Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith
- Who are the Muslims?
- What do Muslims believe?
- How does someone become a Muslim?
- What does 'Islam' mean?
- Why does Islam often seem strange?
- Do Islam and Christianity have different origins?
- What is the Ka'ba?
- Who is Muhammad?
- How did he become a prophet and a messenger of God?
- How did the spread of Islam affect the world?
- What is the Quran?
- What is the Quran about?
- Are there any other sacred sources?
- What are the 'Five Pillars' of Islam?
- Does Islam tolerate other beliefs?
- What do Muslims think about Jesus?
- Why is the family so important to Muslims?
- What about Muslim women?
- Can a Muslim have more than one wife?
- Is an Islamic marriage like a Christian marriage?
- How do Muslims treat the elderly?
- How do Muslims view death?
- What does Islam say about war?
- What about food?
- What is Islam's presence in the United States?
- How does Islam guarantee human rights?
- What is the makeup of The Muslim World?
Who are the Muslims?
One billion people from a vast range of races, nationalities and cultures across the globe--from the southern Philippines to Nigeria--are united by their common Islamic faith. About 18% live in the Arab world; the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia; substantial parts of Asia and most of Africa are Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in the Soviet Union, China, North and South America, and Europe.
What do Muslims believe?
Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of Judgement and individual accountability for actions; in God's complete authority over human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace be upon them. But God's final message to man, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing-up of all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) through Gabriel.
How does someone become a Muslim?
Simply by saying 'There is no god apart from God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.' By this declaration the believer announces his or her faith in all God's messengers, and the scriptures they brought.
What does 'Islam' mean?
The Arabic word 'Islam' simply means 'submission', and derives from a word meaning 'peace'. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of God. 'Mohammedanism' is thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad (SAW) rather than God. 'Allah' is the Arabic name for God, which is used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.
Why does Islam often seem strange?
Islam may seem exotic or even extreme in the modern world. Perhaps this is because religion does not dominate everyday life in the West today, whereas Muslims have religion always uppermost in their minds, and make no division between secular and sacred. They believe that the Divine Law, the Shari'a, should be taken very seriously, which is why issues related to religion are still so important.
Do Islam and Christianity have different origins?
No. Together with Judaism, they go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly descended from his sons--Muhammad (SAW) from the eldest, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them, from Isaac. Abraham established the settlement which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka'ba towards which all Muslims turn when they pray. To find out more, visit: An Islamic perspective on Christianity
What is the Ka'ba?
Ka'ba is the place of worship which God commanded Abraham and Ishmael to build
over four thousand years ago. The building was constructed of stone on what
many believe was the original site of a sanctuary established by Adam. God
commanded Abraham to summon all mankind to visit this place, and when pilgrims
go there today they say 'At Thy service, O Lord', in response to Abraham's
Who is Muhammad?
Muhammad (SAW) was born in Makkah in the
year 570, at a time when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe.
Since his father died before his birth, and his mother shortly afterwards, he
was raised by his uncle from the respected tribe of Quraysh. As he grew up, he
became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so that he was
sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. The historians describe
him as calm and meditative. Muhammad (SAW) was of a deeply religious nature,
and had long detested the decadence of his society. It became his habit to
meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira near the summit of Jabal
al-Nur, the 'Mountain of Light' near Makkah.
How did he become a prophet and a messenger of God?
At the age of 40, while engaged in a
meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through
the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty-three years, is
known as the Quran. As soon as he began to recite the words he heard from
Gabriel, and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him, he and his
small group of followers suffered bitter persecution, which grew so fierce
that in the year 622 God gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the
Hijra, 'migration', in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah some 260
miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. After several
years, the Prophet (SAW) and his followers were able to return to Makkah,
where they forgave their enemies and established Islam definitively. Before
the Prophet (SAW) died at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia was
Muslim, and within a century of his death Islam had spread to Spain in the
West and as far East as China.
How did the spread of Islam affect the world?
Among the reasons for the rapid and
peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine. Islam calls for
faith in only One God worthy of worship. It also repeatedly instructs man to
use his powers of intelligence and observation. Within a few years, great
civilizations and universities were flourishing, for according to the Prophet
(SAW) 'seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and woman'. The
synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old, brought
about great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography,
architecture, art, literature, and history. Many crucial systems such as
algebra, the Arabic numerals, and also the concept of the zero (vital to the
advancement of mathematics), were transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam.
Sophisticated instruments which were to make possible the European voyages of
discovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and good
navigational maps. The Prophet (SAW) said, 'Seek knowledge even into China':
the Hui Shen mosque was built in the seventh century.
What is the Quran?
The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet
Muhammad (SAW). It was memorized by Muhammad (SAW) and then dictated to his Companions,
and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters,
Surahs, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Quran is in every detail the unique and
miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad (SAW) fourteen centuries ago. To find out more,
visit: The Holy Quran
What is the Quran about?
The Quran, the last revealed Word of God,
is the prime source of every Muslim's faith and practice. It deals with all
the subjects which concern us as human beings: wisdom, doctrine, worship, and
law, but its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creatures. At
the same time it provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct
and an equitable economic system.
Are there any other sacred sources?
Yes, the Sunnah, the practice and example of the Prophet (SAW), is the second authority for Muslims. A Hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet (SAW) said, did, or approved. Belief in the Sunnah is part of the Islamic faith.
Examples of the Prophet's sayings
The Prophet (SAW) said:
'God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others.'
'None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.'
'He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not a believer.'
'The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with the prophets the saints, and the martyrs.'
'Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger.'
'God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds.'
'A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action.' The Prophet (SAW) was asked: 'Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?' He said, 'There is a reward for kindness to every living thing.'
(From the hadith collections of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Bayhaqi.)
What are the 'Five Pillars' of Islam?
They are the framework of the Muslim life: faith, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.
First Pillar: Faith
There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula which all the faithful pronounce. In Arabic, the first part is la ilaha illa'Llah - 'there is no god except God'; ilaha (god) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God--wealth, power, and the like. Then comes illa'Llah: 'except God', the source of all Creation. The second part of the Shahada is Muhammadun rasulu'Llah: 'Muhammad is the messenger of God.' A message of guidance has come through a man like ourselves.
Second Pillar: Prayer
Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Quran, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the Quran, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one's own language. Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life. A translation of the Call to Prayer is:
'God is most great. God is most great. God is most great. God is most great. I testify that there is no god except God. I testify that there is no god except God. I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Come to prayer! Come to prayer! Come to success (in this life and the Hereafter)! Come to success! God is most great. God is most great. There is no god except God.'
Once Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem, but during the Prophet's lifetime it was changed to Makkah. From the minbar, the pulpit, the Imam who leads the prayer gives the sermon at the Friday noon community prayers.
Third Pillar: Zakat
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakat means both 'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one's capital. A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet (SAW) said: 'Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.'
TheProphet (SAW) said: 'Charity is a necessity for every Muslim.' He was asked: 'What if a person has nothing?' TheProphet (SAW) replied: 'He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity.' The Companions asked: 'What if he is not able to work?' The Prophet (SAW) said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The Companions further asked 'What if he cannot do even that?' The Prophet (SAW) said 'He should urge others to do good.' The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet (SAW) said 'He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.'
Fourth Pillar: The Fast
Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a joumey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier. Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method of selfpurification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one's spiritual life.
Fifth Pillar: The Pilgrimmage (Hajj)