What is Islam and who is it for?

Islam - A Religion of PeaceWhat is Islam? Islam is not a new religion, nor a religion for Muslims only. It is the same truth that God revealed to all His Prophets (Peace Be Upon Them All), and to the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) throughout history.

Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness, and not a belief that is associated with acts of violence against the innocent, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Surah Al-Ma'idah 5:3 The Table Spread - The Noble Quran

Surah Al-Ma'idah (The Table Spread) 5:3 from the Noble Quran

Translation by Yusuf Ali

Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety. This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any is forced by hunger, with no inclination to transgression, Allah is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surah Al-Ma'idah (The Table Spread) 5:3 from the Noble Quran)

Who was the first Muslim?

Before we answer this question, let us, for a moment, explain what the word 'Muslim' means? - Simply put, a 'Muslim' is a person that believes in 'One God' (One Deity worthy to be worshiped), and one that surrenders to the will of One God (Allah - SWT) and all his affairs to him!

The first human being (and a Prophet) that surrendered (or Aslama) to the will of Allah (SWT) was Prophet Adam (AS - PBUH).

Surah Ash-Shuraa 42:13 (The Consultation) - The Noble QuranSurah Ash-Shura (The Consultation) 42:13 - The Noble Quran

Translation by Yusuf Alli

The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah - the which We have sent by inspiration to thee - and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which thou callest them. Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him).The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah - the which We have sent by inspiration to thee - and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than Allah, hard is the (way) to which thou callest them. Allah chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him) (Surah Ash-Shura (The Consultation) 42:13 - The Noble Quran).

Who are Muslims and what do they believe?

There are an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide. No more than 20 percent of Muslims live in the Arabic-speaking world. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia. Muslims believe in One, Unique, and Incomparable God.

Muslims also believe in the Day of Judgement and individual accountability for actions. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets beginning with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus.

God’s eternal message was reaffirmed and finalized by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on them all). One becomes a Muslim by saying, “There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” By this declaration, the person announces faith in all of God’s messengers.

What is the Quran?

The Quran is the exact words of "Allah" (SWT) revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through the Arch Angel Gabriel (AAS)! Even though the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was illiterate, he memorized the Quran (in its entirety), then he dictated it to his companions.

The text of the Quran was cross-checked during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Holy Quran has 114 chapters and have remained unchanged through the centuries! Allah (SWT) swore that he will protect the Quran!

What Are The Five Pillars of Islam?

The five pillars of Islam are the basis of Muslim life and are the foundation upon which the faith itself stands. The Prophet Muhammad said:

“Islam is founded on five pillars; to testify that ‘there is no deity except God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God;’ to establish the ritual prayers; to give charity (to the needy); to fast during the month of Ramadan and to perform the pilgrimage to the House (in Makkah).”

A practicing Muslim’s life is centered upon these five pillars, the first and foremost of which is the testimony:

“There is no deity except God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

This simple declaration of faith is required of all those who wish to accept Islam as their chosen way of life. These words are to be uttered with sincerity and out of personal conviction, as there is no coercion in Islam. The significance of this testimony is that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God, such being achieved through following the beautiful and noble example of the Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him peace).

Muslims believe that God sent messengers, at different points in history. The foundation of their message was always the testimony, “There is no deity except God”. The first commandment found in the Bible is: “I am the Lord, thy God; thou shalt not have other gods before Me.” This belief in the Oneness of God is central to Islam and permeates all of Muslim life.

2. PRAYER (Salah)
Another key element of Muslim life is the daily ritual prayers, or Salah. These prayers are performed five times a day, everyday, and are a direct link between the worshiper and God. This very personal relationship with the Creator allows one to fully depend upon, trust in, and love God; and to truly achieve inner peace and harmony, regardless of the trials of life that one faces.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed, when one of you prays, he communes privately with his Lord.”

The prayers are performed at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall; reminding one of God throughout the day. Regular prayer helps prevent destructive deeds and gives one the opportunity to seek God’s pardon for any misgivings that occur in the course of one’s daily activities.

The Prophet once asked his companions: “Think of a river by one’s door and bathing in it five times a day; would there remain any dirt on such a person?” The Prophet's companions answered in the negative. The Prophet, peace be upon him, then said: “Such it is with the five (daily) prayers; through them God washes away your sins.”

