This will focus on several Muslim practices, faith doctrines, terms, and events that grow out of the Koran that might interest non-Muslims because they are foreign to the non-Muslim’s personal experience and ways of thought.
1) Koran’s view of the Nature of Allah – He is austere, remote and stern. Allah possesses all traits in infinite amounts. His status is so distant and so infinite that no comparison involving Allah with something else (anything else) is allowed. A Muslim will not allow Allah to be represented in any way (e.g. drawings, statuary, etc.) because any representation will somehow limit Allah. This prohibition extends to Mohammad, Allah’s last and most important prophet. (Surah 7:180)
2) Reasons to Believe in Allah – First, Allah will punish you in this life if you don’t believe in Him. (However, he says you may suffer even if you do believe in Him). Second, Allah will give you the possibility to get to heaven if you believe in Him. Third, you should believe just by looking around you at the universe which was created by Allah. (Surah 16:114)
3) View of the Relationship of Allah to Man – Since Allah is austere, remote, and stern, Allah’s job is to keep a ledger of each person’s good acts and evil acts so each person can be properly judged at the end time. (Surah 2:257)
4) Why is Allah called the Merciful and Compassionate – He earns these appellations because He has given man the Koran which contains within it all the steps needed to obtain salvation.(Surah 2:218, 1:1)
5) Allah may not be Diminished in Any Way – Any attempt to explain Allah by reference to something else is verboten (e.g. a remark like “the beauty of the noonday sky makes me think of Allah” is suspect because Allah is so much greater than that sky and so this remark may be construed as limiting Allah’s greatness). Muslim’s do not even restrict Allah’s greatness by logic. Allah actions are completely beyond man’s understanding. They are not restricted by any need for consistency. (Surah 5:17)
6) The Koran understanding about the Cosmos – Allah lives in paradise above the sky with his angels. (Surah 2: 161 +) The fallen angels, who rebelled at the time of man’s creation by refusing to bow before Adam, are constantly trying to sneak into heaven to discover what Allah is saying to his angels, but they are being repelled by projectiles that can be seen. (e.g. shooting stars at night). These devils, operating on earth, are trying to get people to do evil acts or simply fail to pray properly. So angels come to men to “shoo” the devils away, many Muslims therefore always thank the angels as they finish prayers because the angels have allowed them to finish their prayers successfully. Muslims also believe in jinns, another evil creature, who where popularized in books and the movies (e.g. Arabian Nights, etc). (Surah 6:100, 18:50 +)
7) Resurrection and Judgement – Souls sleep from the time of their death until the end of the world; then these souls and resurrected bodies are reunited and go to be judged. After that, they go to either heaven or hell. Those who die fighting jihad are exempt from this long wait. These fighters are judged immediately after dying. (Surah 2:259 – 260 +)
8) Very “Earthy” Descriptions of Life in Heaven and Hell – The Koran contains very detail descriptions of the life that will be experienced after judgement. (Surah 50:6) Food is described, perfumes, valleys, buildings are described, etc. However, details for women are left out, so Muslim scholars have written what women will experience by using the tools of analogy. (Surah 2:206 +) Hell is described as men half alive, half dead being viewed by those in heaven as they are partly consumed by fire. However, surprisingly some scholars hold that after the evil people have been in hell for a time they get to go to heaven, which Muslims call Jannah.
The question of heaven for non-Muslims and for those who die in infancy have been studied by scholars. Again some Muslim scholars hold that heaven is available to good people in both these categories. Others disagree.
9) Koran’s Connection to Mohammad – Because the Koran is so intimately tied to Mohammad (the person to whom Allah revealed The Koran) and because Islam has no other important prophets one understands why Muslims tie Mohammad up in their prayers and declarations with Allah. For instance, the declaration which turns a non-believer into a Muslim called the Shahada is “ There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is His messenger.” (Surah 33:40 +) However, it should be noted Islam does claim certain old Testament figures and Jesus are lesser prophets.
10) Is Allah just Another Name for the Judeo-Christian God? – There is much disagreement on this point. Muslims do not accept the Jewish idea of a loving God. They do not accept the Christian idea of a loving father figure God or a fellow human, as a brother, who also is God, or a Triune godhead with a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Malaysia, a majority Muslim country, there is actually a law prohibiting Jews and Christians from referring to their God as Allah.
