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Friday, February 18, 2005

Nation of Islam

Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
November 15, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

Today the 15th marks the end of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar spent in fasting in commemoration of the prophet Muhammad’s enlightenment in 610 AD – a time he had received revelations from God that later became the basis for Islam’s holy book, the Quran (Koran).

Today ushers in the Id-ul-Fitr or “festival of breaking the fast”. Though we live in a predominantly Christian country, we take today as a non-working holiday primarily to give importance to a celebration significant to the Muslims we have come to co-exist with even if at the back of our minds we continue to ask why does a believer of a faith said to be as peaceful as Islam would wage a global war spelled j-i-h-ad to subdue another conviction?

I am not at all exempted from having a set of biases for Muslims that stem from a failure to understand them. A hand can count a few close encounters I had with them – in traders market when I do purchase some pirated audio cassette discs (sorry VRB!), talked to some of them when few became seatmates back in college, and met in Women’s Congresses in Manila like Elisa Capal Guru, a Meranao teacher.

“Islam is a peaceful religion. For the Muslim, Islam is more than just a religion. It is the sum total of his cultural heritage,” Elisa Capal Guru said, “the ones shaping suicide bombers out to reduce skyscrapers to cinders are extremists.”

In a bid to understand Muslims, a booklet written by Kalafi Moala entitled “God loves the Muslims” proved to be very helpful.

Moala said that at the mention of the word, what comes to our minds are the images of garbed, bearded men with piercing cold steel eyes; of women in black chadors, only their eyes showing above their veil, and the terrorism and violence that issue from the Middle East.

Moala explained that Islam is an all-encompassing way of life. Literally translated, “Islam” means “Submission to the will of God”.

Unlike Christians who see this submission in terms of a child submitting to his father, Muslims see themselves as slaves of Allah. Whatever their circumstances in this life, such is Allah’s will, and must be accepted. As a result, Muslims can be fatalistic in their view of life,” Moala went.

Further, Moala said that Islam teaches that there is one God and Muhammad or Mohammed was his greatest prophet. A Muslim is taught that he has two angels watching over him, one to record his bad deeds, and the other to record his good deeds. On the Day of Judgment, the deeds of every Muslim will be weighed. If the good deeds outweigh the bad then he will enjoy life in paradise. However, if the bad outweighs the good, he will endure an eternity of suffering and torture at the hands of Satan. Redemption in Islam rests squarely with the individual.

Moala also went presenting figures to show that Islam is one of the world’s fastest growing religions with nearly one billion adherents. One out of every five people on earth is a Muslim. The Islamic world stretches across North Africa, Asia and Europe and includes not only such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Libya and part of what was the Soviet Union, but also India, China and Indonesia. Indeed, Asia has the four largest Muslim countries in the world: Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The Muslim countries of Eastern Europe, formerly part of the Soviet Union, together make up the world’s fifth largest bloc of Muslim believers.

Islam is also the fastest growing religion in Europe. In 1949 the first mosque in the Netherlands began operation, and today in the Netherlands there are over 200 Islamic places of worship. Muslims account for 2.1% of the Dutch population. In Germany, there are an estimated 1.9 million Muslims. A large part of the growth in Europe is due to immigration from Muslim nations, but in the spiritual vacuum of Europe an increasing number of Europeans are converting to Islam, particularly women who marry Muslims.

Recently, the Libyan-based “Society for the Preaching and Spreading of Islam” opened in Bonn, West Germany. The aim of this organization, which has an annual budget of $100 million, is to promote the building of Islamic cultural centers and training establishments in the West.

Islam is also on the increase in Southern Africa. Kuwait has taken on the responsibility of saturating the nation of Malawi with Islam and establishing mosques. The intention is to cover the nation of mosques built twenty kilometers apart in every direction. Saudi Arabia has likewise taken on a similar project in Zambia. And we should not forget our Muslim neighbors here in our own land. Throughout the world, Islam is on the move.

Now back to the Id-ul-Fitr which breaks the Ramadan with special prayers and festivities. After a 30-day fasting, the Muslims are to partake in a revelry. They would embrace each other three times, as is laid down in the Quran. The festival originated when after proclaiming Ramadan as the period of fasting and austerity, prophet Muhammad announced a day for celebration to reaffirm the feeling of Id-ul-Fitr brotherhood.

Muslims then go for Id get together and socializing. Some people visit cemeteries and stay there for some hours, even camping out overnight. This is perhaps to honor their ancestors and to be with their spirits. To a devout Muslim, Id is a time to forget all past grievances.

Today, (and hope to move on from now to forever!) we Christians, celebrate with Muslims in putting aside all those grievances. For sure Muslims do feel Christianity has nothing to offer them. As they look back through their history, they find that Christianity has all too often brought persecution to their people – the Crusades that left tens of thousands of Muslims dead as the Holy Land was reclaimed for Christians. They look to the more recent past and their treatment at the hands of ruthless Christian colonial powers. And they look at the state of today’s so-called Christian nations that do the worst filth in the world and pour this around the globe.

Beginning today, we Christians must have to get a feel of the Id-ul-Fitr brotherhood and start setting aside our apathy toward the Muslim world. Maybe, just maybe, we were the ones who really started the fire.

(For your comments, reactions, suggestions and contributions, crank up my addy: pinay_mangatkatay @yahoo.com)