ISLAM In Brief
- The Religion of ISLAM
- The message of ISLAM
- Who are muslims?
- What do muslims believe?
- Muhammad(s.a.w.), the Seal of Prophets
- How did the spread od Islam affect the world?
- What is Quran?
- What are the “Five Pillars” of Islam?
- How does Islam guarantee human rights and equality?
- What does Islam says about war?
- How does Islam elevate the status of women?
- How does Islam relate to Christianity and Judaism?
- How do muslims view death?
- What about food?
- Why is Islam often misunderstood?
THE RELIGION OF ISLAM
The first thing that one should know and clearly understand about Islam is what the word “Islam” itself means. The religion of Islam is not named after a person as in the case of Christianity which was named after Jesus Christ, Buddhism after Gotama Buddha, Confucianism after Confucius, and Marxism after Karl Marx. Nor was it named after a tribe like Judaism after the tribe of Judah and Hinduism after the Hindus. Islam is the true religion of “Allah” and as such, its name represents the central principle of Allah’s “God’s” religion; the total submission to the will of Allah “God”. The Arabic word “Islam” means the submission or surrender of one’s will to the only true god worthy of worship “Allah” and anyone who does so is termed a “Muslim”, The word also implies “peace” which is the natural consequence of total submission to the will of Allah. Hence, it was not a new religion brought by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) I in Arabia in the seventh century, but only the true religion of Allah re-expressed in its final form.
Islam is the religion which was given to Adam, the first man and the first prophet of Allah, and it was the religion of all the prophets sent by Allah to mankind. The name of God’s religion lslam was not decided upon by later generations of man. It was chosen by Allah Himself and clearly mentioned in His final revelation to man. In the final book of divine revelation, the Qur’aan, Allah states the following:
“This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”. (Soorah Al-Maa’idah 5:3)
“If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah (God) never will It be accepted of Him” (Soorah Aal’imraan 3:85)
“Abraham was not a Jew nor Christian; but an upright Muslim.” (Soorah Aal’imraan 3:67)
Islam is not a new religion but the final culmination and fulfillment of the same basic truth that Allah revealed through all His prophets to every people. A way of life symbolized by peace – peace with Allah, peace within oneself, and peace with the creations of Allah through submission to Allah and commitment to His guidance.
THE MESSAGE OF ISLAM
Since the total submission of one’s will to Allah represents the essence of worship, the basic message of Allah’s divine religion, Islam is the worship of Allah alone and the avoidance of worship directed to any person, place or thing other than Allah.Since everything other than Allah, the Creator of all things, is Allah’s creation; it may be said that Islam, in essence calls man away from the worship of creation and invites him to worship only its Creator. He is the only one deserving man’s worship as it is only by His will that prayers are answered.
Who are Muslims?
Over a billion people from all races, nationalities and cultures across the globe are Muslim – from the rice farms of Indonesia to the deserts in the heart of Africa; from the skyscrapers of New York to the Bedouin tents in Arabia.
Only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world; a fifth are found in Sub-Saharan Africa; and the world’s largest Muslim community is in Indonesia. Substantial parts of Asia are Muslim, while significant minorities live in India, China, Russia, North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe.
What do Muslims believe?
Muslims believe in the One, Unique, Incomparable, Merciful God – the Sole Creator and Sustainer of the Universe; in the Angels created by Him; in the Prophets through whom His revelations were brought to humankind; in the Day of Judgment and in individual accountability for actions; in Allah’s complete authority over destiny, be it good or bad; and in life after death. Muslims believe that Allah sent His messengers and prophets to all people and Allah’s final message to humanity, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing up of all that had gone before, was revealed to the Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the Archangel Gabriel.
Muhammad(s.a.w.), the Seal of the Prophets
Muhammad(s.a.w.) was born in Makkah in the year 570, during the period of history Europeans call the Middle Ages. As he grew up, Muhammad(s.a.w.) became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, earning the title of al-Amin, the trustworthy one.
Muhammad (s.a.w.) was of a contemplative nature and had long detested the decadence of his society. At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad (s.a.w.) received his first revelation from God through the Archangel Gabriel. This revelation continued for twenty-three years and is known as the Qur’an.
