Islam, by Dawn Warren

The origin of the word Islam is “salam”, which means “peace” and also “surrender,” therefore it is the peace that comes from surrendering to God. “Muslim” is a word taken from the word Islam and applies to the person who is ready to surrender to God.  Islam has become one of the world’s  largest religions.   The  religion is based in large part on the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, teachings that expand upon the older Abrahamic religion that is also the basis of Christianity and Judaism.  The prime message of Islamic religion is monotheism, that there is only one God, he is the Creator of the world, and Muhammad is his Messenger.  (In the language of Muhammad, God was referred to as Allah, whereas in the Jewish tradition, God was referred to as Yahweh.)

Descendants of Abraham

The story of Abraham from the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions state that Abraham married Sarah but because she was unable to have children, he took her servant, Hagar, as a second wife. Hagar gave birth to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. Sarah later also had a son, Isaac, soon after.  Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be cast out of the clan to protect Isaac’s inheritance. Up to this point the Qur’an and the Old Testament follow the same story.  In the Qur’an, Ishmael goes to the place where Mecca was founded and his descendants populate Arabia and become Muslims, while the descendants of Isaac, who remained in Palestine, become the Hebrews.


Muslims do not view Muhammad as the creator of a new religion but rather as the Prophet of God restoring the monotheistic religion of Abraham and the Old Testament.  Muhammad was born in approximately 570 A.D. and orphaned by age six.  He was raised by his uncle and is characterized as being kind, gentle and hard working.  Born into a time and place of great scarcity, where banditry was not only a means of survival but also the proof of status and virility, Muhammad did not fit in with his peers.  He began his spiritual quest by making regular trips into the mountains for meditation and contemplation.

Over the course of these retreats, Muhammad became convinced that Allah was not just one of the many Gods worshiped at the time but the one true God.  Around 610 A.D. the angel Gabriel came to him during one of these vigils and set forth the beginning of his mission as the Prophet of Islam.  He spent the next 23 years as the messenger of Allah’s direct words, which were later written down by his followers as the Qu’ran.  Muhammad called the Qur’an “God’s standing miracle” because it was the only miracle God performed through Muhammad.  The text is directed to be taken literally and orders every detail of the Muslim life from God’s own words.

The initial response to Muhammad’s message in Mecca was hostility.  After approximately 13 years of struggling with the Meccan leaders, he led the Islamic converts from Mecca to Yathrib (now called Medina).  This migration of the Muslims from Mecca, the hajra, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar in 622 A.D.  Muhammad united the Medina tribes and after 8 years of fighting was able to unite the Meccan tribes as well under the Islamic religion and law.  By the time of his death in 632 A.D., Muhammad had united the majority of Arabic tribes under Islam.

Islamic Sects

Muhammad’s death lead to great turmoil because he had not clearly named a successor.  Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s very close friend, was made the first caliph. This choice was disputed by some of Muhammad’s companions, who held that Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law (and cousin), had been designated his successor.  Abu Bakr’s death in 634 A.D. lead to the succession of Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was assassinated in 644.  Uthman ibn al-Affan’s election as successor was met with opposition and in 656 A.D. he was also killed.  At this time, Ali ibn Abi Talib assumed the position of caliph.

These disputes over the legitimacy of succession lead to sects within Islam.  The Sunni, a majority, accepted the three rulers prior to Ali ibn Abi Talib. The Shi’a (or Shi’ite), a minority, believed that Ali ibn Abi Talib was the only rightful successor.  The Shi’a believe in the political and religious leadership of Imams (religious leaders) from the progeny of Ali ibn Abi Talib.  The Shi’a share many core practices with the Sunni; however the two branches disagree over the importance and validity of specific collections of hadithHadith are oral traditions of interpretation of the Sunnah, the words and deeds of Muhammad.

There are six articles of faith in Islam:

1. Belief in Allah
2. Belief in Angels
3. Belief in the Books of Allah (the scriptures)
4. Belief in the Prophets of Allah
5. Belief in the Day of Judgment
6. Belief in the Divine Laws

There are four basic theological concepts:

1. The belief that everything centers on One God, Allah

2. The belief that Allah created everything that was, is, and will be, therefore it is good.

3. The belief that since Allah created everything, including mankind, to be inherently good, then mankind is also inherently good.  In Islam there is no fall from grace or chasm between Allah and mankind.  Therefore there are two obligations: gratitude for life received and surrender to God.

4. The belief in a Day of Judgment, when each soul will be held accountable for it’s actions on earth with a future in heavens or hells dependent on how well that person observed God’s commandments.

“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (Qur’an 2:62)

The Five Pillars of Islam

Muslims are expected to live by the “Five Pillars” of Islam. Each of these prescribed acts of worship is seen to bring Muslims daily in direct relationship with Allah.

1. Declaration of belief, called Shahada. This is the initial act of faith, expressed in the statement: “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, the One, without any partner. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger.”

