An Introduction to Islam, Made Simple
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Islam is the second largest religion in the world and arguably one of the most misunderstood religions in the West. It is the last of the three Abrahamic faiths, the other two being Christianity and Judaism. Its core message is the belief in and worship of one, purely monotheistic God.
The holy text of Islam is the Quran, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in 610 AD by the angel Gabriel (or Jibreel in Arabic), Muhammad, who was known to be an illiterate and poor man, would often memorize the verses that Gabriel would recite to him and then teach them to his followers. Unlike earlier scriptures, the message of the Quran would be memorized word for word and transmitted orally to prevent its original message from being tampered with or distorted in any way. It was only after Muhammad's death when the Quran was first compiled into an actual book.
Secondary to the Quran is what's known as hadith, or direct sayings by Prophet Muhammad as narrated by his companions and passed on to later generations. Muslims often refer to the ahadith alongside the Quran to learn about Islam. There are thousands of ahadith in existence, and each one has been carefully reviewed by scholars and graded on their level of authenticity. The levels are Sahih, Hasan, and Dhaif, with Sahih ahadith considered the most authentic and thus, most reliable while Dhaif is considered the weakest.
Some of the key teachings of Islam include the "Five Pillars of Islam" or the five pillars of worship. These are five formal acts of worship that Muslims should follow in order to strengthen their faith in God. They are:
1) Testimony of Faith (the Shahaada) - This is the saying "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger." If someone chooses to accept Islam, then they are required to say this in order to officially become a Muslim. This phrase is also encouraged to be said when a person is on the verge of death. Belief in this statement is required for someone to be a Muslim as it acknowledges the absolute oneness of God, the central belief of Islam.
2) Prayer (Salaat) - This refers to the five daily prayers, which are required for Muslims to perform once they have learned how to do so. Each of the prayers take place at different intervals of the day. They are Fajr (the dawn prayer), Dhuhr (the midday prayer), Asr (the afternoon prayer) Maghrib (the sunset prayer), and Ishaa (the night prayer). Each of these prayers involve reciting passages from the Quran and invoking God's name while standing, prostrating, and sitting. Each prayer takes an average of 2 to 5 minutes when performed individually. They can also be performed in congregations such as at a mosque with other Muslims or within one's home with their family.
3) Charity (Zakaat) - Zakaat is a mandatory form of charity that is given once a year by each Muslim who is mentally and financially capable of doing so. A person must give 2% of their leftover income (meaning whatever wealth is left over after paying for essential needs like food, electricity, shelter, etc) to the poor, needy, someone who just converted to Islam, or towards a humanitarian cause.
4) Fasting (Sawm) - Fasting consists of abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. It is done during the Muslim month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic calendar) and is also encouraged on certain days throughout the year. The reward for someone who fasts and abstains from sinning is believed to be immense which is why all Muslims are encouraged to do so.
5) The Major Pilgrimage (Hajj) - All Muslims are encouraged to take part in the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their life, if they are financially able to do so. The pilgrimage takes place in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It consists of a variety of steps and takes an average of 5 to 6 days to complete.
In addition to the five pillars of Islam, there are the six pillars of faith, which are key things that all Muslims should believe in. They are:
1) Believe in one God - God has no partners, no family, no sons. He is completely self-sufficient and is to be worshiped alone.
2) Belief in angels - Angels are servants of God that cannot be seen by humans. A few examples of angels in Islam are those who record your sins and good deeds, who collect your soul after you die, and those who are responsible for transmitting the word of God to mankind.
3) Belief in the holy books - God had sent messengers with scriptures to teach to the people. These scriptures include the original Bible, the Torah, and the Quran. The Quran is the last of the scriptures and is thus considered as a criterion over the earlier holy books.
4) Belief in the prophets - It is the Islamic belief that God has sent prophets, including Abraham, Joseph, David, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, to teach the same message, the worship of one purely monotheistic God. Muslims are required to believe in not only Muhammad, but all the messengers that came before him.
5) Belief in the Day of Judgment - When all souls will be gathered before God and be held accountable for their deeds
6) Belief in divine decree ("Qadr") - The idea that God knows everything and had already decided what will happen. Muslims use the phrase "InshaAllah" (If God wills) in daily conversations to express their belief in Qadr.
In addition to these, there are other practices that play an important role in the Muslim lifestyle, such as cleanliness, healthy eating, and abstinence from harmful practices. For example, it is required for Muslims to be in a state of cleanliness before they perform the five daily prayers or other acts of worship, such as touching or reading the Quran.
Healthy eating requires that a Muslim only eats foods that are permissible in Islam and avoid those that have been made forbidden, such as pork, alcohol, blood, or animals with claws/fangs such as wolves, lions, bats, snakes, etc.
Muslims are also encouraged to abstain from harmful practices such as gambling, clubbing, drinking, or having sexual relations before marriage.
Another key distinction between Islam and other religions is that the religion isn't named after a person. Instead, Islam is Arabic for "peace" and "submission," and both of these definitions relate to the other. By "submitting" ourselves to God, which we do by correctly following what is stated in the Quran and hadith, we attain peace within ourselves and help contribute good to the rest of society.
To learn more about some of the teachings of Islam, you can check out my article "100 Commandments in the Quran" for a brief overview of some of the things the Quran teaches us.
You can also go to my "Islam" page on my blog, where I've listed a bunch of resources for those interested in learning more about Islam. See you there!