Introduction to Islam

Introduction to Islam (Hafeez-ur-Rahman) The Prophet of Islam was born in Mecca, Arabia, on 20th April in the year 570 A.D. In accordance with a dream of his mother, Amina, he was named Muhammad — one greatly praised. His father died a while before his birth and at the age of six his mother died leaving him an orphan. It was not the custom for middle-class women to suckle their children so nurses were acquired to bring them up during the early stages of their lives. He was entrusted to the care of a country woman called Haleema until the age of five. She proved herself a very gentle and affectionate foster-mother. Soon after he returned to his mother she died and he was looked after by his grandfather — Abdul Mutallib. He also passed away after two years and from thenceforth he was cared for by his uncle — Abu Talib. Muhammad (peace be on him) was given to reflection and meditation from early childhood. He took no part in the quarrels and rivalries of others except in trying to settle them. He was ever keen to promote justice and orderliness. Three young men of Mecca had formed an association for the purpose of aiding persons in distress and suffering from unjust treatment. Muhammad (peace be on him) also became an active participant. They pledged the following undertaking: “To help those who are oppressed and to restore to them their rights as long as the last drop of water remained in the sea. If they failed in any undertaking they would compensate the victim from their own assets.” The life of the Holy Prophet is an open book with each phase of his life full of interesting details. Enough is known of his youth and early life to reveal that he was gentle, patient, obedient, respectful towards his elders, affectionate towards his companions and full of compassion for the aged, infirm, those in adverse circumstances and in need of help. As he grew to manhood his good qualities were recognised by his contemporaries who were impressed by his absolute integrity in word and deed. He became known as “Al-Ameen” or “The trusted one.” By the age of twenty-five his reputation for integrity and fellow-feeling had spread throughout Mecca. People would point at him with admiration saying 6 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS “here was a man who could be trusted.” His reputation reached the ears of a highly respected and wealthy widow of Mecca called Khadeeja who sent him an offer of marriage through his uncle. The marriage was arranged. Despite the disparity of age between them the union proved one of unusual tranquillity and happiness. Khadeeja placed all her resources at her husband’s disposal who distributed the greater part among the poor and needy. He also freed all her slaves. Thus he voluntarily chose a life of poverty for himself and his wife. It speaks highly of Khadeeja’s deep affection for her husband and of her lofty character that she cheerfully accepted his choice. After attaining the age of thirty the love of God and love of worship began to possess Muhammad (peace be on him) more and more. It became a regular practice with him to retire for several days at a time in a cave situated on one of the hills a few miles outside of Mecca. Taking with him some dates and a little water he would spend his days and nights in prayer and contemplation. He received his first revelation at the age of forty in the year 610 A.D. It would be well to remember that he was unable to read or write. It was on a Monday during the last ten days of the Islamic month of Ramadhan that while meditating in the cave an unfamiliar Presence suddenly appeared before him. It commanded him “recite” to which Muhammad (peace be on him) replied that he was unable to do so. Thereupon the Presence clasped him to his bosom and on releasing him once more directed him to recite but received the same negative reply. This was repeated once more after which the Presence directed: “Recite in the name of thy Lord who created. He created man from a clot of blood. Recite, for thy Lord is most Beneficent, who has taught by the pen. Taught man which he knew not.” (96:2-6). The Presence then disappeared. Muhammad (peace be on him) was overpowered by the experience and immediately made his way home and told Khadeeja what had happened. She suggested he accompany her to her aged and almost blind Christian cousin — Waraqa, and relate his experience to him. On hearing the account of the incident Waraqa said: “The angel which descended on Moses has descended on you. Would that I were stronger and could survive till your people will expel you from your home.” Muhammad (peace be on him) was surprised and exclaimed: “Will they indeed expel me?”. Waraqa replied: “Never has that come to any which has come to you but that his people have turned against him. If I survive till that time, I shall help you with all my strength.” INTRODUCTION TO ISLAM 7 It is striking that the first verbal revelation which Muhammad (peace be on him) received and which is a part of the Quran, commanded him: “Recite in the name of thy Lord.” Every chapter of the Quran commences with “In the name of God, ever Gracious, most Merciful.” He received no further experience of the same kind for a while. Then he began to receive revelations at intervals until at last he was commanded by God to denounce idolatry and proclaim His Unity. In the beginning his attempts to convey God’s message in Mecca drew only four persons They were: Khadeeja, Ali his eleven-year-old cousin, Zaid a freed slave and his friend Abu Bakr. The Meccans derided this small group but as time passed more and more persons joined. The Meccans began to take a serious attitude and embarked upon a course of persecution which grew more cruel and savage as time passed. None was secure against persecution, not even the Prophet himself who was continuously sub j ected to all kinds of indignities and molestations. The worst affected were the converts from slavery. Sometimes stones were laid on their chests after being laid on hot sand in the scorching sun. Women were not even