Islam: What's It all About?

Sajid Iqbal

Q: What is Islam?

A: The word "Islam" means peace and submission. Peace means to be at peace with yourself and your surroundings and submission means submission to the will of God. Islam is not just a religion but also a complete way of life. It deals with each and every aspect of life.

Muslims believe in one God and in the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets beginning with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, Jacob Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus. God's message was reaffirmed and finalised by the Prophet Muhammad.

Q: What is the Quran?

A: The Quran is the Muslim holy book, like the Bible is to Christianity. It is the record of the exact words revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad. It was memorised by Muhammad and then dictated to his companions. The Quran has been preserved, unchanged, in its original form and confirms the truth in the Torah, the psalms and the Gospel.

Q: Who is Allah?

A: "Allah" is the Arabic name for God. Allah is not God of Muslims only. He is God of all creations. It is exactly the same word, which the Jews, in Hebrew, use for God (eloh), the word that Jesus Christ used in Aramaic when he prayed to God. God has an identical name in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Allah is the same God worshiped by Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Q: Who is Muhammad?

A: In brief, Muhammad was born in a noble tribe of Mecca in Arabia in the year 570 AD. His ancestry goes back to Prophet Ishmael, son of Prophet Abraham. His father died before his birth and his mother died when he was six. He did not attend a formal school since he was raised first by a nurse as it was the custom those days, and then by his grandfather and uncle. As a young man, he was known as a righteous person who used to meditate in a cave. At age 40, he was given the first revelation, when the angel Gabriel, appeared in the cave. Subsequently, the revelations came over 23 years and were compiled in the form of a book called the Quran which Muslims consider as the final and the last word of God.

Q: What are the 'Five Pillars' of Islam?

A: These are the framework for Muslim life:

  1. The declaration of faith: "There is none worthy of worship but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God."
  2. Prayer: Muslims perform five obligatory prayers each day. Islamic prayers are a direct link between the worshiper and God. Islam has no hierarchical authority or priesthood.
  3. Zakat: One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and that wealth is held in trust by human beings. Zakat, or charitable giving, "purifies" wealth by setting aside a portion for those in need.
  4. Fasting: Every year in the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The fast is another method of self-purification.
  5. Pilgrimage: A pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, or Hajj as it is called in Arabic, is an obligation for those who are physically and financially able to make the journey. It has to be carried out once in a lifetime.

Q: Who are the Muslims?

A: A person who follows Islam is called a Muslim The word "Muslim" means one who submits to the will of God. This is done by declaring that "there is no god except one God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." The Muslim population of the world is around 1.2 billion. One out of every five person in the world is a Muslim. There are about 6 million Muslims in the United States and over 2 million in Britain.

They are a vast range of races, nationalities, and cultures from around the globe--from the Philippines to Nigeria--they are united by their common Islamic faith. Only about 18% live in the Arab world and the largest Muslim community is in Indonesia.

30% of Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent, 20% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 17% in Southeast Asia, 18% in the Arab world, and 10% in the Soviet Union and China. Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan make up 10% of the non-Arab Middle East. Although there are Muslim minorities in almost every area, including Latin America and Australia, they are most numerous in Russia and its newly independent states, India and central Africa.

Q: What is the role of women in Islam?

A: The idea that women are second-class citizens and worth half a man is a myth. Never forget that women are equal to men in all acts of piety (Quran 33:32). Islam elevated the status of women by declaring them equal to men, giving them the right to work, right to education to the highest level, right to vote, right to take public office, right to join the army, right to divorce, right to inheritance, right to marry who she wishes and so on.

Under Islamic Law a woman cannot be married off without her consent. She has final approval on a marriage partner and she can refuse and cancel a marriage arranged without her consent. So a forced marriage has absolutely nothing to do with Islam She also has the right to initiate a separation from marriage if her rights under marriage are not being granted. Widows have the right to remarry, and they are in fact encouraged to do so.

The Qur'an places on men the responsibility of protecting and maintaining their female relatives. This relieves women of the need to earn their own living….but can work if they want to. It also means that a man must provide for his wife even if she has money of her own. She is not obligated to spend her money in the maintenance of her family. Also, a woman cannot be forced or does not have to cook, clean, wash-up etc for her family. This is a collective responsibility upon the husband and wife. The example of our noble Prophet (Peace be upon him) is that although he was such a great leader, he assisted in the house cleaning and mended his own clothes.

Q: Why do Muslim women cover their hair?

A: Islam emphasises upon modesty. No person should be seen as a sex object. There are certain guidelines both for men and women that their dress should neither be too thin nor too tight to reveal body forms. For men, they must at least cover the area from the knee to the navel and for women; their dress should cover all areas except the hands and face. The veil is not essential but if a woman chooses do so it is up to her.

Q: What is Jihad?

A: The word Jihad represents a concept, which is much misunderstood in the West. It is understood by many as holy war but that is not the case. "Jihad" means struggle, or to be specific, striving in the cause of God. Any struggle done in day-to-day life to please God can be considered Jihad. One of the highest levels of Jihad is to stand up to a tyrant and speak a word of truth. Control of the self from wrong doings is also a great Jihad. One of the forms of Jihad is to take up arms in defence of Islam or a Muslim country when Islam is attacked. This kind of Jihad has to be declared by the religious leadership or by a Muslim head of state that is following the Quran and Sunnah (example of the Prophet Muhammad). Jihad on the battlefield is the use of force in order to implement peace as a last resort.

Even in war, according to Islam a Muslim is still not allowed to harm or kill traders, merchants, and contractors if they do not take part in actual fighting. It is totally against Islam for a Muslim to kill non-combatants, women minors, servants, the blind, monks, elderly, those physically incapable of fighting and the insane or delirious. Combatants are only those who are physically capable of fighting. Even prisoners of war are given protection and cannot be harmed.

Q: What does Islam say about Christianity?

A: Islam teaches that Christians and Muslims are both "people of the book." By that it means that the two religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through the Bible and the Quran. A Muslim cannot be a Muslim if he does not believe in Jesus. Muslims respect and revere Jesus, and await his Second Coming. The main difference between Christians and Muslims is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet who was granted special powers by God to show people the power of God. The Qur'an confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Quran is entitled 'Mary'), and Mary is considered the purest woman in all creation.

Q: What does Islam say about Judaism?

A: Islam teaches that Jews and Muslims are both "people of the book." By that it means that the two religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through the Torah and the Quran. The main difference between Jews and Muslims is that Jews do not believe in the prophets after the Jewish prophets including Mohammad and his teachings. Muslims, on the other hand, believe in all the prophets including Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Ishmael, Isaac and Jesus.

Q: How does Islam view terrorism?

A: Islam does not support terrorism under any circumstances. Terrorism goes against every principle in Islam. If a Muslim engages in terrorism, he is not following Islam. He may be wrongly using the name of Islam for political or financial gain. Islam is a faith of peace and submission and stresses on the sanctity of human life. A verse in the Quran says, [Chapter 5, verse 32], that "anyone who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole of mankind and anyone who has killed another person it is as if he has killed the whole of mankind."

Q: Does Islam tolerate other beliefs?

A: Islam has always given respect and freedom of religion to all faiths. Freedom of religion is laid down in the Quran itself: "There is no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam)" (Qur'an 2:256) It is an important part 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.

Islamic law also allows non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves. The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether the person is Muslim or not.

Sajid Iqbal, Editor, The Revival