07.26.08

Understanding Islam: Is Islam a Divine Religion?

Posted in Understanding Islam at 11:58 pm by Haider

I have already stated that, in order to understand Islam correctly, we must take into account the meaning God intended to convey to mankind, and the message brought by Prophet Muhammad as he understood it, and not as the Muslims understood it.

Our intention is to bridge the gap between the Muslims’ (and the non-Muslims’) understanding of Islam and the meaning God wants us to understand.

However, does this mean that we must begin with the assumption that Islam is a divine religion, and that God has conveyed it to Prophet Muhammad? What if someone, say a Christian, for example, doesn’t wish to base his understanding of Islam on such an assumption, but rather begins with the premise that Prophet Muhammad pretended to be a messenger to exercise (divine) authority over the Arabs. Can this serve as a starting point for the understanding of Islam?

The short answer is no. The long answer is also no.

Allow me to explain:

When you wish to understand the teachings of an individual, the validity of the teachings is besides the point. What you are trying to understand is how the individual himself understood his teachings, and what he was trying to convey.

We cannot say: Islam is what the Muslims believe, when what the Muslims believe conflicts with the understanding the founder of the religion had of the religion.

Similarly, you do not need to prove God’s existence in order to determine what God intends to convey through Islam. To understand Islam, you must form an understanding of what kind of deity is being presented in its teachings. Is the God of Islam a just God or an unjust God? If He is just, then we must interpret Islam’s teachings from that perspective (i.e. Islam cannot promote injustice, because the God of Islam is a just God).

Therefore, we need to form an understanding of what the attributes of the God of Islam are, so we can interpret Islam in a way consistent with His attributes. I will prove the validity of this approach further during our discussion of what the valid criteria for interpretation are.

To sum up, Islam is:

- The message God (i.e. the God of Islam) wants to convey to mankind

- The religion as Prophet Muhammad understood it

Our role is to determine what that message is and how it is to be understood correctly.

13 Comments »

  1. um muhammed said,

    July 29, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    salaam ,
    I applaud you for writing this, talking to other people on the net who judge islam by its followers I felt a need for such a book in english,
    I read the previous posts ,what I felt I should be adding is that, submission to god is an essential part of all major religions ,if those claiming to be following god’s word really followed it they would all be called muslims !
    but I see you’re trying to be as objective as you can be, in my study of Judaism ,Christians I found that they fell in the same trap the muslims fell into of appointing certain people as god’s authority on earth when in reality those that are appointed are just individuals who are acting upon there own wishes and desires ,so the result is monarchy in its worse forms practiced in the name of religion,
    and as you and I know god didn’t leave the spot of the authorotive religious person empty ,but I guess you are tackling this issue much later ,it is a hard topic to wrap one’s mind around
    especially when many people separated themselves from god and never studied what they believed to be his word so they remained in conflict over who is right or wrong religion to follow because they never actually studied without the influence of those they believed to be a religious authority!
    I will keep reading this because I am passionate about the subject to the point I could write a book here ..hope you will succeed in writing a really good book !

  2. Haider said,

    July 29, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Salam um Muhammed,

    You’re right, I’ll be dealing with these issues later on, and not from the start. In fact, there’s a lot of ground to cover before we can discuss the meaning of submission, or how to determine leadership within a religious community.

    And this is why most religious discussions are fruitless and a waste of time: they discuss specifics, without looking at the validity of their reasoning or evidence.

  3. um muhammed said,

    July 30, 2008 at 1:22 am

    I am intrested to see how you are going to explain things objectivly because to me the reasoning in my mind is like this:
    1-we must prove that god exists
    2-we must know what he wants
    3-we must understand his religion and his message
    this was the way I thought always ,to me it is so hard to try to discuss islam or make others understand its message without them being believers in god’s existence
    in the first place!!

  4. Haider said,

    July 30, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Yes, this is the conventional approach to understanding Islam (and why I wrote this post!)

