The Islamic creed is that THERE IS NO GOD SAVE ALLAH AND THAT MUHAMMAD IS HIS PROPHET. (LA ILAAHA ILLA-ALLAH MUHAMMADUR- RASOOLILLAH).
Muslims believe that Allah is ONE. He was neither begotten nor does He beget. He has no Partner. He is the Beginning and He is the End. He is Omniscient and Omnipresent.
The Quraan says that He is closer to man than his jugular vein yet He cannot be encompassed by human intellect.
See the following verses of the Quraan:
Imam Ali says in a supplication:
"Oh God, verily I ask Thee by Thy Name, in the name of Allah, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate, O the Possessor of Majesty and Splendour, the Living, the Self-subsistent, the Eternal, there is no God other than Thou, Oh He of Whom no one knows what He is, or how He is, or Where He is, or in respect of what He is, And yet, we know that He is."
Allah is Just. In XCV:8, the Quraan says "Is not Allah the most conclusive of all judges?"
Again in XXI:47 "And we have provided a Just balance for the Day of Judgement. No soul shall be dealt with unjustly in any way. (Any good deed or evil deed) though it be as small as a grain of the mustard seed, will be brought forth by Us (in testimony). We suffice as the best of reckoners."
The Sunni School of thought subscribes to the view that nothing is good or evil per se. What God commanded us to do became good by virtue of His command. What he forbade became evil.
The Shias believe that there is intrinsic good or evil in things. God commanded us to do the good things and forbade the evil. God acts according to a purpose or design. Human reason cannot comprehend this design or purpose in its entirety though man must always strive to understand as much as he can.
Compulsion or Freedom?
God created mankind to serve Him (LI:56). He endowed man with faculties and freedom of action and out of His Grace (LUTF) and Justice sent Prophets to instruct and guide mankind. No nation or community was left without such guidance. (X:47 and XVI:36).
Some of these prophets were sent with Divine Revelation, scripture and miracles. The first Prophet was Adam and the last was Muhammad, the Seal of Prophets (XXX:40).
While Quraan mentions only twenty-five most prominent of the prophets it also states that there were many more whose names have not been revealed in the Quraan. (XL:78). Muslims believe that there have been 124,000 prophets. Amongst those specifically mentioned are Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, David, Solomon, Jonah, Zachariah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad.
Five of these prophets brought new codes of law. These were Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. These are called the "ulu l-azm" prophets meaning those of great constancy.
Quraan mentions five divine books.
A Muslim must believe in all the Holy Books. (II:4 & 285). He must also believe in all the prophets. (IV:152).
The Shiahs also believe that all the prophets were infallible and sinless. Not all the Sunnis subscribe to this belief.
An Imaam is first and foremost the Representative of God and the successor of the Prophet. He must be sinless and possess divine knowledge of both the exoteric and the esoteric meaning of the verses of the Quraan.
There are many Shiah sects e.g. the Zaidis, the Ismailis etc. The principal sect is the Twelvers (Ithnasharis).
(NOTE: In these Notes, unless specifically stated otherwise, references to the Shiahs and Shiah beliefs, should be construed as references to the Shiah Ithnasheriyya school of thought.)
The Twelvers believe that the Prophet was succeeded by twelve Imaams. These are:
On the death of his father in 260 A.H. the twelfth Imam went into occultation (Gaybah), appearing only to a few leading Shiahs. Until 329 A.H./939 A.D. he performed the functions of the Imaam through representatives appointed by himself. He then went into major occultation which will continue until the day God grants him permission to manifest himself.
The Sunni View
A. The Shiah School
Since the major occultation of the twelfth Imaam the Shias have, as commanded not only by him but also most of the preceding Imaams, sought guidance from mujtahids and followed the institution of taqleed.
Taqleed literally means to follow or to imitate someone. In Islamic jurisprudence it means to follow a mujtahid in matters pertaining to law. (XXI:7 and IX:124)
Taqleed applies only to matters of shariah. There is no taqleed in matters of beliefs (the articles of faith). A Muslim must seek to attain conviction of their truth through reflection and rational examination.
