When people ask about Islam or learn about it in religious education, they are told that Islam has five pillars. Though everyone these days know what the five pillars are, they do not know much about them. The five pillars are:
Imaan - Faith
Salaat - Prayer
Saum - Fasting
Zakat - Charity
Hajj - Pilgrimage
In part one of this entry we will be looking at the first pillar of Islam and seeing what it means to the Islamic people.
Faith is the most important pillar of the Islamic faith, and it involves a lot more than just believing in Allah (God). To Muslims, faith is to have a firm belief in Allah and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Here are two sayings that help to summarise what faith is in Islam in a simple way:
Aamantu billaahi kamaa huwa biasmaaihee wa sifaatihee wa qabiltu jamee'a akhaamehee. - 'I believe in Allah as He is, with all His names and attributes and I have accepted all His orders.'
Aamantu billaahi wa malaai katihee wa kutubihee wa rusulihee walyawmil aakhiri wal qadri khayrihee wa sharrihee minallaahi ta'aalaa wal ba'si ba 'dal mawt. - 'I believe in Allah and His angels, and His books, and His messengers, and in the last day and in fate, that good and bad is from Allah and the life after death.'
So what exactly does all that mean? To understand all of the above this article will deal with each part separately.
The majority of people on Earth know that Muslims believe in Allah. But who is this Allah? Is he any different from the Christian and Jewish concept of God? What does Allah actually mean?
Well let's start with the easiest question first, what does Allah mean? This question in its self has a two part answer which is:
Firstly Allah means the one and only universal God of all humanity. It is considered by Muslims to be incorrect to call Allah the tribal God of the Muslims alone. For Muslims, Allah is not just the translation of the English word God, but is also God's personal name. This is part of the reason why Muslims call God Allah. It is also because the Arabic word 'Allah' can not be made feminine or plural, unlike the word 'God' which can become 'Goddess' and 'Gods'. Because of this, Muslims feel it is a purer and more accurate way of calling God 'God'.
The second part of the answer also answers the question 'Do Muslims believe in the same God as Christians and Jews?' When Muslims refer to Allah, they are referring to the same deity as the Christians and Jews. The Arabic word for God is 'Allah' and so you find that Arab Christians will refer to God as 'Allah.' For example, if you went to Lebanon where the majority of the population are Muslims, Christians and Jews, it would be impossible to tell people apart simply by discovering the word they use for God, as they all use the word 'Allah.' So 'Allah' is just another way of saying God in the same way as the French word for God is 'Dieu.' There is only one God for all of Humanity - that is what Muslims believe.
Delving further into the second question, it has to be said that, while all three religions have the same God, the actual idea of this God's form is different. The majority of Christians believe in the holy trinity, which Islam rejects, for example.
This brings us to the last question, who is Allah?
As already mentioned, Allah is God - but what do Muslims believe about God? This can be answered by looking at what Muslims consider to be God's attributes, and they are:
Allah is one.
He alone is worthy of worship and none besides him are worthy of worship.
Nothing is hidden from Him, He even knows the thoughts that go on inside people's minds.
He is most powerful.
He created the Earth, stars, the moon, all the planets, the angels, human beings and the whole Universe.
He gives life and causes death.
He alone gives sustenance to all creations.
He does not drink, eat or sleep.
He is from ever since and will remain forever.
He was not created by anyone.
He has no parents, partner or children.
All depend on Him while He depends on nothing.
He resembles none, while nobody resembles Him.
He is pure from all faults.
He does have hands, feet, body, fingers and face but not like humans do.
This is what Muslims believe to be Allah's characteristics and therefore pray to Allah alone for all requirements and guidance.
Please note that while Allah has been referred to as 'He' and 'Him,' this is simply for ease of reading as Allah is neither male or female or both.
As in most religions, Islam acknowledges the presence of Angels. Angels form a strong backbone of the Islamic faith structure, as Muslims believe that they are always among us. Muslims believe that Allah created Angels out of light and that they are invisible to humans.
