Bravmann, The Spiritual Background, 34-36.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
 Bravmann, The Spiritual Background, 34-36.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
According to the Koran, ‘Allah’ is one and no other god can be associated with him. This concept was most likely adopted from the South Arabian moon-god ar-Rahman (the Merciful), whose name was later adopted by Muslims as one of ‘Allah’s’ titles. C. C. Torrey states:
The South Arabian inscriptions have brought to light a highly interesting parallel. In a number of them there is mention of the God, who is styled ‘the Rahman’ (Merciful). A monument in the British Museum... is especially remarkable. Here we find clearly indicated the doctrines of the divine forgiveness of sins, the acceptance of sacrifice, the contrast between this world and the next, and the evil of ‘associating’ other deities with the Rahman.
The theological concept of shirk, however, goes beyond the simple denial of ‘Allah’s’ unity. It can also be a superficial piety of Muslims who fulfil their prayer obligation due to peer pressure, force of habit, or some other hypocritical reason. However, there exist two relevant concepts called ‘lesser shirk’ (al-shirk al-asghar) and ‘hidden shirk’ (al-shirk al-khafiy), in the depths of the human’s soul.
Muhammed probably committed this interpretation of shirk when he assumingly associated three Arabian goddesses with ‘Allah’, which is called the ‘affair of the Satanic verses’. Muhammed’s troubles had started when Abu Jahl, one of his most fierce adversaries in Mecca, came to him and demanded that he would stop cursing their gods. Although Muhammed hated polytheism, he had a great respect for the Kaaba, the Meccan place of idol worship, and, at this stage, could not afford to invoke any further hostility. Thus he declared:
Do not revile the idols which they invoke besides Allah, lest in their ignorance they revile Allah with rancour. Thus have We made the actions of all men seem pleasing to themselves. To their Lord they shall return, and We will declare to them all that they have done.
According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammed then refrained from cursing the Meccan idols, but called them all by the same name, ’Allah’. Muhammed had now merged all the 300-some idols at the Kaaba into the city’s chief deity, calling all of them by the same name.
Thus Islam is the religion of ‘oneness’ as opposite to shirk, which literally means to ‘join together’ or ‘participate’. That implies, that there is no other true religion, and to Islam all men should surrender in submission, in order not to commit shirk and become zindiqs (those who reject ‘Allah’s’ oneness) kafirs (infidels, lit. unbelievers; kufr=unbelief) or mulids (atheists). The Muslim author Fatima Mernissi discusses these terms and, after having declared the opposition of islam and shirk, states:
Shirk is the most appropriate word for translating the word “freedom” in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, which is posed as an ideal to be attained. “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this includes freedom to change his religion...”
Thus, if shirk, as the opposite term for islam, stands for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, it is not surprising that Islam has had some problems with facing the Western way of thought, with its democracy and varieties of ‘freedoms’.
Monday, August 25, 2008
In the Koran the terms islam and iman (faith) are synonymous; muslim and mu’min [believer] comprise the whole body of those who had escaped from Hell by embracing Islam.
In fact, the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ were not used by Muhammed until a fairly late period of his prophetic career. The earliest possible date is 2 AH (624 CE) but it probably was later. Before the hijra to Medina, Muhammed’s followers were simply called believers (mu’minun) and that name was used even after Muhammed’s death. In fact, mu’minun “is both earlier and more frequently used, occurring 179 times in the Koran as against 37 occurrences of muslimun.”
It was the rapid course of events in the first decades following the death of Muhammad - the hostile attitude taken by the previously islamized tribes, the restoration of order by Abu Bakr and his generals, the splendid feats of arms under Umar, which were followed by the islamization of large parts of the ancient world — that made clear to the Companions, and to the pious generation of their successors, that the term ‘Islam’ had obtained a temporal meaning. It seemed as if the narrow path, originally the only way by which the city of Islam could be reached, had been enlarged and paved and become easy highway for the multitudes who came from all sides to embrace Islam.
During the first years after Muhammed’s death, Islam changed its meaning from being a narrow path of warfare and strife, to become an accessible way for the commoner to walk. When Muhammed began to use the word ‘s-l-m’ he simply referred to soldiers who were willing to die for the faith. In the light of the recent wars of terrorism some Islamic groups have been waging against Israel, Jews, the West and ‘moderate’ Muslims, one notices their attachment to Islam’s original meaning. Thus, one could argue that their ‘fundamentalism’ really means to turn back to the original meaning of Islam.
