A Look at the Nation of Islam

A Look at the Nation of Islam

Before taking this class and receiving pertinent information regarding the Nation of Islam, I was not aware of the religions beliefs or the way they praised. There are not many similarities in this religion and my religion which is Christian. The Nation of Islam, however, does believe in God, they believe that Elijah Muhammad is a prophet of God. However, the differences lie much deeper than that. With all the research that has been done on this religion, I have come to discover that Islam and the Nation of Islam are two different religions. Islam is a religion that is accepting to all races and participates in the worship of one unseen God who, Orthodox Muslims believe never took human form. The Nation of Islam, on the other hand, is more of a movement geared towards the African American race and teaches that God appeared in the form of Fard Muhammad. Muslims have to pray five times a day facing the Kaaba [a black stone building in Mecca that is shaped like a cube and that is the most sacred Muslim pilgrim shrine.] in Mecca, Arabia. Muslims believe that the Kaaba was the first house of worship ever placed on the face of the Earth dedicated to the worship of one God. They do not worship the Kaaba; nonetheless, it serves as a central focal point for Muslims around the world, unifying them in worship and symbolizing their common belief, spiritual focus and direction. Interestingly enough, the Kaaba’s interior is empty. This aspect of their worship was intriguing and I knew at that moment that I would have to include this question within my interview process.

Having researched this religion has opened my eyes to many new experiences that many people have converted to. A convert has more advantages than a born Muslim because a convert becomes a Muslim after a great deal of research has been obtained and therefore considering changing religions is not an easy task it shows that a convert has a great deal of courage and effort as a born Muslim just inherits the religion. By his/her conversion to Islam, a convert is considered pure and free of previous sin. Due to the complete honesty and the influence of the appealing personality of Muhammad, the faith of his companions in him was unusually strong. It was based on their first-hand acquaintance with his exemplary life. The companions of Muhammad in Mecca were powerless and without any legal protection. All of them stood the test of the crisis, and none of them abandoned the faith or the Prophet. The actions of those Muslims proved their faith in Islam and the Prophet. All of them preached Islam and practiced what they preached, and every genuine Muslim gave his faith a genuine support in word and in deed.

As a comparison to my religion to the Islam religion, Islam is a simplification of Christianity as Buddhism is a simplification of Hinduism. In another sense Islam adds to Christianity, for where Jews have only our “Old Testament” Scriptures and Christians ass the New Testament, Muslims also add the Quran. They accept the claims of the Jewish prophets to be sent by God. They believe Jesus deepened this revelation and that Muhammad completed it. Islam neither merely simplifies Christianity nor merely adds to it, but reinterprets it. As the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament is not the same as the Jewish one, the Muslim interpretation of the New Testament is not the same as the Christian one; the Quran authoritatively interprets the New Testament as the New interprets the Old. The Quran believes in Christ’s virgin birth, but not his resurrection, also believes in his prophetic function (teachings) but not his priestly function (salvation) or his kingly function (ruling). To Muslims, as with Jews, Christ is the stumbling block. The theology of God the Father and the ethics of human living are essentially the same for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The missing link is grace, salvation, and redemption, the most essential things.

I have conducted an interview with someone "Nichole" who has converted to the Nation of Islam. Her Islamic name is "Hakimah" which has a meaning of wisdom.
The first question asked was: Why does the Islam religion pray five times a day?
She informed me that the Islam religion has to pray five times a day as God ordered them to pray at five set times of day:
Salat al-fajr: dawn, before sunrise
Salat al-zuhr; midday, after the sun passes its highest
Salat al-‘asr: the late part of the afternoon
Salat al-maghrib; just after sunset
Salat al-‘isha; between sunset and midnight
Muslim children as young as seven are encouraged to pray as well. This prayer timetable gives Muslims the pattern of their day. The prayer ritual, which is over 1400 years old, is repeated five times a day by hundreds of millions of people all around the world. “Carrying it out is not only highly spiritual, but connects each Muslim to all others around the world, and to all those who have uttered the same words and made the same movements at different times in Islamic history.”
She also stated that in order to be ready for prayer that Muslims have to make sure that they are in the right frame of mind; they put aside all everyday cares and thoughts so that they can concentrate exclusively on God. Muslims also have to be clean before they face the east and pray.

Although this was getting quite interesting I moved on to the next question which was: What is the difference between the Quran and the Bible?
She replied by saying that one of the important differences between the Quranic and biblical stories of Abraham's sacrifice of his son, for example, is that the Quran suggests this son is Ishmael, from whom Arabs are descended, and not Isaac, from whom the tribes of Israel are descended. A more substantial difference relates to the Islamic story of Jesus, who according to the Quran is a mortal, human prophet. The Islamic faith categorically rejects the idea that God was ever born, as opposed to Christian belief that Jesus was born the son of God. Islam also rejects the idea that God shared his divinity with any other being.

My next question was: What are the challenges, if any, to practicing this religion?
Nichole stated, “One of the biggest challenges I am faced with is, maintaining faithfulness in the practice of the religion. Praying on a regular basis five times a day and maintaining my beliefs in today’s society is hard at times. The ignorance regarding Islam has lead to stereotyping, fear and distrust towards us Muslims. Being an American Muslim woman we are discriminated against by both non-Muslims and Muslims in America. An example is, a woman who wears hijab, which is the traditional head-covering, is often taunted at work and on the street, and the careers of Muslim women are actually jeopardized because they are not given jobs due to the discrimination. Nonetheless, I am filled with so much gratitude for Allah showing me the right path. Practicing a religion requires dedication, self-discipline and motivation. That is what causes people to fall short on staying faithful to the practice. Many of the religions studied in this class required days of fast, which usually means, having to deny food, drink and any form of sexual relations with their spouses during special times of the year. That alone has to be challenging.

