Islam: A Beginner’s Guide
The definition of religion, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is that it is a “A particular system of faith and worship”. A “system” is defined according to the Oxford English Dictionary as “A set or assemblage of things connected, associated, or interdependent, so as to form a complex unity; a whole composed of parts in orderly arrangement according to some scheme or plan; rarely applied to a simple or small assemblage of things”. So if we put the two together we come to an understanding that religion comprises of the unity of faith and worship in a particular and complex way.
Islam is the youngest monotheistic religion in the world. Islam has many, many similarities to Christianity and Judaism. Muslims, the name given to those who practice Islam, believe in the Bible and Torah as books that came before the Holy Quran. Yet, there is one major difference between Islam and those before it’s time. Islam is complete. We believe in one God and the same prophets as mentioned by those of Christian and Jewish faith. Yet, Islam is much more because it is a complete faith. It encompasses the past, present, and future. And it is a faith that is the most diverse in followers because it came as one for all mankind. That means that it is a faith that is universal. Anyone from any level of education, background, race, heritage, etc. can understand the principles of Islam. There is no great complexity or obstacle in the way of understanding Islam. Islam has no hierarchy of preachers. Those with vast knowledge in Islam are called Scholars; however, they do not come between you and your relationship with God. In Islam, you are an individual, responsible for your own actions. To those who practice Islam – Islam is more than a religion – it is complex yet it is very simple, the knowledge one can gain is vast yet the knowledge needed to practice Islam is very basic and straightforward. Islam is a way of life.
Islam has been around for over 1400 years. Today it is one of the fastest growing religions with over 1 billion followers. 1 billion people accept Islam as a way of life. Islam has spread throughout the world to many people in many different places. When one thinks of Islam and its followers, they think of the Middle East and Saudi Arabia (the Holy Land). However, more muslims live outside of the middle east – in places like Morocco, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Believe it or not, Indonesia has the highest Muslim population!
Islam is growing because of the truth it holds. You cannot tell someone or make someone believe in what you think is truth. They must accept it in their hearts and minds. The reason why Islam is growing and not declining is because of the faith and the truth people see within this ‘way of life’. Islam is a ‘way of life’ that is peaceful, thoughful, and loving. Love cannot be contained. It builts and spreads – the love between you and God and the love you have for those around you. Hatred on the other hand is like a disease – it builds upon a foundation that is rapidly rotting. At any time it can collapse. Love however is a foundation of light and strength that is always getting stronger. Love is a big part of Islam. The love Muslims have for the Creator, the one and only God and his Prophet Muhammad, is a relationship that is extremely strong. It is this love that can shape a muslim’s character into being something entirely beautiful!
If you live according to the principles of Islam (that are in the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)):
- Then your entire being is dedicated to the worship of only one God
And in this state of worship, this way of life, you reach a higher level of conciousness about yourself, your faith, and those around you. You begin to realize that it is rewarding to take care of yourself and those around you, for the sake of God while you live in this world. And you also realize that you are but a traveler in this world – you will leave as those before you have left. Life in this world is temporary. The life of the Hereafter is forever. A basic principle belief in Islam is that there is a Hereafter and a Judgment Day, where everyone will be held accountable for their good deeds and wrongdoings. Knowledge about the Hereafter can be found in the Quran and Hadith (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad). But for now, to learn about what is the CORE of Islam. Read on.
ISLAM: THE BASICS
Islam is purely monotheistic and its creed states there is no god but God.
Islam in Arabic is a verb that means to surrender ones will to Allah (God); Obey His commandments; Be in total submission to what He wants you to do all the time, and do it purely and sincerely for His sake alone, in order to achieve peace between your soul and the One and only Creator. A Muslim is a person who practices Islam by totally submitting to the will of Allah.
To be Muslim one must testify:
“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad (SAW) is his messenger”
In the Quran, God (aka Allah) has said that He did not create us except to worship Him. Islamically, worship goes beyond prayer, and can include daily acts so long as one does them with the intention to please Allah. Muslims believe that the message that the Prophets have brought over time all carry the same underlying message: that God is one, and that we as His creation must submit to His will. The message of Islam is the same message that was followed by Prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and all the prophets of time.
