Analyzing and Justifying Islamic Faith: A Logic-Based Perspective

Kevin J. Rice, Kevin@justanyone.com, http://JustAnyone.com

Religion Term Paper

To analyze one's own faith is hard enough, but to attempt to apply a foreign perspective to a religion other than one's own is like reading a poetry in translation. Sure, the words tell a story, but the rhyme and rhythm just aren't available.

The point of this is to foreshadow my impending embarkation towards probable blasphemy with the warning that I am plunging headlong quite fully cognizant of my own impending erroneous ends. Simply put, I am not Moslem. I have no right to judge something I know so incompletely as Islam. So, please forgive this my wandering wordcraft, and regard any correspondence between what I assert here and the truth as entirely coincidental. I have tried to increase my limited knowledge by reading a few books, but this is hopelessly inadequate and have no wish to end up like Salman Rushdie.

With these vast disclaimers made explicit, I now have free reign to run rampant with patent untruths and startlingly illogical statements, subject only to my whimsical sense of How Things Are. In any case, the subject at hand is the Islamic faith. I will attempt to find the reasons for or relationship between certain fundamental concepts I've garnered from a study of the faith (A foreshortened list of these items may be found in Appendix A). In the process, a picture might emerge of the basis for the Islamic belief system. Or, it might not. Let's find out...

The starting point is the despairingly simple question, "What is Islam?" The answer, of course, is never-ending, but a short one might read that Islam is a religion, founded in 633 A.D. by the prophet Mohammed of Mecca.

Now, the fun part begins: we lay out a list of twelve fundamentals of the Islamic faith. This list is my compilation, and is definitely incomplete, but it hits the major points.

(1)There is no god but God.

(2)Mohammed was the (last) messenger of God.

These two statements combined comprise the basis for all of Islamic faith. They are faith statements, and therefore unprovable. The only comments I can make on them is that they are statements typical of the foundation for any religion. They say, "God exists," and "We have the key to knowing Him."

Another possible commentary is that since it is claimed that Mohammed is the last messenger, this could be an attempt to prevent Islam from being superseded by the next prophet, whoever that might be. This is reasonable in terms of human motives because all religions need to project themselves as long-term institutions, and if Islam has a corner on the Last Prophet, then Islam is assuredly valid during the time period between now and the Last Day (read: forevermore).

As fundamentally unprovable statements, these first two assertions make a good basis for a religion. To root an institution in the provable enters the realm of the sciences, and while both need to be self-consistent, the basic differences between science and religion must always be twofold: provability and the direction of scope. Science bases itself on the little provable things and works towards a big picture. Religions start with an assumption about the big picture and work towards specifics. Even in the primary founding sentence, Islam starts with the big picture (Infinite God) and works towards the specific (Mohammed, a limited man).

(3)God is infinite and perfect in all ways. This includes God being the unique, eternal, ethereal, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent creator and controller of the universe.

Most of these words are window dressing for one operative word: "Infinite" (in all things).

This statement reflects the Judeo-Christian background of Islam. Whether or not it is true, I always thought of the idea of an infinite God in terms of the (polytheistic) little boy's fighting words of "My god is bigger than your god". Put in this light, it is merely a logical extreme: "your god" doesn't exist because my god is the Only God, and even if your god did exist, it wouldn't matter because my god is infinitely powerful and infinitely better (perfect).

There is a theoretical backing for God being the creator of the universe, and this is that because this is a cause-effect world, it is hard to think of something spontaneously coming into being. The question then becomes is that if the universe was created by God, then who created God? That pushes the creation issue back one more step, but here we become stymied, so we assume a creator.

To assume that the creator is all-powerful is not necessary, however. Men and women regularly create babies, but once that child leaves home the object of creation is either guided by chance, by God, or by that child's personal will, which is out of the creators' hands.

To presume that any being that could create a universe is powerful enough to control it is not a large step. Besides this small jump, it fills a large need of the human mind for the universe's many unexplainable events to somehow be tied together and have a purpose. Islam takes that step, presuming that God the infinite creator exists, that He has a purpose, and that He currently controls the universe.

