An Introduction To Islam by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

An Introduction To Islam

by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

In the name of Allãh, the Kind, Merciful.

All Praise is due to Allãh, the Lord of the Universe.

May God shower His blessings upon Prophet Muhammad & his progeny.

INTRODUCTION

Islam is one of the major world religions. Every fifth person on the face of this earth is a Muslim. Muslims are found in the Middle East, in north, west and east Africa, in Asia and Eastern Europe. In modern times, Muslims are found in large numbers in Western Europe, the Americas and Australia through immigration as well as conversion. Recent statistics show that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA. With the vast world turning into a “global village,” such a wide-spread religion followed by over a billion people indeed deserves a careful study.

WHAT IS ISLAM?

Islam is not just a religion in the conventional sense of the word; it is a way of life—it guides it followers in every aspect of their lives.

The name “Islãm” is an Arab name. (“Islaam” is pronounced with “s” sound and not with “z” as in “Izlaam”.) It comes from the root word “as-silm” which means “peace”. “Islãm” itself means “submission to the will of God”. It means that real peace comes only after a person submits himself to the will of God.

Although Islam started fourteen centuries ago in Arabia, for Muslims it is not a new beginning—Islam, for Muslims, is the culmination of the message of God for human society. Muslims believe that God from day one of human creation sent prophets and messengers to guide the human society. Many prophets were sent to various regions of the world. Muslims are required to have faith in the prophethood of all of them. The most famous of the past prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

The essential message of all the prophets was the same:

  • belief in One God;
  • belief in the prophets of God and in their teachings;
  • belief in the eternal life in hereafter.

MUHAMMAD, THE LAST MESSENGER

After Prophet Jesus, God sent Muhammad as the Final Prophet and Messenger of God. With his prophethood, the process of guidance reached its peak and perfection.

Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in Arabia in the family which traced its lineage to Prophet Abraham through his son Ishmael. At the age of forty, Prophet Muhammad recieved the first revelation from God through the Arch-Angel Gabriel.

He called the people of Mecca who were mostly idol-worshippers to the worship of One God, and to a life based on laws of God which would guarantee peace and harmony in inter human relationship. Majority of the people of Mecca refused to accept his message. The small number of his followers did not deter the Prophet from continuing his mission. Muhammad was fully supported in his mission by close family members, in particular his wife, Khadīja, and cousin, ‘Ali.

The leaders of idol-worshippers of Mecca, who did not want any change in the status-quo, started a campaign against Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam:

  • first they started propaganda against Prophet Muhammad;
  • then they started social and economic embargo against Muslims;
  • finally they planned to assassinate the Prophet himself.

In the meanwhile, the Prophet’s message found a very receptive audience among the people of Medina, a city in northern Arabia. So after thirteen years of hard work in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina where he lived for the last eleven years of his life.

It was in Medina that the Prophet founded the first Islamic community on the principles of monotheism of the Almighty and brotherhood of the Muslims.

THE QUR’ÃN

The revelation which Prophet Muhammad received from God during almost twenty three years of his mission was compiled in a book form and is considered by all Muslims as the Holy Scripture of Islam. This revelation is known as “The Qur’ãn”.

The Qur’ãn has been preserved by the Muslims in its original form. Muslims have preserved it in writing as well in memory in each generation for the last fourteen centuries. Even those Muslims who are not familiar with the Arabic words learn how to recite the holy Book in Arabic.

BELIEF IN ONE GOD

Islam is a monotheistic religion. It teaches that there is only One God who is the origin and creator of the universe. The concept of belief in One God is known as “Tawhid”. This is the foundation stone of Islam, and is reflected in the famous creed which a Muslim child learns at a very early age. The creed says: lã ilaha il-lal Lãh — there is no god but Allãh.

“Allãh” is the Arabic name of God. Since the Qur’ãn is in Arabic, Muslims like to use the Arabic name for God. Even Christians in the Arab world use the name “Allãh” in their prayers.

