ISLAM 101

What is Islam?

The religion of Islam is the complete acceptance of and obedience to the teachings of God (Allah) which he revealed to His Prophet Muhammad.

What do Muslims believe?

Muslims believe in one, unique, incomparable God, Who has no son nor partner, and that none has the right to be worshipped but Him alone. He is the true God, and every other deity is false. He has the most magnificent names and sublime perfect attributes. No one shares His divinity, nor His attributes. In the Quran, God describes Himself: Say, “He is God, the One. God, to Whom the creatures turn for their needs. He begets not, nor was He begotten, and there is none like Him.” (Quran, 112:1-4)

(The Arabic word Allah means God. This word Allah is a name for God, which is used by Arabic speakers, both Arab Muslims and Arab Christians. This word cannot be used to designate anything other than the one true God. The Arabic word Allah occurs in the Quran about 2,700 times. In Aramaic, a language related closely to Arabic and the language that Jesus habitually spoke, God is also referred to as Allah.)

Muslims believe in the existence of the angels and that they are honored creatures. The angels worship God alone, obey Him, and act only by His command. Among the angels is Gabriel, who brought down the Quran to Muhammad.

Muslims believe that God revealed books to His messengers as proof for mankind and as guidance for them. Among these books is the Quran, which God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. God has guaranteed the Quran’s protection from any corruption or distortion. God has said: Indeed, We have sent down the Quran, and surely We will guard it (from corruption). (Quran, 15:9)

Muslims believe in the prophets and messengers of God, starting with Adam, including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them). But God’s final message to man, a reconfirmation of the eternal message, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last prophet sent by God, as God has said: Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, but he is the Messenger of God and the last of the prophets… (Quran, 33:40)

Muslims believe that all the prophets and messengers were created human beings who had none of the divine qualities of God.

Muslims believe in the Day of Judgment (the Day of Resurrection) when all people will be resurrected for God’s judgment according to their beliefs and deeds.

Muslims believe in Al-Qadar, which is Divine Predestination, but this belief in Divine Predestination does not mean that human beings do not have freewill. Rather, Muslims believe that God has given human beings freewill. This means that they can choose right or wrong and that they are responsible for their choices.

What are the five pillars of Islam?

The Five Pillars of Islam are the framework of the Muslim life. They are the testimony of faith, prayer, giving zakat (support of the needy), fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime for those who are able.

1) The Testimony of Faith: The testimony of faith is saying with conviction, “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah.” This saying means “There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.” The first part, “There is no true god but God,” means that none has the right to be worshipped but God alone, and that God has neither partner nor son. This testimony of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula which should be said with conviction in order to convert to Islam. The testimony of faith is the most important pillar of Islam.

2) Prayer: Muslims perform five prayers a day. Each prayer does not take more than a few minutes to perform. Prayer in Islam is a direct link between the worshipper and God. There are no intermediaries between God and the worshipper. In prayer, a person feels inner happiness, peace, and comfort, and that God is pleased with him or her. The Prophet Muhammad said: “Bilal, call (the people) to prayer, let us be comforted by it.” Bilal was one of Muhammad’s companions who was charged to call the people to prayers. Prayers are performed at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. A Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories, or universities.

3) Giving Zakat (Support of the Needy): All things belong to God, and wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The original meaning of the word zakat is both “purification” and “growth.” Giving zakat means “giving a specified percentage on certain properties to certain classes of needy people.” The percentage which is due on gold, silver, and cash funds that have reached the amount of about 85 grams of gold and held in possession for one lunar year is two and a half percent. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a small portion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. A person may also give as much as he or she pleases as voluntary alms or charity.

4) Fasting the Month of Ramadan: Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Although the fast is beneficial to health, it is regarded principally as a method of spiritual 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 his or her spiritual life.

5) The Pilgrimage to Mecca: The annual pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca is an obligation once in a lifetime for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. About two million people go to Mecca each year from every corner of the globe. Although Mecca is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj is performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. Male pilgrims wear special simple clothes which strip away distinctions of class and culture so that all stand equal before God. The rites of the Hajj include circling the Kaaba seven times and going seven times between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa, as Hagar did during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together in Arafa and ask God for what they wish and for His forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Day of Judgment. The end of the Hajj is marked by a festival, Eid Al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers. This, and Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the two annual festivals of the Muslim calendar.

What is the Quran about?

The Quran, the last revealed word of God, is the primary source of every Muslim’s faith and practice. It deals with all the subjects which concern human beings: wisdom, doctrine, worship, transactions, law, etc., but its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creatures. At the same time, it provides guidelines and detailed teachings for a just society, proper human conduct, and an equitable economic system.

Who is the Prophet Muhammad?

Muhammad was born in Mecca in the year 570. Since his father died before his birth and his mother died shortly thereafter, he was raised by his uncle who was from the respected tribe of Quraysh. He was raised illiterate, unable to read or write, and remained so until his death. His people, before his mission as a prophet, were ignorant of science and most of them were illiterate. As he grew up, he became known to be truthful, honest, trustworthy, generous, and sincere. He was so trustworthy that they called him “The Trustworthy.” Muhammad was very religious, and he had long detested the decadence and idolatry of his society.

At the age of 40, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. The revelations continued for 23 years, and they are collectively known as the Quran.

