|Question 1 "What
Islam is not a new religion, but the
same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to
every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam
is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims
follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the
majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events
which have come to be associated with their faith.
Question 2 "Who
are the Muslims?"
One billion people from a vast range
of races, nationalities and cultures across the globe--from
the southern Philippines to Nigeria--are united by their
common Islamic faith. About 18% live in the Arab world; the
world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia;
substantial parts of Asia and most of Africa are Muslim,
while significant minorities are to be found in the Soviet
Union, China, North and South America, and Europe.
Question 3 "What
do Muslims believe?"
Muslims believe in One, Unique,
Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in the
prophets through whom His revelations were brought to
mankind; in the Day of Judgment and individual
accountability for actions; in God's complete authority over
human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a
chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah,
Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron,
David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus,
peace be upon them. But God's final message to man, a
reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing-up of
all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet
Muhammad (SAW) through Gabriel.
Question 4 "How
does someone become a Muslim?"
Simply by saying 'There is no god
apart from God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.' By
this declaration the believer announces his or her faith in
all God's messengers, and the scriptures they brought.
Question 5 "What
does 'Islam' mean?"
The Arabic word 'Islam' simply means
'submission', and derives from a word meaning 'peace'. In a
religious context it means complete submission to the will
of God. 'Mohammedanism' is thus a misnomer because it
suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad (SAW) rather than
God. 'Allah' is the Arabic name for God, which is used by
Arab Muslims and Christians alike.
Question 6 "Why
does Islam often seem strange?"
Islam may seem exotic or even
extreme in the modern world. Perhaps this is because
religion does not dominate everyday life in the West today,
whereas Muslims have religion always uppermost in their
minds, and make no division between secular and sacred. They
believe that the Divine Law, the Shari'a, should be taken
very seriously, which is why issues related to religion are
still so important.
Question 7 "Do
Islam and Christianity have different origins?"
No. Together with Judaism, they go
back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three
prophets are directly descended from his sons--Muhammad
(SAW) from the eldest, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus, peace
be upon them, from Isaac. Abraham established the settlement
which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka'ba
towards which all Muslims turn when they pray.
Question 8 "What
is the Ka'ba?"
The Ka'ba is the place of worship
which God commanded Abraham and Ishmael to build over four
thousand years ago. The building was constructed of stone on
what many believe was the original site of a sanctuary
established by Adam. God commanded Abraham to summon all
mankind to visit this place, and when pilgrims go there
today they say 'At Thy service, O Lord', in response to
Question 9 "Who
Muhammad (SAW) was born in Makkah in
the year 570, at a time when Christianity was not yet fully
established in Europe. Since his father died before his
birth, and his mother shortly afterwards, he was raised by
his uncle from the respected tribe of Quraysh. As he grew
up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and
sincerity, so that he was sought after for his ability to
arbitrate in disputes. The historians describe him as calm
and meditative. Muhammad (SAW) was of a deeply religious
nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society.
It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the
Cave of Hira near the summit of Jabal al-Nur, the 'Mountain
of Light' near Makkah.
Question 10 "How
did he become a prophet and a messenger of God?"
At the age of 40, while engaged in a
meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first revelation
from God through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which
continued for twenty-three years, is known as the Quran.
As soon as he began to recite the
words he heard from Gabriel, and to preach the truth which
God had revealed to him, he and his small group of followers
suffered bitter persecution, which grew so fierce that in
the year 622 God gave them the command to emigrate. This
event, the Hijra, 'migration', in which they left Makkah for
the city of Madinah some 260 miles to the north, marks the
beginning of the Muslim calendar.
After several years, the Prophet
(SAW) and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where
they forgave their enemies and established Islam
definitively. Before the Prophet (SAW) died at the age of
63, the greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a
century of his death Islam had spread to Spain in the West
and as far East as China.
Question 11 "How
did the spread of Islam affect the world?"
Among the reasons for the rapid and
peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine.
Islam calls for faith in only One God worthy of worship. It
also repeatedly instructs man to use his powers of
intelligence and observation.
Within a few years, great
civilizations and universities were flourishing, for
according to the Prophet (SAW) 'seeking knowledge is an
obligation for every Muslim man and woman'. The synthesis of
Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old,
brought about great advances in medicine, mathematics,
physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art,
literature, and history. Many crucial systems such as
algebra, the Arabic numerals, and also the concept of the
zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics), were
transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam. Sophisticated
instruments which were to make possible the European voyages
of discovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the
quadrant and good navigational maps.
Question 12 "What
is the Quran?"
The Quran is a record of the exact
words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the
Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It was memorized by Muhammad (SAW)
and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by
scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Not one
word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the
centuries, so that the Quran is in every detail the unique
and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad (SAW)
fourteen centuries ago.
Question 13 "What
is the Quran about?"
