Here’s a quick guide that will help you better understand our faith.
The second largest religion in the world, Islam is the continuation of God’s revelation that was sent to prophets at different times and places throughout history. It is a continuation of the message received in the Torah (Old Testament) and the Bible (New Testament) and is rooted in belief in the same God, many of the same prophets and messengers and a similar set of values through various teachings. Muslim believe the Quran to be the final revelation from God to humanity, which He delivered through a man named Muhammad. For nearly one-fourth of humanity, Islam is both a religion with beliefs and rituals and a way of life with character and values. Islam is an Arabic word which means both submission and peace, and generally refers to peace achieved through acknowledgement of and service to God. Allah is the Arabic word which means “the one God,” and is used by Arabic-speakers of many faiths.
As revealed in the Quran, Muslims believe in:
- The oneness and uniqueness of God as the Creator of all things
- The angels created by God in His service
- The line of prophets through whom God’s revelations were brought to mankind
- The Day of Judgment when each person will be held accountable for his/her actions
- God’s authority over all things in this life and the afterlife
- FAITH (SHAHADA)
“There is no god worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the messenger of God.” This declaration of faith is called the Shahada and is the entry point for any person who wishes to become a Muslim. The declaration is a believer’s announcement they will 1) not assign partners with God or put anything above or before God – whether it’s wealth, power, vanity, etc, and 2) believe in all of God’s messengers and their scriptures, with Muhammad (PBUH) being the seal (or final) of the prophets.
- PRAYER (SALAH)
A central part of a Muslim’s life, obligatory prayers are to be performed five times a day in order to cultivate and maintain a direct personal connection to the Almighty. Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, with prescribed times varying depending on the season and geographic location. Prayers can be completed in any location that is clean and allows for focus. Prayers may be done individually but whenever possible, it’s preferable to pray as a congregation. There is no hierarchical clergy structure in Islam so daily prayers can be led by any person who knows how to perform all of it correctly, and is chosen by members of the community. The content of the prayer includes a synthesis of mind, body and soul by combining recitation of the Quran with physical movements and expressing gratitude to God
Before prayer takes place, a person will stand to perform the Call to Prayer, inviting all worshippers to join. The Call to Prayer says:
- God is most great. God is most great. God is most great. God is most great. (Allāhu akbar. Allāhu akbar. Allāhu akbar. Allāhu akbar.)
- I testify that there is no god except God. I testify that there is no god except God. (Ash-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāh. Ash-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāh.)
- I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. (Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan-Rasul ullāh. Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan-Rasul ullāh.)
- Come to prayer. Come to prayer. (Hayya’al as-ṣalāh. Hayya’al as-ṣalāh.)
- Come to success. Come to success. (Hayyaʿal al-falāḥ. Hayyaʿal al-falāḥ.)
- God is most great. God is most great. (Allāhu akbar. Allāhu akbar.)
- There is no god except God. (Lā ilāha illā-Allāh.)
- OBLIGATORY CHARITY (ZAKAT)
An important Islamic principle is that all things belong to God, and that one’s wealth is to be held in sacred trust. In Arabic, the word zakat means both purification and growth. As Muslims, we believe our possessions are purified by setting aside a portion for those in need. It is also said that like the pruning of plants, this cutting back of the material also encourages new growth. Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually and typically contributes an obligatory annual payment of 2.5 percent of one’s net capital. In other words, about 2.5 percent of their wealth – over and above their daily needs. Zakat is different than charity, which is encouraged at any time and is voluntary.
- FASTING (SIYAM)
Ramadan is a special time of year when Muslims focus on developing or reconnecting with their faith and increasing th aseir good deeds. Muslims are taught to fast during daylight hours from food, drink, smoking, sexual relations and any sinful behavior as an annual means of self-purification and spiritual growth. Ramadan is the 9th month in the lunar Islamic calendar, so the annual fast changes every year. Those who are sick, elderly, traveling, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing are not required to fast and can make up an equal number of days later in the year. If someone is physically unable to do fast, he or she must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children often begin to fast from the age of puberty. Eid al-Fitr (the feast) is a 3-day celebration celebrating the completion of the month of fasting.
