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RELATIONS BETWEEN THE SEXES

Certain elements are basic to human nature, and one of these is the sexual urge. Every society has certain patterns of sexual behavior and these are never random. Invariably they reflect the society's value system and are a mirror of its basic attitudes toward human responsibility and accountability, the well-being of the family, and the purity and integrity of individuals and the society as a whole. The sexual mores of any society are therefore ultimately governed by its basic understanding of Reality, its fundamental attitudes concerning the origin and permanence of moral laws, and man's nature, role and responsibility in the world, as well as the nature and role of woman in society.

In a society which denies or which does not regulate its life by belief in God and obedience to His laws, man is regarded as a purely physical being who has a brief existence in this world. As there is nothing but the present life, it must be made the most of and enjoyed in every way possible before it ends, and no barriers or limits to enjoyment are acknowledged. Women and men are simply made to do what is "natural" without any significant moral or ethical considerations to hinder them.

In contrast, Islam emphatically rejects the notion that a human being is simply a physical or animal entity. Although it certainly does not deny that man has many needs and attributes, which are common with animals, it does deny him the right to fulfill these needs in a purely animal fashion. Rather its aim is to regulate and channelize these animal aspects of human nature and to bring the whole of that nature, with its various facets and elements, into submission to God Most High. The Islamic society is governed by a sense of both individual and collective responsibility to God Who has defined the limits for human behavior. Accordingly, strong measures are taken to safeguard the purity and integrity of its individuals and institutions, especially the family. Again, Islam accords woman honor and dignity, and requires that she be treated with respect. Her sexuality may not be exploited in any way nor may she be treated as a "sex object"; rather she is to be regarded and treated as a human individual whose sexuality does not enter into her relationship with any person other than her husband. Not only does he have the exclusive right of sexual access to his wife but also the right that her beauty and feminine attractions should not be shared with other men, and the same is true of the wife in relation to her husband. Based on these general guidelines, Islam has established certain principles to govern the interaction of the sexes and control sexual behavior among Muslims.

The first of these principles is that free, casual social mixing between men and women is not permitted; in fact, mixing is discouraged unless it is for some serious, legitimate reason or purpose, not simply as a means of amusing oneself or enjoying the company of the opposite sex. For this reason, in many parts of the Muslim world, schools, colleges, hospitals, transportation facilities, etc., have separate sections for men and women. Homes are often constructed in such a way that men who visit the house do not come in contact with its women; male visitors are received by the men of the house and entertained in a guest room, while the women carry on their own activities in their informal home attire in other parts of the house without being seen by the visitors or inconvenienced in any way. Likewise; women also have their circle of female friends, and when these come to visit, they in turn do not mix with the men of the household.

The second principle is that when mixing does take place, both men and women are to exercise propriety in the way they speak, look and behave. Obviously a woman can be either business-like and direct, or she can let her sexuality into the picture in her interaction with men in innumerable implicit and overt ways. This Muslim women are not permitted to do. At the same time, men are expected to exercise the same restraint in behavior, not to look deliberately and with interest at women's attractions, to be playful or "friendly" with them, or to have any physical contact with them whatsoever, but to keep the interaction strictly straight-forward and direct.

The third principle regulating the relations between the sexes in Islam is that a Muslim man and woman who are not related either by marriage or by a mahrem relationship are not permitted to be alone together. A well-known Hadith of the Prophet (peace be on him) states, "Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should not sit in privacy with a woman without a mahrem of hers being present, because Satan will be the third (among them)."

How vividly this describes just what occurs when a man and woman are alone together, when the consciousness of their sexuality creeps in between them, affecting their relationship and making them feel for one another what should not be felt disturbing their inner equilibrium and purity and leading them toward the possibility of sin. Thus, even when a Muslim man or woman meets with a prospective marriage partner, including after they are formally engaged, although they may see and talk with one another in the presence of mahrem relatives, Islam forbids their going out or staying alone with each other on the principle that if there is no occasion for temptation there will likewise be no occasion for wrongdoing.

The fourth principle is that the Muslim woman is required to conceal her attractions from men by a strictly modest, straight- forward type of attire. Within the close family circle, she is free to dress informally and to beautify herself; in fact, she is strongly encouraged to make herself attractive for her husband since her beauty is reserved for him. She is also free to do the same among other Muslim women if no man is present. But outside her home and at any time when she is in the presence of non-mahrem men, even within her home, she is required to wear a covering-type of dress which will make it clear to anyone who sees her that she is a chaste, modest and pure woman, and that she does not want her sexuality to enter into the interaction in the slightest degree.

A Muslim woman in this business-like, non-attracting kind of dress which brings out her femininity while concealing her sexuality, and with correspondingly straight-forward behavior, automatically elicits and receives the respect of men just as nuns, whose habits are somewhat similar to the covering dress of Muslim women, have always been respected. This type of dress, which is known as hijab or purdah, is prescribed by a direct order in the Qur'an and is a characteristic by which a conscientious Muslim woman is recognizable anywhere in the world.

It is within this context that the Islamic concept of womanhood may be understood most clearly. The respect and status which a Muslim woman enjoys are not tied up in any way with her physical attractiveness or social skills in relation to men; rather it is concealing and reserving her beauty and sexuality, her feminine charms and favors, exclusively for the man she has married which marks her as a virtuous woman and gains her respect. Indeed, Islam prescribes hijab not only to protect society from the disruption produced by uncontrolled expressions of sexual interest and in order to protect woman's dignity and honor, but also in order to neutralize her sexuality so that she can be a positive, constructive force in society rather than a harmful one. Due to this modest dress and the propriety of her manner and behavior, men can regard and treat her as a person not a sex object; that is, her value to the society has no relationship to her physical attractions but solely to her worth as a human being. Consequently as a Muslim woman grows older she loses none of her value either in her own eyes or in the sight of society, for among Muslims a woman's worth, like a man's, increases with age due to her wisdom and experience instead of decreasing with her declining youthfulness and beauty. For the Muslim woman, her character and personal attainments, her modesty and dignity, her piety and intelligence, and her feminine role as wife and mother are the sources of status and respect within the community rather than her possessing sexual interest, attractiveness or easy sociability with men.

But lest it be thought that the responsibility for maintaining pure relations with the opposite sex rests with women alone, we have only to cite the following well-known Qur'anic verse:

"Tell the believing men to lower their gaze 1 and guard their sexuality; that is purer for them. Indeed, God is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their sexuality..." (24:30-31)

The Islamic teachings thus inculcate in men and women alike a strong sense of haya, that is, shyness, reserve and modesty in the presence of the opposite sex (and indeed, in relation to modesty, of one's own sex as well), which acts as a very strong deterrent against indecency. Due to this, a conscious Muslim man avoids just as scrupulously as his Muslim sister anything which would lead him toward what is for bidden or would lower him in his own eyes or before His Lord; likewise his dress and manner demonstrate that he possesses self-respect and is free of indecent intentions, and desires. 2 In short, chastity, modesty and purity are not merely external restraints imposed by religion or society but are rather inner qualities which devout Muslim men as well as women deeply cherish and desire to uphold.

