Appreciating Islam

Introduction

Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions of the world. Much of what the general public knows about Islam is based on media reports on television and in the newspapers. These reports are grossly misleading and promote negative stereotypes and misconceptions usually associated with the culture rather than the religion’s true teachings.

Islam shares a very close history with Christianity and Judaism. Islam also promotes the same values that modern democracy does, values of equality, freedom, justice, civil rights, peace and harmony.

Today Muslims are faced with the greatest challenge set before them. The globe is much smaller than ever before and media and communications keeps the world populations informed about major national and international events.

Muslims must embrace this technology and harness its benefits and meet the challenges that modernity brings. While there are many Muslims still living under oppressive regimes, preventing the society to develop and mature. Eventually, these societies will change and Muslims will prosper and intellectual developments will flourish. Muslims in SE Asia, Europe, North America and Australia and New Zealand are far more progressive and directly in contact with the West. Therefore, it is up to Muslims to project a positive image of themselves. By the same token Australians need not fear Islam as a new and foreign ideology, rather they should try to appreciate its inherent beauty and hopefully
recognise the similarities it has with Christian and democratic ideologies.

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 (peace be upon him) rather than God. ‘Allah’ is the Arabic name for God, which is used by Arab Christians and Muslims alike. Islam means submission to God in every aspect of life including faith, family, peace, love and work.

Who are Muslims?

Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Over 1.6 billion people from a vast range of races, nationalities and cultures across the globe are united by their common Islamic faith. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world with 240 million people. About 220 million live in the Arab world; there are also large populations in Africa and Central Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia., while significant minorities are to be found in China, South America, Europe (approx. 23 million) and the Americas (about 7 million). Australia currently has over 470000 Muslims living across the country from Christmas Island to Tasmania.

What do Muslims believe?

Muslims believe in One, Omnipotent, Compassionate, Beneficent and Indivisible God (Allah). Muslims believe in the Angels created by God; in the Prophets through whom His revelations were sent to humankind; in the Day of Judgement when existence as we know it will end; in the hereafter and in the notion of humankind’s fate or destiny.

Muslims are guided by the teachings of the Holy Qu’ran and the sayings or traditions of the Prophet (PBUH). Islam is essentially about doing what is good for your fellow brother and sister, regardless of their faith or their race. Islam is about love and service to Allah and His creation, including the environment and animals. It is incumbent all Muslims to seek knowledge and improve their own condition.

Do Muslims believe in a different God to Christians?

Islam may seem exotic or even very strict in the modern world. Perhaps this is because religion does not dominate everyday life in secular Western societies like Australia. Muslims have religion always uppermost in their minds, and make no division between secular and sacred. They practice their religion both spiritually and practically. The Holy Quran is a comprehensive guidebook on the basic mechanisms of any healthy and harmonious society. It stipulates the hows and whys of living, including codes of conduct, morality, nutrition, modes of dress, marriage and relationships, business and finance, crime and punishment, laws and government and so on. Therefore, it is common to see Muslims wearing
a certain type of dress. This is usually cultural, although it is obligatory for both men and women to dress modestly and to behave humbly and politely. Men and women are obliged to guard their modesty by not dressing in revealing clothes. This is a preventative measure to ensure a safe and moral society.

Islam is not a new religion, but the same message that God revealed through all  His Prophets including Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the last Prophet, Muhammed, to every people in different periods of civilisation. For more than a fifth of the world’s population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. It is a religion of peace, mercy, justice and compassion. The main misconception enshrouding Islam is that Muslims worship a strange deity called Allah. The word Allah is Arabic for God. The same God in Christian and Jewish scriptures. We must remember that the Old Testament was originally revealed in Hebrew and the name of God was Elohim. In the New Testament the word for God was Il’ah in Aramaic. The word for God varies from language to language. But the identity of God remains the same in all three monotheistic faiths.

What are the similarities between Islam & Christianity?

No Muslim is a Muslim if he does not believe in Jesus (PBUH). Muslims revere Jesus Christ as a prophet of God. They also believe that his mother, Mary (PBUH) was chosen by God above all women of all nations and that he was immaculately conceived. He performed many miracles in his short life, like giving life to the dead and healing the blind and the lepers through God’s power. The Holy Quran teaches Muslims that Jesus was not executed by the Romans but in fact raised to Heaven and will return to Earth before the end of time as we know it.

Christians and Jews are regarded as ‘people of the book’ because they follow one of the four acceptable holy scriptures; the psalms of David, the Torah of Moses, the Injeel (gospel) of Jesus and the Quran (Recitation) of Muhammed (peace and blessings to them all).

