What is Islam?
What is Islam?
Islam is a belief system which centers itself on the affirmation of the existence and unity of God, referred to as‘Allah’ in Arabic, and the prophethood of Muhammad [b. 570 CE], who Islam believes to be the final Prophet and Messenger of God. Islam is not named after a person or tribe, as is the case for Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and numerous other religions. The word ‘Islam’ means total submission to the will of Allah with full commitment and obedience to His laws; the word ‘Islam’ directly implies peace [‘salaam’].
Allah through Prophet Adam gave Islam to the world. All the prophets have been following the same religion [e.g. One God, Day of Resurrection, etc.] but the actual laws of religion differed from time to time depending upon the time of respective prophets. Muhammad, the last Prophet, brought the same religion commonly known as ‘Islam’ today. There is no prophet after him and therefore Islam is the first and last religion, having been started by Prophet Adam and perfected by Prophet Muhammad.
Islam teaches that we were created to worship Allah and obey his commands, thereby allowing us to know Him and attain His nearness. Islam is a religion which rejects blind following and teaches its followers to use reason and rationality to understand its tenets. In fact, the word ‘intellect’ appears in the Holy Quran [the Islamic holy book] over 50 times! Islam demands its followers “understand first, and then believe.” Subsequently, it is clear Islam is a belief system which promotes reason as the basis and foundation of faith.
Who are Muslims?
A Muslim is anyone who submits to the will of Allah according to the principles presented by Islam. As stated earlier, this submission should be based upon one becoming convinced through reason and his/her own research rather than just through a blind imitation of one’s forefathers. In fact, the Holy Quran heavily criticizes those who practice faith solely because it is the tradition of their family. This is a basic criterion of becoming a Muslim, regardless of whether one is born into a Muslim or non-Muslim family. The Holy Quran states:
And when it is said to them, “Come to what Allah has sent down, and the Messenger,” they say, “Enough for us is what we found our fathers doing.” What, even if their fathers had knowledge of naught and were not rightly guided? [5:104]
Islam is not simply just a religion; but rather, it is a complete way of life. A practicing Muslim lives Islam, meaning that he manages his religious, ethical, social, financial, and family activities according to the guidelines set forth by Allah through the Holy Quran. A Muslim’s religious concerns and obligations are not limited to just time spent at a religious seminary, gathering, or place of worship. Rather, a Muslim must at all times have the principles of Islam in his or her mind and heart, and the goal of a Muslim is to implement them at every moment within his/her life.
Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and compassion towards all human beings, regardless of race, creed, or religion. The inhumane acts that have come to be associated with Islam are perpetrated by a minority who individuals who refuse to adhere to Islam teachings and Islam denounces such actions of certain segments of the Muslim community have nothing to do with pure Islamic teachings.
Theological Fundamentals of Islam:
Oneness of God:
Accepting the absolute unity of Allah is the basis of Islam. Islam embraces the belief in one God, the same God of the previous monotheistic religions, the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. The Holy Quran Introduces Allah with the following verse:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Say: He is Allah the One and Only;  Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;  He begetteth, not nor is He begotten;  And there is none like unto Him. [112:1-4]
God’s Justice and Mercy:
Allah’s absolute justice does not mean that the lives and circumstance of all individuals is equal, for equal and just are not the same. Rather, God’s justness will be seen in the Day of Resurrection, when Muslims believe every human being will be called to account for his/her actions in this world and his/her fate of heaven and hell will be determined. When talking about God’s justice we must examine many concepts in order to understand this divine attribute. One must understand the concepts of good and evil, predestination and free will, infinite and finite, and God’s knowledge and actions. Through this research one may begin to understand God’s justice system.
Muslims believe that God, out of his love for humanity, sends prophets to guide mankind. The first of these prophets was Adam. Prophet Adam was the first human being placed on this Earth, showing us that since the first day of humanity there has always been a divine guide amongst us. Muslims believe a total of 124,000 total prophets were sent and the last being Prophet Muhammad. Muslims further accept the Prophethood of all messengers sent by God to mankind as a source of guidance and hold each in a high status.
Muslims believe in and accept the previous scriptures that God revealed to his messengers, including the Psalms, the Torah, and the message given to Jesus. It is however believed by Muslims that they were all abrogated and distorted in the time before the Holy Quran.
