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An Introduction to Islam

An Introduction to Islam (Dr. Sarah Saqi) Islam is the last of the great religions. It embraces all religions which went before it, and one of it’s most striking characteristics is that it requires it’s followers to believe in all the prophets who preceded the Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him). I quote from the Holy Quran: “Say we believe in Allah, and in that which has been revealed to us, and in that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to the prophets from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them.” (2:136). A Muslim believes therefore, not only in the Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him), but in all the prophets of God. By contrast, a Buddhist believes in Buddha, a Hindu in all the prophets raised in India, a Jew in the prophets of Israel and a Christian believes in Jesus Christ as well as the prophets mentioned in the Old Testament, though to a lesser degree. A Muslim believes in all of these, and in Muhammed (peace be on him) also, the last of the law bearing prophets. It follows then, that by becoming a Muslim, one does not automatically abandon one’s faith. Rather one merely takes on a new perspective which incorporates one’s past beliefs in a wider horizon. What, then has Islam, a religion revealed by God to the Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) in the year 610 — to offer mankind in this present age? Islam is a philosophy, a set of religious beliefs, and a way of life. Literally, the word Islam means peace and surrender. A Muslim surrenders himself totally to the Will of God. His central belief is that “There is none worthy of worship but the One and Only God Allah, who possesses all excellences, and Muhammed is His Messenger.” Islam is a monesthetic religion. God has no associates. The concept of a Trinity — God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit is totally rejected. Muhammed (peace be on him) has never been deified — indeed Muslims believe that all the prophets who have been sent for mankind were humans, who lived and died as did those before them. The concept of a God without equals is therefore fundamental to Islam. AN INTRODUCTION TO ISLAM 15 What, then are a Muslim’s beliefs? We are told in the Holy Quran that the ultimate object of a person’s existence is to win nearness to God. In Chapter 84: Verse 6 we read: “O Man! Thou must strive to attain to thy Lord a hard striving until thou meet Him.” Muslims have been instructed to live in the service of God whilst on this earth. On the Day of Judgment all their deeds will be assessed and weighed. All Muslims therefore believe in life after death. We are born sinless, the purpose of life on this earth is to strive to win God’s pleasure, with a view to meeting Him in the Hereafter. The Holy Quran repeatedly condemns those who are content merely with the material aspects of life, and do not look beyond them. For a Muslim the purpose of one’s life is to do good to our fellow beings and strive through prayer to attain nearness to God. In Chapter 2 Verses 46/47 of the Holy Quran, we read “And seek help with patience and prayer; and this indeed is hard except for the humble in spirit, Who know for certain that they will meet their Lord and that to Him they will return.” Prayer is therefore an integral part of Islam. Muslim’s are required to pray 5 times a day. Prayer is a spiritual purification. Five times a day throughout their lives, Muslims affirm the Unity and attributes of Allah, and their belief in Muhammed, His messenger. Prayer is therefore a part of everyday affairs — there is a prayer in the morning before sunrise, another just after midday, a third in the afternoon, a fourth at sunset, and a fifth in the evening before going to bed. Prayer is thus the first daily work of a Muslim and also his last. Prayer enables man, even when at his busiest, to disengage himself from worldly affairs in order to remember his Maker. Whilst Islam emphasises the accountability of each and every individual to Allah, it allows for the weaknesses and imperfection of man. Although one is supposed to pray five times a day, allowances are made for those whose work schedules are such that they cannot break off at the required times of day. Thus, certain prayers can be combined and said together. Furthermore, if one is ill or on a journey, concessions are made so that the number of prayers are reduced, or in the case of illness, the actual form of prayer may be changed. Congretational prayer is also an important social institution. It is a time when people rich and poor, of high rank and low rank, stand next to each other as equals to remember God. None is given any preferential treatment as to where they-stand in the Mosque. The concept of a family pew is unknown. Any differences between individuals in terms of rank, wealth or colour vanish in an atmosphere of equality before Allah. Muslims are also instructed once a year to observe Ramadhan, or fasting. This entails complete abstenance from food or water from sunrise to sunset. The exercise is both a spiritual and a physical one. Spiritually, it enables one to attain a feeling of closeness to God. It is for His sake that one endures the discomfort of hunger and thirst. The fast is also an important physical exercise 16 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS in terms of the discipline required. It provides an opportunity for one to gain an appreciation of the discomfort that the poor have to endure in their everyday lives. However, whilst stressing the benefits to be obtained from fasting, the Holy Quran allows for the fact that some may find this too great a burden to bear. Those unable to fast for whatever reason, are instructed to give charity to the poor instead. Islam is a complete code of life, providing instructions for it’s followers in all aspects of life —• the kinds of foods that may be eaten, the way one should dress, how one should conduct business, social graces, marriage, divorce and human rights. The Holy Quran provides a standard therefore by which one may live one’s life. However, throughout, we are instructed to reason and question and reflect upon what is