By teaching that there is only One God for all humans, Islam promotes the sense of brotherhood and equality in human society—all are equally related to God in the same way. The Qur’ãn has very beautifully presented the concept of monotheism in a short chapter. It says: Say: He, Allãh, is One. Allãh is Eternal. He neither begets nor is He begotten. And there is no one equal to Him. (The Qur’ãn, chapter # 112)

PURPOSE OF LIFE

Our life on this earth has a specific purpose; it is not the result of nature’s accident, nor is it a punishment for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. We are here according to God’s plan: to attain a blissful eternal life in the hereafter. Prophet Muhammad said, “You have not been created to perish; on the contrary, you have been created for eternal life.”

However, in order to attain the bliss and grace in the eternal life, we have to go through test and trial in this world. The test is to see how much willingly we do submit ourselves to the commands of God. Everything that we do is a test and trial for us. If we follow God’s commandment, then we succeed; otherwise, we will get the eternal life but without any bliss or grace in it.

STATUS OF HUMAN BEINGS IN ISLAM

PRIME CREATION: Human being is the prime creation of God. He says, “We have indeed honoured the children of Adam; spread them in the land and the sea, provided them with good things; and preferred them in esteem over many things that We have created.” (17:70)

BORN SINLESS: Islam teaches that every human being is born sinless; no child carries the burden of his or her ancestor’s sins. God says, “No carrier shall carry the burden of others.” (35:18) Each human being is born with a pure conscience which can absorb and accept the true message of God. It is only the social and familial influences which take a person away from God’s message.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Islam also emphasizes on the issue of responsibility and accountability of human beings—each person is responsible for his or her own actions. Although Islam teaches that God has predetermined the span of our life and the time of our death, but this does not mean that even our actions are predetermined by Him. We surely are free in our actions and are, therefore, accountable for them. God only provides guidance for us to know what is good and what is bad. He says, “We created man of a water-drop…Surely We guided them to the right way—now whether he (follows it and) be grateful or (goes astray and) be ungrateful is up to him.” (76:3)

RACE: Islam very categorically rejects racial discrimination. It promotes the feeling of brotherhood and equality among its followers. God clearly says, “O Mankind! We have created you from one male and one female, and then We made you into different races and tribes so that you may know (and easily recognize) each other.” Therefore, no one can claim any superiority over others based on racial or tribal differences. A person is to be judged by his character, not by his colour or race. God continues, “Surely the most honourable of you in God’s sight is the person who is most upright in character among you.” (49:13)

GENDER: Even gender does not count as a criterion of superiority. In Islam, women are as human as men. They are not evaluated on basis of their gender, but on basis of their faith and character. Fourteen hundred years ago, the Qur’ãn recorded God’s clear statements on this issue. Out of four verses, I will just quote one: “Whoever, be it a male or a female, does good deeds and he or she is a believer, then they will enter the Paradise.” (4:124) So there is no difference in the degree or level of woman’s humanity or honour in Islam.

The only difference there exists is concerning the role which Islam has envisioned for man and woman. This has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. In Islam, man and woman are equal in rights; but equality is not synonymous to similarity.

Islam believes that man and woman are equal but dissimilar. Islam looks at their different roles in society not as superior or inferior but as complementary to each other.

ISLAM: THE RELIGION OF PEACE

As reflected in its name, Islam is a religion of peace. Muslims are taught to greet each other by saying “salãmun ‘alaykum — peace be upon you”. The daily prayers also end with the same sentence. In Islam, one of the names by which God is known is “As-Salãm” which means peace.

However, one must realize that peace, on a social level, is inter-twined with justice. Peace can only exists if justice is maintained in society.

Unfortunately, because of the Middle Eastern events of last fifty years, Islam has been branded by the western media as a religion of violence. In recent years, the word “Islamic” has become one of the adjectives of “terrorism”.

In this backdrop, firstly, one must realize that the events of the Middle East can be fairly and fully understood only in the light of the post-World War One history of that region, in particular the unfulfilled promises given by the British to the Arabs in order to incite them to rebel against their own Muslim rulers.

