- What is Islam and what does it stand for?
- The five pillars of Islam
- Beliefs of Muslims – The Six Articles of Faith
- Who are Muslims?
- What is a Mosque (Masjid)?
- Fasting in Islam – its Origin, its Laws and Objectives
- Human Rights in Islam
- What Islam says about Terrorism?
- Life Hereafter
- Family Values and Elders in Islam
- Islam and other Faiths
- Spread of Islam – Its Legacy and Contribution to the Modern World
What is Islam and what does it stand for?
The world Islam (Arabic: اسلام ) finds its origin in the root words ‘sa’ ‘la’ ‘ma’. First stands for submission, second is for purity and third is for peace. Though all of these words mean differently but collectively these represent the true meaning of the word Islam. Those who choose to submit unconditionally and willingly are called Muslims. Religiously speaking, it means to submit completely to the will God (i.e. to His laws).
A religion that is a continuation and confirmation of the same message that was given to previous prophets like Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Jesus (peace be on them all). Islam is not only a religion but it also provides a comprehensive code needed to guide one’s life. Furthermore, its message is one of peace and tolerance. The religion of Islam in fact encourages and asks of us to examine things with logical scrutiny and only accept them if they appear rational. In other words, Islam appeals to human reasoning and intellect. One must consciously and conscientiously give oneself to serve Allah. It is a common misconception that Muslims worship Prophet Muhammad PBUH rather than Allah and that it was he, Muhammad PBUH who wrote the Quran. This notion is totally incorrect. Muslims worship Allah SWT. Islam is an all-encompassing way of life that must be practiced continuously to remain in Islam.
Islam today claims almost two billion followers worldwide and the number growing. This makes approximately one in every four human beings a Muslim. From the humble beginning in Arabia some fourteen hundred years ago, its message in just over hundred years after the death of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, spread to the gates of Europe and Africa all the way to China and Australia. It gives no credence to the race, color and culture of a person. Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgement what will matter most is how pious and God fearing one was in this life and not the social status that one held. While their concentration is mostly in the Arab world, Indian sub-continent, Africa, and Indonesia. Muslims, though in minority are also found in Europe, North and South America, China and the former Soviet Union, as well.
The five pillars of Islam
- Shahada: Faith
- Salat: Prayer
- Zakat: Charity
- Sawm: Fasting
- Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca
The first pillar of Islam is to testify “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet.” Second is the performing of the five daily prayers. Third is giving the compulsory charity (2.5% of your assets). Fourth is fasting during month of Ramadan (which is actually the ninth month of lunar calendar). Fifth to perform Hajj or Pilgrimage to Mecca if it is possible, at least once in your lifetime.
Beliefs of Muslims – The Six Articles of Faith
There are in total six articles of faith that are common to Muslims. The first of these is that there is no God but Allah. The second is to believe in the angels. The third is to believe in all the previously revealed holy books by Allah, such as the Torah given to Moses, The Psalms to David, and the Gospel to Jesus, and God’s final revelation – the Quran which was revealed to Muhammad. The fourth, to believe in the supreme and indisputable will of Allah. The fifth, to believe in all of God’s Prophet’s, through whom Allah sent down revelations to different tribes and nations in different times. And finally the sixth, to believe in the Day of Judgment when man shall stand accountable for his deeds in the court of Allah, when no intercession will be permitted. Muslims also believe that Adam, Abraham, Noah, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Lot, David, Aaron, John the Baptist, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were all prophets of Allah (peach be on them all).
Who are Muslims?
A Muslim (Arabic: مسلم ) is a follower of the religion of Islam. Literally, the word means “one who submits to the laws and commands of God”. One who was faith in the Almighty and the Absolute God only, and one who perseveres to do good deeds.
A true Muslim must follow the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH. Those who choose to do so are Muslims by faith.
What is a Mosque (Masjid)?
The word Mosque (Arabic: المسجد Masjid) or house of God appears frequently in the Quran and literally means a place of prostration. It is a place of assembly where Muslims are called five times a day during time of prayers. A mosque contains a symbolic and functional feature. It is recognized as a unique symbol of Islam and serves as an institution in which the focal points of religious and social activities are combined. Unlike other places of worship, where all kinds of adornment and ornamentation along with statues of saints and God incarnates abound, a Mosque is simply made up of four walls roof and a floor where a worshipper prostrates to his Lord. You can visit a Masjid near you.
