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Five Faith's Islam

In the beginning, Allah

What God grants to people out of His mercy, no one can withhold, and what He withholds no one can grant apart from him. And He is the Powerful, the Wise.
Qur’an 35:2

According to Islamic teachings about the nature of God recorded in the sacred text, the Qur’an, Allah literally means The God, not a god, not one of many gods, but the one and only God. Allah created all that exists, heaven and earth. Allah created human beings, the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve. According to the teachings of Islam, Adam was not only the first human, but also the first of Allah’s prophets. From time immemorial, Allah has spoken through his prophets, also referred to as messengers, reinforcing, renewing and refining the same basic message to all humankind. Allah is and has always been the source of all things, and peace is achieved through surrender to Allah.

According to sacred texts, one of the descendents of Adam was a man named Abraham. In Islam, he is considered to be one of the prophets of God. Abraham was faithful to Allah. Allah promised him that he would be the progenitor of a great nation. Abraham had two sons. His first son he named Ishmael. Ishmael was the child of Hagar. His second son, the child of Sarah, was named Isaac. Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael leave Abraham’s household. Ishmael went to the place later called Makkah (sometimes transliterated as Mecca). The descendents of Ishmael, directly connected to Abraham and Hagar, became Arabs. From the line of Isaac, Sarah’s son, came the Hebrew people, later called the Jews.

The life of Muhammad

Centuries later, in Makkah, the prophet Muhammad was born in 570 CE. His name means “the praised one.” The world into which Muhammad was born was filled with difficulty. Within days of his birth, Muhammad’s father died. His mother died when he was only six. For the next two years, his grandfather cared for him, but he also died when Muhammad was only eight. He went to live with the family of his uncle. He had to work hard in his new family in order that they might all survive the harshness of life in the desert. He tended his uncle’s flocks, and grew up in a world filled with conflicts between tribes and cities filled with strife and thievery. When Muhammad reached adulthood, having married and established his own household, he began to search for answers to the problems of humanity and the purpose of life.

On a night commemorated as The Night of Power, while Muhammad was engaged in worship in the cave named Hira, his usual mountain retreat, all of creation grew very still. In the midst of the stillness, a voice spoke to Muhammad and told him he was the appointed one, the one who would bring Allah’s message to the world.

The angel Gabriel spoke to him, saying, “Read.” Muhammad answered that he did not know how to read. The angel embraced him, holding him tight. When he released him, the angel said again, “Read.” Again, Muhammad answered that he could not read and again the angel held him tight. Finally, on the third exchange, Muhammad began to recite the first revelation of the Qur’an. He rushed home to tell his wife, Khadijah. Muhammad’s life was forever changed. God had commanded that he preach the message to a world in need of the instruction. The recorded events of Muhammad’s life say that he did all that he was commanded to do.

Five Faith's qur'anThe teachings that God gave to Muhammad were recorded in Arabic, in a collection called the Qur’an. The Qur’an contains the divine words revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Within the Qur’an are the stories of the faith, stories of 25 of the many prophets who went before Muhammad and the stories of the life of Muhammad, the last of Allah’s prophets. Muslims believe that the Qur’an faithfully and perfectly records all the words which God spoke to Muhammad. The Qur’an is written in Arabic. While the meaning of the Qur’an has been rewritten into languages other than Arabic, it can never be accurately translated because it contains the exact words of God. The words themselves are divine and unalterable. Arabic is the language through which these sacred truths were and will always be communicated.

On the opening pages of this sacred text, Muslims find the first truths of Islam and the text bears the seal and blessing of God. This guarantees to Muslims that the text is complete, accurate and true. Muslims believe that the Qur’an constitutes the one true and complete guide for Muslims, and the revelation of the life of Islam.

