ISLAM is an Arabic word that is linguistically derived from silm or salamah; it denotes peace, wholeness, and submission. As a religion, Islam teaches us that it is only through submission to God’s will that we can find true peace – peace within ourselves, peace with fellow humans, as well as peace with God’s creation.
Islam does not claim to be a new religion revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him). Rather it is essentially the same message revealed to all of God’s prophets and messengers from the beginning of time. Among these messengers were Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all). A Muslim must believe in all of them as true messengers of God and must never discriminate between anyone of them.
The Qur’an states: “Say (O Muslims) we believe in Allah and in which was sent down to us and that which has been sent down to Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), and to Al-Asbat [(the offspring of the twelve sons of Yaqub (Jacob)], and that which has been given to Musa (Moses) and ‘Isa (Jesus), and that which has been given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have submitted (in Islam). (Al-Baqarah 2:136)
The fundamental beliefs of Islam can be summed up as follows:
1. Belief in the oneness and unity of God. This entails belief in God as the one and only Creator, Cherisher, and Sovereign Lord of the entire universe.
2. Belief in God’s angels. Angels are spiritual beings who are engaged in glorifying God and doing His bidding.
3. Belief in the Scriptures (revelations) that contain God’s communications to His prophets and messengers. Among the scriptures are [the original] Torah, [the original] Gospel, and finally the Qur’an, which confirm and preserve intact the pristine, perennial religion revealed to all of God’s prophets and messengers.
4. Belief in prophets and messengers. These were message-bearers from God, who called mankind unto God; they were ideal Muslims ( i.e., they submitted themselves wholly and totally to the will of their Lord). In this sense, the prophets are our true role models, as they represent the best of what humanity can aspire to and become.
5. Belief that both good and bad are decreed by God, as He alone is in charge of the entire universe.
6. Belief in the Last Day when all of humanity will stand before their Lord for final reckoning, where one’s good as well bad deeds will be scrutinized by the One Who knows all.
Besides the above fundamental beliefs, a Muslim observes the five pillars, and lives a morally and ethically exemplary life, according to the best of his or her ability.
1. The first and foremost of these pillars is testifying to the oneness of God. By testifying to the divine oneness, one is recognizing God as the sole entity to worship, to attach to Him one’s ultimate loyalty. Such recognition frees one from bondage of matter and values that enslave, cripple, and dehumanize one.
2. The next most important pillar is offering five daily Prayers at the appointed times: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, and before retiring to bed. Prayer in Islam is a direct communion with God, without any intermediary; it bestows on us grace, serenity, tranquility, and peace.
3. The next foremost pillar of Islam is offering charity. A believer parts with at least a minimum of two and a half percent of his or her wealth for the poor and needy, although he or she is encouraged to give more.
4. Fasting in the month of Ramadan closely follows charity as the fourth pillar. It is an institution intended to teach empathy with the poor, besides inculcating in us the need to overcome and transcend our physical desires in order to deepen our spiritual awareness.
5. Finally, pilgrimage (Haj) to the House of God in Makkah, the House built by God’s prophets Abraham and his son Ishmael. Pilgrimage brings us face to face with people of all races and colors, and challenges us to break the walls that separate us from one another and to embrace the true brotherhood of humanity as the sacred bond that unites all of us under the lordship of the one and only God.
The above cardinal tenets and practices of Islam are intended to instill, nurture, and deepen the basic attitudes and values of submission to the will of God. Islam essentially means to lead a life of mindfulness of God while being compassionate to all of God’s creation. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked what was the best teaching of Islam; he said, “To feed the hungry and to spread greeting of peace to everyone, regardless of whether you know the person or not” (Ibn Majah and An-Nasa’i).
At the moral level, Islam teaches us to be truthful, honest, just, compassionate, virtuous; to shun all evils; to be ever bent on doing good deeds while sparing others of any harm or injury. Stated differently, it teaches us to think right, speak right, and act righteously.
At the spiritual level, Islam teaches cultivation of mindfulness of God: being grateful to Him, patient in adversity, and content with His decree and ever willing to make our will conform to His will.