What is Islam?

Islam is the name of the second largest major religion in the world. The Arabic word Islam means peace and submission to God. A follower of Islam is called a Muslim. A Muslim strives to live in peace and harmony with the Creator, oneself, other people and the environment. Thus Islam is not only a religion, but a way of life.

Main Practices

In Islam there are five pillars of practice, often called the 'Five Pillars of Islam':

  • 1. Profession of Faith (Shahada): The verbal commitment and pledge that there is only One God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
  • 2. Prayers (Salat): Muslims pray five times a day. before dawn, mid-day, afternoon, after sunset and night . facing toward the Kaaba, considered the House of God, in the Great Mosque in Mecca. They may pray wherever they are when prayer-time arrives, in any clean place, preferably in the company of other Muslims. On Fridays in the afternoon, Muslims are encouraged to pray as a gathered community in congregational mosques and listen to a sermon in their local language. There is a sequence of physical postures for the ritual prayer, and the prayers are said in the language of their revelation, Arabic. The performance of the five daily prayers is required of all Muslims who are able.
  • 3. Charity (Zakat): This is an annual payment of a certain percentage of a Muslim's wealth which is distributed among the poor. A fixed proportion of a Muslim.s net worth . not just his or her income . is prescribed as a donation for the welfare of the community, whether that community is made up of Muslims, non-Muslims or both.
  • 4. Fasting (Sawm): Every day from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual
    contact; even more than at other times they must also avoid cursing, lying, cheating and otherwise abusing or harming others. Fasting is total abstinence from food, drink, and unlawful actions from dawn to sunset during the entire month of Ramadan.
  • 5. Pilgrimage (Hajj): The journey to Mecca is obligatory for every able bodied Muslim who can afford to make it. Pilgrimage need be made only once in a lifetime, but it can be made several times if a Muslim wishes. At Hajj every pilgrim carries out specified rituals at specific times. At any other time of year, Muslims can perform similar prayers and rituals and thus complete a .lesser pilgrimage.. The performance of pilgrimage to Mecca is required once in a life time if means are available. Hajj is in part in memory of the trials and tribulations of Prophet Abraham, his wife Hagar and his eldest son Prophet Ishmael.

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Dress & Diet

Islam allows Muslims to eat everything which is healthy and good. It restricts certain items such as pork and its by-products, alcohol and any narcotic or addictive drugs (except for medicinal reasons).

According to the Quran men and women are equal before God; both created for the sole purpose of worshipping God through faith and good deeds. Islam means .Peace. and this is achieved when a person focuses on God, giving his or her entire mind, heart and soul to none other than the Creator. This liberates him or her from human subjugation; replacing fear with self-respect, weakness with strength, and conflict with tranquility.

Muslim men and women are thus both enjoined to dress modestly (called Hijab)covering the body in loose, non-transparent clothing. Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear and this varies across regions depending on cultures. This allows Muslims to focus on higher pursuits and encourages respectful interaction between the genders.

Islamic dress takes on many beautiful forms, reflecting the cultural diversity of Muslims from all over the world.

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Major Beliefs

Muslims believe Islam is God's final message to humankind, a reconfirmation and perfection of the messages that God has revealed through earlier prophets.

A. Oneness of God: The central Muslim belief is that there is only one God to be worshipped, unique incomparable, eternal, absolute and without peer or associate. Allah is the name of the One and Only God in Arabic. The word Allah is used by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike who speak the Arabic language. Allah has ninety-nine beautiful names, such as: The Gracious, The Merciful, The Beneficent, The Creator, The All-Knowing, The All-Wise, The Lord of the Universe, and others. He is the Creator of all human beings. Muslims do not believe in the idea of a trinity or a unity with God which implies more than one God in one.

B. Oneness of mankind: Other important tenets of Islam are that God is the Creator of all that exists and that His will is supreme. People are created equal in front of the Law of God and there is no superiority for one race over another. God made humans of different colors, nationalities, languages and beliefs so that we get to know each other. The best of people are those who are pious and righteous.

C. Oneness of Messengers and the Message: Muslims believe that God sent different messengers and prophets throughout the history of mankind in order to guide them. Muslims believe in Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad. All came with the same message to worship the one true God. Some were sent books, such as the original Torah or the original Gospel. However over time the true message was changed or misinterpreted. Muhammad is the 'seal' of all the prophets -- that is, the last.

D. Angels and the Day of Judgment: Muslims believe that there are unseen immortal creatures such as angels created by God in the universe for special tasks. Satan was also created to test mankind. Muslims also believe that humans are responsible to God for their actions; and that, on the Day of Judgment, an all-knowing and merciful God will judge His creation according to their deeds in this life. On that 'day' all people of the world throughout the history of mankind till the last day of life on earth, are to be brought for accounting. The reward or punishment is to be Heaven or Hell.

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E. Innocence of Man at Birth: Muslims believe that people are born free of sin. It is only after they reach the age of puberty and it is only after they commit sins that they are to be charged for their mistakes. No one is responsible for or can take the responsibility for the sins of others. However, the door of forgiveness through true repentance to God is always open.

Holidays

Islamic holidays are based on the lunar calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar that is based on the solar year. The Islamic calendar began with emigration (Hijra) of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 C.E. The Gregorian year 2004 C.E. for example is 1425 A.H. (After Hijra). The lunar month is either 29 or 30 days and the Islamic calendar is yearly 11 days shorter than the Gregorian one. This causes Islamic holidays to travel through all the seasons over the years.

Muslims have two major celebrations called Festivals or Eid.

  • The Eid of Breaking Fast comes at the end of the fasting month.
  • The Eid of Sacrifice is in remembrance of the test of sacrifice given to Prophet Abraham.

Eid begins with special morning prayers and lasts for three days. During Eid Muslims greet each other with the phrase "Eid Mubarak" (eed-moo-barak), meaning "blessed Eid." They also embrace one another, exchange gifts, and visit one another.

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In addition to Eids, Muslims also observe the following:

  • Hijra New Year -- A holiday in many countries. The New Year reminds Muslims of the migration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 C.E.
  • Day of Atonement -- Remembrance of God saving Moses and the Children of Israel.
  • Birthday of the Prophet
  • Night Journey & Ascension -- Remembrance of the ascent of the Prophet in a spiritual journey to God.
  • Night of Salvation -- In honor of the merits of the special month of Shaban.
  • Ramadan -- The 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The month of fasting when Muslims abstain from food, drink, and intimate relations from dawn to sunset each day during the month. They often break fast in the evening with family and friends and attend special prayers each night. Fasting Muslims are encouraged to display genorosity, kindness and self discipline more than they do throughout the year.
  • The Night of Power -- This is the night of the first revelation of the Quran. Muslims pray throughout the night seeking reward.
  • Day of Hajj -- In remembrance of those performing Hajj.
  • Friday is also considered a Muslim holy day. Muslims will congregate in mosques for a special sermon and prayer.

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