Introduction to Islam
Table Of Contents
Islam is the complete submission and obedience to Allah (God).
The name Allah (God) in Islam never refers to Muhammad (pbuh), as many Christians may think; Allah is the personal name of God.
What do Muslims believe about Allah?
1. He is the one God, Who has no partner.
2. Nothing is like Him. He is the Creator, not created, nor a part of His creation.
3. He is All-Powerful, absolutely Just.
4. There is no other entity in the entire universe worthy of worship besides Him.
5. He is First, Last, and Everlasting; He was when nothing was, and will be when nothing else remains.
6. He is the All-Knowing, and All-Merciful,the Supreme, the Sovereign.
7. It is only He Who is capable of granting life to anything.
8. He sent His Messengers (peace be upon them) to guide all of mankind.
9. He sent Muhammad (pbuh) as the last Prophet and Messenger for all mankind.
10. His book is the Holy Qur'an, the only authentic revealed book in the world that has been kept without change.
11. Allah knows what is in our hearts.
These are some of the basic guidelines Muslims follow in their knowledge of God:
1. Eliminate any anthropomorphism (human qualities) from their conception of Allah. His attributes are not like human attributes,despite similar labels or appellations.
2. Have unwavering faith in exactly what Allah and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) described Allah to be, no more, no less.
3. Eradicate any hope or desire of learning or knowing the modality of His names and attributes.
4. Belief totally in all the names and attributes of Allah; one cannot believe in some and disbelieve the others.
5. One cannot accept the names of Allah without their associated attributes, i.e. one cannot say He is Al-Hayy - 'The Living' and then say that He is without life.
6. Similarity in names (or meanings) does not imply similarity in what is being described (referents). As a robotic arm differs from a human arm, so the "hand" of Allah is nothing like a human hand, His speech is nothing like human speech, etc.
7. Certain words are ambiguous or vague in their meanings, and thus may be susceptible to misinterpretation. Only those meanings that are in accordance with what is specified by Allah and His Prophet (pbuh) are acceptable.
Islam places great emphasis on cleanliness, in both its physical and spiritual aspects. On the physical side, Islam requires the Muslim to clean his body, his clothes, his house, and the whole community, and he is rewarded by God for doing so. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, for example:
"Removing any harm from the road is charity (that will be rewarded by Allah)." [Bukhari]
While people generally consider cleanliness a desirable attribute, Islam insists on it , making it an indispensible fundamental of the faith. A muslim is required to to be pure morally and spiritually as well as physically. Through the Qur'an and Sunnah Islam requires the sincere believer to sanitize and purify his entire way of life.
In the Qur'an Allah commends those who are accustomed to cleanliness:
"Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean." [2: 22]
In Islam the Arabic term for purity is Taharah. Books of Islamic jurisprudence often contain an entire chapter with Taharah as a heading.
Allah orders the believer to be tidy in appearance:
"Keep your clothes clean." [74:4]
The Qur'an insists that the believer maintain a constant state of purity:
"Believers! When you prepare for prayer wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; rub your heads (with water) and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. If you are ritually impure bathe your whole body." [5: 6]
Ritual impurity refers to that resulting from sexual release, menstruation and the first forty days after childbirth. Muslims also use water, not paper or anything else to after eliminating body wastes.
Prophet Muhammad )pbuh) advised the Muslims to appear neat and tidy in private and in public. Once when returning home from battle he advised his army:
"You are soon going to meet your brothers, so tidy your saddles and clothes. Be distinguished in the eyes of the people." [Abu Dawud]
On another occasion he said:
"Don't ever come with your hair and beard disheveled like a devil." [Al-Tirmidhi]
And on another:
"Had I not been afraid of overburdening my community, I would have ordered them to brush their teeth for every prayer." [Bukhari]
Moral hygeine was not ignored, either, for the Prophet (pbuh) encouraged the muslims to make a special prayer upon seeing themselves in the mirror:
"Allah, You have endowed me with a good form; likewise bless me with an immaculate character and forbid my face from touching the Hellfire." [Ahmad]
And modesty in dress, for men as well as for women, assists one in maintaining purity of thought.