Imamate, meaning leadership and guardianship, is a very important principle in Islam. The Imam of the Islamic society is appointed by Allah and holds the responsibility to lead and guide the society to the right path. The Imam, similar to the Prophet, must excel the Muslim society in all virtues, such as knowledge, piety, bravery, etc. as well as having complete knowledge of the divine law. The Imam also holds the qualification of infallibility, meaning he cannot sin or err, thereby making it impossible for him to deceive the society. An inherent contradiction arises if the Imam were to commit sin, for if he were to sin then Muslims would be obligated to follow him in that sin; the contradiction being that obedience in sin is evil and unlawful in Islam. During the time of Prophet Muhammad, the leader of the Islamic society was of course the Prophet himself. The Holy Quran addresses in the following verses how the appointment of leadership is from Allah and cannot come from the people themselves:
“And thy Lord creates what He wills and chooses; they have no right to choose; glory be to Allah, and exalted be He above what they associate!” [28:68]
When addressing the angels before creating Prophet Adam:
…”Verily I am going to make a caliph in the earth…” [2:30]
When Allah appointed Prophet David as Caliph on the earth:
“O Dawud! Verily; We have made thee [Our] caliph on the earth…” [38:26]
When Allah appointed Prophet Ibrahim as Imam:
[Allah] said: “Surely I am going to make you an Imam for men.” [Ibrahim] said: “And of my offspring?” He said: “My covenant will not include the unjust.” [2:124]
This verse shows us that God has made a covenant of which his Imams will not be from the unjust. If an individual were to be unjust, there is no possibility for him to be an Imam; as well as if an individual is given Imamate, there is no possibility for him to ever be unjust. This verse proves that an Imam must be infallible.
As we have already established, the Prophet Muhammad is infallible. Before his departure from this world, he did not just leave the completed message in the open without appointing a leader. His infallibility shows that this was necessary and was through God’s will and command. The appointed successor was his cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abu Talib. The first open declaration of the prophethood, made by Prophet Muhammad to his close family at dinner, was the very occasion when the first open declaration of Imam Ali’s caliphate was made. It was at that dinner named “the Feast of the Clan” when the following verse was revealed: “And warn thy nearest relations” [26:214]. Ali’s outstanding qualifications can be found in numerous Islamic narrations and traditions from the Prophet. One of Prophet Muhammad’s most important traditions is that of Thaqalayn [meaning ‘two weighty things’] in which he most demonstrates the importance of Imam Ali and his family [AhlulBayt] to the Islamic society. It is through this tradition where the Prophet is narrated to have said:
“I am leaving two weighty things among you – the Book of Allah and my AhlulBayt. If you adhere to them and continue to and obey both of them and forsake neither, you will never be misled.”
The Prophet Muhammad gathered tens of thousands of people at Ghadir Khum [modern day Saudi Arabia] and declared:
“For whomever I am his leader, ‘Ali is his leader.” Immediately after the Prophet Muhammad finished his speech, the following Quranic verse was revealed:
“Today I have perfected your religion and completed my bounty upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion.” [5:3]
Day of Resurrection:
According to Islam, the Day of Resurrection will come after the end of this world. On that day every human will be resurrected and called to account for his/her actions in this world. People will be rewarded for their good deeds and punished for their sins. The Holy Quran refers to the Day of Resurrection in the following verse:
“On that Day will men proceed in companies sorted out, to be shown the Deeds that they [had done]. Then anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.” [99:6-8]
It is important to realize that in Islam no one is punished for someone else’s sins. The Quran makes this clear with the following verse:
“No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.” [52:37]
Pillars of Islamic Practice:
There are ten pillars which are the foundation of Muslim life and are incumbent on every Muslim to fulfill these duties. They are:
1. Prayer [Salat]: to Pray the five daily prayers.
2. Almsgiving [Zakat]: for all who are able, to give a portion of their wealth as a charity. It consists of spending 2.5% of one’s wealth to either the poor or needy.
3. Fasting [Sawm]: to fast during the days in the holy month of Ramadan. It is a spiritual strive which allows a Muslim to seek nearness to Allah, feel for the poor and needy, and to repent and be forgiven for past sins.
4. Pilgrimage [Hajj]: for all who are able, to undertake in the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his/her lifetime.
5. Enjoining the good [Amr bil ma’roof]: to guide the people who do not fulfill the obligations laid down by Allah, and have some hope that those people will follow the guidance given to them.
6. Forbidding evil [Nahi ani almonkar]: to advise those who have been doing things which have been prohibited by Allah to refrain from such unholy acts with the hope that they will act on the advice.
7. Khums: to give away one fifth of your savings as an Islamic tax.
8. Jihad: to fight in the way of God. Jihad is divided into two meanings: the greater Jihad [combating ones’ self spiritually], and the smaller Jihad [fighting in the way of God only by means of defending one self].
9. Tawalli: to follow the teachings of the fourteen infallibles who are The Prophet and his family [AhlulBayt]. Tawalla also means to befriend those who are of the same faith and are loved by Allah and the fourteen infallibles.
10. Tabarri: to keep oneself clear of those who are cruel and evil against all righteous servants of Allah. By staying away from these wrongdoers, we are keeping ourselves from their wrongful actions. We must also dissociate ourselves from the enemies of Allah and the enemies of the fourteen infallibles.