by Dr. Ahmad H. Sakr, Ph.D.
I. Islam and Muslims
The name of this religion is Islam, the root of which, Silm or Salam, means peace. Salam is also part of the greeting of peace among Muslims. In addition, one of the beautiful names of God is As-Salam, meaning "The Peace". The word, however, means much more than just "peace". It means submission to the One God, as well as to live in harmony with other people and with the environment. A Muslim is, therefore, any person, anywhere in the world, whose obedience, allegiance and loyalty are to God, Lord of the Universe, and who strives to live in accordance with God's laws.
II. Muslims and Arabs
The followers of Islam are called Muslims. We should not confuse Muslims with Arabs. Muslims may be Arabs, or they may be Turks, Persians, Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians, Europeans, Africans, Americans, Chinese, or any other nationality. Islam is not limited to any nationality or race.
Arabs, also, are not limited to only one religion. An Arab may be a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, an atheist, or part of any other belief system. Any person who adopts the Arab language as his or her mother tongue is called an Arab.
While there are over one billion Muslims in the world, there are about 200 million Arabs, among whom about ten percent are not Muslim. Thus, Arab Muslims constitute only about twenty percent of the Muslim population of the world.
The language of the Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, is 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. They pray in the language of the Qur'an, but supplications to God may be in any language.
III. Allah, the One and the Only God
Allah is the name of the One and Only God. Allah has ninety-nine 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 many others.
He is the Creator of all human beings. He is the God for the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus and all others, including those who do not even believe in Him. Muslims worship God, and put their trust in Him as they seek His help and guidance.
Muhammad was chosen by God to deliver His Message of Peace, namely Islam. He was born in 570 C.E. (Common Era) in Makkah, 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 the very last Prophet of God to mankind. He is the final Messenger of God. His message was and still is to all of mankind, including the Christians and Jews. He was sent to those religious people to inform them about the true mission of Jesus, Moses, David, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham.
Muhammad is considered to be the summation and 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 entrusted with the power of explaining, interpreting and living the teachings of the Qur'an.
V. Sources of Islam
The legal sources of Islam are the Qur'an and the Hadith. The Qur'an is the exact words of God; its authenticity, originality and totality are intact. The Hadith are the reports of the sayings, deeds and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet's sayings and deeds are called Sunnah. The Seerah is the writings of followers of Muhammad about the life of the Prophet. Hence, it is the life history of the Prophet Muhammad which provides examples of daily living for Muslims.
VI. Some Islamic Principles
A. Oneness of God
B. Oneness of mankind
C. Oneness of Messengers and the Message
D. Angels and the Day of Judgment
E. Innocence of Man at Birth
F. State and Religion
VII. Practices of Islam
God instructed the Muslims to practice what they believe in. In Islam there are five pillars:
A. Creed (Shahadah)
B. Prayers (Salat)
C. Fasting (Saum)
D. Purifying Tax (Zakat)
E. Pilgrimage (Hajj)
VIII. Other Related Aspects
B. Celebrations (Eid)
D. Place of Worship
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. It is preferable that Muslims pray in a congregation, but he/she may pray individually anywhere.
F. Distribution of Muslims in North America
G. Contributions in North America
The Muslims of the early period of the Islamic era were pioneers in medicine, geography, navigation, arts, poetry, mathematics, algebra, logarithms, calculus, etc. They contributed to the Renaissance of Europe and world civilization.
Muslims are required to respect all those who are faithful and God conscious people, namely, those who received messages. Christians and Jews are called People of the Book. Muslims are asked to call upon the People of the Book for common terms, namely, to worship One God, and to work together for the solutions of the many problems in the society.
Christians and Jews lived peacefully with Muslims throughout centuries in the Middle East and other Asian and African countries. The second Caliph, Umar, did not pray in the church in Jerusalem so as not to give the Muslims an excuse to take it over. Christians trusted the Muslims, and as such, the key of the Church in Jerusalem is still in the hands of Muslims.
Jews fled from Spain during the Inquisition, and they were welcomed by the Muslims. They settled in the heart of the Islamic Caliphate. They enjoyed positions of power and authority.
Throughout the Muslim World, churches, synagogues and missionary schools were built within the Muslim neighborhoods. These places were protected by Muslims even during the contemporary crises in the Middle East.