What is Islam?

Islam is the religion of those who believe in Allah, the one God of universe, and who follow Muhammad (peace be upon him) of Arabia, the Last of the Prophets of God. Islam is one of the three monotheistic and revealed religions, being the youngest of them, its predecessors being Judaism and Christianity. It is today the religion of one-fifth of humanity and holds under its sway almost one-fourth of the globe. It is second largest religion of the world after Christianity. 

The name “Islam” or “Al-Islam” is an Arabic word which means “peace”, “security”, “submission”, “commitment” or “surrender”. Islam is submission to God and peace between men. Thus Islam defines the true relationship between man and God on the one hand and between man and man on the other hand. Its adherents or followers are called “Muslims” which means “the submitters” or “those who surrender” to the will of God.

A Monotheistic Religion

Islam is strictly a monotheistic religion and its first and the foremost belief is “God is one and there is no god but Allah.” Oneness of God or unity of Godhead is the heart of Islam, and its sacred book, the Qur’an, emphasizes this theme in almost every second or third of its verses. Islam rejects polytheism and strictly prohibits worship of anybody else instead of God or besides Him. According to the Qur’an, God is One and He alone has the right to be worshipped. The Qur’an rejects the worship of Satan, the false deities, the idols, stars, sun, moon, planets, prophets, kings, queens, holy men, animals, rivers, fire, angels, jinn or any other created beings. Islam’s motto is: “Worship the Creator not the created”.

Every follower of Islam has not only to believe in One God in his heart and express his belief by his tongue but also he has to establish it through his actions and deeds. The concept of unity of God is beautifully expressed in Chapter 112 of the Holy Quran. It reads: “Say: He is Allah, the One! Allah is Eternal and Independent of all, while all are dependent on Him. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none equal (or comparable) to Him”.


Religion of all the Prophets

Islam is not the religion only of Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers, rather it has been religion of all the Prophets and their people which preceded Muhammad – right from Adam to Jesus. All of the Prophets, whether mentioned in the Qur’an or not, came with sole and common mission to guide mankind to worship Allah, the One God of universe, and therefore, they had the same religion. This fact the Holy Qur’an confirms when it says to Prophet Muhammad: He (Allah) has ordained for you the same religion which He enjoined on Noah, and that which We have revealed to you (O Muhammad), and that which We enjoined on Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying: Establish the religion and make no divisions in it. (42:13) [Please also refer to verses 2(130-132), 2(136), 3(67-68), 6(161), 12(38), 22(78)].

Since teachings of Islam received through prophets by the previous nations were corrupted with the passage of time and even the name of the religion was attributed to the names of the founders or the prophets, the need arose for the renewal of Islam through raising of new prophets. Thus Islam was purified of various modifications and corruptions which had entered into it and was strengthened with additional truths till it reached perfection with Allah’s final messenger Muhammad (PBUH) and with God’s last message, the Qur’an.

So in a way Islam can be called a new and updated edition or version of all the previously revealed religions through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets. Therefore, Islam’s holy scripture, the Qur’an, confirms all the previous revelations, and its Prophet Muhammad testifies all the previous prophets sent by God for the guidance of humankind.

A complete way of Life

Islam, unlike other religions, is not a mere bundle of dogmas and rituals. It is a perfect religion and complete way (deen) of life. It is an all-embracing faith, a complete code of life. It provides guidance in all activities of human life, be they individual or collective, private or public, moral or political, social or economic, legal or constitutional. This religion has been perfected by God Himself with His final messenger Muhammad (PBUH). God says in the Holy Qur’an (5:3): This day, I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen al-Islam as religion for you.

It is an uncontrovertible fact that Islam provides guidance to its followers not only in religious, moral and spiritual matters but also in legal, judicial, constitutional, social, economic and political matters of their life.


Religion with Allah is only Islam

Since Islam is the religion of all the Prophets of God and God has perfected it Himself, so there is no need for any other religion to the mankind till the Doomsday. That is why, the Qur’an tells us that religion with God is only Islam (3:19) and whoso seeks as religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him and he will be a loser in the Hereafter (3:85). It further tells us that whomsoever Allah intends to guide, He expands his bosom to accept Islam (6:125).

An easy and practical Religion

Islam is religion of humanity and of nature. It is very easy to practice. The Qur’an says: Allah has not laid upon you in religion any hardship (22:78). Another verse of the Qur’an says: Allah desires for you ease; He does not desire for you hardship (2:185).