It will be obvious from this that Muslims generally do not feel at ease with the current trends in Western society. Conscientious Muslims who come to visit or to live in Western countries are often deeply shocked by the general lack of shame and modesty, by the fact that illicit sex is no longer censured in the society as a whole, and they regard the open display of flesh and the overt sexual behavior which they see all around them as animalistic and degrading. The fact that sexual undertones can be observed in innumerable aspects of the interaction between men and women in Western society- between a professor and his student, a doctor and his patient, or a boss and a secretary in an office, for example, and between neighbors, friends and even relatives- in the form of the off-color joke, the compliments, the back-patting, the constant undercurrent of sexually-tinged innuendo which one encounters on so many occasions is also very distressing to them.

Among Muslims, apart from the very westernized and others, primarily young people, who have lost their sense of direction, such behavior is very rare indeed; certainly the interaction of men and women who fear God and strictly observe His limits is completely free of these elements.The observing of the limits informs both the man and the woman that there is no place and no wish for anything to do with sex in their interaction; indeed, if there were such undertones it would be felt as a great threat as well as a gross insult, and would render further interaction prohibited and impossible. To a conscious Muslim man or woman, attention from any member of the opposite sex other than one's own spouse in the form of free talk, compliments, playfulness suggestive comments, touching in any form (including handshaking and patting on the back), and anything else which has sexual under- tones is insulting, degrading and very much disliked.

In summary, Islam regards the sexual urge as an extremely powerful element in human nature, one which clamors for free expression if given even slight encouragement. Without such guidelines and limits for governing it as we have just discussed, and without the certainty that such behavior is forbidden and will be very severely punished in the Hereafter, it will naturally seek to express itself freely, as we see in Western societies. Recognizing the strength of this drive and the fact that it is always present in any situation where men and women interact freely with one another, are alone together, and where bodies are exposed, Islam does not permit any of these things; for it is obviously far more desirable and effective - as well as much more realistic-to prevent temptation than to expect people to resist it when circumstances impel them toward it.

Islam also insists on the right of an individual to have a spouse who belongs exclusively to him/her; that is, one whose body has not been tasted and enjoyed by the eyes or the hands of others. It totally rejects the notion that what people feel for each other or the pleasure they derive from an act should be taken as the criteria of right and wrong, and that obedience to the unbridled demands of animal desires should be permitted to dominate the lives of human beings. The moral and spiritual harm done to individuals, and through their,to their society, when they disregard the vital need of the human personality for purity and integrity to follow blind physical desire, cannot be assessed by anyone but God, Who has so clearly and absolutely prohibited such acts, and Who also informed us the awesome penalties which such proscribed deeds will incur in the Life-to Come.

DAILY LIFE

As we pointed out earlier, in Islam the broad meaning of worship is not confined to so-called "religious" observances such as praying and fasting. Rather everything which people do in keeping with God's laws in order to satisfy their legitimate needs and those of their families or society is considered worship, broadening its definition to include all one does with the intention of pleasing God in any aspect of life. Without this overall intention of pleasing and obeying God, no deeds, no matter how "good" they may be in content or results, are acceptable to or will be rewarded by God, for they have been done for some motive other than obtaining His pleasure and hence the reward of them has been sought - and often found - elsewhere.

For the conscious Muslim, the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be on him) are the guide in all aspects of existence. The Qur'an is a book of life which he opens several times daily- either the printed Book itself or that portion of it which he has committed to memory- turning to it again and again both during salat and at other times as well for guidance, understanding, support, comfort and the remembrance of God Most High. Similarly, the Prophet's Sunnah (his words and deeds) is a vital, living example which he tries his best to follow in all matters, small and great, knowing that no other pattern of conduct or life could be as worthy to be emulated as that of the noble, inspired Messenger of God (may His peace and blessings be on him).With this in mind, we now turn our attention to the application of Islam to basic aspects of human life.

1. Work and Striving

Work and striving in the worldly realm are a very important part of the Muslim's practice of Islam. Since administering the affairs of the earth in the best possible manner is man's responsibility; managing its resources, developing science, industry, technology, human potential and abilities, and mastering the entire multitude of skills necessary for the effective and smooth running of society are a religious obligation .All this can only come about by the expenditure of sincere and dedicated effort. `The Qur'an is explicit in stating that God's help comes only to those who work and strive with commitment and sincerity:

"And those who strive hard for Us, We will most certainly guide them in Our paths, for Verily God is with those who do right."(29:69)

"And we shall try you until We have known those among you who strive hard and who are patient, and until We test your record."(47:31)

"That man has nothing but what he strives for, and that his striving will be seen, and that afterwards he will be repaidfor it with the fullest repayment, and that to thy Lord is the goal."(53:39-42)

Hence Islam respects honest effort and work of any kind, and does not consider any necessary or useful endeavor as degrading. If a need for some service or skill is felt by the Muslim community, whether it be for a high-level scientist or someone to collect the garbage, it becomes an obligation on some members of the society to master whatever knowledge or skills may be necessary and to engage in this work.

And whatever is done should be done in the best and most excellent manner possible, in keeping with the Prophet's saying, "God loves that when any of you does anything, he should do it in the best way." The only prohibited endeavors are those which are connected with prohibited activities, i.e., making a living by gambling, earning interest, magic or fortune-telling, pornography, prostitution or any other form of sexual contact or display, and by anything related to the production or consumption of alcohol, harmful drugs or pork. And while Islam does not prohibit women from working, they are not permitted to do so in situations where they come in casual contact with men, are exposed to temptations or degradation of any sort, or where their bodies become the focus of interest or their modesty is affected.

In the Islamic system of life, every member of the community must contribute whatever he or she is capable of for the good of society, whether it is a child or youth who is studying in order to master necessary knowledge or skills, a woman in her role as the manager of her household, or a man with whatever abilities, physical or intellectual, he may possess. Islam is not a system which permits praying or meditating all day long or living the life of an ascetic while making no effort either- for oneself or for others. Once the Prophet (peace be on him) was told about a man who spent all his time in the mosque praying. He asked, "Then who feeds him?" "His brother," was the reply. "Then his brother is better than he," he said, underscoring the point that the religion of Islam does not consist merely of piety and devotional activities but also of hard work and reliance upon one's own efforts. Even the most pious and devout of the Prophet's companions, with the exception of a handful of men who devoted themselves exclusively to worship and the study of Islam, had an occupation or calling of some sort. Many of them were engaged in trade or business, as was the Prophet himself earlier in life. For example, Abu Bakr Siddiq and `Uthman bin Affan, two of the Prophet's closest friends who became the first and third caliphs of Islam after his death, acquired considerable wealth through the prospering of their businesses, despite which they lived with the most extreme simplicity and austerity, and from time to time gave away virtually everything they possessed for the cause of Islam.

Thus, while Islam has made it the responsibility Muslims to take care of people who for any reason are unable to meet their own needs through zakat and voluntary charity, it certainly does not en- courage living off handouts from any source. Again, although Muslims are not supposed to turn away anyone who asks, begging, especially by one who is able to work, is considered degrading and harmful. The Prophet (peace be on him) said, "It is better for one of you to take his rope, bring a load of firewood on his back and sell it, God thereby preserving his self-respect, than that he should beg from people whether they give him anything or refuse him." This underlines the respectability of any type of useful work and the undesirability of living by the labor of others or by charity, whether it comes from individuals, organizations or the government. Islam is thus a realistic system for living which condemns idleness, prohibits asceticism and discourages begging, for it makes it clear that a human being's dignity and sense of self-worth, as well as the well-being of society, are intimately tied up with sincere and honest effort, not merely of some but all of its members.