- PILGRIMAGE (HAJJ)
The pilgrimage to Mecca originated by Prophet Ibrahim (Avram in the Torah and Abraham in the Bible) is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. Each year, millions of pilgrims from around the world gather for six days of religious rituals, prayer and contemplation in Mecca and surrounding areas. Pilgrims wear simple garments which strip away distinctions of class and culture as a symbolic reminder that all believers stand equal before God. The Hajj traditions are an expression of deep devotion to God, and are viewed by some scholars as a symbolic preview of the Day of Judgment when all of humanity will be gathered before God and be held individually accountable for their lives and deeds. The completion of the Hajj is marked by Eid al-Adha, the 4-day celebration of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) and his son Ismail’s willingness to be sacrified in the name of God. In the end, God told Ibrahim to replace Ismail with a ram as a symbolic sacrifice, and to share the meat with those in need. The practice of slaughtering animals and sharing the meat with the needy during Eid is also an annual ritual.
Simply by saying the declaration of faith, “There is no god apart from God, and Muhammad (PBUH) is the Messenger of God,” one becomes a Muslim.
Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born in Mecca in 570 AD. Since his father Abdullah died before his birth, and his mother Aminah shortly afterwards, Muhammad was raised by his well-respected uncle Abu Talib. As he grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, and he was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. At the age of 25, Muhammad married a successful businesswoman named Khadija, after she proposed to him after having seen his remarkable character firsthand as his boss. Muhammad (PBUH) had a deeply spiritual nature and had long detested the decadence and sins of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira near the summit of Jabal al-Nur, the “Mountain of Light” near Mecca.
At the age of 40, while in a meditative retreat in the Cave of Hira, Muhammad (PBUH) was visited by the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) who told him three times to “Recite,” before he shared the first revelation from God . This revelation, which Muhammad continued to receive until his death 23 years later, is known as the Quran. As soon as he began to recite the words from Angel Gabriel (first with his wife and then to other Meccans), 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 hijra or migration, when they left Mecca for the city of Medina 260 miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. After a decade, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers returned to Mecca, where they forgave their enemies, removed the idols from the Kaaba and established Islam. Before he 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 as China to the East.
The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It was memorized by Muhammad (PBUH), dictated to his companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Muslims believe not one word of its 114 chapters has been changed over the centuries, so to this day the Quran is the same unique and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad (PBUH) over 1400 years ago.
The Quran is the last revealed Word of God and the prime source of guidance for every Muslim’s faith and practice, dealing with many themes such as worship, behavior, beauty and the relationship between God and His creations. It also provides guidance for creating a just society, mutually respectful and beneficial human conduct and an equitable economic system.
The sunna, the example of the Prophet, is the secondary source of guidance for Muslims. A hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet (PBUH) said, did, approved or disapproved. Belief in the sunna is part of the Islamic faith.
The three monotheistic faiths originate with the patriarch Prophet Ibrahim (Avram/Abraham), and the three prophets directly descended from his sons: Muhammad from the elder son Ismail (Ishmael), and Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus) from the younger son Isaac, peace be upon them all. Abraham established what is today the city of Mecca, and built the Ka’ba as the first house of worship towards which all Muslims turn when they pray. The scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths share common teachings about the omnipotence of God, many of the same chain of prophets/messengers, a call to serve humanity as a reflection of faith, and a common set of values which can loosely be described as “treat others as you wish to be treated.” Certainly, the Abrahamic faiths have many unique beliefs, rituals and traditions from which they draw their uniqueness. In the Quran, Jews and Christians are called “People of the Book” and respected as people who strive to follow God’s revealed word. In fact, the Quran allows men to marry women who are Jewish or Christian so long as they can guarantee their religious freedom and practice.
The Quran tells the stories of a long chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishac (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), Yusuf (Joseph), Ayoub (Job), Musa (Moses), Harun (Aaron), Dawud (David), Sulayman (Solomon), Ilyas (Elijah/Elias), Yunus (Jonah), Yahya (John the Baptist) and Isa (Jesus), peace be upon them. God’s final message to humanity, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summary of all that has gone before, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through Angel Gabriel.
