Q. I am writing to ask you some questions about Islam. I understand how busy you must be, and fully understand if you do not have time to address them, but I felt I needed to write as your view is one that I greatly respect. I have become interested in Islam through people I have met. The beauty of their personalities and their gentle strength has inspired me to investigate. Yet in trying to grasp what Islam is and whether there is a place for me within it, I have some questions regarding some fundamental beliefs of the religion, that, if taken literally, I find hard to accept.They relate to what some people call the six articles of faith. The articles are in bold, and my understanding of them follows. My question is this: is my understanding of the articles incorrect, distorted, or heretical even?
Belief in the holy books. Yes, but I see them as divinely inspired from a source beyond human language, and that it was the Prophet who received them in Arabic because that was his language. Words and stories of their time and context, with potential for giving revelation at all times, dealing as they do with the nature of human life and the spiritual way, but not timeless if referred to in a literal sense with no appreciation for context.
Belief in the prophets, Muhammad being the final Prophet. Yes, I believe they brought the divine message, Muhammad being the last in a particular tradition, in that he recognized all others that preceded him, and was final in the sense that he unified and completed their messages. Final in the sense that the spirit of unification, which he embodied, cannot be surpassed. Yet perhaps not final in the sense that others have come with messages of unification since.
Day of judgment. Yes, we will all pass from this world, and will have to suffer the consequences of our actions. How we pass from this world will be determined by how we lived. There are different realms and we will go higher or lower depending on our actions, and on the grace of God. However, what is the nature of paradise? One Imam mentioned to me that it is a place we go returned to our physical body. Is this an undisputed belief, or is it merely a hypothesis, and is the afterlife in fact a state that cannot be explained literally?
A. Thank you for your really wonderful inquiry. One thing that we ought to focus upon is that creedal beliefs are often what theologians have concluded, correctly or erroneously, and therefore may often not be in the scripture, or even endorsed by a proper reading of such. One example is on the impeccability of Muhammad: the Qur'an never says this, but after the tenth century, it has become an element of majoritarian Muslim belief. A similar instance exists in the identity of the sacrificial son. When it comes to the six articles of faith, most of these are not from the Qur'an, and although some may seem to be obvious, questions might be raised, as you have rightly pointed out. Please remember that our site is simply designed for people who think, and does not claim to provide the criterion between heresy and orthodoxy / orthopraxy. Our opinions are therefore to be taken simply as opinions. We are of the school of Ibn Rushd that basically propounds that scripture and rational intellect ought not to conflict. We support your concept of the holy books. We also support the idea of Muhammad being a final prophet, almost on your terms, but with a caveat. The Qur'an, for obvious reasons, could not have been addressed to the entire human race. It was addressed to the Arabs, and based upon their worldview. One may conclude that given the myth / story that they too are from the seed of Abraham, the finality of Muhammad was specific to the Arabian people. It does not preclude the appearance of prophets elsewhere.
The universality that Christianity and Islam attach to themselves has acted against us recognizing others. Even if we could, it does not mean seeing a new religion, for Islam in and of itself simply means to seek perfection / wholeness by turning to God, and in this manner all of the prophets have sought that. Of course this does not mean that simply because one claims to be a prophet, s/he ought to be recognized as such. The concept of paradise in physical form is simply the Imam's theory. Medieval theologians argued about the nature of our being after resurrection. This is why Jesus answered the Sadducees on the nature of the widow in the manner that he did. That is why the Qur'an says that God will make a new creation out of us. The meaning of that Qur'anic statement is open to several interpretations so we see differences of opinion among the scholars. It is our opinion that the information about the afterlife is often too symbolic to stick to literal interpretations. As the Rabbis of the Jewish tradition have said: "The Torah speaks the language of humans." So too, we feel that the Qur'an communicates with us on a level that we can comprehend, and that comprehension changes as we become more informed and intelligent. May God lead us to that which is always good!
Posted May 17, 2015