GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT ISLAM
Islam is the name of a holistic way of life (religion), just as Christianity and Judaism are names of other religions. The Arabic word “Islam” is based on the root “slm,” which means peace or surrender to the One Creator (God or Allah (swt)). Combining both translations results in the combined meaning “the state of peace through following the Creator’s guidance.”
A follower of Islam is called a Muslim, or “one who is in a state of peace by following the Creator’s guidance.”
While the term Arab has been used in the past to refer to members of a Semitic ethnic group from the Arabian Peninsula, today the word “Arab” refers to people from Arabic-speaking countries, most of which are in the Middle East and North Africa. The term Arabian was historically used to describe an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula. Today “Arabian” is used as an adjective to describe a non-human noun (e.g., Arabian coffee); it should not be used to refer to people.
Islam’s primary message, as understood by the overwhelming majority of Muslims, is the continuation of the Abrahamic monotheistic tradition’s belief in One Creator. The three major dimensions of Islam include beliefs, ritual practices, and the effort to improve one’s character and actions. There are six major beliefs in Islam and five central practices that are referred to as the Five Pillars.
The last dimension of Islam focuses on the cultivation of excellent moral character to better oneself and the world around oneself. It teaches a set of values that promote life, liberty, equality and justice. Some of these values include:
- Respect for the earth and all creatures - Care and compassion for those less fortunate - The importance of seeking knowledge - Honesty and truthfulness in word and deed - Striving continuously to improve oneself and the world
The six major beliefs in Islam, as understood by the majority of Sunni Muslims, are:
- belief in One Creator; - belief in angels; - belief in the Creator’s Prophets/Messengers; - belief in the Creator’s revelations in the form of holy scriptures sent to the messengers; - belief in an Afterlife that follows the Day of Judgement on which people will be held accountable for their actions and compensated accordingly in the afterlife; and - belief in the Creator’s Divine Will and His knowledge of what happens in the world.
Muslims practice their faith in many different ways, but the major practices for both Orthodox Sunni and Shi’a Muslims are known as the Five Pillars, which include:
- the profession of faith, namely that there is only One Creator and that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the final Messenger of the Creator; - the five daily prayers; - required annual tax for the poor in the amount of 2.5% of one’s excess wealth; - fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; and - making a pilgrimage to Makkah once in a lifetime, if one is mentally, physically, and financially able to do so.
The primary sources of knowledge about Islam are based upon four :-
- The Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the divinely revealed speech of the Creator, and
- The Sunnah, which refers to the example or precedent of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh (i.e., what he said, did, approved, disapproved, caused, ordered, or allowed to happen). Much of what is known about the Sunnah is from the collection of sayings or reports known as hadith, or prophetic tradition. The hadith describe actions of the Prophet Muhammad or actions that his companions attributed to his teachings. Hadith also elaborate and provide context to the Qur’an.
In addition to these primary sources, Muslims have also traditionally relied on the following:
3. Scholarly Consensus (Ijma), that is, the agreement of the companions of the prophet (pbuh) or knowledgeable scholars upon a particular issue; and
4. Analogical Reasoning (Qiyas, Ijtihad) which means applying principles or laws derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah to similar situations not explicitly addressed by them. The lived experience of Islam, which naturally varies widely not only in different cultures but also with different individuals, also impacts and determines a Muslim’s understanding and practice of Islam.