An Introduction to Islam from a Christian Perspective
The word Islam means surrendering or submitting to a divine will. It is a monotheistic religion based on the belief in a single deity, who in Arabic is known as Allah. Its adherents’ conception of who Allah is and how they are supposed to worship and serve Him is grounded on the teachings of Muhammad, who is believed to be the final and the most important prophet. Similarly, Muslims also believe in the Judeo-Christian figures, namely; Abraham, Moses, Adam, Noah, and Jesus, who they believe were important prophets before Muhammad (Wolff, 2017). Despite their theological differences, Islam and Christianity share significant common ground as monotheistic religions. Muslims’ sacred text is the Holy Qur’an, believed to contain direct words from Allah as disclosed to Muhammad through angel Gabriel. Muslims do not accept the Christians’ Bible because they think it has been altered and does not represent God’s actual message. Therefore, they reject the teachings about Jesus and the Holy Trinity. Muslims believe that Jesus was only a prophet and not the son of God and regard the Trinity as polytheism.
The Pillars of Islam
There are five pillars of Islam representing the key practices that all Muslims are obligated to fulfil in their lifetime. These pillars form the foundation of Muslim life, and they guide the Islamic adherents into establishing a good relationship with Allah. The profession of faith (Shahada) is the first pillar and the most fundamental expression of Islamic beliefs. It is centered on the idea of one true God named Allah. This pillar stresses the monotheistic nature of the Islamic faith because of the conviction that there is no other supreme being other than Allah (Wolff, 2017). The testimony of faith also involves the recognition of Muhammad as Allah’s messenger or prophet. Therefore, Shahada is considered the first act of joining Islam because it affirms the commitment to the Muslim faith. To become a Muslim, one has to recite the Shahada three times before a group of witnesses (Muslim Aid Media Centre n.d). The declaration of faith signifies the followers’ acceptance of the acts of worship performed throughout their lives and the obligation to adhere to Islamic law and ethics.
Prayer (Salat/Salah) is the second Islamic pillar through which all Muslims conform to Allah’s will. All Muslims are required to pray five times a day. The prayers include the Fajr performed at dawn, Dhuhr said at noon, Asr conducted in mid-afternoon, Maghrib done at sunset, and Isha during the night (Muslim Aid Media Centre, n.d). Based on the Islamic teachings, the prayers can be conducted at any place during which the Muslims are required to face Mecca. Nevertheless, men are encouraged to attend prayers at the mosque to show unity. Friday has been set aside as a day of congregational prayers (Jum’a). Before engaging in prayer, the Muslims perform a cleansing ritual known as wudu aimed to purify the adherents’ physical selves. During prayers, Muslims bow multiple times while standing; they then kneel and touch the ground with their foreheads to show reverence and submission to Allah (Wolff, 2017). Apart from the five mandatory prayers, Muslims may also perform the Nafl Salah and Sunnah during extra worship (Islamic Relief Worldwide, 2021). Salat is an integral part of Islamic life because it helps Muslims reflect on the Qur’an and their faith.
Almsgiving (Zakat) is a critical element in the Islamic faith. The Islamic faith dictates that all Muslims have a responsibility to help vulnerable members of their communities. Zakat is centered on charity, where the wealthy members donate a particular proportion of their wealth to the needy as a service to Allah (Wolff, 2017). Muslims believe that Allah created distinct wealth levels among the believers to test their generosity and humanity. They also consider all material items and riches to belong to Allah. Therefore, the rich use their wealth to help and support others because such good deeds may assist them in entering heaven. Zakat is only paid by Muslims whose wealth has accrued to a certain level (Nisab). Those eligible for almsgiving must contribute 2.5% of their wealth to charity (Muslim Aid Media Centre, n.d). Zakat is paid once a year and is due when one lunar year ends since a Muslim adherent met or exceeded the Nisab. The distribution of Zakat follows set criteria and is mainly channeled to needy children, victims of war, and those affected by calamities and diseases, among other vulnerable people.