Being charitable is a way of purifying one's wealth. A Muslim who does not give charity (Sadaqah) and pay the required annual Zakah, the 2.5% alms-tax, has in effect contaminated his wealth by hoarding that which rightfully belongs to others:
"Of their wealth take alms so that you may purify and sanctify them." [9: 103]
All the laws and injunctions given by Allah and His Prophet (pbuh) are pure; on the other hand, man-made laws suffer from the impurities of human bias and other imperfections. Thus any formal law can only be truly just when it is purified by divine guidance - as elucidated by the Qur'an and the Sunnah - or if it is divinely ordained to begin with - the Shari'ah.
Muslims have always had a special interest in astronomy. The moon and the sun are of vital importance in the daily life of every Muslim. By the moon, Muslims determine the beginning and the end of the months in their lunar calendar. By the sun the Muslims calculate the times for prayer and fasting. It is also by means of astronomy that Muslims can determine the precise direction of the Qiblah, to face the Ka'bah in Makkah, during prayer. The most precise solar calendar, superior to the Julian, is the Jilali, devised under the supervision of Umar Khayyam.
The Qur'an contains many references to astronomy.
"The heavens and the earth were ordered rightly, and were made subservient to man, including the sun, the moon, the stars, and day and night. Every heavenly body moves in an orbit assigned to it by God and never digresses, making the universe an orderly cosmos whose life and existence, diminution and expansion, are totally determined by the Creator." [Qur'an 30:22]
These references, and the injunctions to learn, inspired the early Muslim scholars to study the heavens. They integrated the earlier works of the Indians, Persians and Greeks into a new synthesis. Ptolemy's Almagest (the title as we know it is Arabic) was translated, studied and criticized. Many new stars were discovered, as we see in their Arabic names - Algol, Deneb, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran. Astronomical tables were compiled, among them the Toledan tables, which were used by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Kepler. Also compiled were almanacs - another Arabic term. Other terms from Arabic are zenith, nadir, albedo, azimuth.
Muslim astronomers were the first to establish observatories, like the one built at Mugharah by Hulagu, the son of Genghis Khan, in Persia, and they invented instruments such as the quadrant and astrolabe, which led to advances not only in astronomy but in oceanic navigation, contributing to the European age of exploration.
Muslim scholars paid great attention to geography. In fact, the Muslims' great concern for geography originated with their religion. The Qur'an encourages people to travel throughout the earth to see God's signs and patterns everywhere. Islam also requires each Muslim to have at least enough knowledge of geography to know the direction of the Qiblah (the position of the Ka'bah in Makkah) in order to pray five times a day. Muslims were also used to taking long journeys to conduct trade as well as to make the Hajj and spread their religion. The far-flung Islamic empire enabled scholar-explorers to compile large amounts of geographical and climatic information from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Among the most famous names in the field of geography, even in the West, are Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Batuta, renowned for their written accounts of their extensive explorations.
In 1166, Al-Idrisi, the well-known Muslim scholar who served the Sicilian court, produced very accurate maps, including a world map with all the continents and their mountains, rivers and famous cities. Al-Muqdishi was the first geographer to produce accurate maps in color.
It was, moreover, with the help of Muslim navigators and their inventions that Magellan was able to traverse the Cape of Good Hope, and Da Gama and Columbus had Muslim navigators on board their ships.
Seeking knowledge is obligatory in Islam for every Muslim, man and woman. The main sources of Islam, the Qur'an and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad's traditions), encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and be scholars, since this is the best way for people to know Allah (God), to appreciate His wondrous creations and be thankful for them. Muslims were therefore eager to seek knowledge, both religious and secular, and within a few years of Muhammad's mission, a great civilization sprang up and flourished. The outcome is shown in the spread of Islamic universities; Al-Zaytunah in Tunis, and Al-Azhar in Cairo go back more than 1,000 years and are the oldest existing universities in the world. Indeed, they were the models for the first European universities, such as Bologna, Heidelberg, and the Sorbonne. Even the familiar academic cap and gown originated at Al-Azhar University.
