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ISLAM - FACTS


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What is Islam?


Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that Allah 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 he associated with their faith.

Who are the Muslims?


Over 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 Indonesia; substantial parts of Asia and most parts of Africa are Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in Russia, 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 the 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 and Jesus (peace be upon them all). 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, (peace be on him), through Archangel Gabriel.

How does someone become a Muslim?
Simply by saying 'there is no deity apart from Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.' By this declaration the believer announces his or her faith in all messengers of Allah, 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 Allah. 'Muhammadanism' is thus a misnomer, because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad rather than Allah. "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 the secular and the sacred. They believe that the Divine Law, the Shari'ah, 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 (peace be on him), and their three Prophets are directly descended from his sons - Muhammad (peace be on him) from the eldest, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from Isaac. Abraham established the settlement, which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka'bah towards which all Muslims turn when they pray.

What is the Ka'bah?


The Ka'bah is the place of worship which Allah 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 the 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 call.

Who is Muhammad?


Muhammad (peace be on him) was born in Makkah Al-Mukarramah 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 (peace be. on him) 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 meditative retreat, Muhammad (peace be on him) received his first revelation from Allah through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty three years, is known as the Qur'an.

As soon as he began to recite the words he heard from Gabriel, and to preach the truth which Allah had revealed to him, he and his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution, which grew so fierce that in the year 622, Allah gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the Hijrah, 'migration,' in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah some 420 kilometres to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.

After several years, the Prophet (peace be on him) died at the age of 63, 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 (peace be on him), 'Seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim.' 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.

What is the Qur'an?


The Qur'an is a record of the exact words revealed by Allah through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). It was memorized by Muhammad (peace be on him) and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by scribes, who cross­checked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, Surahs, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Qur'an is in every detail the unique and miraculous text, which was revealed to Muhammad (peace be on him) fourteen centuries ago.

What is the Qur'aan about?


The Qur'an, 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 (peace be on him), is the second authority for Muslims. A Hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet (peace be on him) said, did, or approved. Belief in the Sunnah is part of the Islamic faith.

Examples of the Prophet's sayings:

The Prophet (peace be on him) said:

'Allah 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 neighbour goes without food, is not a believer.'

'The truthful and honest businessman will be in the company of the Prophets, the truthful people, and the martyrs on the Day of Judgement.'

'Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger.'

'Allah 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, drinking his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud and 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. Allah forgave his sins for this action.'

The Prophet (peace be on him) was asked: 'Messenger of Allah, 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.

1. FAITH

There is no god worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad (peace be on him) is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the Shahadah, a simple formula which all the faithful pronounce.

In Arabic, the first part is 'La Ilaha Illallah - there is no god except Allah'; Ilah (God) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God - wealth, power, and the like. Then comes Illallah: 'except God', the source of all creation.

The second part of the Shahadah is Muhammadur Rasulullah: 'Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.' A message of guidance has come through a man like ourselves.

2. 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 Allah. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person, who knows the Qur'an, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the Qur'an, 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.

3. THE ZAKAH

One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to Allah, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word Zakah 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 Zakah 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 Sadaqah, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet (peace be on him) said: 'Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.'

The Prophet (peace be on him) said: 'Charity is a necessity for every Muslim.' He was asked: "What if a person has nothing?' The Prophet (peace be on him) 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 (peace be on him) said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The Companions further asked: 'What if he cannot do even that?' The Prophet (peace be on him) said: 'He should urge others to do good.' The Companions said: 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet (peace be on him) said: 'He should restrain himself from doing evil. That is also charity.'

4. THE FAST

Every year in the month of Ramadhan, all Muslims fast from first light of dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Those, who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, 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.

5. PILGRIMAGE (Hajj)

The annual pilgrimage to Makkah the Hajj - is an obligation only for those, who are physically and financially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about two million Muslims go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for people of different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadhan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple, unstitched garments, which strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.

The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Ka'bah seven times and going seven times between the hillocks of safa and Marwah as did Hagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafah and join in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Day of Judgement.

In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with all necessities like foodstuff, water, modern transport, and the most up-to-date health facilities.

The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid Al-Adha, which is celebrated with gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid Al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadhan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.

Does Islam tolerate Other beliefs?

As for such (of the unbelievers) as do not fight against you on account of (your) faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, Allah does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verify, Allah loves those who act equitably. (Qur'an, 60:8)

It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the Caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city.

Islamic law also permits non­Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves.

What do Muslims think about Jesus?

Muslims respect and revere Jesus (peace be on him), and await his Second Coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God's messengers to mankind! A Muslim never refers to him simply as 'Jesus', but always adds the phrase 'peace be on him.' The Qur'an confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Qur'an is entitled 'Mary'), and Mary is considered the purest woman in all creation. The Qur'an describes the Annunciation as follows:

'Behold!' the Angel said, 'Allah has chosen you, and purified you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary, Allah gives you good news of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honoured in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near to Allah. He shall speak to the people from his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of the righteous.

She said: 'O my Lord!  How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?' He said: 'Even so, God creates what He will. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, "Be!" and it is.' (Qur'an, 3:42-47)

Jesus (peace be on him) was born miraculously through the same power which had brought Adam into being without a father.

