What is Islam?
Islam means the active submission to the one God. It is strictly a monotheistic Abrahamic religion since it restricts worship to the one supreme Lord who is the Originator and Creator of the universe. Peace is attained through complete obedience to the commandments of God, for God is the source of all peace. Muslims are those who believe in one God and in Muhammad as the final Prophet of God. They devote their lives to the service of God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Islam teaches that God (called Allah in Arabic) is the source of all creation and that human beings are the best of His creation. He communicates by inspiring them towards goodness and by sending Prophets who deliver God’s message. Muslims believe that the first Prophet was Adam followed by a long chain of Prophets to guide humanity. The Qur’an, according to Muslim belief, is the word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad. It mentions many other Prophets like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Jacob, Joseph and Jesus. All the Prophets brought the same message, i.e., belief in one God, upright human conduct and belief in the accountability of human acts at the end of time.
5 Pillars of Islam
Islam has five primary obligations, or pillars of faith, that each Muslim must fulfill in his or her lifetime. The five pillars of Islam define the basic identity of Muslims – their faith, beliefs and practices – and bind together a worldwide community of believers into a fellowship of shared values and concerns. They are as follows:
1. Shahadah (testimony of faith)
Shahadah is the first pillar of Islam. Muslims bear witness to the oneness of God by reciting the creed “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This simple yet profound statement expresses a Muslim’s complete acceptance of and total commitment to Islam.
2. Salah (prayer)
Salah is the second pillar. The Islamic faith is based on the belief that individuals have a direct relationship with God. The world’s Muslims turn individually and collectively to Makkah, Islam’s holiest city, to offer five daily prayers at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening. In addition, Friday congregational service is also required called Jummah. Although salah can he performed alone, it is meritorious to perform it with another or with a group. It is permissible to pray at home, at work, or even outdoors; however it is recommended that Muslims perform salah in a mosque.
3. Zakat (support of the needy)
Zakat is the third pillar. Social responsibility is considered part of one’s service to God; the obligatory act of zakat enshrines this duty. Zakat prescribes payment of fixed proportions of a Muslim’s possessions for the welfare of the entire community and in particular for its neediest members. It is equal to 2.5 percent of an individual’s total net worth, excluding obligations and family expenses.
4. Sawm (fasting the holy month of Ramadan)
Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam. Ordained in the Holy Qur’an, the fast is an act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a richer perception of God. Fasting is also an exercise in self-control whereby one’s sensitivity is heightened to the sufferings of the poor. Ramadan, the month during which the Holy Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, begins with the sighting of the new moon, after which abstention from eating, drinking and other sensual pleasures is obligatory from dawn to sunset. Ramadan is also a joyful month. Muslims break their fast at sunset with a special meal, iftar, perform additional nocturnal worship, tarawih, after evening prayer. The end of Ramadan is observed by three days of celebration called Eid Al-Fitr, the feast of the breaking of the fast. Customarily, it is a time for family reunion and the favored holiday for children who receive new clothing and gifts.
5. Hajj (the pilgrimage to Makkah)
Hajj is the fifth pillar and the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world. For those Muslims who are physically and financially able to make the journey to Makkah, the Hajj is a once in a lifetime duty that is the peak of their religious life. The Hajj is a remarkable spiritual gathering of millions of Muslims from all over the world to the holy city in Saudi Arabia. In performing the Hajj, a pilgrim follows the order of ritual that the Prophet Muhammad performed during his last pilgrimage.
The six articles of faith sum up the basic theology of Islam: the belief in one God, His Angels, His Messengers, His Books, Divine Predestination, and the Day of Resurrection.
1. Belief in One God
There is no God but ONE God. He has neither parents nor progeny. He is one entity, all knowing and omnipotent. Everything we have is because it is sustenance from the Creator: life, death, air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, the ability to think, success and failure. Muslims worship and give thanks to Allah because without His sustenance, all existence would vanish. We have the natural inclination to thank those who do favors for us, or those who give gifts to us. What is life if it is not a gift, and what is everything around us (our sustenance) if it is not a favor? It only makes sense to worship and thank the one Creator for our existence.
