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Why do you believe what you believe?
A trip into Iraq . . .

How often do you ask yourself "Why?" 
Why am I doing this?  Why do I believe what I believe?
Women of Passion had its first meeting of the Winter session yesterday - oh my goodness, the room was full 'nigh unto overflowing!'  Our topic is IDENTITY: What's Yours?  The fact is-sooner or later-when we slow down long enough to think about substantive matters-questions pop up, questions crying out for probative thinking.  Obviously the question at hand for this session is 'What is my identity?  How do I define myself?  Who am I anyway?'  And certainly our core beliefs, our religious beliefs, may be a significant part of the answer.  Yesterday, we looked at the religion of Islam.  Wow.
My friend of many years, Talar, who was born an Iraqi Kurd came and shared her story-what it was like to live under the heavy hand of Saddam Hussein, in fear of being found to believe anything contrary to Islam and the regime of Saddam.  How I wish I could transport all of you into the room to hear her beautiful, heartfelt, intelligent story and her path to coming to the God of the Bible and the Jesus who is not heavy-handed, but full of grace!
But I had been doing my homework as well, studying various sources for a good, concise description of Islam, which is said to be the fastest growing religion in the world1.                                       Please NOTE: 
            When studying any religion... 
            1) study and learn about its founder or leader
            2) Study and read its doctrine/manuals/holy works
Muhammad was born in 570 A.D. in Mecca, which is in the western region of Saudi Arabia.  He struggled mightily with mental anguish, saying even to his first wife Khadija, "I am afraid of becoming mad . . . I see all the signs of madness in myself."  Throughout his life he wrestled with thoughts of suicide.  He would take himself to a cave outside of Mecca to meditate, and it was there that he reported that Gabriel spoke to him.  Gabriel told him he was a prophet, and ..."according to the Koran's teachings, (the Islamic scriptures) came directly to Muhammad, peace be upon him, from the angel Gabriel, who received it from Almighty God (Allah) and then he recited it to Muhammad, peace be upon him, piece by piece, sentence by sentence, revealing small and large portions of it over a period of 23 years."2  Note: that sentence was a direct quote and indicative of how a devout Muslim makes reference to Muhammad, always following his name with 'peace be upon him'. 
While making converts was slow in Mecca, Muhammad mostly crafted ideals for a peaceful religion. However, that changed when he had to flee from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.  Once in Medina, he became more forceful, invoking violence to advance Islam. 
There are numerous verses in the Koran that permit those of Dar al-Islam (House or Land of Islam) to use force, even violence, against those who are Dar al-Harb (House or Land of War) everyone who is outside the Muslim faith.  It seems that as Islam gains a majority in a country, the pressure on the Dar al-Harb increases exponentially.   Islam in the aggregate is a mostly-peaceful religion when it is the minority in a country, or when everyone submits to its ideology, becoming a member of the House of Islam.  Note:  the name Islam means 'submission'.
Muslims believe in Jesus.  That is to say, they believe that Jesus was a prophet; they do not believe he was God, and they do not believe that his crucifixion was a historical event.
The holy works of Islam are: 
1) The Koran or Q'uran - which was an oral text throughout the life of Muhammad.  It was also fluid; that is to say, it contradicted itself.  Certain verses 'revealed to Muhammad' were later repudiated by him as satanic, revealed not by Gabriel but by Satan.  Devout Muslims emphasize that it is only correct when recited in Arabic, but then one must understand Arabic well . . . hmmm.  
2) The Hadith - authentic statements or actions of Muhammad, the biography and traditions of Muhammad.  
3) The Reliance of the Traveler which is the manual of the Sunnis who comprise approximately 85% of the world's Muslims.  Note:  most of Shariah law comes from this text.
It is key to understand that there are two parts of Islam and they cannot be separated:  Religion and politics/government (Shariah).  This is a foreign concept that most Americans cannot wrap their brains around, as America's constitution provides for the separation of church and state. (Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, it was the first amendment.)  
Islamic beliefs take one of three forms-Sunni, Shi'ite or Sufis, the latter being the smallest percentage and mystics. The two main branches of Islam (Sunni and Shi'ite) diverge in their beliefs over who is the true inheritor of the mantle of the Prophet Muhammad.3,4
Finally, there are Five Pillars of Islam that make up Muslim life:
1.     Shahada -  absolute belief in Allah and Mohammad as his prophet, reciting daily "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah"            
2.    Prayer - Five daily prescribed prayers facing Mecca
3.    Zakat - required giving to the needy                                           4.   Fasting during the month of Ramadan for self purification
5.     Haj/pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one's life.
A sixth pillar is mentioned-jihad-the meaning of which is constantly debated.  Some Muslims call it the personal spiritual struggle, others the killings in the name of Allah, which are permitted in the Koran.
Adhering to these five (or six) pillars gives a devout Muslim a good chance to get to Heaven, but there are no guarantees, promises or security for the devotee.
Why study Islam?  There is much being said and done in the name of Allah today, and it is incumbent on thinking people, especially followers of Jesus Christ-to know.  How do you treat the covered Muslim woman you encounter in your physician's office?  With love, honor and respect.  If you have a chance to talk matters of faith, it is all about the love--of Jesus Christ, and the grace of God the Father, which is oh so foreign to one who his under the iron first of the star and crescent, to one who is trying to do, and do, and do some more to hope to see Heaven.   
2 - written by Abu Kathir,
3 - "4 Questions ISIS Rebels use to tell Sunnis from Shia," June 26, 2014, Time of India
4 - "Sunni-Shia is ISIS' Lifeblood," by Amanda Paul, Today's Zaman, August 29, 2015.

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