"Truly, the likeness of Jesus with Allah is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, and then said to him, 'Be!' and he was." (Qur'an, 3:59)

During his prophetic mission Jesus (peace be on him) performed many miracles. The Qur'an tells us that he said:

"I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by Allah's leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by Allah's leave." (Qur'an, 3:49)

Neither Muhammad, nor Jesus (peace be on them) came to change the basic, doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it. In the Qur'an, Jesus (peace be on him) is reported as saying that he came:

"To attest the law which was before me, and to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear Allah and obey Me." (Qur'an, 3:50)

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said:

'Whoever believes there is no god but Allah alone without partner, that Muhammad is His messenger, that Jesus is the servant and messenger of Allah, His word breathed into Mary and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be received by God in Heaven.' (Hadith from Bukhari)

Why is the family so important to Muslims?

The family is the foundation of Islamic society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued, and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members. A harmonious existence of extended families; children are treasured and rarely leave home until the time they marry.

What about Muslim women?

Islam sees a woman, whether single or married, as an individual in her own right, and with the right to own an dispose of her property and earnings. A marriage dowry is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps her own family name rather taking her husband's.

Both men and women are expected to dress in a way which is modest and dignified. The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said: 'The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.'

Can a Muslim have more that one wife?

The religion of Islam was revealed for all societies and all times and so accommodates widely differing social requirements. Circumstances may warrant the taking of another wife but the right is granted, according to the Qur'an, only on condition that the husband is scrupulously fair.

Is Islamic marriage like Christian marriage?

A Muslim marriage is not a 'sacrament,' but a simple, legal agreement in which either partner is free to include conditions. Marriage customs thus vary widely from country to country. As a result, divorce is not common, although it is not forbidden as a last resort. According to Islam, no Muslim girl can be forced to marry against her will.

How do Muslims treat the elderly?

In the Islamic world there are no old people's homes. The strain, of caring for one's parents in this most difficult time of their lives is considered an honour and blessing, and an opportunity for great spiritual growth. Allah asks that we not only pray for our parents, but act with limitless compassion, remembering that when we were helpless children they preferred us to themselves. Mothers are particularly honoured: the Prophet (peace be on him) taught that 'Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.' When they reach old age, Muslim parents are treated mercifully, with the same kindness and selflessness.

In Islam, serving one's parents is a duty second only to prayer, and it is their right to expect it. It is considered despicable to express any irritation when, through no fault of their own, the old become difficult.

The Qur'an says:

"Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and be kind to parents. If either or both of them reach old age in your life, do not say to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but speak to them in terms of honour and kindness. Lower to them the wing of humility, and say, 'My Lord! Have mercy on them as they did care for me when I was a child." (Qur'an, 17:23)

How do Muslims view death?

Muslims believe that the present life is only a preparation for the next realm of existence. Basic articles of faith include: the Day of Judgement, resurrection, Heaven and Hell. When a Muslim dies, he or she is washed, usually by a family member, wrapped in a clean white cloth and buried with a simple prayer preferably the same day. Muslims consider this one of the final services they can do for their relatives, and an opportunity to remember their own brief existence here on earth. The Prophet (peace be on him) taught that three things can continue to help a person even after death; charity which he had given, knowledge which he had taught and prayers on their behalf by a righteous child.

What does Islam say about war?

Islam permits fighting in self­defence, in defence of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat, which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world, if good men were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause. The Qur'an says:

"Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. Allah does not love transgressors." (Qur'an, 2:190)

"If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in Allah for He is the One that hears and knows all things." (Qur'an, 8:61)

War, therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The term Jihad literally means 'struggle', and Muslims believe that there are two kinds of Jihad. The other 'Jihad' is the inner struggle which everyone wages against egoistic desires, for the sake of attaining inner peace.

What about food?

Although much simpler than the dietary law followed by Jews and the early Christians, the code, which, Muslims observe, forbids the consumption of pig meat or any kind of intoxicating drink. The Prophet (peace be on him) taught that 'your body has rights over you', and the consumption of wholesome food and the leading of a healthy lifestyle are seen as religious obligations.

The Prophet (peace be on him) said: 'Ask Allah for certainty (of faith) and well-being; for after certainty, no one is given any gift better than health!'

How does Islam guarantee human right?

Freedom of conscience is laid down by the Qur'an itself: "There is no compulsion in religion." (Qur'an 2:256)

The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether a person is Muslim or not. Racism is incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur'an speaks of human equality in the following terms:

"O mankind!  We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honoured of you in Allah's sight is the greatest of you in piety. Allah is All­Knowing, All-Aware." (Qur'an 49:13)

What the Holy Qur'an says?

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things. (Qur'an, 2:256)

"Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: For your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. And if you punish, let your punishment be proportionate to the wrong that has been done to you: But if you show patience, that is indeed the best (course) for those who are patient. (Qur'an, 16:125)

Say: "O men! Now truth has reached you from your Lord! Those who receive guidance, do so for the good of their own souls: those who stray, do so to their own loss: and I am not (set) over to arrange your affairs.

Follow you the inspiration sent unto you, and be patient and constant, till Allah does decide: for He is the Best to decide." (Qur'an 10:108-109)

"Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better: then will he between whom and you was hatred become as it were your friend and intimate!" (Qur'an, 41:34)

"(They are) those who, if We established them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs." (Qur'an, 22:41)

The Muslim Journal - Vol.29 No. 4

The Muslim woman was given a role, duties and rights 1400 years ago that most women do not enjoy today, even in the West.

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