Islam 101

What is Islam?

Islam is a religion that traces all the way back to the 7th century in the Arabian Peninsula. At its core, Islam is a belief in one God, Allah, and His last messenger, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) who brought the message and spread the guidance of God’s holy book, the Quran, to humanity.

In addition to being a religion, Islam is a way of life that encompasses every aspect of every person’s being; spiritually (praying and fasting), socially (promoting good manners and kindness), and ethically (taking care of the poor, justice systems, etc). Islam also has a rich cultural heritage that spans centuries and has left a profound impact on the world through art, architecture, and philosophy.

Overall, the teachings in Islam encourage its followers to seek knowledge, maintain a balanced life, and treat others with respect and love.

Who Are Muslims and What Do They Believe?

There is a diverse population of Muslims around the world, each with their own identity. There are an estimated 1.9 billion Muslims worldwide. But at the heart of each Muslim is a shared belief in one and only God, that all life comes from Him and is returned to Him.

Muslims believe in the prophethood of over 25 prophets, such as Prophet Adam, Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), and the final Prophet Muhammad (peace be on them all), but the total number of Prophets is only known to God. They believe in the message of the Quran as mentioned above and the Five Pillars of Islam, the fundamental beliefs and acts of worship. They believe in the Day of Judgement and individual accountability for actions. Muslims and those who embrace Islam declare their faith and belief by reciting the Shahada (declaration of faith), “There is no God but Allah, and Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), is his last messenger”.

What is the Quran?

The Quran is the holy book of God, sent down and revealed to Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel over a period of 23 years. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his companions. The Quran is believed to be the direct words and command of God.

It is a sacred, unaltered text which encompasses all aspects of Islam, a guide for Muslims and how they should perform faith, worship, moral conduct, social interactions, and matters of justice. It is said that Islam is a way of life, and the Quran is the book of direction for a Muslim.

Muslims strive to engage with the Quran through recitation, contemplation, and implementation of its teachings and messages in their daily lives. Many Muslims aim to memorize and understand the verses of the Quran, and its recitation holds a special place in acts of worship, such as daily prayers and special gatherings.

What are the “Five Pillars” of Islam?

Each pillar is a Wajib action, meaning that each of these actions is a mandatory requirement upon Muslims as part of their faith.

  • Shahada – This is a declaration of faith consisting of two sentences recited in Arabic and translated to “ “There is no God but Allah, and Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), is his last messenger”.
  • Salat (Prayer) – Prayer is a fundamental act of worship in Islam where Muslims communicate directly with Allah. It involves specific physical movements, recitation of verses from the Quran, and supplications. Muslims perform five mandatory prayers at designated times throughout the day to seek spiritual connection, express gratitude, seek guidance, and seek forgiveness from Allah (God).
  • Zakat (charitable giving) – One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and that wealth is held in trust by human beings. Zakat, or charitable giving, “purifies” wealth by setting aside a portion for those in need. This payment is usually two and a half percent of one’s capital per year.
  • Fasting – Ramadan is a sacred month in Islam observed by Muslims worldwide. It is a time when fasting is observed from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs. Muslims engage in increased prayer, reflection, charity, and acts of kindness during this month. Ramadan holds great spiritual significance as it commemorates the revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It is a time of self-discipline, increased devotion, and seeking closeness to Allah.
  • Hajj (pilgrimage) – Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, which is an obligatory act of worship for physically and financially capable Muslims. It is a journey that brings people from all walks of life to worship together, side by side. Specific worship as prescribed by Prophet Muhammad from God is performed, including tawaf, the circling of the Kaaba, which is said to be the house of God, the journey to Myna by foot, the tent city, and many more. Hajj is a deeply spiritual experience that involves acts of devotion, unity, and seeking forgiveness from Allah. It symbolizes equality among believers and serves as a reminder of the unity of the Muslim community.

What About the American Muslim Community?

The American Muslim community is a rich and diverse community with a shared faith and beliefs. According to a Pew Forum estimate, in 2017 there were 3.45 million Muslims, constituting about 1.1% of the total U.S. population, all of whom come from different cultural and national origins. Muslims communities in America are active populations who strive to uphold the morals and values of Islamic justice, compassion and service. There are almost 2,000 mosques, Muslim schools and Islamic centers in America. Muslims are active in all walks of life including education, arts, science fields, etc. According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the country and around the world.

Further Reading and Resources