Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What is Islam?

Click here for a PDF of referenced chapters & Verses

Islam is an Arabic word used to name the religion based on the Quran, a document that Muslims believe was inspired by divine will to Muhammad, Prophet of Islam.

The word Islam is most commonly used as a ‘proper noun’ when referring to the religion, but is more appropriately – from the linguistic and theological point of view- translated as the willful submission to God as the Master of our existence (2:112). This is a concept, as Muslims believe, that predates the mission of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh). The Quran repeatedly describes many pre-Islamic Prophets and Messenger of God as Muslims, the Arabic adjective for those submitting to the will of God. This description as being ‘Muslim’ was used for Prophet Abraham and his children Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, for Jesus and his disciples, and for several others (2:130 and 2:131, 2:136, 3:52, 4:125, 5:111, 10:84).

The word God (with capital G) in Islamic belief refers to the One and Only Deity that eternally existed, has no beginning and no end (112:1 to 112:4), has no material form, and is the only perfect entity. God cares about us, its creatures, and eventually will judge all of us on the Day of Judgment, rewarding the good-doers, and punishing the evil-doers. God has unlimited mercy and is all-forgiving (3:135, 4:48, 4:110, 4:116, 24:38). God is also all-knowing, all-powerful, just, compassionate, generous, and grateful to its creatures for recognizing and worshiping it.

The Arabic word for that Deity is Allah. It is not a name of an idol, or a local ‘Arabic Muslim god’, and it is the word used by Arab Christians and Jews to refer to the Lord in the Old and New Testaments. The Arabic word is unique as it has one form, no masculine, feminine or plural derivation. Grammatically and syntactically it is treated as masculine, without imparting any gender qualities on the divine entity it refers to. When the word Allah is used by an Arab of any religion, it ALWAYS refers to the one and only Deity that is eternal, and that initiated the existence of all that exists.

The five pillars of Islam: this term refers to the core belief and rituals without which one’s subscription to the religion preached by Muhammad, pbuh, is not complete. These five pillars are:

a. Testimony of Faith (Shahada in Arabic): “There is only one God, and Muhammad is a prophet of God”. Uttering these words- while believing in their content- is all that is required to be a Muslim (i.e., a human that submits to the will of the one and only God).

b. Praying to God (Salah in Arabic), universally accepted as five sessions of prayers every day.

c. Alms-giving (Zakah in Arabic) of a mandatory fixed portion of the annual savings of Muslim.

d. Fasting (Seyam in Arabic) the daytime of the month of Ramdhan (one of the 12 months in the lunar calendar)

e. Pilgrimage to the wholly mosque in Mecca (Hajj in Arabic) once in a life time if health and financial resources make it feasible.

Elements of faith: The believers in Islam, in the manner that Muhammad, pbuh, has conveyed to us, are required to believe in a divine message inspired by the one and only God to Muhammad (the Quran), in the existence of Angels, in the prior Divine writs revealed by God to previous messengers (e.g., the Torah revealed to Moses and the Bible revealed to Jesus, peace be upon them, and in the lineage of prophets sent to Mankind to guide them to God, e.g., Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Ishmael, Isaac, Lot, and the many prophets mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, without discrimination or preferential love or respect for one prophet over the others (2:285, 3:84). Believers must also believe in the Day of Judgment, the eternal hereafter, and in the existence of reward and punishment, and that God is the only Judge on that day.

Other important concepts in Islam:

- Faith is a choice, and no one should be coerced into conforming to a particular belief (2:256, 16:82).

- God is the sole judge of people who attain faith in any manner be it identical to or different from what Muslims believe (2:62, 2:272, 16:82, 22:17, 23:117)

- This life (i.e., before death) is worth living and enjoying, without forgetting that the life after is the ultimate goal (28:77).

- Muhammad, pbuh, is a human being and is not divine in anyway. He is an honorable messenger of God, the same way all the previous messengers and Prophets of God were, peace be upon them all (3:144, 33:40)

- People of the Book, is a respectful term used in the Quran to describe followers of Christianity and Judaism. According to the Quran, they are NOT by default the enemy of Muslims, nor evil. Amongst them are the good and the not-so-good, based only on their deeds. No general judgment is rendered on anyone based on their professed faith (3:113-3:115, 3:199, 5:69).

- The Torah and the Bible were revealed by divine will through God’s messengers, Moses and Jesus, and in them there is guidance to mankind (2:53, 5:44, 5:46, 5:69)

- Mankind is not perfect, and we all have limitations. God judges us based on His knowledge of our imperfection (2:286).

- Reason is the greatest gift from God onto Man. Critical thinking is a merit that God encourages (39:18)

- When faced with hatred, hostility and evil deeds, Muslims are obliged to respond only in a way consisted with truthfulness (5:8), kindest of manners and with wisdom and kind words (16:125, 23:96, 29:46, 41:34).

- Morality is not relative and is independent of how we feel about the others: Hatred and wrong doings of others towards Muslims does not justify committing injustice (5:8). Thus, an evil deed as repayment for an evil deed is not Islamically acceptable (23:96). The Prophet, in a narrated prophetic speech, also said “honesty in the face of treason and betrayal is better that committing betrayal to repay betrayal”. Likewise, love for family and clan etc, is not an excuse for deviating from the just path in their favor either (4:135).

(the references will be posted later today)

Islam Q&A

I will be posting my comments on 3 questions I received from a non-Muslim college student collecting information for a class project. The answers I put together are not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to give an overview using primarily verses from the Quran. It is important from my point of view to 'let the Quran speak'. The richness of Islamic literature of the early centuries has frequently detracted from the fact that it was the simple Word of God was the only message that the Prophet, pbuh, used, and it was the word of God that attracted the greatest generation that entered Islam (companions of the Prophet, Sahaba) .
I cannot believe why the Quran cannot function in this capacity again. It is true that the early Muslims spoke Arabic, but they were not all scholarly, rich, highly educated or sophisticated. Many of them where the poorest of the poor, the slaves, the ones whose mother tongue was not Arabic etc. Actually, the more sophisticated and highly educated citizens of Mecca (the Prophet's hometown) where the ones that caused most trouble for the Prophet.
This proved to me that you do not have to be a scholar in Arabic, or a professor of Islamic science, or someone that read every Tafseer book, to be able to feel the Word of God in your heart, or to understand what God want from you.
God said in the Quran (54:17):
"Hence, indeed, We made this Quran easy to bear in mind: who, then, is willing to take it to heart?"
*( وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ )*

Surely it may take more effort to read different translations. It may require some discussion with others. But it is worth it. Teh path to God will be easier the more we try to attain it. More over, the reward is more for the effort to reach the truch, not in the success in reaching it. And do not forget that God promised to help us if we try(29:69):
"But as for those who strive hard in Our cause -We shall most certainly guide them onto paths that lead unto Us: for, behold, God is indeed with the doers of good."
*( وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ )*

That does not deny the value of the tremendous literary and scholarly work done by Muslims over the years, but the Message of God is still as powerful and accessible today as it was the day it was revealed to the Prophet, pbuh, and it should be at the forefront of our tools to tell the truth our Islam.

The next 3 posts will be the answers to those 3 questions
1. Islam: what is it?
2. Islam and Poverty.
3. Islam and Violence and War.