Introduction to Islam

What is Islam ?

The word ISLAM has a two-fold meaning: peace, and submission to God. This submission requires a fully conscious and willing effort to submit to the one Almighty God. One must consciously and conscientiously give oneself to the service of Allah. This means to act on what Allah enjoins all of us to do (in the Qur'an) and what His beloved Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) encouraged us to do in his Sunnah (his lifestyle and sayings personifying the Qur'an).

Once we humble ourselves, rid ourselves of our egoism and submit totally to Allah, and to Him exclusively, in faith and in action, we will surely feel peace in our hearts. Establishing peace in our hearts will bring about peace in our external conduct as well.

Islam is careful to remind us that it not a religion to be paid mere lip service; rather it is an all-encompassing way of life that must be practiced continuously for it to be Islam. The Muslim must practice the five pillars of the religion: the declaration of faith in the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), prayer, fasting the month of Ramadan, alms-tax, and the pilgrimage to Makkah; and believe in the six articles of faith: belief in God, the Holy Books, the prophets, the angels, the Day of Judgment and God's decree, whether for good or ill.

There are other injunctions and commandments which concern virtually all facets of one's personal, family and civic life. These include such matters as diet, clothing, personal hygeine, interpersonal relations, business ethics, responsibilities towards parents, spouse and children, marriage, divorce and inheritance, civil and criminal law, fighting in defense of Islam, relations with non-Muslims, and so much more.

Who are the Muslims?

The word "Muslim" means one who submits to the will of God. This is done by declaring that "there is no god except one God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." In a broader sense, anyone who willingly submits to the will of God is a Muslim. Thus, all the prophets preceding the prophet Muhammad are considered Muslims. The Quran specifically mentions Abraham who lived long before Moses and Christ that, "he was not a Jew or a Christian but a Muslim," because, he had submitted to the will of God. Thus there are Muslims who are not submitting at all to the will of God and there are Muslims who are doing their best to live an Islamic life. One cannot judge Islam by looking at those individuals who have a Muslim name but in their actions, they are not living or behaving as Muslims. The extent of being a Muslim can be according to the degree to which one is submitting to the will of God, in his beliefs and his actions.

 

1.8 billion people from a vast range of races, nationalities and cultures across the globe - from the southern Philippines to Nigeria - are united by their common Islamic faith. About 18% live in the Arab world; the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia; substantial parts of Asia and most of Africa are Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in the Soviet Union, China, North and South America, and Europe.

What do Muslims believe?

Unlike other beings, man has the tendency to think that any thing that is organized much have an organizer. Islam simply applies the same natural logic to the universe and the environment around us which has so many amazing and well organized inter-related systems that witness of the existence of a powerful creator.

 

It is in this direction that Muslims believe in an unseen Ultimate Creator, source of all the physical and spiritual power that exist in the universe. We know about this creator not only through the powerful evidence of how organized is the universe, but also through a line of prophets, including but not limited to Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. They came to draw our attention to him so that we may make the choice to believe by responding to an inner instinct (that is confirmed daily) that all that is organized must have an organizer and that this universe is the creation of the ultimate organizer: God the one, the eternal, the creator, the fastest who calculates, the light, the originator, to list only a view of the names and attributes of the one God as outlined in the Koran (Qur'an).

 

The first five verses of the Koran represent the Islamic natural approach to believe in the one God:

 

Read in the name of your Lord who created;
Created man from a clot that clings
Read and your Lord is the most generous;
He who taught by the pen;
Taught man that which he knew not.

 

Accordingly a Muslim faith is pronounced in the format of admitting the existence and oneness of the Creator as follows:

 

I witness there there is no God, but one God
and that Mohammed is his prophet.

(or for that matter one of his prophets, since the Koran states that Mohammed is no more than a prophet, a lot of prophets have passed before him).

Does Islam tolerate other beliefs?

The Qur’an says:

Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. (Qur’an, 60:8)

It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city. Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves.