The Quran, the last revealed Word of
God, is the prime source of every Muslim's faith and
practice. It deals with all the subjects which concern us as
human beings: wisdom, doctrine, worship, and law, but its
basic theme is the relationship between God and His
creatures. At the same time it provides guidelines for a
just society, proper human conduct and an equitable economic
Question 14 "Are
there any other sacred sources?"
Yes, the sunna, the practice and
example of the Prophet (SAW), is the second authority for
Muslims. A hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what
the Prophet (SAW) said, did, or approved. Belief in the
sunna is part of the Islamic faith.
Examples of the Prophet's sayings
The Prophet (SAW) said:
- 'God has no mercy on one who has
no mercy for others.'
- 'None of you truly believes until
he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.'
- 'He who eats his fill while his
neighbor goes without food is not a believer.'
- 'The truthful and trusty
businessman is associated with the prophets the saints,
and the martyrs.'
- 'Powerful is not he who knocks
the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself
in a fit of anger.'
- 'God does not judge according to
your bodies and appearances but He scans your hearts and
looks into your deeds.'
- 'A man walking along a path felt
very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank
his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue
hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst.
The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he
had felt so he went down into the well again and filled
his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave
his sins for this action.' The Prophet (SAW) was asked:
'Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards
animals?' He said, 'There is a reward for kindness to
every living thing.' (From the hadith collections of
Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Bayhaqi.)
Question 15 "What
are the 'Five Pillars' of Islam?"
They are the framework of the Muslim
life: faith, prayer, concern for the needy,
self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those
who are able.
- First Pillar: Faith
There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad
is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the
Shahada, a simple formula which all the faithful
pronounce. In Arabic, the first part is la ilaha illa'Llah
- 'there is no god except God'; ilaha (god) can refer to
anything which we may be tempted to put in place of
God--wealth, power, and the like. Then comes illa'Llah:
'except God', the source of all Creation. The second part
of the Shahada is Muhammadun rasulu'Llah: 'Muhammad is the
messenger of God.' A message of guidance has come through
a man like ourselves.
- Second Pillar: Prayer
Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which are
performed five times a day, and are a direct link between
the worshiper and God. There is no hierarchical authority
in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a
learned person who knows the Quran, chosen by the
congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the
Quran, and are said in Arabic, the language of the
Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in
one's own language.
Prayers are said at dawn, noon,
mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine
the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to
worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost
anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and
universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by
the centrality of prayers in daily life.
A translation of the Call to
'God is most great. God is most
great. God is most great. God is most great. I testify
that there is no god except God. I testify that there is
no god except God. I testify that Muhammad is the
messenger of God. I testify that Muhammad is the messenger
of God. Come to prayer! Come to prayer! Come to success
(in this life and the Hereafter)! Come to success! God is
most great. God is most great. There is no god except
Once Muslims prayed towards
Jerusalem, but during the Prophet's lifetime it was
changed to Makkah. From the minbar, the pulpit, the Imam
who leads the prayer gives the sermon at the Friday noon
- Third Pillar: Zakat
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all
things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by
human beings in trust. The word zakat means both
'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified
by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like
the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and
encourages new growth.
Each Muslim calculates his or her
own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves
the payment each year of two and a half percent of one's
capital. A pious person may also give as much as he or she
pleases as sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret.
Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary
charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet (SAW) said:
'Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is
The Prophet (SAW) said: 'Charity
is a necessity for every Muslim.' He was asked: 'What if a
person has nothing?' The Prophet (SAW) replied: 'He should
work with his own hands for his benefit and then give
something out of such earnings in charity.' The Companions
asked: 'What if he is not able to work?' The Prophet (SAW)
said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The
Companions further asked 'What if he cannot do even that?'
The Prophet (SAW) said 'He should urge others to do good.'
The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?' The
Prophet (SAW) said 'He should check himself from doing
evil. That is also charity.'
- Fourth Pillar: The Fast
Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from
first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink,
and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a
journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are
permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of
days later in the year. If they are physically unable to
do this, they must feed a needy person for every day
missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer)
from puberty, although many start earlier.
Although the fast is most
beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a
method of self purification. By cutting oneself off from
worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person
gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as
growth in one's spiritual life.
- Fifth Pillar: The Pilgrimage
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah, the Hajj, is an
obligation only for those who are physically and
financially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about two
million people go to Makkah each year from every comer of
the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of
different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is
always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the
twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not
solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer,
sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes:
simple garments which strip away distinctions of class and
culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of the Hajj, which are
of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Ka'ba seven
times, and going seven times between the mountains of Safa
and Marwa as did Hagar during her search for water. Then
the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafa and
join in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often
thought of as a preview of the Last Judgment.
In previous centuries the Hajj was
an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia
provides millions of people with water, modem transport,
and the most up-to-date health facilities.