2. Knowledge

Islam's attitude toward the pursuit of knowledge and education is summarized in the following Qur'anic verses and Hadiths of the Prophet (peace be on him):

"... And say (O Muhammad): `My Lord, increase me in knowledge." (20:114)

"Is one who worships devoutly during the hours of the right, prostrating himself or standing, who takes heed of the Hereafter and who places his hope in the mercy of his Lord (like one who does not)? Say: `Are they equal, those who know and those who do not? It is those who are embued with understanding who receive admonition." (39:9)

"Seeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim man and woman. (Hadith)

"Seek knowledge even if you have to go to China." (Hadith)

The Prophet (peace be on him) prayed. "O my Lord, do not let the sun set on any day during which I did not increase in knowledge." (Hadith)

"No gift among all the gifts of a father to his child is better than education.' (Hadith)

The most essential knowledge, which a Muslim should seek before everything else, is a correct understanding of Reality and the precepts of Islam, for upon this knowledge all his life and deeds depend. However. secular knowledge is also of great importance and should not be neglected. These two branches of knowledge of spiritual matters and of the world's life, should be studied and mastered side by side, each supplementing and complementing the other, as was done in earlier times in the Muslim world, so that there may be no schism or conflict between "sacred" and "secular" matters, between the realm of the world and spirit, either within the Muslim's personality and behavior or within his society.

Knowledge is to be sought both for its own sake, for the love of learning, and for its applications. It is the duty of those who have knowledge to impart it to others. According to a Hadith, a Muslim who has gone out or is traveling in search of knowledge is "in the way of God until he returns".

There are, however, various types of knowledge inspired by Satan which Muslims are not permitted to learn or to engage in, such as magic and the black arts, fortune-telling, astrology, and anything related to immorality or wickedness. And while Muslims are assuredly permitted to acquire the knowledge of science, technology and the like from non-Muslim sources, they are not permitted to acquire together with this knowledge the values and behavior of people or societies which are not ruled by a strict sense of accountability to God. Rather they are to subject whatever practical and scientific knowledge they acquire to the Islamic criteria and standards, to apply whatever is appropriate and beneficial toward the building of an Islamic society governed by God's laws in all aspects of life, and to leave alone what ever is not appropriate or useful.

3. Money and Possessions

Islam freely acknowledges the existence of man's attraction to the material sphere-his love of wealth and possessions, houses and lands, buying and selling and acquiring things. It does not prohibit any of these, but it does require that he keep a correct perspective concerning their relative importance so that the things of this life do not become the object of his existence or his goal. The Qur'an says:

"Alluring to men is the love of things they covet-women, sons, hoarded treasures of gold and silver, highly-bred horses, cattle and land. This is the provision of this world's life. Yet with God is a better Abode." (3:14)

"And whatever things you have been given are but the provision of this world's life and its adornment, and that which is with God is better and more enduring. Have you then no understanding?" (28:60)

Accordingly, the Muslim is permitted to acquire wealth and property and to enjoy the use of his possessions; however, this is to be balanced with a sense of proportion and moderation. He must not become so involved with these things or with any sorts of worldly concerns that they interfere with his relationship with God or cause him to lose sight of the purpose of his existence and his ultimate destination. Moreover, the rights of God and of the less fortunate on his wealth in the form of the obligatory zakat and voluntary charity are not to be forgotten. For all of an individual's wealth and possessions are a gift and a trust from God, not his by right or simply due to his own efforts or merits but to God's beneficence. As such, they are to be spent not only for oneself and one's family but also to help others who are in want or distress as well. And whatever a Muslim spends from his means for those in need or in the way of God is a "goodly loan" to God which He will repay with great increase in the Hereafter. In passage after passage the Qur'an speaks about giving and spending for others:

"...Those who go in awe for fear of their Lord, and those who believe in their Lord's revelations, and those who do not ascribe partners to their Lord, and those who give that which they give with hearts afraid because they are about to return to their Lord - these race (with one another) for the good things, and they shall win them in the race." (23:57- 61)

"You will not attain righteousness until you spend out of that which you love. And whatever you spend from (your) possessions indeed God is aware of it." (3:92)

"Those who spend their wealth by night and by day in secret and in the open their reward is from their Lord, and no fear shall be on them nor shall they grieve." (2:274)

These Islamic teachings inculcate in Muslims a basic attitude of generosity and open-handedness due to which, as a rule, they spend freely for others and money never becomes an issue or object of discussion among them: it is simply to be used, for others as much as for oneself. After all, which of us can be said to own anything? Today I spend for you, and tomorrow or on some other occasion when the need arises or it is appropriate, you spend for me.

At the same time, Islam discourages wastefulness, indulgence in unreasonable luxuries, and spending for show or to impress others. Simplicity, contentment and thankfulness for whatever God has seen fit to bestow on one are important qualities, while pride in one's wealth, a sense of being above others who have less, greed or miserliness are very great sins. Money is of value only for what it can do, not for itself. It is therefore not to be hoarded or allowed to sit idle in the form of savings but is either to be spent for legitimate needs or to help others, or to be kept in circulation by appropriate and beneficial investment.

4. Food and Eating

Like the other good things of life, food and drink are not to be taken for granted. Rather they are to be accepted with thankfulness as the bounty of God and to be used wisely and for the maintenance of health. The Prophet (peace be on him) said that "the Muslims are those who do not eat unless they are hungry and when they eat they do not fill themselves". Again, he said that "one-third of the stomach is for food, one-third for liquids, and one third for air", all pointing to moderation in food habits and to the desirability of eating to maintain physical well-being rather than simply for enjoyment, although food is certainly meant to be enjoyed as well.

The Muslim pronounces the name of God .("Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem"-In the name of God, the Merciful, the Mercy Giving) when he begins to eat or drink, just as when he begins any other undertaking, and ends his meal with brief words of thanksgiving to God. Muslims consider it a blessing to have guests to share their food, and they are renowned for their hospitality, which is at the same time an Islamic obligation. This comes from the deep conviction that it is God Who feeds all creatures, not this or that person; all will eat, both host and guest, whether by one person's means or another's. "One person's food is sufficient for two, the Prophet (peace be on him) said, the food of two is sufficient for four and the food of four sufficient for eight"; for where there is true brotherliness and goodwill, food can be stretched indefinitely so that all who are hungry can have a share. In the same way, one's house and the food in it do not belong exclusively', to the host but also to the guest who shares it. Among Muslims it is customary to tell the visitor, in effect, "Brother or sister, this house is your house, so please be completely at home and comfortable in it, and have whatever you like from it." However, the guest is also supposed to be considerate. His right to hospitality is for three days only, and whatever exceeds that is an act of generosity on the part of the host, not the visitor's right.

Islam regards wasting food as a sin and an indication of contempt for God's precious gifts and bounties, which makes even such a seemingly small thing as throwing away a piece of bread or treading on crumbs an impious act. Consequently, in Muslim countries, if leftover food is not stored, it is as a rule given to servants, to needy people or beggars, or to animals who also require food, in keeping with the Prophet's example, rather than being thrown away.

