Islam 101

by Brittany Chavers
Islam

Islam is a religion that has existed and thrived since it originated in 7th century CE. Today, this religion has about two billion followers and is the second most popular belief system in the world. It is also the youngest of the major religions and has the fastest-growing following.

Islam is a religion that guides its followers through all aspects of life including social, economic, political, and spiritual. It offers happiness and peace in this life and in the afterlife of anyone willing to invest the time, devotion, and faith.

This article will describe what beliefs and traditions make up Islam. Not only will you learn the basics of this religion but also its origins and influence on society.

The Foundation for Islam

Muslims believe that Islam is a faith that has always existed and that various prophets revealed it to humanity through time. The Prophet Muhammad made the final and complete revelation in 7th century CE, although its foundation existed long before that in the religions of Judaism and Christianity.

Muslims believe that the word of Muhammad corrects and completes the word of god that existed in the Abrahamic religions that came before they established Islam. Any contradiction between the word of Muhammad and other prophets is due to misinterpretations and misinformation, and they refer to the word of Muhammad first.

“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

The Beginning of Muhammad’s Prophethood

Muhammad was not a divine being like Jesus in Christianity, but he is similar to Jesus in the way that God chose him to deliver his true and final word to the people. In fact, in Islam, Jesus is a prophet just like Muhammad.

Muhammad was born in Mecca in Saudi Arabia in 570. He grew up to be a very spiritual that would often spend his time practicing his faith and in a state of deep meditation. He often meditated on Mount Hira, which is where Muhammad’s journey and the Islamic faith begin.

One night while Muhammad was meditating in a cave on Mount Hira in 610 the angel Jibreel, also known as Gabriel, paid him a visit and commanded him to recite the word of Allah, also known as God. Muhammad recited words that came to him from the heavens and concluded that he was speaking the true words of God.

From that point on he preached what Muslim believe was the true word of Allah to people of Mecca. Although he was mocked by non-believers, Muhammad began attracting a modest amount of followers.

He served as a prophet and preached revelations that people revered, remembered, repeated and in later years recorded as the Islamic holy book of faith otherwise known as the Quran.

As Muhammad gained more and more followers’ the powerful leaders in Mecca saw this religious movement as a threat since it conflicted with their own religious beliefs. In 622, they forced Muhammad and his people out of Mecca and they journeyed to Medina. This journey to Medina is referred to as Hijrah, which means the migration, and is very important to Islam.

In Medina, people continued to flock to Muhammad and he had so many followers he could return and attempt to conquer Mecca. He was successful in taking back Mecca and by 630 Islam was established as the religion of Arabia.

For the rest of his life till he died in 632 he was a spiritual teacher, a great leader, and the final true Prophet of God or Allah.

Allah of Islam

Islam is a monotheistic religion that requires a specific level of devotion from its followers. The word Islam translates to mean “submission to the will of Allah.” Followers of Islam are called Muslims and they live in complete submission to the word and will of Allah.

To understand the Islamic belief system better it helps to understand what their God or Allah means to them. Allah in Islam is the omnipotent creator of the entire universe, much like the other Abrahamic religions.

“Indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is the straight path.”

-Surah Ali ‘Imran 3:51     

There are 99 names within Islamic tradition and each name describes a unique aspect of Allah. The most popular name is the Merciful. Some other names for Allah are Generous, All-knowing, Firm, wise, Watchful, Responsive, All-Aware, Majestic, Most Kind, Most Glorious, and so on. These names give insight into the respect and reverence Muslims have for Allah.

The core of Islam is gracious submission to Allah through divine ordinances and faith in the commandments.  The Holy Quran reveals how Muslims should worship Allah and follow him, as well as describing his actions, wisdom, and history. It should be noted that written within the Quran that there are aspects of Allah that will forever remain a mystery to humans.

The Quran

The Quran is the holy book of the Islamic religion. Quran means recitation, and the Quran is named so because it was recited by Muhammad after the Angel Gabriel revealed it to him.

Through time the Quran was written into the scriptures Muslims read today, but before Muslims recorded it, Muhammad recited it and then it was repeated among his followers. Today it is still a tradition to recite the Quran like Muhammad did and is considered a disciplined form of devotion that helps many Muslims find a sense of peace and connect deeper to their spirituality.

The paragraph below is the beginning of a surah or short chapter called the Fātihah. Many Muslims recite this Fātiḥah as part of their prayers every day.