These books contain the same fundamental message from God; that is For humankind to return to the righteous path and belief in the one true God. Muslims believe in all the prophets that Christians and Jews believe in, Joseph, Jonah, Job, Zachariah and John the Baptist among others.

Muslims, Jews and Christians are often termed monotheistic faiths because they teach that there is only one God. They also share similar ideas about the Day of Judgment and Heaven and Hell, the Angels, Creation and so on.

How does someone become a Muslim?

Simply by saying “there is no god except 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. It is incumbent upon the potential believer to research and study the teachings and explanations of the Qu’ran in order to make a balanced and rational decision when embracing Islam. By embracing Islam, in fact, a person comes back to his/her religion (hence referred to as a “revert” rather than “convert” to Islam), and receives the greatest blessing
of God. The All-Forgiving and Most-Merciful God forgives all the past sins and mistakes of such a person and he/she starts his/her life with a clean slate, as if born again.

The Holy Quran says:

Say to the  unbelievers, if now they desist from unbelief, their past would be forgiven. (8:38)

According to the saying of the Prophet (PBUH):

If a person embraces Islam sincerely, then God shall forgive all his past sins, and after that the reward of his good deeds will be ten times to seven hundred times, and an evil deed will be recorded as it is, unless God forgives it.

Who is Muhammad?

Muhammad (pbuh) was born in Mecca in the year 570 AD, 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 Quraish. As he grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity. Historians agree that Muhammed is the most documented religious figure in history, his existence and life are all carefully documented, preserved and verifiable. As a comparison, the evidence for Jesus’ life is scant outside the Bible, there is even less evidence for the prophets that lived before him. Muhammad (pbuh) was of a deeply spiritual 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.

How did he become a Prophet and a Messenger of God?

At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad (pbuh) received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. These revelations, which continued for twenty-three years, is collectively known as the Qur’an (recitation). 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 AD, God gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the Hijra, (migration), in which they left Mecca for the city of Medina some 260 miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar (referred to as After Hijra A.H.).

The Kaa’ba is the original place of worship which God commanded Abraham and Ismail to build over four thousand years ago. It is the cube-shaped building in Mecca. 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 Abraham’s summons. This pilgrimage is called the HAJJ and is one of the obligatory duties for all able-bodied and financially sound people.

After several years in Medina the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers were able to return to Mecca triumphantly, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam in this holiest of cities. Before the Prophet (pbuh) 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.

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 and that all humans are equal. In a world where slavery was widely practiced this appealed to the poor and the disadvantaged. 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 (pbuh), ‘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 engineering), 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.

What is the Qur’an?

The Qur’an is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It was implanted into the heart of the Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) and then dictated to his Companions who also memorized the texts, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, (Sura), has been changed over the last 14 centuries.

What is the Qur’an about?

The Qur’an, 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 mankind as human beings: wisdom, doctrine, worship and laws. 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 system. The Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years and compiled into a book after the death of the Prophet. It was a carefully and patiently revealed religion and comprehensively covers every aspect of society.

Examples of the Prophet’s sayings

‘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 neighbour goes without food is not a believer.’

‘The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with the prophets, the saints and the martyrs.’

The building blocks of Islam.

The framework for a Muslim’s life : faith, prayer, concern for the needy, selfpurification (through fasting), and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.

1. FAITH (IMAN)

“There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger”.

This declaration of faith is called the Shahada, (to bear witness) a simple formula which all the faithful pronounce. In Arabic, the first part is “la ilaha illa’llah” (there is no god except God); “ilah” (god) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God such as wealth, power, and the like. Then comes “illa’llah” (except God), the source of all Creation. The second part of the Shahada is “Muhammadur rasulu’Llah” (Muhammad is the messenger of God).
A message of guidance has come from God through a man and a person like us.

2. PRAYER (SALAT)

Obligatory prayers are performed five times a day and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Qur’an, and is chosen by the congregation. These five daily prayers contain verses from the Qur’an, 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 at home, in fields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life. Praying together shows unity and reminds Muslims of their purpose and their Creator.

3. CHARITY (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 Zakaat 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. Zakaat, which is a form of tax, is compulsory on every Muslim. Each Muslim calculates his or her own Zakaat individually. For most purposes this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one’s capital.

A 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 (pbuh) said ‘even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is sadaqa (charity).’

The Prophet (pbuh) said:

‘Charity is a necessity for every Muslim.’ He was asked:
‘What if a person has nothing?’ The Prophet (pbuh) 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 (pbuh) said. ‘He should help the poor and needy persons.’ The Companions further asked ‘What if he cannot do even that?’ The Prophet (pbuh) said ‘He should urge others to do good.’ The Companions said ‘what if he lacks that also?’ The Prophet (pbuh) said ‘He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.’

