ISLAM: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
ALLAH is ,for Muslims the greatest and most inclusive of the Names of
God, an Arabic word of rich and varied meaning, denoting the one who is
adored in worship, who creates all that exists, who had priority over all
creation, who is lofty and hidden, who confounds all human under- standing.
It is exactly the same word which the Jews, in Hebrew, use for God (eloh),
the word which Jesus Christ used in Aramaic when he prayed to God. God
has an identical name in Judaism, Christianity and lslam; Allah is the
same God worshiped by Muslims, Christians and Jews.
"He is God, the One God independent and Sought by all; He begets not, nor is
begotten, and there is none like unto Him"
(The Holy Qur'an - Chapter on Sincerity)
Islam teaches that all faiths have, in essence, one common message:
The existence of a Supreme
Being, the one and only God, whose Sovereignty is to be acknowledged in
worship and in the pledge to obey His teaching and commandments, conveyed
through His messengers and prophets who were sent at various times and
in many places throughout history.
Islam, as an Arabic word, is rich in meanings. One important dimension is the
commitment to submit and surrender to God so that one can live in peace?;
Peace (salam) is achieved through active obedience to the revealed Commandments
of God, for God is the Source of all Peace. Commitment to Islam entails
striving for peace through a struggle for justice,equality of opportunity,
mutual caring and consideration for the rights of others, and continuous
research and acquisition of knowledge for the better protection and utilization
of the resources of Creation.
Islam teaches that the objective of the Commandments of God is that peace should
be established in the human societies of this world, in preparation for
a further dimension of human existence in the world to come, the Afterlife.
Islam's vision of peace is therefore truly universal; it transcends time
and belongs to the order of God's eternity.
Islam does not regard itself to be a new teaching, different or separate
from that of other world religions. It is the reaffirmation of the ancient
yet living truth of all religions which can be expressed in the following
*- the Uniqueness of the
one and only God who is Sovereign of the universe;
*- the Revelation of the
teachings and commandments of God through Angels in heaven to Prophets
on earth, and written in sacred writings which all have the same transcendent
source; these contain the will of God which marks the way of peace for
the whole universe and all of humankind;
*- the Day of Judgment which
inaugurates the Afterlife, in which God rewards and punishes with respect
to human obedience and disobedience to His will.
Islam affirms these simple beliefs as the basis for the decent, civilized
society towards which it strives. Its vision of society is, in essence,
not different from that upheld by all monotheistic religions. This is particularly
true of Judaism and Christianity which share with Islam the direct spiritual
lineage of the Prophet† Ibrahim. Islam affirms the divinely-ordained missions
of the Prophet Moses, through whom God revealed the sacred scripture called
the Torah, and of the Prophet Jesus, through whom God revealed the scripture
known as the Gospel. The message of Islam is in essence the same as that
which God revealed to all his prophets and messengers. The Prophet Muhammad†
(the peace and blessing of God be upon him) was commanded to recite in
the Holy Qur'an:
"Say we believe in God and that which was revealed unto us, and that which was
revealed unto Ibrahim and Ismael and Isaac and Jacob, and the tribes, and
that which was vouchsafed unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their
Lord; We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have
surrendered." (The Holy Qur'an 3:84)
The success of civilizations
and cultures is directly related to the extent of their practice of the
righteous way of life revealed in the teachings and commandments of God,
and set forth in the monotheistic religions which are confirmed by Islam.
God's revelation enshrines the highest values of humankind, and the divine
commandments are essentially not different from the values which human
beings have cherished and striven to maintain throughout history, regardless
of cultural, racial, linguistic and socioeconomic differences. Success
in this life is directly related to the practice of these values.
The irreducible minimum of
faith is to believe in God as the Sole Sovereign Lord of this world and
the next, and to believe in the reality of the Afterlife for which human
beings are to prepare by living righteously in this world. God alone is
the Judge of human righteousness, and it is God alone who rewards and punishes
in this life and in the life hereafter.
does not mean for you to turn your faces towards the East and towards the
West, but righteousness means one should believe in God (alone), the Last
Day, the Angels, the Book and the prophet; and no matter how he loves it,
to give his wealth away to near relatives, orphans the needy, the wayfarer
and the beggars, and toward the freeing of captives: and to keep up prayer
and pay the welfare tax :and those who keep their word whenever they promise
any thing and are patient under strain and hardship and in time of peril.