Whenever there is any difficulty or hardship in performing of any devotional act or any religious duty, Islam removes that to make things easy by relaxing the rigours of law. Under the principle of ease the Qur’an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) provide certain concessions to the sick, the old persons, the travelers, the persons engaged in the war for defence of Islam and Muslims, etc. in matters of performance of certain obligatory acts of devotion like performance of ablution, offering of prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, performance of certain rituals in pilgrimage. Similarly, certain items of food which have been strictly forbidden by the Qur’an are allowed to be taken in case of dire necessity when there is imminent danger of death and life cannot be saved except taking the same. Please refer to verses 2:173, 2:185, 4:101 of the Qur’an.

No Priesthood in Islam 

There is no organized church or priesthood in Islam, neither is any religious hierarchy even in the ordinary sense. To lead the prayer service or to recite and interpret the Qur’an is not monopoly of any individual or group. Any practicing layman with basic necessary knowledge of Islam can lead the prayers and can approach the Qur’an and Hadith (traditions of the Prophet) for guidance. Like Jews and unlike Christians, the Muslims do not believe in asceticism. Hence there are no monks and nuns.

A moderate Religion

Islam is a religion of peace and security for mankind and it does not teach its followers hatred, extremism, fanaticism or intolerance. Al-Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam, calls the followers of Islam a middle nation (2:143). And the Muslims are indeed a nation of moderate way between the other two nations who follow the revealed religions, i.e. the Jews and the Christians. Let us explain it with a solid example. The Jews, according to the Bible and the Quran, disobeyed their Prophets and even some of them they killed. On the contrary, the Christians raised the status of their prophet to that of God and started worshipping him. But the Muslims avoid both the extremes. They hold their prophet in high esteem unlike Jews, and they consider him a human being and not God unlike Christians. Take another example. The Jews believe in extreme form of retaliation and their principle is “eye for eye and tooth for a tooth”. On the other hand Christians remember the advice of Jesus: “If someone slaps on left side of your face, turn to him your right side also”. But the Muslims avoid both these extremes. Although the Qur’an permits them to take revenge but it enjoins upon them to forgive as forgiving is better than revenge.

Islam enjoins upon its followers to act upon the principle of moderation and balance and avoid extremes. The Qur’an advises the Muslims to earn income and acquire wealth only through lawful and moral means and not through foul, unfair and unethical means. Even amassing of wealth through lawful means and hoarding it like a greedy materialist denying charity to the needy has been condemned. In the matter of spending wealth, the Qur’an recommends middle path avoiding miserliness and extravagance. Even in the matters of religion and performance of devotional acts like fasting and prayers, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) exhorted his followers not to be hard on themselves. Once he learnt of some persons who had taken a vow to fast during the day, pass the night in worship, and renounce marital relationships. He condemned their extremist actions and declared. “This is not my creed. Your body has rights upon you. You should fast, but eat and drink also. Pray at night, but sleep also. Look at me. I sleep and I pray also. I both keep and omit fasts. Marriage is also my sunnah. So whoso does not subscribe to my way, he is not of me.” Even in the affairs of every day life, Islam recommends principle of balance. The Qur’an enjoins not to be loud voiced in prayer not yet silent therein, but follow a way between (17:110). At another place, the Qur’an says: Be modest in your bearing and subdue your voice. Lo! The harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass (31:19). In matters of walking, dressing, spending, etc. moderate way is enjoined.

A tolerant faith

Islam is not only tolerant of other religions but is also a great champion of freedom of religion and conscience. According to the Qur’an, there is no compulsion in religion (2:256) and the basic principle in interfaith dealings is “unto you your religion and unto me my religion” (109:6). Allah forbade the Prophet and his followers not to say any harsh word about the faith of the other people and not to revile the gods of the pagans. The Qur’an (6:108) says: (O believers!) Revile not those whom they (the disbelievers) call upon besides Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah out of their ignorance.

So the Prophet and his followers not only abstained from saying anything bad about the other religions, but also in accordance with the above Quranic injunctions they gave full religious freedom to the non-Muslims living among them. It is an undisputed matter of record in history that the Muslims gave complete freedom to the minorities living in the countries ruled by them and also protected their places of worship. The non-Muslims living in Islamic state are called Zimmis (the protected people) as their lives, honour and property are protected by the state like that of the Muslim citizens. The non-Muslims are allowed to preserve their customs, rituals, language, dress, etc and they enjoy cultural, social and judicial autonomy. The tolerance shown and the kind treatment given to the adherents of other faiths by the followers of Muhammad (PBUH) is unparalleled and forms a golden chapter in the annals of man.

Not spread through Sword

The allegation that Islam spread through sword and not by propagation proves to be absolutely false if we glance through the teachings of Islam and the history of the Muslims. As pointed out earlier, the Qur’an declares in absolute terms that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256) and has laid down the principle “unto you your religion and unto me my religion” (109:6). Therefore, no body can be compelled to accept Islam and Islam cannot be thrust upon anybody as forced conversion is not the rule.

