Islam

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As salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.
Or, may the peace, mercy and blessings of God be with you.

Reading through my blog, you’ll quickly discover that I’m a Muslim. 

It is probably fair to say that at this moment in time, there is no faith as misunderstood as Islam.  Unfortunately, some believe that Islam is an intolerant faith, which produces harsh, aggresive individuals, whose goal in life is to make the world bend their knee to its totalitarianism.  It is also sometimes said that Islam is a dry, law-bound faith, which does not (and cannot) ‘live in the Spirit’ (to borrow a Christian phrase).  As this blog aims to demonstrate, both of these ideas are mistaken.

So, before you carry on, if you’re new to Islam (and Muslims), please spend a moment or two reading through this very brief introduction to Islam (whose adherents number approximately 1.2 billion).

For a number of historical reasons, Europe has tended to see Islam (and Muslims) as the radically other.  Given this, Islam’s main beliefs and tenets have been somewhat obscured.  In other words, Islam has acquired the image of being very different and foreign.  In actual fact, its teachings are much closer to the Judaeo-Christian background of the West than either Buddhism or Hinduism.  Many of its principles are shared with Christianity and Judaism, whilst it counts both of these faiths as being of divine origin.  Christians and Jews are thus ‘Peoples of the Book’, to use a Quranic description.

But, what then is Islam?  Well, firstly, the word itself comes from a root meaning ‘peace’ and ‘surrender’.  In a religious context, Islam is about the peace which comes from submitting to the Divine Will.

What image of God, then, does Islam convey?  Within the Islamic tradition, God is believed to be radically One, without a partner of any kind; there is nothing like God, who alone is Unique.  God is called Allah in the Quran.  This Arabic word simply means ‘the God’ (‘al-Ilah’), and is connected to words for the Deity in other related Semitic languages (such as Elohim in Hebrew and Alaha in Aramaic).

God is also described by a plethora of other names in the Quran (the scripture of Islam):  He is called al-Rahman (the Merciful), al-Quddus (the Holy), al-Aziz (the Almighty) and many others besides.  These names are an integral part of Islamic theological thought (which we won’t pursue here) and reflect Islam’s beliefs about the nature of God.  To summarise, God’s essence is believed to be utterly unknowable, but He can be described with these Names (or Attributes).

The Quran (which I’ve just referred to) is Islam’s scripture.  It occupies the very heart of Islam and is believed to be the literal, spoken Word of God (in each letter).  The Quran thus holds a unique authority and is therefore the primary foundation of Islamic thought, religious ideas and law (shariah).

According to Islam, the Quran was delivered to humanity through the Prophet Muhammad.  Unlike Christ in Christian thought, Muhammad is firmly human, though he is held to be the ‘best of creation’.  He is believed to be the final Prophet of God to humanity and as such, was sent to the whole universe.  He is thus an example to all Muslims (and this goes some way to explaining his significance).

Islam also teaches belief in Angels, Divine Books and the existence and mission of other prophets (most of whom appear in the Judeao-Christian heritage).  In other words, Islam sees itself as the primordial religion of all of God’s messengers (peace be upon them all), who include: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Soloman, Jesus and Muhammad.

Islam is said to be based upon ‘five pillars’.  These are: the testification of faith (shahadah), the ritual prayer (salah), compulsory charity (zakat), fasting in the month of Ramadan (sawm) and the pilgrimage to Mecca for those who can afford it (hajj). 

The Shahadah involves the belief and public declaration of the following tenets: there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.  In Arabic this runs as follows: la ilaha ill Allah Muhammadur Rasul Allah.  There are five ritual prayers each day (before dawn, just after the sun has reached its zenith, in the late afternoon, just after sunset and during the night), which must be prayed by each adult, sane Muslim.

The compulsory charity (zakat) is 2.5% of a Muslim’s surplus wealth (over a certain necessary limit) and does not include living expenses.  The fast of Ramadan runs for 30 days from before sunrise to after sunset, whilst the pilgrimage to Mecca is an obligation for any adult Muslim able to afford it.

These are the basics.  The Islamic tradition however exhorts Muslims to go beyond this and to perform extra acts of worship.  Moreover, Islam contains a very highly developed sense of ethical conduct (akhlaq in Arabic).  This is focused on two levels: personal interactions and society at large.

A common phrase you will hear Muslims say is bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim, which means ‘In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate’.  Generally speaking, these are said when beginning something, whilst al hamdu lillah (‘Praise be to God’) is said when completing something.

If you would like some further information on Islam, I’ve uploaded some Power Point slides which you can download for free: An Introduction to Islam

Ma’as salama (peace be with you),

Abdur Rahman
(‘Servant of the Merciful’)

21 thoughts on “Islam”

  1. I am not Muslim (I am a traditional Christian), but I have read a bit about Islam and enjoyed your synopsis here. Forgive me if you have already posted about this on your blog, but one thing I have been curious about is what are the major differences (culturally, doctrinally) between Muslims in the United States (or Europe) and those living in the Middle East, Indonesia, etc. (outside the West). Do you have any thoughts, or suggestions for reading on this topic? Thank you!

  2. Peace Liz,

    Welcome to my cyberspace home. Make yourself comfortable! :)

    Thank you for your question. One of the common misconceptions of Islam (and Muslims for that matter) is that it is monolithic, with little in the way of internal differences.

