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Introduction to Islam


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Islam

Introduction: Part 2

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Continued from Part 1 of this topic

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Topics discussed in this essay:

bulletPractices
bulletHoly days
bulletBeliefs about Jesus
bulletSchools within Islam
bulletThe Egypt Air tragedy
bulletDeviations from Islam
bulletCriticisms of Islam
bulletReferences

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Practices:

bulletA Muslim's duties as described in the Five Pillars of Islam are:
  1. To recite at least once during their lifetime the shahadah (the creed: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet"). Most Muslims repeat it at least daily.

  2. To perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day, if possible. This is recited while orienting one's body with qibia (the shorter of the two great circle routes towards the Kaaba at Mecca) This is generally North East in the U.S. 4 The five prayers are:
    bulletFajr (Morning Prayer) which is performed some time between the break of dawn and just before sunrise.
    bulletZuhr (Noon Prayer) offered from just after midday to afternoon.
    bullet'Asr (Afternoon Prayer) offered from late afternoon until just before sunset
    bulletMaghrib (Sunset Prayer) offered between sunset and darkness
    bulletIsha (Night Prayer) offered at night time, often just before sleeping. 1

    The Pray-in-time web site provides an Islamic prayer time calculator for locations worldwide. See: www.pray-in-time.org


  3. To donate regularly to charity through zakat. This is a 2.5% charity tax on the income and property of middle and upper class Muslims. Believers are urged to make additional donations to the needy as they feel moved.

  4. To fast during the lunar month of Ramadan. This is believed to be the month that Muhammad (pbuh) received the first revelation of the Qur'an from God.

  5. if economically and physically able, to make at least one hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca.
bulletJihad (struggle) is probably the most misunderstood religious word in existence. It often mentioned on Western TV and radio during news about the Middle East, where it is implied to be a synonym of "holy war" - a call to fight against non-Muslims in the defense of Islam. The vast majority of Muslims have an entirely different definition of Jihad. It is seen as a personal, internal struggle with one's self. The goal may be achievement in a profession, self-purification, the conquering of primitive instincts or the attainment of some other noble goal. 2 More details.

bullet Calendar: Muslims follow a lunar calendar which started with the hegira, a 300 mile trek in 622 CE when Muhammad (pbuh) relocated from Mecca to Medina. Al-Hijra/Muharram is the Muslim New Year, the beginning of the first lunar month. The beginning of the year 1431H occurred on 2009-DEC-18 of the Gregorian calendar.

bulletSeparation of church and state: Originally, in Islamic countries, there was no separation between religious and civil law, between Islam and the state. Muhammad and his successors were both religious and political leaders. Turkey became a secular state during the 20th century. This is a controversial move in conservative Islamic circles.

bulletProselytizing: Muslims are not required to actively recruit others to Islam. In the Qur'an, Allah told Muhammad that "You certainly cannot guide whomever you please; It is Allah who guides whom He will. He best knows those who accept guidance." (28:56). Muslims are expected to explain Islam to followers of other faiths, but it is up to Allah to guide those whom he wishes to.

bulletSuicide: This is forbidden. The Qur'an clearly states: "Do not kill yourselves as God has been to you very merciful" (4:29). Only Allah is to take a life. Since death must be left up to Allah, physician assisted suicide is not allowed. On the other hand, Muslim physicians are not "encouraged to artificially prolong the misery [of a person who is] in a vegetative state." 5

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Islamic holy days:

The main holy days are listed below. They are scheduled according to a lunar calendar and thus happen about eleven days earlier each month.

bulletAl-Hijra/Muharram is the Muslim New Year, the beginning of the first lunar month.

bullet For Sunni Muslims, Ashura is a day of fasting that was originally observed by Jews to recall when God saved the Children of Israel from the Pharoah in Egypt. Muhammad made it compulsory for Muslims as well.

For Shiite Muslims, Ashura recalls an event circa 680-OCT-20 CE in Iraq when an army of the Umayyad regime martyred a group of 70 individuals who refused to submit to the Caliph. One of the martyrs was Imam Husain, the youngest grandson of Prophet Muhammad. 

bulletMawlid al-Nabi is a celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam in 570 CE. "The Mawlid al-Nabi was first observed around the thirteenth century and was preceded by a month of celebration. The actual day of Muhammad's birthday included a sermon, recitation of litanies, honoring of religious dignitaries, gift giving, and a feast. The festival spread throughout the Muslim world and is celebrated in many countries today. However, some conservative sects (e.g., the Wahhabiyah) consider the celebration to be idolatrous."

