An Introduction To Islam And Muslims
by Sulaiman Dufford
I. Islam and Muslims
The name of this religion is Islam, the Arabic root of which is "Silm" or "Salam", both meaning peace. "Salam" may also mean greeting one another with peace. One of the beautiful names of God is that He is The Peace, but this Divine Name also means more than that: it means submission to the One God, and living in peace with the Creator. It means living in peace with one's self, with other people, and with the natural environment. A Muslim is supposed to live in peace and harmony with all these segments. Hence, a Muslim is any person anywhere in the world whose obedience, allegiance, and loyalty are to God, the Lord of the Universe, and to the innate harmony of His Creation. Thus, Islam is a total system of living.
II. Muslims and Arabs
The followers of Islam are called Muslims. Muslims are not to be confused with Arabs. Muslims may be Arabs, Turks, Persians, Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Indonesians, Europeans, Africans, Americans, Chinese, Russians, or other nationalities.
An Arab could be a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, or an atheist. Any person who adopts the Arabic language is called an Arab. However, the language of the Qur'an (the Revealed Book of Islam) is also Arabic. Muslims all over the world try to learn Arabic so that they may be able to read the Qur'an and understand its meaning. Although personal supplications can be in any language, Muslims pray their five required daily prayers in the language of the Qur'an, namely Arabic, which is also, and perhaps not by coincidence, one of the most stable, sophisticated, and beautiful languages in modern history.
Thus, whereas some religions have their liturgical languages (such as the Catholics used to have Latin), the Muslims are blessed with more than that. The Muslims have a Revelatory Language, the unchanged and incorruptible language in which the Qur'an was actually received. The Prophet Muhammad was confronted and entranced by the Angel Gabriel off and on over a period of years in both Makkah and Madinah, and all of these segments of the Qur'an were immediately dictated to his Companions.
Yet, even though there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, there are only about two hundred million Arabs, of whom about ten percent are not Muslim. Thus, Arab Muslims constitute only about twenty percent of the Muslim population of the world.
III. Allah, the One and Only God
Although Allah is the name of the One and Only God, we may call Him by ninety-nine other beautiful names, such as: The Gracious, The Merciful, The Beneficent, The Creator, The All-Knowing, The All-Wise, The Lord of the Universe, The First, The Last, and others. He is the Creator of all human beings. He is the God for the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the atheists, and others. Muslims put their trust entirely in Allah, and they seek only His help and only His guidance.
Muhammad was chosen by God to deliver His Message of Peace, namely Islam. Muhammad was born in 570 C.E. (Christian or Common Era), in Makkah in Arabia. He was entrusted with the Message of Islam when he was at the age of forty years. The revelation that he received is called the Qur'an, while the message is called Islam.
Muhammad is considered to be the summation and the culmination of all the prophets and messengers that came before him. He purified the previous messages from adulteration and completed the Message of God for all humanity. He was also entrusted with the power of explaining, interpreting, and living the teachings of the Qur'an. When asked why he did not perform miracles as other prophets before him were said to have done, he replied that the Qur'an was his miracle.
V. The Sources of Islam
The legal sources of Islam are the Qur'an and the Hadith. The Qur'an contains the exact words of God - its authenticity, originality, and totality are intact. The Hadith are reports by Companions of Muhammad of indisputable integrity of the sayings, deeds, and explanations of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet's sayings and deeds themselves are called "Sunnah". Those related to explication of verses of the Qur'an are considered binding upon all Muslims. Those Hadith related to Prophet Muhammad's dress and personal behavior as an Arab are considered optional. However, the "Seerah", or writings of followers of Muhammad about his life and actions, provide examples of daily living for Muslims.
VI. The Islamic Creed
Muslims, or those who wish to convert to Islam, must agree to and hold the following beliefs as inviolable:
1) Oneness of God
He is One and the Only One. He is not two-in-one or three-in-one. This means that Islam rejects the idea of a trinity, a son of God, or any man-god. By implication, people are created equal in front of the Law of God. There is no superiority for one race over another. However, God has created the races with different ethnic cultures, colors, languages, beliefs, and skills, so as to interest and inspire one another. The Qur'anic teaching is that the different races are meant to be complementary, not confrontational. The concept is global, not tribal. If there is superiority among mankind, it is only God Who knows what it really is. It is only God Who knows which men or women are among the truly pious or the truly righteous.
