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What makes Muslims different?

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January 15, 2015 3:07AM

Although muslims make up one of three major abrahamic religions (and therefore sharemany of their basic doctrines and practices) yet Islam as a religion is distinguished in some important respects:

1. Muslim Holy Book, the Quran, is considered to be the exact words of Archangel Gabriel revealed to Prophet Muhammad, faithfully recorded verse by verse by prophet's trusted scribes and passed over in its original content and language to later generations up to present time. The Holy Quran is distinguished in this regard from any other holy scripture. Thus the followers of Islam can reasonably claim that their scripture contains truly infallible, original guidance from God.

2. Quran offers unique transcendental wisdom about God, universe, man, and nature; concepts that are mostly beyond ordinary human understanding, testifying to its Divine origin. Laura Veccia Vaglieri, an orientalist professor at the University of Naples gives a western testimony on extraordinary status of Quran:

"The heavenly book of Islam is miraculous and inimitable. Its style is totally unprecedented in Arabic literature, and its peculiar impact on the spirit of the human being derives from its special and superior characteristics. How is it possible that such a book should be the work of Muhammad, an Arab who had never studied? We find in this book a treasury of knowledge beyond the capacity of the greatest philosophers and statesman, and for this reason it is also impossible to regard the Qur'an as the work of an educated person."

3. While Quran confirms the righteousness of past Abrahamic prophets, it attributes a unique status to Prophet Muhammad. The Muslim Holy Book describes Muhammad (peace be upon him) as "the seal of prophets" (Quran 33:40) and a "mercy upon all mankind" (21:107). Muslims use honorific titles suggested by Islamic traditions, such as "the master of messengers," "the best of creation" etc to highlight prophet of Islam's superior status to the rest of mankind.

A significant incident of Prophet's life that serves as a remarkable testimony to his superior status to not just Abrahamic prophets but the whole creation, was his spiritual Night Journey that took place in two parts, Isra or a journey from Masjid al-Haram to Masjid al-Aqsa (Jerusalem), and subsequently Miraj, a journey to heavens and towards God. The Isra and Miraj are briefly mentioned in Quran (in the first verse of Surah 1, Isra and in verses 1-18 of Surah 53, Najm), while the details of the story can be found in Hadith, the recorded sayings and life accounts of Prophet Muhammad and His Holy Household (Ahlulbayt).

In Miraj, prophet Muhammad was raised to heavens by Gabriel. In his ascension he saw the invisible realities of the universe, i.e. angels, spirit of past prophets, paradise and hell and their residents. But the highest most remarkable level of his spiritual journey was when he was raised even beyond the realm of archangels, a realm which Quran refers to as Sadrat ul-Montaha or "the lote-tree of the utmost boundary" where prophet could meet God without any intermediary. Muslim gnostic commentators hold that no other Prophet, or person for that matter, in history of mankind has reached this sublime level of God realization.

Apart from these more esoteric aspects, Prophet Muhammad's unique spiritual status was well manifest throughout his apparent Earthly life. Accounts of Prophet's Life illustrate a man of vast compassion, enchanting charisma, and unbreakable determination and courage. Aided and inspired by Divine power, wisdom and virtues, Prophet Muhammad brought about the most profound and far-reaching sociocultural transformation to the society in which he lived. He turned an uncivilized depraved society into a vast civilization where reason, science and moral virtues were celebrated and promoted. The Christian Bishop, Bosworth Smith is quoted as saying the following about the impressive achievements of Prophet Muhammad:

"He was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope's pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar: without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue; if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammed, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports."

4. The third distinguished feature of Islam is that although it endorses Abrahamic prophets and shares many doctrines of Judaism and Christianity (such as Monotheism, the Day of Judgment), arguing that all Abrahamic prophets were essentially given one message and one religion (for example see the verse 13 of Surah 42, Ash-shura), but by the virtue of its provable authenticity and infallibility, Quran holds that original teachings of Judaism and Christianity have become partially altered, corrupt or misrepresented through the course of time. That's why Islam as the final, complete religion also serves to correct the erroneous biblical doctrines and accounts of past prophets.