Fasting (Sawm) is another instrumental pillar among the Muslim community. Muslims are mandated to fast during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. In Ramadan, Muslims are expected to abstain from drinks, food, smoking, and sexual activities during the day (Wolff, 2017). Only two meals are allowed during Ramadan; Suhoor is eaten early in the morning before sunrise, while Iftar is consumed after sunset. The meals can also be accompanied by drinks, including water. Although fasting is mandatory among Muslims, certain groups are exempted. These include children, the elderly, and pregnant and breastfeeding women. Sawm signifies discipline and avoidance of bad habits and temptations, which increases the adherents’ devotion to Allah, for which there is a promise of rewards. The key objectives of Ramadan are to bring Muslims closer to Allah (taqwa) and to inspire the fear of Allah among the adherents (Muslim Aid Media Centre, n.d). The Islamic teachings stipulate that there are many rewards for those who repent and give to charity during Ramadan. The fasting period concludes with the celebration of the Eid-ul-Fitr, which involves a lot of feasting with families and loved ones.
The pilgrimage (Hajj) is the final pillar that unifies all Muslims. All Islamic followers are expected to visit holy shrines for prayers. The main Islamic pilgrimage is usually held at the holy Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca each year. All Muslims are obligated to visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able. Hajj is held from the 8th to the 12th of the final month of the Islamic calendar (Muslim Aid Media Centre, n.d). During the pilgrimage, all Muslims from all corners of the world congregate at Mecca, where they hold several rituals to strengthen their faith and devotion to Allah. The rites involve circling the Kaaba (a small shrine in Mecca) seven times and moving between the hillocks of Marwa and Safa seven times (Robinson, 2021). Afterward, the pilgrims come together at Arafa to seek Allah’s forgiveness and pray for their personal wishes. Pilgrimages are perceived to enhance the unity among all the congregants and create a spiritual moment that brings all Muslims closer to Allah. The completion of Hajj is marked by the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha.
The Major Teachings of Islam
All Islamic teachings are based on the Qur’an and the Hadith. The main Islamic teachings include the oneness of God. Islam is a monotheistic religion; Muslims believe in one true God who is the only Supreme Being called Allah (Qur’an 112:1–4). Allah is believed to be the creator of the universe, all-powerful, all-knowing and transcendent (Surah 63:103). Muslims believe that no other being is comparable to Allah, for he is so holy. This belief in the oneness and unity of Allah is referred to as Tawhid and is consistent in all the five pillars of Islam (Fanack, 2017). Muslims also believe that Allah does not have a son, and he is eternal with no beginning or an end and has no equal (Moffic et al., 2019). Therefore, according to Islam, there is only one God who is indivisible and unique; He has always existed as one and will forever remain to be one.
The Islamic faith teaches about the existence of prophets and angels who are perceived to be Allah’s messengers. Muslims believe that prophets (nabis) are Allah’s instruments who reveal how humanity should live and the consequences of not abiding by Allah’s will. Based on the Muslim faith, Allah has used nabis throughout history to guide his followers. As a result, Muslims believe in several prophets such as Adam, Noah, Jesus, Abraham, and Moses (Qur’an 3:33–34; 4:163). They also have the conviction that Muhammad was Allah’s final prophet. However, prophets should only be respected but not glorified because only Allah should be worshipped. Regarding angels, the Islamic faith stresses the existence of unseen beings who relay Allah’s orders throughout the universe (Moffic et al., 2019). Muslims believe that Allah has positioned an angel before and behind each follower to watch over them. During prayers, all Muslims acknowledge the angels on their left and right shoulders (Surah 13:11). Some of the angels mentioned in the Qur’an include Gabriel, Michael, Israfil, and Izraaeel. For example, chapter 96 of the Qur’an states that Allah used the angel Gabriel to deliver his will to Muhammad.
