An Introduction to Islam)
What is Islam?
Islam is the religion of those who believe in Allah, the one God of the 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 “who surrender” to the will of God.
It is 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 are dependent on Him. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none equal (or comparable) to Him”.
It has been 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 Quran 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 God’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.
It is 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). The Qur’an further tells us that whomsoever Allah intends to guide; He expands his bosom to accept Islam (6:125).
It is an easy and practical Religion
Islam is a 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 Sunnah 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, etc. in matters of performance of certain obligatory acts of devotion like performance of ablution, offering of prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, and 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 by taking the same. (Please refer for example 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 there 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.
It is 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 Qur’an 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 everyday 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.
It is 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) because 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 others faiths by the followers of Muhammad (PBUH) is unparalleled and forms a golden chapter in the annals of man.
Islam was 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, nobody can be compelled to accept Islam and Islam cannot be thrust upon anybody because 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. The Muslims 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 i.e., my Sunnah. – (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, being only second to Christians who are about 2 billion. There are 57 or more Muslim countries in the world which occupy one-fourth of the total 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 former 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, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Jesus Christ (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 mortal human being. Furthermore, 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).
Conversion to Islam or how to enter in Islam?
Islam, as discussed earlier, is a religion of nature and is easy to accept and practice. It is a religion of humanity and is universal in nature. It is not meant for a particular tribe, caste, race, country, land or region nor it is ordained for a specified period, time or age. It is a religion of all the Prophets, from Adam to Muhammad (peace be upon them) and of all the nations for all times. So any person can embrace it and enter into Islamic community or brotherhood at any time without any restriction or discrimination with regard to blood, colour, race, land, nationality or social and economic status. However, the conversion should be voluntary and with absolutely free will. It should be without any fear or favour, compulsion or greed. The conversion to Islam should be absolutely for the truth of Islam or for the love of God and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It should not be motivated only to please a beloved or to marry a Muslim boy or girl. One must be fully conscious of the act of conversion and have full determination to bear its consequences.
A non-Muslim who intends to embrace Islam should take a bath in order to purify his body symbolically of the dirt of ignorance and disbelief. Then he should go to a mosque or an Islamic centre or a Muslim community centre or an Islamic school or place or residence of a Muslim scholar or a Muslim friend where he would be asked certain questions to determine whether he is embracing Islam voluntarily without any fear or compulsion or temptation. If he be accepting Islam with free will he is directed to proclaim, in the presence of two witnesses, the following attestation of faith:
Ash Hadu al-la ilaha ill-Allah wa ash hadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa rasuluhu.
I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s servant and His messenger.
After making this proclamation, he has entered in Islam and has become a member of Muslim brotherhood. And he is required to do all the duties which a Muslim owes to his fellow citizens and to God, and he is allowed to exercise all the rights which a Muslim has against his fellow citizens and the state.
If the name of the new convert has any un-Islamic trait, it would be changed to some Islamic name like Abdullah, Muhammad, Ahmad, Umar, Ali, etc.
Five Pillars 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 or shahadah (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 parts of this book.
Copyright (c) Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry. All rights reserved. For more information, please contact at alshaufi(at)yahoo(dot)com