2. Prayer, called Salat.  Salat is offered formally five times a day in a prescribed way. The Quran says: “Recite that which has been revealed to thee of the Book, and observe Prayer. Surely, Prayer restrains one from indecency and manifest evil, and remembrance of Allah indeed is the greatest virtue. And Allah knows what you do.” (Qur’an 29:46)

3. Fasting called Sawm.  Observed through the daylight hours of the 29/30 days of the Islamic month of Ramadan, Sawm involves abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking and marital intercourse.  It is meant to remind the believers of their dependence upon God, as well as their kinship with, and responsibility for the human beings in the world who experience hunger because of lack of food.

4. Purification of wealth called Zakat.  This is the annual giving of 2.5 percent of holdings for the benefit of the poor.  It serves to remind Muslims that everything comes because of the bounty of God and that we must practice selflessness to guard against greed.

“Prayer carries us half way to God, fasting brings us to the door of His palace, and alms-giving procures us admission.” – The Khalíf ‘Umr Ibn ‘Abd-ul-‘Azíz

5. Pilgrimage called Hajj.  It is asked of all Muslims at least once in a lifetime, if personal circumstances permit. Hajj gathers all Muslims from around the world and from all economic standings into a single community. They perform prescribed acts of worship at the Holy House of the Ka’ba in Mecca and at Mount Arafat. According to the Qur’an, The Holy House of the Ka’ba was originally built by the prophet Abraham.

Purity and Prayer

Islam stresses that a purified body leads to purity of mind. Therefore, extreme cleanliness is required before each prayer and is prescriped in detail by the Qur’an.  There are five daily prayers which must be offered during exact times each day: Dawn, Noon, Afternoon, Sunset and Evening.


The Sufis are the mystics of Islam and believe in drawing close to Allah, via three routes:
1. Through love or heart knowledge of God.  One of the formost expressions of love is through poetry, so the Sufis have given us many poets and beautiful love poems dedicated to Allah as the Beloved.  A common allegory used by the Sufis to express their love for Allah is the context of the separation from a Beloved.
2. Through ecstasy or the visual/visonary knowledge of God.  These are the activities that allow the loss of awarness to self and to feel more close to creation and God.  It is important to note that while the sufis honor the ecstatics, they also remind them that they do not only encounter God in the trance state, but also within the world; that they need to be able to bring back the substance of their visions.
3. Through intuitive discernment or mental knowlege of God. The mental knowledge of God as is often evident in symbolism, without words or thoughts. An example would be that all Muslims remove their shoes before stepping into a mosque as a symbol of reverence.  The Sufis begin with this but then go on to see in that act the removing of everything that separates his soul from God.

Brief examples of Sufi poetry:

Everyone is overridden by thoughts;
that’s why they have so much heartache and sorrow.
At times I give myself up to thought purposefully;
but when I choose,
I spring up from those under its sway.
I am like a high-flying bird,
and thought is a gnat:
how should a gnat overpower me?

– Rumi

I have two ways of loving You:
A selfish one
And another way that is worthy of You.
In that other love, You lift the veil
And let me feast my eyes on Your Living Face.

– Rabi’ a al-Adawiyya

Who is man?
The reflection of the Eternal Light.
What is the world?
A wave on the Everlasting Sea.
How could the reflection be cut off from the Light?
How could the wave be separate from the Sea?
Know that this reflection and this wave are that very Light and Sea.

– Jami

A Few Quotes from the Qu’ran

Those who believe in GOD, and hold fast to Him, He will admit them into mercy from Him, and grace, and will guide them to Him in a straight path. (4:175)

With it, GOD guides those who seek His approval. He guides them to the paths of peace, leads them out of darkness into the light by His leave, and guides them in a straight path. (5:16)

When those who believe in our revelations come to you, you shall say, “Salamun `Alaykum (Peace be upon you). Your Lord has decreed that mercy is His attribute. Thus, anyone among you who commits a transgression out of ignorance, and repents thereafter and reforms, then He is Forgiving, Most Merciful. (6:45)

We have given them a scripture that is fully detailed, with knowledge, guidance, and mercy for the people who believe. (7:52)

Islamic Holidays:

Al Hijra – Muslims began keeping a new calendar the year that Mohammad began his migration from Mecca to Medina (622 CE). Al Hijra is the first day of the Islamic New Year, the day that Mohammad began this migration.

Ashura – The Day of Mourning which observed on the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic year. It is a day to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain ( or Husayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib), the grandson of The Prophet Muhammad.

Milad an-Nabi – The birthday of the Prophet Muhammad

Ramadan – Celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, Ramadan is a holy month of fasting. Because the Islamic Calendar is based on a lunar calendar, the date varies every year. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. This holy month of fasting is kept to celebrate Allah’s revealing the first verses of the Qu’ran. It is used as a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, charity, and family. It is done to teach self-discipline and generosity towards those less fortunate.

‘Id al-Fatr – Begining the morning of the first day after Ramadan, ‘Id al-Fatr is the three day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan and forbids anyone from fasting. The days are celebrated with prayers and feasting, wearing new clothes if possible and small presents are given.

‘Id al-Adha – During fhe Fesival of Sacrifice, Muslims who own live stock make sacrifices of some of their best farm animals, donating to those who do not or who can not afford to slaughter their animals. This is done to remind Muslims of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to Allah (Muslim tradition names Ishmael as the son who was to be sacrificed, whereas the Judeo-Christian tradition names Isaac). It is also a time of prayer.

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