Really: What IS Islam?
The name "Islam" simply means "Self-surrender to the Will of God." It is the way of life that all Prophets through out history have taught, from those known in the Western world such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus to those sent to other parts of the Earth like Salih, Shu'ayb, and Luqman the African. The last and final Guide was Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him), who lived in sixth century Arabia.
A "Muslim,"(i,e. a self-surrendered one,) is a follower of this faith. Nearly one in every five persons alive today is a Muslim.
What does Islam teach?
Islam calls humanity to the service of the One, Omnipotent Creator, Who is known as "Allah" (The Deity) in the Arabic language. It further instructs people on how they may live together in peace and harmony regardless of race, class or beliefs. The unity of purpose brought by all previous religious guides is highlighted as well as traditional morality, the equality of the sexes before God and the virtues of patience and humbleness.
Where do these teachings come from?
Muslims have two major sources from which they derive their religious teachings. The first is a book known as The Qur'an, the direct Revelation of God to His last Prophet, the blessed Muhammad. The second source is the various collected sayings and pronouncements of the Prophet which are considered complimentary to the Revelation. These are known as "the Hadith."
What about Muhammad? Who was he?
Muhammad (pbuh) was born in Arabia in the year 570. His father's name was Abdullah and his mother's was Aminah. Abdullah died before his son was born and his mother died when he was yet a small child. He was first placed under the care of his grandfather and then later his uncle, who raised his nephew as his own.
As a boy, Muhammad (pbuh), disliked the prevailing custom of idol worship practiced by his people. How many a night he must have paused to watch the stars and endless plains, while tending his uncle's flocks, and wondered at the real Creator of it all. He shunned the mischief of his fellow youth and soon developed a reputation for honesty, generosity and compassion.
When he was a young man he took employment in the merchant trade and soon distinguished himself for his excellent managerial skills, which resulted in an offer of marriage from his wealthy, widowed employer, the noble lady Khadija. He was 25 and she was 40 when they got married. Their marriage was based upon love friendship and trust
Though time and circumstances had changed as he grew older and wiser, Muhammad (pbuh) still remained restless for the truth and he began to retreat to the solitude which could only be found outside the city of Mecca. He often went to a mountain where he would sometimes spend days thinking and contemplating about God, reality and the Divine way of life. Then on one glorious day, the Almighty revealed words of inspiration to him through His angel, Gabriel. "Read!" the angel commanded him, "Read in the name of your Lord who created man from a clinging embryo..." This was Muhammad (pbuh), for all his truthfulness, patience, piety and spirit, commissioned as the last and final Prophet of God to humanity. Though many trials, tests and triumphs lay ahead of him, he always called people to the service of the One God, to shun myths and idols and to do unto others only what is good and right. He always lived a frugal life, and even after all of Arabia was liberated from the darkness of ignorance, he, as the ruler, still slept on a reed mat and mended his own clothes.
He taught a new standard to people and brought civilization to an area of the world where it had long ago passed by. His lips moved with the Revelation of God and his life put its precepts into practice. Though persecuted by the idol worshipers for thirteen years in Meccaand followed faithfully by the believing citizens of Medina for ten thereafter, he remained unto his death a devoted father, husband, leader and Prophet. He was given the title of "Mercy to the worlds" by God Himself in the Quran and anyone who has studied the details and adventures of his life must necessarily declare the same. This man Muhammad (pbuh) is truly the hero of his age as well as an inspiration to ours.
Do Muslims worship Muhammad like Christians do Christ?
No. Muhammad (pbuh) was only a man among men who received the special favor of God. No true Prophet of God taught that any man must be worshipped, as if any human body could contain the infinite. God instructs us in the Quran about him thus:
"Muhammad is no more than Messenger. Many were
the Messengers who passed away before him..." (3:144.)
How does Islam compare with Christianity and Judaism?
Islam, or, the Way of Self-Surrender to God, was taught by all Prophets whether their race was Jewish, Chinese, African, Arab or Cheyenne.
Accordingly, Moses, who is regarded as the pivotal figure in Judaism, and Jesus, who is the central personality of Christianity, both taught Islam to their peoples. The teachings of these great Messengers of God did not go unchanged, however; over the centuries. And one can find that many practices, beliefs and customs practiced by the adherents of those faiths today differ from the original purity of their founder's message.
Muhammad (pbuh), simply brought the last installment of self-surrender (Islam) to the world in order to correct earlier corruption in humanity's knowledge of the truth.
So if the roots of Judaism and Christianity are the same as Islam, why does Islam seem so exotic and strange?
The problem is two-fold. On the one hand, there are people in the world who claim to be Muslims, but who do not follow the ethical or religious teachings of the faith. Unfortunately, the mainstream media has a universal fascination with negative news and a reluctance to highlight the positive. On the other hand, much of what we read and learn about Islam in the west is written, interpreted and presented by those who either know very little about Islam and the Muslim world. or are even hostile towards it.
An even more important area of misunderstanding lies in the basic assumptions about religion that the Western world and the Islamic world make. Because of the West's negative experience with much of religion, an alternate ideology known as secular-humanism had to be established to allow science, rationalism and free thought to flourish. Islamic civilization, in contrast, never impeded science nor the development of human thought, so a break between secular values and religious ones never occurred. This is why Islam is often mix-labeled "Theocratic." Education and improvements in global awareness, however, are slowly wearing down barriers to understanding, but it will require some effort from all of us to finally reach a point of tolerance and mutual good-will.
Where do Muslims Live?
Muslims live in every country and region on earth from Norway to Malaysia to Mexico. Muslims form a large percentage of the population in Russia, China, India, and Eastern Europe.
Some Islamic lands are Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Egypt and Nigeria. Arab Muslims form a small minority of the worldwide Muslim population. There are nearly six million Muslims in North America alone. That's more than the population of some states such as Alaska, Nevada and Rhode Island.
How does one become a Muslim?
There are no elaborate rituals or ceremonies to perform to enter Islam (Self-Surrender to God), for Islam is the faith of reason, and therefore it takes an exercise of reason to become a Muslim. Simply by declaring and believing in one's heart the following phrase:
"I bear witness there is no god but God,
and I bear witness Muhammad is the Messenger of God"
...one thereby is a believer. As a consequence of making this statement sincerely, everything an individual did that was wrong or unethical in his life up to that point, is forgiven by God, no matter what it was. From that moment onwards, the slate is cleared and you begin life again as a new person.
Traditions exist which would have one say this statement of faith, the Shahada, in the original Arabic:
"Ashaduan la ilaha ila Allah
wa ashaduan Muhammadan Rasool Allah"
But it is of much greater importance to understand exactly what one is testifying to. This site exists, in part to help seekers come to that understanding.
May our Creator guide us all.