A Brief Introduction to Islam
The word Islam means, submission to Allah’s will; and a Muslim is one who submits to Allah’s will.
It is a religion which gives guided maximum freedom. It can be followed easily by everyone, everywhere, everyday. It enjoins one to believe in one God; to keep up prayers and give immensely in charity; to fast during Ramadhan; to perform the Hajj (pilgrimage) if affordable; to fight the self through abstinence in order to gain true freedom; and to believe in the Allah’s justice. It forbids evil and tyranny, prohibits consumption of intoxicants and the blood and flesh of swine, among others; it forbids playing games of chance; committing adultery, etc.
Origins of IslamAllah revealed the Quran to Prophet Muhammad 1439 years ago; this is, however, not to say that anything new from the prior religions such as Christianity and Jewism was revealed; instead, Islam came as a much easier and final version to be practiced by mankind for attaining spiritual, physical and intellectual perfection.
DemographicsAccording to estimates, the total Muslim population in the world today is around 1.6 billion. The world’s most Muslim-populous country is Indonesia (around 207 million) with Pakistan being the second (around 160 million). Interestingly, the entire Muslim population in the Middle East, which is predominantly Muslim, is around 275 million.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, with estimates suggesting that in North America alone around 100,000 people embrace it every year.
There are around 60 countries which have significant numbers of Muslim populations.
There are two major sects, the Shia and the Sunni.
Beliefs and PrinciplesAmong the host of beliefs and principles that are supposed to govern every step of a true Muslim's life - because Islam is a complete code of life - some are as follows:
1. Faith in the Unity of Allah
2. Belief in the finality of Prohphethood in Muhammad; and in the prophethood of the 123,999 other infallible men who were deputed by Allah on earth before Muhammad. These include Adam, Abraham, Noah, David, Moses, Jesus etc.
3. The Shia believe in the divinely appointed Imamate (Leadership) of Muhammad's progeny, about whom Muhammad informed several times during his life – the 11 offspring from his cousin Ali (A.S.) and Ali’s wife (Muhammad's daughter) Bibi Fatima (S.A.), who are the infallible spiritual guides of mankind after Muhammad; the Sunni believe in the Caliphs who were elected to interpret and manage the affairs of Islam by two or three people through a democracy of sorts held immediately after Muhammad’s death
4. Belief in the Quran as the unadulterated final book of Allah; and in the original versions of the other holy books that were revealed on earth before the Quran such as the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament and the Scriptures
5. Belief in the existence of Angels
6. Belief in Life after death, the Day of Judgement, and in Paradise or Hell
Who is Allah?Often, people ask then what is Allah and where did He Himself come from? First, Allah is the same God that all the prophets worshipped and preached about. Second, the best description of Allah came from Imam Ali which he gave in a sermon that is included in a compilation of his sermons called Nahjul Balagha (Peak of Eloquence):
Praise is due to Allah whose worth cannot be described by speakers, whose bounties cannot be counted by calculators and whose claim (to obedience) cannot be satisfied by those who attempt to do so, whom the height of intellectual courage cannot appreciate, and the divings of understanding cannot reach; He for whose description no limit has been laid down, no eulogy exists, no time is ordained and no duration is fixed. He brought forth creation through His Omnipotence, dispersed winds through His Compassion, and made firm the shaking earth with rocks.
The foremost in religion is the acknowledgement of Him, the perfection of acknowledging Him is to testify Him, the perfection of testifying Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him Pure, and the perfection of His purity is to deny Him attributes, because every attribute is a proof that it is different from that to which it is attributed and everything to which something is attributed is different from the attribute. Thus, whoever attaches attributes to Allah recognises His like, and who recognises His like regards Him two; and who regards Him two recognises parts for Him; and who recognises parts for Him mistakes Him; and who mistakes Him points at Him; and who points at Him admits limitations for Him; and who admits limitations for Him numbers Him.
Whoever says in what is He, holds that He is contained; and whoever says on what He is held says He is not on something else. He is a Being but not through phenomenon of coming into being. He exists but not from non-existence. He is with everything but not in physical nearness. He is different from everything but not in physical separation. He acts but without connotation of movements and instruments. He sees even when there is none to be looked at from among His creation. He is only One, such that there is none with whom He may keep company or whom He may miss in his absence.
Why do Muslims pray like they do?According to Islam, mankind is Allah’s vicegerent, and that they are the topmost of all creation, even angels; therefore, during prayer, a true devotee represents everything that has been created. So, while facing the Ka’aba (the cube in Mecca), when a devotee stands on their feet, they represent all two-legged creatures; when they lift their hands up to their ears to say Allah ho Akbar (God is Great; and this phrase is not a war cry!) they represent all flying creatures; when they kneel, they represent all four-legged ones; when they bend further to prostrate, they represent all crawling creatures on land, and all those in water; and as the devotee touches their forehead – their crown – upon dust, they in effect submit every animate or inanimate being before their Creator as His servant and that they give themselves totally to His Divine Will. Thus, when a Muslim prays genuinely, they remain humble with fellow people and before Allah, yet proud that they worship the Lord of the Worlds, a Being who initiated creation most initially and originally, without undergoing reflection, without making use of any experiment, without innovating any movement, and without experiencing any aspiration of mind.
For information on important days in the Muslim calendar please visit > Muslim Festivals 2008