Theological Perspectives on Death and Dying for African Americans: Christian and Islamic Perspectives
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Reverend Dr. Paul Smith
Death and dying is a topic which occupies the thoughts of many people today, particularly since the horrific events of the war in Iraq, and the September 11, 2001, attack on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon offices in Washington, DC. More than 4,500 people died, making the counting of these deaths an almost daily occurrence. The evening news on all major television networks flooded the viewers with the fact of death and dying. The topic was inescapable. What goes almost unnoticed, except when some news reporter interviews a family member who has just lost a son or daughter in the war in Iraq, are the reactions to the fact of these deaths.
Furthermore, the American public watched funeral after funeral being conducted by clergy of various faiths and nationalities—a new experience for many who were watching. In particular, African American mourning and funeral services could be seen on a regular basis. The spiritual strength we witnessed from the African American community differed from that of white Americans and of other religious groups. In this paper, we will explore how two different religious (and perhaps cultural) groups—African American Christians and African American Muslims view death and dying.
A few years ago a member of my congregation said to me, “I made a living, but I never really lived.” I would say many people have died who never really lived. Death and dying is a topic which is on the minds of many people today.
The fact of death often leaves us cold and wanting. Death comes unannounced and without regard to persons. We don’t like death, because it snatches children from the arms of their mothers and fathers. Death tears down the little empires we have built and crushes our hopes. We fear death, and rightly so, for we cannot fathom its mystery. When the storms of death rage and batter us against the rocks of despair, we search for clues that will give us some understanding of why things are happening.
Death is the one time in life when we as Christians believe we are totally dependent upon God. Death is inescapable. Yet, for African American Christians, as it was for their forefathers in slavery, there were three major sources of raw materials in which the slave placed the alchemy of his desiring and aspiring, “the world of nature, the stuff of experience, and the Bible, the sacred book of the Christians.” 1(p13)
The attitude towards death, from the perspective of African American Christians, is theologically rooted in the Bible. In my own book, Facing Death: The Deep Calling to the Deep, I believe with Howard Thurman that death is not regarded as life’s worse offering. I believe that if we live as though death is the worst thing that can happen to us, we lose the zest for living. I still believe in the relevancy of this, as African Americans weave a path through the corridors of death and dying.
The Bible continues to be a major source of understanding and mystery for African American Christians. The Bible proclaims in the four Gospels of the New Testament and, in particular, I Corinthians 15:3-7, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
For I delivered to you as of first importance, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures .. 2
The Bible is the story about God and his people, and how God delivers his people from any kind of bondage, including death. The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is a familiar passage of scripture used during funerals and with African American Christians facing death.
If God raised Lazarus from the dead, God could certainly raise those facing illness and death. There is a direct connection between this passage of scripture and resurrection theology for African American Christians. Resurrection theology is the belief that God has the final say over any of life’s vicissitudes, especially the final say over death.
James Weldon Johnson in his poem, Go Down, Death, affirms the importance of the Bible for African American Christians and their understanding that death does not have the final word for those who believe in God.
Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband-weep no more;
Grief stricken son-weep no more;
She’s only gone home.
Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eyes fell on Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God’s big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.
And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel
Standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death! - Call Death!
And Death heard the summons, and he
Leaped on his fastest horse,...
Up Death rode to the Great White
Throne, and waited for God’s command.
And God said: “Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She’s borne the burden and heat of the day,
She’s labored long in my vineyard,
And she’s tired_ she’s weary_
Go down Death, and bring her to me.”
While we were watching around her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn’t see;
She saw Old Death. She saw Old Death.
Coming like a fallen star. But Death didn’t
Frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I’m going home,
And she smiled and closed her eyes.
And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
And she didn’t feel no chill.
And Death began to ride again_
Up beyond the evening star,
Out beyond the morning star,
Into the glittering light of glory.
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline on the
Loving breast of Jesus.
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped
Away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her
Face, and the angels sang a song,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept saying: “Take your rest,
Take your rest, take your rest. 3
This funeral sermon and poem by James Weldon Johnson captures the importance and the significance of the Bible’s story of God and His Son Jesus in the lives of African American Christians. The Bible’s imagery and focus upon death as a friend and not as some grim reaper is reassuring. The same God, who gave us his son Jesus, is the same God who comes to us in a time of trouble and dying. In death, the individual is rewarded with the resurrection. In the case of Sister Caroline, she puts herself at peace, because she sees death as a friend. The element of fear is removed, and she is rewarded with God’s personal messenger, Old Death, who has been a friend of Sister Caroline for all of her life.
Sister Caroline has been a faithful member of the church, perhaps even a deaconess in her church, and she is dying, and the family and friends are gathered around her bed. In my mind’s eye, I can see Sister Caroline’s Bible on the table beside her bed. Perhaps, songs are being sung as family members feel their own tears gently streaming down their faces. Yet Sister Caroline, who has believed all of her life in the Bible and the stories about death and resurrection, has no fear. She sees what the family members cannot see. She is as comfortable as she can be, because she knows she is going home to be with God. And how does she know? The Bible has told her so.
The Stuff of Experience
The late Arthur Ashe, tennis professional and humanitarian, is another example of how one’s life experiences shape your understanding of death and dying. Arthur grew up in a Presbyterian church in Richmond, Va. He understood what it was like to enter a professional sport dominated by white people. He received blow after blow of racial injustices on and off the tennis court. It was during his training and development on the segregated playgrounds of Richmond, Va, that his life’s experiences were formed. Arthur lived the way he died. As Arthur encountered racist governments in South Africa and Europe, these life’s experiences sustained him when he contracted HIV/AIDS, and as he faced his own death.
One’s experiences of daily living are important to one’s understanding of life and death. Experience is what shapes the African American Christian’s understanding of the death and dying—experience which is revealed in story of the death of Saul Thurman, Howard Thurman’s father. Saul Thurman’s job was away from his home in Daytona Beach, Fla. From Monday morning through Friday evening, he would join his coworkers at an industrial plant miles away. Here these men would encounter the wrath of the white overseers and the tyranny of the idle white men who sat around the plant. There were also times of laughter and fun, as the day came to a close as these African American men sat around. Lynchings were commonplace, and therefore, death was always imminent.