    However, in point of fact, the reverse is true (as with any religious tradition). There are many different schools of thought within the Islamic tradition. There are different theological, textual and legal approaches. There are literalists, there are mystics, there are those who focus more on ideological concerns (for want of a better description).

    Perhaps the main difference is between Sunni and Shia. This is a detailed historical question. However, even within these two trends, there are many numerous sub-groups.

    I say this by way of introduction really. In the western setting, the Muslim community in the US and Europe shares these broader differences. You’ll find every school of thought represented, which makes for a very diverse Muslim community.

    Culture, naturally, has an important role to play in shaping opinions and outlooks. So, there are bound to be many cultural differences between a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and a Muslim in New York, or Wales (where I live myself). Perhaps one of the most significant differences is in relation to the wider non-Muslim world. Here, in the west, Muslims generally have a better and more nuanced understanding of America and Europe (and their respective cultures). Elsewhere, perhaps, this understanding may well be less informed.

    In terms of reading material, John Esposito’s Islam: the Straight Path is a good overview. David Waines’ Introduction to Islam is also worth looking at. There are many others too. However, if you’re after a more balanced account, I’d suggest you avoid many of the more opinionated works (most of which have titles such as Islamic Rage, and so on).

    I hope this helps. Please feel free to stop by whenever you like.

    Best wishes and greetings of peace
    Abdur Rahman

  3. Peace Liz,

    I forgot to mention earlier the excellent blog carnival, entitled Carnival of Islam in the West. It’s hosted by a different Muslim blog each month (I hosted it in March).

    It was originally developed by Hakim Abdullah. See here:

    http://wasalaam.wordpress.com/carnival/

    You’ll find lots of different Muslim opinions, styles of writing and schools of thought. All of them are loosely based in the west. Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything contained therein, it’s a good way of getting into the thoughts of western Muslims.

    You’ll also find a few articles written by me – so, apologies in advance :)

    Abdur Rahman

  4. Video clip – intro to Sufism by Aleem Karmali:

  5. Salaams ASWalli

    Thank you for the interesting video link

    Abdur Rahman

  6. Here is another video that I think you’ll find interesting:

    A dramatized Sufi Muslim dance performance set to Pakistani singer Abida Parveen’s “Yaar Di Gharoli”.

  7. Salaams A Walli

    Jazak Allah. I really do love Abida Parveen and other such singers.

    Abdur Rahman

  8. Salaam Abdur:

    ‘A Mystical Journey’ just had its world premier in Vancouver, and there are some video highlights now available at:

    http://www.theismaili.org/he2-4.htm

    The performers include a vast diversity of sufi performers, from more traditional groups all the way to the sufi rockstar Salman Ahmad of Junoon:

    http://www.theismaili.org/he2-2.htm

  9. Salaams A Walli

    Jazak Allah for these links. They are very beautiful.

    Ma sha Allah.

    Abdur Rahman

  10. SubhanAllah brother.
    Very good and valuable post. May Allah bless you.

  11. Salams Navedz,

    Welcome to my online home. Thank you for your kind words. Allah bless you always. All praise is for God. Only the mistakes are mine. It is nice to meet you.

  12. jazak allah khair for your huge efforts to serve islam.surely ,allah sobhanahu wa taala will reward you inshaa allah.you a good example of muslim brother abdur rahman

  13. May God bless us all…

  14. I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,

  15. Peace

    Thank you for your kind comments. May Allah bless you always

  16. Brother,Abdurrahman i seek ur advice
    i have created a group on facebook that talk about islam ,i was interested in posting videos and topics about islam so i decided to
    make group and post such things especially for non muslims. but i didnot think that i may face many challenges as some people who hate Islam send to me messages where they insulting Islam . i become very sad and confused . I dont know that i should reply to these messages or ignore it??
    and some people ask me about misconceptions about Islam and i dont have the sufficient knowledge to answer sometimes I post video that clarify that misconception,
    but usually it doesnt be sufficient and i think that these questions need islamic scholar to answer so i became very sad because I feel that im very small.some times i regret for making that group because im not Eligible

  17. al-Salamu alaikum Marwa,

    Thank you for stopping by. Allah bless you always. May Allah help you in all that you do, and in all that you are.

    I’ve been in similar situations in the past and it helped me to remember that I’m only human. Only Allah has all the answers! Also, you are not responsible for what others make of the things you share. Each person will make up their own minds – and as you have seen, some choose to be hateful and insulting. This is of course upsetting, but you don’t have to accept or even answer rude or hateful comments. My own advice would be to simply ignore them. You can engage with such people if you want but sometimes talking with some people simply reinforces their own prejudices – and you also have a right to be treated kindly and with politeness.

    Also, you don’t have to be an expert. If you don’t know something, there is no shame in honestly admitting that.

    I hope this is of some help

    Ma’as salama,

    Abdur Rahman

  18. wa alaikum assalam brother Abdur rahman,
    I cant express to you my pleasure with your advice
    Of course, it helped me very much
    Jazak Allah khairan
    May Allah help you in all that you are as you helped me
    Thank you very much
    Allah bless you alwayS
    Ma’as salama,
    your sister and student,
    Marwa

  19. al-salamu alaikum Marwa

    Al hamdu lillah. I am glad it was of some use. Please remember me in your duas.

    Abdur Rahman

  20. asllmualayk.. hi bro,..
    nice posts…
    please visit me here:
    http://shiaebooks.wordpress.com/

    thnx :)

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