran, God's unadulterated word.
The Quran is not only a monotheistic scripture in Arabic for Arabic-speaking peoples. But part of the very essence of the message of monotheism is its universalism. If God is indeed the creator of all of the universe, all of the cosmos, all of humankind, then it is built into the very nature of the monotheistic idea that this message in some form must be shared with all of humankind. And that, in fact, is meant for all of humankind and not necessarily for a particular linguistic community.
And so we find during that 22-year period of the prophet's career, roughly from 610 to 632, the evolution of the message of monotheism, a kind of ethical monotheism at the beginning in the Arabic language very oracular, apocalyptic in nature, but one which progressively becomes aware of divisions in society round about the prophet and the nascent community of Muslims.
First and foremost, a message, a call, a warning directed to the pagan Arabs of Mecca with whom the prophet came into conflict. But secondarily, an awareness that this message was meant not only for those pagan Arabs in the Arabic language to embrace monotheism, but this universal message that is contained in the Quran for all of humankind and that was directed to the Jews in the prophet's second city of Medina, 250 miles to the north of Mecca, that we can see on the map and ultimately, beyond that to Christian populations all throughout the rest of the Near East.
So we begin to find in later chapters of the Quran an awareness of a contest among the monotheisms. So this contest between Islam and Judaism and Christianity is very neatly captured in an abundance of quotations from the later period of revelations, but very neatly in the following.
"Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian. He was an upright man, one who surrendered himself to God." We see that Jews tend to reflect upon Abraham as the first Jew, though the Hebrew Bible speaks of him only as a Hebrew, not even as an Israelite, let alone as a Jew, the beginning of a long chain of figures, tribes, clans, peoples and so on that result in the establishment of the Jewish people, whereas Christians look upon Abraham as in some sense embodying the perfect faith that is represented in Christianity.
For Muslims, this notion of Abraham's perfect trust in God, Abraham's close partnership with God is a sign of Abraham having surrendered himself to God and so being the first Muslim. This contest that I mentioned that's reflected in parts of the Quran, the scripture of Islam, can also be seen in some of the earliest buildings of Islamic civilization.
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which you can see on your screen, was established in 692. This is not a building that was the product of the conflicts in the Holy Land of the 20th century, but was built in 692 as an absolutely marvelous edifice as if Islam was saying it had arrived.
It had arrived and supplanted both Christianity and Judaism at one of the most holiest spots to all monotheists in the Middle East. And with the erection of that building, we see this exclamation of Islam not only having arrived, but having arrived in a way as to lay claim to the very sacred space and sacred time that previously were associated with Judaism and Christianity.
Near Eastern religions, even long before the time of Islam in the seventh century, are predicated on law, and law givers, and law coming forth from God. And Islam and the Quran are no exception. Like Judaism, Islam is a religion very much predicated on God's holy law, the first source of which is the Quran itself, which contains in its general guidance for humankind, specific prescriptions and proscriptions for human beings as we might expect.
So in Islam, God's holy law is sharia which means the way or the path, which Muslims are expected to follow. And we'll talk a little bit later on about how that law is elaborated in the post-Quranic period. With the prophet's death in 632, later generations of Muslims had to look to other sources for spiritual guidance. Because with the prophet's death, access to God's ongoing revelation was closed. Revelation was finished. The text of the Quran shortly after the death of the prophet was fixed.
So Muslims needed to have other sources of guidance. And like Judaism and Christianity, developed what we would call tradition as a way of elaborating on the text of God's word, as a way of expanding and adjusting the text, which is God's word, to changing political, economic conditions of society.
In Islam, these take the form of what is called the Sunnah of the prophet. That is Islamic tradition and hence, the notion of Sunni Muslim. The Sunnah of the prophet is the sum total of behaviors, utterances, the model of the prophet who is presumed to have embodied the most perfect understanding of God's will, since he was chosen vehicle for God's revelation so that in some sense for Muslims, the model of the prophet's behavior while he was on Earth means that the prophet is a paradigm for what it means to be a Muslim in much the same way as some Christians look to the behavior, the utterances, the model of Jesus Christ as a sign for how a Christian ought to behave during their lifetime.
Now, what are the sources of this Sunnah of the prophet? How do we know what the prophet said and did during his lifetime? This Sunnah, the prophet's path, the prophet's way is embodied in a canonical series of texts, which are called the Hadiths. These are the documents which record, according to Islamic tradition, sayings of the prophet, behaviors of the prophet witnessed by his companions that were passed down through the generations of Muslims to later authorities.
