How much do you know about Islam?
Not what you have seen on television, or what you heard from a friend one time, but the actual, cold-hard facts.
In a presentation to the Fulton Rotary Club Wednesday, Humera Lodhi educated the audience about her faith. Lodhi's parents moved to the United States from India. A journalism student at the University of
Missouri and a Muslim, she was born in New York and then moved to Columbia.
Rotary President Mary Ann Beahon opened by introducing Lodhi and explaining why she was there.
"Unless you have been hibernating for the last week, you know there is a lot going on in the country," Beahon said. "(Lodhi) is going to be teaching us about her faith. We owe it to ourselves to know more about the people and the culture."
Lodhi opened by teaching the club the traditional Muslim greeting "assalamu alikum," which means "peace be upon you."
"We greet everyone with it," Beahon said. "The proper response is 'wa alaikum assalam,' which means 'and upon you be peace.'"
Islam, Lodhi said, has a root in the word "salima," which translates to "peace, through submission to God."
"That's why it's more than just a religion or culture to many," she said. "It's a way of life."
There are more 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, Lodhi said, with 3 million to 7 million living in the U.S. To the surprise of the club, Lodhi said the most common ethnicity for a Muslim is not Middle Eastern but South Asian. This diverse number of ethnic groups gives rise to many different sects of Islam, where local culture and the religion mix. Lodhi said bigger cities can contain many different mosques for different sects. Columbia, on the other hand, only has one mosque, creating a tight-knit community.
The religion of Islam is built upon six articles of faith, Lodhi said.
The first is the Islamic concept of God. People unfamiliar with Islam may believe Muslims worship the God "Allah," a different Deity than the Christian or Jewish God. In actuality, Lodhi said, they are all one and the same.
"'Allah' is just the word 'God' in Arabic," she said. "'Allah' translates to 'the God,' which affirms the monotheistic nature of Islam."
The second article of faith is the belief in angels.
"Angels are created from light, meaning that they go about unseen," Lodhi said. "These are the same angels you find in Christianity and Judaism, like Michael and Gabriel."
Third on the list is the prophets. Again, the prophets are the same as with the other Abrahamic religions. Lodhi said Muslims simply believe God chose Mohammad as his final messenger on earth.
Article of faith number four is divinity of the Scriptures. The rules for the religion of Islam come from two sources, Lodhi said. The first book is the Quran. "The script is preserved in Arabic, it's original language," she said. "We believe that it completes and perfects previous Prophets."
The second book, the Sunnah, is the reported actions and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. But other texts revealed to other prophets are no less meaningful. Lodhi explained this means that Muslims believe in the divine nature of the scripture of the other Abrahamic religions: the Tanakh for Judaism and the Bible for Christians. Islam simply adds another two holy texts to the set, with the Quran and Sunnah serving as the final revelation from God to his prophet.
The fifth article is the day of judgment.
"Muslims believe in the accountability of actions and in the absolute justice of God," Lodhi said. "This means that only God can judge you, and that we can't judge each other on earth."
Lodhi said Muslims also believe in both heaven and hell, and a coming day of judgment where divine justice will come to us in this life, similar to the Christian jJudgment day described in the Book of Revelations.
The final article of faith is the belief in divine will.
"Everything happens according to God's plan," Lodhi said. "Though people still have free will."
Lodhi said that this means that in every life, people make choices that take them down different paths. God knows the outcome of every choice and every path.
Together, the six articles of faith define what it means to be a Muslim. To exercise their religion, Muslims also practice the five pillars of Islam:
The Shahada, which is the basic declaration of faith for Islam, "I testify that there is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God."
Prayer, which Muslims do five times a day in relation to the sun. Lodhi said it provides a time where Muslims share a direct connection with God.
Charity, where Muslims are obligated to give 2.5 percent of their accumulated wealth from the year to charity. The money given goes into a welfare system, which helps the less fortunate. It is a way to separate yourself from material things, Lodhi said.
Fasting. Every year during the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Lodhi said, again, this is to show a separation from worldly desires, and improves ones self discipline.
Finally, the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Once in a lifetime, every Muslim (if they are able) is compelled to make a trip to the city of Mecca, where they complete a ritual that helps to strip away the artificial social
barriers that societies place upon themselves, Lodhi said.
She said everyone practices the religion in their own way. "Not all Muslims apply all the teachings of Islam," she said. "Everyone has various levels of practice and commitment."
Touching on recent controversy, Lodhi took some time to explain the Islamic concept of Jihad.
"Jihad simply means 'a sincere struggle to attain perfection in faith,'" she said. "There is the greater and the lesser Jihad: the greater Jihad is against yourself, in trying to be better and closer to God; the lesser is the physical Jihad."
Lodhi said that Jihad does not mean "holy war," and that Islam lays out strict regulations for a physical Jihad.
"Currently, the conditions do not exist for a Jihad," she said. "It must be defensive, decided upon by a democratically elected government, and you must never harm innocents, places of worship, women or children or holy people of other faiths."
A Rotary Club member asked Lodhi to explain radical Islamic terror. She said it all goes back to the mixing of culture and religion, as well as cherry picking and distorting texts.
"I don't like the phrase, because the Quran doesn't justify it," she said. "Extremists twist the text to fit their own means. Saying 'radical Islamic terrorism' draws a connection that I don't think should exist. If a person of another faith does something, we don't call it 'radical Christian terrorism' or 'radical Jewish terrorism.' The kind of people who would commit a terrorist act in the name of their religion are the same people that would do bad things regardless of their religion."