The Meaning and Purpose of Islam

Literally, Islam means “peace achieved through surrender to God,” and a Muslim is one who strives to surrender in that way. The ultimate goal of all Muslims is to live a life of absolute and complete devotion to the will of God, following in the teachings of his prophet, Muhammad. In order to become a Muslim, one must make a true and heartfelt profession of faith, preferably in the presence of another faithful Muslim. This profession is more than the saying of the words, but is seen as the living expression of deeply held beliefs. The profession says ““La ilaha illallah, Muhammadur rasool Allah” – “There is no deity except God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”” To make this profession is to affirm and accept the Islamic belief that there is only one God, only one Creator, Ruler and Supreme Authority. It is important to be very clear that Muslims believe that Allah is not a specific tribal god, but rather, is the One God, whose name in Arabic and in the Qur’an is Allah. Islamic tradition acknowledges that Allah is the same God recognized by all the prophets and followers of monotheistic traditions.

In order to understand how to surrender to the will of Allah, Muslims look to his messengers. Islam affirms the role of the prophets who came before Muhammad: Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and Jesus. Muhammad delivered the final message of God’s will: All of life must be lived with an understanding of the will of Allah. To do so will bring understanding, dignity, compassion and meaning to human life in this world, and salvation in the Hereafter. In addition to devotion to Allah, Muslims also hold an abiding regard for the human community. In Islam, all faithful actions honor Allah and support the common life of human beings.

The Five Pillars of Islam:
Declaration of Faith, Prayer, Fasting, Charity and Pilgrimage

The core beliefs and practices of Islam are called the Five Pillars. These five pillars support the whole of Islam. Each pillar expresses an aspect of the nature of Allah and the individual’s necessary response. Allah is the Ultimate Reality, unknown to finite minds, but explained in the revealed words of the prophets. The prophets teach that God created human beings as the one creature gifted with a mind capable of thinking, reasoning, remembering and teaching ideas to others. In addition, human beings are uniquely gifted with a feeling heart and are the recipients of free will. By that, Muslims mean that human beings are not limited to instinctual behaviors, but rather are free to choose a path rooted in the spiritual truths held in the Qur’an. The Five Pillars are given in the Qur’an. Sunnah, the other sacred text for Muslims, is the collected sayings, called Hadith, actions and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad. The Sunnah offers Muslims necessary instructions for the practice of Islam. For example, the Qur’an says that all Muslims are to pray five times a day and a Hadith instructs in how one should pray.

The First Pillar (SHAHADAH) is the declaration of faith: “There is no deity except God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” All Muslims make this statement with a believing heart. This declaration establishes the core truth of Islam. The remaining four pillars offer a way of life by which all Muslims may honor Allah.

Five Faith's concentratingonprayer

The Second Pillar (SALAH) is Prayer. Five times a day, Muslims stop their regular activities to turn their attentions directly to Allah. Islamic prayer is distinct from other traditions in that it is a multifaceted activity, including bodily postures, standing, bowing, lying on the ground and sitting, each repeated during the prayer. Muslims face Makkah during times of prayer. Prayers include recitations from the Qur’an. Praise and petitions are also included within Salah. This rhythm of prayer helps all Muslims to maintain their awareness of Allah, their devoted commitment to live their lives according to his commandments. Just before sunrise, at noon, in the late afternoon, at sunset and in the evening, Muslim’s reach out to Allah in prayer. So important to the faithful life is this discipline of prayer, that it is practiced even in times of great difficulty or illness. Special accommodations are made for those for whom bowing, for example, might be physically impossible. Salah is a regular expression of each individual’s commitment to Allah and dependence on Allah’s mercy. On Fridays, Muslims gather for community prayers at the mosque, the sacred gathering place.

The Third Pillar (SAWM) is Fasting. One of the strengths of Islam lies in its willingness to understand and honor human needs. All people have need of food and water. Married couples have a need for sexual intimacy. But none of these needs must guide the life of a Muslim. Even our most basic human desires must come under the discipline of Allah. To that end, fasting is a part of Islam. During the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, Muslims are asked to go without food or drink, even water, and sexual relations from dawn to sunset. The final ten days and nights of Ramadan are filled with rigorous prayers and devotions, including the commemoration of the Night of Power. Throughout the month, Muslims, by their fasting, are given the chance to deepen their awareness and heighten their devotion to Allah. By turning away from the satisfaction of human, physical needs, Muslims connect more deeply with the community. In the fasting, Muslims remember again the needs of others, the hunger of the world and the longing of the human heart for Allah. While Muslims value generosity at all times during the year, they also strive to practice greater generosity in the month of Ramadan.