Some of these tell us a great deal about the elasticity of the Islamic tradition, the need to understand change over time after the period of the Quran. And I'd like to share a couple of those with you. One such prophetic tradition or utterance for which we have a Hadith, which gives us the prophet Sunnah, is that Muhammad is said to have argued, "My community shall never agree upon error," meaning that the consensus of the Muslim community is, by definition, what is correct for Islam, that God in God's wisdom would never permit the consensus of Muslims in any given age to significantly error from the true way.
Similarly, another utterance ascribed to Muhammad, I think, is an even cleverer illustration of the ability of Islam to flex itself, to evolve over time. Muhammad is quoted as having said, "After my death, more and more sayings will be ascribed to me. Just as many sayings have been ascribed to previous prophets without they're really having said them. When a saying is reported and attributed to me, compare it with God's book--" the Quran.
"Whatever is in accordance with the book is from me, whether I really said it or not" so that the Quran is the ultimate arbiter of all that is Islam, but where the Quran is either ambiguous in the way in which human beings understand its language or where it is seemingly contradictory in the way in which human beings might understand it.
Islamic tradition in the form of the model of the prophet documented in these reports, the Hadith, serve as a second source of inspiration and guidance, a secondary source alongside the Quran. Islam makes many demands upon the community of believers. But these demands stress the following, first and foremost testifying verbally and in public to belief in the one God and in the role played by God's messenger to humankind, the prophet Muhammad.
Second, daily prayer for most Muslims five times a day, prayer spaced through the day, prayer as an act of acknowledging God's sovereignty and dominion over the created universe and the centrality of God in human life. This prayer, by and large, is not a prayer focused on supplication, but a prayer focused on adoration, and worship, and praise of God.
Third, a social element, a concern for the needy, and the poor, and the weak, and the powerless in society. This concern expressed in the form of regular alms, giving 2 and 1/2% of one's total value in any given year and alms giving very much left up to the individual believer, but one upon which tremendous religious merit accrues. I'd like to read from one of those Hadith from the Sunnah of the prophet that speaks to the significance of alms-giving, this third very important practice that is essential to any definition of what is Islam.
The prophet said, "Charity is a necessity for every Muslim. He was asked, what if a person has nothing? The prophet replied, he should work with his own hands for his benefit and then gives something out of such earnings in charity. The companions of the prophet asked, what if he's not able to work? The prophet said, he should help poor and needy persons. The companions further asked, what if he cannot do even that? The prophet said, he should urge others to do good. The companion said, what if he lacks that also? The prophet said, he should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity."
So we see that the notion of doing good, of playing a positive role in human society, looking out for the welfare of those who are the least protected is a central practice of any definition of the religious aspect of Islam. And this had social, economic, and political repercussions that we'll also be referring to later on.
The fourth demand made upon the community of believers involves daylight fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan, the point of which is spiritual purification, abstinence, cultivation of devotion, forgiveness. And at the end of Ramadan, at the end of a month of daylight fasting, there is a tremendous sense of joyousness, of relief, and of spiritual and physical accomplishment with having obeyed God's command for observing this month-long daylight fast of Ramadan.
The fifth demand Islam makes upon the community of believers is pilgrimage to the sacred precincts of Mecca and Medina in the Arabian Peninsula, retracing many of the steps of the prophet, celebrating during a particular month of the year, the pilgrimage festival with hundreds of thousands of other Muslims from around the globe. If one is physically and financially able to make this pilgrimage, one is obliged to do so at least once in one's lifetime.
Next, we're going to talk about Islamic society, Islam as a polity. But if you've had some questions or comments or objections to anything that you've heard so far, this would be a wonderful time for you to check the discussion board and to enter into that dialogue with me. I'll be happy to answer any questions or comments that you might have.
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Islam, which means acknowledging the sovereignty of God, is first and foremost a monotheistic system of belief and practice. In the simplest sense, then, a Muslim is a person who submits to Allah (Arabic for God).
This CyberTower Room offers an introduction to Islam and Islamic civilization. In particular it highlights some of the lasting achievements of classical Islam and invites the CyberTower visitor to consider these over against the misguided popular tendency to regard Islam and Muslims as "others."
This video is part 2 of 5 in the Islam series.