A mujtahid must be a person learned in all the Islamic sciences. At any given time there would normally be a number of persons qualified as mujtahids and it is not uncommon to have two members of the same family in taqleed of two different mujtahids.
Any muslim can address any question of law to any mujtahid, whether or not he is in the taqleed of that mujtahid and the mujtahid would issue a fatwaa giving his opinion on that subject. This would invariably be by way of a statement of the law which in the opinion of the mujtahid is the correct legal position. The fatwaa would be binding on all the persons in the taqleed of that mujtahid.
A mujtahid is so called because he does ijtehaad which term means to strive for deriving the laws of the shariah from its sources which are:
B. The Sunni School
For nearly a hundred years following the death of the Prophet the State retained absolute control over authentication, collection and publication of the sayings (ahadees) of the Prophet. A few unscrupulous khalifahs did not hesitate to use this power to legitimise their misdeeds by arranging to have apocryphal ahadees produced.
After the Banu Abbas came into power in 132 A.H. (750 A.D.), the formation of the Sunni community was formalised.
Although there are many sects and sub-sects in the sunni school of thought, the four main sects are-
Although there are many irreconcilable differences in the four Sunni schools, in the main, however, they agree on the fundamental bases of their doctrines and laws. Each claims to have derived them from the following four sources:
The extent of the acceptance of the theological and legal doctrines of any of the above four sunni schools depended largely on the inclination of the ruler of the time. For example, although Abu Hanifa himself did not gain great popularity with the khalifah, his successor Abu Yusuf became a powerful figure in the court and held office of the Chief Kadhi.
The khalifah, however, always continued to remain the final arbiter in the exposition of the law and the jurists were relegated to an advisory role.
Since the abolition of the institution of khilafah following the fall of the Ottoman Empire the sunni schools have not developed as fast as they need to so as to keep pace with the social, economic, political and scientific development. Some Sunni sects have recognized the need for ijtehaad, a few appear to concentrate on ijmaa as the main instrument for reform.
In addition to their differences in jurisprudence, the Sunnis and the Shiahs hold divergent theological views on various aspects of the articles of beliefs e.g. human freedom of action and the Justice of God (both discussed above), whether God has a corporeal form. Some sunni sects believe in anthropomorphism.
The Shiahs and the Sunnis, however, agree on the following fundamental beliefs:
Acts of Worship
The mandatory acts of worship accepted by both the Sunnis and the Shiahs are:
Every Muslim, from the time he or she attains puberty must perform the salaah. Except for a woman in menstruation, no person is excused from this act of worship.
Before a person begins his salaah he must perform the ritual ablution in the prescribed form. The object is symbolic preparation for the salaah and not, as often believed, cleanliness. A person has to be clean to perform the ablution (wudhoo). Then he stands facing Mecca and declares his intention to pray for gaining proximity to Allah. With this declaration he enters the formal state of salaah in which he remains until the completion of his prayers.
A salaah consists of a number of units called rakaahs. Each unit (rakaah) consists of
The morning prayers to be performed between the dawn and sunrise have two rakaahs, the mid-day prayers four rakaahs, the sunset three and the evening four.
The prayers are ended by affirmation that Allah is One and has no partners and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. Salutations are offered to the Prophet, all the righteous souls and all who are engaged in prayers.
Salaah is regarded as not only a ritual act of worship but a communion with the Maker. It is the most important form of ibaadah and sickness (other than insanity), age or infirmity is no excuse for not performing prayers.
Lapsed prayers constitute a debt to God and are a first charge on a muslim's time and conscience. In the event of a person having died without having said any of his lapsed prayers, the eldest son, or if the deceased is not survived by a son, his heir must say or pay someone to say the lapsed prayers of the deceased.
Seyyid Hossein Nasr writes in his Ideals and Realities of Islam:
" In the canonical prayers man stands before God as the representative of all creatures. He prays for and in the name of all beings."
Amongst the many sayings of the Prophet on the subject are:
" Salaah is the spiritual ascension of the faithful where he communes with Allah."
Salaah is a spiritual activity where the person performing it is totally immersed, mentally and physically, in the remembrance of God. (XXIX:45, XXII:34 & 35, XXVII:1-3, XX:6-7 and 14, IX:71, LXXIV:38-48, VI:71 & 72, XV:98 & 99, XI:114 & 225).