Salat ( Arabic: صلاة), is the ritual prayer practiced by Muslims in supplication to Allah five times each day, wherever they may be. Practicing Muslims turn toward al-Masjid al-Haram (the sacred mosque) in Makkah in worship. Prayer is necessary duty demanded of any adult Muslim, male or female, of sound mind and body.
The five obligatory prayers are the
- Salat Al-Fajir – Early morning prayer
- Salat Al-Zuhr – The noon prayer
- Salat Al-Asr – The mid-afternoon prayer
- Salat Al-Maghrib – The sunset prayer
- Salat Al-IshaThe late evening prayer
On Fridays, the noon congregational prayer (salat al-Juma) substitutes for the regular noon prayer.
Five times a day a Muslim humbles in front of Allah, in whose hands is his life and to whom is his final return.
“Verily, the prayers are enjoined on believers on fixed times.” (Quran 4:03)
It is this humility during the prayers that makes him conscious of his shortcomings, errors and sins, thus giving urgency to seek forgiveness.
Muslim is close to his Lord when he prostrates and this he does a minimum of thirty-four times during the daily obligatory prayers alone, not to mention the voluntary prayers. No other act could demonstrate more submission. After the prayers a Muslim feels more purposeful. Prophet Muhammad PBUH said. “What would you think if there was a river by the door of any one of you and he bathed in it five times a day, would there by any trace of dirt left on him?” They said, “No trace of dirt would be left on him.” He then said “That is like the five daily prayers, with it Allah erases sin.”
Prayers help adjust the ‘rhythm’ of the body. Modern scientific research proved that Muslim’s prayer timings correspond with that of the physiological activities of the body. Further during the Salah the blood flow is greatly increased to the muscles and the rate of metabolism increases. The postures used, have many other significant health benefits. According to a new study by a biomedical engineering department of a top Malaysian university, it showed that the positions Muslims take during their prayers not only benefit the heart and spine but has several orthopedic benefits as well. The study investigated the physiological interactions and the effects of these postures on the human body. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, said, “The study affirmed the power of prayer in a person’s life” The New Straits Times reported.
What Muslims say in their Prayer?
Surah (Chapter) al-Fatihah, “The Opening”, is the first chapter of the Quran. Its seven verses are a prayer for God’s guidance and stress His Lordship and Mercy of Allah. This chapter has an essential role in daily prayers; being recited at least seventeen times a day, at the start of each unit of prayer (rakah) and which is described in various hadith, as ‘the mother of the book’ (Umm Al Kitab):
Bismillahi r-rahmani r-rahim
1:1 In the name of Allah, the Lord of Mercy, the giver of mercy!
Alhamdulliahi rabbi l-‘alamin
1:2 Praise belongs to Allah, Lord of the worlds,
Ar Rahmani R-Rahim
1:3 the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy,
Maliki yawmi d-din
1:4 Master of the Day of Judgement,
Lyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nasta’in
1:5 It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help,
Ihdina S-Sirat al-mustaqim
1:6 Guide us to the straight path:
Sirat al-ladina an;amta alayhim gayril magdubi alayhim wald Dallin
1:7 The path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray.
Friday Prayers Jumma الجمعة
Just like Saturday as the Day of Sabbath for the Jews and Sunday for the Christians, likewise for Muslims it is Friday. Friday in Arabic is called Jumma meaning “Day of Gathering”. It is compulsory for every Muslim to take a bath on this day, put on his best dress and also wear a perfume when going to the Mosque. During this Mosque gathering, Muslims listen to a religious sermon given by their religious leader (Imam) followed by a special Friday noon prayer.
In other words it is a day off. Although it is not forbidden but Muslims are encouraged to spend their time not working on this day but rather spending it with their family. Muslim do not share the belief as in other religions that God created the universe in six days and needed rest on the seventh day.