As soon as he began to recite the Quran and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him, he and his small group of followers suffered persecution from unbelievers. The persecution grew so fierce that in the year 622 God gave them the command to emigrate. This emigration from Mecca to the city of Medina, some 260 miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.

After several years, Muhammad and his followers were able to return to Mecca, where they forgave their enemies. Before Muhammad died, at the age of 63, the greater part of the Arabian Peninsula had become Muslim, and within a century of his death, Islam had spread to Spain in the West and as far East as China. Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the truth and clarity of its doctrine. Islam calls for faith in only one God, Who is the only one worthy of worship.

The Prophet Muhammad was a perfect example of an honest, just, merciful, compassionate, truthful, and brave human being. Though he was a man, he was far removed from all evil characteristics and strove solely for the sake of God and His reward in the Hereafter. Moreover, in all his actions and dealings, he was ever mindful and fearful of God.

The role of Jesus in Islam

Muslims respect and revere Jesus (peace be upon him). They consider him one of the greatest of God’s messengers to mankind. The Quran confirms his virgin birth, and a chapter of the Quran is entitled “Maryam” (Mary). The Quran describes the birth of Jesus as follows:

(Remember) when the angels said, “O Mary, God gives you good news of a word from Him (God), whose name is the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, revered in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (to God). He will speak to the people from his cradle and as a man, and he is of the righteous.” She said, “My Lord, how can I have a child when no mortal has touched me?” He said, “So (it will be). God creates what He wills. If He decrees a thing, He says to it only, ‘Be!’ and it is.” (Quran, 3:45-47)

Jesus was born miraculously by the command of God, the same command that had brought Adam into being with neither a father nor a mother. God has said: The case of Jesus with God is like the case of Adam. He created him from dust, and then He said to him, “Be!” and he came into being. (Quran, 3:59)

During his prophetic mission, Jesus performed many miracles. God tells us that Jesus said:

“I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you the shape of a bird out of clay, I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s permission. I heal the blind from birth and the leper. And I bring the dead to life by God’s permission. And I tell you what you eat and what you store in your houses…” (Quran, 3:49)

Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified. It was the plan of Jesus’ enemies to crucify him, but God saved him and raised him up to Him. And the likeness of Jesus was put over another man. Jesus’ enemies took this man and crucified him, thinking that he was Jesus. God has said:

…They said, “We killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God.” They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but the likeness of him was put on another man (and they killed that man)… (Quran, 4:157)

Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in one God, brought by earlier prophets, but rather to confirm and renew it.

What is the status of women in Islam?

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 without any guardianship over her (whether that be her father, husband, or anyone else). She has the right to buy and sell, give gifts and charity, and may spend her money as she pleases. A marriage dowry is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps her own family name rather than taking her husband’s.

Islam encourages the husband to treat his wife well, as the Prophet Muhammad said: “The best among you are those who are best to their wives.”

Mothers in Islam are highly honored. Islam recommends treating them in the best way. A man came to the Prophet Muhammad and said, “O Messenger of God! Who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship?” The Prophet said: “Your mother.” The man said, “Then who?” The Prophet said: “Then your mother.” The man further asked, “Then who?” The Prophet said: “Then your mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” The Prophet said: “Then your father.”

What does Islam say about terrorism?

Islam, a religion of mercy, does not permit terrorism. In the Quran, God has said:

God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your homes. God loves just dealers. (Quran, 60:8)

The Prophet Muhammad used to prohibit soldiers from killing women and children, and he would advise them: “Do not betray, do not be excessive, do not kill a newborn child.” And he also said: “Whoever has killed a person having a treaty with the Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, though its fragrance is found for a span of 40 years.”

Also, the Prophet Muhammad has forbidden punishment with fire.

He once listed murder as the second of the major sins, and he even warned that on the Day of Judgment, “The first cases to be adjudicated between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed.”

Muslims are even encouraged to be kind to animals and are forbidden to hurt them. Once the Prophet Muhammad said: “A woman was punished because she imprisoned a cat until it died. On account of this, she was doomed to Hell. While she imprisoned it, she did not give the cat food or drink, nor did she free it to eat the insects of the earth.”

He also said that a man gave a very thirsty dog a drink, so 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 animal or human.”

Additionally, while taking the life of an animal for food, Muslims are commanded to do so in a manner that causes the least amount of fright and suffering possible. The Prophet Muhammad said: “When you slaughter an animal, do so in the best way. One should sharpen his knife to reduce the suffering of the animal.”

In light of these and other Islamic texts, the act of inciting terror in the hearts of defenseless civilians, the wholesale destruction of buildings and properties, the bombing and maiming of innocent men, women, and children are all forbidden and detestable acts according to Islam and the Muslims. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the vast majority have nothing to do with the violent events some have associated with Muslims. If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the laws of Islam.

How does someone become a Muslim?

Simply by saying with conviction, “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadun rasoolu Allah,” one converts to Islam and becomes a Muslim. This saying means, There is no true God but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.”

To become a Muslim, one should also:
* Believe that the Holy Quran is the literal word of God, revealed by Him.
* Believe that the Day of Judgment (the Day of Resurrection) is true and will come, as God promised in the Quran.
* Accept Islam as his or her religion.
* Not worship anything nor anyone except God.

Source: “A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam” (1999)

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