(Last Updated on : 13/01/2011)
Islam is a monotheistic religion commanding a huge group of followers in India. In fact, Islam is the second largest religion in the world. The word `Islam` implies total surrender to the Almighty. Hence, the follower of Islam, a Muslim, is the one who yields or surrenders himself or herself to God in peace. Whenever, a Muslim accepts Islam with a free-heart, mind and soul, it means that he is committing himself to belief without reservation, accepting the tenets of faith and following both the letter and the spirit of the Holy Quran
, believed to be the direct and immediate word of God.
Origin of Islam
The origins of Islam lie in the revelation which the Prophet Muhammad
, a descendant of a noble Arab tribe, received in the 7th century in Mecca through the intermediary of the Archangel Gabriel. The revelation came upon Muhammad when he was in middle life, and he made it known progressively to his companions over a number of years. These utterances of the revelation were subsequently committed to writing, and constitute the Quran, which is the sacred book of Islam. Following its revelation to Muhammad, Islam rapidly spread and become the religion of virtually all Arabs.
A secondary source of Muslim doctrine and practice is the Sunna of the Prophet. The Sunna includes not only the customs and usages, but also the Sayings (or Traditions) of the Prophet (Ahadith, Ring, Hadith). The latter are a cardinal source of Muslim teaching. Such sayings, although of Divine inspiration, are distinct from the Quranic revelation. The Sunna constitutes a norm for the whole of Islamic civilization.
The Holy Quran, Sacred Book of Islam
As has already been said, the holy Quran is the sacred book of Islam. The language of the Quran is Arabic, which is the sacred language of Islam. The words of the Quran have been faithfully preserved in the form in which they were originally received, even down to the minutest points of detail, and their recitation constitutes a liturgical act. For this purpose only the original Arabic may be used, as translations have no liturgical validity. Being the `uncreated Word of God`, it is the Quran is at the centre of the Islamic religion. The Holy Quran states that God has given man an alternative between good and evil and to seek God`s pleasure through faith, prayer and charity.
The central Message (Risala) of Islam is the declaration of faith (Shahada)- "La ilaha ilallah, Muhammadur Rasulullah." (There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God). Allah is the name Muslims employ for the supreme and unique God, who created and thus rules everything. All Muslim doctrine and, above all, Sufi doctrine, derives from the Shahada. Muslims have faith in only Allah who is described as One, Omniscient and Omnipotent. He is neither begotten nor does He beget. Muslims believe that only God truly exists. Man and the entire cosmos exist only because God wills them to exist. God alone is the sole creator of everything that exists and manifests His glory, power and attributes. Man has been generated as a creature possessing free will, so that by his surrender of free will to the divine he might become worthy of God`s fellowship. This faith in God is realised by responding to the message of Allah through His prophet Muhammad. The word Muslim is the participle of the same verb of which Islam is the infinitive. Believers are generally expected to observe the Five Pillars of Islam, which imply five duties that bond Muslims into a community.
Love of the Prophet (who is usually referred to as the `Messenger of God`, Rasulullah) is much cultivated in Islam, and classically takes the form of conformity to his Sunna.
Practice of Islam
The Islamic Law or Sharia is characterized by the Five Pillars of Islam (Arkan al Islam). These are faith, prayer, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage. Faith (Iman) is assent to the Shahada. Prayer (Salah) is the canonical prayer that is observed five times daily (at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night). Fasting (Sawm) is the abstention from food and drink from dawn to sunset observed during the month of Ramadan. Almsgiving (Zakat) is the giving of a portion of one`s goods for charitable purposes. Pilgrimage (Hajj) is the pilgrimage to the Kaba at Mecca which a Muslim should make, if possible, at least once in his lifetime.
Apart from the five pillars, an important part of the practice of Islam is the prohibition of wine and pork. Wine symbolizes confusion and error whereas pork is a symbol of uncleanliness and sin. Gambling and usury are also forbidden by Islamic law.
Worship in Islam
Muslims worship in the mosque and outside every mosque, or just within the entrance is a place where worshippers can remove and leave their shoes. There is also a place where Muslims can carry out the ritual washing required prior to a prayer offering. The principal hall of a mosque is a plain enormous room, largely free from furniture.
Islamic prayers are referred to as Namaz. In Islamic tradition, Namaz should be read five times each day. Muslims are of the faith that prayer helps stop the mind from wandering into the materialistic world and it also to remember the divine rules of conduct. Islamic fasts are also integrally linked to religious rites and rituals. According to Islam, observing fasts during Ramazan helps in purifying the mind and removing one`s sins. A Muslim who observes fast for the whole month of Ramazan not only gains his physical fitness, but also much more spiritually.
A significant fact about Islam is that there exist no pictures or statues to which Muslims offer their venerations. Muslims are of the belief that such idol worship is blasphemous, since there can be no image of Allah, who is entirely spirit. The prime message of Islam is Unity of God, that the Creator of the world is one and He alone is worthy of worship and that Muhammad (peace and blessings on him) is His Messenger and Servant. However, the concept of God or Allah is sectioned into significant phases, with the Quran also occupying a special place.
The only important `division` within Islam is the one between Sunni Sect
and the Shia Sect
. Orthodox or Sunni Islam recognizes that the immediate successors (Khalifas) to the Prophet Muhammad, as head of the Islamic community, are the four Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. The establishment and subsequent development of lslam as a world religion rests on the pattern set by these four holy patriarchs. Shiaism, on the contrary, rejects the first three Caliphs and regards the fourth Caliph Ali as the only legitimate immediate successor to the Prophet, the chief reason being that Ali was of the `family of the Prophet`, since he was the latter`s son-in-law. Shiaism retains virtually all the orthodox doctrines and practices of Islam apart from the major matter of rejecting the first three Caliphs. Not strictly considered as a denomination, Sufism is a `mystical-ascetic` form of Islam. By concentrating solely upon the more devout aspects of religion, Sufis endeavour to attain direct experience of God by making use of `intuitive and emotional faculties.` And this unusual direct experience is only obtained after one has trained to make use of the faculty. Sufism and Islamic law are generally considered to be complementary.
Thus given above is a brief glimpse into the religion of Islam.