Secondly, no fair-minded person would allow himself to blame the religion of Islam for the wrong-doings of those who call themselves as Muslims. It is just like saying that the Catholic Church promotes violence and terrorism because of the Irish Republican Army’s activities!

* * *

These were the teachings of Islam, the religion sent by God to Prophet Muhammad. It has been preserved in its originality by the leaders who came from the family of the Prophet. On this note, I would like to end with one of the last important messages of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) where he says:

“I am leaving behind two important things among you: one is the Book of Allãh (the Qur’ãn) and the other is my family, the Ahlul Bayt. As long as you hold on fast to both of them, you will not go astray.”

* * *

What Is Shi’ism?

What Is Shi’ism?

Shī‘a Islam

 

Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi


 

 

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

May Almighty Allah bless Prophet Muhammad and his progeny

 

“A faith in the beginning is simple & uncomplicated.

As time goes on, people start elaborating those simple beliefs

and that is when disputes arise & different sects are established.

It has happened in all previous religions and Islam was not an exception.”

SSA Rizvi

 

A. INTRODUCTION

 

The name “Shī‘a” or “Shi‘ite” entered the Western media’s common vocabulary during the Islamic Revolution of Iran, and it is being frequently heard now in context of the war in Iraq when reporters or commentators say that sixty to sixty-five percent of the Iraqis are “Shi‘ite” or “Shī‘a Muslims”.

 

If you travel across the Middle East and Asia, you will soon realize that besides the similarity and uniformity found among the Muslims on basic issues, there is also a great diversity in the world of Islam. Not only in the composition of its membership but also in thought and practice: there are different theological sects and a variety of spiritual brotherhoods.

 

However, the most the important division in Islamic theology has placed the Muslims into two main schools of thought: the Sunni and the Shī‘a. The Muslims who believe that ‘Alī was the immediate successor and caliph of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) are known as “Shī‘a”. The name “Shī‘a” is a short form of the Arabic phrase: “Shī‘atu ‘Alī – a follower of ‘Alī.” ‘Alī, son of Abu Tãlib, was the cousin and the son-in-law of the Prophet of Islam.[1]

 

Out of almost a billion Muslims in the world, about fifteen percent are Shī‘a Muslims. The following table gives the distribution of Shī‘as in countries where they are found in considerable numbers:

 

Country Shí‘a Population[2] Shí‘a % of Total Population

Iran 60,000,000 90.0

Pakistan 30,000,000 20.0

India 10,000,000 1.8

Iraq 16,000,000 65.0

Turkey 1,000.000

Afghanistan 4,000.000 15.0

Lebanon 1,000.000 30.0

Bahrain 170,000 70.0

Saudi Arabia 440,000 7.0 mostly in the eastern region

Azerbaijan 5,000,000 62.0

 

We can safely say that there are about 127 million Shí‘as in the world.

* * *

 

It is important to note that in most Muslim communities and for most part of the their history, the Shī‘as have lived in peace and harmony with the Sunni Muslims. Polemics in religious writings on both sides has been part of our history, but that was limited to the learned and the educated elite, and it never degenerated into physical violence against one another.

 

Unfortunately, in the last twenty years, the Shī‘a Muslims have been persecuted on religious and political grounds in certain Muslim countries, especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. In Pakistan, by the Sipah-e Sahaba group; in Afghanistan, by the former Taleban government; and in Iraq, by Saddam’s former regime.

 

B. WHO IS A MUSLIM?

 

The Sunnis and the Shī‘as both are Muslims, so let us first define a “Muslim”. A Muslim is one who believes in the following three principles of Islam:

  1. Monotheism (Tawhíd).
    This is the belief that there is only One God who is the origin and creator of the universe. This is the foundation stone of Islam and is reflected in the famous sentence that says that, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allâh”.

  2. Prophethood (Nubuwwa).
    This is the belief that God sent thousands of prophets and messengers to guide the human society. Some of the most important prophets of God in whom a Muslim must believe are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).

