Islam means “Submission to God’s will.”
Muslims believe in one God ‘Allah’, the creator of our world, mankind and the universe. He has no associates of any form, and Mohamed is his messenger. This makes Islam a strict monotheistic religion.
The prophet Mohamed, an Arab descendant of Abraham and his son Ismail, was born in Mecca in 570 A.D. Both his parents died before he was five years old. He is both loved and respected by his followers however Muslims do not believe he supernatural powers or characteristics.
Mohamed converted the Arabs to a new faith, Islam. He stopped their fighting amongst themselves making them a united nation believing in one God with one set of rules to live by. Prophet Mohamed migrated from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D. This marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. He died in 632 A.D., leaving being two permanent guidance’s; The Holy Koran, and his ‘Sunnah’ – that is his practice and example.
The Koran is the holy book for Muslim people, and the basic source of Islamic teachings and laws. It is written in a beautiful Arabic, which Muslims believe is the language of God. It is the last revelation to Man revealed to the Prophet Mohamed through Archangel Gabriel.
Muslims believe God created Man to worship Him and follow a way of life based on his teachings prescribed in the Holy books, conveyed by his Messengers to the people. As Muslims believe in one God, they believe also in His Angels, His Messengers, His Holy Books, the Day of Judgement and Life after Death. They are aware God sees them and registers their acts, and therefore they cannot deceive Him. Indeed a Muslim believes in a direct relationship with God without any middleman.
Islamic faith makes people accountable to God for all their deeds.
The Koran says: ‘No bearer of burdens shall be made to bear the burden of another.’ (6:164)
Islam therefore puts emphasis on intention and action. As prophet Mohamed said: ‘Faith is that which resides firmly in the heart and which is proved by deeds.’ (Hadith)
Muslims should therefore act according to God’s instruction written in the Koran and follow the sayings and doings of prophet Mohamed in every aspect of their lives. The Koran reminds Muslims of the purpose of their life, and of their duties and obligations to themselves, their community, their families, their fellow human beings and their God.
Prophet Mohamed said Islam was founded on five pillars:
1. Iman; Faith which consists of:
(a) the belief in one God, and in prophet Mohamed as his messenger,
(b) His Angels,
(c) His Prophets,
(d) His books (eg. Psalms of David, The Torah (book of Moses) the Bible and the Koran)
(e) and in the ‘Day of Judgement.’
2. Salah; Prayers five times a day, (each prayer is approximately two minutes. This is done to remember God and be thankful for all he gave us, teach self-discipline through performing prayer regularly, and to purify the heart and prevent temptation toward wrong doing and evil.
3. Saum; Fasting for the month of Ramadan, each day from dawn to sunset for thirty days, abstaining from all food and drink. It is to teach sincerity and love and develops patience, will power, social conscience and unselfishness. The sufferings of hunger through fasting urge people to help others who hunger. Moreover people learn food and drink are gifts from God to be accepted with thankfulness and not taken for granted.
4. Zakah; Alms given to poor people and those in need. This will strengthen relationships with other members of society.
5. Hajj; Pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in a lifetime for those who can afford it financially and are physically able to do so. This is to create a feeling of unity amoungst people.
The Islamic empire extended from Spain to Asia after the Arabs conquered Egypt in 640 AD, and brought Islam to it. ‘Al Azhar’, the first university in the world, and the greatest center of Islamic studies was then built in Egypt, which was ruled by Muslims.
Muslims are split into two main branches; ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shiite’, just as Christians are divided into Catholics and Protestants.
‘Sunni’ Muslims are those who follow the ‘Sunna’ ie; the practice and example of Prophet Mohamed.
‘Shiite’ Muslims are those who follow Ali Abu-Taleb the fourth Caliph. After Prophet Mohamed died, his successor was Abu Baker the first Caliph. However some Muslims believe that Ali Abu-Taleb (Prophet Mohamed’s cousin and son-in-law – he was married to his daughter Fatima) should have been appointed his successor and become the first Caliph. Ali was not appointed successor due to his youth and in-experience, and the early Muslim Community did not accept the concept of family succession. He was however appointed as the fourth Caliph in 656 AD, and it was then, some time after his death, that his followers who spread throughout Iraq and Persia (Iran) became known as ‘Shiite’ Muslims.
Some of Islam’s basic teachings are:
Islam acknowledges human rights and affirms the freedom of conscience. The Koran says: ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ (2:256)
Islam does not permit discrimination. All people are considered equal regardless of colour, race, nationality or religion.
The Koran says: ‘O Mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another.‘ (49:13)
Prophet Mohamed said: ‘All mankind are Gods children and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His children kindly.’ (Hadith)
A Muslim therefore is obliged to be kind, fair and considerate to all human beings without differentiation, poor or rich, black or white, man or woman, scholar or ordinary person.
Islam established complete equality between Muslims and non – Muslims, believing people should enjoy the freedom of practicing any faith or religion they choose without interference or discrimination and that they should be able to freely express their opinions.
Prophet Mohamed granted the freedom of faith to the Jewish people and the Christians who lived in the Muslims territory. This practice was also followed by his successors. Non – Muslims therefore have the right to live in peace and tranquility in a Muslim state with all rights and privileges. These rights, which are given to them, are part of the Islamic faith, which protect them from persecution and injustice.
Prophet Mohamed said: ‘Whoever persecuted a non Muslim or took work from him beyond his capacity, or took something from him with evil intentions, I shall be a complainant against him on the Day of Resurrection.’ And he said: ‘One who hurts a non – Muslim, he hurts me, and one who hurts me, hurts God.’ (Hadith)
The basis of the Islamic religion is: To believe in God, and to have a set of values to be understood and practiced in order to lead a meaningful life. Life has a purpose and meaning.
God says: ‘Not without purpose and meaning did we create Heaven and Earth and all between.’ (38:27)And ‘Did you then think that we had created you for nothing and that you would not be brought back to us.’(23:115)
In the end, praying five times a day and fasting the month of Ramadan, are not good enough to be a good Muslim, but more important is the implementation of the Islamic teachings in all ones dealings and actions.
It needs to be noted there is a difference between the Islamic teachings and the customs practiced by some Muslims, which are often mistaken for religious rules. These are certain traditions and or particular behavior practiced by Muslims, and may vary from one country to another. They form a part of the social and cultural life.
Religious customs and or traditions should be compared with the religious principles. They should only be accepted if they are not opposed to the spirit of Islamic teachings, The Koran, or reliable sayings of the Prophet Mohamed.