Some example of Islamic rejection and correction of biblical beliefs can be seen in:

  • verse 102 of Surah 2, al-Baqara which rejects Biblical accusation of Solomon of sorcery;
  • verse 171 of Surah 4, Nisa which rejects the canonical doctrine of Trinity;
  • verse 156 and 157 of Surah Nisa which dismisses the Christian belief in crucification of Jesus.

5. Islam's progressive and transcendental teachings especially its emphasis on reason, reflection and pursuit of knowledge, later gave rise to an intellectually rich and thriving civilization which over centuries produced hundreds of saints, philosophers and scientists who in turn made significant intellectual contributions to humankind by, among other examples, inspiring the European Renaissance. Al-Farabi , Jabir ibn Haiyan (Geber), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn al-Haitham (Alhazen), Nasir u-Din al-Tusi, Mulla Sadra etc are just a few prominent, influential Arab and Persian polymath sages and philosophers that Islamic Civilization cultivated over centuries of her Golden Era.

On the wonders of Islamic Civilization and its impact on Europe, Robert Briffault, a social anthropologist, in his book, The Making of History, writes:

"It was under the influence of the arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that a real renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe. After steadily sinking lower and lower into barbarism, it had reached the darkest depths of ignorance and degradation when cities of the Saracenic world, Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova, and Toledo, were growing centers of civilization and intellectual activity. It was there that the new life arose which was to grow into new phase of human evolution. From the time when the influence of their culture made itself felt, began the stirring of new life... For Although there is not a single aspect of European growth in which the decisive influence of Islamic Culture is not traceable, nowhere is it so clear and momentous as in the genesis of that power which constitutes the permanent distinctive force of the modern world, and the supreme source of its victory, natural science and the scientific spirit... The debt of our science to that of the Arabs does not consist in startling discoveries or revolutionary theories, science owes a great deal more to Arab culture, it owes its existence."

6. Other than Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Islam introduces other lofty human examples. Most notable among them is Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son in law of prophet Muhammad who was declared by Prophet Muhammad as his legitimate successor and heir on many occasions, most notably on His way to his last pilgrimage to Mecca in Ghadir Khum. Ali was the most faithful disciple of Prophet Muhammad who accompanied him during his hardest moments and protected Prophet's life on several occasion against the conspiracies of the hostile pagan and Jewish tribes of Arabia.

Edward Gibbon, the 18th century British historian, in his magnum opus, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire writes:

"...the zeal and virtue of Ali were never outstripped by any recent proselyte. He united the qualifications of a poet, a soldier, and a saint; his wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings; and every antagonist, in the combats of the tongue or of the sword, was subdued by his eloquence and valour. From the first hour of his mission to the last rites of his funeral, the apostle [Prophet Muhammad] was never forsaken by a generous friend, whom he delighted to name his brother, his vicegerent, and the faithful Aaron of a second Moses."

7. In the 20th century when the once thriving Islamic Civilization had been long defeated and degraded by Western colonialism and its rich treasures of intellectual and spiritual wisdom sinking into oblivion, Islam Revolution of Iran in 1979, which overthrew the Secular Western-backed monarchy of Pahlavi, proved that Islam, through its lofty teachings and examples can still be a powerful source of inspiration for muslims who seek self-determination and sociocultural independence from the political, cultural and military aggression of Western Globalism. On the impressive role of Islam in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Ivor Benson, a South- African political commentator wrote:

"The Iranian Revolution showed that religion can still be a more potent mobilizer of mass political action than can secular ideologies. The revolution challenges the cultural hegemony of Western ideas, not only as a religion but as an alternative social model and way of life. The Iranian Revolution thus can be regarded as one of the most important happenings in modern history"