The close of the Hajj is marked by
a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with
prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities
everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day
commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals
of the Muslim calendar.
Question 16 "Does
Islam tolerate other beliefs?"
The Quran says: God forbids you not,
with regards to those who fight you not for [your] faith nor
drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly
with them; for God loveth those who are just. (Quran, 60.8)
It is one function of Islamic law to
protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why
non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the
Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim
tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliph Omar entered
Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship
to all religious communities in the city.
Islamic law also permits non-Muslim
minorities to set up their own courts, which implement
family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves.
When the caliph Omar took Jerusalem
from the Byzantine, he insisted on entering the city with
only a small number of his companions. Proclaiming to the
inhabitants that their lives and property were safe, and
that their places of worship would never be taken from them,
he asked the Christian patriarch Sophronius to accompany him
on a visit to all the holy places.
The Patriarch invited him to pray in
the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but he preferred to pray
outside its gates, saying that if he accepted, later
generations of Muslims might use his action as an excuse to
turn it into a mosque. Above is the mosque built on the spot
where Omar did pray.
According to Islam, man is not born
in 'original sin'. He is God's vicegerent on earth. Every
child is born with the fitra, an innate disposition towards
virtue, knowledge, and beauty. Islam considers itself to be
the 'primordial religion', din al-hanif, it seeks to return
man to his original, true nature in which he is in harmony
with creation, inspired to do good, and confirming the
Oneness of God.
Question 17 "What
do Muslims think about Jesus?"
Muslims respect and revere Jesus
(SAW) and await his Second Coming. They consider him one of
the greatest of God's messengers to mankind. A Muslim never
refers to him simply as 'Jesus', but always adds the phrase
'upon him be peace'. The Quran confirms his virgin birth (a
chapter of the Quran is entitled 'Mary'), and Mary is
considered the purest woman in all creation. The Quran
describes the Annunciation as follows:
'Behold!' the Angel said, 'God has
chosen you, and purified you, and chosen you above the women
of all nations. O Mary, God gives you good news of a word
from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of
Mary, honored in this world and the Hereafter, and one of
those brought near to God. He shall speak to the people from
his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of the righteous.'
She said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has
touched me?' He said: 'Even so; God creates what He will.
When He decrees a thing He says to it, "Be!" and it is.'
Jesus (SAW) was born miraculously
through the same power which had brought Adam (SAW) into
being without a father:
Truly, the likeness of Jesus with
God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, and
then said to him, 'Be!' and he was. (3.59) During his
prophetic mission Jesus (SAW) performed many miracles. The
Quran tells us that he said:
'I have come to you with a sign from
your Lord: I make for you out of clay, as it were, the
figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird
by God's leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I
raise the dead by God's leave.' (3.49)
Neither Muhammad (SAW) nor Jesus
(SAW) came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One
God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew
it. In the Quran Jesus (SAW) is reported as saying that he
'To attest the law which was before
me. And to make lawful to you paff of what was forbidden
you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear
God and obey Me.' (3:5O)
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:
'Whoever believes there is no god
but God, alone without partner, that Muhammad (SAW) is His
messenger, that Jesus is the servant and messenger of God,
His word breathed into Mary and a spirit emanating from Him,
and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be received by
God into Heaven.' (Hadith from Bukhari)
Question 18 "Why
is the family so important to Muslims?"
The family is the foundation of
Islamic society. The peace and security offered by a stable
family unit is greatly valued, and seen as essential for the
spiritual growth of its members. A harmonious social order
is created by the existence of extended families; children
are treasured, and rarely leave home until the time they
Question 19 "What
about Muslim women ?"
Islam sees a woman, whether single
or married, as an individual in her own right, with the
right to own and dispose of her property and earnings. A
marriage dowry is given by the groom to the bride for her
own personal use, and she keeps her own family name rather
than taking her husband's.
Both men and women are expected to
dress in a way which is modest and dignified; the traditions
of female dress found in some Muslim countries are often the
expression of local customs.
The Messenger of God said:
'The most perfect in faith amongst
believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his
Question 20 "Can
a Muslim have more than one wife?"
The religion of Islam was revealed
for all societies and all times and so accommodates widely
differing social requirements. Circumstances may warrant the
taking of another wife but the right is granted, according
to the Quran, only on condition that the husband is
Question 21 "Is
an Islamic marriage like a Christian
A Muslim marriage is not a
'sacrament', but a simple, legal agreement in which either
partner is free to include conditions. Marriage customs thus
vary widely from country to country. As a result, divorce is
not common, although it is not forbidden as a last resort.
According to Islam, no Muslim girl can be forced to marry
against her will: her parents will simply suggest young men
they think may be suitable.
Question 22 "How
do Muslims treat the elderly?"
