What is Islam?

What does Islam mean?

Islam, an Arabic word meaning surrender, is a derivative of the root silm or peace i.e. one can achieve peace with God, with one’s self and with humanity by surrendering to the Will of God. Islam is not a new religion, but incorporates the same truths revealed by God through the prophets to all peoples of all times. Islam is not only a set of beliefs, but establishes a complete way of life.

Who are Muslims?

The people who believe in Islam are called Muslims. Worldwide, there are about 1.5 billion Muslims of different nationalities, races and cultures – from the Philippines to Nigeria. Only about 18 percent live in the Arab world; the world’s largest Muslim country is Indonesia; substantial parts of Asia and most of Africa are Muslim; significant minorities are found in the former Soviet Union, China, North and South America and Europe.

What do Muslims believe?

Muslim belief is based on six primary principles:

  • God: Muslims believe in the One, Unique, and Incomparable God. Allah is the Arabic word for God and is preferred by Muslims because it cannot be pluralized and is gender-neutral.
  • The Prophets: 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, Jesus and ending with Muhammad (peace be on them all).
  • Angels: Muslims believe in the Angels created by Him.
  • The Books: Muslims believe in all the revealed Holy Books. These include the Torah, the Bible, the Psalms and the Quran.
  • The Day of Judgment: Muslims believe in individual accountability, the Day of Judgment and in life after death.
  • Fate and predestination: Muslims believe in God’s complete authority over human destiny.

What are the five Pillars of Islam?


1. Muslims are enjoined to practice the five Pillars of Islam, which are:

Belief in One God and Mohammed as His Messenger.

Muslims do not associate partners to God. Associating partners to God is called shirk. Shirk is the one sin that God tells us in the Quran that He will not forgive. Muslims also do not believe that God has a family, such as a mother or son. The Quran is the book God revealed to the Prophet Mohammed through the angel Gabriel for all mankind. If we believe in the Quran, then we must believe that Mohammed was the Prophet. The Quran does not dispute the Bible or the Torah. It upholds them. The Quran mentions many of the Prophets and tells us that all nations have had prophets sent to them, although we are not aware of all of them.

2. Prayer five times a day

Prayer in Arabic is salaat and Muslims are required to pray five times a day. The mandatory prayers are called fardh (required). The optional, or extra prayers, are called sunnah or nafil. Each prayer consists of standing, bowing and prostrating. One set of bowing and prostrating is called a ruka. Some prayers, such as the funeral prayer, has no bowing or prostrating (ruka). The five required daily prayers are:

  • Fajir (dawn) (2 rukas)
  • Dhuhur (noon) (4 rukas)
  • Asr (late afternoon) (4 rukas)
  • Maghrib (sunset) (3 rukas)
  • I’sha (evening) (4 rukas)
 

Prayer is a means to make mankind remember that there is a Supreme Power that we must not ignore. By having the prayer spread throughout the day, one is always involved in remembering God. You start and end your day remembering God. And in the short period of the day, you remember Him three other times. The benefit here is, if a person is going to commit some kind of sin, he may think twice before committing it since he may already have finished his prayer or is soon to begin a prayer. There are many types of optional prayers:

Sunna or nafil-
these are prayers performed before and after the five daily required prayers.

Funeral prayer (Salat-ul-Janaza)-
When a Muslim dies, other Muslims pray the funeral prayer for the deceased.

The prayer for rain (salat-ul-isquaa)-
This prayer consists of two rukas (prostrations).

Taraweeh-
during Ramadan taraweeh prayers are performed after the Isha prayer.

Other prayers for specific reasons.

3. Fasting during Ramadan:

Muslims follow the lunar calendar which has 355 days instead of the 365 days of the solar calendar. The lunar calendar has 12 months and one of them is Ramadan. This is the month that Muslims fast from dawn – about two hours before sunrise – until sunset. Fasting in Islam means to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual acts and all worldly desires or lusts.

Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) tells us our religious obligations are for us except for fasting which we do for the sake of God. We are showing our devotion to God by our self discipline and only He and the individual Muslim know whether the fast is intact or not. Muslims should fast only if they are physically able to fast if a person is ill, or traveling, or a woman is pregnant or menstruating, then they are excused from the fast until they are able to fast. Then they must make up the missed days of the fast. If a person has a condition where they are on heart medication or diabetic, where they must constantly be on a medication, then they are excused from fasting but must feed a poor person for every day of Ramadan.

4. Zakat

A Muslim must tithe a portion of his or her wealth, This is called Zakat. Zakat is not charity because charity, sadaqa in Arabic, may or may not be given. Zakat must be given. It is a way to cleanse the wealth that God has given us. When something is mentioned in the Quran, it is important. When it is mentioned twice, it is more important. Zakat is mentioned over thirty times in the Quran. It is an important aspect of Islam. Many verses in the Quran tell us not to be selfish with our wealth, but to help our parents, our relatives, the orphans, the needy and the way-farer. Zakat has been determined by Muslim scholars to be two and one half (2 1/2) percent of a person’s worth payable annually. This can be a simple calculation or a complex calculation.

5. Hajj

The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that a Muslim must perform at least once in a life time, if he or she can afford it. The tradition of the Hajj is based on the events of the life of Prophet Abraham and his second wife Hagar and their son Ishmael. The Hajj consists of certain rituals that must be performed over a five-day period. These rituals emulate the actions of Hagar and Ishmael when Prophet Abraham left them in a desert area, which is today’s Mecca. While looking for water for herself and her son, Hagar placed Ishmael, still a baby, under a bush and ran between two hills, Safa and Marwa, seven times.

This is one of the rituals for pilgrims to perform, the walking between the two hills seven times. When Hagar returned to her son, she found that he was kicking the ground with his feet and that a spring (Zamzam) had gushed forth which still provides water for pilgrims today. Another ritual is to stone the devil, or Shaitaan (Satan). This is symbolic of when Abraham was ordered by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael. As they set out to perform the sacrifice, Satan appeared to them three times trying to convince them not to perform this sacrifice. Abraham threw pebbles at Satan and continued on his way.

At the three different locations where Prophet Abraham threw pebbles at Satan, pilgrims throw pebbles at symbolic pillars of the devil, indicating their refusal to follow the ways of Satan. A journey to Mina follows and here pilgrims stay overnight and sleep in tents or under the stars. The last ritual that pilgrims perform is to gather at Mount Arafat to pray. The day after they descend from this Mount, is considered the Holiday of the Sacrifice, or Eid-ul-Adha. This day consists of pilgrims offering a sacrifice to God of a sheep, cow or a camel. This ritual is included because of the obedience of Prophets Abraham and Ishmael when God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Ishmael told his father that if God had ordered Abraham to sacrifice him then Ishmael was ready to obey his father. As Abraham was about to cut Ishmael’s neck, God sent down a ram to be sacrificed in place of Ishmael.