    But you don’t have to *convince* people that your beliefs are true before they can understand them. They can understand them, then determine whether they believe in them or not. A person can understand Islam as a religion, but not be convinced of the existence of God. He can certainly benefit from its many teachings without accepting the full package (although belief in one God remains at the core of Islamic thought, as I will come to later on).

    (If you’re interested, you can read Professor Muhammad Legenhausen’s conversion story, From an Existentialist to a Muslim, where he states that he developed an interest in Islam, but still didn’t believe in God)

    Therefore, you can say: “I believe that God is merciful,” and people can judge your other beliefs, and your actions, in relation to the belief that you professed. That way, they will develop an understanding of you and your belief system, and whether your beliefs are true or not can be left for another discussion.

    I hope the reasoning behind my approach makes sense. :)

  5. Seth said,

    August 9, 2008 at 2:38 am

    How could anyone be convinced that another’s beliefs are correct without understanding the beliefs first? If a religion’s entire claim to superiority is that ‘God’ revealed this to them, it will get no where. You have to have objective, verifiable instances where your religion’s teachings and code of ethics are better suited for the individual than another’s.

    And, just to ask, how do you go about ‘proving’ the existence of ‘God?’ Unless you are speaking of the physical entity (neutral magnetic current) behind the symbology of religion, then you are going to have one hell of a time ever ‘proving’ that ‘God’ exists–especially a certain, EXACT ‘God’, to the exclusion of all others.

    Haider, if one were to assume the ethics of Islam, but rejected the existence of a ‘God,’ what would he be missing?

  6. Haider said,

    August 14, 2008 at 1:19 am

    Hello Seth,

    I totally agree with your first paragraph, and which is why I believe a proper foundation for the understanding of Islam beyond the simple claim that it is a divine religion is necessary.

    As for proving the existence of a divine, conscious entity, I will leave that for another discussion. In trying to understand a religion for what it is, the validity of the religion is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether the Buddha existed or not. You can still gain an understanding of Buddhism as a religion.

    You can certainly benefit a great deal from Islamic teachings, and Islam’s ethical values without accepting the belief in the God of Islam (i.e. the understanding of “God” according to Islam). However, belief in God is the essence of Islam, and is tied to everything within it. To dismiss belief in God will mean that you have accepted one level of value but not the second.

    Understanding Islam is a matter of epistemology, its moral code is a matter of ethics. The existence of God is a metaphysical matter (is that a pun?), which plays a role in how you perceive the world, and all other facets in it. It’s like asking: What difference does it make if you believe in a benevolent or a malevolent universe?

    I will hopefully expand on this issue in greater detail soon, to explain what “spiritual” means :)

  7. Seth said,

    August 19, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    The existence of God is a physical matter. Human beings live in the physical world. Our senses are adapted to perceive the physical world. If God is not a part of the physical world, then even if He were to exist, we would have no way of communicating with him, and therefore any claim to revelation is . . . nonsense. You can certainly separate the ethical code presented by the Koran, the Pentateuch, or the New Testament from it’s supernatural elements.

    “However the belief in God is the essence of Islam”. Perhaps this is the folly of your faith. How many people have died in the name of God simply because they placed His existence over His teachings: to love thy neighbor as thyself, that our true wealth lies in our good deeds to our brothers. It really is absurd.

    Do you really need a deity to explain the superiority of social order to chaos? A God to instruct to you not to steal? to rape? to kill? Do you have to a God to understand love? or compassion? or morality? Certainly you see the errors of this opinion. If Islam is truly a sound religion, it’s belief in God is superfluous.

    And the universe is indifferent, by the way. It is a self sustaining entity based upon repeating patterns. It is governed by laws of magnetics. As I have said, this is what your Holy Books symbolize. God is not a ‘living’ entity dictating philosophy to humankind.

  8. Haider said,

    August 20, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Seth, you make some valid points. However, I need to stress on the point that I’m not trying to *prove* that Islam is a sound religion, and you cannot make that judgment unless you first understand what that religion teaches. If I told you I believe that the creator of the universe is a three-headed cow, it would be absurd. But as long as you understand what three, head and cow are, you would understand what I believe in.