This theological question may be explained by referring to the double meaning of the word jihad (‘holy war’), which consists of both ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ jihad. At first this word meant to ‘fight until the end’ — to the utmost of one’s capacity. When the Islamic Empire had been established the ‘inner’ jihad of one’s personal fight against his ego and sinful desires came into being. The words ‘islam’ and ‘jihad’ took on new and more peaceful meanings when Islam developed. They were not only connected with ‘imperialistic’ expansion by force, but the expansion of Islamic values inside oneself and a growing faith (iman) in ‘Allah’. Indeed, Muhammed described the three most important works a man could perform as faith, war in the path of ‘Allah’ and a blameless pilgrimage.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Iman is usually translated as a ‘personal faith’ or ‘belief’, yet it is not very similar to the Judeo-Christian understanding of that word. It is probably best defined as ‘a shelter from danger’ or ‘protection from enemies’. In the pre-Islamic Arabian society, an outlaw would seek iman after being expelled from his tribe. It refers to his trust in his protector, who would guard him as any other member of his tribe. For an early Arab believer in ‘Allah’, iman simply meant a change of identity. He did not belong any longer to his blood-tribe but to the Islamic umma (community) and would seek protection from ‘Allah’ and his Apostle. It must be noted that there are two kinds of iman; eternal and temporal. ‘Allah’ is believed to be the only one on whom the eternal iman is bestowed and to his creation the temporal iman is given.
For it is inconceivable that a man should have joined Muhammad and
his religion without being ready to sacrifice his life in battle (and also his
property) for God [‘Allah’] and His prophet.
According to this interpretation, ‘islam’ (like jihad) was originally a secular
concept, denoting a sublime virtue in the eyes of the primitive Arab: defiance
of death, heroism, in the fight for honour or for what seemed to him the most
notable aspirations. His ideal was to be killed in battle... while surrender to
the enemy was considered ignominious.
Another distinguished authority, Helmer Ringgren, discussed in broad terms this Arabic word and concluded that “the stress lies on totality, not on submission.”
D. Z. H. Baneth asks himself: “Is not a word expressing ‘surrender’, ‘submission’, ‘resignation’ as a name for the new religion far too spiritual for the social environment in which Muhammad had to preach?” His conclusion is that ‘submission’ was hardly the concept Muhammed had in mind when he called his religion Islam. In fact, the passive and peaceful asceticism which was common among Muhammed’s earliest followers and Arabian Christians was denounced by the Prophet. He even took another step and declared: “There is no monasticism (rahbaniya) in Islam; the monasticism of this community is the Holy War (jihad).” The expansion of Islam was to be carried out by force, not peaceful persuasion, and thus it was only logical to chose an aggressive term for the new religion, which based its existence on warfare and the use of force.
 Jeffery, Islam, 157.
 Daniel Easterman, New Jerusalems. Reflections on Islam, fundamentalism and the Rushdie affair (London, 1992), 150.
 M. M. Bravmann, The Spiritual Background of Early Islam. Studies in Ancient Arab Concepts (Leiden, 1972), 8-9.
 Helmer Ringgren, Islam, ‘Aslama and Muslim (Lund, 1949), 13.
 D. Z. H. Banath, ‘What Did Muhammad Mean When He Called his religion ‘Islam’? The original meaning of aslama and the deriavatives’, Israel Oriental Studies 1 (1971), 183-150.
 Quoted in Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law (Princeton, 1981), 123, 128.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Western scholars have often referred to Islam as Muhammedanism, the religion of Muhammed, as compared to Christianity, the religion of Christ. However, Muslims call their religion Islam, and are usually very offended when someone mentions the former name, since they do not, as they say, worship Muhammed.
The Muslim creed states that there is no god but ‘Allah’
 and his sinful nature is as well mentioned in other Koranic passages. Furthermore, many hadiths (the sayings of Muhammed) mention Muhammed’s sinfulness. On the other hand, many Muslims, including Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph, believed that Muhammed was divine and could not die. Others, as reported by the authentic scholar al-Bukhari, fought over his dirty water from washing, which they drank or smeared over their bodies, if Muhammed’s spit was not available, or a single hair of his body.
The fact is that Muhammed was a sinner like everyone else. In the Koran, ‘Allah’ literally asks Muhammed to beg forgiveness for his sins,
Those who accept Muhammed’s words as the perfect authority of right and wrong are elevating this sinful man to the status of a god. If Muhammed really has absolute status in Islam we are justified in referring to his religion as Muhammedanism, or consider Islam as bi-theism (bi-theistic religion). If he was just another messenger, even the most exalted one, we cannot accept his words as the perfect authority of ‘Allah’s’ will. Either way, theological Islam has contradicted itself concerning this issue.
