The King of Islam
26 Nov, 2006
THE ISLAMIC PERCEPTIONS of Allah and the system controlling life may have its roots deep in the structure of the Arabs' lives and minds. Although many Arabs would like to think that the word Allah means God, this is far from true. Allah is the generic name given by the Arabs to their God long before Islam and Mohammed. In this sense it is like Venus or Cupid or other names given by the Greek or other civilizations to their gods.
Ascribing a name to God is in itself an absurdity-why should God have a name? Names are invented and used by humans to distinguish one person from another. So, the pertinent question is: If there is only one God why does he need a name? Amazingly, today's Muslims accept this absurdity without any question, just as they accepts far worse absurdities, only because, to the Muslims, these are part of the Islamic doctrine.
God vs. Allah
God - the creator
When we believe in God as the creator of life and universe then we must also believe that God is beyond any imaginable description of a human mind. In other words: we cannot describe God simply by using our system of measurements, such as: shape, length, colour, time and material. It is a mistake to assume that God is a living material object that exists somewhere, starts somewhere and ends somewhere. Indeed, none of our measurements could be applied to God, who is therefore beyond our description and understanding. How can a human mind understand something that is without shape, mass, matter, the beginning or the end?
Using the same logic, we cannot apply human characters to God. These characteristics include human feelings, such as: happiness, anger, kindness and cruelty. Doing so would mean that God is a human. This defies human logic. A human God would probably create a different kind of life where everybody is good, healthy, rich and kind. A human God would not create disease, death or natural disasters, and would not let humans kill humans or animals eat animals.
Allah - the king of Islam
Muslims claim that God has chosen the name Allah for himself, and this is made clear repeatedly in the Quran "Q.112:1 Say he (the God) is Allah and he is one" . And this is what Muslims say when they pronounce the first part of Shahada, "there is no God but Allah".
Although Muslims do not think of Allah to have a physical shape of a human or any other creature, the fact is once you mention the word Allah to Muslims it will generate some form of an image in their minds. Quran does not describe Allah in physical form although it gives many descriptions to his characters. Quran goes even further and describes Allah as a god who gets happy when obeyed and gets angry when disobeyed. When Allah is happy of humans he rewards them, when angry he punishes them.
The characters of Allah are described to us in some detail through the ninety-nine noble names of Allah mentioned in the Quran. Among those noble names that describe Allah's characters are the most merciful, powerful, generous -to the end of the list, which also includes the title 'the king'.
We will see later how Allah, according to the Quran, actually behaves like a king, and more precisely like an Arab king.
The image of the king in the Arab mind
The life-style of the Arabs of Mecca in the 7th century was mainly tribal-too primitive to develop proper kingdoms. However, the Arabs of Mecca were well aware of the many neighbouring kingdoms in Syria, Persia and Abyssinia. Nevertheless, a few Arab tribes did have their own kingdoms in Arabia, like the ones ruled by Bani Ghassan and Bani Munthir in the north, both of which were allied to the Romans and the Persians.
To the Arabs, a king is an icon of ultimate authority. He is usually a man with wisdom, power and wealth. His inner circle of trusted advisers and deputies help to control the various parts of the kingdom. When the king issues a decree he would send a messenger with the authenticated ruling, duly authenticated with the royal seal. A king expects that his subjects' obedience is solely to him and that this allegiance is total and complete, that all his subjects know about his fairness, generosity and kindness. On the other hand, a king does not tolerate opposition or rebellion in his kingdom, and he would use brutal force to crush them.
Today's Arab kings too expect total and complete submission from their subjects. But you don't have to be a king to enjoy such an authority. Any head of a government department will expect the same treatment from his staff; so does any company director from his employees. Even a father in a traditional Arab family will expect such total submission from the members of his own family.
The Arabs call a man who heads a family rab, which means god. And make no mistake-he does get treated like one! In a traditional Arab family no one is allowed to show any sign of disobedience to this god and that includes all his children and wives. Even the eldest son, who is second in line in this hierarchy, will show every possible sign of submission to his father. He will greet him by kissing his hands as a mark of respect, will not speak in front of him until he is told to and to avoid being seen as an equivalent, will look at the ground when he talks with his father. Around the dining table, no one is allowed to take the father's seat or touch the food before the father does. Even family relations and marriages must be approved and arranged by this family god. The first grand child will probably be named after him.
In such a traditional family, a father
will have high expectations from his children that even the slightest
sign of disobedience would seem to be a major sin. Such sins will
almost always happen in every family, especially after the children
get married and it becomes difficult for them to keep this delicate
balance of responsibilities to their parents on one hand and to their
own families on the other hand. A classic example is when a father
senses that his son is giving too much attention to his wife and her
family and interprets that as a sign of disobedience from his son.
Typically, such a traditional father would go through a long list of
favours he had done to his son in the past, saying: "It is I
who looked after you when you were a child and provided you with food
and clothes and arranged for you to have education-..
so how do you turn your back to me in favour of your wife ?"