The believer is not the one who eats his fill when his neighbor beside him is hungry.
The Prophet Muhammad

The Fourth Pillar (ZAKAAT) prescribes the acts of charity which are essential in Islam. Zakaat has no true equivalent in the English language. It may be understood as purification, but it has more to do with charity, with remembering the poor and giving them their due than the word purification might imply at first reading. The Fourth Pillar constitutes the free giving of a percentage of one’s assets to the poor, to the sick and needy and to the causes of God for the construction of mosques, schools and hospitals. While the percentage is established at 2.5 percent, each Muslim must annually assess his holdings and property. Zakaat is paid only on holdings above and beyond that which is needed for basic survival. Zakaat is paid after debts and other financial obligations. In other words, Zakaat is never to be seen as an excuse not to care for one’s household, nor is it to be an excuse to default on other financial responsibilities. Rather, it is a reminder that all wealth belongs to Allah. Muslims believe that in giving away a mere 2.5 percent, the remaining possessions and assets receive Allah’s blessing. This giving aids in the care of all Muslims and others. Zakaat does not constitute the whole of Muslim charity. Being responsive to human need, seeing one’s wealth as a gift from Allah and sharing what one has with others are central practices in Islam.

The Fifth Pillar of Islam (HAJJ) is Pilgrimage. At least once in the life of every adult Muslim who is financially, physically and emotionally able to make the journey, a pilgrimage to Makkah is required. The journey is carefully prescribed. Hajj is made during the month of Dhul-Hijjah in the Islamic lunar calendar, between the seventh and tenth days of that month. At each step of the journey, prayers are said, and rites performed which express the devotion of the Muslim. Men wear special garments made out of unstitched white cloth. Women can wear any dress that meets the Islamic guidelines of modesty. Pilgrims refrain from intercourse with their spouses, do not adorn themselves with perfume and are instructed never to quarrel or be obscene in any way while they make this pilgrimage. Upon arrival in Makkah, after finding housing and food, pilgrims visit the Kabah, the Sacred House. Originally, Abraham and Ishmael built the structure as the first site of worship to Allah. The building, which is in Makkah, has been rebuilt many times, but at least one stone remains from that original building. It is called the Black Stone and believed to have come from Paradise. Some say that the stone is part of a meteorite. As the pilgrim circles the Kabah, special prayers are spoken in the manner described by Muhammad. While touching the stone is not a requirement, many pilgrims hope to do so as a reminder of the love the pilgrim feels for Allah. After circling seven times, the hajj continues with other actions. Washing in the underground well spring of Zamzam, and hastening between two nearby hills, each and every action reminds the Muslim of the loving nature of God, their voluntary rejection of evil and idolatry and their devotion to the teachings of Allah. By shared participation in common rituals, the hajj serves as a reminder of the vastness of the Muslim community and deepens the individual’s sense of belonging, of being part of a single, whole community spread throughout the world.

Five Faith's reading qur'an

The all-encompassing nature of the teachings of Allah

But Islam is not limited to these five pillars, for part of its strength lies in the all-encompassing nature of the teachings. Every aspect of human discourse is discussed. Every concern addressed. Muslims believe that Islam is a religion, yes, but it is also a complete way of life. The sacred texts contain a strong love of learning, encouraging Muslims to study. Highly developed systems of mathematics, geometry and medicine all emerged in Islamic culture far in advance of the rest of the civilized world. While Muslims regard Muhammad as the true messenger of Allah, he is never seen as the center of the faith. Muslims look to the suras (passages comparable to chapters) in the Qur’an and the Sunnah for divinely inspired instructions for every aspect of Islamic life.

