In my last post I discussed the idea of "Whose Islam?"--Islam is not a homogenous, monolithic religious faith, followed in the same way by all of those who claim to be adherents. There are, in Islam, just as in other religious faiths, arguments among its adherents that purport that those of a certain theological or doctrinal leaning are not true adherents of the faith. Today's post is somewhat related to that idea. I explore the concept of actions committed in the "name" of the religion.
When a Muslim begins a reading of the Qur'an, or they begin an intentional action, or they sacrifice an animal, they can often be heard to say, "bismallah" which translated means "In the name of Allah." Every chapter (sura) of the Qur'an except one, begins with this phrase, along with two attributes (sifa) of Allah, the compassionate (al-rahman) and the merciful (al-rahim). Another related phrase frequently heard is "Allahu akbar" which translated into English means Allah is the greatest (kbir meaning big or great and the letter alif or "a" added to it at as a prefix turns it into the superlative form of the word, the vowel is also changed from an "i" sound to an "a" sound). This phrase is used to begin the call to prayer, heard five times a day from the minaret of mosques throughout the Muslim world. It is also often spoken when someone has died, or when news of a death is passed on from one person to another, or, as is sometimes seen in news videos, when a violent action is carried out against an enemy--used as an aggressive, combative phrase. These phrases are as common to the ears of Muslims as "How are you?" or "Good morning."
The first phrase, "bismallah," is a type of invocation, calling upon Allah to be present and is a form of theurgy, getting divine agency involved in human affairs. When spoken, a Muslim intends for their action to be carried out in the name of Allah. This means for the action to be done on Allah's behalf or with his blessing. It is also spoken a specific deed is required of him or her by Allah.
Yet performing an action in the the name of Allah, is slightly different than performing it in the name of Islam. Today, in the news, we often hear of people who are committing all sorts of actions in the name of Islam. In the past, and even today, this is also found in other religions. A frequently cited example from Christian history is the Crusades, where many believed that they were committing acts that were desired by and sanctioned of God.
We put ourselves in a very lofty position when we claim to be acting on behalf of God or in the name of our religious faith. It is one thing to do something that you believe God is calling you to do, but it is another to carry out an act in His name. In some instances, a believer understands that he or she has been commanded by God to carry out certain things, as a part of being a follower. However the matter can become very controversial when interpretation is involved, concerning whether or not the particular action was commanded by God. So one would then have to ask the question, who then has the right to claim that they are able to commit an action on behalf of Islam? Different sects of Islam would argue that other sects have no right to represent the religion, especially if the others are considered apostates or heretical believers. So, remember this when you hear someone claiming to be doing something in the name of Islam. They can not represent all Muslims everywhere, and others, of a different theological or religious understanding, would deny that they have the right to speak on behalf of the religion as a whole.