4. FASTING (SAWM)

Every year for 30 days 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 increases one’s spiritual status and gains true
sympathy with those who go hungry. The month long fast is concluded with prayers and the festival of Eid ul Fitr.

5. PILGRIMAGE (HAJJ)

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca – the Hajj is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about 3 million Muslims perform Hajj every year, many travelling from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. Although Mecca is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar) so that Hajj (and Ramadan) falls in different seasons of the year. 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 Arafat and join in prayers for God’s forgiveness (in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgement), and slaughter (sacrifice) of animals whose meat is distributed to the poor & needy and neighbours.
In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with water, modern 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.

Does Islam tolerate other beliefs?

“As for such (of the unbelievers) as do not fight against you on account of (your) faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably.” (Qur’an, 60-8)

It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslims’ 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 and under 500 years of the Muslim Moors in Spain, Christian and Jewish institutions and churches flourished. Also, during the 14th century in Anatolia the Christian Armenians preferred the rule of the just Muslim Ottomans rather than the harsh rule of the Byzantine empire, as the saying goes; “Better the Sultans Turban than the Emperor’s Cap”.

Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves.

Why is family so important to Muslims?

The family is the foundation of Islamic society. 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 marry.

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. The groom gives a marriage dowry to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps her own family name rather than taking her husband’s. Men and women are equal in the sight of God but have been created differently and hence play different but complementary roles in the family and society. Islam gave rights to the woman at a time when she was regarded as not having a soul. 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 (pbuh) said:
‘The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.’

Common misconceptions

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 Qur’an, only
on condition that the husband is scrupulously fair and just, with ample economic
stability to support the marriage of another wife. This should be done in
consultation with both partners. The Qur’an advises if the man cannot be totally
fair to both wives he should not marry more than one. Today, it is rare for a man
to have more than one wife. Fourteen centuries ago there were many widows
and women were often abandoned, to offset the large number of unprotected
women Islam allowed marriage to a maximum of four wives. Considering that
polygamy was widely practiced, the reduction to four was a suitable compromise.

Is Islamic marriage like Christian marriage?

A Muslim marriage is not a ‘sacrament’ but a simple, legal agreement in which
each party is free to include conditions. Marriage customs thus vary widely from
country to country. As a result, divorce is not common, although it is absolutely
permissible as a last resort. According to Islam, no Muslim female can be forced
to marry against her will: her parents will simply suggest young men they think
may be suitable.

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 honour 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 honoured: the Prophet (pbuh) taught that ‘Paradise lies at the feet of
your mother’. 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 imitation when, through no
fault of their own, the elderly become difficult.

The Qur’an 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 “fie’ to them or chide them, but speak to them in terms of honour 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)

How do Muslims view death?

Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe that the present life is only a trial and
preparation for the next realm of existence in the Hereafter. Death therefore is
another state of the living soul- although the physical self has decayed and
become a part of the earth the spiritual self is still aware and in a state of sleep
awaiting its Resurrection.

Basic articles of faith include: the Day of Judgement, 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 (pbuh) 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.

Jihad is not Holy War?

Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defence, in defence of oppression
of your religion or on the part of those whose homeland has been occupied by a
foreign and oppressive regime and they 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 Qur’an says:

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 hears and knows all things. (8:61)

If anyone takes one life without justification it is as if he has taken the lives of all humanity and if anyone saves one life it is as if one has saved the whole of humanity.

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. Jihad is the internal struggle against the self and the temptations
of this world, the egoistic desires and the struggle against evil. When faced with
situations of anger, provocation, injustice or aggression the challenge is to deal
with the situation patiently, peacefully and with humility, this is the greater jihad.

Physical fighting in war is only to be waged in defence. Aggression is forbidden.
In Islam there is no terminology such as “holy war” as Islam does not segregate
between the religious and the secular. They are the one and the same.

Therefore, an injustice is neither religious nor secular. One of the important
conditions for engaging in Jihad against an aggressor, that innocent lives should
not be targeted, this means women, children and the elderly. All those captured
prisoners of war must be treated humanely and fed and clothed. Muslims believe
that if one follows these sincere and honourable conditions that one killed in
battle is a martyr (Shahid) which means that they will not know that they are dead
and will live in another realm as if still alive until the Day of Resurrection.

Why don’t Muslims eat Pork?