Protestants tend to agree with the foregoing analysis – they say there are so many differences one can not equate God to Allah. However, Catholics have officially accepted the Muslim’s Allah as being the same as the Christian God. This difference is more than semantic because if Allah is just another term for the Christian God then Islam should be considered a Christian heresy; if not, Islam is just a false religion that has expropriated stories from the Old and New Testaments to establish a false connection to Abraham and Jesus.
11) Shiria Law in Civil Society – Many Muslim scholars claim the legal proscriptions and requirements of the Koran (called Sharia Law) really effectively comprise a functioning Constitution for majority Muslim countries. The Muslim Brother and ISIS are examples of groups who use the Koran as the bases for civil gov’t. (Surah 4:16, 7:144 – 145) It should be noted that many modern Muslim scholars agree with the foregoing.
12) Family Law in Islam – A Muslim man may marry a Jew or Christian but a Muslim woman may not marry a Jew or Christian. If a Muslim man can afford the expense, he may have up to 4 wives. Divorce in Islam is different for the man than for the women. Women must initiate a proceeding and show good cause. Men can simply pronounce his intention to divorce his wife several times with witnesses there. …… (Surah 2:221, 2:227 – 233 + ) This is a very complex area of Islamic Law. For instance, a non-Muslim woman married to a non-Muslim man and living in a Muslim country, can convert to Islam and immediately claim she should be divorced.
Since in Islam there is no idea of community property. Divorce creates a need to attribute assets to each spouse by looking at the source of each asset.
13) Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – It is widely believed that FGM. is required by the Koran. It is not. Nor does the Koran does require the secluding of women at home with them being clothed head to toe on the few occasions that they do go out in public. There are Hadiths and interpretations by scholars elsewhere which support these practices.
The extensive coverage of the female comes from the Koran’s call for general female modesty particularly in public (Surah 33:50) Since FGM is a common practice in the Muslim countries of North Africa, many westerners feel the practice is part of Islam. It really is an optional practice in Islam because the Hadiths disagree. FYI – the six countries where FGM is performed on 70% or more of the young women are Egypt, Guinea, Sudan, Mali, Ethiopia, and Somalia.
14) Killing of those that leave Islam – Any Muslims that apostasies and leaves Islam is subject to being killed by any Muslim that wants to (Surah 2:217; 9:73 – 74; 47:25).
It is true the Koran says there will be “no compulsion in religion” (Surah 2:256; 111 – 135) and that is generally true, however, this is not true for a Muslim who chooses to leave Islam. However, it is true for the non-Muslim (Christian or Jew) who shows submission to Islam. A Hindu, Bundist or another non-monotheist believer that comes under the control of Islam has to convert to Islam, leave the area, or accept death. But this latter rule has historically been ignored by some Muslim conquerors who have allowed non-monotheists to live in peace within Islamic controlled areas. The Hindus of India benefitted from such forbearance in the past.
15) Honor Killings – The Koran allows a parent or husband to discipline a wayward family member but is silent on whether killing is allowed? (Surah 18:65 – 81). Though not specially sanctioned by the Koran the foundation is there. Most honor killings are directed at daughters who wish to: dress differently, go out with non-Muslims, wish to get additional education, object to marrying the man selected by their family, etc.
16) The Hadiths – The Koran is a difficult document to read and understand. So those who knew the Prophet, his companions, were in the habit of writing down their recollections on what Mohammad said or did. They were hoping that their work might cast more light on the meaning of the Koranic passages. These writings are called Hadiths.
The Hadiths is many times larger than the Koran itself and the Hadiths is actually growing even in our day as scholars do historical research and think more deeply about how two or more pieces of earlier Hadiths or the Koran might fit together and be understood.
Different weight is obviously given to different Hadiths. Earlier work and work done by those who had been close to Muhammad are given greater weight.
With so much written material it is possible for numerous versions of Islamic belief and practice to emerge. In fact, that is what has happened. And with no established central authority (i.e. a Caliph) it is impossible to check any of the abhorrent and/or violent variants that might emerge. (e.g. ISIS, female genital mutilation, etc.)