bulletRamadan is the holiest period in the Islamic year; it is held during the entire 9th lunar month of the year. This was the month in which the Qura'n was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The first day of Ramadan is listed above. It is a time at which almost all Muslims over the age of 12 are expected to fast from sunup to sundown.

bullet Id al-Fitr (a.k.a. "'Id") is the first day of the 10th month -- i.e. the day after the end of Ramadan. It is a time of rejoicing. Houses are decorated; Muslims buy gifts for relatives. 

bullet Id al-Adha (a.k.a. the Feast of Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice) occurs during the 12th month of the Islamic year. This is the season of the Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca). It recalls the day when Abraham intended to follow the instructions of God, and sacrifice his son Ishmael. (This is not a typo; Muslims believe that Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his elder son Ishmael; Judeo-Christians believe that Isaac was involved in the near sacrifice).

The dates for the past, current, and future years are listed elsewhere on this web site.

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Beliefs about Jesus (pbuh), within Islam and Christianity:

Traditional Christians and Muslims have certain beliefs in common concerning Jesus (pbuh). They both accept that:

bulletHis birth was miraculous.
bulletHe was the Messiah.
bulletHe cured people of illness.
bulletHe restored dead people to life.

However, they differ from Christians in a number of major areas. Muslims do not believe:

bulletIn original sin (that everyone inherits a sinful nature because of Adam and Eve's transgression)
bulletThat Jesus (pbuh) was killed by crucifixion. Muslims believe that he escaped being executed, and later reappeared to his disciples without having first died.
bulletThat Jesus (pbuh) was resurrected (or resurrected himself) circa 30 CE.
bulletThat Jesus ascended bodily to heaven after his resurrection.
bullet Salvation is dependent either upon belief in the resurrection of Jesus (pbuh) (as in Paul's writings) or belief that Jesus is the Son of God (as in the Gospel of John). They agree with various statements in the synoptic gospels (as in Matthew 25) that salvation and the attainment of Heaven/Paradise is achieved through good works.

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Schools within Islam:

There are different traditions within Islam.  The main divisions are:

bulletSunni Muslims: These are followers of the Hanifa, Shafi, Hanibal and Malik schools. They constitute a 90% majority of the believers, and are considered to be main stream traditionalists. Because they are comfortable pursuing their faith within secular societies, they have been able to adapt to a variety of national cultures, while following their three sources of law: the Qur'an, Hadith and consensus of Muslims.

bulletShi'ite Muslims: These are followers of the Jafri school who constitute a small minority of Islam. They split from the Sunnis over a dispute about the successor to Muhammad (pbuh). Their leaders promote a strict interpretation of the Qur'an and close adherence to its teachings. They believe in 12 heavenly Imams (perfect teachers) who led the Shi'ites in succession. Shi'ites believe that the 12th Imam, the Mahdi (guided one), never died but went into hiding waiting for the optimum time to reappear and guide humans towards justice and peace.

bullet Sufism: This is a mystic tradition in which followers seek inner knowledge directly from God through meditation and ritual and dancing. This tradition developed late in the 10th century CE as an ascetic reaction to the formalism and laws of the Qur'an. There are Sufis from both the Sunni and Shi'ite groups. However, some Sunni followers do not consider Sufiism to be a valid Islamic practice. They incorporated ideas from Neoplatonism, Buddhism, and Christianity. They emphasize personal union with the divine. In the Middle East, some Sufi traditions are considered to be a separate school of Islam. In North and sub-Saharan Africa, Sufism is more a style and an approach rather than a separate school.

Islam does not have denominational mosques. Members are welcome to attend any mosque in any land.

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The Egypt Air tragedy:

An Egypt Air airliner crashed of the east coast of New England, with the loss of all of the lives on board. The cause of the crash is unknown; some people suggested that an officer on the plane had committed suicide, thus murdering all of the occupants. The co-pilot allegedly recited the "Shahada" shortly before the plane descended. Shahada means "testimony." It states: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger." This was described by some uninformed media writers as "a Muslim death prayer." It is not. The Shahada is a prayer recited by many Muslims every day. It affirms the unity of God, and that Muhammad (pbuh) is His Prophet. It is no more a death prayer than is the Christian Lord's prayer.