Islamic teaching establishes the Qur’an as the collected recitations of Allah and the one true miracle of Islam. Therefore, whenever the Qur’an is read, Muslims hear Allah speaking. According to one source:

Mystics have chanted and sung, meditated upon, and esoterically interpreted the Qur’an; grammarians have based rules for Arabic on it; legists and theologians have formulated guidelines for all of life in light of it; artists have embellished almost all Islamic buildings and artifacts with its words in elaborate calligraphy; conservators of the status quo have claimed it as their authority; reformers have built movements around a return to its preaching; and ordinary people have patterned their lives as well as their speech after its words.

In the Islamic tradition, the Qur’an is understood to cover every aspect of Muslim life, and to do so without error.

Two streams of Islam: Sunnis and Shi’ites

Our confidence, O Lord, is in you and your unlimited mercy and compassion.
from Prayer for Istesquaa, a prayer for rain

Since the coming of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Muhammad, over time, Islam divided into two main streams, Sunnis, or Traditionalists, and Shi’ites, or Partisans. The Traditionalists comprise the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world today. While there is some divergence, both hold to the significance of the Five Pillars and other major teachings. Islam also has a mystical tradition, known as Sufism. Sufis find a great wealth of experience available by drawing a distinction between the inner and outer worlds, between the Ultimate Reality of Allah and the present reality of this world. They pursue the mysteries of love, ecstasy and intuition. Each of these mysteries offers new ways to understand the mystery and love of Allah. Sufism expresses itself in remarkable love poetry, understanding all loves between human beings to be mere shadows of the love of Allah. In ecstatic states, trances and other deep meditations, Sufis experience transcendence, journeying outside the normal world and into the spiritual realm. They consider this to be in keeping with Muhammad’s Night Flight, when all the layers of heaven were revealed to him. Sufis do not claim to see what he saw, but rather to approach it. In intuition, Sufis give attention to eyes of the heart, acknowledging that the whole world is God in disguise.

Sufism sees all aspects of devotion as important and necessary but also contends that the compliance with all these aspects is symbolic of the self’s deepest spiritual need to remove all obstacles and barriers which exist between one and God. By continual invocations and recitations, the heart is polished and made ever more beautiful. Nevertheless, Islam is a religion of moderation, maintaining that spiritual exercises should not be cultivated at the expense of moderation in sleeping, eating, praying or any communal activities for religious purposes. While there has been, and remains a certain level of conflict between the traditions of Islam, there is agreement that there is no God but Allah and the Qur’an is the revealed word of Allah.

Growth of Islam

Historically located in the lands surrounding Makkah and comprising Arabia, Islam is now present in virtually every country on earth. One in five or six people alive today are practicing Muslims. Whether by conversion or by birthright, they choose to live according to the guidance of the Qur’an. Were there time in this text to study the historical impact of Islam, it would not take long to note that while most of Europe lay dormant during the Dark Ages, Muslim philosophers and scientists, artists and architects were busy, moving thought, mathematics, and architecture forward. Their influence is seen in our modern medicine, architecture and literature.

Five Faith's prayermat Muslims United in Prayer

By turning to prayer, Muslims all over experience their unity. Muslims pray as a regular reminder and expression of their relationship to Allah and to the community of faith. They may gather in mosques, or pause alone during the business of the day, listen to the call to prayer from a nearby minaret, or to the radio broadcasts of prayers. They may be in the privacy of their homes. Following specific prayer and worship forms, they call out to Allah for mercy, for grace, for courage. They praise Allah for compassion and generosity. They give thanks for Muhammad and his devotion to Allah. So great is their appreciation of the Prophet Muhammad that every mention of his name, either orally or in writing, is followed by the words “May God’s peace and blessings be on him.” At any time of the day or night, somewhere on earth a Muslim is saying prayers. The times of prayer circumnavigate the earth just as the path of the sun covers the earth. As they pray, close to a billion people, each, in their way, determines anew to live within the intricate life code of Islam in order to express full devotion to Allah. Each is hearing a passage and remembering the words of the Qur’an. One such passage illuminates the Muslim love for Allah:

God! There is no deity except Him, the Living, the Eternal. No slumber can over power Him, nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there who can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what is before them and what is hidden from them, and they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He will. His kingdom spreads over the heavens and the earth, and the guarding of them does not weary Him, and He is the Exalted, the Almighty.
(Qur’an 2:255)

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