Islam is an Arabic word which means ‘surrender, obedience, and submission to God’. The definition implies that when you surrender your will to God, you will find peace in your soul. The same Arabic root word gives us “Salaam alaykum,” (“Peace be with you”). This is the universal Muslim greeting.
Muhammad was born in Mecca in the year 571 CE. He was orphaned while very young and he was raised by his uncle. He was unable to read or write, and remained so till his death. During that time, most people were illiterate and ignorant. As Muhammad grew up, he became known to be truthful, honest, trustworthy, generous, compassionate, and brave. He was very religious, and detested the idolatry in his society. At the age of forty, Muhammad received his first revelation from God and was called to prophetic life. These revelations are collectively known as the Quran, the sacred book of Islam. He was chosen by God to deliver His Message of Peace, namely Islam. In in all his actions and dealings, he was ever mindful and fearful of God. He proved to be an inspiring leader, a good administrator and a vigorous reformer. He died in Medina in 632 CE.
As soon as the Prophet Muhammad began to recite the Quran and preach the truth which God had revealed to him, he and his small group of followers were persecuted by the unbelievers, and in 622 CE Muhammad and his followers were forced to flee from Meccah to the city of Medina and this marked the beginning of the Islamic era. Eight years later they returned to Mecca. Muhammad forgave his enemies and made Mecca the spiritual centre of Islam. The city’s pagan shrine, known as the Kaaba stone, was transformed and became the focus of Muslim pilgrimage (Hadj). Before Muhammad died, Islam had spread across the Arabian Peninsula, and thereafter spread to Spain and as far East as China.
Islam is one of the three monotheistic religions to arise in the Middle East along with Judaism and Christianity, and it too stresses the oneness and uniqueness of God. The world ‘Allah’ is the name of the One and Only God. Allah has nine names which include, the Gracious, the Merciful Creator, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise, the Lord of the Universe. Muslims believe that God sent different prophets and messengers to other nations with the same messages, but Muhammad is regarded as the “Seal of the Prophets.”
When Muslims say, read or hear the name of the Prophet Muhammad, they are urged to say, either silently or aloud, ‘Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him’.
FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM
There are five pillars of Islam and these are considered obligatory for all Muslims although Sunni and Shia schools of law have slight variations.
1. Witness: There is only one God, Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.
2. Prayer: Performing daily prayers is an act of communication between humans
and for all Muslims. Muslim men attend communal prayers on a Friday
between 12:30 and 14:00.
3. Charity: Giving to those who are less fortunate. Muslims are obliged to give 2.5%
of their wealth to the poor each year.
4. Fasting: Fasting is another form of offering thanks to God. Through self-denial,
the will is exercised and the mind sharpened. It is the duty of all Muslims
to fast during Ramadan, which is in the ninth month of the Islamic
5. The Pilgrimage: Muslims who are physically and financially capable are
expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once during their lives.
Jihad (Striving): This is not a pillar of Islam it is a duty. The meaning is, ‘striving for moral and religious perfection. A common misunderstanding refers to Jihad as a ‘Holy War’.
Angels and the Day of Judgement: Muslims believe that there is a Day of Judgement when all people of the world will be brought for accounting, reward or punishment.
The mosque is the place of worship for Muslims. There are strict requirements about personal cleanliness before praying or entering a mosque. Shoes are removed before entering a mosque and prayers are said in the direction of Mecca.
Muslims follow a Halaal diet, which involves the abstinence from eating pork, gelatine and alcohol.