Islam (part 3)

Islam From The Beginning To 1300
Date: 2002

The Islamic Faith And Law

Islam places great emphasis on the necessity of obedience to God's law in
addition to faith. The Koran is the fundamental and ultimate source of
knowledge about Allah and the proper actions of his followers. This holy book
contains the theology of Islam, in addition to the patterns of ethical and
proper conduct to which a Muslim must subscribe. Among the beliefs outlined in
the Koran, there are some basic concepts which are held in common by the
Islamic community as fundamental to the faith.

The Koran

Muslims believe that the Koran contains the actual word of God as it was
revealed to Muhammad through divine inspiration. The revelations to the
Prophet took place over a period of more than twenty years. Before Muhammad's
death, many of these messages had been written down in order to be preserved.
Muhammad himself began the work of preservation, and Abu Bakr, the first
caliph, continued the process by compiling revelations which up to that time
had been memorized by the followers and passed on by word of mouth. A complete
written text of the Koran was produced shortly after Muhammad's death, with
particular care taken to eliminate discrepancies and record only one standard
version. This version was then transmitted to various parts of the new Islamic
empire and used to assist in the conversion of unbelievers. The text of the
Koran has existed virtually unchanged for fourteen centuries.

The Koran was intended to be recited aloud; much of the power of the
Koran comes from the experience of reciting, listening, and feeling the
message. It was in this manner that Muhammad converted his followers. The
Koran is never to be translated from the Arabic for worship. Because the
followers of Islam had to learn the Koran in Arabic, the spread of Islam
created a great amount of linguistic unity. Arabic replaced many local
languages as the language of daily use, and the great majority of the Muslim
world from Morocco to Iraq is still Arabic-speaking. In addition, the Koran
remains the basic document for the study of Islamic theology, law, social
institutions, and ethics. The study of the Koran remains at the heart of all
Muslim scholarship, from linquistics and grammatical inquiry to scientific and
technical investigation.

The Tenets Of Islamic Faith

Monotheism is the central principle of Islam. Tahwid means the unity or
oneness of God; there is no other God but Allah, and this belief is proclaimed
five times daily as the believers are called to prayer with these words:

God is most great. I testify that there is no
God but Allah. I testify that Muhammad is the
Messenger of Allah. Come to prayer, come to
revelation, God is most great! There is no God
but Allah.

Allah is the one and only god, unapproached by other divinities and
unlike all others in the strength of his creative power. All life, in fact all
creation, is the responsibility of Allah alone. His nature is described in
many ways and by many names, one of the most beautiful as "light."

Allah is the light of the heaven and the earth ....
His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp
is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star.
(The lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive
neither of the East or the West, whose oil would almost
glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it. Light
upon light, Allah guided unto His light whom He will. And
Allah speaketh to mankind in allegories, for Allah is
Knower of all things.
(This lamp is found) in houses which Allah hath allowed
to be exalted and that His name shall be remembered therein.
Therein do offer praise to Him at noon and evening. (24:35)

Islam also recognize the significance and contributions of prophets who
preceded Muhammad. From the beginnings of human history, Allah has
communicated with his people either by the way of the prophets, or by written

Lo! We inspire thee as We inspired Noah and the Prophets
after him, as We inspired Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and
Jacob and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron
and Solomon and as We imparted unto David the Psalms. (4:164)

Twenty-eight such prophets are mentioned in the Koran as the predecessors
of Muhammad, who is believed to have been the last and greatest of all of
Allah's messengers. Muhammad is given no divine status by Muslims, even though
he was the one chosen to proclaim Allah's message of salvation in its
perfected form and final revelation; in fact, Muhammad took great care to see
that he was not worshiped as a god.

The creation of the universe and all living creatures within it is the
work of Allah; harmony and balance in all of creation was ensured by God. In
addition to humans and other creatures on the earth, angels exist to protect
humans and to pray for forgiveness for the faithful. Jinn are spirits who may
be good or bad, and forces known as "the unseen" exist on a level unknown to

Men and women are given a special status in the pattern of the universe,
since Allah has endowed them with the ability to know and react to him better
than any living creatures. They can choose to obey, or to reject Allah's will
and deny him. Allah's message includes the belief in a Day of Resurrection
when people will be held responsible for their actions and rewarded or
punished accordingly for eternity.

