Introduction to Islam

Islam is the religion of a quarter of the world population. Muslims live in all continents and occupy a significant portion of the earth. Countries like Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, libya, Iraq , etc are some example of countries with large population of Muslims. To understand who Muslims are, it is necessary to define what Islam is and what its teachings are.

Definition

Islam is an Arabic term which means submission and obedience. Submission is to accept Allah’s commands and one who submits to Allah’s command is called a Muslim. Acceptance of Allah’s commands requires one to act and behave in a specific way. That is, one has to put into practice His commands. Only then he would have obeyed Allah and thus submitted to His commands. Submission to His commands reflects one’s submission to Allah Himself. Allah’s commands cover all aspects of a man’s life. That is why Islam is referred ,to as “ad-din” – a complete way of life. Islam provides guidance for man from Allah, the Creator of the Universe. As a complete way of life, it gives guidance in respect of conducting man’s private, social, political, economic, moral and spiritual affairs. Islam provides answers to man’s most pressing questions on life, such as the purpose of creation, final destiny and man’s place in the Universe and among its other creatures.

Submission and obedience to Allah bring peace. That is why the word ‘Islam’ also means peace or as a means to establish peace. There is peace in everything. From the high mountain to the deep blue sea, from the bird in the sky to the worm in the soil, all submit to Allah’s commands they find peace in their existence and in their relations with the rest of the creation. And there is no contradiction in His creation. Everything fits in the realm of creation perfectly and harmoniously to collectively for the universe.

The Message of Islam

Islam teaches that there is only one God, who is called Allah in Arabic. He is the Creator of all and is above all things in the universe, and there is nothing or no one who is like Him or can be compared to Him. God, out of His love for us, has sent down guidance through his commandments and laws. For this purpose through the ages, he chose selected persons to convey His messages. These were His Messengers and Prophets. The number of such messengers and prophets is large and they were sent to all communities. There is no community where He did not send a messenger with his message. The core of the commandment ahs always asked man to serve Him alone and not to associate partners to Him. Thus the message of all the prophets and messengers from Adam to Muhammad is the same. This message sent through prophets reached its perfection and culmination wit Muhammad who was the last in the chain of prophets.

The message of God sent through Prophet Muhammad, in the very words given by God, is recorded in the Qur’an.

Islam by Choice

The universe created by God is full of living and inanimate creations. In man’s daily experience, he observes a larger variety of these around him on earth. All these creations are governed by the law of God, which through submission brings harmony.

All these creatures go through their existence in accordance with the instincts and nature which are in-built in them. God has made it their nature to submit to His will.

In case of man, an additional distinguishing faculty has been granted, that of consciousness and reason. With this he can aware of and distinguish between right and wrong. Whereas his physical being submits to the will of God by its nature, man is free to make this choice with regard to his consciousness and will.

Everything in the Universe is created a Muslim, in that by its nature it submits to the Will of God. The exception to this are the creatures of God which have been given reason and freedom of choice. For them, being a Muslim means making a conscious of submitting to the Creator’s will.

Islam and Muslim

Islam is a universal religion. It crosses the boundaries and limitations such as race, culture, language, time and territory. Therefore, it is no surprise to see Muslims among the Indians, Chinese, Malays, Arabs, Africans, Caucasians, etc. This dynamism is reflected in the vast stretch of land from Morocco to Indonesia and from Central Asia to Australia .

‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ are words used in the Qur’an. God says in the Qur’ an:

Surely the way of life acceptable to Allah is Islam… (Qur’an 3: 19)

…He named you Muslims before, an&’ in this (Qur’an)… (Qur’an 22:78)

Therefore, Islam is the name of the code of life acceptable to Allah and Muslims are those who submit to the Will of Allah.

Complete way of life

As mentioned above, Islam is a complete way of life. Its guidelines are relevant to every sphere of human activity. It has the following three distinct dimensions.

a) Iman (or faith, belief) : Iman is the belief system of Islam which provides the worldview on which the Islamic way is based. It tells us about the Creator and His Creations, and their relation with respect to one another. It also defines the place man occupies in God’s creation, and the purpose of his life. It therefore sets out the basis of understanding of one’s life. The various aspects of Iman are described as Arkanul Iman, usually translated as the Articles of Faith. These are discussed in Chapter 2 to 4.

b) ‘Ibadah (or acts of submission to God) : Based on the purpose of life defined by Iman, the belief system, this dimension lays down the ways in ,which man is to lead his life to achieve the purpose. It gives detailed guidelines of right and wrong action and conduct in man’s life as an individual and as a member of the community.

