Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Teachings of Islam, like Catholicism, are often misunderstood

Published: January 12, 2019

By Father Jerome Kodell, OSB
Subiaco Abbey

In our divided world, too many of the divisions are over religion, and very often not those caused by real differences of religious perspective and faith but by mistakes about the religion of the other.

This becomes harmful when the renegade rhetoric or actions of a small percentage are misinterpreted as characteristic of the group, and then members of the group may be ostracized or punished. Catholics know how negative this can be from our recent experience of the way clergy sexual abuse distorted the perception of what our Church stands for.

One of the distortions of Muslim teaching which has caused much trouble is the meaning of the “jihad,” an Arabic word meaning “striving” or “struggling” but which has often been defined as “holy war.”

Probably even more misinterpreted than Catholicism is the teaching of Islam. I thought it would be helpful to let the Muslims speak for themselves in presenting their beliefs. What follows is drawn from materials published by the American Islamic Information Center in Falls Church, Va.

The Arabic word “Islam” literally means surrender or submission. Islam as a faith means total surrender to God so that one can live in peace and tranquility. The proper name for God is “Allah,” an Arabic word meaning “the one and only true God.” The holy book of Islam, the Quran, is the direct word of God, which was transmitted through the Prophet Muhammad (570–632).

The Five Pillars of Islam are: to make the declaration of faith, “that there is no deity except God, and that Muhammad is his messenger”; to pray five times a day; to pay the yearly alms; to fast during the month of Ramadan; and to make the pilgrimage to Mecca (in Saudi Arabia).

One becomes a Muslim by making the declaration of faith. There is no initiation ceremony, such as baptism. When performing the five daily prayers, the Muslim faces Mecca, or more properly the first house built there for the worship of God, called the Ka’bah. It is recommended but not obligatory to perform this prayer in a mosque, the Muslim temple which takes its name from a word meaning “a place to prostrate oneself in God’s presence.” The basic rate of the alms for the needy is two and a half percent of what has been held in savings for a year.

One of the distortions of Muslim teaching which has caused much trouble is the meaning of the “jihad,” an Arabic word meaning “striving” or “struggling” but which has often been defined as “holy war.” According to the Islamic Information Center, there is no such thing as holy war in Islam or in the Quran. Four levels of jihad are noted: jihad of the tongue (speaking of faith); jihad of the hand (doing good works); jihad of the heart (living the faith); jihad of the sword (struggling for justice). It is not jihad to fight for wealth, nationalism, territory, honor or revenge.

Women and men are equal before God. Both are accountable before God. They equally receive their reward in the hereafter for their faith and good deeds.

Jesus is honored in Islam as the Messiah, the word of God, the anointed one sent by God as a prophet and messenger, but he is not believed to be divine. He was born of the Virgin Mary, was raised from the dead and will return as a sign of the last days. Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran, and honored as chosen by God as above all other women.