    The problem of understanding becomes more complex when you start using words like “God,” which can have 101 meanings, and refer to scripture that can be interpreted in 101 million ways. So what does Islam mean by “God” and how can we interpret the religion as a whole, and its scripture? This is the point of the book.

    I’m not going to address the points you raised here because the purpose of this post is to emphasize on the idea that to understand a religion, the validity of its claim to divinity or its level of absurdity is irrelevant. Understand the religion first, then make the judgments.

  9. Seth said,

    August 21, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    So you are saying that understanding scripture supercedes belief in God? Then you are preaching philosophy, ethics, metaphysics- not religion. You see, the whole basis of religion is it’s divinity. If a man can learn the same things from observation and free inquiry as he can from Holy books (or from having the Holy books dictated to him, as has been the case in most major religions), then what good is religion? Why even bother?

    If Mohammad did not ascend to heaven, how is he superior to Ayn Rand? Bertrand Russell? Aristotle? Of course, these philosophers have not had governments back their teachings and enforce their study, but surely this is not the criterion by which we judge intellectual ideas.

    “..to understand a religion, the validity of its claim to divinity or its level of absurdity is irrelevant” — I wonder, could I interest you in Biology if I didn’t first show you that there are, in fact, mammals and reptiles and birds that all have mechanical bodies? How about Psychology before convincing you that you have a brain? I am all for an in-depth view at the teachings of Islam, I understand some very wise men were a part of it’s origin. But if you don’t first put those beliefs in perspective by explaining that they are not the feelings of a supernatural deity, then you are only robbing yourself and your readers. Instead of eliminating confusion, you are reinforcing it.

    Oh, and I am not claiming that Islam is not a ’sound’ religion, if there is such a thing. I am saying that any doctrine that presupposes the existence of the supernatural is wrong. Almost all religions that I have studied do have redeeming qualities, however, and I have already found that Islam is noble in encouraging intellectual individuality (epsecially at it’s conception), even if it is on a small scale. This does not alter my view that Allah, Yahweh, and Shiva etc. are non-existent, that those people who have subjective ‘evidence’ of their existence might be delusional.

    It’s kind of like Richard Dawkins said, “If you really think about it, you are an atheist to 99% of the gods mankind has invented throughout it’s existence. I simply go one god further.”

  10. Haider said,

    August 23, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Seth, just to recap:

    I am not trying to *prove* that Islam is a divine religion. I am looking for a way to understand the religion for what it is. I’m not addressing the question of whether God exists or not, but what the attributes of the God of Islam are.

    You can understand a religion, but still believe that it is flawed. You can study Greek mythology without needing to prove that Zeus exists. Just because Zeus doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that Greek mythology is meaningless or can never be understood *for what it is.*

    Now, you are beginning with the assumption that the basis of a religion is its divinity. But do you think Islam supports your opinion of religion? And how have you come to this conclusion?

    You cannot say: “All religions call on people to have faith, therefore, Islamic beliefs require a leap of faith.” This is one of the reasons why Islam isn’t properly understood. It is being reshaped to fit a template that it doesn’t belong to.

    Islam *is* a religion, in the sense of asserting the belief in a divine being, and in having a set of rituals to express its values. But we need to study Islam for what it is in order to know what its views on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, etc. are.

    I hope my purpose in writing the book is clear, now.

  11. Seth said,

    August 29, 2008 at 6:46 am

    “You cannot say: “All religions call on people to have faith, therefore, Islamic beliefs require a leap of faith.” This is one of the reasons why Islam isn’t properly understood. It is being reshaped to fit a template that it doesn’t belong to.”

    Really? Isn’t the first pillar of Islamic belief that Allah is the only God and Mohammed is his prophet? If not, forgive me, but if so, not only does this contradict your statement, it also confuses me in regard to your hostility on my pointing out that Allah’s existence is a CRUCIAL issue for you to face head-on, not skirt to the side. And any belief in a supernatural deity IS a leap of faith, and therefore Islam does fit the template, regardless of whether some aspects of its metaphysics or epistemology may be correct in your opinion.

