Islam is one of the largest, most influential religions in the world. Along with Christianity and Judaism, Islam is one of the three “Abrahamic” traditions, that is, religions that trace their roots back to the prophet Abraham. Islam considers itself the “religion of peace”, because of its desire for a constant state of peaceful coexistence with other nations who aren’t Muslim.
Our beliefs come from the Qur’an, a holy book written by the prophet Muhammad (peace be unto him). The Qur’an contains the direct words of Allah, the One True God, from whom all goodness stems. As Muslims, our job is to follow the path of righteousness as outlined in the Qur’an and emulate the benevolent life of the Prophet.
But over the past few decades, the prevalence of Islamic extremists and right-wing governments using the religion to propagate conservative values have contributed to the negative view people have of Islam. Coupled with mass media’s broad stroke portrayal of Muslims as evil, misogynistic terrorists, it’s no wonder that Islam gets a bad name.
What is Islam?
The best way to understand Islam is to get to the root of the word. Islam, or الإسلام in Arabic, is a monotheistic religion that hails from the Arabian Peninsula. The word “islam” means “submission”, in this case, submission to the one God, or Allah. It is also the general attitude that adherents of Islam, called Muslim, meaning “one who submits to God”. By submitting yourself, your life, your ego, riches, and all earthly goods and desires to Allah, you can achieve inner peace and spread this peace to as many people as you can.
Where do Muslims Worship?
Christians go to church, Jews go to the Synagogue, so where do Muslims worships? Muslims worship in a Mosque. A mosque is a place of prayer and worship for Muslims, which means there are strict guidelines to follow in attendance and construction (much like in other places of worship). However, mosques aren’t just for religious services; a mosque is actually a large complex of buildings that function as both place of worship for Muslims, charity centers, an administrative office, a community center, among other things.
Muslims worship Allah by following certain tenets, notably the 5 Pillars of Islam. The 5 Pillars of Islam, or the arkān al-Islām, are a series of practices that are mandatory for every Muslim. These 5 acts are Shahada, ṣalāh, Zakāt, Sawm, and Hajj. Each of these practices are designed to help Muslims follow the path of righteousness and to have Allah as the center of their life.
The Shahada is a declaration of faith that is necessary for a person to become a Muslim. To practice this, one must say out loud: lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāhu muḥammadun rasūlu-llāh (لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا الله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ الله) “There is no god but God (and) Muhammad is the messenger of God”. By declaring this with all your heart, a person submits himself or herself to the will of Allah, thus becoming an instrument of goodness in the world.
To maintain a pure heart, a Muslim must also practice ṣalāh, or prayer. Every Muslim is required to pray 5 times a day while facing the direction of the holy city of Mecca. Prayer must be done in a clean environment, so Muslims must wash their hands and face prior to praying. Not only is this ritual cleanliness pleasing to Allah, but it also reminds Muslims that purity of space and soul are intertwined and must always be maintained.
Like all religions, Islam preaches caring for your fellow man. In Islam, this is exemplified in the practice of Zakāt, or alms-giving. Islam makes charity obligatory to all Muslims for two reasons: one, it is a reminder that all earthly goods belong to Allah, and two, it is a reminder that easing the economic hardship of those in need is a personal obligation to all Muslims. To practice Zakāt, a Muslim must spend a portion of his wealth for the benefit of the poor, and this must be done with a clean heart; Allah sees the intentions of all, and a Zakāt that is done because the person desires heavenly rewards is unacceptable.
Sawm is the practice of fasting and is an important ritual in Islam. Muslims fast for three reasons: as an obligatory practice during the holy month of Ramadan, as a sign of penance for sins, or as a form of asceticism. Fasting teaches Muslims to be closer to Allah and to be reminded of the plight of the needy. But fasting doesn’t just mean abstaining from food and drink, it is also an abstention from profane language, anger, violence, greed, envy, anger, lust, gossip, and other obscene acts and thoughts.
Finally, the Hajj is an obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims must do at least once in their lifetime. It is done during the Dhu al-Hijjah, the month of Pilgrimage. Pilgrims must travel to the holy city of Mecca, where the sacred site of the Kaaba is located. All pilgrims must circle the sacred mosque seven times, travel seven times between the holy hills of Safa and Marwa, and take part in symbolically stoning the devil in Mina. A Muslim who completes the Hajj is called a Hajji/Hajja and is usually honored by their community. However, the pilgrimage should not be done for social standing; the Hajj is designed to remind Muslims about the sacrifices of the Prophets and the goodness of Allah.
