This introduction to Islam is from a Sunni perspective.

Basic introduction to... Islam

  • Ranking: 2nd largest in the world with 1.6 billion followers (23%)
  • Creator: Allah (May He be Glorified and Exalted)
  • Prophet: Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him, abbreviated to pbuh)
  • Main book: Qur'an
  • Formally established: circa 610 AD
  • Follower: Muslim
  • Denomination (branch of faith): Sunni (approx 90%) and Shi'a (10%)
  • Core belief(s): Seven articles of faith:
    1. Belief in ALlāh
    2. Belief in His Angels
    3. Belief in His Books (Kitabs)
    4. Belief in His Messengers (Nabis)
    5. Belief in the Day of Judgment (Qiyamat)
    6. Belief in Fate (Taqdeer)
    7. Belief in the Life after Death
  • Core practise(s): Five pillars of Islam:
    1. Shahadah (Declaration of faith)
    2. Salat / Namaz (Prayer)
    3. Zakat (Charity)
    4. Sawm (Fasting - 'Ruza' in Bengali)
    5. Hajj (Pilgrimage)
  • Place of worship: Masjid (Mosque)
  • Mode of prayer: 5 daily prayer (Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, Isha) spread out throughout the day. Congregational prayer every Friday just after noon
  • Heaven and Hell: Muslim believe in two lives: in this world and Hereafter (living eternally in Heaven or Hell)
  • Main festival(s): Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha
  • Dietary requirement: Halal food and drink
  • More... Halal means 'permissible' and Haram means 'forbidden'.
    Sunnah refers to saying or action of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
    Hadith is a collection of traditions containing sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
    Muslims pray facing Qiblah - the direction of the Kaabah, the Sacred House in Makkah, Saudi Arabia

Meaning of 'Islam' and 'Muslim'

Islam means "peace acquired by submitting your will to Almighty God". A follower of Islam is called a "Muslim", a person who submits his will to Almighty God.

Inna alddeena AAinda Allahi alislamu wama ikhtalafa allatheena ootoo alkitaba illa min baAAdi ma jaahumu alAAilmu baghyan baynahum waman yakfur biayati Allahi fainna Allaha sareeAAu alhisabi

Surah 3 Aali-'Imran (The Family of Imran) Ayat (Verse) 19

19. Lo! religion with Allah (is) The Surrender (to His will and guidance). Those who (formerly) received the Scripture differed only after knowledge came unto them, through transgression among themselves. Whoso disbelieveth the revelations of Allah (will find that) Lo! Allah is swift at reckoning.

Islam is a monotheistic religion - believing in one god, Allah (Subḥānahu ūta'āla - May He be Glorified and Exalted - often abbreviated to "swt"). It is the second largest religion in the world today, behind Christianity, with an estimated 1.6 billion followers (23%), spread across the globe.

Islam is a complete way of life and refers to the total surrender of one's self to Allah (swt). However, it's not a one-sided relationship, where the believer is enslaved to Allah. Rather, the word Islam indicates a covenant between Allah and his followers, where a Muslim surrenders his or her will to Allah in return for peace or safety.

Is Islam a new religion and only 1400+ years old?

No.

Every Prophet beginning from Adam, through Nuh (Noah in Judeo-Christian text), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Isa (Jesus) and ending with Muhammad - Peace Be Upon All Of Them - all preached about the Oneness of Allah (Tawheed in Arabic), in the Prophethood (Risalat) and in Hereafter (Aakhirah). They were all Muslims.

Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu alayhi wasallam - Peace Be Upon Him, abbreviated to "saw" or "pbuh") is the last prophet who was revealed the holy book, Qur'an, around 610 by Allah through angel Jibrail (may Allah be pleased with him). It's the Noble Qur'an and the practises (Sunnah) and authentic sayings (Hadiths) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which forms the foundation of the belief and are the fundamental sources of Islam.