The second act of worship is fasting in the month of Ramadhaan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. This is obligatory upon every mature muslim except the sick, the traveller, a woman during her menstruation period and those infirm by age.
Fasting involves refraining from eating, drinking and sexual activity from the beginning of the nautical dawn to sunset. But these are not the sole objectives. Fasting is a conscious obedience of Allah's command. It is the human being's struggle to dedicate a whole month to activities which please his Maker. "It is the means", says Nasr, "by which man pulls the reins of his animal desires and realizes that he is more than an animal."
Fasting also begins with a declaration of intent to fast for the attainment of proximity to Allah. (II:184, 185, 187)
It is incumbent upon a muslim to know why he prays and why he fasts. Imaam Ali says, "One who knows not why he prays or why he fasts, his prayers and fasts are little more than meaningless physical exertions, hunger and thirst."
Every Muslim who has attained puberty and has sufficient means not only to undertake a journey to Mecca but also for the subsistence of his dependants during his absence, must once in his life time perform pilgrimage.
Kaaba is the edifice which was presented to God as a gift by His Prophets Abraham and Ishmael.
The rites for the pilgrimage begin on the 8th of the eleventh month and culminate into the Idd of Sacrifice on the 10th. (II:158, 196-203; III:97; V:3; XXII 26:33).
A muslim's journey to the House of God, and there seeking his Maker's forgiveness through expression of repentance and the performance of all the rituals attending pilgrimage, is a spiritual experience so overwhelming that the pilgrim's very soul appears to undergo a purification.
The pilgrimage has another philosophical aspect.
In the Quraan, like in the Old Testament, there is the story of Abraham having been commanded to sacrifice his son. The Quraan, however, states that the son was Ishmael.
The father communicates the message to the young lad who had just attained puberty. The lad exhorts the father to comply with the divine command adding, "God willing, you shall find me amongst the patient ones."
Unbeknown to the mother, the father and the son travel to the planes of Arafaa, a short distance from Mecca. There they spend the night in prayers. The following afternoon they travel to the town of Meena where the sacrifice was to take place. They spend the night on the outskirts of the town. The following morning they enter Meena.
On the way to the appointed place, the Satan tries thrice to lure them into abandoning the enterprise, but each time the father and the son chase him away by throwing pebbles at him.
When they get to the place of sacrifice, the father blindfolds his son saying that he did not wish the lad to see the anguish on the father's face. He then blindfolds himself for, as he reasoned, how could any father watch his son die ?
God saves Ishmael by substituting a ram and sends His salutations to Abraham for his act of obedience. God also promises Abraham to immortalize the event. (II:125-127; III:96-97; XXXVII:101-111).
The mother, on learning what had happened, screams and falls unconscious at the thought of what might have happened had Allah not intervened to save her beloved son. Shortly afterwards she dies and is buried close to Kaaba. Her burial place is treated as being included in the hallowed ground around which the pilgrim circumambulates.
Every pilgrim takes the same route which Abraham and Ishmael had taken. He too spends the first night, as they did, in Arafaa and the second night outside Meena. He too symbolically stones the satan at the three places in Meena.
While of-course the visit to the House of Allah has its own great spirituality, the pilgrim also must reflect upon the rituals which appear to enshrine family values, parents' love for their off-spring, the vanquishing of the satan, the one within man's heart, by symbolically stoning him and above all the willingness to make sacrifices for the pleasure of God.
Zakah, which literally means purity or purification, is a wealth tax of a small percentage (usually 2.5%) for the benefit of the needy in the society. It is regarded as a debt to God and must be distributed for the pleasure of Allah to the less fortunate amongst one's relatives, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarers, and the beggars, and for the freeing of slaves. (II: 2-3, II-43, II:177, IX:11, XXII:41, IX:71, III:91, XIV:91, XXIV:22, XXVI:9, XIV:35-37, XXII:26)
There are innumerable traditions of the Prophet insisting upon zakah being paid by every muslim. Imaam Ja'far Sadiq said that the one who does not give zakah can not expect his salaah to be accepted by Allah.
