The fundamental message of Islam is simple: To worship God (Allah) alone. The Quran (the revealed scripture of Islam) states:
"Say, He is Allah , (who is) One,
Allah , the Eternal Refuge.
He neither begets nor is born,
Nor is there to Him any equivalent."[Quran chapter 112]
The first part of the Muslim testament of faith forms the basis for the concept of God in Islam. Muslims bear witness that: "There is no Deity worthy of worship but Allah". The concept of deity is strictly monotheistic and Unitarian. God alone has absolute being, totally independent and totally self-sufficient. Whatever exists or ever could exist does so by His
will. He has no 'partner' either in creating the universe or in maintaining it in existence. He is not only the 'First Cause' but also ultimately, the only cause and He is Himself uncaused (Hassan Gai Eaton - The concept of God in Islam).
The second part of the testament of faith is: "Muhammad (peace be upon Him) is the final Messenger."
Muslims hold in high esteem all the previous Prophets and messengers including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and many more (peace be upon them all); all of whom submitted and surrendered themselves to the One God who created them and chose them to be the bearers of His message. As the Quran states:
"Say, (O believers), "We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims (in
submission) to Him."
Quran chapter 2 verse 136
Muhammad, the last Messenger
The last and final Prophet in a long chain of prophets and messengers was the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was sent to the lands of Arabia and thus spoke the language of Arabic. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to re-affirm the message that all the previous prophets and messengers were sent with; i.e. calling to the worship of One
Michael Hart, in his book 'The 100: a ranking of the most influential people in history' states: "My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels. Of humble
origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world's great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive."
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a prominent figure is universal not only because of his message of equality, but because of his altruistic character. He constantly helped the poor and anyone who needed assistance of any kind. His teachings apply to any timeframe, to people from any part of the world, be they rich or poor. Amongst his many wise teachings was: "Do not belittle even the smallest act of kindness, even if it were no more than greeting your brother with a smiling face".
The following story demonstrates the Prophets altruism. An old woman had a habit of throwing rubbish on Prophet Muhammad whenever he passed by her house. When the old woman threw rubbish on him, he would pass silently without showing any anger or annoyance and this happened on a regular basis.
One day when the Prophet was passing by, the woman was not there to throw the rubbish. The Prophet asked permission to visit the woman. He found that she was actually ill. She thought that he had come to take revenge when she was unable to defend herself. But the Prophet assured her that he had only come to see her and to look after her needs, as it was
the command of Allah that if anyone is sick, a Muslim should visit and help them if their help is needed.
The old woman was greatly moved by this kindness and love of the Prophet. By this example, she understood that he was truly the Prophet of God and Islam was the true religion. She subsequently embraced Islam.
In this manner, (before the Prophet died at the age of 63,) most of the people of Arabia had embraced the message of Islam, and in less than a century the message had spread to Spain in the west and as far east as China.
In the Islamic view, the 'message' transmitted through the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) represented, not a completely new religion, but a corrective to the falsifications and distortions which had taken place and at the same time, an uncompromising re-assertion of the pure doctrine of the One God.
Just as the Prophets Moses, Jesus and David (peace be upon them) were given books of revelation (The Old and New Testaments and Psalms respectively; all of which Muslims acknowledge) so too was the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The message brought by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was consolidated through
successive revelations collectively known as the Quran. The Quran contains guidance for the whole of humankind and exists in exactly the same form today as it did when it was revealed 1400 years ago.
"O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted."[Quran chapter 49 verse 13]
The guidance contained in the Quran enables all of us to live a life in a way that God loves and is pleased with. As the Creator, God knows us best and is therefore best placed to guide us on how to "function optimally". Suppose you bought an iPhone, would you read an instruction manual produced by Sony Ericsson? Logically, no! The rationale is quite simple; the company that produces the phone knows its product inside out and so is best placed to write an instruction manual for its users.
The same is true of us. God created us, therefore knows us better than we think we know ourselves. The Quran is therefore a handbook, from the Creator to the created. Allah says: "This (Quran) is enlightenment for mankind and guidance and mercy for a people who are certain (in faith)."[Quran chapter 45 verse 20]
And in another verse:
"O mankind! there hath come to you a direction from your Lord and a healing for the (diseases) in your hearts,- and for those who believe, a guidance and a Mercy."[Quran chapter 10 verse 57]
A Muslim enjoys two very specific relationships:
1. A relationship with his/her Creator. This essentially strengthens one's faith and enables one to draw closer to Allah through engaging in acts of worship.
2. A relationship with the society within which he/she resides. Muslims have a responsibility to uphold basic moral values like enjoining good, forbidding evil, enjoining justice, fulfilling trusts, being kind to neighbours, helping those less
fortunate etc. There are numerous Quranic verses to this effect, for example:
"Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but (true) righteousness is (in) one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask (for help), and for freeing slaves; (and who) establishes prayer
and gives zakah; (those who) fulfil their promise when they promise; and (those who) are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous."
