No. Islam is not a nation or a country or even a group of people.
Islam simply means ‘submission’ or ‘surrendering’ to God. A person who has submitted is called a Muslim.
When one becomes a Muslim he or she is giving up, all of one’s armour is put aside, to love unconditionally, God, Who created you and all that exists in the universe.
It’s a mammoth thought to consider, but it’s the truth. If God or Allah (the Arabic for God) guides you to the truth then your eyes and heart will open up and new realisations will emerge in your mind that you never considered before.
The world of submission (Islam) is truly beautiful.
But like every journey there are potholes along the road and other hazards (that’s why you should read misconceptions in the next section).
So it wont always be a smooth ride because there are bumps along the way, but if God is guiding you then there are reasons for every bump and every pit-stop you take.
So what are the basics?
Well, you often hear the term, “five pillars of Islam”.
This is the foundational platform of this great religion. On top of these strong supports comes the rest of the faith which works like a four wheeled car, and the rest of the car being in the inner mechanisms of Islam, could not run without the wheels. Iman or the shahadah (declaration of faith) is the fuel that runs the car.
Briefly they are:
Shahadah or the declaration of faith (iman)
Salat, the duty to perform your five daily prayers
Sawm, the duty to fast in the holy month of Ramadhan
Zakat, the duty to give alms to the poor annually and;
Hajj, to perform the pilgrimage (hajj) if one is able to do so
This is so important because it gives you the platform to do everything else, that is essentially to be a good person and the best that you can be.
A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God. A Muslim is one who works hard to beautify his or her own character. Therefore, a Muslim must follow very high standards of moral behaviour.
A Muslim must refrain from committing sin or doing anything that is forbidden (haram) and in all aspects of his or her life try to do what is permissible (halal).
If a Muslim sins, then one can ask for forgiveness and try not to repeat the mistake. A Muslim’s sins can be expatiated by doing acts of goodness and righteousness such as feeding the poor, fasting or praying. The more halal acts that you do and the less haram acts, then the more beautiful your character becomes. It’s a simple formula for success in this world and the next.
Muslims believe that Allah (God) knows best and is the best of judges and is all-Merciful and All-beneficent.
A Muslim is someone who has a personal relationship with God. There are no intercessors or middle men. No-one else is able to take responsibility for your actions, words or thoughts. Once you die and begin your journey to the Here-after, no-one can act on your behalf, no-one can intercede, only Allah (God) will judge you based on how you lived your earthly life and the deeds that you carried out.
A Muslim is someone who not only believes and upholds the five pillars of Islam but a Muslim is someone who also understands and accepts the complete contents of the Quran, its message and its guidance and follows the sunnah or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
The five pillars are there for a reason. The reason we declare our faith is because without intention and belief, there is no way to progress. You must have sincere faith and real belief before you can do anything else.
When we pray (Salat), we not only acknowledge God and worship God, we strengthen that faith and we constantly remind ourselves of our responsibilities to God and to our fellow humans. While we pray we also purify our hearts, we cleanse the negative things in our minds and ask for forgiveness for the mistakes that we have made.
When we fast, we show love for God and follow what He has commanded us to do. Fasting also cleanses the body physically and spiritually. It creates empathy for those less fortunate who are starving and it motivates us to help them. It helps us build discipline in our lives and makes us better human beings.
When we give our money away to a charitable cause (Zakat), we feel better, we purify our hearts and we remind ourselves that material wealth is not why we are here and that spiritual wealth is much more important. Zakat also helps keep society functioning, it reduces poverty and creates fairness and justice in society. It can also reduce the necessity for crime or corruption.
Finally, just as the declaration of faith is our reference point, the kaaba is our physical reference point of the earth and if we can, at least once in our lives, to go to the place where it all started. (Hajj) The place where Adam and Eve first came. The place where Abraham with his son Ismail built the Kaaba in Mecca. It is the holiest place on earth. Its significance is even beyond most of us but a Muslim should perform the pilgrimage in the way the Prophet showed us.
This ritual is basically the rites that were performed by Abraham. Abraham, was tested by God and in that test he proved his faith by his commitment to God and his action to sacrifice his beloved son. Although, God did not allow this to happen Abraham passed the test. Muslims come to Mecca in a state of ihram, where they are dressed in two pieces of white cloth signifying their death shrouds and their anonymity and equality. They state their intention to do the hajj and during the hajj period pray for forgiveness and guidance. It is a very uplifting experience. The hajj is a symbolic ritual which brings millions of believers together in one place, in one action, in one thought, worshipping one Creator, walking in one direction, circum-ambulating the Kaaba very much like the way the Earth rotates around the Sun and how electrons rotate around the nucleus in an atom.
A Muslim today has basically two things to guide him or her: the Quran (and its scholarly interpretation) and the sayings and actions of the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet in almost every aspect of Islam tried to explain the meaning of verses as they came to him.
One must understand that the Prophet was only a medium for the message which came directly from God. The Prophet did not invent the verses, he did not change them to suit his needs, he did not write the Quran.
The Quran or revelations came down to him over a period of 23 years, which was essentially the period of his prophethood. He received the first surah or chapter of the Quran when he was aged 40 in the year 622 CE. In this 23 year period, the Prophet established the whole religion as a perfected system of belief and law (shariah).
The Prophet is referred to as the seal of prophets and the Quran states itself, that Muhammad is the final messenger and that there will be no-one after him.
So we are more or less at the end of long line of messages and messengers that have been sent throughout the Earth and to all communities. The first messenger or prophet was Adam and the last is Muhammad (peace be to them both).
We often refer to ourselves as the sons of Adam. That is, that humanity’s reference point is Adam. From there we have developed, progressed and advanced to what we term modernity.
As Muslims we all have a responsibility to live our lives according to the standards set by Adam and the proceeding prophets after him. The most recent and most accurate information that has been handed down to humankind is that of the period of the prophethood of Muhammad (610-632 CE). All information and revelation before Muhammad, has pieces missing or has been deliberately corrupted. Therefore, it is too inaccurate to use to effectively govern our lives. In fact to use any information before Muhammad which has not been rectified or corrected by Muhammad, is dangerous and unadvisable. As this could lead one to stray or to make decisions which would affect one’s life now and in the hereafter.
So keep learning, whether you were born into a Muslim family or if you came to Islam later in life, keep learning, Islam is dynamic and one must be aware of how to live as a Muslim in a modern world. A great challenge which one can fulfil only with the greatest of effort (jihad).