Friday is the main day of the week in which Muslims congregate. The mid-day prayer on Friday is different from all other prayers in that it includes a sermon. Prayers at other times are relatively simple; they include the recitation of verses from the Quran, specific movements and invocations, and they take only a few minutes to complete.

Muslims are greatly encouraged to perform their five daily prayers in a group–in the mosque if possible. A mosque, in its most basic form, is simply a clean area designated for the daily prayers. Mosques throughout the world take on various architectural forms, typically reflecting local cultures and their aesthetic tastes. They range from detached pavilions in China to elaborate courtyards in India; from massive domes in Turkey to glass and steel structures in the United States.

The Call to Prayer:
God is Greatest, God is Greatest
God is Greatest, God is Greatest
I testify that there is no deity except God
I testify that there is no deity except God
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God
Come to prayer! Come to prayer!
Come to success! Come to success!
God is Greatest, God is Greatest
There is no deity except God

3. CHARITY (Zakat)
An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God; wealth is therefore held by the human being as a trust. Zakat, or obligatory charity, is a word that linguistically signifies both purification and growth. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need and for the society in general. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. This involves an annual payment calculated at 2.5% of one’s assets, excluding such items as primary residence, car, and professional tools, to be given to those in need. Zakat is a unique concept, compared to other forms of giving, in that it redistributes the wealth of society, and when applied correctly, it could effectively eliminate abject poverty and world hunger all together.

God places great emphasis on taking care of the needy; He says in the Quran:

Those who spend of their wealth (in charity) by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord; on them there shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Quran 2:274)

Giving beyond the obligatory charity is expected of every Muslim and may take many forms. The Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) said, “Even meeting your brother with a warm smile is an act of charity.” The Prophet further said that, when one has nothing to give, staying away from evil is considered a form of charity as well.

4. FASTING (Siyam)
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is an essential part of being a Muslim. Muslims fast from dawn until sunset–abstaining from food and drink, as well as from marital relations. During this blessed month, the Muslim should be even more vigilant about the destructive qualities of character, speech, and behavior.

Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, as well as women who are pregnant or nursing, are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year (unless chronically ill).

God states in the Quran:
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you, in hopes that you may achieve greater awareness (of God). (Quran 2:183)

Fasting is not only beneficial to one’s health, but it also engenders empathy for those less fortunate. However, fasting is mainly a method of self-purification, spiritual discipline, and self-restraint. By withholding oneself from certain worldly comforts, even if for only a short time, the fasting person is able to focus on his or her purpose in this life by constantly being aware of God, thereby becoming more cognizant of the meaning of what occurs to them in this earthly abode and realizing the great importance of their final destination after life.

Ramadan is a special time for Muslims everywhere; a time for clearer reflection and heightened spirituality. The end of Ramadan is ushered in by a holiday called Eid al-Fitr. On this day Muslims all over the world celebrate with prayers, friendly and family gatherings, and in many cases, a joyous exchange of gifts and the giving of sweets to children.

The pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Makkah is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who are physically and financially able. Over two million people, from all corners of the globe, go for Hajj each year making it the largest gathering for peace, worship, and unity known to humankind. Hajj also provides a unique opportunity for people of different nations and cultures to meet one another.

The annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year. The Islamic year is lunar; consequently Hajj occurs throughout all the seasons of the year during one’s lifetime.

Pilgrims enter a state of sacredness where arguing, fighting, and even cutting a plant or harming a fly is prohibited. They are required to wear simple and similar garments, thereby stripping away any cultural distinctions and class considerations; all stand equal before God.

The rites of the Hajj go back to Prophet Abraham and his family. They include visiting the Ka’bah and standing together on the vast plain of ‘Arafat (a desert expanse just outside of Makkah). It is here that pilgrims pray for God’s forgiveness and put forth all of their needs, in what is often considered a preview of the Day of Judgment. The Hajj provides an ideal occasion for the Muslim to reflect on his or her life, to refocus on God, and to return to their homes and their families spiritually rejuvenated.

The close of the Hajj is marked by the second major Muslim holiday, the Festival of Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha. Pilgrims, if able, sacrifice a sheep or goat, commemorating Prophet Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his own son, a story that is known to both Jews and Christians as well. This sacrificial meat is then distributed to the needy and is not to be squandered in any way. Muslims around the world celebrate this day with prayers, ritual sacrifice, and an exchange of gifts.

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