Those are the ones who act loyally and perform their duty" (The Holy Qur'an
A Muslim is one who is committed to peace by continuously striving to follow
the way of righteousness and justice revealed by God; the Arabic word muslim
refers to a man, muslima to a woman. In either case the literal meaning
is "one who submits to God's teachings and commandments,
which lead to peace."
Muslims have three distinct advantages to help them in the practice of Islam
as their way of life:
1. The Sacred Scripture called the Qur'an, which
was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th
century of the Common Era, and which, after 1400 years, remains authentic
in its original Arabic text, in the language which is still used and understood
by millions of people through out the world today;† contains God's guidance
in teachings and commandments which are valid for all times and all places,
and which encompass all spheres of human life.
2. The Prophet Muhammad, whom the Qur'an names as
"the Seal (last) of the Prophets", and of whose life and mission there is a complete
and authentic record in the Sira and the Hadith. These show how he exemplified
the teachings and commandments of God in practice, and elaborated the principles
laid down in the Qur'an in order to provide a sure guidance for their interpretation
and application for all later times and societies.
3. The Sacred Law, called the Shari'ah, which sets
out the way of worship prescribed in the Qur'an and the Prophet's practice;
it goes beyond the common understanding of worship as the performance of
religious rituals. And† encompasses the whole of human life, individual
as well as social. Thus all so-called secular activities become acts of
worship, provided they are performed with pure and righteous intention,
seeking God's pleasure.
Muslims are enjoined to organize their lives on the basis of series of ritual
acts of worship which are ordained in the Qur'an as ways which discipline
human beings to remember God constantly, accepting his Sovereignty and
pledging to obey his commandments:
1. Declaration of belief (Shahada): this is the
initial act of faith,expressed in a simple statement which testifies to
one's commitment to following the straight path of God's guidance upon
which Muslims seek to live their lives;
"I bear witness that there is no god but God I bear witness that Muhammad
is His servant and His Prophet."
2. Prayer (Salat), offered five times a day,
has the effect of reminding the faithful that "remembrance of God is indeed
the greatest virtue", and helps them adhere to the path of righteousness,
and to restrain from indecency and evil.
3. Fasting (Sawm), observed through the
daylight hours of the 29/30 days of the Islamic month of Ramadan, involves
abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking and marital intercourse; this
reminds the believers of their dependence upon God, as well as their kinship
with, and responsibility for the millions of human beings in the world
who experience involuntary fasting because of lack of food, or its unjust
4. Purification of wealth (Zakat); this requires the annual giving
of a fixed amount of excess personal assets for the benefit of the poor,
the incapacitated, the deprived, and the welfare of the community; it serves
to remind Muslims that all beneficence comes from the bounty of God, and
is enjoyed only through His mercy; sharing becomes an act of purification
both of the wealth itself, and of the giver whose soul is disciplined against
greed by the practice of selflessness.
5. Pilgrimage (Hajj), which all Muslims should
perform at least once in a lifetime, if personal circumstances permit;†
gathers the believers as members of the diverse human family into a single
community. They perform prescribed acts of worship at the Holy House of
the Ka'ba in Makkah (Mecca) which ,according to the Qur'an, was originally
built by the Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismael; and at Mount Arafat, where
they remember the pure and original way of life of Adam, the progenitor
of the human race, reaffirmed by the Patriarch of the entire human family,
the Prophet Ibrahim, and finally perfected and completed by God for all
humanity through the mission of the Prophet Muhammad - the way of life
known as Islam which has at its heart the doctrine of the unity and uniqueness
of the One God.
Each of these prescribed acts of worship bring Muslims daily and repeatedly before God Almighty
as the Creator, Sustainer and Judge of all humanity.
††† Through these acts of worship
God helps Muslims to fulfill the obligation of striving which He has ordained
for this life; the striving actively and freely to surrender one's own
will in obedience to the will of God, inwardly in intention and outwardly
in word and deed individually in personal conduct and collectively in the
improvement of society; the striving for peace in the world through the
proclamation of true faith, and its defense against all that threatens
†††Islam presents human beings with a simple twofold invitation:
†† *-† to bear witness that there is no God but God Almighty;
†† *-† to bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
††††† This declaration is the
door to a life of service, one of participation in a community of believers
whose highest duty is to call on humanity to embrace what is righteous
and good, and to reject what is evil and degrading. Muslims are brothers
and sisters of all people of good faith, and wish to strive with them for
peace in this world.