Which foods and drinks are permitted to Muslims and which are prohibited? As we saw earlier, in Islam the principle is that whatever is not specifically (or by analogy) prohibited is permissible; hence all foods and drinks are allowed except the following which are prohibited in the Qur'an:

(1) anything which intoxicates or interferes with the clear functioning of the mind, in any quantity or form;

(2) pork and its by-products in any form;

(3) the flesh of animals which have died without being slaughtered and bled fully (with the exception of game animals), those which have been killed by a blow, by falling from a height or by being gored with horns;

(4) blood; and

(5) any food over which the name of a deity other than God has been invoked and the meat of an animal slaughtered in the name of anyone other than God. To this list may be added, by analogy, birds of prey, animals with claws and fangs, rodents and reptiles, and insects with the exception of locusts. All seafoods are permissible; nothing is specified about the manner of killing them and the restrictions applying to meat do not apply to them.

The manner of slaughtering an animal prescribed by Islam is to slit its throat in a swift and merciful manner, saying Bismillah Allahu, Allahu Akbar" (In the name of God, God is the Most Great) in acknowledgement that the life of this creature of God is taken by His permission to meet one's lawful need for food; the animal is then bled completely. Consequently many Muslims living in non-Muslim countries where name is not pronounced at the time of slaughter or where animals are slaughtered in a different manner consider commercial meat to be unlawful to Muslims, and they either have access to a Muslim or a kosher meat service, slaughter their own animals from time to time, or do without meat. Another opinion holds that since the Qur'an is quite explicit in stating that the food of Christians and Jews is lawful for Muslims, Muslims who live in Christian countries may eat commercial meat (apart from pork), pronouncing God's name on it at the time of eating. Today Muslim butchers and meat services are becoming increasingly common in Western countries in order that Muslims may have meat slaughtered according to Islamic prescription.

For those who invite Muslims to eat in their homes, it may be useful to list here the principal food which conscientious Muslims avoid. These include alcohol, both as a beverage and in foods, 3 and pork and its by-products; these are, apart from meat, primarily its fat 4 and gelatin. 5 Conscientious Muslims living in the West, and even in Muslim countries into which packaged foods are imported from outside, must read the ingredients of all packages to avoid these substances, and they often experience problems eating in restaurants, airplanes, hospitals, schools, etc.

People often wonder why pork has been prohibited. It should be noted that it was prohibited to the Jews in the Law revealed to Moses, and Jesus and his disciples, as devout followers of this scripture, also strictly adhered to this prohibition. It was not until after Paul proclaimed the Mosaic Law to be abolished that Christians began to regard this and other provisions of that Law to have been set aside. As for its prohibition by Islam, the reason for it is not mentioned either in the Qur'an or the Hadith. However, the prohibition is very explicit:

"Forbidden to you (as food) are carrion and blood and swine-flesh, and that which has been dedicated to any other than God, and the strangled, and the dead through beating, and the dead through falling from a height, and that which has been killed by (the goring of) horns, and that which has been devoured by wild beasts except that which you make lawful (by killing it while it is still alive), and that which has been immolated to idols " (5:4,also 2:173, 6:145, 16:115)

This makes is very clear that in the knowledge of the Creator there is something exceedingly filthy and harmful in the flesh of swine which renders it totally unfit for human consumption, placing it among other things which no one would consider as clean food. In 6:145 the prohibition is reiterated, characterizing swine-flesh as something "that verily is foul. . . ." This is quite understandable in view of the fact that pigs are the dirtiest of animals and that they feed upon every type of filth which in turn becomes part of every cell of their bodies; they are also the carriers of a dangerous disease, trichinosis. In any case, whether the reason for the prohibition is known or not known, most Muslims obey it faithfully, realizing that not all animals-even domesticated ones-are suitable for food even though the flesh may be good-tasting and readily available, and that the All- Wise, All-Knowing Creator is infinitely better aware of what is for the good of His creation than man with his extremely limited perception and knowever can be.

5. Dress

Islam places great stress on cleanliness, hygiene and respect for the bodies God gave to human beings, for God "shaped you and made your shapes beautiful" (40:64, 64:3). Cleanliness of body is a pre-requisite for the performance of salat, and in addition to this Islam insists on a very high standard of personal hygiene. There are many Hadiths in which the Prophet (peace be on him) enjoined on Muslims to be clean, neat, respectful of their bodies by taking care of them properly, and attentive to appearance, while discouraging unkemptness in dress and grooming, especially among those who are able to afford good clothes, for "God likes to see the signs of His bounty on His servants" (Hadith).

It is a natural human desire to want to adorn oneself and one's surroundings with what is beautiful, one which Islam acknowledges and permits, with certain limitations. Accordingly, Muslims are permitted to beautify themselves with nice clothing, jewelry, perfume and the like, but for women these are to be worn only in the presence of their husbands, immediate family members or other Muslim women without, however, becoming very engrossed in or spending excessive amounts of time on these matters. What a Muslim woman wears among women or in her home when no non-mahrem men are present depends upon her taste and inclination in keeping with basic Islamic standards of modesty. For her husband alone she may make herself attractive in any way she likes since all her beauty is for his enjoyment. We now return to the subject of hijab, the covering dress of Muslim women. Many people wonder why religion should have any thing to say about dress as this appears to them to belong to the realm of personal taste. But, Islam is not a system which concerns itself merely with the human individual's soul or inner dimension while ignoring his body, the external aspect. Rather it regards the human being as an indivisible whole and addresses itself to the totality of his life, requiring that the Muslim be a Muslim, reflecting the Islamic teachings, God's laws for mankind, with his entire being. This obviously includes appearance and dress, the keynote of which, is to be strict modesty in public.

Hence hijab is not an isolated aspect of the Muslim women's life but fits in with and reinforces the Islamic social system, and in particular the Islamic concept of womanhood. Just as Western forms of dress have developed from and fit the world-view, societal values and conception of womanhood of Western civilization, so does the dress of Muslim women emanate from and fit the Islamic value system and view of life. Yet hijab is not merely a kind of covering dress but, more importantly, something which the Muslim woman keeps about her soul and consciousness at all times to act as a barrier or curtain of haya between herself and the men with whom she comes in contact. As such, it is in fact the totality of her propriety and modesty in behavior, manner, speech and appearance.

Then just what is the Islamic dress of women supposed to look like? The Qur'an enjoins:

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their sexuality, and to display of their adornment only what is apparent, 6 and to draw their head- coverings over their bosoms ..." (24:30)

and "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better, in order that they may be understood (to be Muslims) and not annoyed . . ." (33:59) The characteristics of the Islamic dress are therefore laid down by the above verses and by a Hadith of the Prophet (peace be on him) which states that "Whenever a woman begins to menstruate, it is not right that anything should be seen except this and this"- and the Prophet pointed to his face and hands.

Consequently, while Islam does not specify a particular style or form of dress, what is required is that a woman should be completely covered except for her hands and face (although the face may also be covered for greater modesty if desired), and that her dress should conceal her form, be loose and non- transparent, and not of a kind to attract attention by its beauty; moreover, cosmetics, perfume and jewelry (with the exception of what ordinarily shows such as a ring) are not to be worn in public. The dress of Muslim women should not be an imitation of the dress of men, and it should be such that the wearer can be clearly recognized as a Muslim.

