Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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In order to become a legal Muslim, all we have to do is to say the two statements in Arabic "There is no God except God, and Muhammad is His Messenger." Once we have said it three times, knowing and accepting the meaning of it, we are Muslim for all practical and legal purposes (i.e., marriage, inheritance, etc.). However, bearing witness to this is not enough to lead a life of Muslim. Saying these statements can be compared to, sayjoining the army by applying and wearing the uniform. However, in order to remain a GI, one has to leam to fight and fight when unnecessary


When we say, "There is no god except," we are denouncing all false gods within and around us in whatever shape they were and in whatever ways we worshipped. So not only we are denouncing idols but anything we thought would benefit us or hurt us except One God, God. Thus, if we feared the powers of a human or say we worshipped wealth, we have to denounce that. Now that we said our belief in One God, God, we have to believe in Him with All His Majesty, All His Powers, and All His Beautiful Names (many of which are mentioned in the Quran). So when we are saying this statement, we are actually saying that, for example, there is no one more compassionate and merciful (rahman and rahim) than God, there is no one more Wise, more Knowledgeable, more Forgiving, and more Trustworthy than Him, and so on.

Then when we say that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, we are affirming our belief in the Quran, as the word of God, since the Quran came to us through Muhammad (PBUH). He not only taught what was revealed to him from God, but also lived a life translating the Quran into his personal actions. A group of Muslims came to Ayisha, wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) after his death and asked, "We never saw the Prophet in person, tell us how was his personality?" Her reply was simple, "Have you not read the Quran? He lived by it." So belief in the message (the Quran) is part of belief in the Messenger.

Faith is like a seed which God puts in the heart of whoever He wishes. Then all that person can do is to nourish the plant that grows out of that seed into a strong fruitful tree or let it be subdued by the weeds (bad actions) and die. Like a tree where roots are submerged in the ground and the tree is on the top, the part of faith is in the heart and the other parties expressed on the tongue and in the actions. Thus our actions become the expression of our faith (or lack of it).

Faith also includes belief in all the prophets of God, from Adam to Muhammad, all the books these prophets were given as books of God, the angels of God, the Day of Judgment, life after death, the unseen like heaven and hell, and that God has knowledge and power to execute all His plans.


The major application of faith is what we call the Pillars of Islam. They include prescribed prayer (salat),prescribed fasting (saum), Charity (zakat), and pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). However, salat, zakat, saum and hajj are entities in themselves and cannot be simply translated as above.


These are the five prescribed prayers which are performed early in the morning (before dawn), at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, evening and preferably (but not a must), in the late hours in the night. Before each prescribed prayer, one has to have external and internal purity. These include ablution, purity of cloth and ground used for the prescribed prayer, proper and clean clothing, declaring one's intention, and facing the Kabah at Makkah (qiblah). Bowing down and prostration are acts of surrender. The prescribed prayer is to communicate with one's Creator and bring one closer to Him.


The prescribed fast (except for those who are, i.e., travelers, sick, children, menstruating and nursing women) is in the month of Ramadan from dawn to dusk, abstaining from food, drink and sex.


The poor-due or charity (zakat) is the right of the poor over the wealth of the rich. Anyone who has at the end of a year a certain wealth accumulated, must give 2.5% as charity to purify his or her legal wealth. He or she can give more then if he or she wishes. No one is exempt from the poor-due except one who does not have any excess wealth.


Pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca is not a sight-seeing trip to the Holy Places. It is a worship in the tradition of Prophet Abraham, for everyone once in his/her lifetime if he/she can afford it financially and physically. It is the annual assembly of Muslims from all over the world. The usual number is between two and three million, all dressed in white unsewn cloth.


There is one additional pillar which is called jihad. It is wrongfully translated by Western writers as Holy War. The actual translation and meaning of jihad is striving with everything available in the cause of God. The jihad of the self in trying to control our desires is the greatest jihad as described by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Thus, in order to wakeup at dawn to perform the prescribed prayer, to fast in the month of Ramadan, to give part of one's money to the poor, to undergo the hard- ship of the pilgrimage; all are jihad. When a Muslim nation is attacked by non-Muslims, then to stand up and fight with one's person or wealth is also a jihad.

No building is called a building which has only four or five pillars. You need a roof, walls, doors, etc. These are the moral codes of Islam as expressed in pure actions, for the pleasure of God. In the Quran at 127 places where Heaven is rewarded to the believers,faith is tied to pure actions. These pure deeds have to be expressed in one's personal family, social, economical, political, and spiritual life and require consciousness of God (taqwa), constantly and willingly, in order to receive His pleasure and avoid His displeasure.


In Surah al-Mu'minun, they are described as those who are humble in their prayers, avoid vain talk, pay poor-due, and guard their modesty. In In Surah al-Infal, they are described as those who feel fear in their heart when God is mentioned and their faith increases when the Quran is being recited. They trust in their Lord, who establishes worship and gives poor- due. In Sura Tawba, they are mentioned as those who protect each other, enjoin right and forbid what is wrong, and they strive in the way of God. In Surah Rad, they are described as those who have patience, who keep their trust, migrate for the sake of God, and do what they say. In Surah al Hujurat, they are told to speak in a low voice, avoid gossip, rumors, ridicule, defaming or giving offensive name, avoid suspicion, spying and backbiting and make peace between believers. We should reflect upon ourselves and ponder how much of the contract and job description we are maintaining in our lifestyle.