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Finding an understanding of Islam

Here are a few Muslim beliefs:

Muhammad was the last in a long line of prophets which included Abraham, Moses, Jesus and several others. However, Islam rejects the divinity of Jesus.

"Allah" for Muslims is the same deity as "Jehovah" for Jews and "God" for Christians, but with some different characteristics. Allah is of neither gender (but I'll use "he"). He requires unquestioning submission to himself and Muhammad. He guides those whom he wishes and lets others go astray. He orders all Muslims to "make war on the unbelievers until Islam reigns supreme."

Man will face a Day of Judgment, followed by Paradise or hellfire. Where you spend eternity depends upon how you lived your life rather than "salvation by faith." On Judgment Day, Allah will be totally fair, and you will realize that. But that day will not come until all Jews are dead.

Muslims slain while fighting for Allah will go straight to Paradise when they die and receive rewards of gold, beautiful clothes and72 virgins.

(I cannot find any special promises for women in heaven.)

Islam has two major divisions, the Sunnis and the Shiites. Muhammad left no direct heir, and his followers could not agree on a successor so they split. They're still fighting today. Sunnis are the larger group worldwide (about 90 percent), but Shiites control Iran and have a majority in Iraq. Muslims claim about 7 million members in the United States, but sociologists think it's closer to 2 million, with about half being black converts. Of the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, only 18 percent are Arabs.

Let's look at some of the pros and cons of Islam ‹ the pros as claimed by believers, and the cons by their critics.

PRO: Islam is a peaceful religion. Fighting is only in self-defense or to restore justice. CON: Muhammad died in 632, and within 100 years Muslims had conquered much of the civilized world ‹ from Spain on the west to India on the east. The conquered people usually had three choices: convert to Islam, live as second class citizens and pay higher taxes or risk death or slavery.

PRO: Women have the same rights as men. Islam offers women a better life than they have in the West. CON: The Quran says that men have authority over women because Allah made one superior to the other. In this matter, much is local practice rather than ordered by the Quran, but Muslims do not treat woman as equals. A woman belongs to her husband; he is responsible for supporting her if she submits sexually whenever he wishes.

Women must be devoutly obedient. A man should beat his wife for disobedience. Female testimony is worth half as much. A man can have four permanent wives plus others on the side. The son gets twice as much inheritance as the daughter. (Some of this would not apply in the U.S.)

Muhammad already had nine wives and numerous concubines when Allah gave him special permission to have as many women as he desired. One new wife was a 6-year-old girl; they consummated the marriage when she was 9 and he was 52.

PRO: The Quran says that no one is subject to compulsion in religion ‹ you may practice any faith you like. CON: Apostasy (leaving the faith) is a capital offense in Islamic law. The Ayatollah Khomeini, godfather of Iran's 1979 revolution, said: "Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you... People cannot be made obedient except with the sword."

PRO: Muslims have been nicer to Jews than Christians. CON: That's not saying much! And it isn't true today where Israel is concerned.

Today President Bush says that we are fighting a "war on terror." But terror is only a tactic, not an opponent. We do not even know who the opponents are ‹ most of them ‹ but it seems that they all have some connection with Islam.

I would like to hear the leaders of the mosques in America denounce the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, but they haven't.

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