WHAT IS ISLAM?
“Islam” is an Arabic word that means entering peace through the submission to one God. The “peace” in Islam means to be at peace with oneself and your surroundings and “submission” means submission to the Will of God. Islam is a unique religion with a name that signifies a moral attitude and a way of life. Unlike other religions like Judaism that takes its name from the tribe of Judah, Christianity from Jesus Christ, Buddhism from Buddha, and Hinduism from the Indus River. However, Muslims derive their identity from the message of Islam, rather than the person of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Therefore, Muslims should never be called “Mohammedans”.
WHO IS ALLAH?
Allah is the Arabic word for the “the One God.” Allah is not a deity specific to Muslims alone. He is God of all creations, because He is their Creator and Sustainer. An Arabic speaking person of any religion would only call God by His name in Arabic, which is Allah. After all Moses and Jesus did not speak English, and the English-language word “God” was not in their vocabulary.
WHO IS A MUSLIM?
The word “Muslim” means the one who submits to the Will of God, declaring that “there is no one worthy of submission except the One God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” In a broader sense, anyone who willingly submits to the Will of God is a Muslim. Thus, all the prophets preceding Prophet Muhammad are considered Muslims. The Qur’an specifically mentions Abraham who lived long before Moses and Jesus that, “he was neither a Jew nor a Christian but a Muslim,” because, he had submitted to the Will of God. Thus, there are Muslims who are not submitting at all to the Will of God and there are Muslims who are doing their best to live an Islamic life. One cannot judge Islam by looking at those individuals who have a Muslim name but by their actions, they are not living or behaving as Muslims. In fact, many Muslim Americans have not even adopted traditional Muslim names and they are good Muslims. The extent of being a Muslim can be according to the degree to which one submits to the Will of God in his beliefs and his actions.
WHO WAS MUHAMMAD (PEACE AND BLESSINGS BE UPON HIM)?
Muhammad was born in a noble tribe of Mecca in Arabia in the year 570 C.E. His ancestry goes back to Prophet Ishmael, son of Prophet Abraham. His father died shortly before his birth and his mother died when he was six. He did not attend school and was thus unable to read and write. In accordance to the prevalent custom, he was raised first by a nurse, and then by his grandfather and uncle. As a young man, he was known as a righteous person, a trait that earned him the title of Al-Amin (the trustworthy). He often used to retire to meditate in a cave near Mecca. At age 40, he was given the prophet hood when the angel, Gabriel, appeared in the cave with God’s Command. Subsequently, the revelations came over 23 years and were compiled in the form of a book called the Qur’an which Muslims consider as the final and the last word of God given to humankind. The Qur’an has been preserved in its original form and confirms the truth in the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel.
DO MUSLIMS WORSHIP MUHAMMAD?
No. Muslims do not worship Muhammad or any other prophets. Muslims believe in all prophets including Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, Moses, and Jesus. In fact, the belief is all prophets of God are an integral part of the faith. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of the prophets. They believe that God alone is to be worshiped, not any human being.
WHAT DO THEY BELIEVE?
Muslims believe in One, Unique, and incomparable God. They believe in the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets beginning with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus. God’s eternal message was reaffirmed and finalized by the Prophet Mohammad (peace be on them all). One becomes a Muslim by saying, “There is no deity but God, and Mohammad is the messenger of God.” By this declaration, the person announces faith in all of God’s messengers.
WHAT IS THE QURAN?
The Quran is the record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his companions. The text of the Quran was crosschecked during the life of the Prophet. The 114 chapters of the Quran have remained unchanged through the centuries.
WHAT ARE THE “FIVE PILLARS” OF ISLAM?
1) Belief (Iman) in one God and that Muhammad is His messenger.
2) Prayer (Salat) which is prescribed 5 times a day.
3) Fasting (Siyam) which is required in the month of Ramadan-9th month of the Islamic Hijri calendar.
4) Charity (Zakat) which is the poor-due (2.5%) on the wealth of the rich.
5) Hajj–the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime if one can afford it physically and financially.
All the pillars should be of equal height and strength in a building in order to give it due shape and proportion. It is not possible that one would do Hajj without observing fasting or without practicing regular prayers. Now think of a building that has pillars only. It would not be called a building. In order to make it a building, it has to have a roof, walls, doors, and windows. These things in Islam are the moral codes of Islam such as honesty, truthfulness, steadfastness, and many other human moral qualities. Thus in order to be a Muslim, one should not only be practicing the pillars of Islam but should also have the highest possible attribute for being a good human being. Only then, the building is completed and looks beautiful.