    A Muslim must also believe that Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet and final messenger of God. No prophet or messenger is to come after him. This is reflected in the famous saying: “I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God”.

  3. Resurrection and Life Hereafter (Qiyâmat).
    This is a belief that at the end of time, all human beings will be resurrected by God and will be held accountable for their worldly life. The life in hereafter will be an eternal life. However, whether it will be blissful or full of sorrow depends on how we spend our present life.

    All Muslims agree that the above three principles are the minimum requirement for joining into the fold of Islam. Anyone who does not believe in all three of the above principles cannot be called a Muslim.

* * *

 

All the Muslims —the Sunnis as well as the Shī‘as— also agree on the following important issues:

 

  • The Qur’ãn is the Word of God revealed upon Prophet Muhammad, and that it is unaltered, and the main source of Islamic views. For example, one of the earliest Shī‘a scholar, Shaykh as-Sadûq (d. 381/991), said: “Our belief is that the Qur’ãn, which Allãh revealed to His Prophet Muhammad (s) is the one between the two covers. And it is that which is in the hands of the people, & is not greater in extent than that… And he who asserts that we say that it is greater in extent than this (the present text) is a liar.” Not only this most famous of the early Shī‘a scholar believes in the integrity of the Qur’ãn, even the most famous contemporary scholar of the Shī‘a world, the Grand Ayatullãh Sayyid Abul Qãsim al-Khu’ī has written, al-Bayãn, in which he convincingly proves the integrity of the Qur’ãn. (You may see its English translation published by the Oxford University Press in 1998 under the title “The Prolegomena of the Qur’ãn”.)

  • The Sunna (sayings and deeds) of the Prophet of Islam is, after the Qur’ân, the main source of guidance for the Muslims.

  • The Ka‘ba in Mecca is the symbolic House of God, and that Muslims face its direction whenever they stand for their daily prayers.

  • The following famous tenets of Islam are accepted by both Muslims, the Sunni as well as the Shī‘a:

    * the five daily prayers (salât),
    * the fasting during the month of Ramadhân (sawm),
    * paying of religious charity and monetary dues (like zakât),
    * the performing of pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

C. WHO IS A SHĪ‘A MUSLIM?

 

A Shī‘a Muslim believes in all the issues mentioned above. What makes a Shī‘ī different from a Sunnī are two main concepts: leadership and justice.

 

(1) Leadership (imâmat):

Shī‘ī school of thought believes that Islam is a complete way of life, and therefore it is inconceivable that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have ignored the issue of leadership after his death.

Shī‘as are of the opinion that the Prophet not only gave importance to the issue of leadership and succession but also clearly appointed ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib as his successor and caliph, and also mentioned that the leadership of Islam will continue in his family. We believe that whatever the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did was done in accordance with the will of God.

The Sunni Muslims are of the opinion that Prophet Muhammad set no guidelines for the institution of leadership after his death, and that it was upon the Muslims themselves to come up with a system of leadership. And, therefore, you see a variety of methods were used for appointment of leaders and caliphs:

  1. through a limited selection by a small group of people in Saqīfa as happened in the case of the first caliph;

  2. through a will written by the first caliph appointing the second;

  3. through a committee of six people hand-picked by the second caliph as happened in case of the third caliph;

  4. through people’s power when the masses insisted on ‘Ali to become their ruler;

  5. through military superiority as witnessed in case of Mu‘awiya; and also

  6. through hereditary in case of the Umayyids and the ‘Abbasids.

* * *

 

Shī‘ism bases its arguments on the divine precedence in which God never left the issue of leadership in the hands of the people; He appointed the prophets and their successors. Professor Wilfred Madelung of the Oxford University makes an interesting observation in his book, The Succession to Muhammad, published in 1997. He writes, “The Qur’ãn advises the faithful to settle some matters by consultation, but not the succession to prophets. That, according to the Qur’ãn, is settled by divine election, and God usually chooses their successors, whether they become prophets or not, from their own kin.” (p. 17)

 

The Prophet of Islam, from the very first day of his mission started introducing ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib as his successor. He clarified that this was done by the will of God.

