Islam is commonly understood to be religion founded by Muhammad in the 7th century AD. Muslims, however, believe that the message that was revealed to Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets as well as Muhammad was essentially one – and that, they call “Islam”. Islam means submitting oneself to the Will of God. A Muslim is therefore one who submits to God.
Muhammad was the last in a series of prophets sent from God. The message that was revealed to him was recorded in the Qur’an (lit. “the Recitation”). Reports of his sayings (hadith) and actions (sunna) became an important second source of law in Islam.
The most important principle of Islam is true monotheism (tawheed). Whilst accepting Jesus as a messenger and prophet from God, Islam rejects the idea that he was a son of God. In Islam, God cannot be attributed with human characteristics such as sonship. Chapter 112 of the Qur’an reads:
“Say: He is God, the One and Only;
God, the Eternal, Absolute;
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.”
Contrary to Western perceptions of Islam’s view of God, He is a Loving God but also Just. The Qur’an says, “Those of Faith are overflowing in their love for God” (2:165) and “Say: “If ye do love God, Follow me: God will love you and forgive you your sins: For God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (3:31). Two of God’s attributes which are mentioned in the Qur’an are the Most Gracious (ar-Rahman) and the Most Merciful (ar-Rahim). In fact, nearly all the chapters of the Qur’an begin with the statement “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.”
Islam rejects terrorism. It calls on believers to make peace as the best solution. “Jihad” is a word commonly mentioned in the Western media. It means “struggle” and not “holy war”. Struggle can take place in many levels including personal and spiritual.
Islam requires both men and women to wear modest clothing. The types of clothing that may be common for women in Western culture are not necessarily acceptable in many Muslim societies.
Muslims are required to perform a few simple ritual but practical obligations:
- To pray 5 times a day (salat).
- To give to charity a portion of one’s assets (zakat).
- To fast during the month of Ramadhan from dawn to dusk (sawm).
- To visit Makkah on pilgrimage (hajj), if one can afford, at least once in a lifetime.
Muslims are not a monolithic group. Various divisions and differences exists including vast cultural differences. However the basic principles explained above are the same for most.