"Did you think that We had created you in play, and that you would not be returned unto Us?" The noble Qur'an, Al-Muminoon(23):115.
What Does "Islam" Mean
The word "Islam" itself means "Submission to Allah." The religion of Islam is not named after a person as in the case of "Christianity" which was named after Jesus Christ, "Buddhism" after Gutama Buddha , "Marxism" after Karl Marx, and "Confucianism" after Confucius. *
Similarly, Islam is not named after a tribe like "Judaism" after the tribe of Judah and "Hinduism" after the Hindus. The Arabic word "Islam" means the submission or surrender of one's will to the will of the only true god worthy of worship, "Allah" (known as God "the Father" in Christianity). *
Anyone who does indeed submit to the will of Allah as required by Islam is termed a "Muslim," which means one who has submitted to the will of Allah. Many people in the West have developed the sad misinformed trend of calling Islam "Muhammadenism" and it's followers "Muhammadins." This is a totally foreign word to Muslims and unrecognized by them. No Muslim has ever called his religion "Muhammadenism" or called himself a "Muhammadin."
What Is The Basic Concept of Islam
Islam teaches us that this life is a life of worship. We are placed on this earth in order to worship Allah and obey His command. During this earthly life we are subjected to a series of trials. We have the option of enduring these trials and conforming to certain laws, and our reward will be great in the next life, or we may decline to endure these trials and choose to not conform to the law, then we will be made to regret it in the next life. *
Each person will be solely and completely responsible for their own final reward. We are also told that God has designed these laws to make this life a better, safer, and more tolerable one for us. If we elect to conform to them then we will see the result in this life even before moving on to the next.
We are told that the earthly life is a life of faith and work, and the next life is one of reward and no work. We have been placed on this earth to worship God, fast, pray, be industrious, good, kind, respectful, and a source of uprightness and morality. We are told that God has no need of our worship. Our worship can not increase the kingdom of God nor add to His power, however, it is in our best interests both in this life and the next that we do.
Unlike some other religions which claim that God entered in a covenant with a certain group of people and that this group is genetically better than all other human beings, or closer to God, Islam on the other hand teaches that no color, race, tribe, or lineage is better than any other. Islam teaches that all humans are equal in the sight of Allah and that the only thing that can distinguish them in His sight is their piety and worship.
"O humankind! Verily! We have created you from a male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily! the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing. Verily! Allah is The Knower, The Aware." The noble Qur'an, Al-Hujrat(49):13.
Levels of Islam
Islam consists of three levels, each building upon the lower ones. They are:
Testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah
Establish the daily prayers
Pay Zakat (Obligatory charity due the poor)
Observe the fast of Ramadan
Perform pilgrimage to the Ka'aba (in Makkah ) once in your life if you are able
2) Faith (Iman):
To believe in Allah
To believe in His angels
To believe in His Books (******ures)
To believe in His Messengers
To believe in the Day of Judgment
To believe in the Divine Decree (Divine fate) whether good or evil
3) Excellence/Goodness (Ihsan )
To worship Allah (God) as if you see Him, for if you can not see Him, He assuredly sees you.
In Sahih Muslim, Abdullah ibn Umar ibn al-Khattab narrated: *
"My father, Umar ibn al-Khattab, told me: One day we were sitting in the company of Allah's Apostle (pbuh) when there appeared before us a man dressed in pure white clothes, his hair was extraordinarily black. There were no signs of travel on him, but none among us recognized him.
This man came and sat beside the Apostle (pbuh) kneeling before him and placing his palms on his thighs. He then said: Muhammad, inform me about al-Islam. *
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: Islam implies that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and you establish prayer, pay Zakat, observe the fast of Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the (House) if you are solvent enough (to bear the expense of) the journey. *
He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth.
He (Umar ibn al-Khattab) said: It amazed us that he would put the question and then he would himself verify the truth. *
He (the inquirer) said: Inform me about Iman (faith). He (the Holy Prophet) replied: That you affirm your faith in Allah, in His angels, in His Books, in His Apostles, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in the Divine Decree, either good and evil. *
He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth. He (the inquirer) again said: Inform me about al-Ihsan (performance of good deeds). *
He (the Holy Prophet) said: That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you don't see Him, He, verily, sees you. He (the inquirer) again said: Inform me about the hour (of the judgment). *
He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: The one who is asked knows no more than the one who is inquiring (about it). *
He (the inquirer) said: Tell me some of its indications. *
He (the Holy Prophet) said: That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and master, and that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herders vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings.
He (the narrator, Umar ibn al-Khattab) said: Then he (the inquirer) went on his way but I stayed with the messenger of Allah for a long while. The prophet Muhammad then, said to me: Umar, do you know who this inquirer was? I replied: Allah and His Apostle know best. *
He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: He was Gabriel (the angel). He came to you in order to instruct you in your religion."
What Are The Pillars of Islam?
