How Relevant Are the Ten Commandments to Me?
A Muslim reflects on the old laws
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.
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.