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feature: religion & spirituality
January 31st, 2011

How Relevant Are the Ten Commandments to Me?

A Muslim reflects on the old laws

 
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Growing up as the token Muslim in my small Florida town, I was often the go-to person for all things related to Islam. Talk about pressure. Before 9/11 no one really bothered or had any reason to ask me questions, but after that day, curiosity piqued and I did my best to answer the questions of my peers. Most wanted to know if I believed in God, Jesus, Moses and the Bible, while others simply wanted to know why Muslims hated people in the West.

I’m no religious scholar by any means, but once I started explaining the basics of Islam to my peers, they shrugged and said, “Oh — I guess we’re more alike than we think.”

Ten years later, I still find that to be true.

Islam builds upon the foundations laid by the Torah and Bible — which means Muslims believe in the Ten Commandments as well. The magazine Moment recently published an article entitled “The 10 Commandments 2.0,” where a dozen scholars sounded off on the relevance of the Ten Commandments today. After reading the views of scholars whose views ranged from thinking the commandments needed a major overhaul to another who believed they were deeply inscribed in Islam, I began to wonder: it’s 2011 — do the commandments even resonate with my generation, and even more so in my religion?

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., called the Ten Commandments “a Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.” He is quoted in Moment as saying, “I cannot be a good Muslim without being conscious of my Jewish and Christian heritage. The Ten Commandments are universal. Muslims, however, are aggressively faithful to them because they still live in traditional societies and tend to be very religious.”

What’s known as the Ten Commandments in other faiths don’t really have a name in our faith, but we believe in them nonetheless. It’s hard to pinpoint them in the Qur’an because these ten ideals are interspersed within the entire Muslim holy book. There are direct similarities to the commandments, known in Judaism as the Ten Principles, as they are written in Exodus 20: 1-17 and Deuteronomy 5: 6-21.

For example:

You shall not have other gods besides me. (Exodus 20:3)

There is no god but God. (Surat Muhammad, Verse 19 (47:19))

 

Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)

And your parents shall be honored. As long as one or both of them live, you shall never say to them, “Uff” (the slightest gesture of annoyance), nor shall you shout at them; you shall treat them amicably. (17:23)

 

You shall not kill. (Exodus 20:13)

Anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. (5:32)

Submission.org has a useful list of the Ten Commandments in the Qur’an, often with numerous examples of Qur’anic verses, or ayahs, for each commandment. How do these guidelines, which some scholars in the article believe are archaic, translate to a Muslim (or Christian or Jew) living in the 21st century? Furthermore, in this digital age, are the Ten Commandments even relevant?

Personally, the majority of the commandments still resonate strongly with me. Perhaps my upbringing, living within walking distance of a mosque and having a wise father, instilled in me the appreciation for these ten rules. The fact that I sometimes visited my best friend’s Baptist church didn’t hurt either.

One of the commandments in particular,

You shall not have other gods besides me. (Exodus 20:3)

finds a home within the Five Pillars in Islam. Known as the Shahada, or the Muslim profession of faith, this statement is the first pillar. It is the foundation of Islam — in fact, when a person converts to Islam, he or she recites the Shahada:

La ilaha ill Allah wa anna Muhammad-ur-Rasul-Allah (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger).

The other commandments were the basic building blocks of my education in Islam. My equivalent of a Sunday school teacher, Sister Salima, laid out the essentials of Islam for me every Friday after prayer. Now that I look back, these principles were the Ten Commandments — I just didn’t know it then. And they were already ingraining themselves into my young morality.

I remember going to a local supermarket at the age of five and seeing the word “free” marked on a magazine. I didn’t read the fine print — the free part was a tote bag with a one-year subscription — I just picked up the magazine and walked out. After unloading the groceries, I showed my mom my new acquisition and asked her to read it to me. She told me I had stolen, albeit inadvertently, and that I should take the magazine back. My juvenile head swirled with images of police cars swarming the house, their red and blue lights illuminating our living room as I was escorted out for stealing what was essentially a $2 magazine. I returned the magazine, the manager of the store applauding my sterling conscience, while I sat wondering if I was going to be punished for being a bad Muslim.

As Ambassador Akbar Ahmed pointed out, to be a Muslim is to recognize your Jewish and Christian heritage. We are all part of the Abrahamic religions. It’s only fitting that the commandments should be included in our education as Muslims. I find that, no matter the year, however, the commandments (or their parallels in Islam) still remain a constant companion in my life, no upgrade necessary.

 
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The Author : Carmel Delshad
Carmel Delshad is an Arab American multimedia journalist based in New York City. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in journalism at the City University of New York, where she is studying international reporting. She is focusing in broadcast media, with an emphasis on radio and video for the web. She has conducted research on the effects of social media in the university setting and is very interested in pursuing further research on how social media is affecting the news landscape. Her post-graduation goal is to work with an international news agency as a multimedia reporter and eventually conduct research on the internet culture of youth in the Middle East.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Phil Fox Rose

    The goal of Carmel’s piece was to point out similarities between Islamic tradition and that of Judeo-Christianity. In this spirit, let’s keep the comments from doing the opposite.