Geographic imagery played an important role in the Prophet's description
of heaven and hell: both are depicted in a manner that calls forth an
immediate reaction from people living in the desert. Those who have submitted
to Allah's law - the charitable, humble, and forgiving - and those who have
preserved his faith, shall dwell in a Garden of Paradise, resting in cool
shades, eating delectable foods, attended by "fair ones with wide, lovely eyes
like unto hidden pearls," and hearing no vain speech or recrimination but only
"Peace! Peace!" This veritable oasis is far different from the agonies of the
desert hell that awaits the unbelievers, the covetous, and the erring. Cast
into a pit with its "scorching wind and shadow of black smoke," they will
drink boiling water and suffer forever.

The Five Pillars

Islam is united in the observance of the Five Pillars, or five essential
duties which all Muslims are required to perform as they are able. These
obligations are accepted by Muslims everywhere and thus serve to further unite
the Islamic world. The first obligation is a simple profession of faith, by
which a believer becomes a Muslim. The simple proclamation (shahada) is
repeated in daily prayers. Belief in the one God and emulation of the
exemplary life led by his Prophet are combined in the profession of faith.

Prayer (salat) is said five times a day, when Muslims are called to
worship by the muezzin (caller to prayer) who leads the recitation of the
faithful from atop the minaret of the mosque (masjid, or place of
prostration). During prayer, Muslims face Mecca, and in so doing give
recognition to the birthplace of Islam and the unity of the Islamic community.
Prayer can be given alone, at work, at home, or in the mosque.

A Muslim is required to give alms (zakat) to the poor, orphans, and
widows, and to assist the spread of Islam. The payment of alms is not
considered to be a charitable activity, but rather a social and religious
obligation to provide for the welfare of the Ummah. Muslims are generally
expected to contribute a percentage (usually 2.5 percent) of their total
wealth and assets annually in alms.

Muslims are requested to fast (siyam) during the holy month of Ramadan,
the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. From sunrise to sunset, adult Muslims
in good health are to avoid food, drink, and sexual activity. Finally Muslims
are called to make a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca at least once in his or her
lifetime, in the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The focus of the
pilgrimage is the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque of Mecca. The hajj once again
emphasizes the unity of the Islamic world community and the adherence to
Islamic law no matter where a Muslim may reside.

Islamic Law

It is not possible to separate Islam from its law, because law in the
Muslim community is religious by its nature. Islam is a way of life as well as
a religion, and at its heart is the Sharia, or path, the law provided by Allah
as a guide for a proper life. The Sharia gives the believers a perfect pattern
of human conduct and regulates every aspect of a person's activities. Islamic
law is considered to be established by God, and therefore unquestionably
correct; God's decrees must be obeyed even if humans are incapable of
understanding, since the Sharia is greater than human reason.

Islamic law, then, permeates all aspects of human conduct and all levels
of activity - from private and personal concerns to those involving the
welfare of the whole state. Family law is set forth in the Koran and is based
on much earlier Arabic tribal patterns of development. Islamic law emphasizes
the patriarchal nature of the family and society. Marriage is expected of
every Muslim man and woman unless physical infirmity or financial inability
prohibits it. Muslim men can marry non-Muslim women, preferably Christians or
Jews, since they too are "People of the Book," but Muslim women are forbidden
to marry non-Muslim men. The Koran had the effect of improving the status and
opportunities of women in Islam, as opposed to the older and traditional
Arabic patterns of conduct. Women can contract their own marriages, keep and
maintain their own dowries, and manage and inherit property.

The Koran allows Muslim men to marry up to four wives, but polygamy is
not required. Co-wives must be treated with equal support and affection. Many
modern-day Muslims interpret the Koran as encouraging monogamy; the practice
of polygamy may have arisen in order to provide protection and security in
early Islamic society, when women outnumbered men because of the toll of
constant warfare.

For Islamic society as a whole, the law is considered to be universal and
equally applied. Islamic law is considered to be God's law for all humankind,
not only for the followers of Islam. In addition to its theology, Islam offers
to its believers a system of government, a legal foundation, and a pattern of
social organization. The Islamic Ummah was and is an excellent example of a
theocratic state, one in which all power resides in God, in whose behalf
political, religious, and other forms of authority are exercised. In fact,
there is not even the combination of church and state in Islam, because there
is no "church" or religious organization. The role of the state is to serve as
the guardian of religious law. Also a characteristic of Islam is the principle
of religious equality. There is no priesthood - no intermediaries between
people and God. There are leaders of worship in the mosques as well as the
ulema, a class of learned experts in the interpretation of the Koran, but they
are all members of the secular community.

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