"Indeed, Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice. Excellent is that which Allah instructs you. Indeed, Allah is ever Hearing and Seeing."[Quran chapter 4 verse 58]
"Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded."[Quran chapter 16 verse 90]
Articles of Faith & Five Pillars of Islam
Besides believing in One God, belief in all the previous prophets and messengers, and revealed scriptures, Muslims also believe in the existence of angels (for example, the archangel Gabriel responsible for bringing revelation), and a final day of reckoning (i.e. Judgement day) when every individual will be held to account for their actions. Their
deeds will be judged by Allah and they will consequently enter paradise or hell. Allah is just and rewards and punishes fairly, however, one of His magnanimous qualities is that He is the most merciful of those who show mercy. Muslims also believe in the Divine decree or predestination; that all good and evil has been proportioned and that Allah has
full knowledge of all things. However, every individual has free will within the realm of responsibility and is not pre-destined against their will, therefore is able to make choices in life.
Apart from the above six tenets of faith, there are five fundamental duties that a Muslim willingly practices which are known as the 5 pillars of Islam. Allah says in the Quran:
"This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah, Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them, And who believe in what has been revealed to you, (O Muhammad), and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain (in faith). Those are upon
(right) guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful."
Practicing Muslims follow the commandments of Allah in order to seek His pleasure. But in addition to this, the commandments themselves contain certain inherent wisdoms. The five pillars of Islam thus form the basis of Muslim life.
The first pillar as mentioned previously is to testify that there is no God worthy of worship except Allah, and that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final messenger. This is in fact is the essence of Islam.
The second pillar is to establish the five daily prayers. Allah says:
"Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance."[Quran chapter 20 verse 14]
And in another verse:
"Recite, (O Muhammad,) what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.[Quran chapter 29 verse 45]
Prayer is a time to stand before Allah and express faith, give thanks for the blessings He has bestowed upon us as well as to seek guidance and forgiveness. Through bowing and prostrating to the ground, Muslims express their utmost humility before the Almighty.
If we look at the concept of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) we see that there is a two-directional relationship between our thought processes (Neuro), our communication (Linguistic) and our behavior (Programming). If you change one, it has a knock on effect on the other two variables. So if you change your behavior to perform prayer (which is a physical action as well as verbal communication with Allah) it will naturally affect your thought processes- increasing your faith as well as inspiring you to want to draw closer to Allah by performing righteous deeds.
The third pillar is to fast during the month of Ramadhan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) from dawn till sunset every day. Allah says:
"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous."[Quran chapter 2 verse 183]
Fasting enables a person to develop self control and frees them to devote their body and soul to worship. Ramadhan is also a great opportunity to appreciate the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon us and gives us a taste of what the poor and hungry across the globe experience; often on a regular basis.
The fourth pillar is 'Zakah' or giving 2.5% of ones surplus wealth to those ordained by Allah to receive it. One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word Zakah means both 'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion
for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. Allah says:
"Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect (zakah) and for bringing hearts together (for Islam) and for freeing captives (or slaves) and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the (stranded) traveler - an obligation (imposed) by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise."[Quran chapter 9 verse 60]
The active practice of zakah demonstrates that love for Allah in following His commandments is greater than the love for wealth. It also serves to help the poor, those in debt and protects the nation as well as strengthening one's faith.
The fifth pillar incumbent upon a Muslim is that he/she performs the Hajj or known in English as the pilgrimage, at least once in their lifetime if they are financially able to do so.
"Indeed, the first House (of worship) established for mankind was that at Makkah - blessed and a guidance for the worlds. In it are clear signs (such as) the standing place of Abraham. And whoever enters it shall be safe. And (due) to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House - for whoever is able to find thereto a way. But whoever disbelieves - then indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds."[Quran chapter 3 verses 96-97]
On average, approximately 2 million people attend the Hajj every year and it is an amazing spectacle for all of humanity. It demonstrates unity despite multiplicity, inculcates a sense of humanity, and for the individual pilgrim, inspires patience and tolerance. The journey itself is wholly a spiritual one, incomparable to any other on earth.
Although the dictionary defines Islam as 'the religious faith of Muslims' it is in fact much more than that. Islam is a way of life; an entire system of living that permeates every aspect of an individual's day to day activities. Practising Islam is truly fulfilling and enables one to be at peace with oneself, one's Creator, one's family, neighbours and with society at large. The universe is filled - like a great picture book - with 'signs' which bear witness to its Creator and which reminds us, if we have pure hearts and seeing eyes, of God's power, majesty and His beauty.
The Quran states:
"Indeed, within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers. And in the creation of yourselves and what He disperses of moving creatures are signs for people who are certain (in faith). And (in) the alternation of night and day and [in] what Allah sends down from the sky of provision and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and (in His) directing of the winds are signs for a people who reason."[Quran chapter 45, verses 3-5]
"In summary, the God of Islam is transcendent, the All Powerful, All Knowing Creator and lawgiver, though at the same time infinitely merciful, generous and forgiving. The human, His creature and servant, stands before Him without intermediary or intercessor, meeting Him through prayer during this brief life on earth, and meeting Him face to face when life is over. In Islam God does nothing like a human being and doesn't make Himself accessible through idols or images. He is what He is, absolute and eternal, and it is as such the Muslim worships Him" (Hassan Gai Eaton - The concept of God in Islam).