The Qur’an highlights this fact again and again that Muhammad was sent by Allah as His messenger to show right path to the mankind and that he was charged only to convey the message of Allah and not to force the people to accept Islam. He was a messenger and a warner and not a warder or compeller over men. The Qur’an says:

·        The duty of messenger (Muhammad) is none else but to convey (the message of Allah to mankind).   (5:99)

·        And had your Lord willed, all those who are in the earth would have believed together (in Islam). Would you then (O Muhammad) compel all men until they are believers?   (10:99)

·        We know very well what they say, and you (O Muhammad!) are not at all a compeller over them. So warn by the Qur’an him who fears My threat.   (50:45)

·        So remind them, for you (O Muhammad) are only an admonisher. You are not a warder over them:   (88:21-22)

Instead of compelling and coercing the people into Islam, the Prophet and his followers were enjoined to preach the religion of truth through wisdom and fair exhortation. Thus says the Qur’an:

·        Invite the people to the way of your Lord (O Muhammad) with wisdom and fair preaching and argue with them in a manner which is polite.   (16:125)

·        And do not argue (or contend) with the people of the Scripture unless it be in a manner that is better (than theirs), except with such of them as do wrong, and say to them: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and which has been revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him we submit.   (29:46)

·        And who is better in speech than him who calls the people towards Allah and does good deeds and says: I am one of the Muslims.   (41:33)

History bears witness to the truth that Islam spread through propagation and preaching and not through the use of force or sword. The Muslims ruled India for more than seven long centuries but at the time of partition of the subcontinent into Bharat and Pakistan in the year 1947, Muslims were not more than 20% of the total population. Had the Muslims used force, there would have been left no Hindu in the country. Similar is the case of Spain. Muslim conquered it in the year 711 A.D. and ruled it for more than 700 year upto 1492 A.D. The Muslims always remained in minority as they never forcibly converted the Christians to Islam. However, when the Christian overthrew the Muslim rule, they put most of the Muslims to death who did not accept Christianity. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country today but it was never conquered by any Muslim army. Islam was spread there through preaching by the traders. These days Islam is the fastest growing faith in America and the West and more than 50% of the converts are women. Who is using the sword to convert them?

Sources of Islamic teachings

The basic or primary sources of Islam’s teachings, its injunctions and tenets, and its rules and laws are the Qur’an which is the revealed Word of God and the Sunnah (i.e the sayings, deeds and traditions) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Qur’an and the Sunnah form sacred writings of Islam and their importance as guide for Muslims has been illustrated by the Prophet himself:

·        Jabir reported that the messenger of Allah said in the farewell Pilgrimage: I have left among you a thing which if you adhere to, you will be never misguided after this: The Book of Allah and what you get from me by questions (Hadith)   Muslim

Who are the Muslims?

The adherents of Islam and the followers of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, are called the Muslims as they submit or surrender to the will of God, the only Lord of the whole of universe. Today there are more than 1.5 billion Muslims, more than one-fifth of the total world population, and only second to Christians who are about 2 billion. There are 57 or more Muslim countries in the world which occupy one-fourth area of the world. Although Muslims are found in every country of the world but majority of them live in Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, China, Malaysia, Middle East, Central Asian Republics of formers Soviet Union, North Africa, Eastern Europe.

            The Muslims believe in One God of the whole of universe who is Allah beside whom there is no other God. They believe in and equally respect all the Prophets sent by Allah for the guidance of mankind, right from Adam (the first human and the first Prophet) to Muhammad (the last Prophet), the other famous among them being Noah, Hud, Salih, Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Jesus Chirst (may Allah’s peace be upon them). The Muslims also believe in all revealed books which were given to the Prophets by God such as Sahifas (scrolls) given to Prophet Abraham, Torah given to Prophet Moses, Zabur (Psalms) given to Prophet David, Injeel (Gospel or New Testament) given to Jesus Christ and the Qur’an given to Prophet Muhammad. They respect all the religions and also hold in respect the followers of all religions. Above all, the Muslims consider all the mankind as members of one human family, being children of one parents – Adam and Eve – and thus eligible for equal human rights without any distinctions like race, caste, nationality, blood, colour or creed.