 

Names of the Shí‘a Imams (successors of the Prophet) and their era of leadership:

 

1. ‘Ali bin Abi Talib 632-661

2. Hasan bin ‘Ali 661-669

3. Husayn bin ‘Ali 669-680

4. ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin 680-712

5. Muhammad al-Bãqir 712-735

6. Ja‘far as-Sãdiq 735-765

7. Musa al-Kãzim 765-799

8. ‘Ali ar-Riza 799-818

9. Muhammad bin ‘Ali 818-835

10. ‘Ali an-Naqi 835-868

11. Hasan al-‘Askari 868-873

12. Muhammad al-Mahdi 873-Living in Occultation.

The Twelfth Shí‘a Imam (or successor of the Prophet) is believed to have gone into occultation (that is, he is alive but is not known to anyone). This occultation will last till the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam as the Saviour who will establish the Kingdom of God on earth. The Shí‘as believe that the Mahdi will be assisted in his mission by Jesus.

 

* * *

 

Appointment of ‘Ali by the Prophet:

 

From the very first day of his mission, Prophet Muhammad started introducing ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib as his successor.

 

Islam began when the Prophet Muhammad became forty years old. Initially, the mission was kept a secret. Then three years after the advent of Islam, the Prophet was ordered to commence the open declaration of his message. This was the occasion when Almighty Allãh revealed the verse “And warn thy nearest relations.” (26:214)

 

When this verse was revealed, the Prophet organized a feast that is known in history as “Summoning the Family — Da‘wat dhu ’l-‘Ashīra”. The Prophet invited around forty men from the Banu Hãshim and asked ‘Ali bin Abi Tãlib to make arrangements for the dinner. After having served his guests with food and drinks, when the Prophet wanted to speak to them about Islam, Abu Lahab forestalled him and said, “Your host has long since bewitched you.” All the guests dispersed before the Prophet could present his message to them.

 

The Prophet then invited them the next day. After the feast, he spoke to them, saying:

 

“O Sons of ‘Abdu ’l-Muttalib! By Allãh, I do not know of any person among the Arabs who has come to his people with better than what I have brought to you. I have brought to you the good of this world and the next, and I have been commanded by the Lord to call you unto Him. Therefore, who amongst you will support me in this matter so that he may be my brother (akhhí), my successor (wasiyyí) and my caliph (khalifatí) among you?”

 

This was the first time that the Prophet openly and publicly called the relations to accept him as the Messenger and Prophet of Allãh; he also uses the words “akhí wa wasiyyí wa khalífatí— my brother, my successor, my caliph” for the person who will aid him in this mission. No one answered him; they all held back except the youngest of them — ‘Ali bin Abí Tãlib. He stood up and said, “I will be your helper, O Prophet of God.”

 

The Prophet put his hand on the back of ‘Ali’s neck and said:

Inna hadhã akhhí wa wasiyyí wa khalífatí fíkum, fasma‘û lahu wa atí‘û — Verily this is my brother, my successor, and my caliph amongst you; therefore, listen to him and obey.”[3]

 

This was a very explicit statement because the audience understood the appointment of ‘Ali very clearly. Some of them, including Abu Lahab, even joked with Abu Tãlib saying that your nephew, Muhammad, has ordered you to listen to your son and obey him! At the least, this shows that the appointment of ‘Ali bin Abí Tãlib was clear and explicit, not just implied.

