Defining Islam


Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

How do we know what Islam actually is? In our very own societies we live among many Masajid (re: plural of Masjid), we have many Muslim friends and even some of our family members are Muslims, but do we really understand what it is that they believe? Some Muslims themselves can’t properly define Islam, they live the experience but are unable to convert this experience into a proper definition. Islam can be defined as, ‘a culture, that is a way of life through which those who practice Islam gain peace and success, in both this life and the next’.

This is a definition which the Bible also holds to:

Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.” – Job 22:21

In Islam, we submit to God by obeying His laws and if we sin, which humans tends to do, we repent and seek His forgiveness, a sentiment by which the Bible also shares, as Psalms 103:3 describes God as one, “who forgives all your sins“, the Qur’an in Surah 39, Verse 53 also says the same.

Islam being a culture or a way of life, means that Islam is not something which is practiced only during Eid or Ramadan. As any other way of life, it involves dressing a certain way, eating specific foods, socializing and interacting with others at a set standard. The culture we follow, or the Islamic culture is the ‘Sunnah’, which means ‘The Practise’. The practice we follow is the life of Prophet Muhammad [upon whom be God’s peace]. We follow the ‘Sunnah’ of the Prophet and the previous Prophets, including Jesus, Moses, Abraham and many others, may God’s peace be upon them all.We follow them because they are morally superior to those who do not follow God’s commands, specifically chosen by God to deliver and teach His message(s). These Prophets put into practice the laws which God gave them, God instructed them to teach and guide mankind towards salvation. Therefore we wish to be as pure as the Prophets in our faith, so that we too can earn God’s rewards.

In Islam we believe that God chose the Prophets who were given one ‘way of life’. Therefore, the core beliefs of our Deen or ‘way of life’, since the time of Adam, the first Prophet until the last, Muhammad, peace be upon him, has remained the same. Firmly believe in God’s oneness, the Revelations He sent, the Prophets He sent to guide us, belief in the afterlife, and put His commands into practice and you shall be successful. So where are these laws of guidance found? In the Qur’an and Ahadith.

Islam’s scripture is the Qur’an, an Arabic text, consisting of 114 Chapters or Surahs, it is a very unique  book. It’s not arranged chronologically, alphabetically, numerically or topically, the very first chapter itself summarizes Islam and as you progress through the Qur’an it guides you with many examples, historical information and similitudes, constantly reminding you of your life’s eternal purpose. We also have the words of the Prophet [peace be upon him], termed ‘ahadith’ which have been rigorously scrutinized and validated through the liturgical science of oral criticism, what we call ‘Ulum al Hadith’. These are the two major sources of Islamic law.  As I’ve hoped to demonstrate, Islam is practically simple to understand, it’s not something alien to our societies and it’s pretty interesting.

This article has been based on episode 1 of ‘Understanding Islam’ which was broadcasted in Trinidad and Tobago from the 21st of July to the 31st of July, by Br. Ijaz Ahmad.

Here we define some terms and promote a very basic understanding of Islam and its core beliefs.

What is Islam?

Islam is an ideology which seeks to enlighten and guide humans, both individually and in groups towards promoting good societal norms and values, so that humans may earn the pleasure of God. Believing in Islam entails the following:

  • Belief in the Oneness of Allah.
  • Belief in the Angels.
  • Belief in the Day of Judgement.
  • Belief in the Prophets {peace be upon them all} and the finality of Prophethood with Muhammad {peace be upon him}.
  • Belief in the Revelations of Allah (Scrolls of Abraham, Psalms of David, Torah of Moses, Injil of Jesus, Qur’an of Muhammad).
  • Belief in God’s Knowledge, i.e. Predestination, (God knows what has, is and will happen).

Islam therefore, seeks that believers ideally,  fully commit to the laws of Allah and obey His commandments (law – hukm). Islam is derived from the world ‘Salam’, which means peace. Some Muslims therefore, define Islam as ‘peace through obeying God’s commands‘.

What is a Muslim?

A Muslim is one who practises the faith of Islam. For a more technical definition, a Muslim is considered to be one from Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamm’ah (They are those who hold on to the Sunnah of the Messenger, the ones who unite themselves upon that and they are the Companions of the Messenger, the Scholars of Guidance, who follow the Companions and whoever travels upon their path in terms of belief, speech and action until the Day of Judgement.)

What is the Qur’an?

The Qur’an is the Muslim scripture. It consists of 114 Chapters called Surahs. It is said to be the word of God (kalamullah), delivered through inspiration to the Messenger Muhammad {saw}, sometimes by an angel, named Jibra’eel (Gabriel). Delivered over a period of 23 years, written down by more than 30 scribes, transmitted to the companions of the Messenger, through liturgical (oral and aural – recitation), as well as textual means (Mushaf/ Suhuf). Recited five times in daily prayers, and memorized by Muslims, some called Hafiz (plural: Huffaz), a person who learns to recite the Qur’an is termed a Qari. You can read the Qur’an here.

Who is Allah?

Allah (الله) is the name of God in Islam. Allah is unique, as this particular name cannot be made plural or conjugated into a male, female or dual form, which is the norm for most Arabic nouns. Allah is the Lord and God of the heavens and the earth. Muslims believe that Allah has 99 known attributes, termed Asma wa Sifat (names and attributes), unique to God alone. These attributes are absolute, and therefore unchanging. Therefore, God cannot be all knowing one day and partly knowing the next. In Islam, God is unique and since He is unique, there is nothing comparable to Him. The following Surahs from the Qur’an, describe Allah to the Muslims.

“Originator of the heavens and the earth, He has made your consorts from among you, and made pairs of cattle. He multiplies you in this way. There is no other like Him. He is all-hearing and all-seeing.” – Qur’an 42:11.

“Say, “He is Allah, [who is] One, Allah, the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” – Qur’an 112

“Allah – there is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of [all] existence. Neither drowsiness overtakes Him nor sleep. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who is it that can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them, and they encompass not a thing of His knowledge except for what He wills. His Kursi extends over the heavens and the earth, and their preservation tires Him not. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.” – Qur’an 2:255.

As for the claim Allah is a moon God, the Qur’an answers this, by saying:

“And of His signs are the night and day and the sun and moon. Do not prostrate to the sun or to the moon, but prostate to Allah, who created them, if it should be Him that you worship.” – Qur’an 41:37.

Who is Muhammad [saw]?

In Islam, Muhammad {peace be upon him} is considered to be a Rasul (Messenger/ Prophet). A Rasul in Islam, is one, chosen by Allah to deliver a Risalat (Message) and this message is divine revelation (wahy). So a Rasul delivers the Risalat. Muhammad {peace be upon him} is God’s final messenger to mankind. In Islam, Messengers were usually sent to one group of persons, tribes, or communities. With the coming of Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Messenger this time, was sent not to any one tribe or group, but to the entire world. A message from Allah to all of mankind.

Note: See this article on the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha (may God be pleased with her).

What is the Sunnah?

The Sunnah is literally the practise, the actions, the lifestyle of Muhammad {peace be upon him}. In Islam, Messengers are considered to be the highest form of moral exemplary. The Messengers/ Prophets were guided by God to lead the people, therefore the Prophets had the best of akhlaq/ adaab (manners/ decorum). Their lifestyles are the models for the believers, therefore this is termed the Sunnah.

wa Allaahu Alam,
and God Knows Best.

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