WHAT IS ISLAM?


In The Name Of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and

made you into nations 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 49:13)

WHAT IS ISLAM?

Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His

prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world’s population, Islam is both a religion

and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and

forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events

which have come to be associated with their faith.

WHO ARE THE MUSLIMS?

One 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?

Muslims believe in One Unique, Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in

the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of

Judgment and individual accountability for actions; in God’s complete authority over

human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting

with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses,

Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace be upon

them. But God’s final message to man, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a

summing-up of all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad

through Gabriel.

HOW DOES SOMEONE BECOME A MUSLIM?

Simply by saying ‘there is no god apart from God, and Muhammad is the Messenger

of God.’ By this declaration the believer announces his or her faith in all God’s

messengers, and the scriptures they brought.

WHAT DOES ‘ISLAM’ MEAN?

The Arabic word ‘Islam’ simply means ‘submission’, and derives from a word meaning

‘peace’. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of God.

Mohammedanism’ is thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship

Muhammad rather than God. ‘Allah’ is the Arabic name for God, which is used by

Arab Muslims and Christians alike.

WHY DOES ISLAM OFTEN SEEM STRANGE?

Islam may seem exotic or even extreme in the modern world. Perhaps this is because

religion does not dominate everyday life in the West today, whereas Muslims have

religion always uppermost in their minds, and make no division between secular and

sacred. They believe that the Divine Law, the Shari’a, should be taken very seriously,

which is why issues related to religion are still so important.

DO ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY HAVE DIFFERENT ORIGINS?

No. Together with Judaism, they go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and

their three prophets are directly descended from his sons Muhammad from the eldest,

Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from Isaac. Abraham established the settlement which

today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka’abah towards which all Muslims turn

when they pray.

WHAT IS THE KA’ABAH?

The Ka’abah is the place of worship which God commanded Abraham and Ishmael to

build over four thousand years ago. The building was constructed of stone on what

many believe was the original site of a sanctuary established by Adam. God

commanded Abraham to summon all mankind to visit this place, and when pilgrims go

there today they say ‘At Thy service, O Lord’, in response to Abraham’s summons.

WHO IS MUHAMMAD?

Muhammad was born in Makkah in the year 570, at a time when Christianity was not

yet fully established in Europe. Since his father died before his birth, and his mother

shortly afterwards, he was raised by his uncle from the respected tribe of Quraysh. As

he grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so that he

was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. The historians describe him as

calm and meditative. Muhammad was of a deeply religious nature, and had long

detested the decadence of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to

time in the Cave of Hira near the summit of Jaba al-Nur, the ‘Mountain of Light’ near

Makkah.

HOW DID HE BECOME A PROPHET AND A MESSENGER OF GOD?

At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first

revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for

twenty-three years, is known as the Qur’an. As soon as be began to recite the words

he heard from Gabriel, and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him, he and

his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution which grew so fierce that in

the year 622 God gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the Hijra,

‘migration’, in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah some 260 miles to the

north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. After several years, the Prophet

and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies

and established Islam definitively. Before the Prophet died at the age of 63, the

greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century of his death Islam had spread

to Spain in the West and as far East as China.

HOW DID THE SPREAD OF ISLAM AFFECT THE WORLD?

Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its

doctrine-Islam calls for faith in only one God worthy of worship. It also repeatedly

instructs man to use his powers of intelligence and observation.

Within a few years, great civilizations and universities were flourishing, for according

to the Prophet, ‘seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and

woman’. The synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old,

brought about great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy,

geography, architecture, art, literature, and history. Many crucial systems such as

algebra, the Arabic numerals, and also the concept of the zero (vital to the

advancement of mathematics), were transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam.

Sophisticated instruments which were to make possible the European voyages of

discovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and good

navigational maps.

WHAT IS THE QUR’AN?

The Qur’an is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel

to the Prophet Muhammad. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his

Companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime.

Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the centuries, so that

the Qur’an is in every detail the unique and miraculous text which was revealed to

Muhammad fourteen centuries ago.

WHAT IS THE QUR’AN ABOUT?

The Qur’an, the last revealed Word of God, is the prime source of every Muslim’s faith

and practice. It deals with all the subjects which concern us as human beings: wisdom,

doctrine, worship, and law, but its basic theme is the relationship between God and

His creatures. At the same time it provides guidelines for a just society, proper human

conduct and an equitable economic system.

