5 Things You Need to Understand about Islam
- Liz Kanoy Editor, Crosswalk.com
- 2015 1 Dec
To understand Muslims better, you have to understand their worldview or system of beliefs.
Here are 5 prominent aspects of Islam that you need to understand:
1. Islam’s Beginnings
Islam, which literally means “submission,” is a monotheistic religion and the second largest religion worldwide with over 1.5 billion followers and climbing. Only Christianity, which has a little over 2 billion followers, outnumbers it.
Officially, Islam began around 622 AD in a polytheistic culture in Saudi Arabia, with a man named Muhammad who received direct revelation from Allah (allah is the Arabic word for god). Whereas, the Bible has many witnesses testifying to God, Islam has one. Muhammad was the last prophet, and the only witness to the last and final revelation. Because his revelation is the last, it holds the most meaning.
Muhammad wrote down the words, which according to him were spoken by the angel Gabriel (a messenger for Allah), over a 20-year period starting in 610 AD. These words are considered to be the literal words of Allah, which is why the Qur’an must be read and memorized in Arabic. Other translations of the Qur’an run the risk of being corrupt since they would no longer be the literal words of Allah.
Of course, there is much more to Muhammad’s story including his escape from persecution to Medina, and his return with a conquering army to Mecca. After Muhammad’s death around 672 AD, much of the Arab world was immersed in Islam and it has continued to grow ever since then.
2. Allah, Muhammad and the Prophets
Twenty-five prophets are mentioned by name in the Qur’an, including Jesus and Muhammad, but there are considered to be vastly more prophets throughout history (before Muhammad that is). Some Muslims will say the number is over 120,000.
If Jesus is considered a prophet in Islam, why don’t Jesus’ words in the Bible contradict Muhammad’s words in the Quran? According to Islam, there have always been Muslims despite the official start date of Islam as a world religion in 622 AD; this is because Allah created the world and everything in it as muslim—for Allah’s purposes and to serve Allah. According to this doctrine, Muslims have always followed the current prophet, or the last prophet as it is today.
When one prophet died (like Abraham for example), the people were to follow the next prophet and so on. Whatever the next prophet said was to be taken as the next and current revelation of wisdom from Allah. As the last prophet, Muhammad’s revelation took precedence over all the previous prophets.
According to Islam, it doesn’t really matter what Jesus said in the Christian Bible because the Christian and Jewish sacred texts have been corrupted. The original text has been misinterpreted or manipulated by followers of those religions, so Muslims can only trust the text of the Qur’an as it is written in Arabic. Some examples of corruption in the Bible would be Jesus as the Son of God; Allah cannot be triune or have a son. Also according to the Qur’an Jesus did not die on the cross. Instead, Allah switched Judas and Jesus on the cross and made Judas look like Jesus.
There is no reason in Islam that Allah would have needed to make a sacrifice for Muslims because Muslims are not born into sin. However, Muslims can be tempted, so they must do enough good deeds to earn their way to heaven. There is no atonement for those who fall short, and there is no guarantee for even the best-behaved Muslim. Muslims won’t know for sure which place Allah will send them after death, heaven or hell, until they are standing before Allah on judgment day. Allah may or may not have mercy on them; either way, they strive to do as much good (justice and mercy to others) as they can and hope for the best.
*To clarify, I am speaking of moderate Muslims in this article, which make up the majority of Muslim believers, as opposed to Muslim extremists or terrorists who interpret the Qur’an differently.
3. Islam’s Sacred Texts
The Qur’an, which means “recitation” in Arabic, is the holy book of Islam and was written 30 years after the death of the prophet Muhammad. It is considered to be a perfect copy of the Qur’an that exists with Allah in heaven; it holds the teachings and rituals of Islam as well as the story of Muhammad. However, Muhammad is only mentioned by name 4 times in the Qur’an, whereas Jesus is mentioned 59 times and Moses is actually mentioned the most at 136 times.
To become an Imam in a mosque or masjid, the Imam in training must recite the entire book in Arabic from memory. Children are taught to memorize the Qur’an at an early age in Arabic. Memorization of the words is more important than the meaning of the words. Muslims don’t need to understand them as much as they need to say them and believe that they’re true. However, there are many Muslims who do seek understanding and want to know more. Muslims that are truly seeking God will start to see the discord in their beliefs, especially when they are exposed to the Bible.
The Hadith is a separate book that is also part of the Islamic canon; Muhammad’s followers initially memorized it and passed it down by word of mouth, before it was put into book form. The Hadith outlines the life and sayings of Muhammad. The Hadith also includes a story where Gabriel takes Muhammad up to see the seven heavens and the previous prophets who reside there. Muslims revere Muhammad as a peaceful upright man—the perfect role model—even though some of the writings about him reveal a dark and questionable past.
4. The 5 Pillars
Because Muslims don’t know for sure where they will go when they die, they must do their best to follow the instructions of Allah as presented in the Qur’an by the prophets that were sent. There are 5 pillars that all Muslims, regardless of sect, must follow:
Shahadah: Declaring one’s faith (that Allah is the only god and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger)
Salat: Ritual/memorized prayer 5 times a day (before dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and at night) facing the direction of Mecca.
Zakat: Giving charity to the poor, so the poor do not have to beg, which is discouraged in Islam.
Sawm: Fasting during the month of Ramadan (celebrating when Muhammad first received revelations from Allah).
Hajj: A pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in your life, if you can afford it and are well enough to go.
5. Islamic Sects
Sunni and Shi’a make up the two largest sects of Islam, with Sunnis vastly outnumbering Shi’as at 85% of Muslims worldwide. The major difference between the two sects is that Sunnis don’t believe Muhammad named a successor before his death; whereas, Shi’as believe Muhammad declared Ali (Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law) as the rightful successor.
Shi’as believe all Muslim rulers should come from Muhammad’s family, following the line of Ali. Shia’s also believe that the descendants of Muhammad, the rightful religious and political rulers, can intercede on behalf of Muslims. Sunni Muslims believe that the political ruler, a caliph, is to be just that—a political ruler and not a religious intercessor.
There are several other differences, but both groups agree that a “hidden Imam” will return to earth one day as a savior and restore the earth to peace.
Can you imagine God waking you up out of a slumber one day, and everything that you thought was real, meaningful, and true was a lie? Many Muslims have been awoken by God to discover this reality.
Pray for these believers—that come out of Islam—as they embark on a challenging journey, mostly likely with little support from family and friends. Pray that God will continue to awaken the souls of other Muslims and expose them to Truth.
Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com
Reference consulted: http://www.patheos.com/Library/Islam/
Photo courtesy: Pixabay.com
Publication date: December 1, 2015