WHAT ABOUT THE AMERICAN MUSLIM COMMUNITY?
There are an estimated 6 million Muslims in America. The Muslim community in America is made up of people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and national origins. There are almost 2,000 mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic centers in America. Muslims are active in all walks of life. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in this country and around the world.
WHAT DOES ISLAM TEACH OF JESUS (PEACE BE UPON HIM)?
Muslims hold Jesus and his revered mother, Mary in great esteem. The Qur’an says that Jesus is the outcome of a miraculous birth without a father. “Lo! The likeness of Jesus with God is the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, and then He said unto him: Be and he is” (Qur’an 3.59). He was given many miracles as a prophet, which includes speaking soon after his birth in defense of his mother’s piety. God’s other gifts to him included healing the blind and the sick, reviving the dead, making a bird out of clay and most importantly, the message he was carrying. These miracles were given to him by God to establish him as a prophet. According to the Qur’an, he was not crucified but was raised into Heaven. (Qur’an, Chapter Maryam)
DO MUSLIMS HAVE MANY SECTS?
Muslims have no sects. In Islam, there are two major schools of thought, the Shia and the Sunni, which have more in common than differences. They follow the same book-The Qur’an; the same prophet Muhammad, offer their prayers 5 times a day, fast in the month of Ramadan, and go for Hajj–pilgrimage to Mecca. Those who follow Prophet Muhammad, in accordance with his sayings and actions, are called Sunni and those who in addition also follow the sayings and views of Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law), whom they consider as the rightful successor to Prophet Muhammad, are called Shia. The word Shia means a partisan (party of Ali) and it started more as a political party to help Ali in his conflict with his political adversaries. Most Shias live in Iran, Iraq, and Azerbaijan while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. Shias comprise about 16 percent of the Muslim population.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF WORSHIP IN ISLAM?
The purpose of worship in Islam is to be God conscious. Thus worship, whether it is prayer, fasting, charity, or Hajj, is a means to achieve God consciousness so that when one becomes conscious of God, in thought and in action, he is in a better position to receive His bounties both in this world and the Hereafter.
DO MUSLIMS BELIEVE IN THE HEREAFTER?
God who is Just and manifests His justice has established the system of accountability. Those who do good deeds will be rewarded and those who do wrong will be punished accordingly. Thus, He created the Heaven and Hell and there are admission criteria for both. Muslims believe that the present life is a temporary one–a test and if we pass the test, we will be given a life of permanent pleasure in the company of good people in Heaven.
WILL THE GOOD ACTIONS OF NON-BELIEVERS BE WASTED?
No. The Qur’an clearly says that, “anyone who has an atom’s worth of goodness will see it and anyone who has done an atom’s worth of evil will also see it” (Qur’an 99:7-8). The final Judgment is up to God Himself. (Qur’an 2:62)
WHAT IS THE DRESS CODE FOR MUSLIMS?
Islam emphasizes modesty. There are certain guidelines both for men and women that their dress should not reveal body forms. Men must cover at least the area from the navel to the knee and for women should cover all areas except the hands and face.
WHAT ARE THE DIETARY RULES IN ISLAM?
Muslims are told in the Qur’an not to eat pork or pork products, meat of the animals that died before being slaughtered or carnivorous animals (as they eat dead animals), nor drink blood or intoxicants such as alcoholic beverages or use any illicit drugs. Muslims are also advised to be balanced in their intake of foods and beverages to live a healthy lifestyle as our bodies are merely vessels entrusted to us in this life.
WHAT IS THE ISLAMIC YEAR?
The Islamic year started from the migration (Hijra) of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE. It is a lunar year of 12 months that make up 354 days. The first month is called Muharram. Muslims do not celebrate a “new year” and like each day, pray for God’s good pleasure and bounty.
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR ISLAMIC FESTIVALS?
Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of fasting in the month of Ramadan and is celebrated with congregational prayers, feasts, and exchange of gifts. Eid Al-Adha marks the end of the Hajj or the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. After congregational prayers, those who can afford, sacrifice an allowed animal such as lamb, goat, or cow to signify Prophet Abraham’s obedience to God, shown by his readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Muslims live as a majority in some 52 countries and as minorities worldwide. Eid celebrations vary from cultures, but remain within the confines of the Islamic moral code and dietary regulations.
WHAT IS SHARI’AH?