The Doctrine Of Five Pillars:
The Shiahs list the five Articles of Faith as the roots of religion (Usool-e-Deen) and the Acts of Worship as the branches of religion (Furoo-e-Deen).
In addition to the above acts of worship the Shiahs believe in the following acts of worship (The sunnis regard them as mandatory acts of piety):
There are two kinds of jihad, the major jihad and the minor jihad.
The Major Jihad: (Jihad Al-Akbar)
" O the soul at peace, return to your Lord, pleased with His good pleasure AND enter into the company of My true servants. Enter the Garden !." (LXXXIX:27-30).
The Minor Jihad (Jihad Al-Asghar)
In the Shiah theology, a general qitaal can be declared only by an Imaam. A mujtahid has no authority to summon Muslims to a jihad involving qitaal.
It is an act of worship for a Muslim to advise and direct others to the doing of good deeds for the pleasure of Allah.
Similarly it is the duty of every Muslim to advise others against committing sins. (III:103, 109, 113; VII:199; IX:71, 112; XXII:41; XXI:17.)
Only the Shiahs believe in this additional tax and they regard it as a major obligation of every Shiah Muslim. It was instituted by God as a token of regard for the Prophet and his family. (VII:1:41; XXXIII:27; LIX:6-9).
It is a 20% tax on all earnings after deduction of house-hold and commercial expenses.
Khums is paid to the mujtahid and is divided into two equal portions. One half of all receipts of khums by the mujtahid is the portion belonging to the Imaam in occultation and the mujtahid spends this portion in educational, social and economic projects for the betterment of the Shiah community. First priority is accorded to the community from which the khums was received. The second half is distributed amongst the poor and deserving descendants of the Prophet (the sayyids) each of whom may receive only up to a year's subsistence.
A muslim's must consider his life on this earth as a journey from his Maker to his Maker and must strive to gain the pleasure of his Maker. "Give glad tidings to the steadfast who say........`We are from Allah and to Him we return'. Such are they upon whom are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. Such are the rightly guided." (II:155-157).
The purpose of every creation, other than humans) is to serve mankind (XXXI:20; XLV:13; LXVII:5). Man, who has been created of the best structure (XCV:4), must serve none other than Allah.(LI:56-58). It will be beneath the dignity and status of man to worship any being, thing or power other than Allah.
The doctrine of the Unity of God is not just an article of faith. It is an important factor in man's comprehension of himself and his raison d'etre. God the One, the Indivisible must be his sole Guide in his journey on this earth.
The sixth Imaam explaining the Unity of God said, " The true ibaadah is for the human being to ensure that the essence of the unity of God lies between his intent and his deed.
The Prophet has said, "Man's every action must incline towards Allah".
The Islamic ethical code is too vast and extensive to permit a full discussion in this course. We shall, therefore, confine ourselves to a cursory glance at a few aspects of the code of conduct.
Pursuit of Knowledge:
The Prophet has said:
"It is the duty of every muslim male and every muslim female to seek knowledge".
The Prophet has said:
"It is an act of worship to look at either parent with affection and kindness".
There are innumerable traditions of the Prophet and the Imaams on the merits of charity. In one of these it is said, "If you have nothing to give, give a kind word or even just an affectionate smile."
Dissemination of knowledge by a scholar is an act of charity. So is the visiting of a sick.
Caring for the bereaved is also a great act of piety. There is a tradition which requires the extended family or the community to feed the immediate family of the deceased for at least three days after the death has occurred and to offer them solace and comfort.
" To suffer oppression passively is as bad as to commit oppression".
In IV:135 the Quraan says:
"O You who believe, be staunch in justice.......though it may be against your interests, or the interests of your parents or near relatives, and whether you are dealing with a rich person or a poor person. Remember Allah is nearer to them both in compassion. Therefore do not follow your low desires."
Lewdness And Indecencies:
Idle Chatter, Slander and Infringement of Privacy:
The Freeing of Slaves:
Liberation of slaves was also highly recommended as an atonement for various sins.
Ill treatment of slaves and servants is also forbidden.
