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." Chapter 2:256
The Meaning of IslamIt 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 IslamThe 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 forgiveness sincerely.
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 ActionFaith 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 IslamIslam 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 Allah.
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." Chapter 4:34.
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 MankindIslam 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 109:6
ReasonMuslims 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 WarIn 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 IslamIslam 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." Chapter 30:30.