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Islam and Christianity

IQBAL EBRAHIM
UNDERSTANDING ISLAM

Many people may not be aware that most of the major religions have common beliefs and ‘share’ the same Prophets and the Revealed Scriptures have a common ‘thread’ in that the beliefs are the same. The only difference is that I may say 2 x 2 is 4, and someone else will say 2+2 is 4, likewise 5-1 is 4. We agree on the answer but we may do things differently.

If we were to look at the Divine Revealed Scriptures – for example if we were to take the four Religious Scriptures of the Torah (Moses) The Zaboor (Psalms of David), the Injeel (Good News to Jesus Christ) and the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad (May Peace and Blessings be upon them all).If we were to sincerely read them it will show a common thread between Islamic religious beliefs, values and practices that also have roots within those Scriptures (in their original form) as Divine Revelations. Over time this weekly column has shown the remarkable similarity between Islam and Christianity, and also between the Qur’an and the Bible. 

Not surprisingly because the Qur’an says: ‘…..We Muslims believe in Allah, and the Revelations given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmael, Jacob and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to all Prophets from their Lord. We make no difference between one and another of them. And we submit to Allah’ (Qur’an 2:136).

This verse and others in the Qur’an show a link and a common thread between the three religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism – the Qur’an respectfully refers to Christians and Jews as ‘Ahle Qitaab’ – People of the Book. The Qur’an also mentions many Prophets of the Bible, as was covered in the article of last week.

Islam is a ‘sister’ faith to Christianity and Judaism because they have common geographical, ethnic and linguistic origins. But more especially they believe in and have ‘common’ Prophets. The Patriarch Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The great Prophets Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them) pbut) were from Isaac’s ancestry and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was from Ishmael’s ancestry. Moses spoke Hebrew, Jesus Christ spoke Aramaic and Prophet Muhammad (pbut) spoke Arabic – these three languages have common roots of the Middle East.

As mentioned above Muslims believe in the Revealed Books, as a result, Muslims and Christians share many similar beliefs, values, moral injunctions, and principles of behavior. I will randomly highlight a small selection to show some similarities those beliefs, practices and Qur’anic verses that find congruence with those of the Bible – Islam and Christianity are ‘closer’ than you may think. Some Similarities of teachings found in The Qur’an and The Bible.

Muslims believe in Oneness of God (Allah) who has no partners as expressed in the Islamic creed ‘There is no object worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger’.  Similarly when one looks at a similar verse from the Bible ‘I alone am the Lord your God. No other god may share my glory; I will not let idols share my praise. (Isaiah 42:8).  

Muslims do not eat pork, blood, or the meat of animals found dead. ‘He hath forbidden you dead meat, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that on which any other name hath been invokes beside that of Allah. (Qur’an 2:173). Compare the following verses from the Bible: ‘Do not eat pigs. They must be considered unclean…… Do not eat any of these animals or even touch their dead bodies’ (Leviticus 11:7)    and ‘You shall not eat anything that dies of itself’ (Deut 14:21) and ‘…eat no food that has been offered to idols; eat no blood; eat no animals that have been strangled (Acts 15:29).     

Muslims are also forbidden the drinking of alcohol: ‘they ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say; in them is great sin and some profit; but the sin is greater than the profit’ (Qur’an 2: 219). Similarly the Bible says: ‘do not let wine tempt you, even though it is rich red, though it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. The next morning you will feel as if you had been bitten by a poisonous snake…. You will not be able to think or speak clearly. (Proverbs 23: 29-33).

Muslims are forbidden to take interest (usury) that is levied on loans etc. ‘O ye who believe! Devour not usury, doubled or multiplied; but fear Allah that ye may prosper’ (Quran 2: 130). Similarly in the Bible one finds; ‘If you lend money to any of my people who are poor, do not act like a money lender and require them to pay interest’. (Exodus 22:25) and ‘…he doesn’t lend money for profit, he refuses to do evil and gives an honest decision in any dispute’. (Ezekiel 18:8).