(4)All persons are equal in the sight of God.

This is an outgrowth of the statement that God is omnipotent and omniscient, and can be explained in the following manner. The religious institution cannot confer status, because to say any man is more holy (holier means closer to God??) enables the idea of intercession. An omniscient God needs no advice. Men may know and judge fairly only the acts of men, but not the beliefs (only God can know them).

Islam accepts this logic of all people being equal, much more (it seems to me) than Christianity. Islam's saying that no man is holier than any other does not mean that there aren't religious leaders, those engaged in full-time religious study, teaching, or advising. Limited humans differ in knowledge, so it makes sense for one person to teach or lead via a sermon. To say that Islam conforms perfectly to this ideal is not quite accurate; Moslems regularly pilgrimage to the tombs of popularly religious men despite prohibitions in the Koran against praying through those men. According to the Koran, women are equal to men in the sight of God, which is favorably different (by my eyes) from some Christian views (Eve as corruptor).

(5)The soul and the body are independent of one another (this is a way of saying that there is life after death).

(6)There will be a Last Day, on which God will judge people based on their acts and beliefs.

These two ideas relate to the institutional nature of the Islamic faith. The first plays well (gives hope) to those impoverished masses who want something eventually. All people have a need for there to be a higher purpose, and to be involved in that purpose, and Islam rewrites the rules of life by defining an afterlife where being rich now doesn't count.

Perhaps this issue is can also be examined from a negative perspective. If this life were all that there was, then ethics would probably go out the window. Why worry if you've killed someone for their money if it makes you happy now? This may SEEM wrong, but without long term consequences, there is no reason not to. The other issue on this negative side is that any institution not showing an immediate profit to the individual would disappear. So, it makes sense from a social perspective that Islam (and almost every other major religion) features an afterlife.

From a more theologically Islamic perspective and less a social theory one, the justification for an afterlife presumes the free will of the individual. Some would question the point of God the creator giving humans free will. An answer might be found in the Judaic foundation of God creating man in his own image. God is an independent creator, man is independently creative. Thus he has free will.

But how are free will and an afterlife interdependent? Simple: If ethical ideals are so anciently popular and apply so deeply to our minds, if in our earliest days we are taught by the world that there are right ways to go about things and wrong ways (from picking up a hot dish with an oven mitt to not killing loved ones), then why do we have those abilities and motivations? Are bacteria motivated by right and wrong? No. Do they have free will? I left a message on my petri dish's answering thing but I'm not waiting for an answer. The point is that we were given ethical cognates for a reason, that we might use them. To deny that they exist is illogical.

If ethics don't matter, if they are useless, then we are being deliberately misled by God. This goes against the primary presumption that Mohammed was his messenger and Mohammed talked of ethics. Why would a God create us, and give us abilities it would do us no good to use, to fool us by making us think that some things that we thought are important are not really so. This might be seen as God making a mistake, a contradiction of the third fundamental, above. This gets us to the point of using our free will ethically. If we presume that there was no afterlife, then there would be no reason to act ethically. But we are built to act ethically. Ergo, there is an afterlife.

This formulation is far from perfect, and I don't know if it even shows up in Islamic literature, but the summary should read that the Islamic faith, at least in these points, seems quite self-consistent.

(7)There exists three places: Earth, Paradise, and Hell. Paradise and Hell are not geographically locatable, and no items may be transported there (accumulation of Earthly wealth makes no difference in the afterlife).

Since wealth is humanly subjective and entirely personal ("I'm rich, I've got an glow-in-the-dark velvet painting of Elvis!!!"), and there exists no worldly way of quantifying the value of something except in human terms (who wants what and how much of it there is), why should God make judgements similar to ours? It seems more logical that we are judged on the basis of how well we cope with what we are given as tools; what we create. Islam follows this line, and claims that this Earth is a staging area for the afterlife, and while it isn't bad to be rich, it is better use the tools of our emotions and respond compassionately to the poor.