Who was the Prophet Muhammad? (pbuh)

In brief, Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was born in a noble tribe of Mecca in Arabia in the year 570 AD. His ancestry goes back to Prophet Ishmael (P), son of Prophet Abraham (P). His father died before his birth and his mother died when he was six. He did not attend a formal school since he was raised first by a nurse as it was the custom those days, and then by his grandfather and uncle. As a young man, he was known as a righteous person who used to meditate in a cave. At age 40, he was given the prophethood when the angel, Gabriel, appeared in the cave. Subsequently, the revelations came over 23 years and were compiled in the form of a book called the Quran which Muslims consider as the final and the last word of God. The Quran has been preserved, unchanged, in its original form and confirms the truth in the Torah, the psalms and the Gospel.

 

Unlike the founders of many religious, the final prophet of Islam is a real documented and historical figure.  He lived in the full light of history, and the most minute details of his life are known.  Not only do Muslims have the complete text of God’s words that were revealed to Muhammad, but they have also preserved his sayings and teachings in what is called “hadeeth” literature.  This having been said, it should be understood that Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was only a man chosen by God, and that he is not divine in any way.  In order to avoid the misguided wish to deify him, the Prophet Muhammad taught Muslims to refer to him as “God’s Messenger and His Slave”.  The mission of the last and final prophet of God was to simply teach that “there is nothing divine or worthy of being worshipped except for Almighty God”, as well as being a living example of God’s revelation.  In simple terms, God sent the revelation to Muhammad, who in turn taught it, preached it, lived it and put it into practice. 

 

In this way, Muhammad was more than just a “prophet” in the sense of many of the Biblical prophets, since he was also a statesman and ruler.  He was a man who lived a humble life in the service of God, and established an all-encompassing religion and way of life by showing what it means to be an ideal friend, husband, teacher, ruler, warrior and judge.  For this reason, Muslims follow him not for his own sake, but in obedience to God, because Muhammad not only showed us how to deal with our fellow human beings, but more importantly, showed us how to relate to and worship God; worship Him in the only way pleasing to Him. 

 

Like other prophets, Muhammad faced a great deal of opposition and persecution during his mission.  However, he was always patient and just, and he treated his enemies well.  The results of his mission were very successful, and even though his mission started in one of the most backward and remotes places on earth, within a hundred years of the death of Muhammad, Islam had spread from Spain to China.  The Prophet Muhammad was the greatest of all of God’s prophets, not because he had new doctrines or greater miracles, but because it was him who was chosen to bear the last revelation which would come to humanity from God, one suitable for all places, times, and people, everlasting and unchanging until the Last Day.

What do Muslims think of Jesus?

It is sad that many Christians do not know that Jesus, peace be upon him, holds a very high position within Islam.  Unlike Orthodox Judaism, Islam considers Jesus to be the promised Messiah, a word from God, born of the Virgin Mary to bring a new covenant to the people of Israel.

 

Nevertheless, the Qur'an, the main book in Islam, leaves no room to accept concepts developed by Church theologians after the departure of Jesus, such as the sonship of Jesus (accepted at the Council of Nicaea on May 20, 325) or the idea of adding the Holy Spirit as the "third head" for God (developed as the concept of the Trinity in the Constantinopolitan Creed of 381).

 

In fact both concepts (the sonship of Jesus and the Trinity) tend to negate many clear verses in the old and New Testament. For example:

Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." (Deuteronomy 6:4)
...that ye may know and believe Me, and understand that I
Am He: before Me there was no God, neither shall there be
after Me. 1, even 1, am the Lord; and beside Me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43: 1 0-1 I)
And Jesus answered him: The first of all the commandments
is hear, 0 Israel:' Me Lord our God is one Lord. (Mark 12:29)
... We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. (I Corinthians 8:4)

 

Given these verses, one should be careful not to take the verse in John 1: I literally because it could easily have been mistranslated from the Aramaic into the Greek and should read "and the word was God's."

 

It should be noted here that in the Greek language theos is God while theou means God's (see any Greek dictionary or see the book Muhammad in the Bible by Professor Abdul Ahad Dawud, former bishop of Uramiah, p. 16).

