Islam in Anchorage

Islam today is one of the four major religions, and, compared with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, it is considered as the fastest growing religion with over 1.3 billion people or almost 20% of the entire world population.  Its beliefs are monotheistic in form, believing only in a One True God, known in Arabic as Allah (Young, 2005, p. 217).

Muslims believe that the great Prophet Muhammad is the only and the last among the many messengers of Allah, who have been instructed to preach to all mankind the True Word of Allah himself.  The past prophets failed in this purpose because mainly of two reasons: the first being, corruption of the meaning of the message among their disciples after their death, and; intentional misleading of the written passages of Allah by the religious authorities also after the death of the prophets.  Some of the prophets/messengers sent by Allah before the Prophet Muhammad include: Adam, Abraham, Noah, David, John the Baptist, and Jesus, among others (Young, 2005, p. 216).

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Allah’s Words, as relayed by the Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad in a series of visions lasting 23 years, were later written down and compiled by subsequent leaders of Islam to form the Qur’an.  Prophet Muhammad himself intentionally did not put Allah’s words into writing in order to preserve its divinity, arguing that those words came directly from God.  Hence, God being eternal, the entire Qur’an that the Prophet Muhammad were preaching was all memorized, and up to the present generation, the Qur’an is being read and preached all over the world in its original form, in Arabic, for the purpose of avoiding mistranslations (Young, 2005, p. 216).

Islam’s calendar differs than what we usually use, in the sense that they base it from Muhammad’s journey to a city north of Mecca, known as Yathrib in 622 A.D.  This emigration, or hijrah, became the basis for the start of the Islamic calendar.  This city became to be known as the City of the Prophet, or Al-Medina, and it served as the perfect example of what an ideal Islamic State should be (Wuthnow, 1998, p. 384).

Sunni and Shi’ites

After the death of Muhammad in 632A.D, a problem arose as to the proper succession to Prophet Muhammad.  This resulted in a division among the Muslims into two major groups: The Sunnis and the Shi’ites.  The Sunni is the major sect between the two, compromising 80% of the Muslim population worldwide (Young, 2005, p. 219).  Its tenets are a combination of communal consensus, religiosity, and the influence of Muhammad’s companions and wife, Aisha.  It elects as their leader a caliph, who is to act as a successor to Prophet Muhammad and is considered to be their rightful leader.  The Shi’ites, on the hand, stresses that Allah predestines the leadership of the Islam faith to an Imam, who, besides being the leader, is also regarded as having a special characteristics of the descendants of Muhammad and therefore, not under the authority of any community consensus or even the State (Wuthnow, 1998, p. 385 ).

The Qur’an’s tenets are centered on its Five Pillars: First, public affirmation of Islam; second, praying to Allah during the five prescribed times of the day; third, fasting on the month of Ramadan; fourth, the voluntary giving of alms to the poor; and fifth, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during the Faithfull’s lifetime (Wuthnow, 1998, p. 385).  Its teachings are focused primarily on interpersonal relationships, marriages, divorce, property law, taxes, women, the poor, heaven and hell, and others.  It aims for the total submission of man to Allah’s ways of peaceful existence.  Every Muslim, henceforth, is required from childhood to memorize by heart this affirmation, in Arabic: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God” (Wuthnow, 1998, p. 387).

Mosque in Anchorage

Muslims in Anchorage, Alaska, have been steadily growing in numbers since the late 1950’s, since the arrival of the very first Muslim, Brother Mossa Al Obedi.  Its embrace has been seen to convert different women and men from different religions and socio-economic background, and, contrary to what is believed, women make up for the most conversions (I.C.C.A.A., 2009).

Currently, the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage, Alaska is renting an office space along the International Airport road.  But due to the ever-increasing rate of its membership, a mosque, or Masjid in Arabic, is already in the planning stage. This soon-to-be first-ever mosque in Alaska, a sprawling 35,000-foot structure, will be the center of all Muslim socio-religious activities and it will provide for its members a truly remarkable edifice truly resembling of their Faith.  The said property, with picturesque views of the Alaskan mountain range, was said to have been already paid in full to the amount of $270,000, cash (I.C.C.A.A., 2009).

Interview with an Alaskan Muslim

The interview I made with the former Paul Rockworth, now known as Bilal in Islamic circles, had opened me with regards to Islamic views on the world and the society, in general.  Despite of it being lacking in duration, it had answered some doubts and preconceptions I had gotten from popular media, Hollywood movies, and some news programs.

Interviewer: Were you born in to the Muslim faith or converted later in life?

Bilal: I was born Catholic.  I was originally from New York and moved to Alaska sometime in 2001.  It was in 2005 when I converted to Islam.  I was searching for the right religion and studied the principles of Rightist Christianity, Hinduism, and a little bit of Buddhism, but it was in Islam where I found my peace of Spirit.

Interviewer: Is your family Muslim?

B: No.  My entire family is Catholic.  We were brought up with Catholicism’s religious ceremonies, and the likes.  I was the first in my family to be converted to Islam, and I’m proud to say that now, my family’s not spiritually blind anymore.  My youngest brother, aunt, mother-in-law, mother, and some cousins have also taken Islam openheartedly.  There was absolutely no pressure on their part to join me, I guess they too found out spiritually, that Islam is the true religion.

Interviewer: What days are considered to be Sabbath in Islam?