“In the Name of God,

The Merciful, the Compassionate.

Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds,

The Merciful, the Compassionate,

Master of the Day of Judgment.

It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help.

Guide us on the Straight Path: the Path of those You have blessed,

Those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray.

– Surah Fātiḥah

The Quran contains 114 surahs that are written in Arabic. These scriptures are the core of Islam and cover a wide range of different messages and information. The Quran is a guide for Muslims regarding prayer, Allah, the creation of everything, prophets, judgment day, the law, and overall righteousness.

Five Pillars of Islam

Islam has many beliefs, but the core of Muslim faith and practice rest on the five pillars of Islam. These pillars are required and seen as an essential part of building devotion and a community within Islam.

1. Shahada

Shahada is the first pillar of Islam and it is to declare one’s faith in Allah and Muhammad. To do this, Muslims must acknowledge and confess that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet. Muslims must voice in a sincere voice and believe in this pillar to reach salvation.

2.  Salat

Salat is the second pillar of Islam and is the requirement of prayer five times a day. These prayers must take place at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at sunset, and during the evening. When praying Muslims must face Mecca after ceremonially washing. These daily prayers are a sacred expression of devotion and submission to Allah.

3.  Zakat

Zakat is the third pillar of Islam that means giving to those that are less fortunate. Zakat is also referred to as almsgiving and is considered a religious obligation to those that meet the criteria for donating based on their wealth. Muslims must give away 2.5% of their total income to complete Zakat. This pillar is a way to purify your own assets so both the receiver and the person giving money can enjoy Zakat.

4. Sawm

The fourth pillar of Islam is Sawm, which is fasting during the month of Ramadan. Muslims must fast and abstain from sexual relations from sunrise to sunset every day for the entire lunar month. This pillar of Islam is an act of self-purification and pays homage to the gift of the Qur’an to Muhammad. Once the sun sets Muslims are free to resume life as normal and often throw parties and feasts to celebrate.

5. Hajj

The fifth and final pillar is Hajj, also known as a pilgrimage, and is the act of making the journey to Mecca. Pilgrimage is required of all Muslims at least once during their lifetime unless for financial or physical reasons they can’t make the journey. Dressing in simple garments is a requirement for Hajj as it represents equality before Allah. Walking around the Kaabah, which is a shrine of black rock, seven times is also a required aspect of this pillar. Muslims believe that the Kaabah was a place to worship for prophets and is therefore the holiest site within Islamic culture.

Sharia Law in Islam

Muslims have a system of beliefs like most religions. So far you know that Muslims believe in Allah, angels, prophets, the Qur’an, and the five pillars of Islam, but they also hold many other beliefs that have a major influence of their day-to-day lives.

These beliefs of Islam can be found within Sharia law. The phrase Sharia law can be misleading because although the laws of the land are not always the same as Islam’s Sharia law. Some rules of Sharia conflict severely with the laws of the land.

Sharia Law is based on the word of the Qur’an and the Hadith, another source for Muslim scripture, and is a code of conduct on how to live in alignment with Allah. These rules impact most aspects of life from the requirements for clothing to marriage traditions.

Halal

One of the most interesting traditions of Islam is its definition of Halal food. Halal is Arabic for permissible and Islamic law, as defined in the Quran, defines what qualifies as permissible food.

Halal food or meat requires specific acts before and after slaughter. Before an animal is killed, it should be treated well as in soothed, well-fed, and keep healthy.

The Islamic way of killing the animals or poultry for eating requires a humane way of killing by cutting through the jugular vein with a sharpened knife while the animal is alive and healthy, which is the first step for Halal food.

   “Verily Allah has enjoined goodness to everything; so when you kill, kill in a good way and when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way. So every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably.”

– Prophet Muhammad

Once the animal is dead all the blood is drained from the carcass. A Muslim will recite a dedication over the carcass during the slaughtering. The dedication used for Halal food is known as Tasmiya or Shahada.

In Conclusion

Now that you know the basics of Islam it is easy to realize how a religion that requires the level of devotion and commitment that Islam does influences family structure, politics, and every other aspect of life for Muslims. Islam is more than just a religion, it’s a culture within itself.

Once you gain a basic understanding of the prophet Muhammad, the Islamic holy book, the five pillars of Islam, Allah, and Sharia Law you can choose whether Islam is for you or if you want to learn more about the practice. Whatever you decide, anyone can enjoy researching and exploring Islam.

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