Islam is one of the major world religions. Every fifth person on the face of this earth is a Muslim. Muslims are found in the Middle East, in north, west and east Africa, in Asia and Eastern Europe. In modern times, Muslims are found in large numbers in Western Europe, the Americas and Australia through immigration as well as conversion. Recent statistics show that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA. With the vast world turning into a “global village,” such a wide-spread religion followed by over a billion people indeed deserves a careful study.
WHAT IS ISLAM?
Islam is not just a religion in the conventional sense of the word; it is a way of life—it guides it followers in every aspect of their lives. The name “Islãm” is an Arab name. (”Islaam” is pronounced with “s” sound and not with “z” as in “Izlaam”.) It comes from the root word “as-silm” which means “peace”. “Islãm” itself means “submission to the will of God”. It means that real peace comes only after a person submits himself to the will of God. Although Islam started fourteen centuries ago in Arabia, for Muslims it is not a new beginning—Islam, for Muslims, is the culmination of the message of God for human society. Muslims believe that God from day one of human creation sent prophets and messengers to guide the human society. Many prophets were sent to various regions of the world. Muslims are required to have faith in the prophethood of all of them. The most famous of the past prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The essential message of all the prophets was the same:
- belief in One God;
- belief in the prophets of God and in their teachings;
- belief in the eternal life in hereafter.
MUHAMMAD, THE LAST MESSENGER
After Prophet Jesus, God sent Muhammad as the Final Prophet and Messenger of God. With his prophethood, the process of guidance reached its peak and perfection. Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in Arabia in the family which traced its lineage to Prophet Abraham through his son Ishmael. At the age of forty, Prophet Muhammad recieved the first revelation from God through the Arch-Angel Gabriel. He called the people of Mecca who were mostly idol-worshippers to the worship of One God, and to a life based on laws of God which would guarantee peace and harmony in inter human relationship. Majority of the people of Mecca refused to accept his message. The small number of his followers did not deter the Prophet from continuing his mission. Muhammad was fully supported in his mission by close family members, in particular his wife, Khadīja, and cousin, ‘Ali. The leaders of idol-worshippers of Mecca, who did not want any change in the status-quo, started a campaign against Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam:
- first they started propaganda against Prophet Muhammad;
- then they started social and economic embargo against Muslims;
- finally they planned to assassinate the Prophet himself.
In the meanwhile, the Prophet’s message found a very receptive audience among the people of Medina, a city in northern Arabia. So after thirteen years of hard work in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina where he lived for the last eleven years of his life. It was in Medina that the Prophet founded the first Islamic community on the principles of monotheism of the Almighty and brotherhood of the Muslims.
The revelation which Prophet Muhammad received from God during almost twenty three years of his mission was compiled in a book form and is considered by all Muslims as the Holy Scripture of Islam. This revelation is known as “The Qur’ãn”. The Qur’ãn has been preserved by the Muslims in its original form. Muslims have preserved it in writing as well in memory in each generation for the last fourteen centuries. Even those Muslims who are not familiar with the Arabic words learn how to recite the holy Book in Arabic.
BELIEF IN ONE GOD
Islam is a monotheistic religion. It teaches that there is only One God who is the origin and creator of the universe. The concept of belief in One God is known as “Tawhid”. This is the foundation stone of Islam, and is reflected in the famous creed which a Muslim child learns at a very early age. The creed says: lã ilaha il-lal Lãh — there is no god but Allãh. “Allãh” is the Arabic name of God. Since the Qur’ãn is in Arabic, Muslims like to use the Arabic name for God. Even Christians in the Arab world use the name “Allãh” in their prayers. By teaching that there is only One God for all humans, Islam promotes the sense of brotherhood and equality in human society—all are equally related to God in the same way. The Qur’ãn has very beautifully presented the concept of monotheism in a short chapter. It says: Say: He, Allãh, is One. Allãh is Eternal. He neither begets nor is He begotten. And there is no one equal to Him. (The Qur’ãn, chapter # 112)
PURPOSE OF LIFE
Our life on this earth has a specific purpose; it is not the result of nature’s accident, nor is it a punishment for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. We are here according to God’s plan: to attain a blissful eternal life in the hereafter. Prophet Muhammad said, “You have not been created to perish; on the contrary, you have been created for eternal life.” However, in order to attain the bliss and grace in the eternal life, we have to go through test and trial in this world. The test is to see how much willingly we do submit ourselves to the commands of God. Everything that we do is a test and trial for us. If we follow God’s commandment, then we succeed; otherwise, we will get the eternal life but without any bliss or grace in it.