One day Saul came home early, signaling something had happened. He looked tired and his body was covered with sweat, indicating he was not feeling well. It soon became clear to the Thurman family that Saul was dying, and they needed to prepare themselves. Saul’s wife, Alice, managed to ask him, “Saul, are you prepared to die?”
He replied, “Alice, all of my life I have been a man, and I am not afraid to die?” He was not a religious man, nor was Saul a member of any of the small churches in his hometown of Daytona Beach, Fla. As a man negotiating the hurdles of living daily with his back against the wall of segregation, Saul had managed to remain a man. It was the stuff of his experience, of living each week away from his family, and learning how to deal with the injustices of his time that enabled him to say to his wife Alice, “I have always been a man, and I am not afraid to die.”
When I was serving as Arthur’s spiritual adviser, we often spoke about his ability to not allow the negative experiences of life to shape his belief system. When his illness became public, Arthur received several letters from several well wishers each offering ways of dealing with his illness. The Bible and its references to the “resurrection” of Jesus, and how God always makes a way out of no way, became the mantra for Arthur as he faced the fact of his death. Throughout our conversations, Arthur almost always relied upon his understanding and experiences of hearing the Gospel preached. Arthur Ashe lived the stories of the Bible and looked to the Bible as a source of strength as he faced death. He was not afraid of death. He wanted to die the way he had lived. And soon one morning, death came creeping into Arthur’s room. And death was not a stranger. And with a thumbs-up gesture, as he was being wheeled into the hospital, Arthur embraced death the way he had lived.
Jean Young, the late wife of Ambassador Andrew Young, relied heavily upon the stuff of experience as she marched to her death in 1993. As the wife of a well-know civil rights activist who was directly attached to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jean knew her husband could die at any moment. Jean was a very religious person and an accomplished teacher and social worker and mother, Jean relied upon her mother wit and training as the basis for her strength. As she brooded over her children and the work of her husband, Jean developed a strong faith.
She read and listened to classical music. Mahalia Jackson’s and Andre Crouch’s music enabled her to withstand anything that might happen to her or to her husband, including his death. Jean became centered as she watched and read about the activities of her husband.
As Jean neared death and encountered almost unbearable pain, she never once feared death. She embraced her own death through her life’s experiences. It was no surprise to any who knew her, when in her own words, on her memorial program, she simply said, “What to remember about me? ’Now, That Was a Woman.’”
My own experience of sitting with people facing death has shaped my ministry and my theological perspective of death and dying. As an African American minister serving a multicultural, diverse, and inclusive congregation, I have come to rely upon the knowledge I have learned from the members of my congregation. It was a result of my experiences pastoring a racially diverse congregation that I realized I was living in two racially diverse worlds. One was African American and the other was white. I remember how my boyhood minister preached the deceased into heaven. Those sermons were beautiful and poetic, memorable, and deeply moving. The families of the deceased felt comforted and renewed as they listened to the black preacher.
I was able to connect with the poetry of Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson as I listened to funeral sermons in my home church. I grew up believing that heaven was just on the other side of the Jordan River. That sentiment continues to be expressed in African American churches today.
My experience in the black church stayed with me through college in Talladega, Ala, Here I was exposed to Negro spirituals, beautifully arranged by the college choir. Here I learned about drama, dance, and art, all incorporated into the life of worship in my college chapel. Although the student body of Talladega College was practically all black, the faculty was both white and black. For the first time, I was exposed to worship and religious experiences that included both black and white people.
My circle of experience was beginning to be challenged and to expand. Consequently, I began looking at life in the African American community through another lens. My blackness was being challenged by the knowledge of the white Christians. I was being taught and influenced by black authors and composers I had never heard of before. I was exposed to speakers, both black and white, who came to speak in chapel service four times a week, and Sundays. Never before had I experienced such racial diversity, even in my non-segregated community of South Bend, Ind. The joyful music I heard during funeral services and Sunday service in the church of my youth began to change. The preaching was quite different in the chapel of my college from that of the preachers in the church I grew up with. I was expanding and growing, and being challenged theologically, which attracted me to considering the ministry as my vocation.
Upon graduation from Talladega College and before heading to seminary, I was asked to serve as the minister of a small black church in Athens, Ala. I was just out of college and had little experience other than my college training of leading a congregation. Here I learned rather quickly how the black church was changing, and this would eventually influence my ministry. One of my first duties as the minister of this small church was to preside at the funeral of the city’s most distinguished African American citizen, and daughter of the local undertaker.
I had only been in town three weeks and in my life had never conducted a funeral. Yet the family had confidence in me, because I was a graduate of the same college attended by the daughter of the deceased. The family wanted something “dignified, calm, quiet and spiritual.” Clearly, these elements were not traditionally present in the black churches of Athens, Ala. All eyes were upon me, and I was also very nervous. Yet, I realized the experiences at college had prepared me for just a moment as this one. I was able to not only conduct the service, but I managed to inspire a community of people who only knew me as this new young minister who had only been in town for three weeks.
I have conducted many funeral and memorial services since that day in 1957 in Athens, Ala, but the stuff of my experiences in the multicultural and diverse setting of Talladega College gave me what I needed as I conducted the funeral in Athens that hot summer day in 1957. The spirituals I had heard and learned from the college choir and the prayers offered by distinguished white and black clergy from around the country were of great value to me. The new rural culture I had been thrown into was of tremendous value to me, and I remembered the wisdom of the people who had brooded over me. The stuff of my experience continues to guide my ministry in Brooklyn, NY, today.
The World of Nature
Nature was a constant companion for the African American slaves. Moon and stars, wind and rain, and mountains and valleys are all mentioned in the Bible. The world of nature was a place for spiritual discernment and understanding. When the brutality of slavery became unbearable, the slaves would retreat to mountain ranges or to the “hills from whence cometh our help.” 2 They would find refuge in the cool waters of a river. Their music, the early Negro spiritual, often portrayed the influence of nature in their existence . Gonna lay my burdens down;Down by the Riverside; There’s a Star in the East on Christmas Morn; Rise up Shepherd and Follow; Go Tell It on the Mountains;and Deep River, My Home Is Over Jordanto name but a few of these spirituals. There is something mysterious and spiritual about nature, and those mysteries brought comfort to the slaves.