Islamic calendar or Hijri calendar

Muslims believe that Islam has always existed since time immemorial, but for practical purposes, date the religion from the time of the migration of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from Makkah to Madinah (in Saudi Arabia) in 622 AD. This journey is called Hijrah (migration) and it's from this year (i.e. 622) that the Islamic calendar begins.

The calendar - known as at-taqwīm al-hijrī in Arabic - is denoted by H for Hijrah or AH for the Latin anno Hegirae (in the year of the Hijra), e.g. 1H or 1AH. Hence, the calendar is sometime also referred to as the Hijri calendar.

Why is this religion called Islam and not 'Muhammadism'?

Most, if not all the religions (or deens) around the world take their name from a specific person or a specific nation. For example, Christianity takes its name from Jesus Christ (pbuh), Buddhism from its founder Gautama Buddha, Zoroastrians from their founder and standard-bearer Zoroaster, Judaism from a tribe known as Yehudah (Judah), and Hinduism originally refers to the people living across the Indus River (northwest of India). And so on so forth.

Islam is not attributed to any specific man or to any specific nation because it's considered the religion for WHOLE humanity. It is an universal religion where only Allah the Creator should be worshiped and nothing else. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is not founder of the religion but the last messenger who restored the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Ibrahim and other prophets whose messages had become corrupted over time (or according to some authorities only misinterpreted). Worshiping is reserved for Allah alone and and not His prophets who are only human beings, albeit the best of best.

Purpose of life

Life is meant to be an arena whereby one struggles with good and evil. The Quran teaches that good and evil exist in the heart of every individual as well as in the society. The individual struggle is to act righteously in accordance with the Quran and prophetic example, and to shun one's own evil and its impulses. The collective struggle is to work with others to make the world a more righteous place.

Struggle for goodness

In Arabic, this inward and outward struggle is called jihad. While it can mean a militant struggle against those who attack the Muslim lands, it also signifies a person's struggle with the lower tendencies of the soul, the gravitational pull of self-destructive forces that lead to alienation from Allah (swt) and a state of spiritual disequilibrium.

Because humans inevitably fall short morally and succumb to these destructive tendencies from time to time, a means of reestablishing spiritual balance is given, called tauba or atonement. This is done by experiencing a genuine sense of remorse for one's transgressions and a removal of the unhealthy effects of that state by turning to God and seeking divine grace through prayer, charity, and a sincere resolution not to return to the destructive patterns of the past.

Enjoy the blessings of life

While life is seen as a spiritual test and journey, it is also seen as being filled with blessings from Allah (swt) to be enjoyed:

O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal [wasters]. Lo! He loveth not the prodigals.

Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing? Say: Such, on the Day of Resurrection, will be only for those who believed during the life of the world. Thus do We detail Our revelations for people who have knowledge.

Surah 7 Al-A'raf (The Heights), Ayats (Verses) 31 & 32

Thus, in Islam, marriage is highly recommended and celibacy is frowned upon. The Muslim savants of the past identified sexual relations between a wife and her husband as a foretaste of eternal bliss with God in the afterlife. The Prophet Muhammad encouraged marriage and stated, "There is no monasticism in Islam".

In Islam, children are highly esteemed and seen as one of God's greatest blessings to humanity. The Prophet stated that humans were born innocent and later corrupted by their societies. Thus, parents are held responsible for maintaining that state of innocence and raising them with a sense of love and awe of the divine. Motherhood is highly regarded in the Qu'ran and the prophetic tradition. In most Muslim societies, adult women are still predominantly mothers and housewives during their productive years.

Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.

The Prophet

7 Articles of Faith

Declaration of Faith (Iman-e-Mujmal)

'Imaan' means to have faith in something and to proclaim it. To a Muslim imaan means firm belief in Allah and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Iman-e-Mujmal

Aamantu bilLahi kamahuwa biasmaihi wa Sifatihi wa Kabiltu jamiah ahkamii.