Every religion has certain days or special holidays that entail special traditions and recognition, therefore; the next question of the interview asked: What are the important holidays and traditions of this religion?
The answer I received was Ramadan which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Throughout the daylight hours of Ramadan, Muslims observe strict fasting from sunup to sundown. This month is held in honor of the Prophet Muhammad, for it was during the month of Ramadan that Allah revealed the first verses of the Quran. The most important Islamic holiday is Eid al-Fitr. It occurs on the day following the month of Ramadan. For this holiday people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give their kids treats, and enjoy visits with friends and family. In a way this holiday is in a comparison with what we call Christmas. Eid ul Adha marks the end of the Hajji, which is an annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This pilgrimage is an obligation once in a lifetime for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. Eid ul Adha is celebrated with prayers. I was also told that there are some days in between and beyond these holidays that are also celebrated, however the above-mentioned ones are the main holidays celebrated by the Nation of Islam.

The next question that I asked Hakimah was: Does your religion offer any type of study classes to learn about its origin and foundation?
She replied, just like a church that offers Bible study we as Muslims offer the same type of classes that inform the inquisitive about the Quran and also regarding the prayers and the mosque which is the Muslim place of worship. Everyone, no matter what religion, should be educated on the roots and foundations of that particular religion. Knowing where it began and how it began, allows you to see how far the religion has come, and how it has grown and been passed on through the different generations.

I also felt compelled to ask her: If there were anything you could change about your religions’ belief, what would it be?
She informed me that, “I wish the religion would make more accommodations for modernization, meaning, the religion’s traditions and beliefs still seem to follow the old foundations, leaving no room for change. I would also change the fact that many of the religions’ leaders do not have open minds to allow a little change within the religions’ guidelines.” Even though many religions have strictly enforced principals, most would have to agree that religion has been a major factor of change in the lives of believers. Faith is the only ingredient needed in the religion recipe. You must have faith in order to experience change. Speaking from a personal experience, I have to confess that religion has changed my life tremendously. My whole outlook on life itself has changed.

I continued the interview process by asking: How has the religion shaped your life?
The answer was simple, Hakimah stated. “Religion has changed who I am as a person. How I think, how I feel, and what I say. My faith in my religion that prevailed has brought me through some really rough times in my life that I did not feel I could get through. My vision and with Allah’s help to guide me in the right direction was exactly what I needed. Religion has also allowed for stronger bonds and solid family foundations between my husband and I.”

Most religions have a well-respected person(s) that leads the religion, or is at least a factor within the basis of the religion. For Islam it is Allah, for Catholics, it’s the Pope. My next question was: How do you feel about Allah being the one person to have such an impact on your life?
She responded by saying “Muslim's task is to submit. Morality is about submission ¬submitting and doing the will of Allah. The normative relationship in the Quran is Allah is our master and we are the slave. The emphasis in the Quran is on the qualities of God that demand obedience. We don't want Allah to be displeased with us, so we are driven by fear. In Christianity obedience to God's will is motivated by love. In Islam you submit so you won't be cast away. Islam means obedience and peace. Peace can ONLY be experienced when you submit to the will of Allah. Peace doesn't necessarily have an emotional component as in Christianity. Faith in Islam is the action of submitting to Allah's will.”

Today’s youth are our future. We must keep them fed with knowledge and wisdom for them to be able to make good decisions in their lifetime and to pave the way for future generations to come. School is not the only place to allow such knowledge and wisdom. I asked my interviewee: How does your religion accommodate young people of faith? And what types of activities exist to promote belief amongst them?
She answered, “There are many different programs based on age, to support growth in our youth. Youth retreats, allow them to get to know one another outside of a mosque setting. Youth Bible studies will teach them origin and foundation of the religion and youth classes to instruct them on worldly interferences”.
This interview process has shown how religion can definitely impact and change a person’s life. The influential teachings of Islam and knowing the history behind the religion can make a difference in one’s life.
Islam tells us also that because God does not hold a person responsible for what his father did, He does not condemn the whole human race for a sin that was committed before the existence of any human generation. Such a condemnation is contradictory to the concept of the justice of God Instead of burdening mankind with the original sin, Islam tells us that every human being is born pure and free of any sin, and will stay so, until he commits a sin as an adult.
In the last few years the Islam religion has come under a lot of fire with the attacks on the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon on September 11th, and the war on terrorism going on worldwide. Throughout this whole ordeal, Muslims around the world are still strong in their beliefs, and stay true to the teachings of the Quran. Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, the author of An Introduction to Islam writes “Islam is a religion of peace. This is evident even from the name "Islam" itself. ("Islam" is an Arabic word.) The word "Islam" and the Arabic word for peace, "salaam" both come from the same root, ‘salima’”.
Although the word Islam means “peace” and a lot of people associate it with terror, Islam is still on the rise. In that last half century alone, the percentage of Muslims in the world’s population has increased 235%, making it the world’s fastest growing religion. Those numbers aren’t so high in the United States where Muslims only account for 3% of the total population.
Understanding and showing respect to all religions whether you agree with what they believe or not is a huge step that we as Americans need to make possible. Every one deserves and has the right to voice and show praise in any way they see fit. The world would be a better place if we could all just except one another for who we are and what we believe.

References:
Encyclopedia Britannica (2006). Islam. Retrieved January 27, 2006, from
http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9105852
Rieber, N. The Nation of Islam. Retrieved January 28, 2006, from
http://www.bible.ca/islam/islam-nation-of-islam.htm
Sayyid, R. (1992). An Introduction to Islam. Retrieved January 27, 2006, from
http://www.al-islam.org/begin/intro/rizvi.html
White, Hakimah (2006). Interviewee
World Fact Book (2005). Retrieved January 28, 2006, from
http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/fields/2122.html