spared. One slave woman lost her eyes; another was cruelly murdered with a spear and others were subjected to shameless and unmentionable torture but they remained steadfast in faith. Muhammad (peace be on him) and his followers suffered persecution and severe hardship in Mecca for twelve years until they decided to migrate to Medina a town over two hundred miles north of Mecca where they were enthusiastically welcomed. Thenceforth Islam commenced to spread rapidly. The Prophet arrived in Medina in 622 A.D. which marks the beginning of the Islamic lunar calender known as “Hijra” which means “migration”. The suffix A.H. (after Hijra) is added after the year as Christians introduced the suffix A.D. The progress of Islam after the Prophet’s safe arrival in Medina set the stage for the Meccans to embark on warfare against the Muslims. He was responsible not only for the Muslims but for the whole of Medina which was under threat of attack and which was attacked again and again by the Meccans who were successfully repelled. Ten years after the migration to Medina, Muhammad (peace be on him) re-entered Mecca accompanied by ten thousand of his followers. Mecca was unable to resist and was taken without bloodshed. Muslims believe that this event fulfilled the following Biblical prophecy: “He shined forth from mount Paran and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.” (Deuteronomy 33:2). Despite the enormities the Meccans had inflicted upon the Prophet and his followers he forgave them. Such was his magnanimity. He breathed his last in 632 A.D. with these words on his lips: “To my friend the highest of the high — 8 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS to my friend the highest of the high.” His death was a severe blow to the Muslims and his intimate companions were overwhelmed with grief. Hassan, a poet of the early days of Islam, expressed his grief in these words: “Thou wast the pupil of my eye. Now that thou hast died my eye hath become blind. I care not who dies now for I feared only thy death.” Muhammad (peace be on him) was a human being and in the Quran has been commanded by God to proclaim: “Tell them: I am but a man like unto you; it is revealed to me that your God is one God. So let him who hopes to meet his Lord work righteousness and let him associate no one in the worship of his Lord.” (18:111). He appeared at a time when the world was in need of a universal and comprehensive spiritual guidance. History bears out that this was the darkest period of the dark ages. Many historians and religious authorities have endorsed this fact. A European orientalist — L. Dermengham has written in his book “Life of Mohomet”: “Mohomet appeared on the scene at one of the darkest periods in all history.” The scene in Arabia was to change in a short period of time and by 650 A.D. a large part of the world had changed for the better. S. P. Scott writes in his book “History of the Moorish Empire in Europe”: “If the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect, if the performance of good work will avail in the great day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning, it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit that Muhammad was indeed an Apostle of God.” Muhammad was a man of peace; but his enemies would allow him no peace. They compelled him to take up arms in defence of freedom of conscience — the most fundamental human right. George Bernard Shaw declared: “I believe that if a man like Muhammad were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving the problem in a way that would bring it much needed peace and happiness.” Islam is the religion propogated and established by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) and is today professed by over seven hundred thousand Muslims the world over. Its message is contained in the Holy Quran which is a verbal revelation vouchsafed to Muhammad (peace be on him) in small portions from time to time during the twenty-two years of his ministry. It contains the whole of the law, doctrine, philosophy, moral precepts and other teachings of Islam. INTRODUCTION TO ISLAM 9 Islam means “submission to the Will of God” and “Peace”. It is not named after Muhammad (peace be on him). All followers of Islam, including the Prophet himself, are called Muslims i.e. those who submit themselves to the will of God and exert themselves in establishing universal peace. The Quran states that those who submit themselves to God and are the doers of good shall have no fear nor shall they grieve. Islam is the simplest religion to profess and to practise. It is sufficient to believe and proclaim one’s belief. The cardinal principle of Islam is: “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is His Prophet.” Whoever declares this profession of faith becomes a Muslim who is also required to believe in the following articles of faith: Belief in the Unity of God. Belief in all revealed books. Belief in all Prophets. Belief in angels. Belief in the Day of Resurrection. A particular belief is in the original truth of all the revealed religions revealed by God prior to the advent of Islam thereby laying the basis for a harmonious relationship among mankind. No doubt there may exist differences of views but they should not lead to rancour and enmity. Islam calls for practical belief and not mere lip service. The Quran constantly refers to true Muslims as those who not only believe but also do good. Correct belief should be nourished by good deeds. Islam emphasises that it is not only conviction of the truth of a proposition which is required but also its translation into practice. The Islamic prayer comes first among the fundamental principles of action. Prayer is the outpouring of one’s inner feelings, a sincere supplication to God and a reverential expression of spiritual yearnings. Prayer is a means of self-purification which is an essential requisite for attaining communion with God. The offering of prescribed prayers five times a day in a particular manner is obligatory upon every Muslim. A Muslim may pray alone in any place which suits his convenience. He prays to God direct and does not confess his sins to any one other than to Him. The names and timings of the prayers are: 1. Salat-ul-Fajr or the morning prayer which is offered between dawn and sunrise. •2. Salat-ul-Zuhr or the early afternoon prayer which is offered when the sun begins to decline; and its time extends to the next prayer. 