The spiritual Deep River, My Home Is Over Jordan is often sung at funeral services in the black church. African Americans identify with the river because it is always moving and always flowing. African Americans attribute the flowing and ebbing of the river to life and death. The river is the bearer of salvation. The Jordan River, in particular, expresses the theology of eschatology. Death occurs on one side of the Jordan. Resurrection occurs on the other side. Jordan is often equated with heaven as well.
Eschatology is defined as the doctrine of last things. The Old and New Testaments talk about eschatology, particularly the Book of Revelations. Eschatology involves dreams and visions of a better place or a better life. Thus many Negro spirituals are eschatological in form. The slaves sought a better life, a better place, and better circumstances for themselves and their families.
The world of nature was a refuge for African Americans. Poetry, dance, music, and song are the stuff of the world of nature. Just as Jesus retreated to the mountains before he began his public ministry, so do African Americans. In many of the slave narratives, reference is made to the slaves “stealing away” to the mountains or to the rivers, where they could talk to Jesus. There is something very spiritual and comforting about lifting up prayers to God while the full moon is visible. I remember as a boy how I sat at the top of the stairs in my childhood home whenever something was weighing heavily upon my mind. A full moon was the route to freedom because it provided light in the darkness of the evening. My spiritual development began by acknowledging the influence of the moon and the stars. There is something very deeply moving about nature and that something continues to inform me to this day.
The world of nature provides the spiritual awareness and awakening necessary when life is waging war against one’s spirit. Howard Thurman writes in his autobiography, With Head and Heart, how he would row himself out on the Halifax River in Daytona Beach, Fla, in order to make his connection with God. He said he found comfort and strength not only in the river but in the stars and moon, which were more visible from his boat. Looking up at the stars in times of trouble and despair became a spiritual exercise for Howard Thurman.
There appears to be a mystical element about the world of nature. For example, the comparison of life to the river is an interesting metaphor for Howard Thurman.
In his book, The Negro Spirituals Speak of Life and Death, Thurman equates life to the river.
The fascination of the flowing stream is a constant source of wonder and beauty to the sensitive mind. It was ever thus . the relentless movement, the hurrying, ever-changing stream has ever been the bearer of longings and yearnings of mankind for a land beyond the horizon where dreams are fulfilled and the deepest desires satisfied. The river, in the first place, has a very simple beginning. It increases in momentum, in depth and breadth, in turbulence as it makes it journey down the broad expanse of America, until at last it empties itself into a larger body of water. Life is like that. It has its flood times. The river that was once quiet and peaceful has times of drought and times of flood. 1(p66)
Life is like the river for many African Americans, especially when it comes to the matter of suffering. Suffering is an ever present companion when death and dying are around. Suffering is also a part of the experience of life. It was so for Jesus of Nazareth. How does one handle the experience of suffering? Is suffering a natural part of life? Do some people suffer more than others? These questions and more are on the minds of those who are faced with death and dying. The Bible, the stuff of experience, and the world of nature are instructive here as well.
I have yet to mention prayer in this writing, but I do so now against the backdrop of the Bible, the stuff of experience, and the world of nature. I have always believed that the power of prayer is one of the most meaningful ways one can communicate with God. I am aware that others may prefer to direct their prayers or even meditations to what they refer to as a higher power.
Through prayer one brings all of the resources—the Bible, experience, and nature—he can muster. African Americans are a praying people and their clues for prayer are taken directly from these three sources. Prayers offered in the hospital by the bedside where a loved one is near death or has died are extremely important. Again, Howard Thurman says “the issue of prayer is not the prayer; the issue of prayer is God.” 4 In his book Meditations of the Heart, Howard Thurman refers in one of his poems to “The Strings in my Hands.” He says:
One thread is a strange thread,
It is my steadying thread;
When I am lost, I pull it hard and find my way.
When I am saddened, I tighten my grip
And gladness glides along its quivering path;
When the waste places of my spirit
Appear in arid confusion,
The thread becomes a channel for newness of life.
One thread is a strange thread- it is my steadying thread.
God’s hand holds the other end. 5
African Americans are steadied by the good news from the Bible which affirms that God is always holding the other thread of our lives. Our personal experiences and encounters with the unjust conditions of this world become building blocks for survival. The steadying thread is held tight when death looms over us and our community; yet we are sustained always by remembering that there is in God sufficient strength, whatever our needs may be. We find our places in the world of nature where we might go to pray and let the dust of life settle, just long enough for us to remember that whether we live or die, we are still with God. The attitude towards death, from the perspective of African American Christians, is theologically rooted in the Bible.
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE
Shaykh Ibrahim Adbul Malik, EdD
I would be willing to hazard a guess that some readers of the compelling words of my colleague, Dr. Smith, might have found themselves either saying, or wanting to say “Amen” time and again. And why not? He took you along with him on his personal journey of discovery and transformation and of spiritual service to a growing community of committed believers. And along the way, he took time to minister to persons who were marching to the beat of a different drummer but whose concerns as they approached their final exit paralleled those of their believing brothers and sisters.
Death is a fact of life. None of us, believers or non-believers, can escape it. And indeed, when it comes knocking, there is no place to hide. But for Muslims, that is only a part of the story. It is in the rich details of the full Qur’anic account that Muslims find justification for their attitude toward death, for their approach to life and living, and for their certainty about the hereafter.
I will soon reveal many of these rich details. Let me, though, first establish a few fundamentals of Islamic belief. To know these is to understand why Muslims may express certain attitudes about their life experiences that many of their Christian friends and colleagues may consider unusual.
1. Allah is a God of Mercy. Undoubtedly, Allah, the Creator of the universe, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Master of the Day of Judgment, is also known by many other names. But the attributes which Allah, Himself, 6 emphasizes over and over are “ Ar-Rahman”
(The Compassionate) and “Ar-Rahim” (The Merciful). In the first two quotations that follow, Allah is speaking.