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Deviations from Islam:

There are over 70 other groups which originated within Islam and broke away from the Sunni or Shi'ite faith communities. Some are:

bulletBaha'i Faith: This religion attempts to integrate all of the world religions. It was originally a break-away sect from Islam but has since grown to become a separate religion. Members are heavily persecuted in some Muslim countries because they are regarded as apostates to the true Muslim faith. Oppression is particularly heavy in Iran.

bulletAhmadis: Followers of the Ahmadiyya Movement  believe that God sent Ahmad as a Messiah, "a messenger of His in this age who has claimed to have come in the spirit and power of Jesus Christ. He has come to call all people around one Faith, i.e. Islam..."

The movement's founder was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). He was born in Qadian, India. He felt that he had a mandate from God to correct a serious error within Christianity. Most Christians believe that Jesus (pbuh) is a member of the Godhead. "...because Jesus, whom God sent as a Messiah to the Israelites was taken for a God, Divine jealousy ordained that another man [Ahmad] should be sent as Messiah so that the world may know that the first Messiah was nothing more than a weak mortal."

After his death, the community elected a series of Khalifas (successors). The current and "Fourth Successor (Khalifatul Masih IV), to the Promised Messiah was chosen in the person of Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad" on 1982-JUN-10. 

The Ahmadiyya Community currently has more than 10 million members worldwide. They prefer to call themselves "Muslims of the Amadiyya sect." They are very heavily persecuted in Pakistan. They regard themselves as a reform movement within Islam. 3


bulletBlack Muslim Movement (BMM): This is largely a black urban movement in the US. One driving force was a rejection of Christianity as the religion of the historically oppressing white race. It was started by Wallace Fard who built the first temple in Detroit. Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole) established a second temple in Chicago and later supervised the creation of temples in most large cities with significant black populations. They taught that blacks were racially superior to whites and that a racial war is inevitable. The charismatic Malcolm X was perhaps their most famous spokesperson; he played an important role in reversing the BMM's anti-white beliefs. In its earlier years, the movement deviated significantly from traditional Islamic beliefs (particularly over matters of racial tolerance the status of the BMM leaders as prophets). This deviation is being reversed.

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Criticisms of Islam:

Islam is growing rapidly and is now followed by more than 20% of the world's population. Christianity is not growing; its popularity has been stuck at about 33% of the worlds population for many decades. It is in decline in the United States (in terms of "market share"). Christian attacks on Islam are inevitable. Most criticisms are not well grounded in reality:

bulletIslam is often blamed for female genital mutilation. But it is obvious that FGM is grounded in cultural tradition, not religious belief, in those countries where it is practiced. In some countries, the mutilation is practiced by Animists, Christians, and Muslims.

bulletA number of anti-Islamic books have been written recently, criticizing some Islamic countries for lack of religious tolerance, equality for women, lack of democracy, etc. One of the most famous of these books is "Why I am Not a Muslim" by Ibn Warraq, an ex-Muslim. Many reviews by readers of this controversial book are available on-line from the Amazon.com web site. An excellent rebuttal of the book by  Jeremiah D. McAuliffe, Jr., titled "Trends and Flaws in Some Anti-Muslim Writing as Exemplified by Ibn Warraq" is at:   http://idt.net/~balboa19/warraq/warraq1a.html

bulletSome conservative Christian web sites include attacks on Islam. They base their position on the inerrancy of the Bible, and their belief that Christianity is the only valid religion. An essay by Ric Llewellyn at http://www.seafox.com is typical. He makes heavy use of emotionally loaded, judgmental terms, such as: false religion, false doctrines, dubious beginnings, fanaticism, irrational, accursed, religious bondage, cults, wicked doctrines, etc. It is our belief that these attacks are counter-productive. The main result of these web pages is to demonstrate the degree of intolerance and hatred held by their Webmasters; this does not reflect well on Christianity.

bulletThe media has historically disseminated a very negative image of Islam. It overwhelmingly reports on the beliefs and practices of the most conservative wing of the religion. Many non-Muslims are unaware that a moderate wing even exists in Islam. A number of anti-defamation groups have been organized to combat these negative portrayals. CAIR, The Council on American-Islamic Relations is a leader in this field.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Correctional Institution's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Excerpts are available at: http://www.cair-net.org/downloads/correctionalguide.pdf  You need software to read this file. It can be obtained free from:
  2. "His birth," at: http://www.geocities.com/our_purpose/
  3. Louis Hammann, "Ahmadiyyat: An introduction," at: http://www.alislam.org/introduction/ahmadiyyat.html
  4. "Calculating Qibla Direction," at: http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/
  5. Shadid Athar, "Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide," at: http://islam-usa.com/e2.html 

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Copyright © 1995 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2011-MAR-28
Author: B. A. Robinson
Hyperlinks checked: 2001-OCT-15

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