THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
July 22, 2007
The Washington Post

Want to Understand Islam? Start Here

by John L. Esposito

Nearly half of Americans have a generally unfavorable view of Islam, according to a 2006 Washington Post-ABC News poll, a number has risen since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That climate makes it easy to lose sight of the fact that the majority of mainstream Muslims hate terrorism and violence as much as we do -- and makes it hard for non-Muslims to know where to begin to try to understand a great world faith.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam originated in the Middle East. As F.E. Peters shows in "The Children of Abraham," the commonalities can be striking. Muslims worship the God of Abraham, as do Christians and Jews. Islam was seen as a continuation of the Abrahamic faith tradition, not a totally new religion. Muslims recognize the biblical prophets and believe in the holiness of God's revelations to Moses (in the Torah) and Jesus (in the Gospels). Indeed, Musa (Moses), Issa (Jesus) and Mariam (Mary) are common Muslim names.

Muslims believe in Islam's five pillars, which are straightforward and simple. To become a Muslim, one need only offer the faith's basic credo, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God." This statement reflects the two main fundamentals of Islamic faith: belief in the one true God, which carries with it a refusal to worship anything else (not money, not career, not ego), and the crucial importance of Muhammad, God's messenger.

Muhammad is the central role model for Muslims -- much like Jesus is for Christians, except solely human. He is seen as the ideal husband, father and friend, the ultimate political leader, general, diplomat and judge. . . .

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