So far, I’ve introduced the topic and talked a bit about belief in general. Now, at long last, let’s get into the Six Pillars of Belief.
First off, we believe in God, and belief in Him leads us to everything else.
Let me just dispel a myth right here at the start, above the fold, even: I’m sure some of you have heard something about a moon god. There is no such thing. Muslims do not worship the moon, we worship the Creator of the moon, the One who created the stars that went supernova, coalesced into the proto-planets and asteroid fields and comets and whatnot that smacked together and became the Earth and the moon, all by the will of God alone. We don’t worship the man in the moon either, we worship the Creator of all the people who look up at the moon, at the craters formed from asteroid impacts and other events that God decreed, and think that the result looks something like a face. The crescent symbol associated with us should not be confused with the Christian cross or the Crucifix: it’s is not an object of worship, nor is it associated in any with God Himself: it functions as a marker the passage of time; it reminds us that time keeps marching forward and we only have limited time here on Earth to worship and try to please God.
I doubt that explanation, or any of what follows will convince, especially if you are determined to reject Muslims, be it due to their skin color or cultural practices (if you actually know any Muslims), nor will it do anything for those of you who believe we’re all out to get you. Trust me, 1.3 billion people are not plotting anything. The Muslim community worldwide is way too geologically and culturally scattered to come together, much like the 1.5 billion Christians. My South Asian and Arab and Chinese neighbors and I can’t even plan a block party, much less plot anything nefarious.
But then, if your heart is closed and that determined to distrust, reject, fear, and hate us, you’re probably not reading this anyway, and may God bless you and soften your heart.
So Muslims believe in God. What does that mean to us? Well, in Islam, belief in God has four aspects. First up, we believe that He exists.
Pretty simple, right? It’s a yes or no sort of thing, really: do you believe God exists?
Back in my years of ignorance (in Arabic جاهلية “jahiliyyah”), I often took a bit of a pause before responding to that question. I probably even responded in the negative a few times. The God that I saw my family and neighbors worship was one that appeared to encourage distrust and fear, one that set up cliques and only loved a few of us, one that encouraged enmity and division, even amongst people who claimed to follow the same teachings. This wasn’t the God that was talked about in the various churches I attended (Assemblies of God, Pentecostal/Nondenominational, Methodist), yet it’s what the people in those churches acted like, and some ministers and church elders made claims about other denominations that weren’t really in line with the teachings of Jesus or with the things I read in the Bible.
I’m sure I misunderstood or am mis-remembering, but I do know that the Assemblies of God and other late 19th and early 20th Century denominations all but damned the earlier Protestant faiths (up to and including the Methodists). It’s a strange thing to hear your grandparents pray for your mom’s soul because she switched from fire and brimstone and damnation every Sunday to sermons that were a bit more life affirming, and a shorter, more predictable church service with much better music.
From about 10 or 12 years old, when I started actually thinking about it, through 2012 or so, I was, at best, a deist. I believed that God existed, but He (or, more properly, ‘It’) didn’t take much part in our affairs or the operation of the universe beyond the initial spark that set all of this in motion. Once I got into public school and started to learn about geology and biology a bit, I didn’t really understand how the earth could be only 8000 (or 6000, or 4000) years old. I asked someone about dinosaur bones one time and was told that God put them in the ground when He created the earth to test our faith… That sort of belief system was completely at odds with everything else in the world, it went against everything I could see and most everything I learned in school or read about.
Fast forward 20 years, and I started really looking around at the world and thinking about life. The narrative threads that I found running through my life didn’t make sense at all without some sort of active, divine presence in the world: I had received too much blessing and mercy and there was too much that couldn’t be explained by mere chance. There’s just too much order and apparent purpose in everything.
To be honest, I struggle with describing this change of heart and mind: as recently as 2004 or so, I categorically rejected similar arguments. But, then, I was in love with my brain and I didn’t much recognize how much other people and largely unexplainable phenomena mattered in my life and the course it took, and the course it continues on.
So when I actually looked and started to pay attention, God became obvious. As early as 2008 I began to consider returning to church. One night, after returning from a late night of drinking and debauchery, I turned on the television and started flipping channels. (Actually, this was in about 2004, but it gave me pause then, and I remember it clearly to this day.) I stopped on what I thought was some kind of over-the-top comedy or drama, something like the church scenes in Fletch Lives, but far more hard core. I cracked an nth beer and watched for awhile. It kept going and going, and suddenly, I realized I had stopped on one of the church channels, and was watching some kind of service, whatever they broadcast at 2:30am. I kept watching and realized that it was the same sort of service I attended every Sunday for years as a kid and I got the fear: I shut the tv off and ran outside, huffing and puffing. I didn’t scream or anything: I had neighbors and it was very early in the morning. I just waved my arms around for a bit and then sat down on the porch and cried for about a half hour before stumbling off to bed.
That fear stayed with me, and when I started thinking about church, I knew I couldn’t get into anything like that again, if churches like that even exist any more: it’s just too much, really. I also knew I didn’t want to go into the Methodist community again, it was a bit too, I don’t know, soft and gentle. And so I didn’t do anything. I kept thinking about God and belief and what did I believe and how. Then, a few years later, I came across Splinter Cell on Netflix. The portrayals of Muslims washing and praying piqued my interest a bit and I was especially struck by a pair of scenes late in the first season: in the first, the FBI man and the goofy blonde guy prayed together in the apartment they shared. In the second—in the interim, the goofy blonde guy died or got caught by the police or something, I don’t recall—I think it was the last half minute of the same episode, the FBI man is praying alone, in the same place and the same way as he did with his buddy next to him.
After that, I wandered around for a few years saying “Allahu Akbar” at random points of frustration or consternation. I didn’t really know what it meant, beyond what you see on the news, and that little bit of subversion—the American kid mumbling Allahu Akbar when that same job I applied for last week shows up on the job board, or when I walk out to go to work and find the battery is dead—felt right and expressed the frustration I felt with this society.
Then, a coworker gave me a copy of the Quran. I started to read it, and the God depicted there is somehow different from the God I learned about in various Sunday schools. He’s the same God, of course, but He’s not out to damn everyone like the Pentecostal pastors claimed, and He’s not just going to forgive everyone like the Methodists suggested. God, as He describes Himself in the Quran, is exactly the God that I had believed in for most of my life: the Creator, the Sustainer, the God of everything that existed, everything that exists, and everything that will come one day.
Almost in a flash, I realized something: if everything around us and inside us all arose from some chance operations, there’s no one and nothing to give thanks for, say, a beautiful sunrise or a delicious cup of coffee. But if I acknowledge that God made the sun, the Earth, the atmosphere, and our eyes and brains, He set up the laws that govern how light travels and how it bends as it goes through the atmosphere, and how we see and process the light as it bounces off and refracts through the water vapor and smog, then I can give thanks to Him for all of that.
So that’s my long and twisted path to belief in God, in His existence.
I’m not going to try to prove His existence for you: you believe or you don’t.
If you believe, great! Keep it up!
If you don’t believe, I pray that God guide you to understanding.
Ok, so Muslims believe that God exists (and He’s not the moon: He created the moon, the sun, the stars, the Earth, the Universe(s) and everything in it/them). In Islam, belief in God’s existence is the first part of the first belief. There are three more parts and 5 more beliefs to get through, so coming up next week, I’ll continue on with what we believe about God: tawheed al-rububiyyah, tawheed al-uloohiyyah, and His Names and Attributes.