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With Farrakhan’s prominence, Islamic terms can get fuzzy

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The neatly groomed, respectful young black men of the Nation of Islam, seen waving “Final Call” newspapers and strolling among cars waiting at busy intersections across America, are not part of the Islamic religion practiced by people from Middle Eastern countries.

The increased visibility of Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam in many cities in the United States has caused some confusion about terminology and distinctions between religious groups using similar words to describe themselves. Sometimes even the spelling makes a difference.

Following is a reference guide to some of these terms, with definitions taken from the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) and CompuServe’s Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (GME):

— Allah (from AHD): the supreme being in the Muslim religion, from a combination of the Arabic words “al” (the) and “Ilah” (God).

— Farrakhan, Louis Abdul (from GME): current American leader of the Nation of Islam; born Louis Eugene Walcott in the Bronx, N.Y., May 11, 1933.

— Islam (from AHD and GME): a major world religion (the second- largest after Christianity) based on the teachings of Muhammad; two distinct Islamic groups are the Sunnites and the Shiites; Sunnites are the largest group of Muslims, constituting about 90 percent of all Muslims. Islam is a monotheistic religion and, like Judaism and Christianity, traces its origins to the biblical patriarch Abraham. The term Islam comes from the Arabic word “islam,” which literally means both “surrender” and “peace,” surrender to the will of God and the peace associated with that surrender.

— Koran (from AHD): (also seen as Qur’an and Alcoran) the sacred text of Islam; believed to contain the revelations of Allah to Muhammad; from the Arabic word “qur’an,” meaning “reading, recitation.”

— Muhammad (from AHD): (also spelled Mohammed and Mahomet) the prophet and founder of Islam, who lived from about 570- 632 A.D.; from the Arabic word “Muhammad,” meaning “praiseworthy.”

— Muslim(s) (from AHD): the form used by scholars and English-speaking adherents to refer to a believer in or adherent to Islam since the word exactly matches the Arabic form; considered the only correct spelling by members of the Nation of Islam (verses Moslem).

— Nation of Islam (from AHD and GME): an organization of black Americans now led by Louis Farrakhan, who not only follow some of the religious practices of Islam, but also promote black separatism; they refer to themselves as “Muslims” rather than “Muslims.” According to Jerry Buckner of Tiburon, Calif., a nationally recognized expert on the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan’s group has more than 30,000 followers, with another 200,000 who belong to splinter groups and many more people in Christian churches who support the aims of the Nation of Islam. According to J. Dudley Woodberry, a leading authority on Islam and dean of Fuller Theological Seminary’s school of world mission in Pasadena, Calif., a Christian response to the increasing popularity of Islam in the African American community should include “providing structure and support for families and aid for prisoners.”

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  • Debbie Moore