"I believe in Allah as He is with Him many names and qualities and I have accepted all His orders."

Khalimahs

The Khalimahs (or Words) are declaration of faith.

  1. Kalimah Tauheed / Tayyibah
  2. Kalimah Shahaadat
  3. Kalimah Tamjeed
  4. Kalimah Tawheed
  5. Kalimah Radd Kufr

Essentials of Faith (Iman-e-Mufassal)

There are seven things which Muslims believe in - known as the articles of faith - and these are mentioned in the surah Iman-e-Mufassal (Detailed declaration of faith):

In Arabic:

Iman-e-Mufassal

Transliteration:

Aamantu bilLahi
wa Malaikatihi
wa Kutubihi
wa Rusulihi
wal Yawmul Akhirihi
wal Qadri khairihi wa sharrihi minALlahi Ta’ala
wal ba’sihi Ba’adal Mawt.

In English:

I believe in ALlāh;
and His Angels;
and His Books;
and His Messengers;
and the Day of Judgment;
and that of Fate, the good and the bad given by ALlāh Ta’ala;
and the Life after Death.

7 articles of faith

The seven things a Muslim should believe in are:

  1. Belief in ALlāh
  2. Belief in His Angels
  3. Belief in His Books (Kitabs)
  4. Belief in His Messengers (Nabis)
  5. Belief in the Day of Judgment (Qiyamat)
  6. Belief in Fate (Taqdeer)
  7. Belief in the Life after Death

5 Pillars of Islam - 'Arkanul Islam'

There are five things a Muslim must do practically:

  1. Shahadah (Declaration of faith)
  2. Salat / Namaz (Prayer)
  3. Zakat (Charity)
  4. Sawm (Fasting - 'Ruza' in Bengali)
  5. Hajj (Pilgrimage)

Spread of Islam

Sunni & Shia

The way of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) - i.e. his teachings, thoughts, actions, behaviours, etc - is referred to as the Sunnah of the Prophet. And since Muslim consider him the best example for mankind, Allah has advised them to follow his ways. Any Muslims following the sunnah of the Prophet are referred to as Sunni Muslim (or Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘ah - People of the Tradition and the Congregation).

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not specifically appoint a successor to lead the Muslim Ummah (community) after his death. Thus when he passed away there was initially a period of confusion as to who should succeed his leadership. Abu Bakr Siddiqu (Radhiallahu'anhu - May Allah Be Pleased With Him) - the Prophet's closest companion and father-in-law - was elected by his fellow companions to become the first Caliph (head) of the Ummah.

The first four caliphs were:

  1. Abu Bakr
  2. `Umar ibn al-Khattāb
  3. Uthman Ibn Affan
  4. Ali ibn Abu Talib

...and they are referred to as the al-Khulafā’ur-Rāshidūn (The Rightly Guided Caliphs).

However, amongst the Sunni Muslims a small section argued that it should've been Ali ibn Abu Talib as the first caliph since he was the only one to be related to the Prophet - he was the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad as he was married to his daughter Fatima (May Allah Be Pleased with Her). They believed that it was his divine right and he should've been elected. This group came to be known as the Shi'as (or Shiites).

This group also believed that an Imam (leader) was a divinely appointed leader that will guide the people. New ones appear from time to time as they are needed. Throughout the history of Islam, men have claimed this position. Whereas the Sunni's believe that the imam is just the leader of the Friday night prayer service and nothing more.

These are the two major differences between Sunnis and Shi'as.

The Sunnis make up 87-90% of the Muslim population and the Shi'as comprise the rest. Most Shi'as are found in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and parts of Africa.

History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.

De Lacy O'Leary in 'Islam at the Crossroads,' London, 1923.

School of thoughts (Madhabs)

Allah T'aala had revealed the Qur'an through Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as guidance for us mankind. We also have the Hadiths - books containing the Sunnah (the actions and teachings) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) - to further aid us.