STATUS OF HUMAN BEINGS IN ISLAM
PRIME CREATION: Human being is the prime creation of God. He says, “We have indeed honoured the children of Adam; spread them in the land and the sea, provided them with good things; and preferred them in esteem over many things that We have created.” (17:70)
BORN SINLESS: Islam teaches that every human being is born sinless; no child carries the burden of his or her ancestor’s sins. God says, “No carrier shall carry the burden of others.” (35:18) Each human being is born with a pure conscience which can absorb and accept the true message of God. It is only the social and familial influences which take a person away from God’s message.
ACCOUNTABILITY: Islam also emphasizes on the issue of responsibility and accountability of human beings—each person is responsible for his or her own actions. Although Islam teaches that God has predetermined the span of our life and the time of our death, but this does not mean that even our actions are predetermined by Him. We surely are free in our actions and are, therefore, accountable for them. God only provides guidance for us to know what is good and what is bad. He says, “We created man of a water-drop…Surely We guided them to the right way—now whether he (follows it and) be grateful or (goes astray and) be ungrateful is up to him.” (76:3)
RACE: Islam very categorically rejects racial discrimination. It promotes the feeling of brotherhood and equality among its followers. God clearly says, “O Mankind! We have created you from one male and one female, and then We made you into different races and tribes so that you may know (and easily recognize) each other.” Therefore, no one can claim any superiority over others based on racial or tribal differences. A person is to be judged by his character, not by his colour or race. God continues, “Surely the most honourable of you in God’s sight is the person who is most upright in character among you.” (49:13)
GENDER: Even gender does not count as a criterion of superiority. In Islam, women are as human as men. They are not evaluated on basis of their gender, but on basis of their faith and character. Fourteen hundred years ago, the Qur’ãn recorded God’s clear statements on this issue. Out of four verses, I will just quote one: “Whoever, be it a male or a female, does good deeds and he or she is a believer, then they will enter the Paradise.” (4:124) So there is no difference in the degree or level of woman’s humanity or honour in Islam. The only difference there exists is concerning the role which Islam has envisioned for man and woman. This has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. In Islam, man and woman are equal in rights; but equality is not synonymous to similarity. Islam believes that man and woman are equal but dissimilar. Islam looks at their different roles in society not as superior or inferior but as complementary to each other.
ISLAM: THE RELIGION OF PEACE
As reflected in its name, Islam is a religion of peace. Muslims are taught to greet each other by saying “salãmun ‘alaykum — peace be upon you”. The daily prayers also end with the same sentence. In Islam, one of the names by which God is known is “As-Salãm” which means peace. However, one must realize that peace, on a social level, is inter-twined with justice. Peace can only exists if justice is maintained in society. Unfortunately, because of the Middle Eastern events of last fifty years, Islam has been branded by the western media as a religion of violence. In recent years, the word “Islamic” has become one of the adjectives of “terrorism”. In this backdrop, firstly, one must realize that the events of the Middle East can be fairly and fully understood only in the light of the post-World War One history of that region, in particular the unfulfilled promises given by the British to the Arabs in order to incite them to rebel against their own Muslim rulers. Secondly, no fair-minded person would allow himself to blame the religion of Islam for the wrong-doings of those who call themselves as Muslims. It is just like saying that the Catholic Church promotes violence and terrorism because of the Irish Republican Army’s activities!
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These were the teachings of Islam, the religion sent by God to Prophet Muhammad. It has been preserved in its originality by the leaders who came from the family of the Prophet. On this note, I would like to end with one of the last important messages of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) where he says: “I am leaving behind two important things among you: one is the Book of Allãh (the Qur’ãn) and the other is my family, the Ahlul Bayt. As long as you hold on fast to both of them, you will not go astray.”
