What is Islam?
The name of the religion is Islam, which comes from an Arabic root word meaning “peace” and “submission.” Islam teaches that one can only find peace in one’s life by submitting to Almighty God (Allah) in heart, soul and deed. The same Arabic root word gives us “Salaam alaykum,” (“Peace be with you”), the universal Muslim greeting.
Who is a Muslim?
A person who believes in and consciously follows Islam is called a Muslim, also from the same root word. So, the religion is called Islam, and a person who follows it is a Muslim.
How Many and Where?
Islam is a major world religion, with over 1 billion followers worldwide (1/5 of the world population). It is considered one of the Abrahamic, monotheistic faiths, along with Judaism and Christianity. Although usually associated with the Arabs of the Middle East, less than 10% of Muslims are in fact Arab. Muslims are found all over the world, of every nation, color and race. Muslim majorities are found throughout the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia and the Pacific Islands. Large numbers are also found in Western Europe, the former Soviet Union, and North America.
Who is Allah?
Allah is the proper name for Almighty God, and is often translated merely as “God.” Allah has other names that are used to describe His characteristics: the Creator, the Sustainer, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Judge, the Governor, the Eternal, etc. Allah is without beginning, without end, and He alone sees and knows all things. Allah is transcendent, yet close to mankind. “. . . He knows what enters within the earth and what comes forth out of it, what comes down from heaven and what mounts up to it. And He is with you wheresoever you may be. And Allah sees well all that you do” (Qur’an 57:4). Since Allah alone is the Creator, it is He alone that deserves our devout love and worship. Anything other than Him is simply His creation. “That is Allah, your Lord! There is no god but He, the Creator of all things; then worship Him, and He has power to dispose of all affairs. No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision; He is the Sublime, Well-Aware” (Qur’an 6:102-103). Islam holds to a strict monotheism – Allah has no partners and is not divided into a trinity. “Say: He is Allah, the One; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute. He begets not, nor is He begotten, and there is none like unto Him” (Qur’an 112:1-4). Any worship and prayers directed at saints, prophets, other human beings or nature is considered idolatry.
The Six Articles of Faith
1. Faith in the Unity of God
As mentioned previously, Muslims believe in the absolute unity of God (Allah). The essence of Islam is expressed in the phrase “La ilaha illa Allah,” meaning “There is no deity but Allah.” “And your God is One God; there is no god but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” (Qur’an 2:163). This statement of faith distinguishes a Muslim from an unbeliever, a polytheist, or an atheist. A Muslim is one who grasps the full meaning of this phrase, realizes its significance, reposes true belief in it, and accepts and follows it in letter and spirit. Belief in the Unity of God means that there is no being worthy of worship except Him, that it is only to Him that heads should bow in submission and adoration, that He alone possesses all powers, that all are in need of His favor, and that all must seek His help and mercy. This belief is the bedrock of Islam; all other beliefs, commands, and laws of Islam stand firm on this foundation.
2. Faith in Allah’s Angels
Angels are also Allah’s creatures, spiritual beings that are under His command. They administer Allah’s kingdom, carrying out His orders obediently. They have no free-will or ability to disobey; it is their very nature to be Allah’s faithful servants. These angels surround us, and their duties include recording man’s deeds in this life, which will be presented on the Day of Judgment.
3. Faith in Allah’s Prophets
Allah is transcendent and beyond all physical limitations of man, so through the medium of an angel, Allah causes His command to be revealed to His human messengers and thus to mankind. The purpose of our life on this earth is to worship Allah and obey His commands. Through His Grace and Benevolence, Allah sent prophets and messengers to every nation, in order to communicate with and guide mankind to the right path.
The prophets who were sent to mankind include (among others) Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, David, John the Baptist, Jesus, and finally, Muhammad (peace be upon all of Allah’s prophets). These (and many other) chosen men all came with the same message: Islam. That is, they taught of faith in One Almighty God, faith in the Day of Judgment, faith in the Prophets and the Books, and asked people consequently to live a life of obedience and submission to their Lord. This is the definition of a Muslim. “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was upright, and bowed his will to Allah’s (which is Islam). And he joined not gods with Allah” (Qur’an 3:67). Some of these prophets brought revealed books (see below). They were all men guided by Allah to teach mankind and guide them on the straight path. Muslims believe in them all and make no distinction between them. “Say: ‘We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in the Books given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord; we make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will in Islam” (Qur’an 3:84).