There is another, more common-sense reason for no items being transported to the afterlife: if they were, we would have noticed them disappear. If God is all-powerful, why can't He make new items for the dead? What use is Channel No.5 when you don't have armpits anymore? "God takes care of me in this world, why wouldn't He take care of me in the next?" The accumulation of these questions make the Islamic perspective on the importance of riches in an afterlife at least sensible, if not correct (but, then, maybe we can just ask Edgar Cayce...).

The other aspect of the statement about there being a Paradise and a Hell (or Blaze) is that it permits judgement of humans by God. Judgement is both inherent in and vital to the creative process; it is assessing what has been done before and molding what comes after based on one's decisions. God is a creator, therefore He judges what He creates. But, to decide without acting is moot and obviates the decision. To have God judge humans and not act on those judgements limits God (a limitless being, a contradiction). God judges humans on the basis of ethical behavior, which implies a good and bad dichotomy. The common-sensical extension of God acting on a good judgement is a reward, and bad judgement, a punishment. These are normal from everyday life and despite there being holes in this logical chain, it holds together fairly well.

(8)The basis for God's judgement is the Koran.

God gives perfect judgments (an extension of omniscience). To have a fair law presumes that those subject to it are given fair warning of its precepts. Since limited man cannot originally divine perfect formulations of this law without guidance, God has provided a guidebook, the Koran.

The problem with a perfect lawbook is that it provides omniscience and thereby eliminates free will. If there were no uncertainty, then everyone would act as they should because it would be obviously in their best interest. But, this would cause originality (read: creativity) to disappear.

The other problem with the perfect lawbook is that it would have to delineate all situations, and therefore would be of both infinite size and (therefore) unknowable content. We are limited beings, so we are given limited knowledge.

The aspect not covered here is the issue of fairness in judgement. Is God fair? What is "Fairness"? I will define a fair decision as a logical conclusion free from prejudice. But, prejudice seems to be a direct result of limitation. Humans employ it in order to function easier as limited beings. We are all prejudiced; I prejudge that if I drop something, it will fall. Since prejudice is a tool (and a weapon) for those limited in knowledge, it is fair to assume that God, as omniscient, is not limited by prejudice.

So, all this comes down to the question of God being fair (an unproven but logical end). If true, then there is a requirement for a set of Laws to be given. For that word to be the Koran makes as much sense as for any book, but for now let's take it as a matter of faith.

(9)The Koran is a letter from God to all men. It contains the literal revealed words of God. The judgement will be based on the acts and beliefs of men as compared with the Koran.

We made the assumption at the beginning that Mohammed is the messenger of God. It is a leap of faith of similar distance to presume that the Koran corresponds to what God said through Mohammed. Since God is fair, and He gave us Mohammed, then by extension, it would not be fair if the words given to us were not His words. Thus, we shall accept that the Koran is the words of God.

This statement is then reduced down to the second sentence, about redemption being based on the acts and beliefs of men. To analyze this, let us consider the different possibilities for judgement.

We established that the accumulation of worldly goods makes little sense as a basis for judgement, and it is likely that one's ethics holds a probable place in the decision. But, how can a decision be based on so indefinable an area as a person's ethics? Of course, since God knows all, He knows what attitudes everyone holds on certain ethical issues. Given that the Koran is the basis for the ethics, is it not fair to reduce judgement to the question of whether one agrees with the Koran?

To do this ignores the large gulf between what people think and what they do. People can actually hold two antithetical beliefs at once (e.g., sex is bad, sex is good). Christianity holds that belief is enough, Islam does not. If belief is enough, then as long as one believes in God, the holy spirit will enable ethical thoughts, actions, and feelings.

The problem with having a holy spirit intervene is that it eliminates some measure of free will. Once we believe, we give up control and are mastered by God. Islam doesn't have this problem. People are free to act and think as they wish, always (given the opportunities God presents to them). The basis for judgement then, in Islam's totally free-willed paradigm, is both the beliefs and actions of a person.

(10)Anyone may become Moslem who professes so in front of witnesses.