It is highly recommended that zakaah and other alms be spent for liberating slaves. (XXIV:33; IX:60; II:177; XC:12, 13).
Reasoning And Reflection:
"Say unto them, O Muhammad: I exhort you unto one thing only. That you awake for Allah's sake, by two or singly, and then reflect." (XXXIV:46)
"In the creation of heavens and earth and in the difference between night and day are tokens for men of understanding. These are those who remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and then cry out): Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain. Glory be to Thee !" (III:190-191).
The eighth Imaam has said:
"Worship does not lie in engaging oneself in saying prayers endlessly or in fasting copiously, but in engaging oneself in the contemplation of the works of Allah."
The Prophet has said, "Allah has endowed man with the most precious gift, the reason. The slumber of a man of reason is better than the movement of the ignorant."
Other Good Deeds:
Women in Islam
Women play an important role and are equal partners of men.
"The women are raiment (comfort, embellishment and protection) for you and you are raiment for them." (II:187; IV:1).
As a daughter, she is to be shown greater affection than a son. The Prophet commands that a daughter must receive twice as much love and affection as a son.
As a wife, the woman has no obligation to provide for her husband or the children out her income or wealth. The husband has this responsibility. What a woman earns, or receives by way of inheritance or gift, is her own property over which she has sole control.
It is injustice for the husband to require the wife to do the house-hold chores. It is for the parties to agree on the division of labour.
The wife, however, is under a duty to obey the lawful and just commands of her husband.
As a mother the woman occupies a unique position. She is placed upon an almost divine pedestal. She must be obeyed (save where obedience would lead to injustice), revered and her feelings never hurt. The Prophet has said that while both parents must be obeyed and respected, the father's place is three rungs below that of the mother.
The woman is the pivot of the family, and Islam holds the family as being the most important unit of the society. From the moment of conception to birth and up to the attainment of puberty, it is the mother who shapes the mind, the thinking and the behaviour of that future member of the society. The Prophet repeatedly emphasised the importance of the upbringing of children and the role of the mother.
He is reported to have said:
"It is better to bring up your children so that they have good manners and morals than to spend your wealth for the pleasure of Allah."
There are also several traditions of the Prophet and the Imaams about the treatment and conduct of pregnant mothers.
The women have been further commanded `not to display their ornaments except what appears thereof and to wear their head-coverings over their bosom and not to display their ornaments except to their husband (and other members of their family within the prohibited degree of marriage e.g. a son, father, brother, uncles excluding uncles by marriage etc.)'. (XXIV:30 & 31).
Again in XXXIII:59 God says:
"O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments. This will be more proper. They will be known and will therefore not be given trouble."
The above verses have been interpreted by some jurists as requiring a veiled face and body and others as requiring a scarf over the head to conceal the hair (an essential ornament) and the rest of the body, except the face, the hands and the feet, to be covered by a loose fitting outer garment. In different cultures different forms of women`s dress, or veil or "purdah" have evolved.
The Quraanic object clearly appears to be protection of women from molestation and disrespect, and not their treatment as inferior beings.
The basic requirements are free consent, the mahr (dowry) and the recitation of the marriage formula (the aqd) in the prescribed form and perfect Arabic. The mahr is the giving or a promise to give any sum of money to the bride and/or to fulfil any condition or obligation that the bride may impose.
The parties may recite the aqd themselves or appoint agents to do so on their behalf.
According to some Shiah jurists the bride may, in the mahr, confer upon herself a right to divorce, or provide for the division of property of property in the event of divorce or any other condition to reserve for herself any right or benefit which under the shariah she would not normally enjoy.
The relationship between husband and wife must be founded upon love and mutual tolerance:
"And of His (God's) signs is that He has created for you mates from amongst yourselves so that you might find comfort and solace in them, and He has ordained between you love and mercy." (XXX:21)
There are many traditions and sayings on thios subject. Two are given below:
Temporary Marriages (Mutaa):
The Prophet has said that of all the permissible things divorce is the most detestable to Allah.
When Imaam Ali was finally elected the khalifah he endeavoured to establish an Islamic government but alas he was not permitted to rule for long.