Essence of Prayer
According to the Quran, the purpose of creating mankind is to worship God. Allah say,
“And I have created the Jinn and humankind only that they should worship Me” (Quran 51:56)
The Quranic idea of worship, rendered from Arabic “ibadah,” implies man’s cognition of God’s existence and his conscious willingness to surrender himself to His will and plan. Prayer is a cardinal tenet in Islam, the second foremost duty after profession of faith, the Shahadah. It is a mark of piety, according to the Quran. It is the pivot around which all other acts of Islamic worship revolve, hence its status of being the foundation and the “supreme act of worship in Islam.”
Prayer is a distinctive component of a Muslim’s personality and routine; this day begins and ends with a prayer. Prayer is a testament of genuine obedience to God. As the primary point of communication between the worshipper and his Creator. Prayer serves as an instrument by which a Muslim seeks to get closer to Allah and nourish his struggling soul. Furthermore, prayer is a source of divine mercy for the worshipper in the present world and the world to come.
The Quran describes prayer as
“A restraint from shameful and evil deeds” (29:45)
As prayer penetrates the entire fiber of the worshipper’s being, the whole world becomes like a Mosque (Masjid) to him – ever conscious of the pervasive presence of God around him. Prayer is also discipline. In fact, there is something military about responding to five daily prayers at prescribed times regardless of weather conditions. IT also entails physical hygiene as worshipper is required to cleanse himself before approaching prayer. This process is called ablution (Wudu) which entails washing of hands up to the elbows, mouth, face, scalp, neck, ears with water and in the end washing the feet till the ankles. These are but few of the benefits that a worshipper derives from prayer.
Compulsory charity (Arabic: زكاة ) meaning ‘grow’, ‘purify’ or ‘faster’. Zakat provides the needy with income opportunities. Zakat, or Islamic religious tax, is among of the five basic requirements (arkan or “pillars”) of Islam. All adult Muslims of sound mind and body with a set level of income and assets are expected to pay Zakat. It is due yearly on certain types of property and is distributed to eight categories of individuals specified by the Quran. These categories are usually defined to include orphans, the poor, travelers, beggars, to pay debts of those who are unable to do so on their own, freeing of slaves, and other charitable causes.
Zakat is payable on crops, harvests, herds, gold, silver and merchandise. It is one of the basic principles of Muslim economy, based on social welfare and fair distribution of wealth. Money collected can be used for the general benefit of the community at large. Its main objective also is to serve the destitute and maintain equilibrium between the rich and the poor. The Prophet PBUH said “Putting a morsel of food in your wife’s mouth and meeting your brother with a smile, is also charity.”
Fasting in Islam – its Origin, its Laws and Objectives
Sawm (Arabic: صوم) is an Arabic word for fasting regulated by Islamic jurisprudence.
“O you who belive! Fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed for those before you [i.e. Jews & Christians] so that you may learn self-restraint.” (Quran 2:183)
Fasting is another unique moral spiritual characteristic of Islam. Literally defined, fasting in Islam entails abstaining completely from food, drink intimate intercourse with your spouse, and smoking, before the break of dawn till sunset, during the entire month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. It also has medical benefits: it lowers the blood pressure and insulin level. This causes breakdown of glycogen from the liver to provide glucose and breakdown of fat from adipose tissue to provide for energy needs. Fasting not only brings a wholesome physiological rest for the digestive tract and central nervous system and normalizes metabolism, it is also an exercise of self-discipline. And above all it brings about spiritual attainment for it teaches man the principle of sincere love: because when he observes fasting he does it out of deep love for God.
It cultivates in man a vigilant and sound conscience and indoctrinates patience and selflessness, as through fasting, he feels the pains of deprivation but endures them patiently.
Human Rights in Islam
It is very loudly and vociferously claimed that the world got the concept of basic human rights from the Magna Carta of Britain; though the Magna Carta itself came into existence six hundred years after the advent of Islam. But the truth of the matter is that until the seventeenth century, no one even knew that the Magna Carta contained the principles of Trial by Jury, Habeas Corpus, and the Control of Parliament on the Right of Taxation. IF the people who had drafted the Magna Carta were living today they would have been greatly surprised if they were told that their document also contained all these ideals and principles. They had no such intention, nor were they conscious of all these concepts which are now being attributed to them. It will be then be fair to say that Westerners had no concept of human rights and Civil rights before the seventeenth century. The practical proof and demonstration of these concepts can only be found at the end of eighteenth century in the proclamations and constitutions of American and France.