Angels do not commit any sins, nor do they disobey Allah and so always do what He (God) says. Muslims believe that the exact number of angels is unknown to us, but the Qur'an does tell Muslims about some of them. Muslims are told of several angels in the Qur'an who are:
The angel Jibraeel, who brought Allah's books, orders and messages to all of the prophets.
The angel Michaaeel is in charge of food and rain. Other angels work under him who are in charge of clouds, seas, rivers and suchlike. The angel Michaaeel gets his orders from Allah and then passes this on to the angels under his charge.
The angel Israafeel will blow the trumpet on the Day of Judgement by the order of Allah. The sound of this trumpet will kill and destroy everything on the earth and in the skies and in the universe. With Allah's order, he will blow it a second time to signal to all the dead souls and angels Allah's power as he brings everyone who ever lived back to life.
The angels Kiraaman - Kaatibeen are with every person as one sits on the right shoulder and records all the good deeds someone has done and all their good intentions while the other sits on the left recording all the bad deeds someone does.
The two angels Munkar and Naker question the person in the grave when someone has passed away. They ask three questions, 'Who is your lord?' 'What is your faith?' and 'What you know about the personality of the Prophet Muhammad sent out to you?'
Muslims believe that some angels are in charge of heaven while others are in charge of Hell.
The books of Allah
Muslims believe that Allah has revealed His books to various prophets for the guidance of nations. There are two types of books revealed by Allah, kitaabs (large books) and sahifas (small books).
In total there have been four kitaabs that we know of, sent down to guide mankind:
The Tauraat (Old Testament) revealed to prophet Moosa (Moses).
The Zaboor (Psalms) revealed to prophet Dawood (David).
The Injeel (New Testament) revealed to prophet Eesaa (Jesus).
The Holy Qur'an, the final book of Allah which was revealed to prophet Muhammad.
As mentioned there were smaller books called sahifas that where revealed to many prophets such as prophet Ebraheem (Abraham) for example.
Muslims believe that the Holy Qur'an was the only book revealed over an amount of time (23 years); all the others were revealed in their complete form in one go. Muslims also believe that all the old books are not in their original form, as changes and alterations have been made to them by people. Only the Holy Qur'an, the final book of Allah, is still pure as Allah has protected it from alterations.
Messengers of God
Muslims believe that Allah has sent down many messengers to the world at various stages of history, to guide mankind. These messengers are known as Nabis. A special kind of Nabi is known as a Rasool.
A Rasool is a prophet who received a new shareeat (divine law) and book from Allah, while a Nabi followed the shareeat of a Rasool before them. Muslims believe that no person can become a Nabi or a Rasool by his own effort, rather it is Allah that makes a person a Rasool or Nabi.
The first of Allah's messengers was Prophet Aadam while the last was Prophet Muhammad. In the Qur'an, Allah mentioned Prophet Muhammad as Khaatamun Nabiyeen which means 'the last prophet.' This is why Muslims believe that no more prophets are to arise to guide mankind.
Muslims believe that 124,000 Nabis and Rasools have been sent to help mankind, but most of them have been lost to mankind's knowledge by the passing of time. Muslims also believe that all the prophets preached the oneness of Allah, spoke the truth, committed no sins and conveyed the message without adding or leaving out anything. Muslims also believe that they performed miracles with the help of Allah.
Here is a short list of some of the prophets in Islam:
- Prophet Ebraheem
- Prophet Ismail
- Prophet Yahya
- Prophet Zakaria
- Prophet Yunus
- Prophet Idrees
- Prophet Yacoob
- Prophet Suleiman
- Prophet Eesaa
Not only do Muslims have to respect and believe in the prophets, but they also have to believe in and respect the Sahaabah. These are people who either saw or stayed in the company of the prophet Muhammad, embraced Islam and died as Muslims. These people are considered important by Muslims because they helped to spread the word of Islam along with the prophet and wrote the Qur'an under Muhammad's guidance and also provided Muslims with the Ahadith, or ways of the prophet.
Muslims pay respect to the prophets and the Sahaabah by abstaining from speaking ill of them and by not criticising them. Also, when Muslims say the name of a prophet they always add the saying alayhis salaam to the end of the prophets name.
