Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Interview : Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (1)

What are the fundamentals of Islam? What does it teach to be a Muslim?

The fundamental idea which defines a human being as a Muslim is the declaration of faith: that there is a creator, whom we call God -- or Allah, in Arabic -- and that the creator is one and single. And we declare this faith by the declaration of faith, where we ... bear witness that there is no God but God. And that we are accountable to God for our actions.

And that's the bottom line?
That is the universal Quranic definition of a person who is a Muslim. Because God says in the Quran that there is only one true religion, God's religion. It's the same theme that God revealed to all of the prophets, even before Muhammad. They all came to express the truth about ultimate reality: that the ultimate reality, with a capital "R" is God; that God created this universe; and God created humanity for a very specific purpose and mandate, which is to recognize what he or she truly is -- a being created, as we say in the Judeo-Christian world, in the image of God. The Quran uses a different language. It says, created out of a divine in-breathing, because the Quran says when God created the shape, the form of Adam from clay, God says, "When I shall have breathed into him from my spirit." Then he announced to the angels, "Fall in prostration to Adam."
So the defining aspect of a human being is that the human being has within its envelope a piece of the divine breath. This is the Quranic definition of what you might call the quote, unquote, "divine image in the human envelope." And the human mandate is to recognize this essential definition of self, and to acknowledge the very special relationship that exists between that self and the creator.
It doesn't sound so different from Christianity or Judaism.
The Quran does not speak about Christianity or Judaism. You will not find that word once mentioned in the Quran. But you'll find many, many instances of Christians and Jews, because the definitions the Quran uses are human-based definitions. Not conceptual definitions; very much it speaks about the realities. So God, for example, is creator. God is seeing. God is knowing. God is all-powerful. You don't have words of concepts as much. God is beautiful. So the ascriptions or the descriptions or the adjectives are what are used to describe the creator. Religion is defined by the relationship between God and man. And Islam is the submission and the acknowledgment of the human being to the creator.

Could you just give me a short version on how these two religions are related to one another?

God says in the Quran that there is not a single community on earth to whom we did not send a messenger. So the same message, the same truth, was revealed to all of humanity through a series of prophets; whose complete number, we don't know. The Quran mentions 25 of them by name. But the message is one: that God is one; that the creator is single; that the creator has no partner; that the creator is described by the perfection of a number of attributes, which Muslims call the divine names. So God is one; God is almighty; God is all-seeing; God is all-knowing; God is all-hearing. God is compassionate, merciful, forgiving, loving. God is just. And so forth.
So we are forbidden to ascribe to God attributes of weakness or imperfection. So we cannot say God is one, but God is poor; God is one, but God is blind, for instance, or doesn't have the attribute of seeing. It is equally important for Muslims to assert, not only the oneness of God, but the perfection of his attributes.
And the message, in its substance, embodies what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments. When Jesus was once asked, "Rabbi, or Rebbe, what are the greatest commandments?" he said, "To love the lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul and all of your mind." And the second, which is co-equal with it: that you love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love for your brother or your sister, what you love for yourself. Not to harm them in a way that you do not wish to be harmed.
That again embodies these two principles: A, that you have to acknowledge the creator correctly. And B, that you are going to be held accountable for your ethical decisions and choices. And the particular form of revelation was a function of society. So every prophet or messenger spoke in his own language to his own community. Some words were spoken in Hebrew, or in ancient Egyptian. Every revelation was given in the language of the community to whom it was sent. The rituals may have been a little bit different, but the essence of the rituals were there: prayer, charity, and fasting.

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