Muslims made great advances in many different fields, such as geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, architecture, linguistics and astronomy. Algebra and the Arabic numerals were introduced to the world by Muslim scholars. The astrolabe, the quadrant, and other navigational devices and maps were developed by Muslim scholars and played an important role in world progress, most notably in Europe's age of exploration.
Muslim scholars studied the ancient civilations from Greece and Rome to China and India. The works of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Euclid and others were translated into Arabic. Muslim scholars and scientists then added their own creative ideas, discoveries and inventions, and finally transmitted this new knowledge to Europe, leading directly to the Rennaissance. Many scientific and medical treatises, having been translated into Latin, were standard text and reference books as late as the 17th and 18th centuries.
It is interesting to note that Islam so strongly urges mankind to study and explore the universe. For example, the Holy Qur'an states:
"We (Allah) will show you (mankind) Our signs/patterns in the horizons/universe and in yourselves until you are convinced that the revelation is the truth." [Qur'an, 14:53]
This invitation to explore and search made Muslims interested in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and the other sciences, and they had a very clear and firm understanding of the correspondences among geometry, mathematics, and astronomy.
The Muslims invented the symbol for zero (The word "cipher" comes from Arabic sifr), and they organized the numbers into the decimal system - base 10. Additionally, they invented the symbol to express an unkown quantity, i.e. variables like x.
The first great Muslim mathematician, Al-Khawarizmi, invented the subject of algebra (al-Jabr), which was further developed by others, most notably Umar Khayyam. Al-Khawarizmi's work, in Latin translation, brought the Arabic numerals along with the mathematics to Europe, through Spain. The word "algorithm" is derived from his name.
Muslim mathematicians excelled also in geometry, as can be seen in their graphic arts, and it was the great Al-Biruni (who excelled also in the fields of natural history, even geology and mineralogy) who established trigonometry as a distinct branch of mathematics. Other Muslim mathematicians made significant progress in number theory.
In Islam, the human body is a source of appreciation, as it is created by Almighty Allah (God). How it functions, how to keep it clean and safe, how to prevent diseases from attacking it or cure those diseases, have been important issues for Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad himself urged people to "take medicines for your diseases", as people at that time were reluctant to do so. He also said,
"God created no illness, but established for it a cure, except for old age. When the antidote is applied, the patient will recover with the permission of God."
This was strong motivation to encourage Muslim scientists to explore, develop, and apply empirical laws. Much attention was given to medicine and public health care. The first hospital was built in Baghdad in 706 AC. The Muslims also used camel caravans as mobile hospitals, which moved from place to place.
Since the religion did not forbid it, Muslim scholars used human cadavers to study anatomy and physiology and to help their students understand how the body functions. This empirical study enabled surgery to develop very quickly.
Al-Razi, known in the West as Rhazes, the famous physician and scientist, (d. 932) was one of the greatest physicians in the world in the Middle Ages. He stressed empirical observation and clinical medicine and was inrivalled as a diagnostician. He also wrote a treatise on hygeine in hospitals. Khalaf Abul-Qasim Al-Zahrawi was a very famous surgeon in the eleventh century, known in Europe for his work, Concessio (Kitab al-Tasrif).
Ibn Sina (d. 1037), better known to the West as Avicenna, was perhaps the greatest physician until the modern era. His famous book, Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb, remained a standard textbook even in Europe, for over 700 years. Ibn Sina's work is still studied and built upon in the East.
Other significant contributions were made in pharmacology, such as Ibn Sina's Kitab al-Shifa' (Book of Healing), and in public health. Every major city in the Islamic world had a number of excellent hospitals, some of them teaching hospitals, and many of them were specialized for particular diseases, including mental and emotional. The Ottomans were particularly noted for their building of hospitals and for the high level of hygeine practiced in them.
The word ISLAM has a two-fold meaning: peace, and submission to God. This submission requires a fully conscious and willing effort to submit to the one Almighty God. One must consciously and conscientiously give oneself to the service of Allah. This means to act on what Allah enjoins all of us to do (in the Qur'an) and what His beloved Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) encouraged us to do in his Sunnah (his lifestyle and sayings personifying the Qur'an).