The followers of Muhammad (PBUH), however, like to be called ‘Muslims’ and not ‘Muhammadans’ and their religion to be called ‘Islam’ and not ‘Muhammadanism’. Because the expressions ‘Muhammadans’ and ‘Muhammadanism’ imply as if Muslims worship Muhammad or assign him some type of divinity while they worship only one God and consider Muhammad as God’s messenger and a mortal human being. Further more, the name ‘Islam’ for the religion of Muhammad was chosen by Almighty God Himself. The Qur’an affirms this fact: “This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you and have chosen for you as religion Al-Islam”-(5:3). Similarly it is God Almighty who gave the name “Muslims” to the followers of Muhammad. This fact, the Qur’an tells us when it says: “He has named you Muslims before (i.e. in the previous Scriptures) and in this (scripture) …..” (22:78)

Five Fundamental Articles of Islam

Islam is founded on five pillars or five fundamental articles of faith. These five articles or columns of Islamic faith have been derived from a saying (Hadith) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which has been recorded by Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Ibn Umar. The Prophet is reported to have said: “Islam is built on five things – to bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His messenger and servant, to keep up prayer, to pay Zakat, to make pilgrimage and to keep fast in Ramadan”.

Thus following are the five pillars upon which the edifice of Islam is founded according to the above mentioned tradition of the Prophet:

1-     Emaan (profession of belief).

2-     Salat (to establish prayer).

3-     Zakat (to pay poor-due or compulsory charity).

4-     Saum (to keep fast during the month of Ramadan).

5-     Hajj (to perform pilgrimage to Makkah).

These pillars or articles of Islam would be separately discussed in the subsequent chapters.

What the Qur’an says about Islam?

Please refer to Al-Qur’an 2:136, 2:143, 2:163, 2:177, 2:208, 3:19, 3:85, 4:125, 5:3, 6:125, 6:162-163, 7:29, 10:104-105, 21:92, 21:108, 22:77-78, 30:30, 39:11-12, 40:65-66, 41:33, 45:18, 49:14. etc.

What the Traditions say about it?

1)     Amr-b-Abasah reported: I came to the Apostle of Allah and enquired: O Prophet of Allah! Who is with you in this affair? “Both free man” replied he “and slave”. I enquired: What is Islam? He replied: Sweet talk and giving food. I asked: What is faith? He replied: Patience and generosity. I enquired: Which Islam is best? He replied: That one’s from whose tongue and hand Muslims are safe. I asked: Which faith is best? He said: Good conduct. I asked: Which prayer is best? He said: Standing long in humility. I asked: Which emigration is best? He replied: Abandoning what your Lord dislikes. I asked: Which Jihad is best? He replied: That in which his best horse is killed and his blood is shed. I enquired: Which hour is best? He said: The middle of the latter half of the night.   (Ahmad)

2)     Abdullah-b-Amar reported that the messenger of Allah said: A Muslim is he from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe, and the refugee is he who migrates from what Allah forbade. This is the word of Bukhari, and Muslim reported: A man asked the Holy Prophet who among the Muslims is best? He replied: He from whose hand and tongue, other Muslims are safe.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

3)     Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoever says our prayers, and faces our direction (K’abah) and eats our sacrificed animals, that is the Muslim for whom there is the pledge of Allah and the pledge of His Apostle; so don’t act treacherously with Allah about His pledge.   (Bukhari)

4)     Zaid-b-Sa’bet reported that the Holy Prophet said: Three things there are in which the heart of a Muslim does not play treachery: To work sincerely for Allah, to admonish the Muslims; and to keep attached to their united body; because their call will encompass those that are behind them.   (Ahmad, Ibn Majah)

5)     Abdullah bin Amr reported that a man asked the Messenger of Allah: Which Islam is best? He replied: Your giving food, and entertaining every one by salute whom you know and whom you do not know.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

6)     Abu Malek-al-Ashari reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The Almighty and Glorious Allah rewarded you with three (special) characteristics: Your Prophet will not pray against you that you may all perish; the wicked people will not triumph over those who are righteous and you will not all be united over misguidance.   (Abu Daud)

7)     Fadalah-b-Obaid reported from the Messenger of Allah who said: Blessed is he who is guided to Islam, and whose livelihood is just sufficient and who is contented therewith.   (Tirmizi)

8)     Abu Hurairah reported: About what I know from the Holy Prophet, (it is that) he said: That Almighty and Glorious Allah will send for this people at the beginning of every century one who will revive their religion for them.   (Abu Daud)

9)     Abu Obaidah reported that he asked: O Messenger of Allah! Is there anybody better than us who accepted Islam and fought hard with You? ‘Yes’ said he, ‘a people who will come after me and believe truly in me without seeing me.’   (Ahmad)

10)  Abu Sayeed reported that the Apostle of Allah said: When a man accepts Islam and makes his Islam good, Allah expiates for him every sin he committed (before Islam), and thereafter there come in exchange of good action the rewards of ten times like it up to seven hundred times up to manifold times; and of a bad action (punishment) like it except that Allah may forgive it.   (Bukhari)



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