The Sunna of Muhammed
The fundamentals of Islam are the Koran and Muhammed’s sunna (traditions). Muslims believe the Koran to be the eternal word of ‘Allah’, the eternal god. If he is its author, then his revelations are not restricted to time, but are valid through eternity. On the other hand, Muhammed’s sunna can only be applied to time, since he was a mortal man. His three basic titles, nadhir (warner), nabi (prophet) and rasul (messenger) do not apply any special personal qualities to him.
Muslims presume that Muhammed’s uniqueness is due to his revelations given by ‘Allah’. On the other hand, the prophet Moses (Musa) was the only one with whom ‘Allah’ spoke directly. Miracles as well as other supernatural features were mainly restricted to Jesus (Isa) the son of Mary. Jesus was also the only one who did not die, according to the Koran, but was taken to heaven by ‘Allah’, and ‘someone like him’ was crucified in his place. It is notable that Muhammed acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah but still, although it is contradictory in terms, denied him being the Son of God.
Indeed, Muhammed had no intention of reigning supreme over the other prophets of ‘Allah’ during the first years of his mission. He simply considered himself as the one whose mission was to purify the holy place of worship in Kaaba and abolish polytheism in his city of birth, Mecca. During the first years of ministry there, Muhammed used to preach social reforms, the Day of Judgement, resurrection from the dead and the unity of ‘Allah’ to polytheistic Meccans. Arent J. Wensinck describes his mission as follows:
The position of Abraham, Moses, Hud, Salih and Jesus, as described in these suras [of the Koran], is really the same as that of Muhammad in Makka [Mecca]; they were Apostles of God like himself... Muhammad’s rank, it is true, is high, but there is no trace of a unique position.
Wensinck continues to quote some Koranic passages and concludes by stating that it “seems impossible to admit that the man who emphasised this idea [of him as an Arab Prophet] should have regarded himself as a missionary to the whole world.” However, after Muhammed was transformed from the status of a social reformer to a warrior-prophet, he also became the Seal of the Prophets, as the last and most perfect in the long line of messengers of ‘Allah’. The validity of other prophets is beyond doubt, but Muhammed’s uniqueness came to be emphasised, due to this new interpretation.
The real pillar of Islam: Muhammed
Islam stands or falls with the reliability of Muhammed, whose name means ‘highly praised’ in Arabic. The Arab historian Philip K. Hitti noted that Muhammed was probably an honorary title but not his real name. Indeed the Koran, in sura (chapter) 61:6, calls him Ahmad, but it has been reasonably argued that this sura was interpolated into the Koran. Other sources argue that the relevant passage should be translated as ‘ahmadu’ or ‘more praiseworthy’, and thus not referring to a name. Muhammed is also reported to have had several other names, such as al-Aqib, al-Mahi and al-Hazir. Although Muslims call him Muhammed, his tribe titled him al-Amin, ‘the faithful’ and Abu-Qasim, the ‘father of Qasim’. As Hitti stated, his given name is unknown to us, and might “remain forever uncertain.” However, among the ancient Semites there existed a common custom to use theophorous names. Javier Teixidor explains such a custom the following way:
A theophorous name is usually given when a child is born; thus names reflect the parents’ piety toward the god under whose protection the new-born is placed. A theophorous name conveys the anxieties, the joy, and the expectations of the
The names which are the easiest to understand are the soothsaying names: nomen is omen. Names showing confidence in the god as being ‘the shelter’ (Arabic ‘wd’) of the new-born: Avidallat (‘Protégé of Allat’) ...
The compulsive force of the name is nowhere as obvious as in the overwhelming use of the term ‘servant’ in Semitic onomastics. From the very first moment the child’s
name ‘Servant of [this or that deity],’ sets the type of life which the new-born
is asked to lead. 
In pre-Islamic Arabia we know about such names as Abd’ Allat (abd’=servant), Abd’ Manat, Abd’ al-Uzza, Abd’ Allah, defined by the parents’ belief. If this trend happened to apply to Muhammed, we might suggest that his name was Abd’ al-Uzza (Abdul Uzza). We know that during his younger years, Muhammed sacrificed to the deity al-Uzza, which most likely was his family’s deity. Even the early Muslim writer Ibn al-Kalbi, in his Book of Idols, counts Muhammed amongst the followers of al-Uzza. We know that the name of Muhammed’s first uncle was Abdul Uzza. Concerning this devoted worshipper of al-Uzza, who opposed Muhammed’s mission with fervour, was this revealed in a very early Meccan sura: “He will be plunged in flaming fire...” and thus he was renamed Abu Lahab, ‘the father of flame’, and the name Abdul Uzza vanished. This same model might very well have been used by Muhammed himself and has been frequently applied to later Muslims, such as the boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali), the NBA star Chris Jackson (Abdul Rauf), and many more.