Once we humble ourselves, rid ourselves of our egoism and submit totally to Allah, and to Him exclusively, in faith and in action, we will surely feel peace in our hearts. Establishing peace in our hearts will bring about peace in our external conduct as well.
Islam is careful to remind us that it not a religion to be paid mere lip service; rather it is an all-encompassing way of life that must be practiced continuously for it to be Islam. The Muslim must practice the five pillars of the religion: the declaration of faith in the oneness of Allah and the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh), prayer, fasting the month of Ramadan, alms-tax, and the pilgrimage to Makkah; and believe in the six articles of faith: belief in God, the Holy Books, the prophets, the angels, the Day of Judgment and God's decree, whether for good or ill.
There are other injunctions and commandments which concern virtually all facets of one's personal, family and civic life. These include such matters as diet, clothing, personal hygeine, interpersonal relations, business ethics, responsibilities towards parents, spouse and children, marriage, divorce and inheritance, civil and criminal law, fighting in defense of Islam, relations with non-Muslims, and so much more.
"There is no compulsion in religion."
And there are no reliable reports to confirm the old accusations that when the Muslim armies were expanding into Asia, Africa and Europe the people were put to the sword if they failed to convert to Islam. The best proof is that not only did the Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Hindus in those areas not perish or otherwise disappear, they actually flourished as protected minority communities, and many individuals rose to prominent positions in the arts, sciences, even in government.
The lives,property and privacy of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred, whether or not the person is Muslim. Non-Muslims have freedom of worship and the practice of their religions, including their own family law and religious courts. They are obliged to pay a different tax (Jizyah) instead of the Zakah, and the state is obligated to provide both protection and government services. Before the modern era it was extremely rare to find a state or government anywhere in the world that was as solicitous of its minorities and their civil rights as the Islamic states.
In no other religion did women receive such a degree of legal and moral equality and personal respect. Moreover, racism and tribalism are incompatible with Islam, for the Qur'an speaks of human equality in the following terms:
"Mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in piety."
Islam honors all the prophets who were sent to mankind. Muslims respect all prophets in general, but Jesus in particular, because he was one of the prophets who foretold the coming of Muhammad. Muslims, too, await the second coming of Jesus. They consider him one of the greatest of Allah's prophets to mankind. A Muslim does not refer to him simply as "Jesus," but normally adds the phrase "peace be upon him" as a sign of respect.
No other religion in the world respects and dignifies Jesus as Islam does. The Qur'an confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Qur'an is entitled "Mary"), and Mary is considered to have been one of the purest women in all creation. The Qur'an describes Jesus' birth as follows:
"Behold!' the Angel said, God has chosen you, and purified you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. Mary, God gives you good news of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and in the Hereafter, and one of those brought near to God. He shall speak to the people from his cradle and in maturity, and he shall be of the righteous. She said: "My Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?' He said: "Even so; God creates what He will. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, 'Be!' and it is." [3:42-47]
Muslims believe that Jesus was born immaculately, and through the same power which had brought Eve to life and Adam into being without a father or a mother.
"Truly, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, and then said to him, 'Be!' and he was." [3:59]
During his prophetic mission, Jesus performed many miracles. The Qur'an tells us that he said:
"I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by God's leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by God's leave." [3:49]
Muhammad and Jesus, as well as the other prophets, were sent to confirm the belief in one God. This is referred to in the Qur'an where Jesus is reported as saying that he came:
"To attest the law which was before me, and to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey me." [3:50]
Prophet Muhammad emphasized the importance of Jesus by saying:
"Whoever believes there is no god but Allah, alone without partner, that Muhammad is His messenger, that Jesus is a servant and messenger of God, His word breathed into Mary and a spirit emanating from Him, and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be received by God into Heaven. [Bukhari]
Islam urges people to read and learn on every occasion. The verses of the Qur'an command, advise, warn, and encourage people to observe the phenomena of nature, the succession of day and night, the movements of stars, the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies. Muslims are urged to look into everything in the universe, to travel, investigate, explore and understand them, the better to appreciate and be thankful for all the wonders and beauty of God's creations. The first revelation to Muhammad showed how much Islam cares about knowledge.