Power struggle in the seventh heaven
Mohammed tells us through the Quran (Q.2:30-38, Q.18:50) how all our problems started. According to the Quran, the trouble happened some time ago, when Allah was sitting there in his throne somewhere in the seventh heaven, at a place called sidrat almuntaha, which seems to be a top-secret area where very few angels are allowed to congregate. Allah has already finished creating the skies and the earth with its mountains and resources, a creation that went perfectly well. Allah, who is kind, caring, wise and merciful, discussed with the angels his plans of a new creation project called man. This project was met with many question-marks from the angels. It was particularly unpopular with another creature, Iblis, who also resided in heaven. It appears to us, according to the Quran, that Iblis was an upright peaceful creature until he heard about this new project of the creation of man. Iblis, who was aware of Allah's rules and powers decided to do something really mad-- he decided to refuse Allah's order to prostrate to the newly-created man!
The Quran gives only a brief explanation of what made Iblis behave in such a bizarre way. The Quran explains iblis's own reason, which is: he felt humiliated to prostrate to a creature made of earth, while he himself was created from fire, which he considers to be a superior material. Quran, however doesn't give a reason as to why Allah wanted everybody to prostrate to the first man. I never came across a man who thought it was really important for him to be treated so nicely by the angels and Iblis. They all preferred to enjoy heaven, rather than being prostrated to. However, in other places the Quran says about Allah: " He is not asked about his actions while they are asked about their actions." So we have to shut up and leave it there.
The story goes on to tell us that Iblis, who of course, knew he is due for punishment, asked Allah to do him one last favour which is to delay his punishment to the judgment day. Iblis makes it clear that he only wanted to use this time to tempt man to sin and worship him instead of worshiping Allah. What is surprising, however, is that Allah agrees to that request, and He sets the rules that those of us who follow Iblis will end in hell fire. Considering human history, it looks like most of humanity will suffer that sad fate! The Quranic story brings up the legitimate question: "why Allah wants man to say NO to Iblis while he himself said YES to him when he accepted to postpone his punishment to the judgement day?"
That was how it all started, according to the Quran. It appears that we are caught in the middle of some kind of power struggle between Allah and Iblis, each wants us to worship him. Now we have to make our choices:
On one hand Allah wants us to pray five times every day with many extras during Ramadan, fast one month every year with extras all year round, perform hajj and omra, adhere to a strict and uncompromising code of Islamic conduct that affects all aspects of life, including eating, talking, appearance, and avoiding all aspects of life pleasures, like music, dancing and other arts. In addition we are asked to fight hard and kill those who do not believe in Allah, even if we do not like fighting. On the other hand, Iblis requires from his followers to feel happy and free to do whatever they like, no other requirements. Now make your choice!
Recognition of Allah
The Quran keeps reminding its readers of the importance of recognising Allah and His authority. Recognising Allah as the only God is the first and the most important part of the Islamic doctrine and this constitutes the first part of the shahada, which a person has to pronounce to become a Muslim. The message is clear to man: recognise only Allah as a God and denounce all others (are there any others?). Failure to denounce all other gods is a sin that Allah will never forgive, while he might consider forgiving any other sin, including murder. Also high on the list comes the demand of worshiping Allah, which, according to theQuran, is the reason for our creation. "And we created jinn and mankind only to worship (me)"
The Quran doesn't let you forget the virtues of Allah and the favours he has done to man, and wants man to show his gratefulness because of that. Man must show his gratefulness only to Allah, never to another man. A true Muslim will never say the Arabic word shukran (meaning thank you) to another man, as it has to be reserved for Allah. A true Muslim will express his gratitude to another man by saying something like, "jazaka allahu khayran" meaning may Allah reward you. Quran goes repeatedly through long lists of those favours such as: the creation of man in perfect shape with vision and hearing (Q.9: 32), providing him with food and drinks, then creating the seas and the skies to be at his disposal (Q.45: 12,13) and the stars as a decoration for the sky and to be useful during navigation. In other words the Quran wants to say, "How can somebody turn his back and worship Iblis instead of Allah?"(Q.36:60,61)
It looks like we are talking about a god who is so self-conscious about his image and authority that he demands constant recognition from his creatures-a god who is so sensitive to competition (by Iblis) that it makes you wonder why he allowed it in the first place.
The Quranic description of Allah fits a king more than it fits God. More precisely, it fits an Arab king who fears competition and demands his authority to be constantly recognised, his polices constantly appreciated and praised by his subjects. In the 7th century kings had palaces (Allah has Albaytu Alma'mour) and a throne (which Allah has) and are served by loyal staff (like the angels). When a king wants to pass a new law (like a new religion) he sends his messenger (a prophet or Rasul) to his subjects to deliver the message (the new religion or risala). The message is usually written using the local language (just like the Quran).
This is probably how it all happened, and how many people in the past understood the function of the system of life. A special breed of humans, called clerics, who make the religions to their societies, guard it and spread it must had promoted this understanding. They had to think of prophets because at that early stage of history they only knew that messages can be delivered by messengers. Had they knew about other more sophisticated means, like radio communication or telephones or Internet they would have thought of it.