It is a practice that Muslim males are circumcised soon after birth, and this practice is also mentioned in the Bible; ‘A week later, when the time came for the baby to be circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name which the Angel had given him before he had been conceived’ (Luke 2:21)

 The Muslim way of greeting is ‘Assalamu- alaikum’ which means ‘Peace be upon you’. ‘O ye who believe, enter not the houses other than your own until you have asked permission and saluted those inside’ Qur’an 24:27) and ‘’Salaam (peace) a word of salutation from the Lord Most merciful (Qur’an 36:58). Again the Bible shows this as a practice of Jesus (pbuh): “When you go into a house say ‘peace be with you’.  (Matthew 10:12-14).

Muslims undertake compulsory fasting for the entire month of Ramadan. ‘O ye who believe, Fasting has been prescribed to you as it has been prescribed for those before you. (Qur’an 2:183). The practice of fasting is also borne out in the following Biblical verses; ‘And when he (Jesus) had fasted forty days and forty nights..’  (Matthew 4:2), and also: ‘…and when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do.’ (Matthew 6:16)

The Last Supper too is mentioned in the Qur’an: ‘Said Jesus the son of Mary: O God our Lord, send us from Heaven a table set (with viands) that there may be for us a sign from You…..God said: I will send it down to you…..’ (Qur’an 5:114-115)  These are but a small selection of common practices and beliefs found both in Islam and Christianity that I have included into this weeks’ column.

(To be continued next week)

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CHANGE OF LIFESTYLE (2)

2nd March 2021

HONESTY AND TRUTHFULNESS

Continuing with the topic of ‘Change’: this refers to changes within our hearts, minds and soul; this will lead to changes in our daily conduct and in our lifestyle; this week the column focuses on honesty and truthfulness.

Honesty and truthfulness are the basis of all religious beliefs and also those universal principles which all societies, communities and people agree with but seldom do we practice it sincerely. Without honesty individuals and the society at large live in suspicion of one another resulting in mistrust and suspicion.

When friends, family, work colleagues and couples are not honest with each other, then we cannot create and develop a society that is in balance to that which Allah desires from us, then the life of those and others in the wider society will be somewhat in jeopardy.

This is why Islam and every other religious faith prohibit lying. Allah, Almighty says in the Qur’an, “Truly Allah guides not one who transgresses and lies.” (Quran 40:28), the Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) warned people about lying and its consequence in his statement, ‘Stick to truthfulness, for it leads one to righteousness, and it leads to Paradise.

Thus, when one sticks to truthfulness and practices it, Allah considers him as a truthful man. And avoid telling lies, for it leads to excessiveness, and this leads to Hell-Fire. Thus, when one persists in telling lies, Allah considers him as a liar’.

Unfortunately in the world of today there is so much misunderstanding that has led to chaos because of the untruths and false or misinformation that is being spread in our societies. This is spread via our international or local political leaders and even us as individuals at a local level.

Among the other major characteristics that make up the nature and conduct in the life of each and every one of us are truthfulness and honesty. They are the foundation stone that dictate our actions, interactions, behaviour and our daily conduct with and within society.

For honesty to be complete, it must exist in three things. It must exist in the heart as one’s faith, it must exist in the intentions behind one’s deeds, and it must be present in the words that one speaks. We become what we are by our thoughts, actions, deeds and the manner in which we conduct our lives.

Honesty goes even deeper because it should start in our Honesty with our Creator: it goes without saying that if we are not genuine and sincere in our relationship with Allah, it is unlikely that we will achieve any measure of sincerity in our worldly relationships. Sincerity in our relationship with the Almighty in our belief – where we recognise and accept that He is The Supreme Sovereign and the One and Only deserving to be worshipped also being mindful of the fact that Allah is ever watchful of what we say or do.