Shariah is the Arabic term for law. The Islamic Shari’ah is the comprehensive Muslim law derived from two sources: the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the Traditions of Prophet Muhammad). It covers every aspect of individual and collective living. The purpose of Islamic laws is protection of the individual’s fundamental rights to include right to life, property, political and religious freedom and safeguarding the rights of women and minorities. Every society has the right to be judged by their respective laws.
WAS ISLAM SPREAD BY THE SWORD?
The Qur’an declares, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256), thus, no one can be forced to become a Muslim. While it is true that in many places where Muslim armies went to liberate people or the land, they did carry the sword as that was the weapon used at that time. However, Islam did not spread by the sword because in many places where there are Muslims now, in the Far East like Indonesia, China, and many parts of Africa, there are no records of any Muslim armies going there. For instance, Muslims ruled India for over 1,000 years and yet only 15% of Indians are Muslims. If the ‘sword’ had been used, the statistics would have been otherwise. Despite 1,400 years of Muslim presence in the Arab world, some 10% of all Arabs are Christians.
WAS ISLAM SPREAD BY THE SWORD?
No. Islam is the religion of peace and submission and stresses on the sanctity of human life. The Qur’an (5:32) says: “anyone who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole of humankind and anyone who has killed another person (except in lieu of murder or mischief on earth) it is as if he has killed the whole of humankind.” Islam condemns all violence. Anyone who is perpetrating violence is not practicing his religion at that time.
DOES ISLAM OPPRESS WOMEN?
No. On the contrary, Islam elevated the status of women 1,400 years ago by giving them the right to divorce, the right to have financial independence and support and the right to be identified as dignified women (Hijab) when the rest of the world, including Europe, had no such rights. Women are equal to men in all acts of piety (Qur’an 33:32). Islam allows women to keep their maiden name after marriage, their earned money that they can invest or spend as they wish, and asks men to be their protector as women on the street can be molested. Prophet Muhammad told Muslim men, “The best among you is the one who is best to his family.” However, some Muslims warp Islamic teaching seemingly to oppress women in the name of “religion” an aberration deriving from cultural habits or ignorance about their religion. Female Genital Mutilations (female circumcision) has nothing to do with Islam. It is a pre-Islamic African custom practiced by non-Muslims including Coptic Christians.
IS ISLAM INTOLERANT OF OTHER RELIGIOUS MINORITIES?
Islam recognizes the rights of the minority. To ensure their welfare and safety, Muslim rulers initiated a tax (Jizia) on them. Prophet Muhammad forbade Muslim armies to destroy places of worship such as churches and synagogues. Caliph Umar did not even allow them to pray inside a church. Jews were welcomed and flourished in Muslim Spain, and when they were persecuted in Spain and the rest of Europe after the exit of Muslims, Turkey gave the Jews refuge. The Jews consider that part of their history as the Golden Era. In Muslim countries, Christians live in prosperity, hold government positions, and attend their church. Pakistan has had a Christian chief justice of the Supreme Court. Even Iraq had a Christian senior vice president. Christian missionaries are allowed to establish and operate their churches, schools, and hospitals.
What is the Islamic view on dating and premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality and AIDS, euthanasia and suicide, and organ transplantation?
a. Dating and Premarital Sex:
Islam does not approve of intimate mixing of the sexes, and forbids premarital and extramarital sex. Islam encourages marriage as a shield to such temptations and as a means of having mutual love, mercy, and peace.
Islam considers abortion as murder and does not permit it except to save the mother’s life when advised by competent medical professionals (Qur’an 17:23-31, 6:151).
Islam categorically opposes homosexuality and considers it a major sin.
d. Euthanasia and Suicide:
Islam is opposed to both suicide and euthanasia. Muslims do not believe in heroic measures to prolong the misery in a terminally ill patient.
HOW SHOULD MUSLIMS TREAT JEWS AND CHRISTIANS?
The Qur’an calls the Jews and Christians “People of the Book”, i.e., those who received Divine scriptures before Muhammad. Muslims are told to treat them with respect and justice. “Say (O Muhammad): O people of the Book (Jews and Christians) come to an agreement between us and you, that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall take no partners with Him, and none of us shall take others for Lords beside Allah. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are those who have submitted (unto Him).” (Qur’an Chapter 3:Verse 64)
WHAT IS JIHAD?
The word “Jihad” literally means struggle, which in Islamic terms means to strive in the way of God. Any struggle done in day-to-day life to please God can be considered Jihad. One of the highest levels of Jihad is the control of the self from wrongdoings.