 

On more logical grounds, insisting that Jesus is God or son of God as the main article of faith reduces the 'natural' human instinct to believe in a Creator (it is 'natural' because every human being feels that anything that is organized must have an organizer) from believing in an absolute Creator of the universe who is felt naturally into having to believe in a given historical event that is limited in both time and space.

What is the Qur'an?

The Arabic world “Al-Quran” literally means “the recitation”.  When used in regards to Islam, the word Quran means God’s final message to mankind, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.  The Quran, sometimes spelled Koran, is the literal the word of God - as it clearly says time and time again.  Unlike other sacred scriptures, the Quran has been perfectly preserved in both its words and meaning in a living language.  The Quran is a living miracle in the Arabic language; and is know to be inimitable in its style, form and spiritual impact.  God’s final revelation to mankind, the Quran, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of 23 years. 

 

The Quran, in contrast to many other religious books, was always thought to be the Word of God by those who believed in it, i.e. it wasn’t something decreed by a religious council many years after being written.  Also, the Quran was recited publicly in front of both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities during the life of the Prophet Muhammad.  The entire Quran was also completely written down in lifetime of the Prophet, and numerous companions of the Prophet memorized the entire Quran word-for-word as it was revealed.  So, unlike other scriptures, the Quran was always in the hands of the common believers; it was always thought to be God’s word and, due to wide-spread memorization,  it was perfectly preserved.

 

 In regards to the teachings of the Quran - it is a universal scripture addressed to all of mankind, and not addressed only to a particular tribe or “chosen people”.  The message that it brings is nothing new, but the same message of all of the prophets - submit to Almighty God and worship Him alone.  As such, God’s revelation in the Quran focuses on teaching human beings the importance of believing in the Oneness of God and framing their lives around the guidance which He has sent.  Additionally, the Quran contains the stories of the previous prophets, such as Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus; as well as many commands and prohibitions from God.  In modern times where so many people are caught up in doubt, spiritual despair and “political correctness”, the Quranic teachings offer solutions to the emptiness of our lives and the turmoil that is gripping the world today.  In short, the Quran is the book of guidance par excellence.

What are the pillars of Islam?

Allah has mandated five acts upon which the whole religion of Islam is built. Due to their importance, the Prophet stated in another hadith:

“Islam has been built upon five…”

…and then proceeded to mention the same acts of worship described in the hadith of Gabriel above.

These acts of worship are called the Pillars of Islam, and they are as follows:

 

1. Testimony of faith (Shahadah)         

One must profess this testimony of faith, summarized in the two testimonies:

(a) There is no deity rightfully worshipped but Allah

(b) Muhammad is His Messenger.

Through the belief and attestation of the Testimony of Faith (Shahadah) one enters the fold of Islam. It is the central belief that a believer maintains throughout his life, and is the basis for all his beliefs and worship.

 

2. Formal Prayers (Salah)

One must offer the five daily prayers at their specific times. Through the prayer, a Muslim maintains his relationship with Allah, comes to remember Him often, and avoids falling into sin.

 

3. Compulsory Charity (Zakah)

Those who have stored a certain amount of wealth must allot a specific portion of it annually to designated deserving recipients.

 

4. Fasting (Sawm)

Muslims must fast for a period of one lunar month, which is the month of Ramadan, by refraining from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk. The goal of fasting, as mentioned in the Quran, is to increase one’s piety and God-consciousness.

 

5. Pilgrimage (Hajj)         

Pilgrimage to the House of God, the Kabah, in Mecca is obligatory for every able Muslim once in a lifetime. The Hajj is a physical and visual proof of the brotherhood of humanity, and their equality in servitude in front of Allah.

What are the six articles of faith?

Faith is referred to in Arabic as Imaan.  It represents firm belief in the heart, and not simply blind faith. Islamic doctrine revolves around six aspects described by the Prophet.

 

1. Belief in Allah, which entails the following:

(i)   Belief in Allah’s existence.

(ii)  Allah is the Lord. He is the Creator, the Provider, the Sustainer, and the Owner of the entire universe. None has any share in these roles.

(iii) Allah is the only being entitled to worship. No worship, service or veneration is to be offered to others besides Allah or along with Him, whether they be prophets, priests, saints, angels, idols, or stones.