Islamic teachings also focus on life after death, popularly known as Akhira. They believe that life on earth is temporary and only helps the adherents prepare themselves for eternal life after death. Muslims are taught that Allah decides when an individual will die (Qur’an 3:145). It is a common belief that life on earth is a test from God, and therefore, these followers try to do as many good deeds as possible to be rewarded in the afterlife. Additionally, the Day of Judgment (Yawm al-din) is a fundamental teaching in the Islamic faith (Moffic et al., 2019). The Islamic doctrines state that the dead will be resurrected during judgment day, and all faithfuls will appear before Allah. Each adherent will then be judged based on how they lived their life. If the good actions outweigh the evil deeds, then such an individual will be let in heaven (Jannah); however, if a follower lived a bad life, they will enter hell (Qur’an 3:115-116). This teaching is mainly emphasized to encourage the Muslims to live good lives by adhering to Allah’s will and helping those in need.
All Muslims are taught about the sacredness of the Holy books, which contain Allah’s message to his people. According to Islam, the sacred scriptures include the Qur’an, Torah, Psalms, Gospel, and Abraham’s Scrolls. Muslims believe that Allah dictated the information in the doctrines to his prophets; thus, they contain a direct message from God (Moffic et al., 2019). Nevertheless, only the Qur’an is considered an original scripture because it was never translated, minimizing the chances of being altered. Hence, the Qur’an guides all Muslims throughout all phases of their lives. It teaches about worship, legal and social system, and helps the adherents develop a purpose for their lives. In addition, the Sunnah and Hadith are also essential books that are perceived to contain the deeds and directives of Muhammad to advise and guide Muslims on how to live according to Allah’s will (Saad, 2020). Similarly, Islam teaches about the concept of predestination (Al Qad’r). Muslims perceive that everything in the world occurs exactly how Allah has planned it (Surah 13:42; Surah 9:51). Nonetheless, the idea of predestination does not overlook human’s free will.
A Major Event in the History of Islam
The Hijra is among the most critical events in the history of Islam. It describes the migration of Muhammad and his supporters from Mecca to Medina in 622 BCE (Tracy, 2020). After receiving revelations from Allah, Muhammad began preaching against polytheism, creating huge conflicts with his tribe members (Quraysh). The opposition to Muhammad’s teaching led to the assassination of many of his followers, forcing other supporters to flee to neighboring cities. Fortunately, a delegation arrived from Medina who requested Muhammad to become an arbitrator for their city to solve conflicts among the communities. Consequently, Muhammad and his supporters emigrated to Medina, where they were welcomed.
Hijra is fundamental to Muslims because the foundations of the Islamic civilization were established in Medina. In this case, the Hijra marked the start of the Islamic movement. It was also in Medina that the Islamic calendar that guides all Muslims’ activities throughout the year was established (Fanack, 2017). The Islam supporters also increased tremendously, contributing to the growth of the religion. Medina has a lot of religious significance to the Muslims because Muhammad was buried there. It is the second most sacred city after Mecca, and it contains Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid an-Nawabi), which serves as a shrine (Robinson, 2021). Therefore, Hijra is a key event in the history of Islam because it provided the basis for the Islamic faith.
Islam is a monotheistic religion grounded on the belief in one true God. The Islamic traditions are founded on the pillars of declaration of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars teach the duties and obligations of all Muslims to their faith. By adhering to these traditions, the adherents grow their faith and increase their chances of getting to heaven in the afterlife. The central teachings in Islam revolve around the oneness of God and the existence of angels and prophets. Muslims are also taught about judgment day and the afterlife, which encourages them to do good deeds such as donating to the less fortunate. The Islamic teachings also emphasize predestination which suggests that all occurrences in the world are planned by God. Most importantly, the Hijra is one of the critical events in Islamic history. It involves the fleeing of Muhammad and his supporters from Mecca to Medina to avoid persecution. This event formed the foundation of the Islamic movement because it inspired the creation of the lunar calendar, which guides all Muslim activities throughout the year and sets them apart from other religions.
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