What is Islam?
What Islam is NOT…
ISLAM is not a “religion”, yet it manifests a powerful religious spirit. Islām is not pure cosmology; yet cosmic themes flow from it. Islām is not a mystical system; yet mysticism is at its root. Islām is not an ethical system; yet it primarily addresses human behaviour. Islām is not an ideological program; yet it calls for ideological mission and purpose. Islām is not a mere socio-politico economic system, yet social, economic, and political matters are inseparably linked to it. Islām is certainly not a dogma or creed, though dogma and creed may be distilled from it. Hence Islām is not a “faith”; yet faith is one of the stages of the Islāmic path towards the central aim of knowledge. Islām is not Law, yet it has a sophisticated, juridical bedrock.
Islām projects each of the above kinds of categories and more; yet it does not completely fit into a single one among them. Islām is not a nationality or ethnicity; no ethnic, tribal, or linguistic group can make any exclusive claim to it. Islām is not named after any individual, not even its own prophet. Arab culture is not Islām; Subcontinent Indian culture is not Islām; African culture is not Islam; Iranian-Afghan culture is not Islām; Malay-Indonesian culture is not Islām. Yet one can find manifestations of Islām in each of the above mentioned traditions. Eating biryani (an Indian lamb dish) does not make one a Muslim. Celebrating Eid (an Islāmic festival) does not make one a Muslim. Having an Arabic name does not make one a Muslim. Wearing long, flowing clothes and a turban does not make one a Muslim. Even having Muslim parents does not necessarily make one a Muslim.
What Islam IS…
Muḥammad, the Prophet of Islām, spoke pre-Classical Arabic; the Quran is also expressed in that language. The word ‘islām’ is a gerund, a verbal noun, that denotes or names a particular kind of activity. For example, the gerund form of the verb “read” is “reading.” Islām is therefore something that one does, as opposed to say, something one believes in. The expression ‘I believe in Islām’ (‘actaqidu bi al-islām’) really makes no literal sense in pre-Classical Arabic. The gerund ‘islām ’ is usually translated as ‘submitting’ or ‘submission’. The fundamental or root gerund from which the word ‘islām’ is derived from is ‘salāmah ’ or ‘salām’ (peace). The idea indicated by this verbal pattern is “entering safety and security”, or “becoming safe and secure”. ‘Islām’ basically indicates “making (something) enter into safety and security”, that is, “delivering (something) over into (the) safekeeping (of someone else)”. From this basic idea, in Arabic usage ‘Islām’ is short for “delivering oneself into security”.
The word Muslim, meaning an adherent of the religion of Islam is the active participle of the noun islam and means one who submits his/herself. Because it is an active participle it implies action and it is not simply an adjective like the word ‘Christian’ meaning Christlike. Simply put, Islam is something you ‘do’. This is partly why the word ‘Mohammedan’ is not used by Muslims to describe themselves Although the word has been used by Orientalists in the past, thankfully it is largely out of fashion to do so now.
“Islam is submission (tasleem);
Submission is certainty (yaqeen);
Certainty is confirmation of belief (tasdeeq);
Confirmation of belief is declaration (iqraar);
Declaration is performance (adaa’);
Performance is appropriate action.”
– Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib
…Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over 1 billion followers, and over 1.6m in the UK. There are several different groups of Muslims, but all of them, in every country and community, regard their faith as a bond between them, and as a major part of their identity. Islam was revealed over 1400 years ago in Mecca, Arabia. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Muslims believe that there is only One God. The Arabic word for God is Allah. According to Muslims, God sent a number of prophets to mankind to teach them how to live according to His law. Jesus, Moses and Abraham are respected as prophets of God. They believe that the final Prophet was Muhammad (peace be upon him). Muslims believe that Islam has always existed since the time of Adam, Adam being the first Prophet of Islam. But for practical purposes, Muslims date their religion from the time of the migration of Muhammad. Muslims base their laws on their holy book the Qur’an, and the Sunnah. The Sunnah is the practical example of Prophet Muhammad.
…There is the Old Testament, the New Testament and for the Muslims the Holy Qur’an is the ‘Last’ Testament, God’s final message to Mankind and the Prophet Muhammad is God’s final prophet sent to guide humanity. Contrary to a common belief the Holy Qur’an was not written by Muhammad. God communicated the Holy Qur’an through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet and his scribes (as he was unlettered) preserved it in written form. This process was completed before his death, thus safeguarding it from alteration. In short the book the Holy Quran is the same scripture now as it was then.
…There are five basic Pillars of Islam. These pillars are:
1. The declaration of faith. To bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His final messenger.
2. To pray five times a day.
3. Giving money to charity.
4. Fasting during the month of Ramadan
5. The pilgrimage to Mecca if one is physically and financially able.
Compiled from various sources