What is Islam?
In an age torn by hatred, war and strife among the races, many of us look back
to religion for guidance to peace and brotherhood and are disappointed when
we find in most of them intolerance and narrowness of spirituality.
However, man has changed this original teaching of Oneness and developed out
of numerous mutually antagonistic sects. As Allah says in the Holy Qur'an, the
revelation of Allah to Prophet Muhammad, praise and peace be upon him: "Surely
this your brotherhood is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord, so keep your
duty unto Me. But they (mankind) split themselves up in sects, each party rejoicing
in its own tenets." Chapter 23:52-53.
Islam still preserves this teaching of the Oneness of God and the brotherhood
of all mankind. Islam seeks to implement this spirit among all races, and yet,
at the same time, remains tolerant and respectful of all other heavenly religions
and their followers who share the belief in the One and only God. The Holy Qur'an
teaches: "There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction stands out
clearly from error. Whoever rejects false dei- ties and believes in Allah has
grasped a firm handhold that never breaks, and Allah hears and knows all things."
The Meaning of Islam
It is false to call Islam Muhammadanism, as has been done so frequently in the
West. We have already pointed out that Muslims believe that Islam is the eternal
message which Allah sent to all prophets, peace be upon them, from the dawn
of mankind, and noto a new belief which began with the Prophet Muhammad, praise
and peace be upon him. Muslims call their religion Islam, and the Arabic word
Islam implies the attainment of peace through submission to Allah. The word
Muslim is an adjective derived from the noun Islam, and implies one who has
peace within himself from his submission to Allah.
Muslims believe in the One, Eternal God, Who created the heavens and the earth
and all that exists. In Arabic, God is called Allah. There is absolutely no
difference between Allah and the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon
them all. Muslims do not believe that Prophet Muhammad was the only Prophet;
rather they believe that he was the last of the Prophets of the Old and New
Testaments. The Holy Qur'an is the revealed and sacred scripture of Islam, and
it teaches: "Say (O Muslims), "We believe in Allah and what has been revealed
to us and what was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the
tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets
received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and unto
Him have we surrendered." Chapter 2:136.
Some Basic Principles of Islam
The most fundamental concept of Islam and the fountainhead of all its other
principles and practices is the Oneness of God - tawhiid. Islam is monotheism
in its purest form, and the logic of pure monotheism is the thread which runs
through the entire fabric of the Islamic way of life. Islam teaches a fundamental
difference between Allah, the Creator and that which He has created. The sky,
the moon, the stars, the harmony and perfection of the natural world, the grace
and beauty of the human body and the excellence of the human mind, the alternation
of day and night, the change of the seasons, and the mystery of life and death
all point to something beyond, greater than themselves. To the believer these
are all signs (ayaat) of Allah. Islam teaches that Allah is not to be likened
to anything which He has created. He is All-Powerful, All-Knowing; He is beyond
any imperfection, and is the fulfillment of all Perfection. He is not a substance,
nor is He like any of His creatures. He is not a far away and distant God, nor
is He an unapproachable ideal. He is All-Kind, All Merciful, and All-Compassionate.
Islam teaches that Allah is eternal. He was not Himself begotten, nor has He,
in turn begotten a son or a daughter. Islam rejects the concept of the incarnation
of God, which is found in Hinduism, Christianity, and other religions, and believes
that the concept of incarnation limits the concept of God and destroys the believer's
conviction of God's Activeness and Perfection.
The Qur'an describes Allah being perfect and active: "Allah, there is no god
except He. The Living, the Everlasting. Neither dozing nor sleep overtakes Him.
To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Who is he that shall
intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what will be before their
hands and what was behind them. And they do not comprehend anything of His knowledge
except what He willed. His Seat surrounds the heavens and earth. The preserving
of them does not tire Him. He is the All-High, the All-Glorious." Chapter 2:255.
Islam rejects the notion that Jesus, peace be upon him, was the son of God.
Rather it honors and respects him as one of the great messengers and prophets
of Allah to the Children of Israel.
