The Basics of Islam
Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, with over 1 billion followers. It is a monotheistic faith founded by a man named Muhammad in 7th-century Saudi Arabia.
According to Muslim belief, the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad, a camel driver, in a mountain cave and delivered a message from God. The Prophet Muhammad dedicated the remainder of his life to spreading a message of monotheism in a polytheistic world. His life’s work is recorded in the Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam.
In 622 AD, the Prophet fled north to the city of Medina to escape growing persecution. This event is celebrated by Muslims as the hijira (“flight”) and marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar (622 AD = 1 AH).
Eight years later, Muhammad returned to Mecca with an army and defeated it easily. By Muhammad’s death, 50 years later, the entire Arabian Peninsula had come under Muslim control.
The word Islam means “Submission to God”
The word Muslim means “A follower of Islam”
Prophets in Islam
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is revered as “the Seal of the Prophets” – the last and greatest of the messengers of God. He is not divine in any way, for the strict monotheism that characterizes Islam does not allow for such an interpretation. Other prophets (nabi in Arabic) are important in Islam as well, all of which are shared with the Jews or the Christians.
The Prophets of Islam
Traditionally, five prophets are recognized by Islam as having been sent by God (known as ulul azmi, “the Resolute”).
- Noah (Nuh) 3. Moses (Musa) 5. Muhammad
- Abraham (Ibrahim) 4. Jesus (Isa)
What are the Six Articles of Faith in Islam?
Muslim doctrine is often summarized in “Six Articles of Faith.” According to this list, to be a Muslim one must believe in:
- One God
- The angels of God
- The books of God, especially the Qur’an
- The prophets of God, especially Muhammad
- The Day of Judgment (or the afterlife)
- The supremacy of God’s will (or predestination).
This list is sometimes shortened to Five Articles of Faith, which leaves off belief in the supremacy of God’s will.
What do Muslims believe about the afterlife?
Islam teaches the continued existence of the soul and a transformed physical existence after death. Muslims believe there will be a day of judgment when all humans will be divided between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell.
What do Muslims believe about God?
The single most important belief in Islam, and arguably the central theme of Islam, is that there is one God. The Muslim name for God is Allah, which is simply Arabic for “the (al) God (Ilah).” The term is related to Elohim, the Hebrew word for God.
What do they believe about Allah?
Muslims believe that God is the all-powerful Creator of a perfect, ordered universe. He is transcendent and not a part of his creation, and is most often referred to in terms and with names that emphasize his majesty and superiority. Among the 99 Beautiful Names of God (Asma al-Husna) in the Qur’an are: the Creator, the Fashioner, the Life-Giver, the Provider, the Opener, the Bestower, the Prevailer, the Reckoner, the Recorder, the King of Kingship and the Lord of the Worlds.
What does Islam teach about human nature?
According to the Qur’an, Allah “created man from a clot of blood” at the same time he created the jinn from fire. Humans are the greatest of all creatures, created with free will for the purpose of obeying and serving God.
Original Sin in Islam
The Qur’an includes a version of the biblical story of the fall of Adam, but it does not conclude from it the doctrine of original sin.
What is the Purpose of Life in Islam? (Salvation)
For a Muslim, the purpose of life is to live in a way that is pleasing to Allah so that one may gain Paradise. It is believed that at puberty, an account of each person’s deeds is opened, and this will be used at the Day of Judgment to determine his eternal fate. The Qur’an also suggests a doctrine of divine predestination.
The Muslim doctrine of salvation is that unbelievers (kuffar, literally “those who are ungrateful”) and sinners will be condemned, but genuine repentance results in Allah’s forgiveness and entrance into Paradise upon death.
Islam Sects: Similarities and Differences
There are two main sects in Islam: Sunni and Shi’ite. Sunni Islam is the largest denomination, although in some countries it is a minority.
Sunnis have their historical roots in the majority group who followed Abu Bakr, an effective leader, as Muhammad’s successor, instead of his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. The Sunnis are so named because they believe themselves to follow the sunnah or “custom” of the Prophet. Shi’ites are those Muslims who followed Ali, the closest relative of Muhammad, as Muhammad’s successor.
Sufi Islam is not exactly a sect, but the mystical expression of Islam. Sufism emphasizes a quiet, simple life focused on obeying and experiencing God. Opinions of Sufis differ within the Muslim community.
What are the Five Pillars of Islam?
The Five Pillars of Islam (Arabic arkan ud-Din, “pillars of the faith”) are the five religious duties expected of every Muslim. The five pillars are mentioned individually throughout the Qur’an and Muhammad listed them together in the Hadith when he was asked to define Islam.
Within a few decades of Muhammad’s death, the five practices were singled out to serve as anchoring points in the Muslim community and designated “pillars.” Fulfillment of the Five Pillars is believed to bring rewards both in this life and in the afterlife.
The pillars are acknowledged and observed by all sects of Muslims, although Shi’ites add further obligatory duties, including: jihad, payment of the imam’s tax, the encouragement of good deeds, and the prevention of evil.
The Five Pillars of Islam are:
- Daily confession of faith (shahada)
- Daily ritual prayer (salat)
- Paying the alms tax (zakat)
- Fasting during the month of Ramadan (sawm)
- Pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj)
What are the Holidays in Islam?
Islam has relatively few holidays. Traditionally, Muslims celebrate just two major festivals (‘Id Al-Fitr and ‘Id Al-Adha), a month of daytime fasting (Ramadan), and a day of voluntary fasting (‘Ashura, also an important Shiite festival).
The popular festival of Mawlid an-Nabi celebrates the birthday of the Prophet, but is frowned upon as an idolatrous innovation by conservative Muslims. Most Islamic holidays either commemorate events in the life of the Prophet Muhammad or are special days founded by him.
Holy Cities of Islam
What are the sacred writings of Islam?
There are two main sacred texts in Islam: the Qur’an (or Koran) and the Hadith (or Hadeeth).
The Qur’an is the most sacred text, as it is believed to be the literal word of God as revealed to Muhammad.
The Hadith is a secondary text that records sayings of Muhammad and his followers. These two texts form the basis for all Islamic theology, practice and Sharia (Islamic law).
The Bible is also respected as revelations from the true God, but Muslims believe the Bible to have been corrupted in transmission and translation.