Mecca to Medina

Abraham’s Many Sons – Islam
Advent 18
Quick Yogurt Wake-up

The children’s song, though usually sung by just one religion, applies to three. “Father Abraham had many sons; had many sons had Father Abraham; I am one of them; and so are you.” Abraham believed he was to leave his homeland and travel so that he could become the father of a new nation. He would become the father of three of the world’s largest and most influential religions. The oldest of his sons by a servant of his wife was Ishmael. Approximately seventeen generations later, though the exact number of generations is debatable, a son was born to a descendant of Ishmael and named Mohammed, also spelled Muhammad.

Mohammed was born in Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. He was drawn to religious study and one day, while meditating in a cave on Mount Hira in modern-day Hejaz, an angel appeared to him. This messenger angel, known as Jibreel in Arabic and Gabriel in other faiths, would over a period of twenty-three years speak to Mohammed words from Allah or God. These utterances were rules for how one was to live and worship and became what we today know as the Koran, also spelled Quran. The Koran has one hundred and fourteen chapters. The first half provides proof of the oneness of God while the second half gives guidance on how a believer is supposed to live.

“Assalamu alaukuni!” means “May peace be with you!” The word Islam literally means “submission to the will of God” and Muslim, the adjective for believers of Islam, means “one who is submissive to Allah”. The Islamic faith recognizes as prophets Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but believes Mohammed to be God’s final prophet. Islam is now considered to be the world’s second largest organized religion with believers and followers in every country on the planet.

The year 622 is recognized as the beginning of the Islamic calendar, a lunar based calendar. As Mohammed heard the words from Jibreel, he committed the words to memory and later taught them to his followers. His teachings, though, were all by word of mouth and the years following his death would see two major divisions arise in Islam.

First and foremost was the question of who would take his place as the leader of the new Islamic state. Mohammed had led his followers to Yathrib and established the first Islamic state and renamed the city as Medina. Several years later he conquered Mecca and Arabia became the home of Islam forever. As he lay dying, Mohammed had asked his friend and father-in-law to lead prayers. Thus, many believed this man, Abu Bakr, should be the caliph or civil and religious ruler. However, others who had accompanied Mohammed on his final pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca believed Mohammed had named his cousin and son-in-law Ali as the next spiritual guide and leader of Islam. Controversy also arose regarding the Koran which was accompanied by the Hadith, a compilation of Mohammed’s saying,s which had been compiled after his death as was the Sunnah, a guide for the type of life a Muslim should follow as a devout believer of Islam. The two major divisions of Islam, the Sunni and the Shia, are based upon different interpretations and beliefs arising from this period. Muslims who believe all three, the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sunnah, to be equally reliable are called Sunnis while those doubtful of the interpretations by the followers of Abu Bakr ware known as Shia. There is also the book known as Sharia which provides the basis for canonical law within Islam.

All Muslims believe in what are called five obligations – the Five Pillars of Islam, which are seen as one’s manifestation of obedience to Allah or God. The first is “shahadah” which is the Muslim profession of faith. The second pillar is “salat” which references the Muslim ritual of prayer. Praying is done five times daily: at dawn, before the full sunrise, midday, just after sunset in late afternoon, and between sunset and midnight. Before one prays, a ritual washing occurs. In the Islamic faith, an Imam leads the prayer but the worshipper speaks directly to Allah or God. The third pillar, “zakat”, is a compulsory annual payment. Known as a charity tax, the monies collected are used to benefit the poor and needy. It is seen as a type of self-purification but also serves to distance one from a dependency or pride in material possessions. The fourth pillar is “sawm” and is the ritual fasting of Ramadan, a holy period or month for Muslims. During Ramadan, fasting occurs between dawn and sunset. It is believed this fasting encourages self-discipline and spiritual strength as well as furthering an understanding of the poor and needy. The fifth pillar is the “hajj”, the pilgrimage to Mecca. The end of the hajj includes a festival of sacrifice which honors the giving of a lamb to Abraham/Ibrahim to be used as a sacrifice instead of his son who, in Islamic beliefs, was Ishmael, not Isaac.

It is hard on a day that will continue news coverage of the killing of over one hundred and thirty children and almost ten adults in a school in Pakistan to think of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance, of introspection and charity. It is far easier to see all Muslims as reflections of those who committed this grievous act. However, the actions of men are seldom the personifications of the credo of their faith. We must remember to study the religion and not condemn it just because of the actions of some. No belief system on earth has ever been comprised solely of perfect individuals. Violence is in direct contrast to any spiritual teachings based upon goodness and belief in a benevolent deity. The followers of Islam are the sons of Ibrahim or Abraham. What seems to have been forgotten is that those who perished simply because they sought to educate and be educated were also the sons and daughters of Abraham/Ibrahim. The enemy, in my humble opinion, is not Islam but rather the shortcomings of man – greed, fear, and a choice to act in violence rather than as the prophets, all the prophets, taught.

I end with Mohammed’s own words: “”The heart grieves, the eye tears, and for your departure, Ibrahim, we are sad. But the tongue never utters an objection that wouldn’t please God.” Assalamu alaukuni!

Yogurt Yummy!

Yogurt – Legend goes that Genghis Khan encouraged his men to drink, kumis. Religious texts mention Abraham/Ibrahim serving yogurt to his guests. Yogurt was believed to provide strength as well as refreshment. During the sixteenth century a Turkish doctor attended King Francis I and gave him yogurt made from goat’s milk for an intestinal inflammation. It is recorded that the yogurt saved the kind’s life.
Yogurt has regained popularity in recent years, although more as a breakfast food rather than as a drink. This simple yogurt beverage is both refreshing and healthy.

Plain yogurt – one regular cup works well for one glass
Water – prepare 6 oz or ¾ cup; use as needed
Salt, ginger, garlic powder, and pepper to taste
Cilantro or Mint to garnish

Chop the ginger and garlic (if using garlic clove). Blend with the cilantro and/or mint in a blender, adding 1 Tblsp of water. Pour the yogurt in a bowl and stir, adding the ginger, garlic, cilantro, and/or mint to the yogurt. Stir until smooth, adding water to thicken to your personal preference. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a glass, garnish with additional mint and serve cold. Obviously, this can be made simply in one glass, especially if you mince the cilantro and mint prior to adding. By using a blender and adding fruit, this can become a delicious fruit smoothie.

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