ARE THERE ANY OTHER SACRED SOURCES?

Yes, the Sunna, the practice and example of the Prophet, is the second authority for

Muslims. A Hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet said, did, or

approved. Belief in the Sunna is part of the Islamic faith.

EXAMPLES OF THE PROPHET’S SAYINGS

The Prophet said:

‘God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others’.

‘None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what

he wishes for himself’.

‘He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not

a believer’.

‘The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with the

prophets, the saints, and the martyrs’.

‘Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is

he who controls himself in a fit of anger’.

‘God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances but

He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds’.

‘A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he

descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog

with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its

thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he

had felt so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe

with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this

action’. The Prophet was asked: ‘Messenger of God, are we rewarded

for kindness towards animals?’ He said, ‘There is a reward for

kindness to every living thing’.

From the Hadith collections of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Bayhaqi

WHAT ARE THE ‘FIVE PILLARS’ OF ISLAM?

They are the framework of the Muslim life: faith, prayer, concern for the

needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are

able.

1. FAITH

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.

A translation of the Call to Prayer is:

God is most great. God is most great.

God is most great. God is most great.

I testify that there is no god except God.

I testify that there is no god except God.

I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

Come to prayer! Come to prayer!

Come to success (in this life and the Hereafter)! Come to success!

God is most great. God is most great.

There is no god except God.

2. PRAYER

Salah is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and

are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in

Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person who knows the

Qur’an, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the

Qur’an, 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.

3. THE ‘ZAKAT’

One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, 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 ‘voluntary charity’ it has a wider

meaning. The Prophet said ‘even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity’.

The Prophet said:

‘Charity is a necessity for every Muslim’. He was asked: ‘What if

a person has nothing?’ The Prophet 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 said: ‘He should help poor and needy

persons.’ The Companions further asked ‘What is he cannot do even

that?’ The Prophet said ‘He should urge others to do good’. The

Companions said ‘What if he lacks that also?’ The Prophet said ‘He

should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.’

4. THE FAST

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

journey, 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 self-purification. 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.

5. PILGRIMAGE (Hajj)

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 corner 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 God.

The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Ka’abah

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 Judgment.

In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi

Arabia provides millions of people with water, modern transport, and the most up-todate

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.

DOES ISLAM TOLERATE OTHER BELIEFS?

The Qur’an says:

God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for

(your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly

and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just

(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.

WHAT DO MUSLIMS THINK ABOUT JESUS?

Muslims respect and revere Jesus, and await his Second Coming. They consider him

one of the greatest of God’s Messengers to mankind. A Muslim never refers to him

simply as ‘Jesus’, but always adds the phrase ‘upon him be peace’. The Qur’an confirms

his virgin birth (a chapter of the Qur’an is entitled ‘Mary’), and Mary is considered the

purest woman in all creation. The Qur’an describes the Annunciation as follows:

Behold!’ the Angel said, ‘God has chosen you, and purified you,

and chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary, God gives

you good news of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah,

Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and the Hereafter, and

one of those brought near to God. He shall speak to the people

from his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of the righteous.’

She said: ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has

touched me?’ He said: ‘Even so; God creates what He will. When He

decrees a thing, He says to it, “Be!” and it is 3:42-7)

Jesus was born miraculously through the same power which had

brought Adam into being without a father:

Truly, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam.

(3:59)

During his prophetic mission Jesus 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, as it were, the 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 (3:49)

Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of

the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm

and renew it. In the Qur’an Jesus is reported as saying that he

came:

To attest the law which was before me. And to make lawful to you

part of what was forbidden you; I have come to you with a sign from

your Lord, so fear God and obey me 3:50)

The Prophet Muhammad said:

that Muhammad is His messenger, that Jesus is the servant and

messenger of God, His word breathed into Mary and a spirit

emanating from Him, and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be

received Hadith from Bukhari)

WHY IS THE FAMILY SO IMPORTANT TO MUSLIMS?

The family is the foundation of Islamic society. The peace and security offered by a

stable family unit is greatly valued, and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its

members. A harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended families;

children are treasured, and rarely leave home until the time they marry.

WHAT ABOUT MUSLIM WOMEN?