Although much simpler than the dietary law followed by Jews and the early
Christians, the code which Muslims observe forbids the consumption of certain
animals (including pigs, crocodiles, spiders, frogs and so on). There are a few
animals permissible to be consumed and that includes sheep, cattle, poultry,
camel, goat and seafood. Muslims are commanded to consume healthy and
wholesome food and meats of animals on which the name of God has been
taken (so that life is not taken in vain).

Muslims therefore consume what is commonly referred to as Halal. Muslims cannot eat carrion but may eat that which is forbidden in extreme cases of a life threatening nature such as starvation. 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-obligation. Therefore, this does not just mean approved foods, one should avoid any toxins and the consumption of harmful products including drugs and alcohol.

Pork is mentioned specifically to be avoided. In this way Muslims
avoid foods that may be harmful, disease carrying or detrimental to the overall
physical and spiritual health of the individual.

The Prophet (pbuh) said ‘Ask God for certainty (of faith) and well-being; for after
certainty, no one is given any gift better than health!”

Islam is cruel and barbaric.
Freedom of conscience is laid down by the Qur’an itself: ‘There is no compulsion
in religion’. (2:256)

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 Qur’an speaks of human equality
in the following terms:

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 honoured of you in God’s sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-knowing, All-Aware.(49:13)

How do Muslims choose their names?

Muslims generally derive many of names and words from the Holy Qu’ran.
However, this is not compulsory. Muslims can have the names derived from their
own culture and language. It has become common practice to have at least your
first name coming from the Holy Qu’ran to show others who you are and reflect
something about your nature. As most names have a strong spiritual meaning.
Many of the names are similar to the Anglicised versions of the Bible. For
instance, Yahya (John), Ayub (Job), Yunus (Jonah), Eesa (Jesus), Dawood
(David), Nuh (Noah), Adam (Adam) are just a few examples.

Some quotes from the Holy Qur’an:

Say: “O you people! Now truth has reached you from your Lord! Those who
receive guidance, do so for the good of their own souls; those who stray, do so to
their own loss: and I am not (set) over you to arrange your affairs.”

Follow the inspiration sent to you, and be patient and constant, till Allah decides:
for He is the Best to decide. Yunus (10:108-109)

(They are) those who, if we establish them in the land, establish regular prayer
and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the
end (and decision) of (all) affairs. Al Hajj (22:41)

“Worship none save Allah (only), and be good to parents and to kindred and to
orphans and the needy, and speak kindly to mankind, and observe prayer and
pay the Zakat (poor due – tax)” 2:83

“Give full measure when you measure, and weigh out with a right balance and
justice” 17:35

“Help one another in noble actions and pious duty. Help not one another in sin
and transgression” 5:2

“O you who believe! Be you staunch in observing justice, and bear witness for
Allah, even though it be against yourselves or your parents or your kindred.
Whether the person be rich or poor, in either case Allah is nearer to both. So
follow not vain desires lest you lapse (from truth) and if you lapse or fall away,
then verily, Allah is ever aware of what you do” 4:135

“O Mankind! Verily, We have created you from a single pair of a male and a
female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.
But verily the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Verily
Allah is Knower, Aware” 49:13

“O People of the Book (Christians and Jews)! Come to common terms as
between us and you that we worship none but Allah, that we associate no partner
with Him, that we raise not from among ourselves Lords and patrons other than
Allah” 3:64

Traditions

Hadith
Traditions purporting to quote the Prophet verbatim are known as Hadith. The Sunnah, however, is a broader term; it refers to the Hadith as well as to narratives purporting to describe the conduct of the Prophet and his companions in a variety of settings and contexts.

Sunnah
As already stated sunnah means the way or example of the Prophet and the way he lived and did things. Muslims are advised to follow his sunnah as this is the best way to avoid making mistakes. It doesn’t mean that we have to do everything literally the way he did but in essence most of what he did was designed to teach us how to do the right thing. Muslims believe that the Prophet was a perfect human being, he was sinless and he sacrificed everything to establish God’s law and the religion of Islam for the benefit of humanity. For this he is loved without limitation. A Muslim loves and respects the Prophet unconditionally.

Quran
Quran means recitation or that which is recited.

The words of God were recited by Muhammad, they were not his own words. Since the Quran was compiled just after the Prophet’s death, it has been recited by millions of people all over the globe.

The Quran has 114 chapters. Some are quite short (only a few verses (ayats) and some are very long. All in all, there are 6236 verses.

There are several translations today. The Quran must always be written in Arabic (classical Arabic). One cannot vary even a single syllable or letter of the Quran. Doing so would alter its meaning and create a path towards corruption.

The Quran today is the same Quran of the time of the Prophet. The Quran as is found in Mali or Bosnia is the same as the one being read in Indonesia or Australia. The Quran is the most read book in the world and it has been memorised by millions of Muslims, preserving the Quran for all time.

