Islam: A Quick Introduction
Greetings! May God Almighty shower upon you and your family his choicest blessings and fondest favors!
Did you ever ask yourself why everyone is talking so much about Islam and Muslims these days? Do you know what Islam is and who the Muslims are? Let us find out!
Islam means believing certain things. Let us call them Islamic Beliefs. And then Islam also means practicing certain things. Let us call them Islamic Practices. Together, these beliefs and practices make up what is called Islam.
What is most important is for us to understand that the beliefs and the practices that Islam teaches are all given to us directly by God. They are not things that people made up on their own.
(A) Islam Means Peace
Islam is an Arabic word that means peace. That word is given by God to human beings as a gift. Islam stands for peace inside you as well as peace outside and around you. It means making peace with God and making peace with God’s world and creation everywhere.
The path to that state of perfect peace is provided by God as submitting and surrendering yourself to God Almighty. You do that by believing God is one and Muhammad, peace be upon him, is his messenger.
After that, you commit yourself to observe certain practices that teach you how to live a most wonderful life in this world and also reap rich and lasting rewards in the next world.
(B) Basic Islamic Beliefs
(a) God Is One. Most important of all, Islam is about believing in God. But how do you do that? How do you believe in God? What kind of God do you believe in? Here is how.
Islam says God is one. There are not two, or three or a whole group of gods, but only one God – who is the maker and master of this world and of all other worlds that may exist anywhere in any form at any time.
And God is unlike anything or anyone. He has no partners or associates. Nor does he have parents or children, or wife or relatives.
It is God who made you and made the world in which you live. He made this world and everything in it for you. He gave you everything you have. And he can take away anything he wants from whoever he wants, whenever and however he wants.
He wants you to thank him for what he has given you and use it all in the best and most responsible manner to worship him and to serve his creation in this world in all forms.
According to Islam, God is most beautiful, most perfect, most powerful, most caring and most loving. God is ready to help you when you need his help and when you turn to him and ask him for help.
Here is how you express this belief in God in Arabic – in the original words that God himself provided in the Qur’an: Laa Ilaaha Illaa Allah! Four words. They mean: There is no God but God.
The word Allah in Arabic means God.
(b) Muhammad Is the Messenger of God. The second most important thing in Islam is to believe that Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the messenger of God. God sent him to show humanity how to find God and how to live a good life in this world.
God sent messengers to all people in all parts of the world. Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the last and final messenger that God sent in the world. He is the last link in a long chain of messengers. In English it is common to refer to him as Prophet Muhammad. In Arabic the words are: Rasoolullah. Meaning: God’s messenger.
It is also common practice to bless him every time we mention his name. Such as by saying, for example, “God Bless Him!” Or “Peace Be Upon Him!” In Arabic language, those words are: Sallallaahu Alaihi wa Sallam. These words are taught to us by Prophet Muhammad himself – 1400 years ago.
What is most amazing about Islam is that everything we have today that we call Islam is taught to us by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. There is nothing here that people made up. This fact is among the greatest miracles of Islam – the fact that all the teachings of Islam go back directly to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
God raised Muhammad, peace be upon him, in Arabia 1400 years ago. But God sent him not only to the people of Arabia but to all humanity in the whole world. And God gave him a book to help humanity find its way to God and to live a good life in this world. That book is called the Qur’an.
Thus, belief in Muhammad as the last and final messenger of God is the second most important requirement of Islam.
In the original Arabic words that God gave to Muhammad, peace be upon him, that belief is expressed in the following way: Muhammad Rasool Allah! Three words. Meaning: Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Thus, these two fundamental Islamic beliefs – belief in God and belief in the Prophet – are expressed in the divine language of the Qur’an as: Laa Ilaaha Illaa Allah, Muhammad Rasool Allah! These words mean: There is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Once you believe in these two fundamental truths – that God is one and Muhammad, peace be upon him, is God’s messenger and prophet – you automatically become a Muslim. Now, in the book of God you are written down as a believer and as a Muslim.
It is as simple as that.
It is because how simple and easy it is to become a Muslim that more and more people are turning to Islam these days – in Asia, Africa, Europe, America and everywhere else.