However, with the passage of time new situation arises such as how to observe rituals, moral issues and social legislation in Islam. To resolve these we need to create new laws based on the wisdom and guidance of the Qur'an and Hadiths. This expansion of the Islamic laws, or Shariah, is known as Fiqh (meaning 'deep understanding' and referring to Islamic Jurisprudence). The expansion of Islamic laws can only be made by qualified scholars (or Ulamas) and a person trained in fiqh is known as Faqih.

Each of the Sahaba (Prophet's Companion) had a unique school of thought or religious jurisprudence based on their understanding and knowledge of the Qur'an and Hadiths. These school of thought are referred to as Madhabs.

Although the Prophet (pbuh) had many Companions (May Allah Be Pleased WIth Them), with their own Madhabs, only four remain within Sunni Islam: Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali, Maliki.

The differences between these schools of thought manifest in minor practical differences, as most of us Sunni Muslims consider ourselves fundamentally the same. Sunnis generally do not identify themselves with a particular school of thought - simply calling themselves "Sunnis".

Halal vs Haram

Halal (meaning "lawful" or "permissable") refers to any object or action which is in accordance with the Islamic law, the "Shariah". The opposite of halal is haraam which means "forbidden".

In Islam many things are clearly halal or haraam. Those things that are not clear are referred to as mashbooh, meaning "questionable".

Dhabihah

Ḏabīḥah (meaning "slaughtered", and pronounced as "zoboh" in Bengali) is the prescribed method of slaughtering all animals excluding fish and most sea-life per Islamic law. This method of slaughtering animals consists of using a well sharpened knife to make a swift, deep incision that cuts the front of the throat, the carotid artery, wind pipe and jugular veins but leaves the spinal cord intact. The head of an animal that is slaughtered using halal methods is aligned with the Qiblah (the direction of the Kaabah, the sacred building at Makkah, Saudi Arabia, which a Muslim turns to at prayer). In addition to the direction, permitted animal should be slaughtered in the name of Allah and the person who is slaughtering should be a Muslim and he/she should be in a good mental condition and faith.

However, if there is no other food available then a Muslim is allowed to eat non-halal food only when their survival depends upon it. Once the halal option is available they must eat halal only.

If one is forced because there is no other choice, neither craving nor transgressing, there is no sin on him.

Surah 2:174,

This day are things good and pure made lawful to you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful to you and yours is lawful to them.

Surah 6:5,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhabihah

http://www.halalmc.net/resources/what_is_halal.html

Learning resources

Some common words & phrases and their meanings...

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful- When starting to do something:
Assalamu 'alaykum & Wa 'alaykum assalam
Peace be upon you - When meeting someone- And upon you be peace - Replying to the above greeting
Insha'llah
If Allah wills - When mentioning something that will be done in the future.
Subhanullah
Glory to Allah - When praising something say.
Ya Allah
O Allah - When in pain or distress.
Masha-Allah
As Allah willed - When appreciating something say.
Jazakallah
Allah reward you - When thanking someone.
Nowthzubillah
Allah protect us - When you see something bad:
Astaghfirullah
Allah forgive - When saying you're sorry to Allah for a sin.
Alhamdulillah
Praise Allah - After sneezing or when you're happy about something:
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun
To Allah we belong and to Him we return - When hearing about a death or tragedy:
Fee eemanullah
In Allah's faith - When giving in charity:
Fisabilillah
In the way of Allah - When recommending good action:
Wallah
I Swear to Allah - When taking an oath:
Alhamdulillah & Yarhamakullah & Yehdikumullah
If someone sneezes and they say, "alhumdulillah," you reply with, "Yarhamakullah." (Allah have mercy upon you.) The sneezer will reply back, "Yehdikumullah" which means, "Allah guide you."
La Hawla Wa La Quwwata Illa Billah
There is no power and strength except with Allah - When distressed.

May Allah keep us all on the Sirat-al Mustaqim (Straight Path). Ameen.