To require less would be to require nothing at all. The only way to require less might be to decide to think hard "I am a Moslem!" This obviously makes apostasy quite easy. A more permanent commitment would seem better, and the easiest one to make is a simple public proclamation.

To require more, as for instance in the Christian church with baptism, might mean that one was beholden to the actions of men rather than solely to the judgement of God. To have baptism as a requirement may mean that others must judge that person is fit for baptism (since there will be people who will do so). Or, only some are able to perform baptism, leading to a stratification of holiness in individuals, which runs against a previously examined tenant, that of all men being equal in the sight of God. Public proclamation, then, is quite in line with the rest of the faith's reasonings.

(11)All people individually are responsible for their actions. No Original Sin concept exists.

Original sin requires men to be held responsible for the actions of other men (ancestors). It has been established in the above tenets that since God is omnipotent and infinite, men should not be held responsible for other people's actions.

(12)There are five "Pillars of faith", which are duties incumbent on all Moslem peoples: 1. Profession of Faith, 2. daily prayer, 3. Payment of alms-tax (zakat), 4. Fasting in the month of Ramadan, and 5. Pilgrimage to Mecca.

Let us take these five "Pillars" en masse. To supply the requisite amount of clarity in law but uncertainty in application, "make sure the text doesn't change with the language of the people." (I'm just kidding!!! Really!) Of course, it may be said that people must have clear laws, because people will inevitably provide the complexity of life that will obfuscate any clarity provided to them in so short a document. The rule then becomes the old army adage, "KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid!" and the people get five laws. Do this, that and the other, and the Koran will fill in the blanks.

All of the enumerated points are ones that I found in various texts about Islam. I'm sure there are more fundamentals that I've missed, but as a non-Moslem, I am limited in my basis for analysis. Forgive any errors, please, and yell aloud if they glare too obviously.

Hopefully, though, despite my admitted limitations, I may hope to have provided at least some minor understanding of my view of the fundamentals of Islam and how they relate to one another and to what may be termed obvious common sense. If I happen to have made some mistakes, however, forgive my feebleness of mind at least long enough to let me get some advice on disappearing from Salman Rushdie. For now, I beg you, please don't send any copies of this paper Persian-Gulfwards.


Appendix A

(1)There is no god but God.

(2)Mohammed was the (last) messenger of God.

(3)God is infinite and perfect in all ways. This includes God being the unique, eternal, ethereal, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent creator and controller of the universe.

(4)All persons are equal in the sight of God.

(5)The soul and the body are independent of one another (this is a way of saying that there is life after death).

(6)There will be a Last Day, on which God will judge people based on their acts and beliefs.

(7)There exists three places: Earth, Paradise, and Hell. Paradise and Hell are not geographically locatable, and no items may be transported there (accumulation of Earthly wealth makes no difference in the afterlife).

(8)The basis for God's judgement is the Koran.

(9)The Koran is a letter from God to all men. It contains the literal revealed words of God. The judgement will be based on the acts and beliefs of men as compared with the Koran.

(10)Anyone may become Moslem who professes so in front of witnesses.

(11)All people individually are responsible for their actions. No Original Sin concept exists.

(12)There are five "Pillars of faith", which are duties incumbent on all Moslem peoples:

1.Profession of Faith

2.daily prayer

3.Payment of alms-tax (zakat)

4.Fasting in the month of Ramadan

5.Pilgrimage to Mecca.


Bibliography

 1.The Koran Interpreted, New York, NY, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1955, translated by Arthur J. Arberry.

  1. Lippman, Thomas W., Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Moslem World, New York, NY, New American Library (Mentor label), 1982.
  2. Shah, Idries, The Way of the Sufi, New York, NY, New American Library (E. P. Dutton label), 1970.
  3. Friedman, Manis, interviewed by Kevin Rice, Northwest Airlines flight 406, 6:00 pm December 18th, 1990.


Analyzing and Justifying the Islamic Faith:

A Logic-Based Perspective

by Kevin J. Rice

 Thursday, December 20th, 1990

 Introduction to World Religions

Professor Derfler

Tues & Thurs 9:30 am

Fall Semester, 1990


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