 

* * *

 

After that, the Prophet at various places emphasized the issue of loving his Ahlul Bayt, seeking guidance from them, and drew the attention of the people to the special status that they had in the eyes of God and His Messenger. (See 42:23)

 

* * *

 

Then the Formal Declaration:

Finally, just two months before his death, the Prophet clearly appointed ‘Ali in Ghadir Khumm as the leader (religious as well as political) of the Muslims. He said, “Whomsoever’s Master I am, this ‘Ali is his Master.” He also said, “I am leaving two precious things behind, as long as you hold on to them both you will never go astray: the Book of Allãh and my progeny.”[4]

 

Question: Why have many Western scholars ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm? Since Western scholars mostly relied on anti-Shi‘a works, they naturally ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm. L. Veccia Vaglieri, one of the contributors to the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953), writes:

 

“Most of those sources which form the basis of our knowledge of the life of Prophet (Ibn Hishãm, al-Tabari, Ibn Sa‘d, etc.) pass in silence over Muhammad’s stop at Ghadir Khumm, or, if they mention it, say nothing of his discourse (the writers evidently feared to attract the hostility of the Sunnis, who were in power, by providing material for the polemic of the Shī‘is who used these words to support their thesis of ‘Ali’s right to the caliphate). Consequently, the western biographers of Muhammad, whose work is based on these sources, equally make no reference to what happened at Ghadir Khumm.”[5]

 

Then she writes:

“It is, however, certain that Muhammad did speak in this place and utter the famous sentence, for the account of this event has been preserved, either in a concise form or in detail, not only by al-Ya‘kubi, whose sympathy for the ‘Alid cause is well known, but also in the collection of traditions which are considered canonical, especially in the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal; and the hadiths are so numerous and so well attested by the different isnãds that it does not seem possible to reject them.”[6]

 

Vaglieri continues, “Several of these hadiths are cited in the bibliography, but it does not include the hadíth which, although reporting the sentence, omit to name Ghadir Khumm, or those which state that the sentence was pronounced at al-Hudaybiya. The complete documentation will be facilitated when the Concordance of Wensinck have been completely published. In order to have an idea of how numerous these hadiths are, it is enough to glance at the pages in which Ibn Kathir has collected a great number of them with their isnads.”


(2) Justice (`adl):

 

The Shī‘a school of Islamic thought values justice so highly that the belief in justice has become its hallmark in theological books.

 

The Shī‘as believe that justice must prevail and exist at all stages of existence. They believe that God is just in His dealing with mankind; that God does not compel anyone to believe or to disbelieve in Him; that God does not compel human beings to do good or evil — it is entirely left upon them to make the right choice in light of the guidance provided by the prophets and messengers.

 

This belief in importance of justice permeates down to human level: the Shī‘as believe that the Prophet and the Imams who succeeded him must also upheld highest standard of justice; that even the religious leaders and prayer-leaders must be upright in their character.

 

Based on this emphasis of the concept of justice, Shī‘a Muslims are not permitted to co-operate or work with an unjust and tyrant ruler, and they are also expected to strive for a just social order in human society.

 

This is the underlying basis of the various Shī‘ī movements in history in which they have risen against the rulers and governments of their own times.

 

C. SUMMARY OF SHĪ‘A BELIEFS

 

In conclusion, a Muslim is one who believes in the following three principles

  • Monotheism — Tawhíd.

  • Prophethood — Nubuwwa.

  • Life Hereafter — Qiyâmat.

A Shi‘a Muslim is the one who believes in the following five principles

  • Monotheism — Tawhíd.

  • Prophethood — Nubuwwa.

  • Life Hereafter — Qiyâmat.

  • Justice — `Adl.

  • Leadership — Imâmat.

An Introduction To Islam by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

An Introduction To Islam

 

by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

In the name of Allãh, the Kind, Merciful.

All Praise is due to Allãh, the Lord of the Universe.

May God shower His blessings upon Prophet Muhammad & his progeny.

INTRODUCTION

Islam is one of the major world religions. Every fifth person on the face of this earth is a Muslim. Muslims are found in the Middle East, in north, west and east Africa, in Asia and Eastern Europe. In modern times, Muslims are found in large numbers in Western Europe, the Americas and Australia through immigration as well as conversion. Recent statistics show that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA. With the vast world turning into a “global village,” such a wide-spread religion followed by over a billion people indeed deserves a careful study.

WHAT IS ISLAM?