Islam rejects the concept of trinity and considers it a contradiction of pure
monotheism. It also rejects the argument of some Christians that God made Himself
incarnate in Jesus, peace be upon him, so that God could be known by men, and
also rejects the argument that Jesus, peace be upon him, died on the cross for
mankind's sins. To begin with, Islam believes that man can come to know Allah
and feel close to Him by means of proper prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimage,
and righteous deeds. The very practice of Islam is meant to purify the believer's
soul and to bring him/her closer to Allah. With regard to the second argument,
Islam teaches no human being can bear the burden of another's responsibility.
Allah is very aware of our human weaknesses and imperfection. He does not condemn
us because we are created imperfect; rather He guides us to self-perfection
and He forgives us and showers His Mercy upon us when we fail and then ask His
Muslims believe in the divine origin of the Old and New Testaments, although
Muslims doubt the historical authenticity of some parts of the Old and New Testaments
and do not believe them to be exact representations of what Allah originally
revealed. The Qur'an upheld this view of the text of the Old and New Testaments
hundreds of years ago, and in recent years, this view has been upheld by textual
studies of biblical scholars. Muslims believe in the Angels of Allah, and His
Prophets, peace be upon them. They believe in the resurrection of the dead at
the end of the world; they believe in the coming of the Day of Judgement and
eternal life in Paradise or Hell.
Although Muslims believe that Allah is All-Powerful and maintains complete control
over His creation, they also believe that Allah has created man with free will
and the ability to choose and act, and that Allah is just in making man morally
responsible for what man does during his/her lifetime. It is false to say that
Islam teaches its followers to resign meekly and passively to whatever is their
fate or destiny. Rather Islam challenges the believer to fight against wrong
and oppression and to strive for the establishment of righteousness and justice.
Faith In Action
Faith without action is a dead letter. Islam teaches us that faith by itself
is not enough until it is transformed into action. The Prophet Muhammad, praise
and peace be upon him, said: "Faith does not depend on raising hopes, but it
is something which is firmly established in the heart and testified to by action.
Indeed, there are people who have been deceived by their hopes, so that they
finally leave this world without merit. They used to say, 'We have good expectations
from Allah.' Yet they only deceived themselves. For had they truly placed good
expectations in Allah, they would have excelled in good deeds."
Each Muslim is taught that he/she is personally responsible for his/her own
actions, both in this world and in the next. Islam teaches that every individual
must carry the responsibility of his/her own actions and that no one can carry
that burden for them.
The Position Of Women In Islam
Islam teaches that the woman is not inherently inferior to man; rather man and
woman are of similar nature. They both are equal in intellectual and spiritual
capacity. Furthermore, they are both equally responsible for their deeds before
It is also true that Islam regards the woman as having a primary role to play
in the constitution and running of the family. Islam places great emphasis on
the role of the Muslim woman as a wife and particularly as a mother, and Muslims
are often of the opinion that the best position for the woman is in the home
with her children and family. However, the Muslim woman is not prohibited from
leaving her home to pursue education, a teaching profession, or other worthwhile
and constructive goals which profit not only her but society as well. The Qur'an
establishes the spiritual equality and mutual responsibility of man and woman
in verses like the following: "And whoever does deeds of righteousness, whether
male or female, and is a believer, such will enter Paradise, and they will not
be wronged even a small thing like the spot on a date- stone." Chapter 4:124.
"And their Lord answered them, 'Indeed I suffer not the work of any worker,
male or female, to be lost. You are equal to each other.'" Chapter 3:195.
The relationship of the Muslim man to his wife is not that of master to slave.
Rather the entire responsibility of economic support is placed on the shoulders
of the man alone and he cannot demand of his wife that she also become economically
productive to support the family, although she is able to do this if she desires.
The Qur'an enunciates this responsibility of men to women in the following verse:
"Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, for that Allah has preferred
one over the other in bounty, and because they support them from their means.
So righteous women are obedient, guarding in secret what Allah has guarded."