If we truly want to be honest in our relationship with Allah, we must become so sincere to Him that there remains in our hearts no other motive for what we do except to seek His pleasure. Sincerity in our relationship with Allah inculcates in us not only inner peace but further leads us towards wholeheartedness in worship, honesty in our motives and intentions. ‘O ye who believe, fear Allah and be among those who are true (in words and deeds) Quran 9:119.

Honesty in word and in our deeds: Let’s face it, all of us one time or the other lies about something, but not always with malicious intent – we tell what we think are harmless little lies. For example we were supposed to or promised to do something and we didn’t, we then cover up by making excuses like ‘we had a power failure’ or ‘the computer crashed’. We do so, knowing full well that the lies are just a cover for us when the reason was simply that we did not at the time feel like nor getting around to doing it.

Too often some of us use these small and trivial lies regularly and conveniently, but they can over time people may begin to take our words with a pinch of salt and consequently begin to lose their trust in us because of our petty lies. A person’s deeds are honest only when we practice what we believe in. Dishonesty in actions and in deed is more loathsome than dishonesty in word, for it is a phoney display of sincerity.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: ‘There are three characteristics of a hypocrite: when he speaks he is false, whenever he makes a promise he breaks his promise; and whenever he is entrusted (with something) he betrays that trust (proves to be dishonest).’

In the Holy Quran, Allah informs us that our honesty will bring us good even in this world: “And when a matter is resolved upon, it would be best for them if they were true to Allah.” (Quran 47:21) And of course, honesty will be of doubtless benefit to us in the Hereafter. Allah says: “This is the day that the honest people will benefit from their honesty.” (Quran 5: 119)

Honesty with fellow humans

Honesty with other people is important and we must be honest in our dealings and interaction with others. We should not behave deceptively and present a ‘false face’ to people. Instead, we must be genuine and straightforward with people as much as possible.

We must also be honest in what we say. This requires from us to be careful to establish the truth of the news or even conversation that we hear before we go ahead and pass it on to others. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “It is enough to make a person a liar that he tells others everything that he hears.”

We must be honest in giving advice to people and that there should be no hidden motive. We should be sincere in our advice and truly do our best to help people avoid misfortune and attain what is good for them.

We need to be even more honest with our spouses. We must be able to confide in them and speak freely to them about our concerns, our secrets, and our ambitions. A husband or wife is a life partner, a friend, a confidant. It goes without saying that the more openly a husband and wife are able to communicate with each other in an atmosphere of trust and confidence, the stronger their relationship will be.

A Final Thought:
Think about it a mirror always shows you your actual image, it doesn’t hide your imperfections or ahem, ugliness. The mirror isn’t there to make us happy or sad by hiding or showing us otherwise. It simply reflects how we really look – now that is honesty and truthfulness.

 

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Change of Lifestyle (1)

2nd March 2021

DISCIPLINE AND SELF CONTROL

As with all major religious teachings Islam has a code of behaviour and conduct for its followers based on values and qualities that can be classified under the broad term of a ‘human’ personality.
For any believer the most important thing is faith – faith to believe in Allah, God, Modimo, Jehovah, Lord; or whatever you call Him.

We also believe in His Prophets and in the Divine Laws and Injunctions. To abide by them, one needs a certain degree of discipline and self-control; therefore the most important characteristic of a believer is that of having the inner discipline to follow the injunctions.

Islam is not only a mere set of beliefs nor a religion in the commonly understood sense, but a complete system and a way of life that does not separate religious duties (prayer, fasting and other such acts of worship) from the ‘secular’ life – in other words it does not split or compartmentalise one’s life by applying different criteria and rules to different parts in the conduct of our daily lives.

The guide for my life’s conduct or for that matter any other Muslim is, first, the Holy Quran, second, the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) teachings and practices) and the Hadith which relates to what he said. I intend (Allah Willing) to devote the next few columns to explain and elaborate further on the manner of how a Muslim is expected to live, behave and interact with others in the conduct of his everyday life.