Muslims respect and revere Jesus (PBUH), and await his Second Coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God’s messengers to mankind. The Quran confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Quran is titled “Mary”), and Mary, the Virgin Mother, is considered the purest woman in all creation. The Quran describes the Annunciation as follows:
“And Lo! The angels said: ‘O Mary! Behold, God has elected thee and made thee pure, and raised thee above all the women of the world. O Mary! Remain thou truly devout unto thy Sustainer, and prostrate thyself in worship, and bow down with those who bow down [before Him]… Behold, God sends thee the glad tiding, through a word from Him, of a son who shall become known as the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, of great honor in this world and in the life to come, and shall be of those who are drawn near unto God. And he shall speak unto men in his cradle, and as a grown man, and shall be of the righteous.’
Said she: ‘O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me?’ The angel answered: ‘Thus it is: God creates what He wills when He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it, ‘Be’ – and it is.’” (Quran 3:42-7)
Jesus (PBUH) was born miraculously through the same power which had brought Adam into being. During his prophetic mission he performed many miracles. Neither Muhammad nor Jesus (peace be upon them) came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it. In the Quran, Jesus (PBUH) is reported as saying that he came:
“And I have come to confirm the truth of whatever there still remains of the Torah, and to make lawful unto you some of the things which were forbidden to you. And I have come unto you with a message from your Sustainer; remain, then, conscious of God, and pay heed unto me.” (Quran 3:5O)
This weighty question has been the subject of lectures, dissertations and books. While we can’t provide an exhaustive answer, here is a glimpse of this commonly misunderstood topic in Islam.
One of the most important points is that in the Quran, God praises the equal status and contributions of both believing men and women:
“Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, and all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before God], and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember God unceasingly: for all of them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.” (Quran 33:35)
In the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula and throughout most of the world, for that matter, women were often considered property, could not inherit and had few rights. In fact, the birth of a daughter was often a sign of misfortune, and many were buried alive as a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia. In the 7th Century AD, Islam elevated the role of women, bringing them many unprecedented rights and protections revealed through the Quran. This included significant social and political privileges, such as the right to education, marry someone of their choice, retain their identity after marriage, divorce, work, own and sell property, vote, seek protection by the law, and to participate in civic and political society.
However heartbreaking it is to see a decline of women’s rights in some Muslim-majority countries, this is due to social, political and cultural customs which are inconsistent with the teachings of Islam.
For further discussion on this topic, see the following:
Like all other major world religions, Islam is faith that promotes life and co-existence not violence and death. Any violent acts committed against innocent victims in the name of Islam are acts of terrorism condemned by Islamic teachings. The vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims follow a religion of peace, are law-abiding citizens and are concerned about the welfare of their communities. It is dangerously misleading and unfair to draw conclusions about Islam based upon the actions of a small number of Muslims when in fact innocent Muslims are often the primary victims of most extremist attacks. Such is the case with ISIS, with Muslims making up more than 90 percent of their victims.
“Because of this did We ordain unto the children of Israel that if anyone slays a human being-unless it be in punishment for murder or for spreading corruption on earth-it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind. And, indeed, there came unto them Our apostles with all evidence of the truth: yet, behold, notwithstanding all this, many of them go on committing all manner of excesses on earth.” (Quran 5:32)
Scholars can look at the adherents of nearly every faith, from Christianity to Judaism to Hinduism to Buddhism, and point to examples of individuals committing acts of terrorism. For example, during the Spanish Inquisition, Jews may have thought Christianity is inherently violent because of the actions of Christians at the time, but it is not. There is rarely a direct and exclusive link between religious beliefs and violent behavior. Instead, terrorism is generally caused by a complex web of factors. There are verses in the Quran and obscure and weak hadith that are taken out of context and exploited by terrorist groups to advance their political and social agendas. Since the rise of ISIS, researchers have found that alienated, impoverished and and/or disenfranchised individuals have been radicalized online through slick propaganda videos and heavy recruitment on social media, which exploit loosely-based Islamic teachings to convince their followers and attackers to do their bidding.
The best approaches to countering extremism, terrorism or violence are found in prevention activities, where individuals are offered safe and supportive spiritual environments where they can explore their questions, find support as they face challenges, and find meaningful paths for working for social justice near and far.