Alayhis salaam means 'Peace be upon Him'.
When Muslims mention the last prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad, they say sallallahu alaihi wa sallam - 'Peace and Blessing be upon Him', as Muslims believe that he is the highest among the prophets.
When Muslims mention the name of a sahaabah of the prophet, they always say Radiyallahu-anhu for men and Radiyallahu-anha for women, which means 'May Allah be pleased with him/her'.
In Islam fate, or Taqdeer in Arabic, is another important part of the faith. This is because Muslims believe that Allah has knowledge of everything before its creation. It is hard to explain the difference between the Islamic idea of fate and the western idea of fate. Most non-religious people say that if everything is fated already, then how can people be punished for their crimes, as they had no choice. This comes from ignorance of the Islamic concept of fate.
Muslims believe that Allah has given every human the ability to do good or bad in life, due to His giving mankind free will. People decide what they do, but Allah has knowledge of this before He even creates us and knows what we could do and what we will do but does not make us do it. Muslims believe that all favours and misfortunes happen only because Allah lets these things happen.
Therefore, Muslims believe that people should not despair over any misfortunes or boast over any favours. Instead, Muslims believe people should be thankful when good things happen and patient over bad periods.
The non-Muslim view of fate holds that Allah has commanded these things to happen, and that people have no control over the choices they make, and so it is not fair to hold people responsible for their actions.
On the other side, Muslims believe that Allah knows everything from what we could do, to what we won't do, and exactly what we will do. Allah lets us do these things, but we are responsible for these actions as we do have choices. Muslims believe that Allah exists outside of time, as time is a perception of the mind and was created at the same time as the universe.
So to sum up, Muslims believe that Allah exists outside of time, knowing where, and when everything is going to happen and lets mankind do what it wants. But from time to time, Allah sent messengers to the people to guide them to a better way of life. The last prophet was Muhammad.
This is a very crude picture of the Islamic concept of faith but it outlines the key points.
The last day (Qiyaamat)
Muslims believe that this world will end one day and besides Allah, no one knows when exactly it will happen. All Muslims know is that it will be on a Friday.
On that day, the angel Israfeel will be ordered to blow the 'soor'1. The sound of this will kill every living thing and the mountains will shatter, the Earth will shake, the stars will lose their shine and the whole Universe will be destroyed.
The prophet Muhammad forewarned Muslims of some of the signs that will happen when the last day approaches, though it could still be hundreds of years from that point, as near is used in astronomical terms. Here is a list of some of the signs:
- People will disobey their parents and disrespect them.
- Breaches of trust will be commonplace.
- Singing, music and dancing will become common.
- Illiterate people will become leaders.
- People will trust an untrustworthy person and not trust a trustworthy person.
- People will believe a liar and not believe a person who tells the truth.
- People will speak ill about their ancestors and the previous pious people.
- People of low means will boast of high buildings.
- Unworthy people will be given high posts.
- The slavewoman will give birth to her master.
The last point is not talking about slaves in the same sense as in the past, or saying that the woman herself is a slave in life. It is talking about a woman giving birth to a child who will beat her and control her, so in effect she becomes her child's slave - as she is too scared to stand up to her abusive child.
This is only a few of the signs given by Allah to Muhammad regarding the coming of the last day. But as stated above, it could still be hundreds or thousands of years away.
After the last day, when everything will be destroyed, the angel Israfeel will blow the 'soor' again by Allah's command. Then every single person who has ever lived, from the time of Adam and Eve to the last day, will be resurrected or bought back to life.
They will all gather before Allah in the field of resurrection (Maidaan E Hashr), where they will give their account of all they have done in front of everyone, and Allah will judge them on the deeds they did.
People have a tendency to change what they did in their minds to make it more acceptable to them, but on the day of judgement people will be unable to lie and will only speak the truth.
Those who have been good will be rewarded Jannat (Paradise) and those who are evil will go to Jahannam (Hell). Additionally, Allah will forgive the Kuffaar and Mushrikeen who he pleases. Kuffar2 are those who do not believe in God; Mushrikeen3 are associate partners with God.
