Following 9/11 in 2001, I was asked to speak about Islam at a few church groups and my Rotary Club and at several Rotary interfaith meetings in Toronto. Here is a short overview of Muslims and their belief prepared for a non Muslim audience.
(1) Muslims believe in the strict Oneness of God. God has no gender or shape or form that we can comprehend. God is without any equal, Eternal. Nothing precedes Him, He is without any end. He is the First and the Last. He knows everything…. .
(2) Belief in the prophets, who received God’s revelations from Abraham to Prophet Mohammed, the last prophet, through whom the Quran was revealed. Jesus is a prophet and not a son of God. God sent his message to other people but those messengers are not mentioned.
(3) Belief In the Day of Judgment when everything ends. There is no free pass for Muslims, who will be judged like everyone else based on deeds and actions.
Islam has no defined clergy. It is the responsibility of every individual to read the Quran and follow the religious obligations and these can be done in a mosque or at home without the presence of an imam. It is not necessary to belong to a mosque. One may pray in any mosque or any place that is convenient. The imam of a mosque does not have a status anywhere near close to a priest or a minister in a church .
Before I go to obligatory duties I will clarify terms often heard in the media. A Fatwa is simply a religious opinion of a scholar and is not binding on any one.
“Infidel”. It is also not an Islamic term. The word “Kafir” simply means a person who denies the existence of God or does not believe in God(Allah). A non believer..
Jihad does not translate into Holy War and is misunderstood by radicals and also the media. It means a struggle. The struggle with one’s own ego, soul (Nafs), that one does every day to keep on the right path. To be a good person, to control envy, malice, anger, greed, resentment, inflated ego etc., and to replace these with compassion, forgiveness justice and other virtues. Jihad does permit to defend and protect ones family and community from attack or harm. However, it does not permit one to be an aggressor. Another term often heard is
Obligations or religious duties are Prayers, (namaz or salat) 5 times a day, morning, noon, late afternoon, at sun set and a few hours after sun set. It takes a few minutes. One can pray at any place, at home or in a mosque. In Muslim countries it is a common sight to see people taking a few moments to pray in a park, a bus or train station or an airport.
fasting(no food or water) from sunrise to sunset in the month of Ramadan. Your fast is negated if you indulge in anger, envy or other negative emotions or bad deeds. It is a month of prayers and devotion. However, your good deeds and actions should continue as long as you live. It is a religious duty to be just, fair in your dealings in business, work and everyday life and to obey the laws of the land.
Zakat is compulsory giving to the poor and needy.
Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime is obligatory if one can perform it without incurring economic liabilities or debt. Several million people perform the Hajj every year. Its ritual takes 5 days and is centered around the Kaaba.
Kaaba. A brief background. As you may know Abraham had 2 sons, Isaac (Ishaq) with Sara and Ishmael (Ismail) with Hagar(Bibi Hajra). Tradition states that Abraham (Hazrat Ibrahim) left Hagar and his infant son Ishmael in a valley near Mecca. When water ran out, Hagar ran in search of water for her son between two hills called Safa and Marwa, praying to God for water. On the seventh round God revealed a spring that is known as ZAM ZAM. Her running between Safa and Marrwa is part of the Hajj ritual and so is the drinking of water from that spring. Abraham returned and found Hagar and Ishmael. There he was commanded by God to build the house of worship near the spring. With the assistance of Ishmael he built the Kaaba. Today the Kaaba stands close to the original location, but the only original object remaining is the black stone.
Just to point out that Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol or take substances that alter the mind or are harmful to the body(That means pot and drugs). Also prohibited pork products and gambling or any game of chance for money. One cannot trade or benefit from the production, trade or sale of substances and activities that religion prohibits.
I will conclude with a quote from the Quran which is followed by an often recited supplication or Dua:
“Verily men who submit (to God) and women who submit,
And men who believe and women who believe,
And men who are devout and women who are devout,
And men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth,
And men who are patient and women who are patient,
And men who are humble and women who are humble,
And men who give alms and women who give alms,
And men who fast and women who fast,
And men who guard their modesty and women who guard,
And men who remember God and women who remember,
God has prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward”.
An often recited supplication (Prayers, dua)
“O Allah (God)! Give my soul Piety and my conscience purity. You are the Master of my soul and guardian of my conscience. O God I seek refuge in you from oppressing others or being oppressed, from doing wrong or suffering wrong, and from committing an error or a sin that You will not forgive”.