With MY punishment, I visit whom I will. But MY mercy extendeth to all things. That (Mercy) I shall ordain for those who do right, and practice regular charity, and those who believe in OUR signs. (Qur’an 7:156)
I am indeed the Oft-forgiving, most merciful. (Qur’an 15:49)
Allah has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy.(Qur’an 6:12)
2. Islam is a religion, established, and named by Allah. 7 But equally, Islam is a way of life. Hence, a righteous Muslim declares, (as Allah instructed Prophet Muhammad):
Behold, my prayer, and all my acts of worship, my living and my dying are for Allah [alone], the Sustainer of all the worlds. (Qur’an 6:162)
3. Islam teaches that everything about this world is temporary and delusive, and our limited time on earth is ultimately a preparation for the much more enduring and important life to come.
Know, O men that the life of this world is but a play and a passing delight, and a beautiful show, and [the cause of] your boastful vying with one another, and [of your greed] for more and more riches and children.. But [the abiding truth of man’s condition will become fully apparent in the life to come: either suffering severe, or God’s forgiveness and HIS goodly acceptance. For the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. (Qur’an 57:20)
In his moving description of how Sister Caroline faces her last moments on earth, Dr. Smith wrote, “She ’sees’ what the family members cannot see. She is as comfortable as she can be, because she knows she is going home to be with God. And how does she know? The Bible has told her so.” [emphasis mine]
Just as Christians find comfort and guidance in the Bible, Muslims also turn to their Holy Book, the Qur’an, for their comfort and guidance. 8 So what does Qur’an tell us about death and dying? Let us explore together.
The Qur’an Says
We die only when Allah wills it.
And no human being can die save by God’s leave, at a term pre-ordained. (3:145)
Death is the lot of every one of us, as decreed by Allah.
WE 9 have [indeed] decreed that death shall be [ever-present] among you. But there is nothing to prevent US from changing the nature of your existence, and bringing you into being [anew], in a manner [as yet] unknown to you. (56:60-61)
When it is our time, we cannot avoid death.
O you who have attained to faith! Be not like those who are bent on denying the truth, and say of their brethren [who die] after having set out on a journey to faraway places, or gone forth to war, ’ Had they but remained with us, they would not have died,’ or, ’ they would not have been slain’; for God will cause such thoughts to become a source of bitter regret in their hearts, since it is God who grants life and deals death.. (3:156)
When it is time, delays are not possible
Never does God grant a delay to a human being when his term has come.... (63:11)
There is no hiding place when death comes knocking
Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, even though you may be in towers raised high.. (4:78)
Allah instructs that both our lives and our deaths are in HIS control.
O prophet, tell them: “It is Allah who gives you life, and later causes you to die. Then it is HE who will gather you all on the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no doubt. But most human beings understand it not.” (45:26)
So much for part one of the story! As one author put it, “[Death] is the first stage of the Hereafter.. It marks the entrance into that realm.” 10
And indeed, Qur’an confirms for us over, and over, and over again, the truth of the author’s statement. There is more to look forward to beyond death—much more. But what that will be for any one of us will be greatly determined by what we do before we are summoned. I will let Qur’an speak on the matter.
Allah is the supreme ruler of all the universe, and the ultimate destiny of us all is to return to HIM for judgment on the Day of Reckoning
HE [Allah] governs all that exists from the Celestial space to the earth. And in the end, all shall ascend unto HIM [for judgment], on a Day, the length whereof will be [like] a thousand years of your reckoning. Such is HE who knows all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception, as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind, the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace. (32:5-6)
The Day of Reckoning is a surety, because Allah says so.
And in the end HE will gather you together on Resurrection Day, [the coming of] which is beyond all doubt. (45:26)
I [Allah] call to witness the Day of Resurrection. 11 (75:1)
On that Day, Allah will raise up all who are in their graves.
On the Day, when the summoning voice will summon [man] unto something that the mind cannot conceive, they will come forth from their graves, with their eyes downcast, [swarming about] like locusts scattered [by the wind]. (54:6-7)
Out of this earth have WE created you, and into it shall WE return you, and out of it shall WE bring you forth again. (20:55)
On that Day, you are on your own. No parent will be able to help his/her child. No child will be able to help her/his parent. Only Allah knows when.
O men, be conscious of your Sustainer, and stand in awe of the Day on which no parent will be of any avail to his child, nor a child will in the least avail his parent.... Let not then the life of this world delude you, and let not [your own] deceptive thoughts about God delude you. Verily with God alone rests the knowledge of when the last hour will come.. (31:33-34)
Even our body parts will witness against us on that Day.
On that Day, WE shall set a seal upon their mouths, but their hands will speak unto US, and their feet will bear witness to whatever they have earned [in life]. (36:65)
After the cataclysmic events of the Last Day, Allah declares that HE will “create a new earth and heaven,” just as HE created the one with which we are familiar.
On that Day, WE shall roll up the skies as written scrolls are rolled up. And as WE brought into being the first creation, so WE shall bring it forth anew— a promise which WE have willed upon OURSELVES. For behold, WE are able to do all things .. WE laid it down in all the Books of divine wisdom, that MY righteous servants shall inherit the earth . (21:104-105)
On That Day, Allah, Himself, promises absolute fairness to all
But WE shall set up just balance scales on Resurrection Day, and no human being shall be wronged in the least. For though there be [in him but] the weight of a mustard seed[ of good or evil ] , WE shall bring it forth.And none can take count as WE do .
And yet, whoever does [the least] of righteous deeds, and is a believer, withal, his endeavor shall not be disowned. For behold, WE shall record it in his favor. (21:47, 94)
Allah promises full, fair rewards, even to those who cared only about the things of this life. 12
As for those who care [for no more than] the life of this world and its bounties, WE shall repay them in full for all that they did in this [life], and they shall not be deprived of their just due therein. [Yet] it is they who, in the life to come, shall have nothing but the fire—for in vain shall be all that they wrought in this [world], and worthless, all that they ever did. (11:15-16)
Allah promises special mercy to believers who live righteously and pay zakaah. 13
. I will ordain special mercy for those who do righteous deeds, pay zakaah and believe in our revelations. (7:156)
Allah rewards your good deed tenfold, and your evil deed, one-to-one.
He that doeth good shall have ten times as much to his credit.He that doeth evil shall only be recompensed according to his evil. No wrong shall be done unto (any of) them. (6:160)
Allah lays out the punishments for the wrongdoers and the naysayers.