If all the religious books of the world were gathered and burnt today and all the soft copies on file and on-line were destroyed by a virus. The only religious book that would survive is the Quran. No other holy text has been memorised like the Quran.

The English translations that we recommend are:
Yusuf Ali
Muhammad Asad

There are many more translations however these two are the most thorough and have detailed footnotes to assist in understanding the translations.

The best version is the one in Arabic and the best way to understand the full meaning of the Quran is to learn Arabic.

On being a Muslim in the west –

Schools of Thought

Within the Sunni branch of Islam there are four main schools of jurisprudence. They are called Hanafi, Shafi, Hanbali and Maliki; named after the scholars who wrote the complete jurisprudence of Islam. All Sunni Muslims follow the same Islam but may differ on jurisdictional points such as traditions of the prophet that may be accepted by, for instance, Imam Shafi and rejected by Imam Abu Hanifa. However, differences are subtle and negligible. In general there is no conflict between these different schools of thought and essentially they have the same theological beliefs.

It is our advice that if you are unsure of which Madhab or school of jurisprudence you belong to then to research one madhab and stick to it. Some Muslims take a bit from each madhab and then ultimately down the track get confused and fall into some problem areas which could for instance nullify your prayer or determine important aspects of your ibadah (worship).

It is important that a Muslim should NEVER allow their particular madhab to be a point of conflict or that one is better than the other. It is important to stick to the madhab that you feel most comfortable with and that suits your lifestyle in Australia.

There are of course other schools of thought that do not fit into the main traditional madhabs (ie. Maliki, Hanbali, Shafi and Hanafi). One of the most well known one is called Salafism or previously referred to as Wahabbism.

Wahabbism started in Arabia over 200 years ago by a scholar named Muhammad ibn Abdal al-Wahhab (1702-1793). He advocated for a return to the original or pure teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. This would mean we would have to not only neglect thirteen centuries of Islamic scholarly development but also disrespect their bodies of work. Scholars such as Muhammad Al Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Said Nursi and others.

Islam was founded by the Prophet Muhammad, who imparted his knowledge to 100000 companions who spread the message of Islam to others. Schools were established and just like any university, lecturers were trained, employed and were made responsible to protect the knowledge that the Prophet had given to us. The way that it was protected is a system called Ijaza.

Ijaza is like a certificate but it is given to you by a trusted and respected scholar who will only give it to you if you have passed every test and are guaranteed to protect it once the scholar dies. After 1400 years this tradition has continued and that is what most Muslims in the world follow.

It is important that when we think about joining any groups we do so with the basic motto that our Prophet taught us: Islam is the middle way or in other words the path to moderation.

On the other side of the spectrum there is another approach called Sufism (or Tasawwuf). This is the spiritual and esoteric side of Islam. Although both Salafism and Sufism adhere to Islamic principles and theology, they tend to conflict with each other’s approaches and as the latter places little importance on the rules of religion and more on the spiritual meaning of faith. Sufis focus much more on performing dhikr or remembrance of Allah through various ways mainly repetition of the names of Allah. They also renounce worldly affairs or material possessions and focus on spiritual growth. In the modern context a sufi can be a professional by day and do his dhikr by night.

Whatever, school of thought you choose, whatever is your approach to be a Muslim, as a Muslim living in the west, such as Australia, one must always be conscious of the local customs and the religious environment that you find yourself in. As a Muslim in Australia you will find yourself as a minority and so the society is not tailored exactly for your needs. Therefore, you need to look for right environment and services that will help you deal with living in Australia as a Muslim. The problem is that it is very hard to know which is right and which is harmful to you.

The best way, is to trust your parents’ guidance in the first place. Your parents would follow a madhab but if they are not sure then it is important to read reliable books on Islam which you can obtain from a university library or some on-line sites. The most important step is to strengthen your knowledge of the life of the Prophet (pbuh), by reading books about his life (seerah). Once you have a clear picture on the history of Islam, you will feel more confident about your future direction. It is also important to understand the broader history of Islam and the great empires that existed and the extent of its influence.

The next step is to understand what we mean by theology of Islam. That is aqida or Muslim belief. Once we learn about the aqida one will know how God is understood in Islam and how our relationship is forged with God.

The next step once you have equipped yourself with the sound knowledge of the Seerah and Aqida, then you can begin researching fiqh.

Remember learning fluent speaking Arabic will also strengthen your ability to read the and understand the Quran but also in understanding the various laws in Islam, however, it is not essential to learn fluent Arabic as most of the essential texts have been translated to English. It is essential to learn enough Arabic to be able to read and recite the Quran