    You keep referring to Islam ‘as it is.’ I wonder what you mean by this. In the context you use it, I infer you mean a study of the religion, without confronting the question of Allah’s existence and Islam’s divinity. However, do you concede that Islam ‘as it is,’ must include the fact that since it’s inception it has been a tool of ruling classes? Even Mohammad himself was born into a fairly powerful family. This, as well as the non-existence of Allah, must be confronted and discussed, in my opinion, if ever people are to truly understand Islam (and most religions for that matter) and it’s attraction to people.

    As to your inquiry, ‘Now, you are beginning with the assumption that the basis of a religion is its divinity. But do you think Islam supports your opinion of religion? And how have you come to this conclusion?’ Once again, I refer you to the First Pillar of Islamic Faith. You have even said yourself that belief in God transcends all of Islam. Not to mention there was no Islam until Mohammad came back from receiving his REVELATION FROM ALLAH and teaching it to his followers. So yes, I do believe that Islam supports my opinion of religion, for the above reasons.

    Now, will you answer my question objectively? I will re-post it for your convenience: ‘Do you really (Does man really) need a deity to explain the superiority of social order to chaos? A God to instruct to you not to steal? not to rape? not to kill? Do you have to a God to understand love? or compassion? or morality?” If you believe so, why? If you do not, and a deity has no function, why then prescribe him a form (as Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, etc.)?

  12. hotconflict said,

    August 30, 2008 at 12:06 am

    It is always strange to me how so many people make comments about Islam, yet it is clear that they have absolutely no understanding of the faith.

    Islam is not “A” divine faith…it is “The” divine faith.
    Islam is the name of the faith that Allah has thought all the messengers.

    The articles of faith for a Muslim are the same from the time of Adam to the end of days.

    There is a lot of westerners who are trying to make Islam out to be so different and alien to other faiths.
    Check out this website that directly deals with some of the misconceptions about Islam using stories and Ppop-Culture.

    http://www.hotconflict.com

  13. Haider said,

    August 30, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Seth, please bear in mind that Islam is open to a great deal of interpretation. The purpose of the book I’m writing is to define an objective criteria for the interpretation of Islam. We cannot determine the Islamic perspective on violence, reason, faith, morality, etc. if we do not know how to interpret Islam correctly.

    You said that belief in Allah as the only God, and Muhammad as his prophet is the first pillar of Islam. This doesn’t mean that you must accept this on faith. To become a Muslim, you must be convinced that these two tenets are true. But how do you reach such a conviction? Does Islam accept the approach: “I believe in Allah as the only God, and Muhammad as His prophet, because my parents say so”? It doesn’t. Therefore, these two beliefs are not the starting point, and should not be accepted on faith.

    Maybe I still haven’t made the purpose of the book clear, so I should be writing more posts to help clarify the direction I’m going in.

    The issue you raised about believing in a deity doesn’t fit the subject of the book, and I’m going to have postpone commenting on the subject for another (series of) posts.

    ————

    Saleem (hotconflict), thank you for your visit.

    I agree with you that many people comment on Islam without having an understanding of it. But I think this is more applicable about Muslims than any other group.

    For one thing, Muslims are following claims and assumptions more than developing a proper understanding of their religion. I will deal with this issue in greater detail in the book.

    Apart from the fact that stating that Islam is “the” divine faith is a claim that needs to be qualified with evidence (to even state that it is “a” divine faith requires evidence as well!), when I refer to “Islam” here, I am referring to the religion associated with Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his family).

    Mind you, stating that “the articles of faith for a Muslim are the same from the time of Adam to the end of days” is also a claim that needs to be proved.

    And while Westerners can try to make Islam seem alien, there *are* irrational beliefs being promoted by Muslims that do not seem sensible to a Western mind, and aren’t shared by other religions.

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