Islam is not just a religion in the conventional sense of the word; it is a way of life—it guides it followers in every aspect of their lives.

The name “Islãm” is an Arab name. (“Islaam” is pronounced with “s” sound and not with “z” as in “Izlaam”.) It comes from the root word “as-silm” which means “peace”. “Islãm” itself means “submission to the will of God”. It means that real peace comes only after a person submits himself to the will of God.

Although Islam started fourteen centuries ago in Arabia, for Muslims it is not a new beginning—Islam, for Muslims, is the culmination of the message of God for human society. Muslims believe that God from day one of human creation sent prophets and messengers to guide the human society. Many prophets were sent to various regions of the world. Muslims are required to have faith in the prophethood of all of them. The most famous of the past prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

The essential message of all the prophets was the same:

  • belief in One God;
  • belief in the prophets of God and in their teachings;
  • belief in the eternal life in hereafter.

MUHAMMAD, THE LAST MESSENGER

After Prophet Jesus, God sent Muhammad as the Final Prophet and Messenger of God. With his prophethood, the process of guidance reached its peak and perfection.

Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in Arabia in the family which traced its lineage to Prophet Abraham through his son Ishmael. At the age of forty, Prophet Muhammad recieved the first revelation from God through the Arch-Angel Gabriel.

He called the people of Mecca who were mostly idol-worshippers to the worship of One God, and to a life based on laws of God which would guarantee peace and harmony in inter human relationship. Majority of the people of Mecca refused to accept his message. The small number of his followers did not deter the Prophet from continuing his mission. Muhammad was fully supported in his mission by close family members, in particular his wife, Khadīja, and cousin, ‘Ali.

The leaders of idol-worshippers of Mecca, who did not want any change in the status-quo, started a campaign against Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam:

  • first they started propaganda against Prophet Muhammad;
  • then they started social and economic embargo against Muslims;
  • finally they planned to assassinate the Prophet himself.

In the meanwhile, the Prophet’s message found a very receptive audience among the people of Medina, a city in northern Arabia. So after thirteen years of hard work in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina where he lived for the last eleven years of his life.

It was in Medina that the Prophet founded the first Islamic community on the principles of monotheism of the Almighty and brotherhood of the Muslims.

THE QUR’ÃN

The revelation which Prophet Muhammad received from God during almost twenty three years of his mission was compiled in a book form and is considered by all Muslims as the Holy Scripture of Islam. This revelation is known as “The Qur’ãn”.

The Qur’ãn has been preserved by the Muslims in its original form. Muslims have preserved it in writing as well in memory in each generation for the last fourteen centuries. Even those Muslims who are not familiar with the Arabic words learn how to recite the holy Book in Arabic.

BELIEF IN ONE GOD

Islam is a monotheistic religion. It teaches that there is only One God who is the origin and creator of the universe. The concept of belief in One God is known as “Tawhid”. This is the foundation stone of Islam, and is reflected in the famous creed which a Muslim child learns at a very early age. The creed says: lã ilaha il-lal Lãh — there is no god but Allãh.

“Allãh” is the Arabic name of God. Since the Qur’ãn is in Arabic, Muslims like to use the Arabic name for God. Even Christians in the Arab world use the name “Allãh” in their prayers.

By teaching that there is only One God for all humans, Islam promotes the sense of brotherhood and equality in human society—all are equally related to God in the same way. The Qur’ãn has very beautifully presented the concept of monotheism in a short chapter. It says: Say: He, Allãh, is One. Allãh is Eternal. He neither begets nor is He begotten. And there is no one equal to Him. (The Qur’ãn, chapter # 112)

PURPOSE OF LIFE

Our life on this earth has a specific purpose; it is not the result of nature’s accident, nor is it a punishment for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. We are here according to God’s plan: to attain a blissful eternal life in the hereafter. Prophet Muhammad said, “You have not been created to perish; on the contrary, you have been created for eternal life.”

