General questions about Islam

Last updated: 9 November 2017 From the section FAQ on Islam

What is Islam? Who is a Muslim?

Islam is the name of a religion, like Christianity and Judaism are names of religions. "Islam" is an Arabic word that means peace and submission.

The "peace" in Islam means to be at peace with oneself and your surroundings and "submission" means submission to the Will of God. A broader meaning of the word "Islam" is to achieve peace by submitting to the Will of God.

Islam is a unique religion with a name that signifies a moral attitude and a way of life. Judaism takes its name from the tribe of Judah, Christianity from Jesus Christ, Buddhism from Buddha, and Hinduism from the Indus River. However, Muslims derive their identity from the message of Islam, rather than the person of Muhammad (salla Allah 'alyhi wa sallam - peace and blessings be upon him). Therefore, Muslims should never be called "Mohammedans".

A follower of Islam is called a Muslim. The word "Muslim" means the one who submits to the Will of Allah, declaring that "there is no one worthy of submission except Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah".

One shouldn't judge Islam by the actions of Muslims as people are capable of doing both good and bad. But should instead refer to the holy book, Qur'an, and the ways of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

What does Islam teach?

Islam is the continuation of the Abrahamic monotheistic religion preaching oneness of God. It has three dimensions: beliefs, rituals, and the efforts to improve one's character and actions. There are seven major beliefs in Islam and five central practices known as the 'Five Pillars'. The last dimension of Islam focuses on cultivating excellent moral character to better oneself and the world around oneself. It teaches a set of values that promote life, liberty, equality and justice. Some of these values are:

  • Respect for the earth and all creatures
  • Care and compassion for those less fortunate, especially the poor, orphans and the needy
  • The importance of seeking knowledge
  • Honesty and truthfulness in word and deed
  • Striving continuously to improve oneself and the world

What are the major beliefs of Islam?

The seven things a Muslim should believe in, as understood by majority of Sunni Muslims, are:

  1. Belief in ALlah
  2. Belief in His Angels
  3. Belief in His Books (Kitabs)
  4. Belief in His Messengers (Nabis)
  5. Belief in the Day of Judgment (Qiyamat)
  6. Belief in Fate (Taqdeer)
  7. Belief in the Life after Death

How do Muslims practice their faith?

There are Five Pillars of Islam, which are the foundations of faith:

  1. Belief (iman) in one God and that Muhammad is His messenger
  2. Five daily prayers (salat)
  3. Fasting (siyam) during daylight hours during the month of Ramadhan
  4. Donating 2.5% of one's excess wealth to charity (zakat)
  5. Making a pilgrimage (hajj) to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, once in a lifetime if one is mentally, physically, and financially able to do so

What are the sources of Islamic beliefs and practices?

The primary sources of knowledge about Islam are:

  • Qur'an (recitation) = The holy book as revealed to Prophet Muhammad by God
  • Sunnah = The example set by Prophet Muhammad (i.e. what he said, did, approved, disapproved, caused, ordered, or allowed to happen)
  • Hadiths (prophetic tradition) = A collection of sayings or reports which describe the actions of Prophet Muhammad or actions that his companions attributed to his teachings. They are the main source for the Sunnah. Hadith also elaborate and provide context to the Qur'an

For Shi'as, in addition to the above, the rulings of the twelve Imams are considered a primary source.

Traditionally, Muslims have also relied upon the expertise of scholars and followed their consensus as long as the advice was based upon Qur'an and Sunnah.