17) Shiria Law – The Koran is very proscriptive about things that are really rather secular (i.e. having to do with everyday living like how a will should divide property, how a man divorces his wife, etc.) This is augmented by the Hadiths and Fiqh that has defined and expanded Sharia. (Surah 7:144-145)
18) Public Prayer 5 times Daily – Muslims pray five times a day (e.g. dawn, lunch, mid-afternoon, dusk, and at bedtime.) facing standing, bowing and kneeling all while facing Mecca this is called Salah or Salat. (Surah 11:114) This requirement to pray is seen in operation in the typical workplace at lunch, mid-afternoon, and at dusk. In workplaces where workers have to cooperate in their work (e.g. on an assembly line) a lot of disruption can occur for all workers at these prayer times if only a few Muslims are on staff.
19) Woman’s Testimony in Legal Matters and Inheritance – One interesting feature of Shiria is the fact that a woman’s testimony is given half the weight of a man’s at a trial.(Surah 2:282) Also, a woman’s inheritance is dictated by the Koran and is less than her brother’s. (Surah 4:11)
20) Islam’s relationship to other religions – Islam accepts Jews and Christians and allows these people to live in a state of submission in Dar el Islam (i.e. lands under Islam control)(Surah 9:29). Submission is generally shown by requiring Jews and Christians to pay a special tax, called the jizyah. Additionally, Muslims are forbidden to be real friends with Jews and Christians (Surah 5:51 – 57)
21) Fiqh – This is the name given to the laws that are used in Islamic Courts. This whole system is referred to as Shiria. Some scholars argue that Hadiths and Fiqh should be merged into one comprehensive body of laws and rules which would govern a Muslims behavior in all things from how to pray at the mosque to the intricacies of trying a case for breach of contract to exactly what the meaning of the term “oneness of Allah” means.
22) The first four Successors to Mohammad were called the Rightly Guided Caliphs; their 30-year rule is called “the Rashidun Caliphate”. These men are Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali. This title evidently developed from an old Sunni saying attributed to Mohammad “Hold firmly to my example (sunnah) and that of the Rightly Guided Caliph”.
Since the Koran itself is disjointed and lacks connecting threads of thought, much of Islamic practice, as recorded in Hadiths, comes from the period of the first four Caliphs (which means successors to Mohammad). These men all knew the Prophet quite well and lived humble lives; but worked energetically to bring as many people as possible under the political control of Islam, not through persuasion, which takes time and has less chance of success, but rather at the point of a sword, where discriminatory taxes and laws might be established to hurry the process of conversation. Those who write Hadiths today usually refer to the written remembrances of these four men extensively. Umar, for instance, recorded over 500 writings of his recollection of what Muhammad did and said. These recollections are more readable than the Koran itself.
23) Sufism – This Islamic orientation emphasizes the spiritual, prayerful side of Islam. Its roots go back to the time of Mohammad and particularly to the 4th Caliph, Ali. Sufism holds that each person must find their own special practice(s) that bring them closer to Allah. So some engage in deep meditation while others engage in circle-dancing and are called Whirling Dervishes. The absolute requirement is to first be a faithfully practicing Muslim, then acceptance into a Sufi order is possible. Sufism think of themselves as the opposite side of Islam from those that obsess on sharia law and the political side of Islam. The British tried to emphasize Sufism as an alternative to political Islam and shiria following WWI so that the Muslims might more readily accept British rule. It did not work very well. Sufism does not reject shiria; their emphasis is just different.
The Shia branch of Islam (e.g. Iran) has been adverse to Sufism because Sufism believes there always exists one or more perfect men on earth who should be followed and who should be honored as saints after they die. In Iran, the Shia Muslims hold that all should look to the chief Imam as the perfect leader to be followed, so there exists a doctrinal conflict. Despite persecution, Sufism does exist in Iran. Turkey, a secular Islamic state, has tried to ban Sufism as well, but underground activity exists.
24) Salafism – The Salafi movement is both an outgrowth of Wahhabism (of the late 1700’s) and a response to the heavy European influence following WWI. Under this doctrine, the restoration of true Islamic practice following the model of the first two centuries of Islam is the goal. This ideology has manifested itself under several well-known names (e.g. ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Quida, etc.) These various manifestations have different immediate goals and certainly different temporary tactics, but the ends sought are always similar. The expulsion of non-Muslims ideas and influences from Islamic majority countries.
Next: Concluding Thoughts on the Koran and Islam