However, during the five years of Ali's reign he wrote several letters to his Governors and Commanders restating the principles of governance in Islam. These letters and instructions have been compiled into a book called `Nahjul Balaagah', English translations of which are available. The most famous of these documents is Ali's letter to his Governor in Egypt, Maalik Ashtar, which deals with a variety of subjects including administration, judiciary, treatment of non-muslims, the army and the conduct of a ruler or his representative. In the preamble of the letter Ali says:
"This is what Allah's servant Ali has ordered Malik ibne al-Harith al-Ashtar when he appointed him Governor of Egypt, for the collection of its (Egypt's) revenues, fighting against its enemies, seeking the good of its people and making its cities properous."
The Quraan & Modern Science
"The relationship between the Qur'an and science is a priori a surprise, especially when it turns out to be one of harmony and not of discord........The totally erroneous statements made about Islam in the West are sometimes the result of ignorance and some times of systematic denigration."
The author then proceeds to take various scientific subjects and give Quraanic references which fully accord with the modern scientific conclusions. While it is not proposed to deal with the subject in any detail in this course, it might be interesting to give here a few of the scientific subjects dealt with by Bucaille and the corresponding Quraanic verses cited by him:
Islamic Culture ?
Religion on the other hand is "the expression of man's belief in and reverence for God or gods who created the Universe and Govern it."
It is as naive to think that any religion encompasses the totality of culture as it is to think that any culture is solely the product of a religion.
Islam like many other religions claims to be universal accommodating within its fold the cultures of all its adherents provided that the bounds of the religious laws are not transgressed.
Islam has broad parameters of rules and regulations and within these parameters an African can remain as much a Muslim as a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi or an English-man or Scots-man or an American or Chinese or any individual from any country anywhere in the world.
Nevertheless there is a difference of opinion on whether Islam has its own distinct culture. Scholars are divided on whether there is a central cultural theme in Islam.
Some vehemently argue that there is such a central theme.
Others maintain that because of the universality of Islam it is wrong to insist upon a common cultural theme.
This latter school of thought argue that culture is an historical heritage of a nation, people or society in the fields of art, architecture, dress, cuisine, language, literature and other cultural norms and pursuits. Islam, on the other hand, consists of beliefs, acts of worship, a code of conduct and jurisprudence. So long as the culture of a society lies within the parameters of Islamic beliefs, acts of worship, code of conduct and the shariah, that culture would be acceptable in Islam. Many an artist, architect, poet, author and chef has, upon acceptance of Islam, adjusted himself/herself so as conform to the Islamic requirements.
Muslims in Great Britain
It is wrong to link racism with religion. Racism is an attitude of hostility based upon racial prejudice. This is often exploited by unscrupulous politicians and community leaders for their own ends.
Unfortunately, both the victims and the perpetrators of racial prejudice tend to foster the image of it being the result of the diversity in religious beliefs. This often rallies support for the victim community and provides the perpetrators with the mantle of defending their faith.
At the same time there is amongst the indigenous population a fear, nurtured by irresponsible media, that Islam poses a threat to their community.
If a solution is not found, and found soon, the muslim communities could be driven to extreme ethnicity with the future generation growing up as pariahs in their own country.
Consideration must be given to promoting a better understanding of Islam in the indigenous population. For this both the communities will need to strive hard.
Islam is a tolerant religion. It accepts Christianity and Judaism as sister faiths and respects other religions as well. The Muslims are enjoined to respect churches, synagogues and other places of worship.
There is a need to ensure that each side is enriched by the values of the religion of the other through amicable inter-action without anyone from either side losing his identity.
To ensure harmony efforts must be made to create a community of British muslims rather than a community, or a number of communities, of muslims in Britain.
In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind
We live in one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Given the different backgrounds that we come from, there is a great need for tolerance, understanding and respect for such diversity. Above all, we need to be committed to interfaith dialogue.
Islam is one of the great monotheistic religions in the world today. Yet it is also the most misunderstood religion. For a long time, we have felt the need to produce some literature which will explain Islam to non-Muslims and remove the false notions many have about Islam.