It also prescribes the obligatory acts of service and worship enjoined for him by his Creator. These acts are called Arkanul Islam, or the Pillars of Islam. These are the pillars which support the structure of the Islamic way of life, which is made up of the acts of submission.

Chapters 5 to 9 describe the Arkanul Islam, whereas Chapter 10 deals with some other aspects of ‘Ibadah.

c) Ihsan (or perfection of Conduct): ‘Ibadah tell us what to do and Iman gives us the reason arid understanding of why to do it. Ihsan concerns itself with bringing our motivation and spiritual qualities in harmony with our actions and understanding. It adds the quality of beauty and perfection to one’s actions and conduct. Just as God has created the cosmos in goodness and beauty, so human activity which must follow the divine model has to be performed with similar attributes.

A detailed discussion of this dimension of Islam is not in the scope of this book. The subjects is briefly touched upon towards the end of Chapter 10.

Purpose of Creation

Allah, the Almighty, creator human beings to serve Him through obeying His commands. He says in the”Qur’an:

I have not created Jinn and manking (for any other purpose) except to serve me (Qur’an 51:56)

“Service” in this verse means total obedience to Allah’s commands. The Qur’anic word for service is ‘Ibadah if we do it for Allah’s sake. Our purpose in life is to please Allah through ‘Ibadah.

Origin of Islam

Islam is not new religion nor is it copy of another religion nor it is a collection of thoughts collated from a number of religions. Islam is the true religion. Allah says in His final book, the Qur’an:

Certainly the religion with Allah is Islam… (Qur’an 3:19)

Allah and Angels

The structure of any building must have pillars, without which no building can be erected. The structure of iman is likewise built on pillars called arkan (sing. rukun) meaning the articles of faith. Profession of belief without any one of these pillars would render one’s faith incomplete and rejection of any of these pillars would constitute deviation.

Article of Faith of Islam are:

1.Belief in Allah
2.Belief in His Angels (mala’ikah)
3.Belief in the Books of Allah (kutub)
4.Belief in the Messengers of Allah (rusul)
5.Belief in the the Day of Judgement (yawm ad-din)
6.Belief in the supremacy of Divine Will (al-qadr)

The first pillar of Islam – Shahadah

This pillar of Islam requires a believer to profess that there is none worthy of respectful service except Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger, sent to guide the entire creation towards serving Him alone. The phraseology in Arabic is:

Ash-hadu al la ilaha illal-lah wa ash-hadu anna muhammadar rasu-lul-lah

I bear witness that there is none worthy of service except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of Allah

Anyone entering Islam declares his faith by professing this statement. To be meaningful the declaration is to be accompanied by the belief in its meaning and its implications. This includes the performance of all that has been commanded by God and His messenger and to abstain from all they have forbidden. The statement of belief is called Imanul Mujammal, the concise belief. The profession of both parts of the statement is essential. The exclusion of either components renders declaration of faith incomplete.

The second pillar of Islam – Salah

Allah commands His servants to establish salah. He says salah prevents abominable and detestable acts. There are many Qur’anic verses wherein He has directed man to perform regular salah:

Tell My servants who believe to establish regular salah (Qur’an 14:31)

Salah is an act of remembering God with His praises. Even animals and birds do serve Him by singing His praise.

The Prophet is reported to have said that salah is the mi’raj of a Muslim. The first question raised on the day of judgement will be regarding the performance of salah.

Salah are performances which one does including intention, recitation, actions and salam through standing, bowing, sitting and prostrating. Salahs are to be performed at the appropriate time with wudu’.

There are five obligatory salahs prescribed in a day, at specified times. A salah means presenting oneself to God in the state of concentration, focus and physical and mental purity.

During a salah, one sings and recites the praise of God, in various postures of standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting. These are invocations of praise and humility for each of the postures. The postures and recitations are performed in prescribed sequence in cycles. Each cycle or unit of salah is called raka’ah.

The names of the five salahs, the number of raka’at and the approximate times are tabulated below. The time of the salah are related to the time of the day, and the relative position of the sun. These vary with position on the globe and the season of the year.

Name of Salah No. of Unit
Subh(fajr) 2 raka’at
Zuhr 4 raka’at
‘Asr 4 raka’at
Mahgrib 3 raka’at
‘Isha’ 4 raka’at
Approximate Times for the solat differs between countries you can check on the time for salah at http://www.islamicity.com/prayertimes/

In normal day, a Muslim is expected to offer a minimum of 17 raka’at mentioned above.