For Muslims, worship must be done for the love of God and not out of fear or punishment or for heavenly rewards. By practicing the 5 Pillars, a Muslim is trained to worship God with an eager heart and pure intentions.
How Come Muhammad is Portrayed Without a Face?
Muhammad (peace be upon his name) is the final prophet of Allah and it was to him that the message of Allah was given. These messages were revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) over 23 years and were collected in a book that is now called the Koran, or Qu’ran. As a prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him) is not worshipped, as the only one worthy of worship is Allah. It is this stringent belief in Allah’s sole worthiness of worship that led artists to obscure the face of Muhammad (peace be upon him) in every depiction. Early Islamic scholars believed that, by portraying Muhammad (peace be upon him) without a face, Muslims will not be tempted to worship the man and rather be more focused towards the word of Allah.
Does Islam Teach Muslims to Hate Other Religions?
Absolutely not. When the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) first started preaching the word of Allah, he and his followers suffered severe persecution, even being driven out of their hometown of Makkah. When Muhammad returned to Makkah to establish Islam, he forgave his enemies and protected them from being persecuted.
The recognition and respect of other religions is an important part of Islam. In fact, it is even in the Qu’ran:
Allah does not forbid you with regards to those who do not fight you for [your] faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for Allah loves those who are just.
Because the words in the Qu’ran are the exact words of Allah, everything it says is holy. Therefore, if Allah himself says, tolerate and love those of other religions, then it is every Muslims duty to follow.
What is Jihad?
Jihad, or جهاد in Arabic, literally means to struggle. More specifically, it means to struggle for something that will please Allah. Allah loves good deeds, so a person who struggles in this world to do good deeds is going through a jihad. Unfortunately, while the literal and symbolic meaning of this word is beautiful, it is also one of the most misunderstood words in Islam, as it was misused by extremists who call themselves Muslim but do not practice the goodness and benevolence that Muhammad (peace be unto him) teaches us.
Jihad does NOT mean a “holy war”. This term was brought about by those seeking to use the name of Islam for selfish, even evil, means. Jihad describes the struggle of all people in constantly seeking goodness and purity in the world and the spiritual battle we all face against sin.
What is Sharia Law?
Muslims follow Sharia law, which is derived from two sources: the Qu’ran, and the Sunnah. The Sunnah is a book that describes the practices, rituals, and traditions of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Sharia law covers all aspects of a Muslims life and the community that he lives in. Because Sharia law is derived directly from Allah, it will always be righteous, just, and wise.
Sharia is usually interpreted by jurists, called Muftis. These muftis issue their legal opinions, called fatwas, and thus become the basis of law in Muslim communities.
As with all laws, Sharia is supposed to ensure peace, order, civility, and of course, putting Allah in the center of our lives.
Does Islam Promote Polygamy?
No. In Islam, anyone wishing to enter into a polygamous marriage must obtain permission from the Imam. Polygamy in Islam is not supposed to satisfy lust; rather, it is to ensure the welfare of widows and orphans of war. The Qur’an states that any man who has more than one wife MUST be able to treat all wives equally and fairly.
Does Islam Hate Women?
No. Unfortunately, a large number of Muslim men do oppress women, which is not only shameful to them as people, it is also shameful in the eyes of Allah. The Qur’an views women as being equal to men in all acts of piety, which is why Islam elevated the status of women to being equal to men long before the West did.
Islam also gave women various rights that the West denied to women for the longest time, such as a right to education, employment, autonomy in legal and financial matters, divorcing their husbands, and control of their family. These rights are secured by the Qur’an and are thus rightful and true.
However, in practice, many people are still ignorant of the beauty and life that women bring to the world, and they remain antagonistic towards women.
Islam is a wonderful religion that teaches peace, modestly, equality, justice, and love for the one True God. It’s a shame that it has been demonized for the longest time, but I hope that by educating people in certain aspects of it, Islam can once again be seen as the religion of peace.