Islam sees a 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 marriage dowry is given

by the groom to the bridge for her own personal use, and she keeps her own family

name rather than taking her husband’s. Both men and women are expected to dress in

a way which is modest and dignified; the traditions of female dress found in some

Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs.

The Messenger of God said:

faith amongst believers is he who is best in

manner

CAN A MUSLIM HAVE MORE THAN ONE WIFE?

The religion of Islam was revealed for all societies and all times and so accommodates

widely differing social requirements. Circumstances may warrant the taking of another

wife but the right is granted, according to the Qur’an, only on condition that the

husband is scrupulously fair.

IS ISLAMIC MARRIAGE LIKE CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE?

A Muslim marriage is not a ‘sacrament’, but a simple, legal agreement in which either

partner is free to include conditions. Marriage customs thus vary widely from country

to country. As a result, divorce is not common, although it is not forbidden as a last

resort. According to Islam, no Muslim girl can be forced to marry against her will: her

parents will simply suggest young men they think may be suitable.

HOW DO MUSLIMS TREAT THE ELDERLY?

In the Islamic world there are no old people’s homes. The strain of caring for one’s

parents in this most difficult time of their lives is considered an honor and blessing,

and an opportunity for great spiritual growth. God asks that we not only pray for our

parents, but act with limitless compassion, remembering that when we were helpless

children they preferred us to themselves. Mothers are particularly honored: the

Prophet taught that ‘Paradise lies at the feet of mothers’. When they reach old age,

Muslim parents are treated mercifully, with the same kindness and selflessness.

In Islam, serving one’s parents is a duty second only to prayer, and it is their right to

expect it. It is considered despicable to express any irritation when, through no fault of

their own, the old become difficult.

The Qur’an says:

Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and be kind

to parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, do

not say ‘uff’ to them or chide them, but speak to them in terms of

honor and kindness. Treat them with humility, and say, ‘My Lord!

Have mercy on them, for they did care for me when I was little

(17:23-4)

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.

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 which 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 men were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous

cause.

The Qur’an says:

Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not

transgress limits. God does not love transgressors 2:190)

If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He

is the One that heareth and knoweth all things 8:61)

War, therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by

the sacred law. The term Jihad literally means ‘struggle’, and Muslims believe that

there are two kinds of Jihad. The other ‘Jihad’ is the inner struggle which everyone

wages against egotistic desires, for the sake of attaining inner peace.

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 intoxicating drink. The Prophet 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 said:

‘Ask God for certainty (of faith) and well-being; for after

certainty, no one is given any gift better than health!’

ISLAM IN THE UNITED STATES

It is almost impossible to generalize about American Muslims: converts, immigrants,

factory workers, doctors; all are making their own contribution to America’s future.

This complex community is unified by a common faith, underpinned by a countrywide

network of a thousand mosques.

Muslims were early arrivals in North America. By the eighteenth century there were

many thousands of them, working as slaves on plantations. These early communities,

cut off from their heritage and families, inevitably lost their Islamic identity as time

went by. Today many Afro-American Muslims play an important role in the Islamic

community.

The nineteenth century, however, saw the beginnings of an influx of Arab Muslims,

most of whom settled in the major industrial centers where they worshipped in hired

rooms. The early twentieth century witnessed the arrival of several hundred thousand

Muslims from Eastern Europe: the first Albanian mosque was opened in Maine in

1915; others soon followed, and a group of Polish Muslims opened a mosque in

Brooklyn in 1928.

In 1947 the Washington Islamic Center was founded during the term of President

Truman, and several nationwide organizations were set up in the fifties. The same

period saw the establishment of other communities whose lives were in many ways

modeled after Islam. More recently, numerous members of these groups have entered

the fold of Muslim orthodoxy. Today there are about five million Muslims in America.

HOW DOES ISLAM GUARANTEE HUMAN RIGHTS?

Freedom of conscience is laid down by the Qur’an itself:

There is no compulsion in religion 2:256)

The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether a

person is Muslim or not. Racism is incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur’an

speaks of human equality in the following terms:

made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one

another. Truly, the most honored of you in God’s sight is the

greatest 49:13

اذا كنت استفدت فلا تبخل علينا بكلمة شكر أو اضغط زر الإعجاب- لا تحتاج للتسجيل او لكتابة اميلك للتعليق

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