Fatima Jaffer – Nairobi, Kenya
Start at the Beginning
When people think of Muslims, there are certain pictures that immediately come to mind: rows of people praying in white kanzus and caps, fasting in the month of Ramadan, going for Hajj once a year ‘somewhere in Saudi Arabia’, throaty ‘wallahi, billahi’ utterances, women in plentiful folds of fabric, and possibly the thought that you should tread cautiously when talking about their religion because you never know when they’ll whip out that bazooka they’ve been hiding under their bed and unleash ‘jihad’ on you…
Okay, so I’m generalizing here, but it’s surprising how many people do actually associate these – and only these – things with Muslims. So for those of you still with me on these chronicles (thank you!), let’s wipe the slate clean and start afresh, shall we?
All this stuff above forms a part of Islam although some of it has been (highly) misconstrued. However, the practical side of Islam holds little or no meaning without the beliefs that support it.
Of Mohammedans and Musselmen
For a long time, we used to be called ‘Mohammedans’. In fact, if you hunt down an old dictionary, you’ll probably still find it there as a noun…wait, did I say old? Heh, I just checked my current updated online web dictionary and guess what? It’s still there. Muslims don’t really like being called that because it implies that their faith is founded primarily on Muhammad (which its not) or is even misunderstood to mean that they consider Muhammad to be a part of the Divine Entity.
I’ve met people who think that Muslims set up Muhammad as a competitor to Christ; that he’s a ‘new god’ of our own making or that we have our own version of the Trinity with Muhammad in place of Jesus. I even had one young man look at me in shock when I mentioned God and say: “You mean you believe in God?” (Aside: :O)
Where does one start explaining what Islam is when there are people who don’t even consider it a faith, just a ‘movement’ of sorts? The basics seem a good place to start. Faith comes from within, and the strongest faith is founded concrete, unshakeable beliefs.
So let’s talk beliefs…
(Just a note: These chronicles are just an explanation; no ulterior motives here. Feel free to disagree, but keep the conversation insult-free.)
From Healthy Roots doth Healthy Branches grow
Islam can be (very) broadly divided into two aspects: Its Roots and its Branches. The Roots refer to the actual beliefs that qualify you as a Muslim, while the Branches are the responsibilities you assume once you have accepted those beliefs. The one depends on the other.
Just like you can’t expect a healthy set of fruit-bearing branches from a tree that has weak roots, you cannot expect your actions (the praying, fasting, etc.) to fulfill their intended purpose if your understanding of your beliefs are weak.
For this reason, any person is allowed to question the 5 fundamental beliefs (roots) of Islam to the satisfaction of their intellect and sensibility. In fact, it is compulsory on every Muslim to do so; blind faith is not an option. You can’t inherit Islam from your parents, otherwise it becomes a set of traditions. It has to be active, voluntary submission. Much of the misuse of Islam comes from Muslims-by-Birth, not Muslims-by-Faith.
Once you’ve accepted the roots, then you then submit to the branches without protest. That is what Islam really means. To surrender totally to the Will of God; but not just any God, a God you believe in completely and without a doubt with your mind and soul.