written. Above all, it is stressed “that there is no compulsion in religion. Surely the right way has become distinct from error.” We are told “If thy Lord had enforced His Will, surely all those on the earth would have believed without exception. Will thou then take it upon thyself to force people to become believers? Except by Allah’s leave no-one can believe.” (10:100,101). Belief cannot be enforced upon people; indeed if it were it would be meaningless. The presence of Islam is not force, but persuasion. Islam places great emphasis on the welfare of the community as a whole. It can confidently be asserted that this was the first religion to manifest the idea of a welfare state. Islam aims at merging all sectors of society into a single community so that all persons may feel themselves to be members of the same family. This is apparent in the institution of Zakat, which is in reality a form of income tax, which allows for the help of poorer members of society. It must be noted that begging in Islam is strictly prohibited. Every possessor of wealth is required to contribute annually Vioth of his wealth to a common fund which is managed by the state or the Muslim Community. This money is used for the amelioration of the condition of the poor, helping those in debt, supplying capital where talent is available but funds are lacking, and generally all community related projects •— e.g. medical services, education, public works etc. In addition to obligatory Zakat, great emphasis is placed on voluntary charity. This takes many forms, from simple acts of kindness to giving food to the poor and caring for orphans. However, all acts of charity must be conducted so that they convey no idea of the superiority of the giver or the inferiority of the receiver. We are told that “Those who spend their wealth night and day secretly and openly shall have their reward with their Lord. They shall not be subjected to fear or grief.” (2:275). Indeed, one can say that the essence of the Islamic system is expressed in the verse: “They ask thee what shall they spend in the cause of Allah. Tell them, that which is spare. AN INTRODUCTION TO ISLAM 17 Thus does Allah make His commandments clear to you that you may reflect.” (2:220). Islam is also unique with regards to it’s system of inheritance. Instead of all the property of the deceased person automatically being handed over to the eldest son, Islam makes the female a co-sharer with the male. Persons who stand to inherit property may be divided into 2 groups — the first group consisting of children, parents, and husband or wife, and the second group consisting of brothers and sisters. Members of the second group inherit only if some or all those in the first group are wanting. The Islamic system is based on the notion that wealth should be circulated in society, and not concentrated in the hands of a few. Thus each heir of the deceased is entitled to take his or her share only, and no more. Furthermore, a person may not dispose of more than Vsrd of his property by testamentary directions. Islam also prohibits interest being made on loans. Again the reason is because this tends to draw wealth into the hands of a small circle of people. The money lender, in effect, takes advantage of, and makes a profit from the needs or distress of another. Although it is permitted that loans may be made, the lender is advised to be lenient and not exert undue pressure, and indeed even to remit if the debtor is in straitened circumstances, either part or all of the debt. However, the debtor is also instructed to pay the debt as soon as possible. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “Among the best of you are those who are good in the payment of debts.” Islam is often accused of being a barbaric religion because of it’s acceptance of the death penalty for murder. Certainly punishment in Islam is based on the notion of retribution in accordance with the severity of the crime. However, critics often forget that forgiveness and mercy are also emphasized. We are told “And the recompense of evil is punishment proportional thereto, but whoever forgives and amends, he shall have his reward from Allah.” (42:40). Time and time again, the Holy Quran stresses that forgiveness and mercy for a crime should be exercised wherever possible. Thus, if the relatives of a murdered victim wish, they can accept compensation instead of imposing the death penalty. I posed the question earlier, what has Islam to offer mankind in this age. We believe that the Holy Quran is the Holy Quran is the word of God, revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) for the benefit of mankind. The Holy Quran is “a Book — for a people whoso seek to acquire knowledge and to derive benefit therefrom.” (41:3, 4). It is a Book for all ages, and despite the great changes which occurred from the time it was revealed to the present day, it applies as much now as it did then. Today we live in an age where man has the capability to destroy the earth many times over. Only by stopping to pause and reflect on what we are doing, can we 18 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS attempt to bring sanity back to this world. Islam is the way of achieving this not just for one individual but for society as a whole, because it operates at both levels. Islam is the unifying force needed at this time of moral and material chaos. However, Islam rests on reason and logic, not blind dogma. Islam is based on persuasion and not force. Love of Muhammad (The Promised Messiah) My heart and soul are enchanted with the beauty of Muhammad and my body is like the dust of the path trodden by the progeny of Muhammad. I have perceived with the eye of my heart and have heard with the ear of my intelligence that every part of the universe proclaims the beauty of Muhammad. This fire of mine is borrowed from the fire of the sun of Muhammad and this water of mine is a portion of the flowing waters of Muhammad. That my life should be wholly consumed in the love and service of the faith of Muhammad is my desire, my prayer, and the firm determination of my heart. Next after my love of God, I am inspired by the love of Muhammad. If this amounts to disbelief, then by Allah, I am a disbeliever in the highest degree.