3. Salat-ul-Asr or the late afternoon prayer which is offered when the sun is about midway on its course to setting and its time extends to a little before sunset. 10 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 4. Salat-ul-Magrib or the evening prayer is offered just after sunset. 5. Salat-ul-Isha or the early night prayer which is offered after the red glow in the west has disappeared. Its time extends to midnight. Prior to the offering of prayers it is necessary to wash those parts of the body which are generally exposed. This ablution is called “Wudu”. Prayer is the spiritual diet of a Muslim which he partakes five tunes a day; and those who think it is too frequent should bear in mind how ready they are to take their daily meals at various times of the day to nourish their physical bodies. Is not spiritual growth much more essential than physical growth? Is not the soul of greater value than the body? If food is needed and taken several times a day to minister the needs of the body is not the soul in need of spiritual nourishment? Jesus is recorded to have said: “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4). Contributing the Poor Rate known as “Zakat” is another principle of action. All religions advocate charity. Islam has made it obligatory and binding on Muslims through payment of Zakat. It is a tax paid in cash or kind by Muslims of means who possess for one complete year money, gold, silver or cattle. The annual rate is 2V2% of the value of their holdings which is used in assisting the poor. Fasting is another fundamental teaching of Islam. All revealed religions have prescribed fasting in one form or another. In some cases it is almost symbolic such as the Christian observance during the forty days of Lent when Christians are encouraged to deny themselves some little pleasure of their choice during that period. The way of fasting as taught in Islam is quite different to that practised by other religions. Muslims have been commanded to fast for a main purpose: “O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.” (2:184). The ordinances relating to fasting are clearly stated and defined in Islam with permissible exemption for certain classes of people. One of the months in the Muslim Calendar is called Ramadhan and throughout this month all able-bodied Muslims are commanded to fast daily from the first flush of dawn until sunset. During this period nothing of any kind in the way of food or drink may be taken. A person who is unwell is excused from fasting and also a traveller providing the nature of the journey is not the usual routine of his work such as a pilot or an engine driver. The number of fasts which may be missed during the month for permissible reasons must be observed later on within the year before the next month of fasting comes around. During the INTRODUCTION TO ISLAM 11 month of fasting one is also required to pay particular attention to one’s behaviour. The Prophet of Islam has said: “He who abstains from food and drink during the period of the fast, but does not restrain himself from uttering a falsehood starves himself for no purpose.” The fast is not an empty and meaningless imposition. It is a means of physical, moral, social and spiritual development. The physical body is apt to run wild like an untamed horse unless held under rigid control. Our passions rule us and we are inclined to gratify every desire of the flesh thus affecting our words and actions. Through successful fasting one demonstrates one has the ability to resist temptations of the flesh when one makes up one’s mind to do so. Whilst fasting, one is able to understand and sympathize with one’s less fortunate bretheren who are starving or undernourished. Medical science has disclosed that fasting is one of the most effective forms of treatment for cleansing the body of toxic poisons and for many diseases. It cleanses the body of impurities. Pilgrimage to Mecca is another fundamental injunction of Islam. It is known as “Hajj”. Every Muslim is commanded to make the Pilgrimage at least once in his lifetime provided he can afford to do so and is in good health. It is performed during the Islamic month called “Zulhajj”, the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The pilgrims wear one type of simple dress consisting of two seamless sheets and leaves his head uncovered. All distinction of rank, wealth, colour and nationality disappear; even royalty is indistinguishable from the peasant. In the centre of Mecca is a small house of worship known as the Kabah. Muslims believe it was the first house of worship built for the glorification of God dating far back into antiquity. During the passage of time it fell into ruin but was restored by Abraham who instituted pilgrimage to the holy site. Pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the pillars of Islam incumbent upon Muslims to observe at least once in their lifetime. Islam aims at reforming society through purification of the soul and body. The physical state of man is closely connected with his moral and spiritual state, so much so that even his modes of eating and drinking play a part in the moulding of his moral and spiritual qualities. It is because food and drink play an important role in the formation of character that the Quran forbids eating the flesh of swine and the drinking of alcohol. Furthermore in order to safeguard mankind from social evils Islam forbids gambling and also the lending of money on interest as this tends to accumulate wealth within a limited circle. The free intermingling of the opposite sexes is also not permissible. Everyone is aware of the moral depravity that exists in a promiscuous society.