Introduction to Islam
The name of the religion is Islam, which
comes from an Arabic root word meaning "peace" and
"submission." Islam teaches that one can only find
peace in one's life by submitting to Almighty God (Allah) in heart,
soul and deed. The same Arabic root word gives us "Salaam
alaykum," ("Peace be with you"), the universal Muslim
is a Muslim?
A person who believes in and consciously
follows Islam is called a Muslim,
also from the same root word. So, the religion is called Islam,
and a person who follows it is a Muslim.
Many and Where?
Islam is a major world religion, with over 1
billion followers worldwide (1/5 of the world population).
It is considered one of the Abrahamic, monotheistic faiths, along with
Judaism and Christianity. Although usually associated with the
Arabs of the Middle East, less than 10% of Muslims are in fact
Arab. Muslims are found all over the world, of every nation,
color and race. Muslim majorities are found throughout the Middle
East, North Africa, East Asia and the Pacific Islands. Large
numbers are also found in Western Europe, the former Soviet Union, and
Allah is the proper name for Almighty God, and
is often translated merely as "God." Allah has other
names that are used to describe His characteristics: the Creator,
the Sustainer, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Judge, the
Governor, the Eternal, etc. Allah is without beginning, without
end, and He alone sees and knows all things. Allah is
transcendent, yet close to mankind. "...He knows what
enters within the earth and what comes forth out of it, what comes down
from heaven and what mounts up to it. And He is with you
wheresoever you may be. And Allah sees well all that you do"
(Qur'an 57:4). Since Allah alone is the Creator, it is He alone
that deserves our devout love and worship. Anything other than
Him is simply His creation. "That is Allah, your Lord! There is
no god but He, the Creator of all things; then worship Him, and He has
power to dispose of all affairs. No vision can grasp Him, but His
grasp is over all vision; He is the Sublime, Well-Aware"
(Qur'an 6:102-103). Islam holds to a strict monotheism - Allah
has no partners and is not divided into a trinity. "Say: He is Allah, the
One; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute. He begets not, nor is He begotten,
and there is none like unto Him" (Qur'an
112:1-4). Any worship and prayers directed at saints, prophets,
other human beings or nature is considered idolatry.
The Five Pillars of Islam
In Islam, faith and good
works go hand-in-hand. A mere verbal declaration of faith
is not enough, for belief in Allah makes obedience to Him a duty.
Only when your practice is consistent with your profession
will you be a true Muslim. Faith in Allah will be your
strength, and the Qur'an your guide.
The Muslim concept of worship
is very broad. Muslims consider everything they do in this
life according to Allah's will, an act of worship. Speaking
the truth, refraining from gossip, dealing honestly in commercial
affairs, treating one's parents with respect and honor, helping
the poor and needy, dealing lovingly and fairly with family
members - whatever is done for the sake of Allah is called
Worship of Allah is foremost
in a Muslim's mind all the time. There are also five formal
acts of worship which help strengthen a Muslim's faith and
obedience. They are often called the "Five Pillars of
of Faith (Kalima)
This is simply the
declaration, "I bear witness that there is no deity but
Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and
messenger." As mentioned previously, all of Islam is
based on faith in the Unity of God. When one declares this
statement, one testifies to the Unity of Allah, and to the
message of the Prophethood. When one bears
witness that Muhammad is His messenger, one is confirming that
all of the prophets before him were also His messengers - Allah
is One and His message is one. A person becomes a Muslim
when he or she declares this statement with purity of heart and
conviction of faith.
Formal prayer is the most
important act of worship; it is mankind's connection to Allah
through which one gathers strength, guidance and peace of
mind. Islam prescribes five formal prayers daily, through
which Muslims repeat and refresh their beliefs, taking time out
of their busy day to remember Allah and renew the effort to
follow His guidance. Five times each day (before dawn,
noon, afternoon, after sunset, and evening) Muslims rise, cleanse
with water, and present themselves directly before Allah for
Far from being a ritualistic
and mindless activity, prayer constantly reminds us of the
purpose of life itself, refreshes our faith, and keeps our belief
in Allah alive and ever-present. We go back to our wordly
affairs conscious of our duties and strengthened against
sin. Prayers said in congregation bond Muslims together in
love and brotherhood. Prayer also symbolizes the equality
of believers; there is no hierarchy, and all stand side-by-side
in rows and bow only to Allah.
Aside from the five formal
prayers each day, Muslims begin and complete every activity with
Allah ever-present in their minds. The words "Bismillah"
(In the name of Allah) precede every action, and "Alhamdilillah"
(Thanks be to Allah) completes it. Muslims also make private
supplications, and words in praise of Allah fall constantly off
"O you who
believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was
prescribed for those before you, that you may learn
self-restraint. Fast for a fixed number of days....Ramadan
is the month in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to
mankind, and clear signs for guidance and judgment between right
and wrong. So every one of you who is present at home
during that month should spend it in fasting....Allah intends
every facility for you; He does not want to put you to
difficulties. He wants you to complete the prescribed
period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and
perchance you shall be grateful"
What the prayers seek to do
five times a day, fasting in the month of Ramadan (9th month of
the lunar year) does once a year. During this month,
Muslims do not eat anything nor drink even a drop of water during
the daylight hours. Each and every moment during the fast,
we suppress our desires and remember Allah alone. This
places in us a consciousness of duty and a spirit of patience
that helps strengthen faith in Allah. Discipline and hardship
during this month bring us face to face with the realities of
life and the suffering of so many throughout the year. The
whole month is filled with increased devotion, piety, and purity
of mind, soul and body.
Every Muslim whose financial
conditions are above a certain specified minimum, must pay
annually at least 2.5% of his savings to a deserving needy
person, a new convert to Islam, a traveler, or one overwhelmed by
debts. This fosters in a Muslim the quality of sacrifice
and rids one of selfishness, greed and vanity. As all
wealth is a gift from Allah, one has the duty to help his needy
brethren when he is able.
Once in a lifetime, a Muslim
who is financially and physically able must go on the pilgrimage
to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during the month of Hajj (12th month of
the lunar year). Mecca is the spiritual center of the
Muslim world. It was here that Abraham built the first
house of worship (the Kaaba), towards which all Muslims stand in
unity in their daily prayers. "The first House
of worship appointed for men was that at Bakka (Mecca), full of
blessing and of guidance for all the worlds. It it are
Signs manifest - the Station of Abraham - whoever enters it
attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to
Allah, for those who can afford the journey..."
(Qur'an 3:96-97). When this house was desecrated into a
center of pagan worship, it was the prophet Muhammad that
cleansed it of its 300+ idols and rededicated it to the worship
of Allah alone.
All pilgrims dress in pure
white cloth, and are required to suppress passion, refrain from
any bloodshed, and be pure in word and deed. "For Hajj are the
months well-known. If any one undertakes the journey
therein, let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling
in the Hajj. And whatever good you do, be sure Allah knows
it. And take a provision with you for the journey, but the
best of provisions is right conduct..."
The pilgrimage is a great
international conference, wherein all people, kings or peasants,
black or white, stand before Allah as equals. During the
ten days of the annual pilgrimage, several million Muslims from
all over the world, of all nations, languages, and colors come
together in the largest spiritual gathering of the world.