2) The Revealed Books
Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all "People of the Book". All have received teachings revealed directly from God, and perhaps others before them have received revealed Books as well, even though their books may have been lost or fragmented. The Qur'an, being the only fully authentic and unchanged of the revealed Books, is considered the final treasure given to mankind. Further advice is not needed, only deeper understanding of divine advice already given in the Qur'an, as well as earlier books. Muslims are required to believe in and respect all revealed Books that have descended to mankind throughout its history.
God promised in the Qur'an to protect its contents until the end of history, and evidence of that protection can be found in the thousands and thousands of children, as well as devout adults, who can recite the entire Qur'an BY MEMORY, from cover to cover, as well as the millions who can and do recite portions of it every day of their lives.
3) The Prophets of God
Muslims believe that God sent different messengers throughout the history of mankind. All came with the same message and the same teachings. It was the people who misunderstood and misinterpreted them. Muslims believe in, among others, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ismail, Jacob, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad. The Prophets of Christianity and Judaism are indeed the Prophets of Islam. Even the Buddha may have been a prophet whose original teachings were lost or corrupted, since the Qur'an states that many prophets unknown to modern history also brought revealed Books and teachings. The Hindu Vedas may have been fragments of the Book brought by Abraham (Brahmanism).
Muslims believe that there are unseen creatures such as angels created by God for special missions in the universe. At the end of every prayer, Muslims give the greeting of "Peace" to the angels which accompany them over each shoulder - to the right, the Recording Angel for our good deeds; to the left, the Recording Angel for our sins. The Qur’an was revealed and taught to Prophet Muhammad through the agency of the Angel Gabriel. The Prophet tells many stories in his Hadith about angels appearing in the world.
5) The Day of Judgement
Muslims believe that there is a Day of Judgement when all people of the world throughout the history of mankind till the last day of life on earth, are to be brought for accounting, reward, and punishment. The Prophet enjoined all Muslims to hold the reality of this day in awe and trepidation, and to manage all their earthly affairs with the inevitability of this day in mind. To that end, the following Islamic rituals and actions have been given by God to the Prophet, and thence to all the Muslims, to protect and sharpen Muslims' remembrance of the Last Day.
VII. Islamic Practices
Whereas the Islamic creed shares much with other world religions, the true Muslim distinguishes himself from the followers of these other religions by means of diligent study and practice of the following rituals and practices, known as the FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM:
1) Witnessed Profession of Faith (“Shahada”)
The verbal commitment and pledge that there is only One God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, is considered to be the Creed of Islam. In addition to anyone who is born to Muslim parents, anyone who utters the words of this creed before two sane, adult Muslim witnesses has become Muslim all the rest of his life, both in this world and the next.
2) Prayer (“Salat”)
In further witness thereto, children and Muslim converts eight years of age and up are required to learn the distinctive Islamic way of approaching the One God by means of the Muslim Prayer, or “Salat”, as revealed to Prophet Muhammad on his miraculous Ascension to the Throne of Allah, which began from the famous golden “Dome of the Rock” in Jerusalem. This Dome is not really a mosque, as is often supposed. It is rather a shrine to the Prophet’s Ascension. However, it is sometimes also referred to as the “Mosque of Omar”, because it was built by the Caliph Omar to mark and protect the large rock within it, from which the Prophet’s journey to Heaven traditionally began. The third holiest mosque in Islam is nearby, the “Aqsa Mosque” at the other end of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Although children and new Muslims are given any amount of time to learn their “Salat” properly, it is an absolute requirement for anyone who calls himself Muslim. It generally becomes second nature, something like the act of respiration, for those of sincere dedication to Islam. The absence of “Salat” may create various hazards for Muslims who think they can ignore this bedrock of Muslim worship with impunity. “Salat” contains many benefits and secrets for the worshipper, psychological as well as spiritual.
3) Fasting (“Saum”)
Every ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar is Ramadan, and the Qur’an orders all Muslims of sound mind and body to fast from dawn until sunset all the days of the month. No drinking, eating, or marital relations are permitted. In addition, harsh words, acts of anger, and various other emotional indulgences are also not permitted. As with “Salat”, this Ramadan fast holds many secrets and benefits. Many Muslim converts come to Islam AFTER practicing this fast and experiencing the proofs and benefits thereof.
4) Purifying Tax (“Zakat”)
The distinction between pure and impure financial gain is important in Islam, and in order to protect oneself against the temptations of undeserved or impure gain, every Muslim must pay a given percentage of his wealth to the poor or other rightful beneficiaries before the end of every Ramadan month. There have been eras in Islamic history when the “Zakat” system solved all the problems of poverty and hardship within Muslim communities.
