Gorilla’s Guides: “An Introduction to Islam” Part 01 — Islam
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim. Islam is a monotheistic1 religion based on revelations received by Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)Note 1 from God via the Archangel Jibreel (Gabriel) starting in the year 610 of the Christian calendar. The revelations are compiled in a book called "The Holy Qur’an" .2 The Holy Qur’an is the central Islamic scripture, it is the sine qua non of Islam, without it there would be no Islam.
There Is No God But God
The centre and foundation of Islam is God. The Arabic word for "God" is "Allah". If you translate the Arabic word "Allah" into English what you get is “the God”. This expression "The God" is used in the sense of "the one and only God". It is very important that you understand that Islam is not only a monotheistic religion but that it is rigorously and absolutely, monotheistic.
As a Muslim I believe that this one God, the one and only God, is transcendent, immanent, all-powerful, and all-knowing, he is the creator, and sustainer of all the worlds, he is the judge of the universe and all of its creatures on all of its worlds. Islam’s absolute monotheism is expressed in two doctrines:
- There is the doctrine of the oneness, or unity, of God which we call "Tawhid".
- There is the doctrine of the sovereignty or lordship of God which we call "Rabb"Note 2.
Together these two doctrines dominate our belief and practice of Islam. If you ask a Muslim about them they will tell you that the doctrines of Tawhid and Rabb reflect the fact that God is one and his rule and laws engulf everything and everybody throughout all the worlds. As a Muslim I believe that God’s rule and will are laws that extend to each and every creature and to each and every aspect and moment of life. As a Muslim I tell you further that God is not only all-powerful and majestic but also merciful and just.
If God’s laws engulf everything and everybody throughout all the worlds then I as a Muslim am subject to these laws. I have an incentive to obey them – there are rewards. If I break the laws I am subject to punishment. Both reward and punishment follow from my accountability before God as an individual possessed of an individual ethical responsibility for my actions. My ethical duties flow from the fact that as a human being I am possessed of free will which brings with both status and responsibility.
And Mohammed Is His Prophet
Given that each of us is an individual possessed of free will and individual ethical responsibility for our actions how are we to know what the laws are? What help do I as a Muslim get to lead a peaceful and fulfilling life? Actually I get a lot of help:
The Arabic word Islam (which means the religion) and the Arabic word Muslim3 (which means a follower of the religion of Islam) both come from the root word s-l-m. S-L-M as a root word carries the meanings "submission" and "peace".4 Thus the followers of Islam are called "Muslims" and Muslims are people who submit to God’s will — to God’s laws. This submission leaves a Muslim both at peace with themselves and with God.
Embracing Islam by submitting to God’s laws is an individual act. Like all actions it has consequences one of these consequences it that it makes the individual a part of a community. In the Holy Qur’an this community is called the Ummah.5 This concept of "Ummah" or community is a basic concept of Islam and is an aspect of Tawhid. It expresses the essential unity and equality in the eyes of God of Muslims everywhere no matter which cultural or geographical setting they happen to find themselves:
Sura 23 Al-Mumenoon [The believers ] Ayah 52:
Wa-inna hathihi ommatukum ommatan wahidatan waana rabbukum faittaqooni
And truly this Brotherhood of yours is a single Brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore shall you fear Me and no other.
As members of this community Muslims have an individual religious identity and a corporate one we are, to use an English legal expression, "jointly and severally" members of the community of believers. As a member of this global community I have the same duty as every other Muslim — to obey and implement God’s will in both my private and social lives. I am required to help my brothers and sisters in Islam to fulfil their duties I am entitled to expect them to help me in fulfilling mine. The fundamentals of my duties and rewards are set out in the maxims of the Holy Qur’an as transmitted verbatim by the Angel Jibreel to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) who in turn transmitted them to the ummah. What are these duties?
The answer is that there are five duties (Shi’i jurisprudents say there are six). Collectively these duties are called the "Pillars of Islam" and their existence is the starkest possible proof that Islam as transmitted to the ummah by Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) emphasises law rather than theology as the essential religious discipline. That law rather than theology is what defines Islam’s path and preserves its way of life.
These essential duties required of all Muslims are:
- To testify in public that "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God".
- To pray a set number of times daily and to attend community prayers on Fridays,
- To pay a tax to charity.
- To fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
- To undertake the pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if you are able
- (Shi’i jurisprudents add a sixth pillar the duty to wage Jihad). To engage in Jihad is to engage in a struggle to accomplish good and prevent evil. Jihad has several meanings the most important of which means to discipline yourself in internal spiritual struggles. To perform acts of good and prevent acts of evil. And finally to engage in war in defence of the ummah — the Muslim community. Offensive war, such as wars of conquest for territory or resources can under no circumstances be called Jihad. You should note also that even entirely justified war is only considered good to extent that it brings about good and that war is never "holy".
Glossary And Notes:
the doctrine or belief that there is only one God
the Islamic sacred book, believed to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic.
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Koran can also be spelled Quran or Qur’an: it is an Arabic word meaning ‘ recitation ’.
Muslim (Mus¦lim) a follower of the religion of Islam
Muslim is the preferred spelling for ‘a follower of Islam’, although the form Moslem is also used . The archaic term Muhammadan (or Mohammedan) is not favoured by Muslims and should be avoided
4 The greeting "Salaam alaikum" (peace be to you) is also derived from this root. The response is "Wa ‘alaykum al-salaam".
The greeting is mentioned in The Holy Qur’an in Sura 13 ar-Ra`d (The Thunder) Verses 22-24 . When the Angels will greet the saved as follows:
"Salamun AAalaykum bima sabartum faniAAma AAuqba alddari
"Peace be to you who persevered patiently! Now, how excellent is this your final (eternal) home!"
5 In the Quran, the word "ummah" means a people to whom God has sent a prophet. It also means people who are the targets of God’s plan of salvation.
Note 1 When writing the name of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) or other exalted persons such as Prophet Jesus or his mother Maryam, we Muslims will generally add the blessing "Peace be upon him" after the name. PBUH is the abbreviated form of this blessing.
Note 2 In the Arabic language words are derived from a root word of three letters. For the Arabic word "Rabb" the root is the letters (r, b, b). The basic meaning is to rear or to bring up. Among the wider meaning of the root are:
Leader, head, chief, or lord; one whose word is obeyed, and whose supremacy or over lordship acknowledged, and who has authority to dispose of men or things;
Owner ; master.