Even so, nobody can be sure who will go to Hell, as only Allah truly knows. What it really means is that a good Muslim is nearly guaranteed paradise while a Kafir or a Mushrik is not.
By the same token, a believer who does very bad things will get a worse punishment than a non-believer who does bad things, because the believer is supposed to set an example. His punishment will not be forever though and after a prescribed period he will go to paradise. However, this does not apply to those who say they are Muslim but in their hearts and in their actions they are not.
This Entry has listed the things a Muslim must believe in, but of course none of these things on their own makes a Muslim a Muslim, as another part of belief is to live by the rules set by Allah, and to always strive to enjoin the right and good, combating the wrong and evil by all lawful means at their disposal. Muslims should always show kindness to their guests, especially strangers, and only say good things, speaking the truth even if it hurts. Finally, all Muslims should follow the Qur'an (The Muslim holy book), Ahadith (Teachings of the prophet Muhammad), the five pillars and be mindful of God.
When a non-Muslim wants to become a Muslim, he/she will declare something called the Shahada. The Shahada means the testification of faith and is as follows:
Ash-hadu Allaa ilaaha il-lal-laahu wa ash hadu an na muhammadan 'abdu-hoo wa rasooluh - 'I declare that there is none worthy of worship but Allah and I declare that Muhammad is his servant and messenger.'
After this is declared, the person is from then on known as a Muslim and as long as his intention is pure, then all his previous sins are forgiven.
This declaration means you believe in the seven things that make up faith as discussed in this article.
Though intention is not actually part of the first pillar, it is included here because intention in itself is a massively important concept in Islam and is very important to all five of the pillars and a Muslims' everyday lives. Muslims believe that God will judge individuals on the intentions behind the actions, as well as on the actions themselves. Here is a famous hadith by the Prophet Muhammad about the importance of intention:
The Prophet Muhammad said:
'On the day of Judgement God will call forward three people, a Hafiz4, a wealthy man who gave to the poor and a martyr. God will say to the hafiz 'What did you do with your life and what was given to you', to which the Hafiz will reply 'My lord gave me a good memory and so I learnt the whole of the Qur'an so I could teach others it, to please you my lord' to which the angels will proclaim 'You lie' and God will say 'You lie for I can what is in your heart, you learnt the Qur'an, so you would be called a Hafiz and earn respect for it, and in your life you was called a Hafiz and so you have already been rewarded' and then God will ask the wealthy man 'What he had done with his life and did with what was given to you'. The wealthy man will say, 'My Lord you gave me wealth and to please you my lord I gave much money away as charity' and the angels will say 'You lie' and God will say 'You lie, for I can see what was in your heart and that you gave money so people would think better of you and call you generous. You were called generous in your life and so you have already been rewarded'. And finally God will say to the martyr 'What did you do with your life and what was given to you' and the martyr will say 'You gave me courage and so I fought to protect Islam and to please you my Lord and died in battle.' The angels will cry 'You lie' and God will say 'You lie for I can see what was in your heart, and you fought so people would call you brave and think of you as a martyr, you was thought of as brave and as a martyr in your life and so you have already been rewarded.' Then God will send these three to hell.'
This hadith shows how a Muslim should be careful of what he does and why he does something. As an example, let's look at charity. If a Muslim wants to give charity, then that Muslim should do it to help people and to please God, but not to draw attention to himself and to become known as being a kind and generous person. If someone gives money because they want to be known of as being generous, then they are doing it for the wrong reasons and will receive no reward for it on the day of judgement - their intention was for a reward in this life and so the reward is in this life. This is why many Muslims give to charity anonymously. The important thing here is to remember that it is the intention that is in question, not the action. And so if someone does give charity just to please God and to help others and people notice and call him generous, then he will still be rewarded for that act of charity on judgement day as his intention was pure.
This all combined is what a Muslim believes and tries to follow. Hopefully this article has been educational about Islam and the basis of belief and faith.