The third pillar of Islam – Zakah

After salah, comes zakah, which in its broadest sense includes any act of service to other men. Being good to others is the fruit and the proof of the tree of faith. Acquisition of wealth for its own sake or so that it may increase the worth of its collector is condemned. Mere acquisition of wealth counts for nothing in the sight of God. It does not give man any merit whether here or in the hereafter. People should acquire wealth with the intention of spending it on their own needs, and the needs of others. Allah says:

They were enjoined only to worship God, sincere in their faith in Him alone – and of upright religion – and to establish the salah and
pay the zakah. Such is the upright religion (Qur’an 98:5)

This word zakah is derived from the verb ‘Zaka’ which means: ‘to grow’, ‘to increase’ and ‘to purify’ as indicated in the Qur’anic verse:

He is indeed successful who purifies himself (zakkaha) his soul (Qur’an 91:9)

Spending the wealth for the sake of Allah purifies the heart of man of the love of material wealth.

In addition, the institution of zakah is a manifestation of social justice. The goal of zakah is the spiritual development of the Believers. By making them give up some of their wealth, the believers are taught the higher moral characteristics of generosity, compassion, gratitude to God and righteousness. But, since Islam does not neglect man’s material need, part of the goal of zakah is the economic well-being of the members of society who are poor, in need and deserving.

When zakah becomes due on a person, the amount no more belongs to him. It then belongs to the deserving and the needy and should be promptly disposed of.

The fourth pillar of Islam – Sawm

The word siyam or sawm, is derived from the root sama, to refrain from normal things, such as eating, drinking or talking. If an individual refrains from these things, he is called a sa’im, the observer of fast. In Shari’ah, the Islamic law, the “sawm” refers to a specific act of abstaining oneself from eating, drinking and sexual activity from dawn to dusk.

Fasting is obligatory on a healthy adult Muslim everyday for the entire month of Ramadan.

O you who believe: Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may be God-fearing (Qur’an 2:183)

The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed as a guidance for people, in it are clear signs of guidance and
the criterion, therefore whoever of you witnesses this month, it is obligatory on him to fast… (Qur’an 2:185)

Ramadan is in the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is a month of great blessing. During this month, Muslims pay special attention to the spiritual aspects of their lives as compared to the worldly affairs. In addition to fasting during the daytime hours, they spend much of their time in prayer, reading the Qur’an, dhikr and contemplation. They concentrate on acts of charity, kindness and brotherhood.

They also try especially to stay away from the forbidden and the disliked behaviour. It is a month of endeavour when they seek to raise the level of their spirituality, god-consciousness and nearness to God.

Through abstinence from the normal human activities of eating, drinking, ets, fasting provides a physical platform to pursue the spiritual aspects with a single-minded focus. It puts into perspective the importance of the spiritual life in relation with man’s worldly pursuits.

Fasting is divided into two kinds: Fard, the obligatory fast, and the optional. Fasting for the entire month of Ramadan is obligatory. See (Qur’an 2:183);

The following become obligatory in relevant circumstances:

1. Fasting to expiate religious offences

2. Fasting to fulfil a vow

It was the sunnah of the Prophet to fast on certain other days in the year. These are optional fast, and Muslims are encouraged to fast at least on some of these days.

The two basic elements that constitute the essence of fasting are: (1) the full abstinence from consuming food, drink and from sexual activity from dawn to dusk, and (2) the niyyah (intention) of fasting for the sake of Allah alone. Without these elements the fast is invalid. Fasting is obligatory on a sane adult Muslim (male and female) who is healthy and is not in state of travel. Additionally, for women, they must be in a state of purity (clean from menstruation and post childbirth bleeding).

The Fifth pillar of Islam – Hajj

The word hajj means, to visit to the House of Allah (al-Ka’bah) to observe the necessary prescribed devotions. Hajj is not a new institution introduced by the Prophet. This institution is as old as al-Ka’bah itself which the Qur’an has called

The first House of Divine service established for mankind (Qur’an)

In a hadith it is mentioned that al-Ka’bah was first built by Adam, the first man on earth.

Who must perform hajj?

Every Muslim who fulfills the following conditions must perform hajj at least once in his lifetime:

1. Be of sound mind, and in full control of his mental faculties.

2. Be old enough and mature enough to understand the full import and significance of what he is setting out to do.

3. Be financially sound not only to afford all his expenses for Hajj but also to provide adequately for his dependents during his absence.

Source : Essence of Islam
By : The Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore
(Darul Arqam Singapore)