Overview of Islam
The Islamic religion was explained by the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) almost 1500 years ago in Arabia. He received revelation from the Creator of mankind and all that exists in the universe. He explained that Islam is not a new religion, but one that follows the same line as Judaism and Christianity, believing in all the prophets from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses to Jesus (peace be upon all of them). He explained, just as all the other prophets had explained, that God was unique and created everything, and as such, He has no equal. The duty of mankind is to believe in and worship nothing except this Creator alone.
Islam means to submit to the Will of Allah, and those who do that are called Muslims.
The Creator of everything is referred to as God. He is not limited in any sense and is beyond creation. He is infinite, he has no beginning and has no end unlike creation which is always finite. He, (and the masculine term is used grammatically and not anatomically) has no wife or children as he was not born and does not have children; for He is unique like no other. He is not imaginable and does not have a human form. There is nothing in the entire universe or beyond that is worthy of worship except the Creator.
This Creator has told us many of His beautiful names, the most preferred being Allah.
Allah selected certain righteous humans to deliver His message to mankind. These people were called prophets or messengers. They received revelation from Allah via the angel Gabriel. The prophets all commanded mankind to worship Allah alone with no partner. Every nation was sent a messenger. The last and final messenger sent to mankind was Muhammed (peace be upon him). A Muslim must believe in all the prophets from Adam to Muhammed (Peace be upon them all).
Worship in Islam
The Islamic worship is based upon five pillars.
The first is the testification of faith which one utters to become a Muslim. This reads as 'There in no other god except Allah, and Muhammed is his Messenger.' This has to be said with sincerity which means people cannot be forced to become Muslim. The Belief in God (Allah) requires certainty with complete understanding that nothing else deserves worship or reverence except Him, and all depends upon Him without partners.
The second pillar is to pray five times daily in order to keep in constant state of devotion and direct communication with the Creator. Islam does not have a clergy and each individual, man or woman, ask of their Lord whatever they wish. Before the prayers, Muslims are required to wash and cleanse themselves.
The third pillar enjoins the wealthy Muslims to share their wealth with the less fortunate by giving a small part of their money away as charity called Zakat. Thus Islam is not only a personal and spiritual faith, rather it requires Muslims to engage with their fellow humans to work towards a better, fairer and more equal society.
The fourth pillar is to fast during the month of Ramadan which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. During Ramadan Muslims do not eat or drink from before sunrise to sunset. They will also refrain from marital relations and generally remain as god-conscious as possible. Muslims are encouraged to do as many good deeds as possible during this time as it is a time for spiritual purification, self control and an opportunity to keep desires in check.
The fifth pillar is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime and is called the Hajj. It entails the following of Abrahamic rituals culminating in a sacrifice which feeds the less fortunate. The Hajj rituals stress upon sacrifice, tolerance and equality.
The Islamic Way of Life
Islam is more than just a religion that entails ritual acts for a spiritual purpose. Islam requires its adherents to care for all living beings and the environment. This way of life is prescribed in the Shari'ah. It regulates the way an individual conducts himself (or herself) in private and in public and how the individual interacts with society, including economic transactions.
Thus every action, done in the way prescribed by Allah, is considered an act of worship, whether or not there is a tangible material gain in the end or not.
This way of life is not something conjured up by a human being, rather it is from the divine commands laid down by the Creator of mankind, Allah.
The Islamic Sources of Law
The Islamic belief, worship and way of life is all derived from the laws that were given to the last and final prophet sent by Allah to the whole of mankind. This prophet was named Muhammed (may peace be upon him). Revelation was sent by mankind to prophets throughout time, but this revelation was either lost, corrupted, added to, or had parts deleted. The Qur’an that was revealed to the final prophet Muhammed (peace be upon) has been preserved both through oral and written tradition since its revelation. This forms the first basis of Islamic law.
Furthermore the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) received revelation by concept which he explained in his own words. This is called the Sunnah and forms the second source of Islamic legislation. This was exemplified by the honourable companions of the prophet (peace be upon him). Islam also allowed some different views to exist so companions were allowed to have variations in some things that they did, as long as it was approved from the primary sources. Analogy was permitted by the prophet (peace be upon him) for new situations, as long as the analogy follows defined principles. People are not at will to prefer their own rational views over the confirmed textual views, and thus Muslims stick to following the law, as understood by the earlier generations.
If you would like to know more, or to take the testification of faith, please see here for more details.