Islam means “submission” in Arabic, and the essence of Islam is submission of the will of God. In this lesson we will do an overview of the basic beliefs of Islam that define what the Muslim understanding of submission to the will of God entails.
The core conviction of Islam is expressed in the Shahada, the “testimony” that every Muslim must confess. Transliterated from Arabic it looks like this: la ilaha illa Allah Mohammed rasul Allah. Translated, it means, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Let’s break this statement down to explore what it means to Muslims.
I. There Is No God But God
A. Muslims believe there is only one God, in contrast to the polytheism so predominant among the Arab tribes in the era before Mohammad, a period known as the “Days of Ignorance” (jahiliyyah). The proclamation of one God in Islam is a return to the original religion Muslims believe God gave to Adam.
B. The Arabic term for God is Allah.
1. This term is not unique to Islam. Arab Jews and Christians use the same term for God.
2. Muslims believe in the absolute oneness of God, a doctrine called tawhid.
3. Since Judaism and Christianity are also monotheistic, it is no surprise that Muslims claim the same God. "We have believed in Allah and in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Descendants, and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims [submitting] to Him" (Surah 3:84).
C. However, this does not mean that Muslims believe the same thing about God that Christians do.
1. Christians believe in the trinity, one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2. Muslims specifically deny the doctrine of the Trinity, which they believe refers to the Father, Jesus and Mary. “And [beware the Day] when Allah will say, ‘O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, 'Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah ?’ He will say, ‘Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right’” (5:116).
D. So while we share belief in one God with Muslims, Muslims (like Jews) do not understand the true and full revelation about His nature, and specifically with reference to Jesus.
II. “Muhammad Is the Messenger of God”
A. Prophets and Messengers
1. Muslims believe that God sent many prophets (nabi) in history, more than 124,000, to all peoples, beginning with Adam as the first prophet.
2. They also believe God sent messengers (rasul) with major new revelation. The five universally acknowledged messengers in Islam are Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad. Each is believed to have been sent with a scripture.
3. Muslims believe Muhammad is the final messenger (33:40), the “Seal of the Prophets” (khatam al-anbiya).
B. Muslims do believe God gave Moses the Torah, David the Psalms, and Jesus the Gospels.
1. Jews and Christians are often referred to as “The People of the Book” (abl al-Kitab ).
2. However, they believe the Bible has been hopelessly corrupted through the centuries, so a major focus of our study later in this class will deal with the authenticity of the text of Scripture.
C. Muslims do not believe Muhammad was divine, but they do believe he was the perfect example of a Muslim
1. Many traditions (Sunnah) about his life were passed down and collected in written form, called the Hadith.
2. Muslims developed a science to determine the validity of these traditions, and certain collections are given authoritative status.
D. The primary written source of Islam is the Quran (sometimes spelled Qu’ran or Koran).
1. Its name means “Recitation,” and reflects the Muslim belief that God revealed the Quran through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad in oral form.
2. “The Quran is the central theophany of Islam” (Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization, Nasr p. 37). Muslims believe it is based on a tablet written in Arabic that exists in heaven with God. It is to Muslims what Jesus is to Christians – the direct revelation of God.
3. It was revealed to Muhammad over a period of 23 years (610-632). It is divided into 114 chapters, called surahs.
III. The Pillars of Islam
As we will study in this class, there is a great deal of diversity among Muslims. However, there are certain basic practices shared by all Muslims. These have come to be known as the five pillars of Islam.
- The Testimony (Shahadah). All Muslims confess that “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
- Prayer (Salat). Muslims are to pray five times a day facing Mecca, washing before they pray (5:6).
- Alms (Zakat). This literally means “purification,” and refers to alms. Muslims are to give 2 ½ % of their assets to charity (2:271-273).
- Fasting (Sawm). Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, refraining from food, drink, tobacco or sex from sunrise to sunset (2:183-187). Near the end of Ramadan Muslims commemorate the “Night of Power” when Muhammad first received revelation. The fast is broken by a great celebration called Eid al-Fitr.
- The Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). Muslim men are expected at least once in their life to travel to Mecca (2:196-197), commemorating Muhammad’s journey there.