(iv) Allah has the most beautiful and perfect of names and attributes, which none can be compared to. He is Unique, separate and unlike His creation. No evil or deficiency can be attributed to Him.

 

2. Belief in the Angels, which entails the following:

(i)   Belief in the existence of angels, a creation of Allah.

(ii)  Belief that they have no right to receive any form of worship

(iii) Belief in the names by which the angels are identified in the Quran and Sunnah(teachings of Prophet Muhammad).

(iv) Belief in the special tasks assigned to each of them by Allah in the Quran and Sunnah(teachings of Prophet Muhammad).

 

3. Belief in the Revealed Scriptures, which entails the following:  

(i)   Belief that Allah revealed scriptures to various prophets.

(ii)  Belief that they contained the truth from Allah.

(iii) Belief that all previous scriptures other than the Quran have been altered.

(iv) Belief in the Quran has several aspects:

a) Belief that it is one of the scriptures of Allah.

b) Belief that it is the Final Revelation to humanity, and that no other scripture will be revealed after it.

c) Belief that everything in it is true, containing no falseness.

d) Belief that it has remained unchanged, and will remain so for eternity.

e) Belief that it has abrogated all previous scriptures before it.

4. Belief in the Messengers, which entails the following:

(i)    Belief that Allah sent prophets to every nation, calling them to worship and obey Allah Alone. One must believe in all of them, known or unknown, without rejecting any of them.

(ii)   Belief that they were the best of humanity, chosen due to their virtuousness.

(iii) Belief that they were mere humans, not divine in any way, and that they do not have any right to receive worship, nor did they claim so.

(iv) Belief that they merely conveyed the message from Allah and did not legislate from their own selves.

(v)   Belief that they did not err in conveying the message.

(vi) Belief that obedience to them is a must.

(vi) Belief that Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, was a prophet, which entails those issues discussed in the lesson entitled The Testimony of Faith.

 

5. Belief in Life after Death and the Final Day of Judgment, which entails the following:

(i)   Belief that a day will come when everything will come to an end, and Allah will raise the creation and judge them according to their deeds.

(ii) Belief that those who believed and practically followed the correct religion by following the prophets will enter Paradise for eternity, and that those who disbelieved will enter the Hellfire for eternity.

 

6. Belief in Divine Decree, which entails the following:

(i)   Belief that Allah’s Foreknowledge is all inclusive and complete. He has always known everything that would or would not happen, even before the creation of mankind.

(ii)  Belief that Allah has recorded everything that was going to occur until the Day of Judgment in a book known as “The Mother of the Books” or “The Preserved Tablet”.

(iii) Belief that whatever Allah willed has occurred, is occurring, and will occur. Nothing occurs against or without this Will.

(iv) Allah created everything.

We have mentioned here the minimal requirements of faith in each of these six categories that Muslims believe in, as the Prophet mentioned that these articles form the basis of Islamic belief and faith.

Does Islam oppress women?

No. On the contrary, Islam elevated the status of women 1400 years ago by giving them the right to divorce, the right to have financial independence and support, and the right to be identified as dignified women (Hijab) when in the rest of the world, including Europe, women had no such rights. Women are equal to men in all acts of piety (Quran 33:32). Islam allows women to keep their maiden name after marriage, their earned money, and spend it as they wish, and ask men to be their protector. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told Muslim men, "the best among you is the one who is best to his family." Not Islam, but some Muslim men, do oppress women today. This is because of non-Islamic cultural habits or their ignorance towards their religion.

What is Jihad?
  • The Arabic word "jihad" is often translated as "holy war," but in a purely linguistic sense, the word " jihad" means struggling or striving.
  • The arabic word for war is: "al-harb".
  • In a religious sense, as described by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (s), "jihad" has many meanings. It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a good Muslims or believer, as well as working to inform people about the faith of Islam.
  • If military jihad is required to protect the faith against others, it can be performed using anything from legal, diplomatic and economic to political means. If there is no peaceful alternative, Islam also allows the use of force, but there are strict rules of engagement. Innocents - such as women, children, or invalids - must never be harmed, and any peaceful overtures from the enemy must be accepted.
  • The concept of jihad has been hijacked by many political and religious groups over the ages in a bid to justify various forms of violence. In most cases, Islamic splinter groups invoked jihad to fight against the established Islamic order. Scholars say this misuse of jihad contradicts Islam.
  • Examples of sanctioned military jihad include the Muslims' defensive battles against the Crusaders in medieval times, and before that some responses by Muslims against Byzantine and Persian attacks during the period of the early Islamic conquests.