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|Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world’s population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the majorities have nothing to do with the extremely grave events, which have come to be associated with their faith.Islam also signifies peace, fraternity and the correct understanding of the entire universe. Islam is a religion, which can be followed easily by everyone, everywhere, in the day-to-day life.
Who are the Muslims?
The followers of Islam are known as Muslims. One billion people from a vast range of races, nationalities and cultures across the globe – from the southern Philippines to Nigeria – are united by their common Islamic faith. About 18% live in the Arab world; the world’s largest Muslim community is in Indonesia; substantial parts of Asia and most of Africa are Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in the Soviet Union, China, North and South America, and Europe.
Who are the Shia Muslims?
The word ‘Shia’ means the followers, friends, supporters and members of the group belonging to a person. This word is commonly used for the person. This word is commonly used for the person expressing his devotion and attachment to Muhammad and his family (Ahlul-Bayt).
What do Muslims believe?
Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions; in God’s complete authority over human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace be upon them. But God’s final message to man, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing-up of all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through Angel Gabriel.In addition to the above-mentioned beliefs common to all the sects of the Muslims, the Shia Muslims believe also in the ‘Justice of God’ and the ‘Imamat’ i.e., the Twelve Imams after the prophet, as the fundamental principles of religion.
How does someone become a Muslim?
Simply by saying ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.’ By this declaration the believer announces his or her faith in all God’s messengers, and the scriptures they brought. To this, as an article of faith of the Shia Muslims, which is ‘Imamat’, is joined: Ali is the Wali (Vicar) of Allah; explaining that Ali is Wasi or next to Prophet Muhammad, Ali is Muhammad’s Khalifa without any other person or Khalifa intervening between Muhammad and Ali.
What does Islam mean?
The Arabic word ‘Islam’ simply means ’submission’, and derives from a word meaning ‘peace’. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of Allah; to follow the path as ordained by Allah. ‘Mohammedanism’ is thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad rather than God. ‘Allah’ is the Arabic name for God, which is used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.
Why does Islam often seem strange?
Islam may seem exotic or even extreme in the modern world. Perhaps this is because religion does not dominate everyday life in the West today, whereas Muslims have religion always uppermost in their minds, and make no division between secular and sacred. They believe that the Divine Law, the Shari’a, should be taken very seriously, which is why issues related to religion are still so important.
Do Islam and Christianity have different origins?
No. Together with Judaism, they go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly descended from his sons, Muhammad from the elder son Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from the younger son Isaac. Abraham established the settlement, which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Kaaba towards which all Muslims turn when they pray.
What is the Kaaba?
The Kaaba is the place of worship, which God commanded Abraham and Ishmael to build over four thousand years ago. The building was constructed of stone on what many believe was the original site of a sanctuary established by Adam. God commanded Abraham to summon all mankind to visit this place, and when pilgrims go there today they say ‘At Thy service, O Lord’, in response to Abraham’s summons.
Who is Muhammad (PBUH)?
Muhammad (PBUH), was born in Makkah in the year 570, at a time when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe. Since his father died before his birth, and his mother shortly afterwards, he was raised by his uncle Abu Talib from the respected tribe of Quraish. As he grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so that he was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. The historians describe him as calm and meditative. Muhammad (PBUH) was of a deeply religious nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira near the summit of Jabal al-Nur, the ‘Mountain of Light’ near Makkah. The position of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is much higher than that of Ali or any other Imam, and all the Imams rank equal. Ali and all the Imams are the followers of the religion of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). After Allah, there is no one equal to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
How did Muhammad become a prophet and a messenger of God?
At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad (PBUH) received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for next twenty-three years of his life, is known as the Quran. So, he announced his prophet hood at the age of 40 years, but he was a prophet by birth. As soon as he began to recite the words he heard from Gabriel, and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him, he and his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution, which grew so fierce that in the year 622 God gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the Hijra, ‘migration’, in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah some 260 miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. After several years, the Prophet and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam definitively. Before the Prophet died at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century of his death Islam had spread to Spain in the West and as Far East as China.