Looking around the Muslim world, we find an amazing variety of garments which meet these requirements. The clothes of women differ from country to country, and in some countries even differ from region to region or among various groups within the same country. Muslim women are in no way constrained to wear a particular form of dress and are free to improve on or invent new types of dresses in keeping with the Islamic guidelines, as dictated by convenience or taste. However, whatever is worn should be a full and honest Islamic hijab which clearly reflects the wearer's Islamic identity, not an apologetic one or one which meets only part of the requirements. The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) very strongly condemned women who appear "naked while they are fully clothed."

This is the Islamic ideal. However, Western dress is now so common in many parts of the Muslim world that many Muslim women (and men as well) have never worn anything except Western clothes even in their own countries. Most are aware, to a greater or lesser extent, that Islam requires the wearing of hijab but they do not wear it for a variety of reasons, primarily because they are afraid of being considered "different" or "backward" if they do. Others wear hijab, but since they lack an adequate understanding of Islam as a total system of life, they regard it as more of a societal tradition than an Islamic obligation; when they make a trip outside or go to live in a Western country, they often remove their covering, not wanting to attract attention or appear different from others. Still other women- a large and rapidly-increasing number-wear hijab and maintain it wherever they may happen to go, convinced that what is required is modesty, whether it is "different" or not, and concerned with gaining the pleasure and approval of their Lord rather than of the people, with pride and confidence in their Islamic identity and attire. Consequently today in America and other countries of the West one can see many Muslim women, indigenous as well as foreign, clad in various forms of hijab as an integral expression of their faith.

People often suppose that it must be very difficult or impossible to move about freely or do work clad in such a dress. 7 This is not the case, as the vast numbers of Muslim women of all levels and walks of life who wear such clothing in virtually every country of the world can testify. Today numerous high school and university students, teachers, doctors and other women who hold important and responsible jobs in all areas are voluntarily adopting Islamic dress as being a vital expression of their Islamic identity. They lead very active and busy lives, hijab constituting no impediment to their work or freedom of movement.They do not regard wearing it as a hardship; on the contrary, they feel safe and protected because of it and would not exchange it for any other form of dress. For this modest attire protects the Muslim woman from the sexual interest and improper looks and behavior of men; wearing it, she can move about in the world as necessity requires with dignity and a complete consciousness of her own propriety and modesty (it is obviously a bit difficult to feel really modest in clothing which was designed for anything except the purpose of modesty, no matter how modest one's intentions may be) as well as of her clear Islamic identity, in obedience to her Lord's commands. 8

Then what about the dress of Muslim men? Does Islam have nothing to say concerning it? Yes, it does. First of all, modesty requires that the area between the navel and the knee not be exposed in front of anyone, including other males, excepting one's wife. The clothing of men should not be tight or sexually provocative, nor should it resemble the dress of women; in addition, it is not supposed to be an imitation of the dress of others so that Muslims may at all times retain their distinctive Islamic identity and character. The wearing of gold and silk, which are reserved for women, is not permitted to Muslim men. Although in many parts of the Muslim world Western dress is common among men, nevertheless there are many different and distinctive types of male as well as female dress. And while most Muslim men living in the West wear Western dress in public, in their homes and for various occasions they often wear their traditional dress, which has also been adopted by many Western converts to Islam.

HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS

The Muslim, acknowledging one Creator, sees humanity as one, all equally His creatures. For the Qur'an says:

"And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors. Indeed, in that are signs for those who know." (30:22)

"O mankind, We created you from a single male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily, the most honored of you before God is the most righteous of you. And God is Knower, Aware." (49:13)

Thus to the Muslim, the colors, races and languages of human beings-the obvious external differences within the family of man- are signs of God's wondrous creativity, the God-ordained diversity of mankind within its overall unity. Such outward differences can never constitute a reason for either looking up to or despising another individual, for the only criteria Islam acknowledges for distinction or greatness among human beings are spiritual and moral qualities such as the degree of iman and taqwa, the excellence of a person's character, and his level of knowledge and practice of Islam. Worldly considerations such as wealth, status, power, family and education do not count at all in the sight of God unless an individual uses them to follow His guidance and seek His pleasure.

Within the human family, those who hold the same view of Reality and possess the same values will naturally feel the greatest closeness and affinity to one another. Consequenty the Muslim, whether living in the Muslim world or anywhere else, will naturally find his greatest source of support, affection and kindred feeling among other Muslims. Regardless of their national origin, language or cultural habits, the followers of Islam form one community. Like the members of a single family, they care for one another's needs and share good and bad times; they provide each other with encouragement in living Islam and act as a deterrent in deviating from it. The tone for the mutual relationship among Muslims is set by many Qur'anic verses and Hadiths:

"And the Believers, men and women, are protecting friends to one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, they observe regular salat and pay zakat, and they obey God and His Messenger. As for these, God will have mercy on them. Verily, God is Mighty, Wise." (9:71)

"It is He who strengthened thee (the Prophet) with His help and with the Believers, and He has put affection between their hearts. If thou hadst spent all that is in the earth, thou couldst not have produced that affection in their hearts, but God has produced that affection between them." (8:62-63)

"The Believers are brothers. Then make peace between your brothers and remain conscious of God that you may obtain mercy." (49:10)

"The Believers are like a single man; if his eye is affected all of him is affected, and if his head is affected all of him is affected."(Hadith)

"The Believers are to one another like a building, whose parts support one another." (Hadith)

"None of you has believed until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." (Hadith)

Beyond this circle of his brothers- and sisters-in-faith, to the Muslim all human beings are brothers- and sisters-in-humanity, and the same obligation of kindness, fairness and consideration are due to them all. For Islam does not permit discrimination in the treatment of other human beings on the basis of religion or any other criteria. Indeed, Islam's insistence on fairness and good treatment to all human beings without differentiation is so strong that it prohibits Muslims from behaving with cruelty or malice even toward the people of the enemy in time of war. In particular, it emphasizes neighborliness and respect for the ties of relationship with non-Muslims, following the example and injunctions of the Prophet (peace be on him). The tone for the Muslim's relations with other human beings regardless of their faith is set in the following Hadiths, among many others:

"All creatures are God's children, and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His children kindly." (Hadith)

"The Believer is not the one who eats his fill when his neighbor beside him is hungry." (Hadith)

"He from whose injurious conduct his neighbor is not safe will no enter Paradise." (Hadith)

Within this human family, Jews and Christians, who share many beliefs and values with Muslims, constitute what Islam terms Ahl al Kitab, that is, People of the Scripture, and hence Muslims have a special kind of relationship to them as fellow-"Scriptuaries." Islam permits Muslims to eat the food of Christians and Jews (except of course what is expressly forbidden, notably pork, which conscientious Jews avoid just as scrupulously as Muslims, and alcohol), and Muslim men are allowed to marry women of these faiths.We will now take a closer look at some vital aspects of the relationship between Muslims, Jews and Christians in human terms and at the similarities and differences of Islam with their respective faiths.