 

WHAT JIHAD IS NOT

  • Jihad is not a violent concept.
  • Jihad is not a declaration of war against other religions. It is worth noting that the Koran specifically refers to Jews and Christians as "people of the book" who should be protected and respected. All three faiths worship the same God. Allah is just the Arabic word for God, and is used by Christian Arabs as well as Muslims.
  • Military action in the name of Islam has not been common in the history of Islam. Scholars says most calls for violent jihad are not sanctioned by Islam.
  • Warfare in the name of God is not unique to Islam. Other faiths throughout the world have waged wars with religious justifications
What is Sharia Law?

Which legal tradition has the following characteristics?

 

  • Equality before the law
  • Innocent until proven guilty
  • The right to counsel
  • The right to due process
  • Judges are not answerable to political rulers

 

Most people might say the American or European legal systems. That could be true. It would also be true if someone said the Islamic legal tradition. Perhaps this is why in 1935, the United States Supreme Court honored Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as one of the 18 greatest lawgivers in human history.

 

The late Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, an acknowledged expert on international law, has written two thought-provoking books in which he argues that Islam pioneered international law and the first written constitution of the world was developed by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he founded the city state of Madinah.[1]

 

Sharia has been presented by fear mongers as monstrous, murderous and a grave threat often without even understanding what the term means.

 

The word sharia means a “path” or “a way” in Arabic and it covers a huge range of human activity. On a personal level, sharia is a system of guidance for every day life.  It is not an exaggeration to say that it covers a person’s entire existence. Birth, death, marriage, diet, hygiene, sex, beliefs, theology, prayer, fasting, charity and funerals are all covered by sharia. Historians disagree on when exactly Muslims arrived in the Americas. Some argue that Muslims came to the west 5 centuries before Columbus while others say it was in the 14th century. Either way, sharia has been practiced in the west for a very long time.

 

On a broader level sharia covers a large number of legal branches such as:

  • finance and trade
  • civil law
  • international law
  • constitutional law
  • family law
  • inheritance
  • tort law
  • criminal law
  • military law

 

Each area of law has its own specialization, its own highly developed procedures and regulations and a broad range of legal interpretations and understandings. Scholars of Islamic law agree that time, place and social customs impact the law and its rulings.

 

The vastness and comprehensive nature of Islamic law often eludes simple minded bigots or those “experts” on Islam that would like to reduce sharia to short, fear inspiring soundbites.

 

For over a thousand years Islamic scholars and jurists have neatly defined the core values and goals of the sharia. Based on their exhaustive understanding of the primary sources of the law, legal experts tell us the objectives of sharia are to protect: religion, life, intellect, progeny and wealth. Contemporary legal scholars are seeking to expand the list to include concepts such as fundamental rights and liberties, economic development and peaceful coexistence among nations.

 

The most criticized and talked about aspect of the sharia are its prescribed corporal punishments. For many people, that is the sum total of sharia.

 

[1] Cf. The Muslim Conduct of State, and, The Written Constitution of the World, by Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah

How do Muslims view death?

Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe that the present life is only a trial preparation for the next realm of existence. Basic articles of faith include: the Day of Judgement, resurrection, Heaven and Hell. When a Muslim dies, he or she is washed, usually by a family member, wrapped in a clean white cloth, and buried with a simple prayer preferably the same day. Muslims consider this one of the final services they can do for their relatives, and an opportunity to remember their own brief existence here on earth. The Prophet taught that three things can continue to help a person even after death; charity which he had given, knowledge which he had taught and prayers on their behalf by a righteous child.

How to perform Wudu (Ablution)

Step by Step Guide to Salah (Prayer)