Islam - the Arabic religion
History tells us that almost every community had its own religion that thrived well in its own community. Those religions had rules, rituals and sacred places more relevant to its respective communities. The pharaohs did not have holy places outside Egypt, the Mayas did not have holy places outside their counties and neither did Islam.
It is beyond the scope of this article to explain the similarities between Islam and other religions that happened to exist in Arabia before Mohammed. However, it is a common knowledge that most of Islamic teachings and rituals were preached and practiced by various tribes in Arabia. These include nearly all the hajj rituals, the five daily prayers, Ramadan fasting and more. Islamic beliefs in after-life and the descriptions of hill and heavens were common beliefs of other pre-Islamic religions in Persia and some parts of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the Quran used the same foreign words to describe them.
Islam addressed issues that were relevant to Mohammed in his time, and failed to address other issues of relevance to other societies of the time. The Quran addressed issues like polygamy, divorce, slavery and the practice of burying female infants alive, because the Arabs commonly practiced them at the time of Mohammed. On the other hand, it failed to make any reference to other important issues that were of relevance to other nations like the Persians or the Romans. For example, the Quran never commented on the stage performances in the Roman amphitheatres or the gladiators. The roman government structure was very impressive in its time as it still is in our time. But this has no mention in the Quran. This is hardly surprising because they were not burning issues to Mohammed and who probably had never heard of them. So he did not waste a verse on them.
A careful reading of the Quran will show that it catered mainly to Mohammed's own needs; it only addressed issues of relevance to the Arabs because they were of relevance to Mohammed as well. Let us look at samples of such Quranic verses, (please note these are only examples):
♦ A sura talks about his uncle whom he hated (Q.111),
♦ Verses demanding his wives to stop asking him to provide earthy luxuries, and concentrate instead on seeking Allah's and his blessings, (Q.33:28-29)
♦ Verses to warn his wives of severe punishments if they commit adultery, and to be careful of how to speak to men and how to dress, so they are not desired by men (Q.33: 30-35)
♦ Verses about his marriage to the wife of his adopted son, asking him to demand her divorce and marry her (Q33: 36-40),
♦ Verses about which women he can sleep with, including his wives, slaves and a woman who offered herself to him (Q.33: 50)
♦ Verses about how much should he get from war booties, he gets1/5th which he shares with Allah, all other Muslims put together get 4/5ths (Q8: 41, Q59: 7),
♦ Verses to release him from a promise he made earlier to his wives that he will never sleep again with his slaves. Hafsa caught him having sex with Marya in her bed and on her day, she started shouting so Mohammed gave her that promise (Q.66: 1)
♦ Verses about how should his wives behave (Q.33: 27-34)
♦ Verses about some divine intervention to sort domestic matters between him and his wives (Q.66: 1-5)
♦ Verses about how Muslims should treat his wives (Q.33: 53),
♦ Verses about how Muslims should never marry his wives after him (Q.33: 53),
♦ Verses about how Muslims should behave when visiting him and how they should leave early because staying long time used to annoy him (Q.33: 53),
♦ Verses about how Muslims should be polite when talking to him and not raise their voices (Q. 49:2-5),
♦ Verses about how Muslims must obey his commands (Q.8: 1,20,24 Q.24: 24,56 Q.47: 33 to quote only few)
♦ Verses about how slaves and boys should take permission before entering their masters' rooms at certain times of the day (Q.24: 58)
♦ Verses telling Muslims how good he was (Q33: 45,46,)
♦ Verses justifying his behaviour in aggressive wars (gazwas)(Q.8: 58).
♦ Verses justifying excessive killing before taking prisoners (Q: 8:67)
♦ Verses about how Muslims should be loyal to him even if they have to stand against their close relatives. (Q.58: 22)
♦ Verses about not to ask for peace when on the winning side (Q.47: 35)
The verses above only remind me of a famous remark made by Mohammed's favourite wife Aysha, who once said to him "I see that your God is quick to satisfy your needs". Aysha noticed that whenever Mohammed wishes something, Allah is quick to reveal a verse to meet whatever Mohammed desires.
Islam was a religion introduced by an Arab for the Arabs in Arabia. It used the Arabic language to address Arabic issues relating mainly to the lives and cultures of the Arabs in and around Mecca. It is by no means suitable to the Arabs of our time or of any other time. Quran is an Arabic book; it is more Arabic than any other book ever written in this language. In fact, it is so Arabic, that it is the only book that must be read in Arabic. Open-minded Arabs know that it is full with mistakes and absurdities and the only thing clear about it is its ambiguity. Allah speaks to man only in Arabic, and accepts prayers only in Arabic. I find it hard to understand how non -Arabs can be attracted to such a religion that is built around a language that is not theirs. A religion that is so biased to the Arabs that it practically puts them in charge of it.
Mumin Salih is a Middle Eastern ex-Muslim.