Islam is a perfection of religion. The Quran is the final message. More than the term religion conveys, Islam is a way of life. Spiritual, social, political, individual guidance are all encompassed in Islam. What better path to follow than the one our Creator, who knows us better than we know ourselves, has chosen and laid out for us?
The Five Pillars of Islam
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said that “Islam has been built upon five things – on testifying that there is no god save Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger; on performing salah [obligatory prayers];on giving the zakah [mandated charity]; on Hajj [pilgrimage] to the House; and on fasting during Ramadan.”
- FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM: Acting correctly and sincerely on the five pillars transforms a Muslim’s life into one that is in harmony with nature and thus in conformity with the will of the Creator. It inspires one to work towards the establishment of justice, equality and righteousness in society, and the eradication of injustice, falsehood and evil.
Shahadah- (Testimony of Faith)
The Islamic creed or testimony of faith is proclaiming that “There is no God except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” In Arabic it is pronounced: Ashhadu Alla Ilaha Illa Allah Wa Ashhadu Anna Muhammad Rasulu Allah.
Islam holds strong monotheistic beliefs in our Creator, and is encompassed by the complete submission to God, or Allah. God is One and He has ultimate and supreme power and knowledge.
Allah has sent messengers throughout time and throughout the world to pass His message to humans. His message is an ultimate guide to mankind. Not only were the messages and books a form of guidance, but the lives of these messengers, these prophets (May Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon them all) were examples in and of themselves. Muhammad (pbuh) is the last and final messenger of God. To be a Muslim, one must also acknowledge this fact.
Salah- Obligatory Prayer
Obligatory prayer is offered five times a day. It is a practical demonstration of faith, and keeps a believer in touch with their Creator. The Salah develops in a believer the qualities of self-discipline, steadfastness and obedience to the Truth, leading one to be patient, honest and truthful in the affairs of their life. These prayers fall in specific parts of the day: dawn, afternoon, late afternoon, sunset, and night. These prayers are central to a Muslim’s life.
Once, Prophet Muhammad asked his companions “If there was a river at the door of anyone of you and he took a bath in it five times a day would you notice any dirt on him?” They said, “Not a trace of dirt would be left.” The Prophet added, “That is the example of the five prayer with which Allah blots out (annuls) evil deeds.”
Prayer entails being physically clean and fully concentrated, facing the direction of the Kaaba in the Mosque called Masjid-al-Haram situated in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia; making intention of praying, reciting verses from the Quran, performing physical actions such as Ruku, half-prostration, and Sujood, prostration in a prescribed manner. Prayers constantly remind believer of God and represent both spiritual and physical submission.
Zakah – (Alms-giving or charity)
Zakah is a form of charity that is obligatory for Muslims to pay who fall under the requirements of paying it. It can only be spent on helping the poor, the needy, and the oppressed, and for the general upliftment of society. Zakah is one of the fundamental principles of Islamic economy, which ensures an equitable society where everyone has a right to contribute and share.
Fasting – During the month of Ramadan
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may attain God-consciousness.” (the Holy Quran, Chapter 2, verse 183)
Muslims fast from dawn until sunset for 30 days in the blessed month of Ramadan in the lunar calendar. One must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sex, from dawn to sunset. Fasting develops a believer’s moral and spiritual standard and keeps them away from selfishness, greed, extravagance and other vices. Fasting is an annual training program that increases a Muslim’s determination to fulfill their obligation to the Almighty Lord.
Hajj – The Pilgrimage to Mecca
Hajj is an annual event, obligatory on those Muslims who can afford to undertake it, at least once in their lifetime. It is a pilgrimage (journey) to the “House of Allah” (Al-Ka’bah). The Kaaba is what Muslims pray towards, though Muslims do not worship the Kaaba itself, it is where God has directed Muslims to pray towards. The Kaaba’s foundations were originally laid down by Abraham (peace be upon him) and his son, Ishmael, and is regarded as ‘the House of Allah.’ Hajj symbolizes the unity of humankind; Muslims from every race and nationality assemble together in equality and with the same objective of worshipping God.
Additionally, Hajj commemorates the Divine rituals observed by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, who were the first pilgrims to the house of God on earth: the Ka’bah.