However, in order to attain the bliss and grace in the eternal life, we have to go through test and trial in this world. The test is to see how much willingly we do submit ourselves to the commands of God. Everything that we do is a test and trial for us. If we follow God’s commandment, then we succeed; otherwise, we will get the eternal life but without any bliss or grace in it.

STATUS OF HUMAN BEINGS IN ISLAM

PRIME CREATION: Human being is the prime creation of God. He says, “We have indeed honoured the children of Adam; spread them in the land and the sea, provided them with good things; and preferred them in esteem over many things that We have created.” (17:70)

BORN SINLESS: Islam teaches that every human being is born sinless; no child carries the burden of his or her ancestor’s sins. God says, “No carrier shall carry the burden of others.” (35:18) Each human being is born with a pure conscience which can absorb and accept the true message of God. It is only the social and familial influences which take a person away from God’s message.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Islam also emphasizes on the issue of responsibility and accountability of human beings—each person is responsible for his or her own actions. Although Islam teaches that God has predetermined the span of our life and the time of our death, but this does not mean that even our actions are predetermined by Him. We surely are free in our actions and are, therefore, accountable for them. God only provides guidance for us to know what is good and what is bad. He says, “We created man of a water-drop…Surely We guided them to the right way—now whether he (follows it and) be grateful or (goes astray and) be ungrateful is up to him.” (76:3)

RACE: Islam very categorically rejects racial discrimination. It promotes the feeling of brotherhood and equality among its followers. God clearly says, “O Mankind! We have created you from one male and one female, and then We made you into different races and tribes so that you may know (and easily recognize) each other.” Therefore, no one can claim any superiority over others based on racial or tribal differences. A person is to be judged by his character, not by his colour or race. God continues, “Surely the most honourable of you in God’s sight is the person who is most upright in character among you.” (49:13)

GENDER: Even gender does not count as a criterion of superiority. In Islam, women are as human as men. They are not evaluated on basis of their gender, but on basis of their faith and character. Fourteen hundred years ago, the Qur’ãn recorded God’s clear statements on this issue. Out of four verses, I will just quote one: “Whoever, be it a male or a female, does good deeds and he or she is a believer, then they will enter the Paradise.” (4:124) So there is no difference in the degree or level of woman’s humanity or honour in Islam.

The only difference there exists is concerning the role which Islam has envisioned for man and woman. This has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. In Islam, man and woman are equal in rights; but equality is not synonymous to similarity.

Islam believes that man and woman are equal but dissimilar. Islam looks at their different roles in society not as superior or inferior but as complementary to each other.

ISLAM: THE RELIGION OF PEACE

As reflected in its name, Islam is a religion of peace. Muslims are taught to greet each other by saying “salãmun ‘alaykum — peace be upon you”. The daily prayers also end with the same sentence. In Islam, one of the names by which God is known is “As-Salãm” which means peace.

However, one must realize that peace, on a social level, is inter-twined with justice. Peace can only exists if justice is maintained in society.

Unfortunately, because of the Middle Eastern events of last fifty years, Islam has been branded by the western media as a religion of violence. In recent years, the word “Islamic” has become one of the adjectives of “terrorism”.

In this backdrop, firstly, one must realize that the events of the Middle East can be fairly and fully understood only in the light of the post-World War One history of that region, in particular the unfulfilled promises given by the British to the Arabs in order to incite them to rebel against their own Muslim rulers.

Secondly, no fair-minded person would allow himself to blame the religion of Islam for the wrong-doings of those who call themselves as Muslims. It is just like saying that the Catholic Church promotes violence and terrorism because of the Irish Republican Army’s activities!

* * *

These were the teachings of Islam, the religion sent by God to Prophet Muhammad. It has been preserved in its originality by the leaders who came from the family of the Prophet. On this note, I would like to end with one of the last important messages of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) where he says:

“I am leaving behind two important things among you: one is the Book of Allãh (the Qur’ãn) and the other is my family, the Ahlul Bayt. As long as you hold on fast to both of them, you will not go astray.”

* * *