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Mosque, West Bank, Palestine

In Honor of Ramadan, Seven Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Islam

Mosque, West Bank, Palestine(Reprinted from Elephant Journal)

Bismillah, ar Rahman, ar Rahim. (In the name of Allah, most beneficent and merciful.)

Ramadan kareem!

1. Mystical Oneness with God
In a mystical sense, Islam is a non-dualist religion. When I first read these words by ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima bint Muhammad, I was overwhelmed with a sense of, “Oh my God! Exactly!”

Thus whoever attaches attributes to [God] recognizes His like, and who recognizes His like regards Him two; and who regards Him two recognizes parts for Him; and who recognizes parts for Him mistook Him; and who mistook Him pointed at Him; and who pointed at Him admitted limitations for Him; and who admitted limitations for Him numbered Him.
Whoever said in what is He, held that He is contained; and whoever said on what is He held He is not on something else.
~ Ali ibn Abi Talib

Ali ibn Abi Talib was of the house of Muhammad — peace be upon him. Ali was the first Muslim to convert after the Prophet was said to have been visited by the angel that brought God’s words to Muhammad. Those words were the Qur’an (the recitation). Fatima bint Muhammad — peace be upon her — was the daughter of Muhammad.

Ali and Fatima were two of the earliest Muslims. So the mystical fibre of Islam is root-deep.

2. Who is Allah?
Allah has the same roots as the Aramaic “El” and the Hebrew Elah. Allah literally means “The God.” “al” means ‘the,” and “elah” (or some variation of it) means “god.” God does not have a gender in Islam, though is referred to as “He” out of respect.

Yeah, I know, kinda messed up, but at least Muslims don’t actually think God is some guy sitting in the clouds. It is considered a grave violation and failing to give attributes to Allah, because as with anything, defining Him/It limits It/Him.

3. Islam and Peace
The Arabic words “Islam” (for the religion) and “salaam” (peace) are from the same Semitic roots; S-L-M. The word Islam means submission, and is taken to mean submission to God (similar perhaps to the expression “God-fearing”). It could as easily mean peace, purity, safety.

In common understanding, to be Muslim means to have surrendered your will to God; to have submitted one’s will to the grace of Allah.

4. Jihad
The word jihad has come to be synonymous with “holy war” in the American vernacular. It has been used by the Palestinian people to mean “uprising.”

Jihad actually means struggle.

“The best jihad is (by) the one who strives against his own self for Allah, The Mighty and Majestic,”
~ the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad — peace be upon him)

5. Honoring Your Mother in Islam
There are many Hadiths (loosely; stories that offer the teachings of The Prophet) that beautifully address the role of the mother in Islam.

One such says:

I said to the Holy Prophet, “O Messenger of Allah, I desire to go on a (military) expedition and I have come to consult you.” He asked me if I had a mother, and when I replied that I had, he said, “Stay with her because Paradise lies beneath her feet.”

Another says;

I asked the Prophet who has the greatest right over a man, and he said, “His mother.”

One of my favorites goes like this: 

I asked, “Messenger of Allah, to whom should I be dutiful?” He replied, “Your mother.” I asked, “Then whom?” He replied, “Your mother.” I asked, “Then whom?” He replied, “Your mother.” I asked, “Then whom?” He replied, “Your mother.” I asked, “Then to whom should I be dutiful?” He replied, “Your father, and then the next closest relative and then the next.”

6. Marriage in Islam
While arranged marriage is still common in many Muslim cultures, any woman has the right to refuse a marriage match. And, while polygamy is considered lawful in Islam, a polygamous marriage may only occur where both (or all) women are in accord with the choice to be co-wives.

Divorce is legal in Islam, and a woman is guaranteed a divorce settlement even before marriage. Additionally, in marriage a man’s property becomes communal property by law, but a woman’s property remains in her own claim.

7. Sex in Islam

“Permitted to you on the night of the Fasts is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and you are their garments.”
(Qur’an, 2:187)

Obviously, Islam has a long way to go in regards to creating a healthy relationship with sex. (Still, don’t we all?)

Yes, it’s a homophobic religion, and one with strict regulation of sexuality beyond even that.

However, when sex happens within the container of the laws of Islam, i.e.; between a lawfully wedded woman and man, Islam (on the whole) has fewer sex-negative or sex phobic views than you would think.

Contraception is allowed, as is first-trimester abortion. In addition, sex has many extra-procreative purposes in Islamic faith, including deepening companionship between husband and wife.

“The Prophet himself, while not divulging all aspects of his own sexual life, was known for his nature as a loving husband who was sensitive and physically demonstrative. In several hadith, he speaks about the importance of foreplay and speaking in loving terms during sexual relations. Again, the concept of mutual satisfaction is elucidated in a hadith which advises husbands to engage in acts that enable a woman to achieve orgasm first. …Sexual dissatisfaction is considered legitimate grounds for divorce on the part of either wife or husband.”
 — Source.

There’s even the suggestion that sexual intimacy between man and wife is a gift of worship, and something a Muslim will be rewarded for by Allah.

Female circumcision is not an Islamic practice, but a tribal one that predates the introduction of Islam to the areas that practice female circumcision (aka FGM, or female genital mutilation). The vast majority of Islamic countries and cultures do not practice female circumcision at all.

In honor of Ramadan, the most holy month in Islam, I hope we can take a moment to honor the diversity of faiths that hold the world together, as much as they might tear it apart. While we share the air, we share breath. Let’s be inspired by each other. And allow the outer jihad to give way to the greater jihad; the jihad of one’s own soul.