Overview of Islam
Islam, al-ʾislām in Arabic, is the monotheistic religion articulated by the Qur’an, a text considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God Allāh, as given to Muhammad, God’s last prophet. The Qur’an is accompanied by the teachings and examples of Muhammad which is contained within the Hadith. A believer is called a Muslim.
Muslims believe that the Qur’an supersedes any previous religious writings and is superior to it as they have been partially changed or corrupted over time. On the other hand, Muslims maintain that the Qur’an is both unaltered and the final revelation from God. They believe that there is only one God and He is incomparable, sovereign and merciful and to be worshiped as such.
The five pillars of Islam forms the basis of religious concepts and practices, and are obligatory acts of worship. Accompanied by this is the following of Islamic law, which prescribes most aspects of life and society and provides guidance on topics such as banking, welfare, warfare and the environment.
Islam is largely divided into two sects, of which Sunni makes up 75-90% of all Muslims. The second largest sect is Shia which makes up 10-20% and then there are some smaller sects like the Ibadi found in places like Zanzibar and Oman.
The Islamic believe can be summarized by touching on subjects such as the Oneness of God, the character of God, the prophets, inspired writings, angles, predestination and the day of resurrection.
1. The Oneness of God
Islam’s most fundamental concept holds that God is one and unique. Tawhid is the concept of monotheism in Islam and the Qur’an is the main source of information on understanding the oneness of God in Islam. All authority in the Muslim world hold to the fact that God’s character cannot be understood my human comprehension lest it is revealed by vision or prophecy and that God did reveal it in human language to His prophet.
Some Qur’anic verses speaking about God:
“Say (O Muhammad): “He is God, (the) One, The Self-Sufficient Master, He begets not, nor was He begotten; And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him.” (Sura 112:1-4)
“Thy Lord is self-sufficient, full of Mercy: if it were His will, He could destroy you, and in your place appoint whom He will as your successors, even as He raised you up from the posterity of other people.“(Sura 6:133)
2. The prophets
Muslims identify the Prophets of Islamas those humans chosen by God and given revelation to deliver to mankind. In Islam, every prophet was given revelation to a group of people to follow the only true God and that the message at the time conveyed something relevant to the time and circumstances of the day, but always related to the avoidance of idolatry and sin.
Each of these prophets came to preach Islam at different times in history and some, including Jesus, told of the coming of the final prophet and messenger of God, who would be named Muhammad. Although many lay Muslims and Western scholars hold the view that Islam began with Muhammad in Mecca, this contradicts the Qur’an, which says that Muhammad simply was God’s final prophet who preached the same faith that Adam preached to his children.
Islam holds that twenty five different prophets where chosen over time, from Adam through to prophet Muhammad, each preaching the same message but relevant to the time, people and needs of the day. Some of the greatest prophets of Islam includes Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus (Isa) and of course Mohammad.
The Qur’an confirms that Jesus is the Masih (Messiah) who was sent to guide the Children of Israel with new scripture, the Gospel (Injīl). The Qur’an mentions Jesus twenty-five times, more often, by name, than Muhammad. Islam rejects the Christian view that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God, that he was ever crucified or resurrected, or that he ever atoned for the sins of mankind, but they do see him as a great prophet, maybe even the greatest of them all.
Muhammad, also called Muhammad ibn Abdullah, (26 April 570 – 8 June 632) was the founder of Islam and is considered by Muslims to be the last messenger and prophet of God. In Islam he is considered the restorer of the uncorrupted original monotheistic faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets.
Muhammad adopted the practice of meditating alone for several weeks every year in a cave on Mount Hira near Mecca, when in the year 610, he started to receive messages from what he believed to be the Arch angel Gabriel. The initial revelation was followed by a pause of three years during which Muhammad further gave himself to prayers and spiritual practices. When the revelations resumed he was reassured and commanded to begin preaching.
Because Muhammad was illiterate, all the writings of the Qur’an were recited by him and penned down to form what today is known as the inspired writings of Islam.
3. Inspired writings
The Qur’an mentions at least three Islamic scriptures by name, which came before the Qur’an, namely the Torah, Psalms and Gospels. Although all three these writings are accepted by the Christian faith as the inspired Word of God, Islam hold that they have been corrupted and changed over time so that they cannot be trusted. It is believed that the Qur’an is the new revelation from God to correct those errors. The Qur’an was compiled in the time of Abu Bakr, the first caliph, and was standardized under the administration of Uthman, the third caliph.
Apart from the Qur’an which is seen as the moral guidance, Muslims jurists consult the hadith, the written record of Prophet Muhammad’s life, to both supplement the Qur’an and assist with its interpretation.
Belief in angels is fundamental to the faith of Islam. The Arabic word for angel malak and means “messenger”. According to the Qur’an, angels do not possess free will, and worship God in total obedience. Angels’ duties include communicating revelations from God, glorifying God, recording every person’s actions, and taking a person’s soul at the time of death. They are also thought to intercede on man’s behalf. The Qur’an describes angels as messengers with wings; two, or three, or four pairs.
In accordance with the Islamic belief in predestination, or divine preordainment, God has full knowledge and control over all that occurs. This is explained in Qur’anic verses such as “Say: ‘Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our protector’…”
For Muslims, everything in the world that occurs, good or evil, has been preordained and nothing can happen unless permitted by God. According to Muslim theologians, although events are pre-ordained, man possesses free will in that he has the faculty to choose between right and wrong, and is thus responsible for his actions.
6. The day of resurrection
Belief in the “Day of Resurrection”, Yawm al-Qiyāmah is also crucial for Muslims. They believe the time of Qiyāmah is preordained by God but unknown to man. The trials and tribulations preceding and during the Qiyāmah are described in the Qur’an and the hadith, and also in the commentaries of scholars. The Qur’an emphasizes bodily resurrection, a break from the pre-Islamic Arabian understanding of death.
On Yawm al-Qiyāmah, Muslims believe all mankind will be judged on their good and bad deeds. The Qur’an lists several sins that can condemn a person to hell, such as disbelief, and dishonesty – however, the Qur’an makes it clear God will forgive the sins of those who repent if He so wills.
Good deeds, such as charity and prayer, will be rewarded with entry to heaven. Muslims view heaven as a place of joy and bliss, with Qur’anic references describing its features and the physical pleasures to come. Mystical traditions in Islam place these heavenly delights in the context of an ecstatic awareness of God.
Five pillars of Islam
The five pillars of Islam is Testimony (Shahadah), Prayer (Salah), Fasting (Sawm), Alms giving (Zakat and Sadaqah) and Pilgrimage (Hajj). These are the five basic acts in Islam, considered obligatory for all believers. The Qur’an presents them as a framework for worship and a sign of commitment to the faith.