Muhammad (s.a.w.) began to recite the words he heard from Gabriel, and to preach the truth that God had revealed to him. The people of Makkah were steeped in their ways of ignorance and opposed Muhammad(s.a.w.) and his small group of followers in every way. These early Muslims suffered bitter persecution.
In 622, God gave the Muslim Community the command to emigrate. This event, the hijrah, ‘migration’, in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah, some 260 miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Madinah provided Muhammad (s.a.w.) and the Muslims the safe and nurturing haven from where Islam grew.
After several years, the Prophet (s.a.w.) and his followers returned to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam definitively.
Muhammad (s.a.w.) died at the age of 63 and was buried in Madinah. At the time of his death, the greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century Islam had spread to Spain in the West and as far east as China.
How did the spread of Islam affect the world?
Within a few decades of Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) death, the territory under Muslim rule had extended onto the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe.
Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine – Islam calls for faith in only one Allah worthy of worship. Islam also repeatedly instructs humans to use their powers of intelligence and observation.
As Muslim civilization developed, it absorbed the heritage of ancient peoples, like those of Egypt, Persia and Greece. The synthesis of Eastern ad Western ideas and of new thought with old, brought about great advances in the various fields of study. Scholars working in the Islamic tradition developed and excelled at art, architecture, astronomy, geography, history, language, literature, medicine, mathematics, and physics.
Many crucial systems such as Algebra, the Arabic numerals, and the very concept of the zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics), were transmitted to medieval Europe through Muslim scholars.
Sophisticated instruments that were to make possible the great European voyages of discovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant, good navigational charts and maps.
What is the Qur’an?
The Qur’an is a complete record of the exact words revealed by Allah through Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad(s.a.w.)
The Qur’an is the principal source of every Muslim’s faith and practice. It deals with all subjects that concern us as human beings – wisdom, doctrine, worship and law – but its basic theme is the relationship between Allah and His creatures.
At the same time the Qur’an provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and equitable economic principles.
Apart from the Qur’an, Muslims also refer to the life of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) as a secondary source of guidance.
Belief in the sunnah, the practice and example of the Prophet(s.a.w.), is an integral part of the Islamic faith.
What are the ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam?
They are the framework of the Muslim life: faith, prayer, zakat-concern for the needy, fast-self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.
Faith (Shahada) أشهد أن لا إله إلاَّ الله و أشهد أن محمد رسول الل
There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula which all the faithful pronounce. In Arabic, the first part is la ilaha illa’Llah – ‘there is no god except God’; ilaha (god) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God–wealth, power, and the like. Then comes illa’Llah: ‘except God’, the source of all Creation. The second part of the Shahada is Muhammadun rasulu’Llah: ‘Muhammad is the messenger of God.’ A message of guidance has come through a man like ourselves.
Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and Allah. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Quran, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the Quran, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one’s own language. Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life. A translation of the Call to Prayer(adhan) is:
Once Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem, but during the Prophet’s lifetime it was changed to Makkah. From the minbar, the pulpit, the Imam who leads the prayer gives the sermon at the Friday noon community prayers.
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to Allah, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakat means both ‘purification’ and ‘growth’. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one’s capital. A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as it has a wider meaning. ‘voluntary charity’The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: ‘Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.’
The Prophet (s.a.w.) said: ‘Charity is a necessity for every Muslim.’ He was asked: ‘What if a person has nothing?’ TheProphet (SAW) replied: ‘He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity.’ The Companions asked: ‘What if he is not able to work?’ The Prophet (SAW) said: ‘He should help poor and needy persons.’ The Companions further asked ‘What if he cannot do even that?’ The Prophet (SAW) said ‘He should urge others to do good.’ The Companions said ‘What if he lacks that also?’ The Prophet (SAW) said ‘He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.’
Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a joumey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier. Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method of selfpurification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one’s spiritual life.
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah, the Hajj, is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about two million people go to Makkah each year from every comer of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter).
Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments which strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before Allah. The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Ka’ba seven times, and going seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafa and join in prayers for God’s forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgement. In previous centunes the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with water, modem transport, and the most up-to-date health facilities. The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.
How does Islam guarantee human rights and equality?
The Qur’an prescribes freedom of conscience:
“There is no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from falsehood; whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the strongest rope that never breaks. And God is All-Hearing and All-Knowing.” (Qur’an 2:256)
The life, honor and property of all citizens in a Muslim society are considered sacred whether the person is Muslim or not. Racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry and prejudice are incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur’an speaks of human equality in the following terms:
“O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Quran 49:13)
What does Islam say about war?
Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock.
As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.
One reads in the Qur’an:
“Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.” (Qur’an 2:190)
“If they seek peace, then you seek peace. And trust in God for He is the One that hears and konws all things.” (Qur’an 8:61)
War is therefore the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law.
The often misunderstood and overused term jihad literally means “struggle” and not “holy war” (a term not found anywhere in the Qur’an). Jihad, as an Islamic concept, can be on a personal level – inner struggle against evil within oneself; struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; and struggle on the battlefield, if and when necessary.
How does Islam elevate the status of women?
According to the Qur’an, men and women are equal before Allah; women are not blamed for violating the “forbidden tree,” nor is their suffering in pregnancy and childbirth a punishment for that act.
Islam sees woman, whether single or married, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own and dispose of her property and earnings. A marital gift is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she may keep her own family name rather than adopting her husband’s.
Roles of men and women are complementary and collaborative. Rights and responsibilities of both sexes are equitable and balanced in their totality.
Both men and women are expected to dress in a way that is simple, modest and dignified. Specific traditions of dress found in some Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs rather than religious principle.
Likewise, treatment of women in some areas of the Muslim world sometimes reflects cultural practices which may be inconsistent, if not contrary, to authentic Islamic teachings.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“The most perfect in faith, amongst believers, is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.”
How does Islam relate to Christianity and Judaism?
Muslims, Christians and Jews all trace their origins to the Prophet and Patriarch Abraham and their three Prophets are direct descendants from Abraham’s sons – Muhammad from the eldest, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from Isaac (peace be upon them all).
Muslims particularly respect and revere Jesus. They consider him one of the greatest of Allah’s prophets and messengers. A Muslim never refers to him simply as “Jesus”, but always adds the phrase “peace be upon him.” The Qur’an confirms his virgin birth, and a special chapter of the Qur’an is entitled “Mary” in honor of the mother of Jesus.
Jesus was born miraculously through the same power that had brought Adan (peace be upon them both) into being without a father:
“Truly the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust and then said to him, ‘Be!’ and he was.” (Qur’an 3:59)
During his prophetic mission, Jesus (peace be upon him) performed many miracles. The Qur’an tells us that he said:
“I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you out of clay a figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by God’s leave.” (Qur’an 3:49)
Neither Muhammad nor Jesus (peace be upon them) came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One Allah, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it.
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 (s.a.w.) 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.
What about food?
Although much simpler than the dietary law followed by Jews and the early Christians, the code which Muslims observe forbids the consumption of pig meat or any kind of intoxicatings. The Prophet(s.a.w.) taught that ‘your body has rights over you’, and the consumption of wholesome food and the leading of a healthy lifestyle are seen as religious obligations. The Prophet (s.a.w.) said:
‘Ask God for certainty [of faith] and well-being; for after certainty, no one is given any gift better than health!’
Why is Islam often misunderstood?
Islam is frequently misunderstood and may even seem exotic in some parts of today’s world.
Perhaps this is because religion no longer dominates everyday life in Western society; whereas, for Muslims, Islam is life. Muslims make no artificial division between the secular and the sacred.
For quite some time Islam was thought of as some “Eastern” religion, but with the increasing number of Muslims living in the West, Islam is gradually being perceived as a global faith. Muslims are no longer thought of as strangers with unusual practices, but are being welcomed as part of the mosaic of life in the West. In many cases, Islam is not just viewed as an acceptable religion, but as a desired way of living.