1 . Relations with Jews

Ahl al-Kitab denotes those people to whom God conveyed His guidance through a Divine Scripture or Book revealed to His prophets. In the case of Jews, this scripture is the Taurat, the revelation bestowed on Prophet Moses (God's peace and blessings be on him), However, this is not to be understood as the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) in its present form. Even a casual examination of these books makes it clear that, although they may originally have been based on a Divine Message, they were actually authored by human beings, since they contain innumerable marked inconsistencies, discrepancies and factual errors, as well as much subject matter which does not fit the criteria for a divinely-revealed scripture. 9 Moreover, these books constitute primarily a religious, political and social history of the Children of Israel rather than a scripture conveying such clear spiritual and moral guidance, as well as accurate information concerning the true nature of Reality, as could have come only from the Lord of all creation.

Many elements, particularly the uncompromising stress on the Oneness of God and His guidance through the prophets, are common between Judaism and Islam, as one would naturally expect since both come from the same Divine Source. All the early prophets of the Old Testament are mentioned by name in the Qur'an and they are held in the greatest respect by Muslims. There are also many similarities in values, morals and living habits between the two faiths. However, the problem of Israel has greatly damaged relations between Muslims and Jews, although the issue does not involve religious questions per se. It is natural and obvious that Muslims strongly deplore and oppose Zionist expansion, in the name of Judaism, into Muslim and Arab areas, for Israel has laid claim to territories where Muslims have lived for centuries, some parts of which are as sacred to the followers of Islam as they are to the followers of Judaism and Christianity holding them to be an integral part of the "Jewish home-land," as well as essential to Israel's security.

Regarding the notion of a Jewish homeland, we read in the Jewish Torah that God said to Ibrahim (peace be on him):

"And I will give to you and to your posterity after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan (Palestine) for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." (Genesis 17:8)

That the descendants of Ibrahim include Muslims as well as Jews is incontestable; therefore if the issue had really been related to and determined by God's promise referred to in this passage from the scripture of the Jews themselves, there would be no problem. As is well-known, Jews and Muslims had been living peacefully side by side for centuries in the land which God promised to the posterity of Ibrahim until the Muslims were dispossessed in recent times by the establishment of Israel. Hence this claim is simply a cover for naked aggression and the unconcealed desire for territorial expansion and conquest. Islam does not permit Muslims to compromise with injustice and oppression. Since fighting for the basic human right to one's life, freedom, home and property is an Islamic obligation, they cannot remain passive while their people are killed or expelled from their homes and their lands are confiscated for no other cause than that they are wanted by someone else. The issue is therefore not in any sense one of religious disagreement- for none whatever exists in that respect-but rather a moral issue in which truth, justice and freedom from oppression are at stake.

2. Relations with Christians

Many important elements are common between Islam and Christianity. Muslims and Christians share many similar beliefs, values, moral injunctions and principles of behavior. The fundamental difference between the two faiths concerns the nature and role of Jesus.

In Islam `Isa Maseeh-Jesus the Messiah, God's peace and blessings be on him - is one of the greatest of the prophets whom Muslims hold in very deep love and respect. The Qur'an confirms that Jesus was born of a virgin mother (Maryam) through the same Power which brought Adam into being without a father, and that by God's permission during his prophethood he wrought many compelling miracles among his people. He was given the power to speak coherently in infancy, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, and to reach the hearts of men by the words which God revealed to him. Finally, when he was in danger of being killed by his own people, God raised him up to himself without his experiencing death (Holy Qur'an 4:157-158 and 3:55). 10 We cite here some passages from the Qur'an relating to Jesus' life and mission:

"Behold, the angels said, `O Mary! Lo, God gives thee glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name is the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto God). He will speak to men in his cradle and in his manhood, and he will be of the righteous.' She said, My Lord! How can I have a child when no man has touched me?He (the angel) said,`Thus. God creates what He wills. If He decrees a thing, He says unto it only "Be" and it is. And He will teach him the Scripture and the wisdom, and the Taurat and the Injeel. 11 And He will make him a messenger to the Children of Israel, (saying): "Lo, I come to you with a sign from your Lord. Lo, I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird by God's leave. I heal him who was born blind and the leper, and I raise the dead, by God's leave. And I announce to you what you eat and what you store up in your houses. Lo, herein verily is a sign for, you if you are indeed believers. And (I come) confirming that which was before me of the Taurat, and to make lawful some of that which was forbidden to you. I come to you with a sign from your Lord, so keep your duty to God and obey me. Verily, God is my Lord and your Lord,so worship Him. That is a straight path." (3:45-51)

" Verily, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, then He said unto him `Be' and he was. (3:59)

" And for their saying, `We killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, God's Messenger.' They did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared so to them; and indeed, those who disagree concerning it are in doubt about it. They have Knowledge concerning it except the pursuit of a conjecture; and assuredly they did not kill him. Nay, God raised him up unto Himself. And God is Mighty, Wise." (4:157-158)

Then what about Christianity's claim that Jesus is the Son of God? In order to answer this question we must deal with two fundamental issues:

(1) Could the Exalted Creator and Lord of the universe in fact have a Son, and

(2) is it possible that Jesus himself could have claimed and actually did claim to be God's Son?

We note that although the Qur'an confirms that Jesus was born without the agency of a father, this simply means that God, Who establishes the regularity of functioning of natural phenomena which we understand as natural laws, is equally able to suspend them when it pleases Him- that is' He is able to create what He wills when, how and as He chooses. It does not make Jesus God's progeny or in any way a sharer in His Divine nature any more than it does Adam, who was also created without a father and likewise without a mother.

The Qur'an states emphatically in passage after passage that Jesus is not God's Son; that he never claimed to be God's Son or of Divine nature but rather charged his followers to worship God alone; and that the notion of the Most High God's having a Son is so totally degrading to and far removed from the exaltedness and transcendance of God's Divine nature that it actually constitutes an awesome piece of blasphemy. The Qur'an says concerning this:

"And they say, `The Merciful has taken unto Himself a Son.' Assuredly you utter a disastrous thing, at which the heavens are almost torn and the earth is split asunder and the mountains fall into ruins because you ascribe to the Merciful a Son when it is not befitting for (the majesty) of the Merciful that He should take a Son. There is none in the heavens and the earth but comes to the Merciful as a slave." (19:88-93)

For the Creator and Sustainer of this infinitely complex and vast universe is far above anything we can conceive of, and the physical attributes and limitations of created beings can never be imagined to apply to Him. If Jesus were indeed God's Son, he would be a sharer in the Godhead and of Divine nature himself, and in that case God would have simultaneously begotten, been begotten, been born, lived as a human being, and died. Such a notion does not merit any comment. It has much more in common with pagan mythologies, in which "gods" fathered semi-divine children by human women, than with a true religion coming from God and based on the reality of the relationship between the Creator and the created. Hence the claim that Jesus is God's Son cannot be, by its very nature, other than a false one because it contradicts the very nature and attributes of the Creator Himself, bringing Him down to the level of the beings He has created. In the words of the Qur'an:

"They say, `God has begotten a Son.' Glory be to Him! Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth. Everything renders worship to Him. To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He (merely) says to it "Be"and it is." (2:116-117)

We now turn to the second question: whether Jesus himself (peace be on him) could possibly have claimed to be God's Son. The answer is very obvious; that he could not and did not do so is clear from the nature of the Message he brought. Can it possibly make the slightest sense that God divides up His unique and indivisible nature between Himself and His Son, and that the Son commands people to worship him instead of his Father? This clearly means two gods rather than One God, the dividing of what is indivisible, and the splitting up of the power, authority and rule in the universe. Hence one is forced to conclude that the claim that Jesus is the Son of God could not possibly have been made by him but was made on his behalf and in his name without his knowledge and/or consent by some other person.We cite here some Qur'anic passages concerning the nature of Jesus (peace be on him) and the Message he brought. These and many other references to these subjects recur over and over in many different parts of the Qur'an.