This booklet, although brief, explains some of the basic beliefs and practices of Muslims. It also discusses some questions on Islam that we are frequently asked by our many non-Muslim friends. It is hoped that this booklet will inspire the readers to further explore the many dimensions of Islam - one of the great religions of the world.
Dr. Liyakatali Takim
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind
May the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon you.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Indeed, one out of every five persons on this earth is a Muslim. There are nearly 6 million Muslims living in North America and the number is growing. Yet, unfortunately, Islam is also the most misunderstood religion. Muslims live in different parts of the world ranging from China to Argentina, Russia to South Africa. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia.
Islam means the active submission to the one God. It is strictly a monotheistic religion since it restricts worship to the one supreme Lord who is the Originator and Creator of the universe. Peace (the root from which the word Islam is derived) is attained through complete obedience to the commandments of God, for God is the source of all peace.
Muslims are those who believe in one God and in Muhammad as the final Prophet of God. They devote their lives to the service of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Islam teaches that God (called Allah in Arabic) is the source of all creation and that human beings are the best of His creation. He communicates by inspiring them towards goodness and by sending Prophets who deliver God's message. Muslims believe that the first Prophet was Adam followed by a long chain of Prophets to guide humanity. The Qur'an, according to Muslim belief, is the word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad. It mentions many other Prophets like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Jacob, Joseph and Jesus. All the Prophets had brought the same message, i.e., belief in one God, upright human conduct and belief in the accountability of human acts at the end of time.
Jesus in Islam
Muslims respect and venerate Jesus Christ. They consider him to be one of God's greatest messengers to humankind. The Qur'an re-affirms his miraculous birth and his miraculous abilities. Furthermore, his mother Mary is regarded as one of the most pure and exalted women of all creation. As the Qur'an says:
"Behold! the angel said: 'God has chosen you and purified you and has chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary! God gives you the good news of a word from Him, whose name shall be Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and the hereafter, and one of those brought near to God" (3:42).
Islam regards its teachings to be a re-affirmation and culmination of the teachings of previous monotheistic religions like Judaism and Christianity. Hence, all Muslims believe in Moses and Jesus as Prophets of God. Prophet Muhammad was commanded to recite in the Qur'an:
"Say, we believe in God
Islam is the final religion revealed to human beings through the last Prophet who was called Muhammad. He was born in Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) in the year 570 A.D. Muhammad was a very truthful and honest person. He was also very pious and detested the moral decadence of his society. At the age of forty, God asked him, through the angel Gabriel, to proclaim the religion of Islam publicly. God's message to humanity was delivered in the Qur'an which was revealed to Muhammad. The Qur'an, which is the holy book for Muslims, contains 114 chapters (called Suras). Muslims believe that it is the pure word of God, unadulterated over 14 centuries. It deals with issues which affect human beings in their earthly lives; issues like piety, upright human conduct, worship, the creation of a just and virtuous society and the practice of ethics.
Islam has two major schools of thought - the Shi'i and the Sunni. The Sunnis believe that the community selected its own leader after Prophet Muhammad's death whereas the Shi'as believe that the Prophet had, by divine will, appointed 'Ali to be his successor. Leadership is thus divinely designated. It is to be noted that both the Sunnis and the Shi'as are united in their major beliefs i.e., they believe in the same God, the same book, the same Prophets and pray in the same direction. The differences are mainly theological and jurisprudential.
The Teachings of Islam
Apart from human responsibility, Islam also teaches human accountability. The final destination of human beings is the hereafter. Muslims believe that, at the end of time, all human beings will be resurrected to account for their deeds. Those who have performed righteous deeds will be rewarded with eternal bliss in heaven and those who have performed evil acts will be punished in hell.
Salat (Prayers): Islam demands from its adherents that beliefs be supplemented with actions. Just as God communicates with us, we need to respond to Him by undertaking certain spiritual and social duties which will draw us closer to Him. Human beings can communicate directly with God through prayers. Although they can pray anywhere, Muslims are encouraged to pray in congregation. Muslims are required to pray five times every day. Prayers are offered in Arabic. Personal supplication may be recited in any language in the pursuit of closeness to the Lord. Prayers engender inner strength and inspire one to a closer relationship with the Creator. Muslims pray towards the Ka'ba, which is situated in Mecca. It was built by Abraham and Ishmael over four thousand years ago.
