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17. Understanding Islam

CONCLUSION (Understanding the Ummah of Islam)

Islam stresses the importance of the group over the individual. The Qur’an tells Muslims:

“We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind.” (Qur’an 2:143)

This is stressed over and over in the Qur’an and in all of Mohammed’s teachings. Muslims thus recognise themselves as members of one group, which according to the Qur’an is the Muslim community, or Ummah.

“That this (is) your nation, one nation, and I am your Lord, so worship Me.” (Qur’an 21:92)

This might explain why we find a Muslim in the West, who has never been outside his country, doesn’t speak another language, and yet speaks of Muslims in China or Nigeria as his people.

This may be a very commendable quality of unity and solidarity, but it has its downside. Regardless of how committed a Muslim is, in the background of every Muslim’s mind is the Qur’an saying:

“Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind.” (Qur’an 3:110)

They see themselves as part of the Muslim Ummah (Muslim Nation) first and foremost, with any national identity purely secondary to this. That is why in recent years we have seen hundreds of western-born Muslims and sometimes western converts to Islam travel half the way across the world to join other Muslims in a fight against their country of birth. For any Muslim, his loyalty is to the Ummah first, and if there is a conflict between what he deems to be the Ummah and his home country, his loyalty must be to the Ummah. And like every group identity, individual freedom is done away with. Whatever the person does must be seen through the group lens with group interests being paramount, and must advance the group agenda. This is why you will find in any Muslim majority country or community very strong limitations on personal freedom, because the nation and not the individual is what counts. Even in early Islam the Qur’an paid very little to no attention to Mohammed’s followers as individuals. Even though Mohammed had over a hundred thousand companions, we find the name of only one of them in the Qur’an (33:37). All the rest are treated as a single nation group. So when we are dealing with Muslims, we need to recognise that Muslims see Islam as an entity that surpasses culture, language, geographical location, country, etc. An Egyptian Muslim will consider his relationship with an Indonesian Muslim who lives on a different continent and speaks a different language and whom he has never met in his life more important than his relationship with his non-Muslim next-door neighbour. So important is this concept in Islam that there is an entire section in Islamic studies called al-Wala’ wa-l-Bara (which literally means “loyalty and disavowal”) devoted to this subject.

We must thus recognise the price we are asking Muslims to pay to follow Jesus. They face not only a very strong possibility of external persecution, but also the internal feeling that they are committing familial, cultural and ethnic treason against those closest to them and a complete shift in their understanding of self and identity. They have through their entire life been told:

“Your ally is none but Allah and [therefore] His Messenger and those who have believed ‒ those who establish prayer and give zakah, and they bow [in worship]. And whoever is an ally of Allah and His Messenger and those who have believed ‒ indeed, the party of Allah ‒ they will be the predominant.” (Qur’an 5:55-56)

They have been viewing the whole world through the lens of the Qur’an, and considering it a sin to develop close relationships to non-Muslims. The Qur'an says:

“O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you ‒ then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.” (Qur’an 5:51)

For a former Muslim then to take that step of following Jesus is much harder than we might imagine. The good news is of course that life with Jesus in this world and in the world to come is more valuable than any personal sacrifice. He is the only way of salvation, the greatest gain we have, the only One who gives us internal as well as external peace and the only one who is able to solve man’s problem, namely how to get right with God. No matter how hard it is, it will become easy as our suffering is the work of God (Philippians 1:29). It is thus not only our duty, as outlined at the beginning of this book, but our immense privilege and joy to be used by the Lord to reach people for Him.

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