"O People of the Book! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter anything concerning God except the truth. Verily, the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary was only a messenger of God and His Word which He conveyed unto Mary and a soul from Him. So believe in God and His messengers, and do not say `Three' (the Trinity). Cease! It is better for you! God is only One God. It is far removed from His transcendent majesty that He should have a Son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And God is sufficient as a Protector. The Messiah would never scorn to be a slave to God, nor would the favored angels (4:171.172)

"They indeed disbelieve who say, `Lo, God is the Messiah, the son of Mary.' Say: `Who then could do anything against God if He had willed to destroy the Messiah, the son of Mary, and his mother and everyone on earth?' God's is the sovereignty in the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. He creates what He wills. And God has power over all things.' "(5:17/19)

"They indeed disbelieve who say, `Lo , God is the Messiah, the son of Mary.' The Messiah (himself) said: `O Children of Israel worship God, my Lord and your Lord.' Verily, whoever ascribes partners to God, God has forbidden him the Garden. His abode is the Fire. And for the evil-doers there will be no helpers. They indeed disbelieve who say, `Lo, God is the third of Three,' when there is no deity except the One God. If they do not desist from saying so, a painful punishment will fall on those of them who disbelieve. The Messiah, the son of Mary, was no more than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him, and his mother was a devout woman, and they both ate food. 12 See how We make clear to them Our signs, yet see how they are turned away." (5:72 / 75-73 / 76-75 / 78)

"And behold, God will say (on the Day of Judgment), `O Jesus son of Mary! Didst thou say to people, "Take me and my mother as deities besides God?" ` he will say, `Glory be to Thee! It was not for me to say that for which I had no right . . I said to them only what Thou didst command me: "Worship God, my Lord and Your Lord." ` (5:116/119-117/120) "Verily, he Jesus was nothing except a slave upon whom We bestowed favor and made an example for the Children of Israel. . . . And when Jesus came with clear proofs, he said, `I have come to you with wisdom, and to make plain some of that concerning which you differ. So remain conscious of God and obey me. Verily, God is my Lord and your Lord. That is the straight path.' "(43:59.63-64) "It is not for any human being to whom God has given the Book (a revealed scripture) and the wisdom and the prophethood that he should then say to people, `Be slaves of me instead of God,' but rather, `Be faithful servants of the Lord, for you have taught the Book and you have studied it earnestly.' " (3:79) "And behold, Jesus the son of Mary said, `O Children of Israel Lo,I am the Messenger of God to you: confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Taurat and bringing good tidings of a messenger who comes after me whose name is Ahmad 13 (61:6)

If one drops any mention of "the Son of God" from the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus (peace be on him), it becomes Clear that he must in truth have been a prophet in the line of the other prophets raised among the Children of Israel who, like his predecessors, brought a revelation or scripture addressed to them by God. It is therefore impossible that this revelation could have been a new religion centering around Jesus himself; for one who was commissioned by God, the All-Knowing, to convey His guidance and call people to submit to Him, could never have claimed Sonship or divinity-something which no one possesses-or asked people to worship him instead of or in addition to God. Jesus himself strictly adhered to the Law brought by Moses (peace be on him), and his mission was to revive and confirm the Divine guidance which Moses and the prophets who followed had brought, not to establish a new religion. The scripture revealed through him therefore addressed itself to the contemporary situation of the Children of Israel, insisting that the earlier scripture was binding upon them and must be followed, but with sincerity, inner piety and true God- consciousness rather than with empty ritual and insincere show of devoutness. Those whom God loves, Jesus taught, who will inherit His Kingdom, are not the inwardly-empty official men of religion but those who love God, obey His guidance with fear and awe in their hearts, and surrender themselves to Him. These are chiefly to be found among the ordinary people, often the simple and humble who are held to be of no account in the eyes of the world although their hearts are sincere and true to their Lord, instead of among the proud and status-conscious.

But if Jesus did not himself say that he was the Son of God and Savior of the world, how is it that the Gospels attribute such a claim to him? And how is it that all Christians since his time have believed this? First of all, not all Christians, even at the present time, believe this. Some groups exist today which do not believe in his divinity, and in early times there were a number of sects, later pronounced to be heretical when it was "decided" that Jesus was of Divine nature, who differed on this matter, holding that Jesus was a human being and a prophet; among them were some which did not believe that Jesus was crucified but that another person very much resembling him was crucified in his stead. 14 Such sects were suppressed and almost entirely obliterated. Writes the American Muslim scholar Sulaiman Mufassir,"It is significant that those doctrines which the Qur'an affirms can be easily proven to be part of the teachings of the early disciples, whereas those doctrines which the Qur'an rejects prove to be later Church additions, inspired by the philosophies and cults of pagan Greece and Rome" (italics Mufassir's). 15 As to the claim attributed to Jesus (peace be on him) of being God's Son, it must be remembered that the four New Testament Gospels, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were written many years after Jesus' time. Biblical scholarship has established the fact that none of their authors was the immediate disciple of Jesus; moreover, they did not write in Jesus' own language, Aramaic, but in Greek. By the time they wrote their accounts of his life, a great many things about Jesus had been lost or forgotten and many more had been interpolated, and moreover Christianity was by then being molded into a form which would appeal to Greeks and Romans rather than to Palestinian Jewry. Now let us suppose that an individual of some note or fame were to live among us, carry on his work and depart or die. Can we suppose that an account of his life written initially as long as forty years after his death would be really accurate, especially if he had lived in a community in which writing detailed accounts concerning people was not common? And if he later grew into a public figure, something of a legend, we could be very certain that the narrative would in addition be considerably embellished by people's imaginations, and that at the same time a wealth of very important details would have been lost. The account would moreover be colored by the understandings of the writers and would unquestionably reflect their own views and ideas concerning the person they were describing. The accounts of the Four Gospels are analogous to such a situation. Jesus (God's peace and blessings be on him) most certainly did bring a divinely-revealed scripture. However, although it is obvious from their content that the Four Gospels do contain some parts of the message of submission and accountability which Jesus brought, these are simply biographical accounts of Jesus' life and mission by four different men, not the Divine revelation brought by Jesus itself. The greater part of the material contained in the Four Gospels does not meet the criteria discussed earlier by which a true revelation may be recognized, the first of which is that it should be transmitted word for word as received from God by the person to whom it was directly revealed, not through a second- or fifth-hand source. Even the claim that the Gospels were written under Divine inspiration does not hold together since there are many inconsistencies and discrepancies among these four equally "inspired" accounts.