How did the spread of Islam affect the world?
Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine – Islam calls for faith in only One God worthy of worship. It also repeatedly instructs man to use his powers of intelligence and observation. Within a few years, great civilizations and universities were flourishing, for according to the Prophet, ’seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and woman’. The synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old, brought about great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature, and history. Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic numerals, and also the concept of the zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics), were transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam. Sophisticated instruments which were to make possible the European voyages of discovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and good navigational maps. What is the Quran? The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by scribes, who crosschecked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Quran is in every detail the unique and miraculous text that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) fourteen centuries ago. This opening chapter of The Quran, the Fatiah, is central in Islamic prayer. It contains the essence of The Quran and is recited during every prayer.
What is the Quran about?
The Quran, the last revealed Word of God, is the prime source of every Muslim’s faith and practice. It deals with all the subjects, which concern us as human beings: wisdom, doctrine, worship, and law, but its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creatures. At the same time it provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and an equitable economic system. The orders of the Quran are all times and no change is possible in these orders. The Quran testifies all the previous Holy Books i.e., Torah or Torait (Prophet Moses/Musa), Zaboor (Prophet David/Dawood) and Injeel or The new testament of the Bible (Prophet Jesus/Isa). The Book of Allah is like an ocean. The less learned, like children; collect pebbles and shells from its shores. The scholars and thinkers, like pearl divers, bring out from it the highest philosophy, wisdom and code of a perfect way of living. Are there any other sacred sources? Yes, the sunna, the practice and example of the Prophet and his family (The family means Ali, Fatima and their descendants, the Imams), is the second authority for Muslims. A hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet said, did, or approved. Belief in the sunna is part of the Islamic faith. Some of the sayings of the Prophet are not faithfully reported and sometimes the sayings are mis-quoted and such mis-reported versions are not correct. Wherever a Hadith is found to be contradictory to the Quran, it must be taken to be an incorrect version, because there can be no contradiction of a correct Hadith with the Quran. Examples of the Prophet’s sayings: The Prophet said: God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others. None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not a believer. Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger. God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds. A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was asked: Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals? He said, there is a reward for kindness to every living thing. What are the teachings of Islam? Just as the tree has two parts, i.e., roots and shoots (branches), the teachings of Islam fall under two categories:
A. Usool-e-Deen (The Roots/Fundamentals of religion)
1. Tauheed: Oneness of God
Tauheed means God is one. He has neither a colleague nor a partner. He begets not, nor is He begotten; there is none like Him.
2. Adl: Justice of God
It means that God is just. He will reward or punish any person according to his deeds.
3. Nabuwat: Prophet hood
A Nabi (Prophet) excels all other persons for whom he is sent by Allah. He is Masoom (sinless). Prophet Muhammad Mustafa (blessings of Allah be on him and his Progeny) is the last of the Prophets sent by Him. The Prophets sent by Allah, including our Prophet, total one lakh twenty-four thousand.
4. Imamat: The institution of the twelve Imams after the Prophet
Nabuwat ended with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Then Allah deputed Imams to guide us. They were Masooms (sinless). The Imam has his knowledge from God and his verdict is the verdict of God. Imams are twelve and they are the only rightful Imams. There is no successor to the twelfth Imam. He is alive but invisible in accordance with the Will of Allah and will reappear when He commands, which will signify the coming end of the world.
5. Qiyamat: The Day of Judgment
One who does not believe in ‘Tauheed’, ‘Nabuwat’ and ‘Qiyamat’ is not a true Muslim; whereas in addition to the above-mentioned three items, Shia Muslims consider ‘Adl’ and ‘Imamat’ as also the fundamentals of Islam.
B. Furoo-e-Deen (The Branches/Doctrines of religion)
01. Namaz/Salat: Prayer
Salat, Namaz or prayer is Wajib (Obligatory) for a Muslim five times a day. The prayers are obligatory on those who have become “Baligh” (puberty). For the purpose of fulfillment religious obligation a boy becomes “baligh” on completion of his fifteen year, and a girl on completion of her ninth year. Prayers are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so a learned person who knows the Quran, chosen by the congregation, leads the prayers. These five prayers contain verses from the Quran, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one’s own language. Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. The Holy Prophet has said: “If Allah accepts one’s Salat (Prayers), other good deeds of his will also be acceptable to Him. But if Allah rejects one’s Salat, his other good actions will be surely rejected.