The important point that should be made is that the religion of Islam has great
respect for the woman. It does not teach that she is without a soul or that
she is the root of all evil or that she is inferior to man and must be kept
in seclusion and subjugation. It is also worthy of mention that the Qur'an does
not teach that man fell from Paradise because of the temptation of Eve. Rather
the Qur'an directs all the responsibility toward Adam himself, while adding
that Allah turned to Adam in mercy and forgave him his sin. Therefore, Adam's
sin stops with Adam himself, and Allah, who is the Beneficent and the Merciful,
does not hold mankind responsible for the sin of Adam.
We cannot deny that the condition of women has at times been regrettable in
the Muslim world, as well as in the rest of the world at large. We do not wish
to justify these circumstances, but only to make the point that they did not
originate from the teachings of Islam itself. Rather they are the results of
short sightedness and human failures.
Brotherhood And Equality Of Mankind
Islam teaches that the human family is one, that there is no superiority of
white over black or black over white. Islam rejects radically all notions of
racial prejudice and teaches that the only basis of distinction between human
beings is their individual moral qualities.
The concept of Islamic brotherhood has two primary dimensions; the relationship
of Muslims to Muslims and the relationship of Muslims to non-Muslims. As for
the first category Islam teaches that the brotherhood between all Muslims is
to be absolute and total. The Arab has no privileges over the non-Arab, and,
since there is no clergy or priesthood in Islam, all Muslims are basically equal,
from top to bottom, from rich to poor, from educated to uneducated.
As for the relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims, the teaching of Islam
is that this is to be a relationship of mutual respect and particularly of tolerance.
It is preferable that Muslims and non-Muslims live in peace, protect each other,
and cooperate with each other. As the Qur'an says: "There is no compulsion in
religion ..." Chapter 2:256 and "You have your religion and I have mine." Chapter
Muslims consider their religion to be very rational and consistent with the
dictates of the believing and reasoning mind. Furthermore, the Qur'an teaches
that the rational faculty is one of the greatest gifts of Allah to man, and
it encourages us to use this faculty and to develop it. Islam does not ask its
followers to believe and then follow everything blindly and unquestioningly.
The Qur'an says, for instance: "And if you are in doubt about what We have send
down to Our worshipper, then bring a chapter like it, and call your witnesses
besides Allah, if you are truthful." Chapter 2:23
Islam encourages reasoning, thought and personal opinion. The Prophet, praise
and peace be upon him, said: "The differences of opinion among the learned of
my followers are Allah's mercy." Islam has great respect for learning science
and for man's exploration of the secrets of nature and of creation. In fact
Allah challenges man on many occasions in the Qur'an to deepen his faith, knowledge,
and wisdom from study and contemplation of the natural world, its harmony, symmetry,
and beauty. For example: "He it is who created the seven heavens in harmony.
Never can you see a lack of symmetry in the creation of the Compassionate. So
look yet again, can you perceive any flaw? Then look again, and still another
time; your vision will return unto you weakened and dim." Chapter 67:3-4.
The individual capacities and unique abilities of people are a gift of Allah,
to be developed, perfected, and used for the benefit of humanity. Islam does
not try to crush the individuality of its believers, but rather to guide each
believer to perfection and purify his own uniqueness. This multiplicity of expressive
and developed personalities enriches society and places it on a higher level,
like the beauty of an intricate but unified arabesque.
Islamic Attitude Towards War
In the eyes of some commentators on Islam in the West, Islam has been portrayed
as a militant religion, a religion of blood, fire, and sword. We have already
tried to draw attention to the fundamental concern of Islam for tolerance and
religious freedom, and have also commented upon the emphasis Islam places on
peace and cooperation among mankind. However, Islam is a practical religion,
a religion which never ignores for a single moment the complexities and demands
of the harsh realities and facts of life. Islam is fundamentally concerned with
establishing societies in which the rights of freedom of belief, human rights,
and protection of life, dignity, and property are secure from both internal
and external threats. Therefore, whereas Islam teaches its followers to be merciful
and inclined toward forgiveness and peace even in times of war, it never teaches
them to turn the other cheek. However good the philosophy of "turn the other
cheek" may be for private individual and small day to day affairs, it spells
social suicide if it is implemented by society as an absolute value.
