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THE MANY FACES OF ISLAM
The religion that originated with Muhammad has developed during the last 1,350 years into a world-wide cultural power, appearing in various and sometimes contrary manifestations.
Gamal Abdul-Nasser wanted to annihilate the new-born state of Israel to erase the Arab's disgrace at the defeat of their war with Israel (1948/49). He also wanted to repel the infiltration of atheistic communism and transform it into an Islamic socialist state. He hoped to shake the Arabic people, wake them from their lethargy, and unite them in war against Israel. Until today, Algeria, Libya, South Yemen, Syria and Iran are influenced by the ideas of Nasser.
Khomeini had a similar concept. He wanted not only to take revenge on the multimillionaire Shah (whose father was partly responsible for the death of Khomeini's father), but also to reverse the influence of materialistic Western capitalist and the penetration of Soviet Bolshevism in Persia. Khomeini was deeply obsessed with the idea of "the kingdom of Allah" in Iran. Consequently, the Sharia, the religious law of Islam, was imposed upon the new state in detail. However, in the few years of Khomeini's rule in Iran, more Muslims and non-Muslims have been tortured and killed in Allah's name than there ever were in the long reign of the Shah beforehand.
In 1900 Abd al-Aziz al-Sa'ud tried to restore the former Wahabite kingdom with its strong puritanistic ideas on the Arabian peninsula. In his reign even Turkish coffee was forbidden in the area he ruled. His son, King Fahd, was unable to cope with the responsibility and temptations of enormous wealth and the stress that was involved in leading an oil empire in the modern world. He became an alcoholic and had to undergo several rehabilitation programs.
Who then does represent true Islam? The Sunnites, who constitute 90 percent of the Islamic population in the world, or the Shiites with their extraordinary political and religious outbursts? Did the Muatazilites come nearer to the Islamic ideal as they adopted thoughts from the Greek-Byzantine philosophy, spiritualising their religion? Or have later generations of Qur'anic lawyers fulfilled the basic ideas of Muhammad by forcing Islam into a rigid religion of law? In a counter-movement the Sufis and Dervishes tried to gain devotion to Allah through mysticism and collective trances, while the Aisawijin extolled Jesus and his miracles in the Qur'an.
When the Mongols and the Turks stormed out of the arid lands of Asia destroying the Arabic and Persian empires, they developed an Islam interwoven with the Mongolian and Turkish cultures. In the West the Turks reached Vienna, while in India an Islamic-Hinduistic piety developed under the great and wealthy Moguls.
In Indonesia, the most populated Islamic country, the mixture of Islam and animism advanced so much in certain areas, that although the government alleges 90 percent of the 160 million inhabitants are Muslims, the last election shows that only 35 percent of the people favour an Islamic state. The mixture of tribal customs, occult practices and Islamic ideas can hardly be labelled as Islam.
Anyone who reads excerpts of lectures from leading Muslims in the USSR will be amazed to find that Bolshevism is praised as a development of Islam. Such statements arise as a result of the pressure on their religion. Every sixth Soviet citizen is a Muslim. The birth-rate among Muslims is higher than among those of other religions.
What is Islam?
One thousand three hundred fifty years of Islam have influenced more people and cultures than the old Christian Occident ever enveloped. We should recognise that Islam in itself is not a "religion" in a Western sense, that fills and stimulates its followers only spiritually and intellectually: Islam is much more a way of life that encompasses all sections of personal and civil life. Many of its followers find rest and peace only where the Sharia is impressed upon the entire social structure of the country. We should understand that, for a Muslim, there is no separation between religion and politics. TheIslamic State remains the unwavering goal of this religious society.
Today, 900 million Muslims live in 90 countries of the world. Half of them are not even 20 years old. The Islamic peoples are young and aspiring - a challenge for satiated and pessimistic Europeans and Americans. Every sixth inhabitant of the earth is a Muslim. Twenty-five million Muslims are born each year. Biologically, Islam is advancing while the Christian population in some countries is decreasing.
What, then, is Islam? What is the common denominator that has kept all these nations together in their theocentric culture? What is the invisible backbone of Islam? Billions of dollars from oil price increases have awakened the hidden strength of the Muslims and incited them to a third great historic offensive to unite mankind under the banner of Muhammad.
The faith, hope and life of all Muslims is based on four fundamental principles. Here they find the strength that drives them to holy wars and even to self-sacrifice for Islam. With four questions we shall unfold the meaning of these concepts:
- Who is Allah?
- Who was Muhammad?
- How does a Muslim relate to his Qur'an?
- What is the meaning of Al-Sharia?
Let us think about these four fundamentals of Islam according to the self-understanding of Muslims and compare them with the New Testament. Then we will come closer to a better comprehension of the religious culture of Islam. In so doing we should avoid any hasty judgement: Islam is not a primitive religion. During the illustrious time of its history Islam covered all realms of science, law and society. It produced a vast amount of literature in which Islam was interwoven and impressed upon all areas of this world and the next. While Charlemagne was preparing to unite and Christianise Europe, Harun al-Rashid was ruler in Baghdad over a glorious empire compared to which the newly formed European state appeared very backward. As the Crusaders marched off to free the Holy Land from the Muslim occupation, they came against a loftier culture than they had in their homelands. They returned beaten and with a shaken view of life. Therefore, we should not easily despise Islam, the second largest religion on Earth. We want to reach for a deeper understanding of Islam, that we might comprehend this great power which opposes the church of Jesus Christ.