02. Roza: Fasting
Observance of fasts becomes obligatory from the day following the appearance of the new moon of the month of Ramadan till the night when the new moon of the succeeding month appears. Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier. Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method of self-purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one’s spiritual life.
03. Zakaat: Wealth Tax
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakat means both ‘purification’ and ‘growth’. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves the payment each year at the rate of one out of every forty, on the value of one’s capital possessions such as gold and silver coins, wheat, barley, dates, raisins, camels, cattle and sheep, after satisfying certain conditions. A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as ‘voluntary charity’ it has a wider meaning. The Prophet said ‘even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.’ The Prophet said: ‘Charity is a necessity for every Muslim. ‘ He was asked: ‘What if a person has nothing?’ The Prophet replied: ‘He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity.’ The Companions asked: ‘What if he is not able to work?’ The Prophet said: ‘He should help poor and needy persons.’ The Companions further asked ‘What if he cannot do even that?’ The Prophet said ‘He should urge others to do good.’ The Companions said ‘What if he lacks that also?’ The Prophet said ‘He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.’ “And offer prayers and pay Zakat and bow down with those who bow down (in worship)” Quran 2:43
04. Khums: One fifth levy
Paying one-fifth of the amount of a year’s saving (after deducting all legitimate expenses from the earnings of that year) is called Khums. Sadaats (descendents of the Holy Prophet) have a right over half of this amount which should be paid to those amongst them who are poor and needy. The other half belongs to the Imam and should be paid to his Naaebs (Mujtaheds). “And know that out of all wealth you may acquire, one fifth of it is for Allah, and for the messenger and for his Kinsmen, and the Orphans, the poor and the wayfarer.” Quran 8:41
05. Hajj: Pilgrimage to Makkah
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah – the Hajj – is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments, which strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God. The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Kaaba seven times, and going seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafa and join in prayers for God’s forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgment. In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with water, modern transport, and the most up-to-date health facilities. The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, is the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.
06. Jehad: Holy War
Means to strive or fight in the way of God. Jehad literally means “strive” and as striving can be of various kinds and in different ways, it includes also fighting when it becomes the only alternative to defend the faith and the faithful.
07. Amr bil Ma’aroof: (To enjoin virtue)
08. Nahi unil Munkar: (To forbid vice)
“Let there arise out of you, a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. They are the ones to attain felicity.” Quran 3:104
09. Tawalla: To love divine persons
Means to love and respect the ahl-ul-bait and to be friendly with their friends.
10. Tabarra: To keep away from enemies of divine persons
Means to disassociate or keep aloof from the enemies of the Ahl-ul-bait.
Does Islam tolerate other beliefs?
The Quran says:
God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for [your] faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just. (Quran, 60-8)
It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city. Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves. The Patriarch invited him to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but he preferred to pray outside its gates, saying that if he accepted, later generations of Muslims might use his action as an excuse to turn it into a mosque.
What do Muslims think about Jesus?
Muslims respect and revere Jesus, and await his Second Coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God’s messengers to mankind. A Muslim never refers to him simply as ‘Jesus’, but always adds the phrase ‘upon him be peace’. The Quran confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Quran is entitled ‘Mary’), and Mary is considered the purest woman in all creation.
The Quran describes the Annunciation as follows:
‘Behold!’ the Angel said, ‘God has chosen you, and purified you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. O 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 the Hereafter, and one of those brought near to God. He shall speak to the people from his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of the righteous.’ She said: ‘O 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.’ (Quran, 3:42-7)
Jesus was born miraculously through the same power, which had brought Adam into being without a father: 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. (Quran, 3:59)
During his prophetic mission Jesus performed many miracles. The Quran 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. (Quran, 3:49) Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it. In the Quran 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. (Quran, 3:5O)
The Prophet Muhammad said:
Whoever believes there is no god but God, alone without partner, that Muhammad is His messenger, that Jesus is the 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. (Hadith from Bukhari)
Why is the family so important to Muslims?