Islam therefore stipulates principles which Muslims are to follow before, during,
and after war. Peace is to be established on the basis of justice. Muslims are
not to be aggressive or to violate treaties which they have concluded with others,
but war is to be waged in defence of the Muslim community and what it stands
for. During war, there is to be no killing of civilians and those who do no
participate directly in the war. Prisoners are to be treated humanely. Destruction
of lands, fruit trees, animals, and towns and villages is to be avoided. Muslims
are to be inclined to peace if the enemy is truthfully inclined to peace, and
they are to make treaties and agreements to preserve that peace and then observe
those treaties as long as the enemy observes them. The concept of "jihad" is
one of the highest concepts in Islam. The term has at times been translated
as "Holy War". However, this translation is incomplete for Jihad also means
by language "struggling." It is a concept which places great emphasis on activism
and self-sacrifice, although it does not apply to sacrifice in war alone. For
example the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, said, that the greatest jihad
is the striving of the Muslim to purify himself. The lesser jihad consists of
all the striving the Muslim does in his external life, charity, righteous living
and acts, the constant effort to achieve the Right Path in his dealings with
his fellow men. This is true striving in the Way of Allah.
The Six Pillars of Islam
Islam sets down six principle duties which are obligatory upon all Muslims,
and form the structure, or pillars, of his/her life. They are:
1. Belief in the Oneness of Allah, and the bearing of witness to this belief
by the words: "I bear witness that there is no god except Allah, and that Muhammad
is His Prophet and Messenger."
2. The five daily prayers at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and nightfall. These
five daily prayers help one to develop Allah consciousness in his/her everyday
life. The importance of these cannot be over emphasized. They are a constant
reminder to the worshipper of the Presence and Power of Allah and help the worshipper
to keep himself from deviating from the Right Path.
3. The bestowal of charity on one's fellow man. Islam places great emphasis
on generosity and charity as a means of purifying one's soul and getting closer
to Allah. The Muslim is enjoined to give voluntarily whenever he/she can; however,
he/she is required each year to pay an obligatory charity tax of two and a half
percent of his/her annual net earnings that exceed necessities, to go to the
poor and the needy, etc. The Zakat - charity - thus enables the Muslim community
to take care of all its members and insures that no one will be deprived of
his/her basic human right to exist.
4. Fasting during the ninth month of the lunar year "Ramadan." This fast is
enjoined upon Muslims of good health and sound body who have attained the age
of physical maturity and are not prevented from performing the fast by various
circumstances like travel, sickness, mental illness, or specifically in the
case of women, menstruation, or childbirth. The fast of Ramadan begins at dawn
and last until sunset. During this period the Muslim abstains from eating, and
drinking, sexual activity and smoking. Fasting teaches self discipline and control,
while purifying the soul and body and strengthening one's consciousness of Allah.
5. The pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrimage is required of all Muslims at least
once during their lifetime, if they have the financial means. The annual pilgrimage
to Mecca is one of the greatest events of the Muslim world, uniting Muslims
from every race and from every corner of the world. This is a great experience
in the life of a Muslim which enables him to draw himself closer to Allah. We
would like to remind the reader that the Holy Mosque in Mecca was built by Prophet
Abraham and his son, the Prophet Ishmail, peace be upon them.
6. Jihad (war) Against Evil.
Who is a Muslim?
Since there is no priesthood in Islam, no clergy and no official religious institution,
all one has to do to become a Muslim is to be personally convinced of the truth
of what Islam teaches and bear witness that "There is no god except Allah, and
that Muhammad is His Prophet."
One of the great beauties of Islam is its simplicity, its naturalness, and its
lack of formalities. Islam is the religion of Adam and of mankind in its earliest
and most advanced stages of development. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an: "So
set your face to the religion of Islam as a man by nature upright, the nature
of Allah with which He has inspired mankind and molded them. There is no changing
to the creation of Allah. That is the right religion, but most men know not."
The Benefit Of Embracing Islam
Among the many benefits of embracing Islam are that once you bear witness that:
"There is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet," all your past sins
are forgiven and all your past sins are transformed into merits! You also receive
the reward of believing the religion of the Prophet Jesus, if you are a Christian,
or Prophet Moses, if you are a Jew, and the religion of Prophet Muhammad, which
means that you receive two rewards.