"Read, in the name of your Lord, Who created." [96:1]
Learning is obligatory for both men and women. Moreover, education is not restricted to religious issues; it includes all fields of knowledge, including biology, physics, and technology. Scholars have the highest status in Islam, second only to that accorded to prophets.
Almost from the very beginnings of the Islamic state Muslims began to study and to master a number of fields of so-called secular learning, beginning with linguistics and architecture, but very quickly extending to mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, medicine, chemistry and philosophy. They translated and synthesized the known works of the ancient world, from Greece, Persia, India, even China. Before long they were criticizing, improving and expanding on that knowledge. Centuries before the European Rennaissance there were Muslim ³Rennaissance² men, men who were simultaneously explorers, scientists, philosophers, physicians and poets, like Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Umar Khayyam, and others.
The first pillar of Islam is that a Muslim believe and declare his faith by saying the Shahadah (lit. 'witness'), also known as the Kalimah:
La ilaha ila Allah; Muhammadur-rasul Allah. 'There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.'
This declaration contains two parts. The first part refers to God Almighty, the Creator of everything, the Lord of the Worlds; the second part refers to the Messenger, Muhammad (pbuh) a prophet and a human being, who received the revelation through the Archangel Gabriel, and taught it to mankind.
By sincerely uttering the Shahadah the Muslim acknowledges Allah as the sole Creator of all, and the Supreme Authority over everything and everyone in the universe. Consequently the Muslim closes his/her heart and mind to loyalty, devotion and obedience to, trust in, reliance on, and worship of anything or anyone other than Allah. This rejection is not confined merely to pagan gods and goddesses of wood and stone and created by human hands and imaginations; this rejection must extend to all other conceptions, superstitions, ideologies, ways of life, and authority figures that claim supreme devotion, loyalty, trust, love, obedience or worship. This entails, for example, the rejection of belief in such common things as astrology, palm reading, good luck charms, fortune-telling and psychic readings, in addition to praying at shrines or graves of "saints", asking the dead souls to intercede for them with Allah. There are no intercessors in Islam, nor any class of clergy as such; a Muslim prays directly and exclusively to Allah.
Belief in the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) entails belief in the guidance brought by him and contained in his Sunnah (traditions of his sayings and actions), and demands of the Muslim the intention to follow his guidance faithfully. Muhammad (pbuh) was also a human being, a man with feelings and emotions, who ate, drank and slept, and was born and died, like other men. He had a pure and upright nature, extraordinary righteousness, and an unwavering faith in Allah and commitment to Islam, but he was not divine. Muslims do not pray to him, not even as an intercessor, and Muslims abhor the terms "Mohamedan" and "Mohamedanism".
Prayer (Salah), in the sense of worship, is the second pillar of Islam. Prayer is obligatory and must be performed five times a day. These five times are dawn (Fajr), immediately after noon (Dhuhr), mid-afternoon ('Asr), sunset (Maghrib), and early night (Isha'). Ritual cleanliness and ablution are required before prayer, as are clean clothes and location, and the removal of shoes. One may pray individually or communally, at home, outside, virtually any clean place, as well as in a mosque, though the latter is preferred. Special is the Friday noon prayer, called Jum'ah. It, too, is obligatory and is to be done in a mosque, in congregation. It is accompanied by a sermon (Khutbah), and it replaces the normal Dhuhr prayer.
There is no hierarchical clerical authority in Islam, no priests or ministers. Prayers are led by any learned person who knows the Qur'an and is chosen by the congregation. He (or she, if the congregation is all women) is called the imam. There is also no minimum number of congregants required to hold communal prayers. Prayer consists of verses from the Qur'an and other prayers, accompanied by various bodily postures - standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting. They are said in Arabic, the language of the revelation, though personal supplications (Du'ah) can be offered in one's own language. Worshippers face the Qiblah, the direction of the Ka'bah in the city of Makkah.
The significance of prayer lies in one's maintaining a continuous link to God five times a day, which helps the worshipper avoid misdeeds if he/she performs the prayers sincerely. In addition it promotes discipline, God-consciousness and placing one's trust in Allah alone, and the importance of striving for the Hereafter. When performed in congregation it also provides a strong sense of community, equality and brotherhood/sisterhood.