(C) Some Additional Islamic Beliefs
Then there are some additional things you must believe in, such as the following:
(a) Qur’an is God’s word. Qur’an is a divine book that God gave to his messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him, as a blessing and as a guide to humanity. The Qur’an is with us today in exactly the same form and format in which it first appeared in this world 1400 years ago. It is one of the greatest living miracles in this world.
(b) Humanity is one family. We are all from one common human ancestry and what makes some of us better than some others is not our race, gender or nationality but our character. We become better or worse people in this world based on the extent to which we love and fear God and based on our education and good behavior. Other than that, all human beings are equal.
The lesson of human equality is one of the most fundamental principles of Islam that was taught to us by the Qur’an and by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, 1400 years ago. From that time on, the rest of the world has been trying to come close to this ideal in fits and spurts, a little bit at a time.
(c) There is life after death. This life, which we are living now in this world, will end when we die. But then another life will begin. That is life after death. This life is a life of action and effort. In this life, we all try to do the things we need to do such as have an education; marry and raise families; have careers; pursue business; and participate in politics, sports and government.
But the next life – the one that comes after death – is a life of reward and punishment. It is also an ever-lasting and permanent life. In that life, we will be required to render a complete account of what we did or did not do in this life.
All the good things we did in this life will be rewarded in the next life – in life after death – and all the bad things we did in this world will be punished in the next life.
Those people that God judges to be good will be sent to Paradise to live forever in peace, luxury and comfort. And in close proximity to God and his Grace. And those people that God determines to be bad will be consigned to the eternal torment of Hell.
But God Almighty is a God of love and compassion. He is a most generous and forgiving God. He can choose to forgive anyone for anything he wants. Especially, when people turn to him, confess their sins to him directly and beg him to forgive them.
So, these are some of the major beliefs that make a person a Muslim.
(D) Some Required Islamic Practices
And then there are some practices that are required of us as Muslims. These are things we must actually do. They have great physical and spiritual meaning and importance. But we must observe them because God wants us to observe them and not just because they have some visible benefit for us physically, psychologically or spiritually.
Some of those required Islamic practices are as follows:
(a) Cleanliness. To the extent we can, we must at all times keep our body and clothes clean. And we must bathe and wash frequently as much as we can.
Proper washing up – Wudu – is specially required when we are about to perform our daily prayers and when we want to touch a copy of the Qur’an in original Arabic. However, translations of the Qur’an in any language are not Qur’an. They are merely translations. Qur’an is divine. It is entirely from God – from beginning to end. Translations are human.
Importance of cleanliness in human life can hardly be exaggerated. And it is amost fundamental principle of Islam. For 1400 years, Islam has taught its followers some of the most important principles of personal and social hygiene. Islam teaches us not only to brush our teeth and wash our hands, mouths, nostrils and faces regularly, but also to wash our private parts after answering the call of nature.
It is only recently that others have started to copy some of these Islamic teachings and practices, especially in the more developed parts of the world.
Not only that, Islam also requires us to observe the highest standards of cleanliness in the food we eat. This is not only good for our health, it is also spiritually most uplifting, beneficial and rewarding for us. The best food to eat is not only clean, it is also Halaal. That means God has permitted us to eat it.
(b) Prayers. We must worship God regularly – five times a day. The name Qur’an gives this daily worship is Salaat. This is one of the amazing things anyone will ever see anywhere. At the time of Salaat, five times a day, Muslims will line up in mosques or outside in straight rows facing Makkah.
They will then follow the prayer leader’s commands and moves with military precision to stand straight in unbroken rows upon rows as well as to sit or bow down, all the time praising and thanking God.
There is no sight like the Salaat anywhere in the world. It is breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring. At the same time, it is also amazingly soothing and personally comforting.
Salaat is the highest and finest form of worshipping God formally. Other than that, you can worship God informally any way you want. In fact, anything you do to please God, and in accordance with his wishes and commands, and also to serve humanity and God’s creation in general, is a way to worship God informally.