If Muhammed’s name really was Abdul Uzza this might explain why his real name is neither mentioned in Muslim sources nor by Muhammed himself. And if there is question about the name and nature of Muhammed, it is even more so concerning ‘Allah’.
Introduction to Allah
Allah was a pagan moon-god, worshipped among nomads around the Middle East. His name is, however, not even Arabic. One would think that an Arabian deity would have an Arabic name. But not Allah. Arthur Jeffery, one of the West’s most distinguished authorities on Islam, states:
The common theory is that it [the name of Allah] is formed from ilah, the common
word for a god, and the article al-; thus al-ilah, ‘the god’, becomes Allah, ‘God’. This theory, however, in untenable. In fact, the name is one of the words borrowed into the language in pre-Islamic times from Aramaic.
Most suras in the Koran (all but the ninth) begin with the proclamation: ‘In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.’ This indeed sounds very nice and might have been a very clever introduction to an Arabian deity, if this formula had been made by Muhammed or ‘Allah’ himself. However, those titles, attributed to ‘Allah’, were a formulae composed by the worshippers of the Babylonian deity Baal. All around the Semitic world, the high god’s name —whatsoever that was at each place— was pronounced with such titles as ‘good’, ‘compassionate’, ‘merciful’, and ‘bountiful’. Those names also appear in the list of 99 additional names the Muslims contribute to ‘Allah’. Thus ‘Allah’s’ titles are borrowed from the pre-Islamic Arabian pagan deities, just as that name itself was borrowed from an Aramaic moon-god in the Syrian cities of Palmyra and Teima.
The fact is that even ‘Allah’s’ most frequently used title, ar-Rahman (the Merciful) was known in South Arabia well before the advent of Islam, and signified a moon-god, whom Muhammed even occasionally confused with or used as a substitute for ‘Allah’. The Koran mentions ar-Rahman occasionally, for example in sura 43:19, which most translators have renamed as God or Allah, since they, as Muhammed, found no difference between these two South Arabian moon-gods.
The name ar-Rahman had even been used by several Arabian prophets before Muhammed, and this deity seemed to have signified a similar, if not the same, position as Allah in Mecca. Therefore we cannot accept the unilateral acceptance of ‘Allah’ as the biblical High God, any more than the Persian high god Ahura Mazda or the Norse Odin.
 We want to distinguish between ‘Allah’ — Muhammed’s deity — and the pagan moon-god Allah.
 The Koran 4:80 (Throughout this book, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall’s translation will be used, except where otherwise stated).
 The Koran 40:55
 The Koran 4:171.
 Avent Jan Wesninck, The Muslim Creed (Leiden, 1932), 5.
 ibid, 7.
 See, Hekhar Bano Hussein, Prophets in the Koran (vol. I: The Early Prophets. London, 1994 and vol. II: The Later Prophets. London, 1995)
 Philip K. Hitti, Islam and the West (Princeton, 1962), 8-9.
 Alfred Guillaume (transl.), The Life of Muhammad. A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah. (ed. Ibn Hisham, London, 1955), 70. A. Guthrie and E. F. F. Bishop, ‘The Paraclete, Almunhamanna and Ahmad’, Muslim World XLI (1951), 255; William Montgomery Watt, Early Islam (London, 1990), 43-50.
 William Montgomery Watt, ‘His Name is Ahmad’, Muslim World XLIII (1953), 110-117; — Early Islam, 43-50, 82.
 Ismail K. Poonawala (ed), The History of al-Tabari (vol. IX, The Last Years of the Prophet, New York, 1990), 156.
 Philip K. Hitti, The Arabs: A Short History (London, 1968), 23.
 Javier Teixidor, The Pagan god (Princeton, 1977), 158-160.
 See discussion in; Francis E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam (Albany, 1994), 111.
 Arthur Jeffery (ed.), Islam. Muhammed and his religion (New York, 1958), 85.
 Teixidor, The Pagan god, 1139-140.
 See the list of ‘Allah’s’ titles in; Jeffery, Islam, 93-98
Sunday, August 17, 2008
While the image of Islam is covered with blood, many Muslims live normal and peaceful lives. Of the more than one billion Muslims in the world today, only a minority can be considered fundamentalists. Recently however, the number of extremists has been growing rapidly in the face of Western secularism and the propaganda spread out all over the Muslim world.