The family is the foundation of Islamic society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued, and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members. A harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended families; children are treasured, and rarely leave home until the time they marry.
What about Muslim women?
Islam sees a woman, whether single or married, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own and dispose of her property and earnings. The groom gives a marriage dowry to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps her own family name rather than taking her husband’s. Both men and women are expected to dress in a way, which is modest and dignified; the traditions of female dress found in some Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs. The Messenger of God said: ‘The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.’
Can a Muslim have more than one wife?
The religion of Islam was revealed for all societies and all times and so accommodates widely differing social requirements. Circumstances may warrant the taking of another wife but the right is granted, according to the Quran, only on condition that the husband is scrupulously fair.
Is Islamic marriage like Christian marriage?
A Muslim marriage is not a ’sacrament’, but a simple, legal agreement in which either partner is free to include conditions. Marriage customs thus vary widely from country to country. As a result, divorce is not common, although it is not forbidden as a last resort. According to Islam, no Muslim girl can be forced to marry against her will: her parents will simply suggest young men they think may be suitable.
How do Muslims treat the elderly?
In the Islamic world there are no old people’s homes. The strain of caring for one’s parents in this most difficult time of their lives is considered an honor and blessing, and an opportunity for great spiritual growth. God asks that we not only pray for our parents, but act with limitless compassion, remembering that when we were helpless children they preferred us to themselves. Mothers are particularly honored: the Prophet taught that ‘Paradise lies at the feet of mothers’. When they reach old age, Muslim parents are treated mercifully, with the same kindness and selflessness. In Islam, serving one’s parents is a duty second only to prayer, and it is their right to expect it. It is considered despicable to express any irritation when, through no fault of there own, the old become difficult.
The Quran says:
Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and be kind to parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, do not say ‘uff to them or chide them, but speak to them in terms of honor and kindness. Treat them with humility, and say, ‘My Lord! Have mercy on them, for they did care for me when I was little’. (17:23-24)
How do Muslims view death?
Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe that the present life is only a trial preparation for the next realm of existence. Basic articles of faith include: the Day of Judgment, resurrection, Heaven and Hell. When a Muslim dies, he or she is washed, usually by a family member, wrapped in a clean white cloth, and buried with a simple prayer preferably the same day. Muslims consider this one of the final services they can do for their relatives, and an opportunity to remember their own brief existence here on earth. The Prophet taught that three things can continue to help a person even after death; charity which he had given, knowledge which he had taught and prayers on their behalf by a righteous child.
What does Islam say about war?
Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat, which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good men were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.
The Quran says:
Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors. (2:190)
If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things. (8:61)
War, therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The term jihad literally means ’struggle’, and Muslims believe that there are two kinds of jihad. The other ‘jihad’ is the inner struggle, which everyone wages against egotistic desires, for the sake of attaining inner peace.
What about food?
Although much simpler than the dietary law followed by Jews and the early Christians, the code which Muslims observe forbids the consumption of pig meat or any kind of intoxicating drink. The Prophet taught that ‘your body has rights over you’, and the consumption of wholesome food and the leading of a healthy lifestyle are seen as religious obligations. The Prophet said: ‘Ask God for certainty [of faith] and well-being; for after certainty, no one is given any gift better than health!’ How does Islam guarantee human rights?
The Quran itself lays down freedom of conscience:
‘There is no compulsion in religion’. (2:256)
The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether a person is Muslim or not. Racism is incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Quran speaks of human equality in the following terms: O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so 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. God is All-Knowing, All Aware (49-13)
The Muslim World
The Muslim population of the world is around one billion. 30% of Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent, 20% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 17% in Southeast Asia, 18% in the Arab World, 10% in the Soviet Union and China. Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan comprise 10% of the non-Arab Middle East. Although there are Muslim minorities in almost every area, including Latin America and Australia, they are most numerous in the Soviet Union, India, and central Africa. There are 8 million Muslims in the United States.