(c) Annual Charity. We must give a certain portion of our wealth in charity every year. Qur’an gives it the label of Zakaat. If you have wealth put away for a whole year that is over and above your regular needs, you must take out a percentage of that excess wealth and give it to the poor or spend it in other worthy causes.
(d) Annual Fasting. We must fast during the day in the lunar month of Ramadaan. During this blessed month, Muslims all over the world fast during the day and pray during the night. It is spiritually a most uplifting and exciting time of the year throughout the Muslim world.
(e) Pilgrimage. Once in a lifetime, we must perform pilgrimage to Makkah, provided we have the means to do it. The Qur’an gives it the name of Hajj. Every year, between three and five million Muslims gather in Makkah, all at the same time, to perform Hajj. It is a gathering in which men all wear an identical uniform of two white sheets and perform the rituals and requirements of Hajj all in the same way. Women, however, are free to choose their own clothing during Hajj.
Hajj is a most impressive and miraculous sight. Everybody, millions upon millions of people, both men as well as women, perform the same actions, and repeat the same chants and prayers, like clockwork. During the three days of Hajj, heaven and earth in and around Makkah ring with these most blessed sounds.
There is no other gathering of human beings like this anywhere else in the world. No one can even imagine how majestic, grand and spectacular the Hajj is unless they have done it themselves or seen it with their own eyes.
Hajj is a most amazing marvel of human organization and spirituality at the same time. Once again, this is something that was directly revealed by God Almighty in the Qur’an and that was personally taught and practiced by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, 1400 years ago.
(f) Good Manners. More than anything else, Islam wants us to behave in the nicest possible way with everyone. And in particular be mindful of our neighbors and relatives and those who are less fortunate than us in society.
Respect for parents and love and compassion for our younger ones are also required by Islam. So is kind and loving treatment of our husbands and wives. So is respect for law and order and working for peace and justice in the community, society and the world. In the same way, being honest and truthful in our speech, conduct and dealings with others is a fundamental requirement of Islam.
(g) Five Pillars of Islam. Belief in God and his messenger, peace be upon him, daily prayers, annual charity and fasting and pilgrimage are generally referred toin Islamic culture as the five pillars of Islam .
These are then some of the basic practices that Islam requires of us. They are all given to us by God directly in the Qur’an. That is why they all have names that Qur’an gave them. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, showed us in practice how to do these things. We must follow his example in these practices. And, to the extent we can, in everything else we do in our life.
This is a very brief and quick introduction to the divine way of life that God in the Qur’an calls Islam. It is God’s chosen way to worship him and to live a happy, productive and successful life in this world. God gives the name Muslim to those who embrace these beliefs and observe these practices.
(E) Some Things Islam Forbids
At the same time, Islam also forbids certain things. And they are all things that are bad for us as human beings, both individually and collectively as communities and societies. Among the things Islam forbids are gambling, alcohol consumption and use of all kinds of narcotics and drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and the rest.
Just like Jews and Christians in the olden days, Islam also forbids eating pork and pork products. Also forbidden by Islam is the eating of dog meat, snakes, beasts of prey and dead animals as well as animals that have not been properly slaughtered and thus made formally and spiritually clean or Halaal.
Islam also forbids all forms of sex outside of marriage, whether it is adultery, fornication or homosexuality. Also forbidden by Islam is stealing; taking of human life without due process; cruelty to animals; and making mischief on earth.
There are a billion and a half Muslims in the world today divided in about 60 Muslim-majority countries and spread in different numbers in almost all parts of the world from Europe to Asia and from America to Australia. They belong to all races and nationalities.
The Muslim world supplies a large part of the world’s energy and petroleum needs and contributes in a major way to the world’s prosperity and economic stability. What we call oriental carpets come to us mostly from Muslim lands and cultures such as Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and the Caucasus region and mountains.
Thus, Islam and Muslims are a most important, integral and vibrant part of our world today. We hope we have been helpful at least a little bit in giving you some idea about Islam and Muslims in today’s world.
Please do not hesitate to call us or write to us with any questions or comments you may have about Islam and Muslims. Our contact information is as follows:
May God Almighty bless you and your family!
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© 2010 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.