Saum (Fasting): Discipline in a believer is further inculcated by fasting. Every year in the month of Ramadhan, Muslims must fast by refraining from food and drink during the day time. Fasting is regarded as an essential component in the growth of spirituality within a person. It also makes a person more aware of the plight of the poor and helps him develop willpower so as to discipline his desires.
Since Islam believes in values like chastity and morality, it prohibits all acts which lead to moral corruption. Drugs, alcohol and substance abuse are strictly prohibited in Islam.
Zakat (Alms) Muslims see wealth to be a trust from God, to be dispensed in His way. Therefore, they are asked to purify their wealth by spending a portion of their income for those in need (calledzakat). Giving the zakat is seen as one of the most meritorious deeds especially as it helps fulfill the Islamic vision of creating a just and equitable society. Undertaking social responsibility by helping the needy is highly encouraged in Islam.
Hajj (Pilgrimage): Once in their lifetime, Muslims are commanded to go for pilgrimage to Mecca provided there are no financial or physical constraints. Every year, about two million Muslims from different parts of the world converge on Mecca to perform the pilgrimage. This provides a unique opportunity for Muslims of different nations and diverse backgrounds to meet one another. During the rituals, pilgrims wear white clothings and stand close together in the worship of the one Lord. Islam recognizes no racial or ethnic boundaries. The hajj is the perfect example of the oneness of people of all races and nations, worshipping and serving the Lord.
The hajj is marked by the Eid al-Adha, a festival which is marked with prayers and other rituals performed by the pilgrims in the vicinity of Mecca. These rituals are meant to purify the faithful inwardly. The day is also marked in Muslim communities in different parts of the world with celebrations and exchange of gifts. This day, together with the Eid al-Fitr, a feast day commemorating the end of Ramadhan, are the two main festivals of the Muslim calendar. The Muslim weekly holiday is on Fridays when congregational prayers are held at noon.
The concept of jihad (wrongly translated as holy war) refers to the duty of Muslims to defend their faith and the welfare of the Muslim community when threatened. The Qur'an does not permit aggression against anyone and Prophet Muhammad is asked to proselytize in a peaceful manner. Warfare is permitted only in self-defence. However, it must be noted that people only resort to violence when their basic human rights are violated and when all attempts at peaceful settlement are thwarted.
Islam teaches that human beings have a moral obligation to live in harmony with one another. Islam also recognizes and accords rights to all human beings regardless of race, color or creed. Islam requires its followers to show respect and tolerance even to those who do not share their faith. Prophet Muhammad said: "God has no mercy on one who shows no mercy to others". Freedom of conscience is guaranteed by the Qur'an itself. It states: "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Islamic law stipulates that Muslims should protect the status of minorities. Therefore the life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred, whether a person is a Muslim or not. Because of this, non-Muslim places of worship have survived and flourished all over the Muslim world. Islam further encourages Muslims to respect the rights of all living things. Therefore, Muslims are required to be conscious of the environment and are not allowed to cause harm to nature.
It is important to realize that far from being extremists and fanatics, Muslims are peaceful and law abiding citizens of the countries in which they live. This stance is derived directly from the Qur'an which states: "O human beings, We have created you from one male and female (Adam & Eve), We have created you as different tribes and nations so that you may know each other" (49:13).
Muslim women have all the rights of their male counterparts. Islam granted full rights to women fourteen hundred years ago. Muslim women may own and dispose property; they may work, exercise voting powers and exercise other rights which women in other cultures enjoy. Muslim women may not be forced to marry against their will.
To preserve chastity, respect and moral values in society, Muslim men and women are required to dress in a manner which is considered modest and dignified. Women are asked to cover their hair and wear loose clothings. The diversity of female dress in some Muslim countries is often the expression of local customs.
Since Islam is a universal religion, it is easy to become a Muslim. One has to believe and affirm that "There is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God". Today, the Islamic community in North America is growing rapidly with Muslims playing major roles in virtually all sectors of society. Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay), Malcolm X, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) are some of the well-known people who have embraced Islam.