5) Pilgrimage (“Hajj”)
The performance of pilgrimage to Makkah is required once in a lifetime if means are available. “Hajj” is partly in memory of the trials and tribulations of Prophet Abraham, his wife Hagar, and their eldest son Prophet Ismail. A successful “Hajj” may not be performed on credit. It is sometimes taught that a reasonably successful Ramadan fast must precede the “Hajj”, which is then considered a response to an invitation from Allah, the Most High, to visit His Holy House on earth. The realty of heaven, hell, prayers of supplication, and forgiveness of one’s sins, are all often experienced by sincere “Hajjis”.
VIII. Other Related Aspects
Following from the beliefs and practices mentioned above, Muslims gain personal conviction that people are born free of sin. It is only after they commit sins that they are to be charged for their mistakes. No one is responsible for or can take responsibility for the sins of others. However, the door of forgiveness through true repentence is always open, provided it is accompanied by sincere remorse.
Muslims believe that Islam is a total and a complete way of life. It encompasses all aspects of life. As such, the teachings of Islam do not separate religion from politics. As a matter of fact, both private and public life are considered under the obedience of Allah through His teachings. Hence, economic and social transactions, as well as educational and political systems, are also part of this obedience.
However, early Islamic polities did not call themselves, or refer to, an “Islamic State”. All states must be Islamic in values and beliefs, whether or not they refer to themselves as “Islamic”. Admittedly, many modern states do not yet reach this standard, though they may be full of Muslims.
Islamic practices and celebrations are based on the lunar calendar. However, most Muslim countries use the Gregorian solar calendar for business or economic purposes. Central to Islamic culture, however, is the “Hijra”, or migration of the Prophet and all Muslims from Makkah to Madinah in the year 623 C.E. This “Hijra” enshrines each Muslim’s individual effort to free himself from the bonds or dangers of the non-Muslim elements of the culture into which he or she may have been born. Therefore, only the “Hijra”, or lunar calendar, truly expresses distinctively Muslim culture, and should hang in every Muslim home on earth.
The two main celebrations marked by the “Hijra” or lunar calendar, are the Idul Fitra, which follows Ramadan and celebrates whatever degree of inner revelation we may have attained by virtue of our diligent fasting; and the Idul Adha, which follows the Pilgrimage Season and celebrates our gratitude for the performance of a successful “Hajj” by ourselves or those Muslims who were able that year, by means of sacrificing dedicated animals to feed the poor.
Charity at the end of Ramadan is economic, charity at the end of Hajj season is by feeding the poor.
As for the Islamic diet, only animals slaughtered in the name of the One God should be eaten by Muslims, although some jurists allow western meat to be eaten since western Christians are still considered “People of the Book”. A further consideration, however, is that “zabiha” slaughter must also involve draining of the blood, so that most western meat suppliers cannot be considered fully “zabiha”. Muslims are also restricted from consuming pork, alcohol, or any dangerous or addictive drug.
The Muslim place of worship is called a Mosque or Masjid. The three most holy places of worship in the world for Muslims are: Mosque of Ka’aba in Makkah, Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad in Madinah, and Masjid Aqsa, adjacent to Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
A Muslim may pray anywhere in the world, whether in a Mosque, a house, an office, or outside. The whole world is a place of worship. Muslims may pray individually anywhere, though it is preferable to pray in congregation.
The special day for Muslims is Friday. It is considered sacred and it is said that the Day of Judgement will take place on Friday. A leader (“Imam”) gives a sermon (“Khutba”) and leads the congregational prayer. However, in contrast to the Jewish and Christian “Sabbath” days (Saturday and Sunday), Muslims are allowed to return to their economic activities immediately after the Friday prayers.
Although differing in days of congregational worship, Muslims, Christians, and Jews are all called “People of the Book” in the Qur’an and they are advised to work together for common terms, to worship the One God, and to cooperate in solving the many problems in society.
Modern European Jewish Zionism is considered a political maneuver that is totally distinct from Judaism as a monotheistic religious entity, with whom Muslims have no quarrel. Proof of the peaceful relations between Muslims and Jews can be found in the many Jews who fled the Catholic Inquisition in Spain and were welcomed by the Muslims. These Jews settled in the heart of the Islamic Caliphate. They enjoyed positions of power and authority.