Now that the month of fasting (Ramadan) is over, going forward, we need to reflect on what we have learnt from this Blessed month and how are we going to infuse into our lives what we gained from this Holy month. This should be a stepping stone to lead a life of piety and free from sins. Over the next few weeks this column will ‘highlight’ those changes that we should be instilling and implanting into our daily lives.

Fasting is a practice common to many religions – Islam has prescribed obligatory fasting in the form of a month-long period of abstinence accompanied by intensive devotional activity. The fasting involves the total abstinence from all food, drink and marital relations throughout the daylight hours; not even water may be taken, and no don’t even think about smoking either! The fast is broken at sunset each day and resumed the next day before the sun rises.

‘O ye who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may learn self-restraint’ Quran 2:183. It goes without saying that the fasting is test of discipline and one that trains a Muslim in self-control.

Fasting makes a Muslim disciplined, steadfast and resilient and this also trains him to be flexible and adaptable in his habits, thus capable of enduring hardship. Fasting does not necessarily mean abstinence from food and drink alone, but from all the major vices and sins. For example he must refrain from quarrelling, speaking lies, slandering and other such deeds.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: ‘Allah has no need for him to go without food or drink who cannot shun evil and falsehood even during a fast’ and also ‘Many are there among you who fast and yet gain nothing from it except thirst and hunger’.

This discipline is the distinguishing feature and is the defining line between belief and unbelief. Whereas a true believer will try his utmost to obey and follow those Commands, the unbeliever will live by his own dictates and desires.

Discipline / self-control are what the month of Ramadan has taught us. Discipline is the ability to exercise restraint and control of one’s emotions, actions or thoughts, and at times the will to follow what is right rather than follow what may be considered to be the ‘fashionable’ thing to do. Discipline is not something we are born with but it is the one personality trait that needs to be nurtured and developed within ourselves.

It comes from our own inner belief and conviction that says to us that there are certain standards of behaviour and action that we abide by and conform to. To abide by our religious beliefs, one needs a certain degree of discipline and self-control to suppress our humanly urges and to follow the straight path, but importantly it must be a lesson that teaches us not to take the bounties of Allah for granted and to be ever thankful for them.

Discipline plays a major role in the life of a Muslim. For example, Muslims have to offer compulsory five times daily prayers (Namaaz) that are interspaced at specified times throughout the day – starting with the pre-dawn prayer and ending with the evening prayer at about 8 pm. Prior to offering these prayers we have to be in a state of purity by undergoing the necessary ablutions (wudhu) without which we will not be able to offer prayers.

‘Be steadfast in prayer and regular charity’ Quran 2:110. ‘Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong…..’ Quran 31: 17

This is a form of discipline which teaches us that even in the conduct of our daily lives there is a time for our normal daily activities but there is also a time for our Creator, Allah. Believers will where possible drop everything they are doing to answer the call to prayer. If they are able to they will join the congregation at the Mosque, otherwise they will offer their prayers individually at a suitable location. These five times daily prayers are where the true test of discipline comes in because, we have to place our obligations to Allah before the routine of our own daily lives.

If I recall the Bible also echoes the same message when it says ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and unto God what belongs to God’. It is in the same religious spirit that Muslims will interrupt their daily routines to give to Allah the worship that belongs to Him.

Whilst fasting may appear difficult to some, in practice it is generally tolerable and is relatively easy for many people, the benefits are that it brings about a feeling of intense spirituality. Some of my non-Muslim friends are at times taken aback at what they see as ‘impossible and very difficult’ obligations of Islam, but to a practicing Muslim these come as second nature.

The daily prayers and the month long fasting are part and parcel of some of the building blocks that nurture and build that discipline within the character of a Muslim. The world has many temptations and these desires come in different guises on a daily basis; yet despite us claiming to be God fearing, how many of us easily fall into the trap of lying, cheating, stealing, being unfaithful – in word deed, action and even to our partners, adultery, envy, and all the daily temptations/ challenges that come our way? ‘….true but you led yourself into temptation….your false desires deceived you’ Quran 57:14

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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