In the Islamic world there are no
old people's homes. The strain of caring for one's parents
in this most difficult time of their lives is considered an
honor and blessing, and an opportunity for great spiritual
growth. God asks that we not only pray for our parents, but
act with limitless compassion, remembering that when we were
helpless children they preferred us to themselves. Mothers
are particularly honored: the Prophet (SAW) taught that
'Paradise lies at the feet of mothers'. When they reach old
age, Muslim parents are treated mercifully, with the same
kindness and selflessness.
In Islam, serving one's parents is a
duty second only to prayer, and it is their right to expect
it. It is considered despicable to express any irritation
when, through no fault of their own, the old become
The Quran says: Your Lord has
commanded that you worship none but Him, and be kind to
parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you,
do not say 'uff' to them or chide them, but speak to them in
terms of honor and kindness. Treat them with humility, and
say, 'My Lord! Have mercy on them, for they did care for me
when I was little'. (17.23-4)
Question 23 "How
do Muslims view death?"
Like Jews and Christians, Muslims
believe that the present life is only a trial preparation
for the next realm of existence. Basic articles of faith
include: the Day of Judgment, resurrection, Heaven and Hell.
When a Muslim dies, he or she is washed, usually by a family
member, wrapped in a clean white cloth, and buried with a
simple prayer preferably the same day. Muslims consider this
one of the final services they can do for their relatives,
and an opportunity to remember their own brief existence
here on earth. The Prophet (SAW) taught that three things
can continue to help a person even after death; charity
which he had given, knowledge which he had taught and
prayers on their behalf by a righteous child.
Question 24 "What
does Islam say about war?"
Like Christianity, Islam permits
fighting in self-defence, in defince of religion, or on the
part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their
homes. It lays down strict rules of combat which include
prohibitions against harming civilians and against
destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it,
injustice would be triumphant in the world if good men were
not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause. The
'Fight in the cause of God against
those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does
not love transgressors.' (2.190)
'If they seek peace, then seek you
peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and
knoweth all things.' (8.61)
War, therefore, is the last resort,
and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the
sacred law. The term jihad literally means 'struggle', and
Muslims believe that there are two kinds of jihad. The other
jihad is the inner struggle which everyone wages against
egotistic desires, for the sake of attaining inner peace.
Question 25 "What
Although much simpler than the
dietary law followed by Jews and the early Christians, the
code which Muslims observe forbids the consumption of pig
meat or any kind of intoxicating drink. The Prophet taught
that 'your body has rights over you', and the consumption of
wholesome food and the leading of a healthy lifestyle are
seen as religious obligations.
The Prophet (SAW) said: 'Ask God for
certainty [of faith] and well-being; for after certainty, no
one is given any gift better than health!'
Question 26 "What
is Islam's presence in the United States?"
It is almost impossible to
generalize about American Muslims: converts, immigrants,
factory workers, doctors; all are making their own
contribution to America's future. This complex community is
unified by a common faith, under-pinned by a countrywide
network of a thousand mosques.
Muslims were early arrivals in North
America. By the eighteenth century there were many thousands
of them, working as slaves on plantations. These early
communities, cut off from their heritage and families,
inevitably lost their Islamic identity as time went by.
Today many Afro-American Muslims play an important role in
the Islamic community.
The nineteenth century, however, saw
the beginnings of an influx of Arab Muslims, most of whom
settled in the major industrial centers where they worshiped
in hired rooms. The early twentieth century witnessed the
arrival of several hundred thousand Muslims from Eastern
Europe: the first Albanian mosque was opened in Maine in
1915; others soon followed, and a group of Polish Muslims
opened a mosque in Brooklyn in 1928.
In 1947 the Washington Islamic
Center was founded during the term of President Truman, and
several nationwide organizations were set up in the fifties.
The same period saw the establishment of other communities
whose lives were in many ways modeled after Islam. More
recently, numerous members of these groups have entered the
fold of Muslim orthodoxy. Today there are about five million
Muslims in America.
Question 27 "How
does Islam guarantee human rights ?"
Freedom of conscience is laid down
by the Quran itself: 'There is no compulsion in religion'.
The life and property of all
citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether a
person is Muslim or not.
Racism is incomprehensible to
Muslims, for the Quran speaks of human equality in the
'O mankind! We created you from a
single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and
tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the
most honored of you in God 's sight is the greatest of you
in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware'. (49.13)
Question 28 "What
is the makeup of The Muslim World?"
The Muslim population of the world
is around one billion. Most Muslims live east of Karachi.
30% of Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent, 20 % in
Sub-Saharan Africa, 17% in Southeast Asia, 18% in the Arab
world, 10% in the Soviet Union and China. Turkey, Iran and
Afghanistan comprise 10% of the non-Arab Middle East.
Although there are Muslim minorities in almost every area
including Latin America and Australia, they are most
numerous in the Soviet Union, India, and central Africa.
There are 5 million Muslims in the United States.