Islam is built upon five major pillars. A Muslim is taught that anyone who dies observing these five basic pillars will enter heaven. As mentioned, they are:
(1) To bear witness that there is no entity worthy of worship except Allah(God) alone, and that Muhammad (pbuh) was His messenger. This establishes obedience to God Almighty alone.
(2) To perform five prescribed prayers to God every day according to a specific prescribed method and at specific prescribed times. This continually reminds us to bear God in mind in all actions, either before or after any given prayer.
(3) To pay two and a half percent (2.5%) of ones wealth to charity every year if their savings exceed a certain minimum level which is considered above the poverty level. (This is the basic concept, the actual calculation is a little more complex).
(4) To fast the month of Ramadhan (from the Islamic Lunar calendar) every year from sun rise until sunset. This involves not eating, drinking, or having marital relations, from sun rise until sun set.
(5) To perform a pilgrimage to Makkah (in the Arabian Peninsula) once in a Muslim's lifetime if it is financially possible and their health permits. During this period, Muslims come from all over the world to join together for six days in a prescribed set of acts of worship. All Muslim men are mandated to wear the same garment which was designed to be very plain, simple, and cheap to obtain.
Mu'ad ibn Jabal said: I said to Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him): Inform me about an act which would entitle me to enter into Paradise, and distance me from the Hell-Fire. He (the Prophet) said:
"You have asked me about a matter [which ostensibly appears to be] difficult but it is easy for those for whom Allah, the Exalted, has made it easy. Worship Allah and do not associate anything with him, establish prayer, pay the Zakat, observe the fast of Ramadhan and perform Hajj to the House (Ka'aba)." (Narrated by Ahmed, al-Tirmathy, and ibn Majah)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Muslims are taught that prophets are humans who have been selected by God for a special purpose. They are given miracles to assist them in their message but these miracles are not performed through their own power, but through the power of God. The prophets of God have no divine powers of their own, nor even the power to decide who will go to heaven or to hell. They are merely there to convey the message entrusted to them by God to the best of their ability.
In a similar manner, Muhammad (pbuh) was assisted by God with a number of miracles and entrusted to convey His message to mankind. Muhammad (pbuh) himself, however, was just a regular human being. He could not issue passes to heaven. He could not condemn people to hell. He could not change what was in people's hearts. He could only convey the message and hope that they would believe.
Muhammad (pbuh) lived like any other man or woman of his people. He dressed like they dressed. He ate the same food they ate. He lived in the same manner and in the same sort of houses they did. It would be impossible for someone who did not know him to pick him out of a crowd.
Muhammad (pbuh) taught his followers through example. If he commanded his followers to do something, he would be the first to abide by this command. He never broke his word, he was by far the most charitable man among his people. He was the most God-fearing and the least attached to this life. *
He never in his life accepted charity, but worked for a living. He never lied. It was not at all uncommon for him to spend months on end enduring severe hunger never seeing a single *****d meal. He taught his followers to be merciful to their children and respectful to their elders. He commanded them to never taste alcohol, gamble, engage in usury (interest), fornication, envy, deceit, or back-biting. *
Muhammad (pbuh) taught that no human being needs any other human being to intercede for him with God. He showed them that God is within the reach of all his creation. He hears and sees all and answers His servant's prayers.
Muhammad (pbuh) further severely cautioned against promoting any of God's creation or groups thereof to higher levels of divine authority and closeness to God than others, or the excessive glorification of any human being. This includes the prophets of God themselves. He taught that the very best of God's servants are those who continuously seek out knowledge and that God sees all that they do.
Muhammad (pbuh) taught his followers to be industrious and to earn an honest living. He taught them that the best Muslims are those who are not overly obsessed with earthly wealth since excessive wealth usually leads to corruption. *
However, he also taught that a wealthy person who is not blinded by his wealth is not condemned by God and may even be able to utilize his wealth in acts of worship not available to the poor. In other words, Muhammad (pbuh) taught moderation in all things.
There is much more that could be said about the teachings of Muhammad (pbuh), however, probably one of the most general summaries made by Muhammad (pbuh) in this regard was:
"Righteousness is good conduct, and sin is that which weaves inside your chest and you hate for it to be revealed to mankind."
No 'Religious' Hierarchy
In Islam, there is no hierarchy of religious leadership such as the people of some other religions may have come to expect. There are no priests, bishops, monks, Popes, ...etc. Muslims define a scholar of Islam as an 'Imam' (not to be confused with the "Imams" of Iran who claim to have boundless supernatural powers and divine attributes). In any given neighborhood, the Imam is the person that a Muslim seeks for religious rulings. *
For example, if a Muslim dies and his sons want to distribute his inheritance, they go to the Imam and he presents them with the verses of the Qur'an and the Sunnah which describe the required procedure. This man will also usually give religious lectures to teach the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
The Muslim Imams and scholars have no special divine powers. They cannot forgive sins. They do not receive divine "inspirations." They cannot issue passes to heaven. They do not have knowledge of the unseen. The can not change the law. They are just regular Muslims who have distinguished themselves with their study and their knowledge.