2. Belief in the Angels
Angels are creations who worship and serve God. There are many Angels, though only a few are mentioned in the Quran and the Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). The most well known Angel in Islam is Jibril (Gabriel), who brought most of the Quran and revelations from God to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Angel of Death collects the soul from the human body [Surah As-Sajda (The Prostration), 32:11). The Angels Kiraaman Katibeen (the Noble Writers) reside at the right and left shoulders and respectively record each person’s good and bad deeds [Surah Al-Infitar (The Cleaving, Bursting Apart), 82: 10-14]. The Angels Munkar and Nakir question each soul in the grave. The Angel Malik distributes punishments in Hell [Surah At-Tahrim (The Banning, Prohibition), 66:6]. All Angels are created from light and do not have free will; they follow the commandment of God. Because Angels are the messengers and servants of Allah, the belief in the Angels is obligatory upon all Muslims.
3. Belief in the Scriptures
There are five known scriptures and texts that document revelations to five different Prophets, as stated in the Quran. The five texts are: the Scrolls of Abraham [Surah Al-Alaa (The Most High), 87:18-19], the Scrolls and Torah of Moses [Surah Al-Maida (The Table Spread), 5:44], the Psalms of David [Surah Al-Anbiyah (The Prophets), 21:105], the Gospel of Jesus [Surah Al-Maida (The Table Spread), 5:46], and the Quran of Muhammad.
While Muslims believe that these scriptures were once authentic, it is evident that overtime they have been changed and therefore the original message has not been conserved. It is a proven fact that the Holy Quran is the only scripture whose text has not been changed since its codification, not even a single word. Whereas previously, the scriptures had been revealed with specific directions and guidance for the respective tribes of the Prophets, the Holy Quran was revealed to provide universal guidance, for all situations, for all nations of people, and for all times to come.
4. Belief in the Prophets
Islam is the last of three Abrahamic faiths, and was sent down to correct the deviations that had arisen after the formation of Judaism and Christianity. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is known as The Seal of Prophets, indicating that there were many more Prophets before him, and none after him. Islam is not a new faith, rather it was revealed as guidance for the same message that started with the first Prophet, Adam (peace be upon him). In the Quran, twenty-five Prophets are mentioned in various chapters including: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Job, Jonah, Zachariah, John and Jesus (peace be upon them all).
The Prophets are all greatly revered, as many of their stories are extensively covered in the Quran. There are some Prophets who are not mentioned in the Quran, but are mentioned in the Ahadith. The Prophets serve as role models for all Muslims and were sent down as the Messengers of God were all human beings, spreading the same message that the Prophet Muhammad spread across the world- to worship one God.
5. Belief in the Day of Judgement
Following the end of the Earth, after all of the minor and major signs have appeared, every human being will be resurrected from the grave. This day is known as the Day of Resurrection or The Day of Judgment. Allah says in the Holy Quran, “I swear by the Day of Resurrection, And I swear to the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection]. Does man think that We will not assemble his bones?” [Surah Al- Qiyama (The Resurrection), 75:1-3. In this world, the nature of the justice system is seen as a reward and punishment system. To simply put it, we are rewarded for good actions and good behavior, and punished for crimes and bad behavior. The Day of Judgment will be conducted in a similar fashion. On the Day of Judgment, every human being will be held accountable for every good and bad deed he or she did, regardless of how small or great the deed was [Surah Al-Qamar (The Moon), 54:52-53].
And on that day, “We will seal over their mouths, and their hands will speak to Us, and their feet will testify about what they used to earn” [Surah Ya-Seen (Ya-Seen), 36:65]. On the Day of Judgment it will be decided whether a soul will enter Heaven or Hell, determined by the records of deeds and the testimonials of that person’s body. The belief in the Day of Resurrection and Judgment is a fundamental part of Islam. It is the direct consequence of our actions in the world and the strength of our faith in God. It is the end result of how we understand our purpose in life.
6. Belief in Divine Predestination
“Indeed, We have created all things with Qadr (Predestination).” [Surah Al-Qamar (The Moon), 54:49] Understanding and belief predestination, is also a very important aspect in Islam. The concept of qadr (predestination) is often misunderstood and ultimately only God fully understands it. Qadr is knowing that God created everything and that He knows His creation’s actions even before they do them. “Do you not know that Allah knows what is in the heaven and earth? Indeed, that is in a Record. Indeed that, for Allah, is easy.” [Surah Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage), 22:70] However, God has still given us all free choice. We have the power to make our own decisions; God just knows what we will decide before we do so. “He has created everything, and has measured it exactly according to its due measure.” [Surah Al-Furqan (The Criterion, The Standard), 25:2] In the case of sleep, insanity, or forgetfulness, a person is no longer acting by their own free choice because they are not aware of their actions, thus their actions are not part of free choice but rather what God has decreed to happen.