Rights laid down by man cannot be superseded by or even compared with the rights sanctioned by God. Islam sanctions and recognizes the right to life, the right to the safety of life, respect for the chastity of both men and women, the right to the basic standards of life, The individual’s right to freedom, abolition of slavery (it was Islam that brought dignity to every man for in the sight of God, every child is born free), the right to justice, the right to co-operate or not to co-operate, the security of life and property, the protection of honor, the sanctity and security of private life, the security of personal freedom, the right to protest against tyranny, the right to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and conviction, protection from arbitrary imprisonment, equality before law, rulers not above the law, the right to avoid sin.
Under the rights of the Combatants: no torture with fire, protection of the wounded, the prisoner of war should not be slain, no one should be tied and killed, no looting and destruction in the enemy’s lands, sanctity of property, sanctity of dead body, return of corpses of the enemy, prohibition of breach of treaties, rules about declaration of war. No polluting the water, no attack in night or without notice, not cutting of trees, not hurting the old, women and children, not engaging with the enemy who is unarmed. This is a brief sketch of those rights which Islam gave to man. The world has not been able to produce more just and more equitable laws than those given 1400 years ago. On the other hand it hurt the feelings of many Muslims that they are in possession of such a splendid and comprehensive system of law and yet they are coerced to look for guidance from leaders and nations who could not have dreamt of attaining those heights of truth and justice which was already given by Islam a long time ago.
What Islam says about Terrorism?
“…if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” (Quran 5:32)
Terrorism is a crime against humanity. Islam is a religion that means and promotes “peace”. In the Quran, Allah commands believers to bring peace and security to the world. Islamic morality is the cure for terrorism not the source of it. However, it should be noted that the actions of an induvial or a small group do not necessarily represent the beliefs of a particular religious majority, nor is the religion responsible for such actions, whatever the religion may be.
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, harming other creatures and total disregard for the environment are all forbidden and detestable acts according to Islam. Muslims follow a religion of justice, peace, mercy and forgiveness and the vast majority have nothing to do with the violent events that they have come to be associated with. If an individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this person would be guilty of violating the laws of Islam.
Any Muslim who believes in Allah with a sincere heart, who scrupulously abides by His verses and fears suffering in the Hereafter, will avoid harming even an ant. He knows that the Lord of Infinite Justice will suitably reward or punish him for it.
“For every atom of good or evil, you will be accountable.” (Quran 99:7-8)
People who commit acts of terrorism might be reacting alone to injustices and oppression against them, as the last means of defense. Besides there is more politics behind their actions and this is not Islam.
The Muslims believe, that there is life hereafter and that reward of punishment does not necessarily wait until the Day of Judgement, but starts immediately after burial. The Muslims believe in resurrection, accountability, and the Day of Judgement. The Quran teaches that earthly life is a test and that is temporary. We Muslims believe in the life hereafter and in a divinely inspired moral code organizing and regulating human life during our earthly journey to eternity.
“When the earth is shaken to her (utmost) convulsion, and the earth throws up her burdens (from within), And man cries (distressed): ‘What is the matter with her? On that Day will she declare her tidings: for that thy Lord will have given her inspiration. On that Day will men proceed in companies sorted out, to be shown the deeds that they (had done). Then anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it and anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.” (Quran 99:7-8)
“The Hereafter is far better for you than this first life.” (Quran 93:4)
Family Values and Elders in Islam
With laws for almost every aspect of life, Islam represents a faith-based order that man and woman may see as crucial to creating healthy families and society at large. And while it can be justifiably argued that the basic family unit is the foundation of any given human society, this holds particularly true for Muslims. As a matter of fact, the great status that Islam affords to the family system is the very thing that so often attracts many new converts to Islam, particularly women.
Islam considers that family as the basic unit of human society. The foundation of a family is laid through marriage. Prophet Muhammad noted once, “The best among you is who treats the members of his family best.”