WE have ordained that[in the Hereafter] , hell shall close upon all who deny the truth.
[But] one day, WE shall summon all human beings, [and judge them] according to the conscious disposition which governed their deeds [in life].... Yet, none shall be wronged by as much as a hair’s breadth. (17:8,71)
WE shall save [from hell] those who have been conscious of US. But WE shall leave in it the evildoers, on their knees.
WE shall record what he [ who continually denies the truth] says, and WE shall lengthen the length of his suffering[in the Hereafter] . (19:72, 79)
Qur’an has spoken—elegantly. How is it possible for a righteous Muslim to read these magnificent words of assurance from Allah and not be moved to action? From HIS unequivocal declarations that we will all return to HIM, and that the Day of Reckoning is absolutely coming—“a fact about which there is no doubt,” HE gives us a detailed preview of what we can expect—the good and the bad. And even though HE is describing a “realm beyond the reach of human perception,”14 we cannot help but be affected by the images of our imperfect human imaginations.
In the first part of this paper, Dr. Smith presented some profiles typical of African American Christians. While it is true that Christianity and Islam differ in some important theological matters, beyond their common Abrahamic connections, they also share the fact that African American Muslims are sociologically very like African American Christians, which Dr. Wright observes in the third part of this paper. And yet, as they operate within the theological framework of Islam, many of the traditions they share with the African American Christians necessarily must be expressed differently.
In the matter of prayer, for example, African American Muslims, as all Muslims, are obligated to perform the formal prayers (salaat) 15 five times a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year. No comparable obligation exists for Christians. Still, as Dr. Smith observed: “African Americans are a praying people,” whether Christian or Muslim. Beyond the formal prayers, Islam also encourages Muslims to pray informally, whenever, wherever, however they feel the need to do so. You can be sure that African American Muslims pray just as often and hard as their Christian brothers and sisters, when faced with death and dying.
Here again, Allah is most reassuring in two critically important ways for all of us who pray. HE declares that HE is always with us, and that HE hears our supplications.
It was WE who created man, and WE know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him. For WE are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein. (50:16)
And if my servants ask thee about ME, behold I am near. I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto ME.(2:186)
As a Muslim, I am doubly encouraged by these statements. First, the message itself would be enough, so compelling is the assertion that the Creator not only hears my pleas, but is closer to me than one of my internal organs. But when the message comes in the first-person language of Allah, “ WE are nearer.” and “ I respond.”—well, what more could I ask?
The answer to that rhetorical question is nothing. But what I am feeling is overwhelming gratitude and a deep desire to acknowledge the dual gifts of divine assurance. And formally, at least seventeen times every day, I get the chance to acknowledge. During the salaat, practicing Muslims recite, in affirmation of Allah’s declaration: “ Sámi Alláhu limán hámidah” (Allah hears the person who thanks HIM).
Prayer is so central to the Islamic way of life, that many Muslims actually plan their daily activities around their prayer lives. Humans being humans, even the most devout among us can benefit from reminders. This verse from Qur’an both instructs and reminds that we pray only to Allah, who is the ultimate truth 16 and that prayer without faith is futile.
For HIM (alone) is prayer in Truth.... For the prayer of those without Faith is nothing but (futile) wandering (in the mind). (13:14)
It is unlikely that a righteous Muslim would knowingly violate the first reminder—pray to Allah alone. But we can all take to heart the second warning about empty prayers, and be ever mindful, when we do pray, to infuse our words with the essence of our faith. And surely, if there is any single time when we truly need Allah’s help to deepen our faith, it is when we are facing the challenges of personal tragedy and/or adversity.
Thus far each of us has focused almost entirely on how our particular religious tradition instructs and influences its devotees in their understanding of and responses to the realities of death and dying. This was not only our assignment but a very proper approach, consistent with the relationship between a person and his/her religion. But we would be missing a God-given opportunity, if we did not also advance the cause of greater mutual understanding and productive collaboration across religious boundaries.
In calling for “greater mutual understanding and productive collaboration,” we are doing more than simply following the dictates of survival politics. We are in fact echoing the invitation which Prophet Isaiah brought from God to the disobeying people of Judah: “ Come now and let us reason together,” 17 and the words which Allah instructed Prophet Muhammad to speak to those who disputed his message: “ O people of the Book, let us come to an agreement on that which is common between us.” 18 In both instances, God is urging a collaborative process which is far more likely to bring about understanding and mutual respect, than continuing in a state of ignorance and mutual suspicion.
The most obvious example of “that which is common between us” is what we have been writing about throughout the paper:
We are African Americans (and all that that implies),
We all experience the pain and anxiety of death and dying,
We believe in the power of prayer,
We believe in Life after Death,
We are all people of the Book.
But typically, we remain isolated from each other, wrapped in the fabric of our own scriptures, unmindful of the ways in which they overlap, focused, instead, on the perceived, often misrepresented differences between us, unresponsive to the more compelling truth that binds us—our shared humanity, the gift to each of us from our Creator.
We already have examples of influential leaders, religious and non-religious, Christian and Muslim, who have taken steps towards rapprochement. It is now for us, individually, to follow their lead, to reach out to our neighbors across the religious divide and invite the kind of respectful dialogue that can foster understanding, even lead to joint activities for mutual benefit.
We pray that our Creator God give us the grace to speak kindly to those with whom we may have differences in matters of religion: Let there be no argument between us! God will unite us, and the journey is to God. 19
Theological Reflections on Death and Dying
CHRISTIAN AND ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVES
Reverend, Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
I come to this task as a practicing Christian minister. I was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1967, and I have been pastoring the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Ill, since 1972.
I also come to this task as a student of F. Rahman, one of the nation’s leading Islamists at The University of Chicago and the Oriental Institute in Chicago, back in the 1970s. My area of concentration while studying Islam in West Africa was the Tijaniyyah among the Bambara, the Fulbe and the Tukolur.
At Chicago I studied Islam in West Africa for six years under Rahman, and as a historian of religions, I studied for six years under Dr. Charles H. Long. These studies did not make a practicing Muslim, but they do give me a perspective on Islam that the ordinary Christian would not have.