    One technical point though. The first commenter thought the line “You shall not kill.” was from the Qur’an and then accused it of being hypocritical. In fact, the first line in each of those pairings is from the Ten Commandments, the second from the Qur’an. We have added clearer indication of that to avoid confusion.

    And finally, to the second commenter, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” which itself was a limiting command saying the punishment should not exceed the crime (i.e., no chopping off hands for theft, etc.), is not a Christian teaching, but a Jewish one. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”

  • k

    Jairo,

    While you are right in stating that Muslims take Muhammed to be an example, I think you are misrepresenting some of the elements of your discussion. You are correct in stating that Muhammed was a commander of his followers during times of war and that he lead several successful military campaigns, however, I think you need to keep in mind the motivation behind the killing and its justification. This verse in the Quran which commands Muslims not to kill refers to killing a person without proper cause, meaning that the act of murder was not justified. We can better see this by examining the context of the verse as a whole:

    “[5:32] Because of this, we decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people.”

    I don’t think anyone, of any religion, would argue or stipulate that their religion forbids the taking of a life in ALL situations and conditions and would challenge you to present such a proof. Nor am I familiar with any religion that prohibits you from defending yourself, your family and your property during a time of war. You mentioned that you follow the example of Christ and that he presented what appears to be a peaceful and murder free example. However, is an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” not a Christian teaching? Is the Old Testament not riddled with examples of instances which justify putting someone to death (homosexuality, adultery and the worship of a being other than God just to name a few)? In these cases the bible outlined conditions which allowed, and in some cases, encouraged killing an individual for their actions and behavior (in direct contradiction to “thou shall not kill”). To put it this way, I agree with your statement that the term murder (and it’s prohibition) are conditional, however, I disagree with you when you imply dissimilarity between the Ten Commandments and the Quran, maybe the wording is slightly different, however, it seems that both documents prohibit unjust murder while still sanctioning it under certain circumstances.

    In regard to the first point you made, I am not sure where you’ve received your facts from in regard to the alleged instances of Prophet Muhammed ordering the beheading of non muslims. The Quran clearly states “(9:6) If one among the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the Word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure.” This verse is specifically talking about a battle that Muhammed commanded; I have never heard a narration of any sort which supports the statement you made but regardless, I doubt that the Prophet would contradict his orders from God and his own teachings. There are many instances where a partial quote of a verse can be misused, albeit innocently in some cases, however, I would ask you to look at the larger picture, specifically, the verses before and after the quote so that you may better understand its context. In some cases, the verses are limited to a specific time and place and are inapplicable to a situation that could arise today. There are also other situations in which the meaning and interpretation of a verse is skewed in order to fit some demented motive in an attempt to utilize faith as a justification for such action (in fact I think that’s one more example of an issue plaguing all three religions). That doesn’t however negate the true intent and faith behind any religion, its scripture or it’s teachings. The fact is that Prophet Muhammed was sent not only as a messenger of the scripture, but as an example to mankind and his behavior, whether in the mosque or on the battlefield, set an example for us to follow (just as other messengers of faith have set for their followers). We’re not that different after all.

    k

  • Jairo

    Carmel,

    Let me start out by commending you on your appreciation of the 10 Commandments. However, I do have some issues with your comparisons. Especially with those related to killing/murder.
    In your examples you state the the Koran, tells muslims.

    1. You shall not kill.

    2. Anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. (5:32)

    I have very strong feelings about these 2 statements.

    In relation to the first, You say the Koran commands you not to Kill. Yet the historical fact remains that besides being a religious leader and the founder of Islam. Muhammed was also a military commander, and personally led his men on various military campaigns. Many of which led to the deaths of many people with the enslavement of many others (Especially women and children). This is not propaganda but historical fact. History states that he personally ordered the beheading of many enemies, especially if they did not convert to Islam.

    My problem, is that the followers of all the great religions, hold their founder as the prototype for who they need to emulate. For me and many other that’s Christ. All, Jesus ever commanded us as christians to do, Is to love one another as he loved us. The only real violence seen in the Gospels, is against him in his crucifixion. My prototype, my model, commands me to love those around me. Jesus is my example to follow. He never led an army or enslaved others. He never forced others to change, He only asked those around him to have faith. And, he willingly gave himself up for crucifixion.

    In your second statement

    Anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. (5:32)

    Murder here is conditional.

    In effect, It’s Ok to murder those, who had committed murder or horrendous crimes.

    Who defines what those “horrendous crimes” are ?

    This basically left the door open for Muhammad to murder and justify it under the guise of a Horrendous crime. Under Sharia leaving Islam for another religion is a Horrendous crime. Punishable by death in many Islamic countries.

    Again, I think you did a wonderful job with your article, but I really find it difficult to find similarities between Islamic teaching and those of the 10 commandments or in Christ’s universal commandment.

    Thank you for your article,

    Jairo

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