The following verse of the Quran sums it all up:
“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.” (Quran 17:23-24)
Islam and other Faiths
The average Christian and non-Muslim has heard of or has read about Islam mostly through writers who have had colonial or missionary motives, which might have given a certain slant to their interpretation of Islam to the western mind. The trend of incorrect reporting style still exists today. For the Muslims, constructive dialogue is not only permitted, it is commended.
“Say, O people of the book [a term which particularly refers to Jews and Christians] ‘come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him (in His powers and divine attributes); that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah.’ If then they turn back say you Bear witness that we are Muslims (bowing) to the will of God.” (Quran 3:64)
Why “People of the Book”? Because Islam makes a clear distinction between a polytheist or an atheist, and followers of Prophets who originally received revelations from Allah. In conclusion and bearing this in mind what is the implication for Muslims in their attitude towards non-Muslims? The Quran makes it incumbent on every Muslim to convey Allah’s message in its final form, the Quran, to all humanity. We are not talking here about conversion.
Indeed, to turn to Islam, the religion of all the Prophets in its final form is not to turn one’s back on the preceding Prophets. It is an augmentation, rather than a conversion, because it does not involve changing one’s basic spiritual nature. In the Quran, pure human nature is a “Muslim nature” which knows its Lord and wishes to submit to Him.
Read more about commonalities between Islam, Judaism, and Christians.
The Quran states:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Quran 2:256)
A substitute for the term “conversion” is “reversion” in the sense of a return to the pure monotheism in which we were all created. Thus the Muslim is taught to be tolerant toward others. Indeed, the Quran not only prohibits compulsion in religion, but it prohibits aggression as well.
“Strongest among men in enmity to the Believers will you find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the Believers will you find those who say ‘We are Christians’: because amongst these are men devoted to learning (priests), and men who have renounced the world (monks), and they are not arrogant. And when they listen to the revelation received by the Messenger , you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray: ‘Our Lord! We believe, write us down among the witnesses.” (Quran 5:82-83)
Spread of Islam – Its Legacy and Contribution to the Modern World
In today’s troubled times, when not only the religion of Islam but everything that is associated with it is under constant scrutiny, it will be worthwhile to know how much Islam and today’s West have in common and how much the latter owes to the spiritual enlightenment and intellectual brilliance of the great Islamic civilization. According to Lord Snell: “We have built a nobly-proportioned outer structure, but we have neglected the essential requirements of an inner order; we have carefully designed, decorated and made clean the outside of the cup; but the inside was full of extortion and excess; we used our increased knowledge and power to administer to the comforts of the body, but we left the spirit impoverished.”
The spread of Islam extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 800 years of Muslim rule in Spain that spanned from the 8th to 15th century and reached the shores of Hungary, Austria and Portugal, from southern France to western borders of China, was one of the golden periods in human civilization. Cordoba in the 10th century was the most civilized city in Europe. The contribution of Muslims to humanity is irrefutable and cannot be denied. Even the greatest non-Muslim scholars of their times have acknowledged it over the centuries and continue to do so even today.
Religious tolerance, respect for learning, the concepts of chivalry and brotherhood – it was the Islamic Moors who brought these principles when in medieval Spain, they acted as “Beacons of Light” in the Dark Ages of European religious arrogance, intolerance and persecution. The Moors gave Europe an architectural and artistic heritage that till today is still a source of amazement of the modern world. Arabic numerals and calculations were immensely valuable to what is today Western mathematics, and the first effective medical school in Europe was founded by Jewish doctors who received their training in Moorish Spain and North Africa, writes Tim Wallace Murphy, the famous British author.
Robert Briffault in his book, “The Making of Humanity” states: “It was under the influence of the Arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that a real renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe…Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab civilization to the Modern world; but its fruits were slow in ripening. Not until long after Moorish culture had sunk back into darkness did the giant, which it had given birth to, rise in his might. It was not science only which brought Europe back to life. Other and manifold influence from the civilization of Islam communicated its first glow to European Life.”
Had it not been the enormous contribution of the Muslims, modern world would still be struggling to achieve the heights of advancement that it has reached today.