My years of experience as a pastor and my close friendships with Sunni Muslims and members of the Nation of Islam in North America have taught me that the theological perspectives of the “people of the Book” are wide and diverse—far from monolithic—when it comes to issues of death and dying. The sacred texts of Christianity and Islam teach a great deal about life after death; but the degree to which the average African American believer embraces those beliefs varies from community to community and, almost, from believer to believer.
The gap between what is written in the sacred text and what is in an individual’s heart and mind is the subject of revelation and history in the Christian Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
My primary professor of Judaism at The University of Chicago Divinity School, Dr. Jonathan Z. Smith, taught us our introductory courses to Old Testament and the History of Israel in a very exciting and refreshing way. His methodology helps practicing Muslims and Christians in the twenty-first century understand the difference between what is written in the sacred text and what is lived in the everyday lives of the people of faith.
What the Bible shows us, for instance, is that in the Old Testament the sacred text teaches (and preaches) ethical monotheism. The shema became the mantra of the Jewish faith and the Christian faith: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one God!”
The teaching of one God and one God alone became the foundation upon which the faith of Israel, the faith of Judah, the faith of Judaism, the Christian faith (and many would say the faith of Islam) were constructed. That there is only one God is understood as what the doctrine of the faith teaches. What the people of faith practice, however, is something quite different.
In the Book of Genesis, for instance, Jacob (the grandson of Abraham) practices the faith of monotheism. One of his wives (Rachel), however, steals the household idols of her father, Laban, as she and Jacob leave Laban’s home to go back to Jacob’s home. His wife believed in more than one God. She worshipped the gods whom the household idols represented.
In the Book of Judges, Gideon is cut from the same monotheistic cloth. When God calls him into service and he accepts God’s call, the first thing he is instructed to do is to tear down the male and female gods of fertility (Baal and Asherah) that are in his father’s backyard. His father (also a practitioner of the monotheistic faith) worshipped the Canaanites gods of fertility in addition to the God of Israel.
All throughout the books of prophecy, the prophets are railing against the practices of the people of faith because they are worshipping several gods. They say with their mouths, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord!” They recite their creeds of monotheism, but they practice a faith of polytheism.
A cursory examination of the Book of Kings shows the same gap between preachment and practice. The kings of Israel, starting with Jeroboam, set up false gods—idols and gods made out of gold—and they ordered their citizens to worship those gods. The history of the kings of Israel is one long list of kings who strayed away from the faith of David and who worshipped gods other than Yahweh, Elohim or the God of the Covenant.
In addition to all of the problems that exacerbated these kinds of practices in New Testament Christianity, there is still the twenty-first century practice of Christians professing with their mouths an acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal savior, which means that everything in their lives has changed. Every Christian embraces II Corinthians 5:17, which says, “If anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creature, old things have passed away. Behold. All things have become new.”
While professing this with their lips, however, the majority of twenty-first century African American Christians can tell you what zodiac sign they are born under. Claiming that they are Aries, Gemini, Virgo or Libra negates II Corinthians 5:17. They are saying that being born under a certain sign in the zodiac gives them certain fixed characteristics that not even Jesus Christ can change.
The sacred Scriptures of the Christian and the Muslim faiths—both the Bible and the Quran—are full of passages that talk about life in Sheol, the soul going back to God from which it came, life in the hereafter, the resurrection of the dead, and life in paradise or life in heaven. Those are passages that give the “official party line” of what the Christian faith and the Muslin faith say about death. When practicing Christians and Muslims, however, face death, it is a different story altogether in terms of what many of them believe.
There is no monolithic black Christian or Muslim belief. The theological perspectives of Christians and Muslims cover a wide spectrum of beliefs. When death comes knocking at a believer’s door, everyone does not go as easily as the black women James Weldon Johnson and Sterling Brown describe in their poems about death.
Many believing Muslims and Christians go kicking, fighting and screaming. Even Jesus as he faced death quoted Psalm 22. He cried out in a loud voice: “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
Jesus the human person had some problems with life’s greatest mystery, which is death, and so do we. Having said that, I do not intend to put Jesus down or to put any believer down. Human beings are human beings. We are both dust and divinity.
That means that we have fears and faith, doubts and assurances, and some questions for which there are no answers. We have some anxiety in our belief system and our “doubts and fears” are interspersed with hope and ultimate trust.
Hope and trust are not the only beliefs we have, and those are not the only set of emotions that rush through believers’ hearts and send thoughts into their heads when they are faced with death and dying. When we as believers have to watch our loved ones suffer and die, the wide range of emotions that we experience, and the incredible rush of thoughts that flow and fly through our heads are just as diverse.
As an historian of religions whose field of study was West African religions, I know the carryovers from the African culture into the African American experience are incredible. They are almost too numerous to mention. (See Henry Mitchell’s Black Belief.)
What African Americans believe about the living dead, the ancestors, life after our breath has left our bodies, the presence of the spirits of the ancestors, and those whom we love who no longer live among us in the flesh is an important part of the framework for understanding end-of-life care and death and dying in the African American community, in the African American faith community and the theological worlds which make up Christianity and Islam in North America among African Americans.
In West Africa libations are poured to the living ancestors, and it is to those same ancestors that Jesus was talking when he ascended the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John.
My approach, therefore, in talking about the theological perspectives on death and dying from an African American perspective, is to hold in tandem what it is our members actually believe when it comes to the lived experience as contrasted and compared with what the doctrinal texts and axioms of our faith say we should believe.
The way John describes heaven in the Book of Revelation and the way the Quran describes the virgins waiting in paradise for a Muslim man who has lived a good life are eschatological descriptions and beliefs. What black Christians and Muslims believe “on the ground,” however, does not always square with the written text or with the eschatology taught by both faiths.
I give you this background to help you understand the difference between what it is people say with their mouths as they embrace a faith and what it is they do in their daily practices as they live out their faith. As this is the truth I have encountered among practicing Christians in my 34 years of pastoral experience, I would suggest to you that the same is true with Islam in West Africa and Islam in North America.