Muslims believe that the final prophet, Muhammad, came to invite people back to the true teachings of the previous prophets, and to bring to mankind a final and all-encompassing guidance: the Qur’an. The Qur’an remains in its complete and unadulterated form; there is therefore no need for any more prophets to come. Allah’s message is complete.
4. Faith in Allah’s Revealed Books
Muslims believe in books that Allah has sent down to mankind through His prophets. These books include the Books of Abraham, the Torah of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These books all had the same source (Allah), the same message, and all were revealed in truth. This does not mean that they have been preserved in truth. Muslims (and many other Jewish and Christian scholars and historians) find that the books in existence today are not the original scriptures, which in fact have been lost, changed, and/or translated over and over again, losing the original message. “They change the words from their right places and forget a good part of the Message that was sent them…” (Qur’an 5:13). Reading these books today, we have no way of knowing what portion was revealed by Allah, and what was recorded and changed by man.
Muslims believe that Allah sent a final revelation, the Qur’an, through the final Prophet of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him and all of Allah’s messengers). “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar…” (Qur’an 2:106). The sending of this divine Book is not a new and strange event; but only to confirm, restate, and complete those divine instructions which people had mutilated or lost in antiquity. “To thee (Muhammad) We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety…” (Qur’an 5:48). The Qur’an is addressed to all of humanity. It seeks to guide mankind in all walks of life; spiritual, temporal, individual and collective. It contains directions for the conduct of life, relates stories and parables, describes the attributes of Allah, and speaks of the best rules to govern social life. It has directions for everybody, every place, and for all time. The Qur’an was revealed and preserved in the Arabic language. While translations into other languages may differ in word choice, the original Arabic script has been uncorrupted and unchanged since its revelation in the 7th century.
5. Belief in Hereafter/Unseen (Life After Death)
Muslims believe that this world will come to an end on a day Allah has appointed. “Every soul shall have a taste of death; and only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense . . .” (Qur’an 3:185). Everything will be annihilated, and all of the human beings who had lived in this world will then be restored to life and will be presented before Allah.
The entire record of every man and woman – of all their deeds and misdeeds – will be presented before Allah for final judgment. “We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least…” (Qur’an 21:47). One who excels in goodness will, by the Mercy of Allah, receive a goodly reward; one whose wrongs overweigh his good deeds will be punished.
It is neither faith nor just to treat everyone equally. “Is then the man who believes no better than the man who is rebellious and wicked? Not equal are they” (Qur’an 32:18). Allah on that day will judge with Justice, and every soul will receive what it has earned. While unsure of their fate in the Hereafter, Muslims are confident of the Mercy and Justice of Allah. “Say: ‘Oh My servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, for Allah forgives all sins, for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.'” (Qur’an 39:53). Those who emerge successfully from Judgment will go to eternal Paradise; those who are condemned and deserve punishment will be sent to Hell. Allah is the perfect and fair Judge.
6. Belief in Divine Decree
Muslims believe that Allah has full power and knowledge of all things, and that nothing happens except by His will and with His full knowledge. What is known as divine decree, fate, or “destiny” is known in Arabic as al-Qadr. Everything in the world has a predetermined, set course. The destiny of every creature is already known to Allah.
This belief does not contradict with the idea of man’s free will to choose his course of action. Allah does not force us to do anything; we can choose whether to obey or disobey Him. Our choice is known to Allah before we even do it. We do not know what our destiny is; but Allah knows the fate of all things.
Therefore, we should have firm faith that whatever befalls us, it is according to Allah’s will and with His full knowledge. There may be things that happen in this world that we do not understand, but we should trust that Allah has wisdom in all things.
Quoted from the Iranian Muslim Association of North America.