Islam is more than a religion. It is a way of life. It means peace through submission to the Will of God, or Allah in Arabic, at all times. It brings God and the Muslim into close contact in conducting the human affairs. A Muslim is one who submits to God and a follower of Islam.
Islam was revealed to Prophet Muhammad from God in the year 610 CE at the age of 40. God revealed His guidance to the Prophet through the angel Gabriel which lasted 23 years during Muhammad’s prophethood until he died in 632. The first encounter with Gabriel was in a cave called Hira’ on top of the Mountain of Light near the city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula, presently known as Saudi Arabia. This guidance is called the Qur’an.
There are 1.3 billion Muslims around the world. Muslims live in almost every country. However, they are concentrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Muslims are also citizens of countries in Europe, Latin and North America.
A Muslim believes in the Islamic articles of faith (in Arabic, called Iman) which requires: “to have faith in God, His angels, His books - as originally revealed to biblical prophets, His messengers, the Last Day, and that he or she has faith in the measuring out, both its good and its evil.”
These articles of faith must be put into action through the worship of God by performing the pillars of Islam which are five:
The first pillar is the fundamental act upon which all Islamic activity depends. It is to acknowledge verbally that one accepts the reality of One God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all in between, and the prophecy of Muhammad. It is known in Arabic as the Shahadah, which means ‘to bear witness’ that there no deity except God and Muhammad is a messenger of God.
The second pillar is the five daily prayers, called Salah, which is intended to purify the body and the soul, on a regular basis. They bring the worshipping Muslim closer to God regularly.
The third pillar is giving 2.5 % of one’s wealth every year, known as Zakah, to the needy and to charitable causes, as specified in the Qur’an. The basic idea behind such giving is the purification of one’s wealth by giving a share back to God who gave it to us in the first place. Zakah, therefore, is a means of helping others and ensuring societal uplift and security.
The fourth pillar is to fast during the month of Ramadan, from dawn to sunset, known as Saum. It is a yearly crash course in piety to revive the spiritual nature of the fasting believer. It also gives your digestive system some rest.
The fifth pillar is to make the pilgrimage to the Sacred House in Mecca, known as Hajj, at least once in a life time as long as the Muslim is able physically and financially to perform the Hajj.
The two holiest holidays in Islam are:
1) “Eid-ul Fitr” or the Feast of Breaking the Fast. It is celebrated on the first day of the Islamic month following the month of fasting. Muslims celebrate the strength and perseverance God granted them to endure the fasting for the whole month by communal prayers and socializing by being together with food, sweet, and gifts for children.
2) “Eid-ul Adha” or the Feast of Sacrifice. It is celebrated on the 10th. day of the Islamic month of Zul-Hijjah, the day after the pilgrims to Mecca complete the ritual of Hajj. It is called sacrifice in commemoration of the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his only son Ishmael to fulfill the Will of God. This happy event is also celebrated by collective prayers and socializing with food and refreshments.
Muslims also celebrate two popular events, the birth of a child and the Muslim marriage.
The two main sources for Islamic Shari’ah or Islamic Divine Law are:
The Book of Allah which is the Qur’an and the Sunnah of His Messenger.
The Qur’an is a complete divine code which is meant to be a full guide for humankind until the Judgment Day since Islam is the last divine revelation. It covers several themes, most notably of which are: The Oneness of God, the Creator, Nourisher and Sustainer of the Universe; the human being as individual; the human being in society; nature as part of God’s creation; prophethood and revelation; Afterlife; Satan and evil; war and peace; tolerance. The Qur’an was revealed in the Arabic language and is still maintained intact in the original Arabic without any change, although translations are available in many languages.
The Sunnah is what Prophet Muhammad said and did during his 23 years of prophethood. Some of what he said and did is an elaboration of the Qur’an including the ways of Islamic worship and the practice of the pillars of Islam. His sayings/traditions are called Hadith.
All Muslims share and believe in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad. The majority (90%) is known as Sunnis, meaning the followers of the Sunnah of the Prophet. About 10% of Muslims are known as Shi’i or the followers of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad and the husband of his daughter Fatima. The difference in the Shi’i sect is in some practice of their worship as recommended by their Imams, all of whom came after the death of Prophet Muhammad.
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