African traditional religions are not abandoned or forgotten when people embrace Islam or Christianity in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Liberia, or Ghana. The beliefs about life after death, death as a part of life, death as a “friend” and death as “the final enemy” are all found among Africans on the continent and Africans living in the North American diaspora.
Practicing Christians of African descent in the Americas also find almost no difficulty in mixing the Orisha of Yoruba and Christianity. In Cuba it is called Santeriaand in Brazil it is called Candomblé.
The African traditional religions, and, indeed, all of African culture, teach that the soul lives on after death. They also teach that an individual’s spirit stays among its people while traveling back and forth between the land of “the living dead” (Sheol) and the familiar places it used to traffic in while it was in the flesh. Some of the practices of Africans living in the diaspora in the Deep South and throughout the Americas demonstrate that these beliefs live.
Henry Mitchell in his book, Black Belief, gives dozens of examples of African practices that are still extant among African Americans who live in North America. Many of the beliefs have to do with death, dying, the preparation of the corpse, and the freeing of the spirit of the deceased. Mirrors are still covered, for instance, in some places in the Deep South to keep the spirit of the deceased person from being trapped in the house where he or she lived.
As a pastor I have had hundreds of members who have talked to me in my three decades of ministry about visitations of their loved ones who have come to them following their deaths. Sometimes the loved ones have talked to them. Sometimes they have simply let their presence be felt. At other times they have sat down on the bed and the member who was sharing with me could feel them actually sit on the bed, while at still other times the departed loved one was just seen passing through the house.
This strong belief in life after death—not just in heaven or with God, but in the spirit world—makes the playing field quite uneven when it comes to understanding the attitudes and the theology which inform the belief systems of African Americans in the Christian and Islamic communities in the United States of America.
Realizing that I run the risk of making broad, sweeping generalizations and lumping widely disparate people together, let me try to give those of you who will minister to persons of faith some general guidelines based on the experiences that I have as a pastor and as person.
There are some Christians of African descent who take the Bible literally. They believe in bodily resurrection. They are adamantly opposed to cremation or to organ donation because they believe that their physical bodies are going to be raised “on the day of Resurrection” and they want those bodies intact.
These Christians look at I Corinthians 15 where Paul says “the dead in Christ shall rise” and they completely ignore the fact that Paul has said that there is a spiritual body that will be raised (and not a physical body). They discount the reality of the decomposition of the flesh and they think that their physical bodies are going to be raised just as they were when they were embalmed.
The Christian Scriptures teach that at death the body goes back into the ground from whence it came and the spirit goes back to God from whence it came; but many African American Christians lean over the casket to kiss their loved ones’ remains as if their loved ones are still with them in that body.
They completely ignore what the Word of God says about that “house” that the soul lived in. They think that “house” that they are looking at in the casket is the actual person and they kiss that house goodbye as if they are really kissing their loved ones goodbye.
Other African American Christians understand completely the writings of Paul in a different way. They see nothing wrong with cremation and they heartily endorse organ donation.
Some Black Christians understand terminal illness. They understand incurable cancer. They understand HIV as a biological issue, not a theological one, and they realize that once they get the virus their immune system has been compromised irreparably.
Those same Christians understand that once a person gets full-blown AIDS there is no cure and the “house” in which their soul resides is going into the ground. They look at Paul’s writings in II Corinthians 5 and understand that they have another building “eternal in the Heavens” in which their soul will live.
The building in which their soul lives right now, however, is crumbling and will be destroyed. I have found the same to be true with many Christians who understand inoperable brain tumors, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, and other terminal diseases in the same fashion.
Some Christians face death confidently because they know they have another building. Other Christians who love the Lord just as much go kicking and screaming. Because they have never experienced death they are afraid, and as a pastor I have had to reassure them of the fact that fear is natural. Fear is normal. Fear is nothing to be ashamed of, but fear is not the final answer.
Reminding Christians whose faith is strong and who embrace death confidently that God is with them even at their dying hour is an easy task. Reminding Christians who are, however, dying and afraid that the same God who has been with them in life is with them now in death is not that easy. It is what we are required to do as believers and as ministers of a God who has never made a promise that He has not kept.
I have had members ask me to explain to their families that death is not final. Death does not have the final word. Those members have been told that they have an incurable disease and/or a terminal disease, and they want to die with dignity. They want to enter hospice care so that they can die in peace.
Their family members, however, who go to the same church, who pray to the same God, who sing the same songs and who have heard the same Gospel refuse to hear what their loved one is saying. They have whipped guilt trips on their loved one by saying, “If your faith was strong, you wouldn’t give up like this!”
The televangelists—the Benny Hinns, the Fred Prices, and the “Word of Faith” preachers—have had a tremendously negative impact on many African American Christians. I call their impact “negative” because it makes Christians feel as if their faith is defective if they get sick. It makes those same Christians think that something is wrong with them if they do not just “have the faith” in a God who has the power “to cure all of their diseases.”
I have had members quoting, with no understanding whatsoever, Psalm 103 while dying of liver cancer. They believe that God will heal all of their disease as Psalm 103 says, and they take the words of that Psalm literally.
If God does not heal them, they reason, it means that their faith was not strong enough. Their family members undergird that kind of distorted teaching, and it makes ministry very difficult while trying to represent a God of love, a God of power, a God of hope and a God who gave His Son that we might have everlasting life.
In addition, many of the families with whom I have done ministry across the years are in different places when it comes to understanding hospice care, palliative care and end-of-life care, which can make the final stages of a person’s earthly journey as pleasant and as joyful as it can possibly be. Some families are open and receptive to what God does through the persons working in those professions.
The families that are in denial, however, do not want to talk about palliative care. Families who cling to false hope do not want to talk to hospice chaplains or hospice care people because they think that to say yes to hospice care is giving up of life, giving up hope and/or showing a lack of faith in God.
Once some church members are in hospice care, moreover, I have found them to be afraid of OxyContin. They say they do not want to become drug addicts so they deny themselves of the very medication that will ease the pain and suffering that they are experiencing.
In addition to my pastoral experience, my four years as a cardiopulmonary technician at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda exposed me to many Christians and Muslims who were dying. They knew what their sacred texts said, and some of them faced death triumphantly and joyfully. Others however were afraid. Others were angry. Others were in disbelief and still others were in denial.