without doubt, what Jesus (peace be on him) actually claimed was not that he was the Son of God (an incredible piece of blasphemy from the mouth of a devout and committed follower of the teachings of the Prophets), but that he was the Messiah, a prophet in the line of the previous Messengers of God, and that He received a Divine Scripture from him. But it is apparent that the Message brought by Jesus, the message to the Children of Israel concerning their accountability to God and their obligation to follow the guidance revealed through Prophet Moses (peace be on him), was later changed, taken out of its pure monotheistic context, and made to conform to the pagan Hellenistic conceptions of the time; this was done to render it more attractive to the Greeks and Romans among whom it was being propagated, who would never have been impressed with the pure, simple message of submission to a non-corporeal, transcendent Deity which Jesus in fact proclaimed. That this Message was intended solely for the Jews and that it insisted on adherence to the Mosaic Law was completely lost sight of in this attempt to gain converts throughout the pagan Roman Empire. The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that although in the Four Gospels of the New Testament we can find obvious traces of the Message which Jesus (peace be on him) brought in his emphasis on man's accountability to God, the necessity of sincerity and obedience to Him, and the certainty of the Day of Judgment and the Hereafter, the claim attributed to Jesus of being the Son of God is so completely at variance not only with the Oneness and Uniqueness of God Most High but also with the remainder of the message of submission to God which Jesus brought that it is impossible to regard it as other than a fabrication. This fits in with the fact that later Christianity was abundantly interwoven with mythological content drawn heavily from pagan plus a theology which was produced as the need arose to suit the mentality of the times and protect the hold of a power- hungry priesthood over the masses.

Then what about the belief that man is saved from eternal damnation by accepting Jesus as his Savior? The notion of Original Sin is one which Islam emphatically denies, affirming that every human being comes into the world innocent and sinless. Accordingly, he will be held accountable only for what he himself inscribes upon the unblemished tabulua rasa of his nature, not for what his ancestor Adam 16 (anyone else whomsoever) did or did not do. For each human individual is responsible only for his own actions; neither sin nor righteousness are "hereditary" characteristics which can be transferred from one person to another or which are carried in the "blood "or "nature" of human beings. The Qur'an emphasizes this again and again:

"No soul earns (anything) but against itself, and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another." (6:164) "...That no burdened one shall bear another's burden, and that man will have only that for which he makes an effort, and that his effort will be seen, and that afterwards he will be repaid for it with fullest repayment, and that verily, to thy Lord is the goal."(53:38-42) "And fear a Day when no soul will avail another in anything. nor will compensation be accepted from it, nor will intercession profit it, nor will anyone be helped." (2:123)

Hence, to attribute to God, the Forgiving and Merciful, His laying upon each new-born infant the intolerable burden of a sin committed by his remotest ancestor would appear to be a denial of His unquestionable attributes of justice, mercy, kindness and compassion toward His creatures. And to further claim that the taint of this sin is certain to put every human being into Hell for all eternity unless the Deity sacrifices Himself for His creatures whom He is able to, and should if He is indeed Just and Merciful, forgive, is a denial not only of His unfailing justice and good-will toward His creation but also, it would seem, of His wisdom, logic and reasonableness. Islam emphatically proclaims that no one can be saved from Hell by any means except the mercy and grace of God, contingent upon his acknowledging God as his Lord, surrendering his whole being to Him, and following the guidance which He has revealed. The Loving and Merciful God is able to and does forgive sins if repentance is sincere, and every human soul has direct access to its Source and to His forgiveness without any intermediary or intercessor whatever. Consequently there is no need for a Savior, and in any case God Most High alone can save. Another major point of difference between Islam and Christianity is in the doctrine of the Trinity. If God is One, as Christians profess to believe just as Muslims do, there is no way by which He can at the same time be Three; even a very young child can grasp the obvious truth of this. The Trinity is usually explained by Christians as meaning not three Gods but three parts or persons of the One God having different functions. But God is not like a pie or an apple which Can be divided into three thirds which form one whole; if God is three Persons or possesses three parts, He is assuredly not the Single,Unique, Indivisible Being which God is and which Christianity professes to believe in. To Muslims this makes absolutely no sense, and even if it is explained as being a "Mystery" too high for any human mind to grasp, belief in the Trinity is regarded by Islam, as we have seen in the Qur'anic verses just cited, as a form of polytheism. For all these reasons, Muslims hold that they themselves are much closer to the teachings of Jesus (God's peace and blessings be on him) than is the Christianity of the Church which, they feel, has tampered with and distorted the Message which the Holy Messenger Jesus brought by ascribing divinity to him. Such differences in viewpoint, however, should not be taken as grounds for antagonism or heated theological arguments between Muslims and Christians. The Qur'an admonishes:

"And do not dispute with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) which is better, except with those of them who are wrongdoers; and say, 'We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is one, and unto Him do we submit "(29:46)

For what is common between the followers of the two faiths is many basic beliefs and the vast legacy of moral injunctions and principles of behavior inspired by belief in the same God and the guidance conveyed by Jesus (peace be on him), which should inspire in them friendship, sympathy and appreciation for the others' sincerity, simply "agreeing to disagree" on their differences. In the words of the Qur'an:

Say (O Muhammad): `I have submitted my will to God and (so have) those who follow me.' And say to those who have received the Scripture and to those who do not read, Have you submitted?' Then if they submit, truly they are rightly-guided, and if they turn away, then it is thy duty only to convey the Message. And in God's sight are all His slaves." (3:20)

) Assuredly, in the face of the almost overwhelming array of problems and evils in the world today, the true believers in God have an obligation to put aside their differences and make common cause as believers in the fight against atheism, disregard for God's laws and every kind of wrongdoing. This struggle is a duty for them all, one in which they should support and reinforce each other. As the number of indigenous and immigrant Muslims continues to increase in the Western world, it is hoped that they will make very significant contributions to the societies in which they live, side by side with other like- minded people, by making Islam's point of view known and drawing upon the vast legacy of its teachings to work toward solutions of the many grave problems and dilemmas confronting mankind.

CONCLUSION

What we have presented here has been a very brief glimpse, a small window, as it were, looking into an exceedingly vast and complex subject. Indeed, the body of Islamic knowledge and exposition, concerned with every facet of beliefs, worship, values, morals and behavior, both individual and collective, is so immense that scholars have spent entire lifetimes to master some part of this knowledge without being able to contain it all.

But what we have been talking about all through this book, and what that vast reservoir of Islamic knowledge is all about, can readily be summed up in one brief word: submission. The aim and direction of all of it is to help the human individual, in his inward and outward aspects, his physical being as well as his mind and soul, his collective as well as his personal concerns, to live a life which is surrendered, by will and by deed, to God Most High.

For human beings, due to their very nature, need, want and in fact do submit to something. The only relevant question then is, To whom or what? To be a Muslim is to answer this most fundamental of all the questions facing a human individual by submitting one's' life to God, the Praised and Exalted, alone, following the guidance of Islam, which consists, in essence, of the instructions of the Lord of the universe to His creatures, all the human individuals of this world both past and present, concerning how to submit to Him.

"Say: 'Verily. my prayer and my worship, my life and my death,are for God, the Lord of the worlds. He has no associate. This I am commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.' "(6:162-163)

 
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