Religion Beat; Islam

As we approach the Jewish New Year, I think it is very appropriate to begin a dialogue discussing Judaism’s connection to other religions. Here at Yeshiva University we are, thank Gd, extremely well versed and educated in Judaism, but not at all in any other religion. We wont be in the bubble forever—do you want to breed intolerance or understand and forgive?

This monthly column (which, in the future, will be published in Arts and Culture) will feature different world religions and interviews with religious leaders to better understand other religions. To be able to coexist with others we must understand them, and after all, as the French proverb recognizes, “he who understands everything forgives everything.”

The yamim noraim are upon us. As we approach these days of awe, as a writer in this issue, Leah Frenkiel describes, we must take a step back and evaluate ourselves and how we fit into the world. On a larger scale, we must evaluate how we as Jews fit into the world. To be able to comprehend that and effectively truly appreciate the hours we are spending in introspection, we must understand different major players in the world. There are politics at play, yes. Mitt or Barack? But let’s steer clear of that here.

I think a major player in politics is the faiths and principles upon which they were founded. Many governments were actually founded on religious ideas though they themselves may no longer be religious institutions. There are over 1 billion Muslims in the world. There are 2 billion Christians. 375 million Buddhists. 1 billion nonbelievers…  To understand governments, peoples, and effectively the place of a Jew in the world and how we fit with those peoples, it is imperative to look into these other religions and, at the very least, have some basic idea of their tenets of faith.

In light of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly where Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu will, yet again, have it out with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I think its appropriate we look at Islam. Off the bat, I’d like to state that not all Muslims are extremists. Not all Muslims are like Ahmadinejad. There are Sunnis, there are Shi’as, there are 12vers… That’s a separate discussion—Islam as a religion is seen by its followers as a peaceful one that calls for tolerance and unity under Allah.

photo credits to, December 29, 2006

The Qur’an, the Holy Scripture of Islam, presents the five pillars of the Islamic faith as follows: the shahada/ kalima, salah, zakat, sawm, and Hajj. These creeds in English, are belief in Muhammad and Allah, daily prayers (5 times a day), charity, fasting during Ramadan (the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar), and the pilgrimage to the holiest city, Mecca, that a Muslim must make once in his lifetime. All denominations of Islam believe in these five pillars. If they do not, they are not Muslim.

Lets discuss this pillar by pillar and then we can debunk all of the myths. Kalima/shahada is the declaration of Islamic faith. All Muslims must make this declaration stating that Allah is Gd and Mohammad is His messenger. (for anyone paying attention to the capitalization—I wrote “Gd” and “His” because Muslims are actually a monotheistic religion that believe in the Gd of Abraham i.e. the same One as we do. In that case, His name must be referenced properly in print. Incidentally, this is why, at gun point, one would theoretically be allowed to convert to Islam for pikuach nefesh, but not Christianity—but more on that next month).

The next pillar mentioned is salat, prayer. Muslims are required to pray 5 times a day—once at dawn, once at noon, once in the afternoon, once after sunset, and once at night. The times of their prayer are similar, lehavdil, to the Jewish times for prayer in that they change daily depending on the celestial bodies.

Zakat, the next pillar, is charity. In Islam, like in Judaism, charity is a requirement. However, whereas the Jewish faith requires one give ma’aser, 10% of everything earned, Islam only askes for 2.5%.

Sawm, (think tzom), is the fourth pillar in Islamic faith that requires all Muslims to fast during Ramadan. Being that the Muslims are on a lunar calendar, much like Jews, Ramadan can fall out during any time of the year (they don’t have an Adar bet to make up for their shorter lunar months).  During Ramadan, which, this year was from July 20- August 18, believers must refrain from food, drink, and pay extra attention to their actions and sins. Comparatively, it is sort of like Elul  and Yom Kippur rolled into one. During this time, Muslims are meant to seek to be closer to Allah and become more mindful of themselves through following the specific positive teachings of Islam—refraining from violence, greed, arrogance, etc.

Finally, the Hajj. The Hajj is a pilgrimage that every Muslim must make to Mecca once in his lifetime. Mecca, located in Saudi Arabia, is the holiest city in Islamic faith because it is where Allah revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet.

Myth 1: all Arabs are Muslims. Not true. Arabs are from the Arabia Peninsula. It is a region. You can be Arab and not Muslim and you can be Muslim and not Arab.

Myth 2: All Arabs hate Jews and want to kill Jews. Well, no. At the very least, don’t you remember that Iran loves Israel Facebook movement last year?

Myth 3: that Muslims believe there needs to be total anarchy in the world for the redemption to come. Sort of. Then again, depends who you ask. Ask a 12ver, a radical Shi’a Muslim, and he’ll tell you there needs to be anarchy to usher in the 12th Imam/ Mahdi i.e. the Messiah so he can wage holy war and restore peace. Ask a Sunnis and he’ll tell you that the Mahdi is simply “the rightly guided one” and he will spread illumination and understanding. (**Shi’a are only 7% of the Muslim population—myth debunked?)

Take a moment to think about others’ faiths and where they come from. Try to understand other people—not just people like you but everyone. Most relevant, take a moment to think about how realizing that there are other religions in the world affects you as an Orthodox Jew. Think about how, as we stand before Gd on Yom Kippur, praying for our people, and ourselves there is a whole rest of the world being judges as well. What about them?

Until next time


Ktiva VeChatima Tova