B: Islam goes with what Allah had ordered mankind to be Sabbath, which is Friday.  Abraham himself practiced Friday, and not Saturday as many are led to believe, as Sabbath.  The confusion between Friday and Saturday originated from the implementation of Gregorian calendar, I think sometime in the 6th century.  The original 7th day of the week during Abraham’s time was Friday, and not Saturday.

Interviewer: What is the biggest thing a religion does or provides for the community?

B: The Qur’an, which is the holy scriptures of Islam, teaches about relationships with fellowmen, social responsibilities, business contracts, fear of Allah, the Heaven, Hell, the Angels, and many others.  So you see, an Islamic community will be able to live a peaceful social and religious life in itself.  Take this into a mixed-culture community and the end result will be for the betterment of the whole society.  In fact, here in Alaska alone, there are more than 30,000 Muslims, and yet Alaska is known for being one of the most peaceful States in the whole of America.  Islam is all about total submission to Allah; its core is all about peace.

Interviewer: If you are not a born-Muslim, how hard is it to join?

B: I myself, was born Muslim, yet when the time came when I wanted to join the Islamic community here in Anchorage, I was surprised to be welcomed in such open arms, so to speak.  Everyone is welcome here, from whatever religious denomination you may have come from.  The brothers will teach you how to be a responsible and spiritual Muslim, with Allah as our ultimate teacher and guide.

Interviewer:  Do you believe that all religions can coexist with Muslims?

B: Absolutely.  As I’ve said earlier, Qur’an is about peaceful co-existence between mankind, the society he belongs to, and his God.  Its core is total submission to Allah and peace.

Interviewer: What are some things that a Muslim believes/follows that go against what America does domestically?

B: Perhaps the most evident would be American culture’s way of treating its women.  You see, this society has been delegating women as sex objects.  We se it all round us; in posters, movies, advertisements, beauty contests, even in the songs that dominate the radio stations.  In contrast, women should be protected and held high in the social pedestal, which is what Islam teaches.  No wonder that of the more than 7 million American Muslims, majority are women.

Interviewer: Can you explain the major holidays/events that Muslims practice?  Are there any major events in the Muslim faith throughout a Muslim person’s life that happens?

B: Islamic holidays do not have fixed dates, unlike the Western ones.  It is based on lunar-based Islamic calendar.  Two of the holidays that are treated as very important to Muslims are Ramadan and Hajj.  Ramadan is celebrated on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, wherein a Muslim practices daytime fasting.  Hajj is celebrated during the 12th month; it is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  Every Muslim must make the pilgrimage at least once during his lifetime.  Other holidays are Laylat-al-Qadr, or Night of Power, during the end of Ramadan.  These were the first verses of the Qur’an conveyed to Prophet Muhammad; Eid al Fitr, which is the festival of fast breaking, also during the end of Ramadan; Day of Arafat, which is celebrated during Hajj, wherein the pilgrims gather in the Plains of Arafat to beg for Allah’s mercy, while the Muslims who are someplace else observe fasting for the day; and Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, which is celebrated at the end of the yearly pilgrimage.

Christianity and Islam

Christianity and Islam are perhaps the two most popular and influential religions in the world.  The combined members of these two religions make up for almost half of the world population, Christianity with over 2 billion, and Islam with more than 1.3 billion members (Young, 2005, p. 221).  However, it is worthy to note that these two religions share the same lineage of God’s prophets and their teachings.

Some semblance of similarities abound: Christians’ annunciation of Angel Gabriel to Mary, mother of Jesus vis-à-vis Angel Gabriel’s revelations to Prophet Muhammad; Christians’ importance on the earlier prophets as bearing God’s messages vis-à-vis Islam’s delegation of importance to the very same earlier prophets, Christians’ and Islam’s belief in one God, their shared beliefs in both Heaven and Hell, in the Judgment Day, Christians’ Old Testament admonition on pork and other meats vis-à-vis Islam’s permanent admonition of such, and many more.

However, in all of the similarities between these two religions, one opposing view had always been the source of dilemma: Jesus Christ.  In Christianity, Jesus is regarded as God-become-man.  He alone can save mankind from eternal damnation; He is the way, the truth, and the light.  He was granted sole authority in granting eternal salvation to souls.

In Islam, however, Jesus is relegated to being just one of the prophets that failed in his mission of promulgating the True Allah’s Word. He is the precedent to the Prophet Muhammad who was the successful one among all the prophets in mankind’s history.  This single difference had been the cause of too many quarrels among men, armies, kingdoms, and nations.

Conclusion

Islam, being the fastest-growing religion in the world, had been in an upsurge during these past few decades.  It has successfully transcended race, culture, and social boundaries in converting people to its fold.  During the last half of the 20th century, Islam has landed on the shores of Alaska, bringing with it changes on the accepted norms of Alaskan society, as substantiated by its present project, the first ever Mosque of the State.

With the tension that this project has been causing, perhaps it would suffice to consider that all religions, whatever its tenets may teach, have only one fundamental thought: Peace on mankind and the eternal salvation of one’s soul.

References

Islamic Community Center Anchorage Alaska HomePage. (2009). Retrieved May 05, 2009.

<http://www.alaskamasjid.com/>

Wuthnow, R. (1998). Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. (Vol.2, pp. 383- 393). Washington, D.C: Congressional Quarterly, Inc.

Young, William. (2005) Chapter 12: Islam: The Way of Submission to Allah. World’s Religions. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.