What my combined experiences as a cardiopulmonary technician and as a pastor taught me was not to prejudge any situation, any illness, any family or any individual. More than not prejudging, however, my combined experiences taught me not to judge—at all.
Every person faces life’s greatest mystery on his or her own terms and in his or her own way. There is no right way, and there is no “wrong way.” There is an individual’s way in which he or she must find for themselves. Those of us who do ministry with people of faith have to keep that in mind as we try to represent God, represent Christ, or represent Allah in that individual’s life.
In addition, knowing the various stages of grief is very helpful when it comes to ministering to the dying and their families. Knowing those stages helps the pastoral counselor to understand better what stage it is that an individual is passing through as they withdraw from their loved ones, as they express anger—whether free-floating anger or anger with God—and as they express feelings of being lost in a world they do not understand.
Understanding how an individual can move in and out of the different stages of grief at different times as they are dying is also important. It helps the pastoral counselor (whether minister or imam) to be present with the dying believer in whatever stage they happen to be in on any given day.
It has been my experience to do ministry with persons of strong faith who have shown emotions that are at opposite ends of the “faith spectrum.” Their faith is strong that Jesus is coming to get them just as He promised in John 14. Their faith that they have another building waiting for them (the mansion that Jesus promised) and their faith that they will have everlasting life is unwavering.
At the same time, however, when the physical pains of terminal illnesses such as cancer hit them, the words that come out of their mouth make them sound more like Jesus on the cross of Calvary than Stephen in the Book of Acts. I have heard strong saints asking God, “Why?”
I have heard them say, “But you promised me, Jesus!” They do not understand why the contradiction. Their lives have been lives full of contradiction as African Americans living in a culture of white supremacy. Then they get down to their dying moment, and they discover that instead of pat answers there are even more contradictions through which they must die just as there were contradictions through which they had to live.
Understanding that God is present even when God is silent is crucial for one who would seek to do ministry with those who are dying and their families. Getting a dying person and his or her family to understand that God is present even when they cannot feel God’s presence becomes very important—especially if the wavering has carried the dying individual into a zone where they are now questioning God as Jesus questioned Him while hanging on the cross of Calvary.
Reassuring that individual that the answer to their questions and their fear is God’s very presence then becomes one of the most important gifts that a minister or an imam can give to a dying individual in his or her family. Quoting verses of the Quran and verses of Scripture that remind the dying person and his or her grieving family that God is present and that God does care even as they are leaving this life become important acts of ministry that will never be forgotten.
Not praying “impossible prayers” or asking for God’s miraculous intervention to stop the dying process are just as important in providing ministry as is the minister or imam’s presence in the dying person’s life and in the dying person’s death room as they are leaving this life.
Staying there until the end as John stayed with Jesus and as those who loved Jesus stayed with Him is also an important task for those who would call themselves doing ministry. A person who is dying withdraws sometimes from their families and their loved ones. They pull off into themselves and go to a place that the living cannot reach.
The minister or the imam who stays right there by their side, however, showing them and their families that God’s promise is true and that Allah’s presence is constant will provide a “ministry moment” that will never be forgotten by the family members of those who watch their loved ones slip away.
Offering prayers of thanksgiving for the life and the labors of their loved ones and offering prayers of thanksgiving for the victory given through Jesus Christ put an exclamation point at the end of that person’s life that will never be forgotten by those who gather around the remains of that loved one.
Reminding those who mourn of the words of faith found in the sacred texts becomes a finishing touch on the masterpiece of mercy that is needed in the life of those who are asking God to have mercy upon them as they are dying.
* * *
I hope that these reflections will empower those of you who attempt to do ministry or to provide palliative care, hospice care, and end-of-life care with, to, and for those who need you, God, or Allah the most as they end their physical lives. More importantly, I hope that these reflections will remind you of God’s presence in your life as you seek to be a presence in the lives of others.
1. Thurman H. The Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death. Richmond, Ind: Friends United Press; 1975.
2. New English Bible. New York, NY: Oxford Press; 1976.
3. Smith P. Facing Death: The Deep Calling to the Deep. Kearney, Neb: Morris Publishing Co; 1998:37-39.
4. Heard in conversation with Howard Thurman during a visit to his home in San Francisco, Calif, 1975.
5. Thurman H. Meditations of the Heart. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press; 1951:127.
6. The name “Allah” is the Arabic word meaning “The God.” Both Muslims and Arabic speaking Christians address God as Allah. The use of the masculine pronoun for Allah is only for linguistic convenience and not to ascribe a gender to Allah.
7. “This day have I perfected your religion for you, and completed MY favor unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM.” The words of Allah, as found in Qur’an 5:3.
8. The Qur’an is the accumulated Revelations which Prophet Muhammad received from Allah through Angel Gabriel. The word Qur’an means recitation.
9. Many times in Qur’an when Allah is speaking, HE uses the first person plural: “WE,” “US,” and “OUR.” In many other places, HE uses the usual “I,” “ME,” and “MY.” Pronouns referring to the Creator are written in upper case letters.
10. Wadud A. From QUR’AN and WOMAN. Oxford University Press; 1999:45.
11. By calling it to witness, i.e., by speaking of the Day of Resurrection as if it had already occurred, Allah is conveying the certainty of its coming.
12. But those rewards will be outweighed “by their refusal to believe in resurrection and the life to come.” Q uoted from Asad, note 27, surah 11. The Message of the Qur’an. The Book Foundation; 2003:354.
13. Obligatory tax which is used for charity and know as “a loan to Allah.” See reference 17.
14. Qur’an 19:61.
15. Salaat is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other four are declaration of faith (shahaadah), obligatory tax used for charity (zakaah), fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca (at least once in a lifetime).
16. If we worship anything other than Allah (whether it is idols, stars, powers of nature, spirits or deified men, or self, or power, or wealth, science or art, talent or intellect) our worship is both foolish and futile. From Y. Ali, note 1822.
17. Isaiah 1:18.
18. The Holy Qur’an 3:64. The phrase, “people of the Book,” refers to the people of the three Abrahamic faiths: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
19. The Holy Qur’an 42:15. Cleary T, trans. Starlatch Press; 2004:239.