Islam is the world’s second biggest religion with almost 2 billion followers. It is also the second biggest religion in the United Kingdom with at least 2 million followers nationwide. The religion was founded by Muhammad (pbuh) over 1,300 years ago in the area now known as Saudi Arabia. Islam is probably one of the most misunderstood religions too. People who follow Islam are called Muslims.
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Allah and Muhammad (PBUH)
In Islam God is called Allah. This is Arabic for ‘The God’ as al means ‘the’ and lah means ‘God’. Therefore, Muslims believe in one God. Muslims follow Allah’s wishes through the Islamic Holy book, which is called the Qur’an. The words of the Qur’an were passed on from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Jibril. Therefore, Muslims see the Qur’an as the revealed words of Allah.
The Five Pillars of Islam
All Muslims believe in the Five Pillars and understanding the Pillars is a good way to understand Islam. They are called pillars as they are the five actions that all good Muslims must do. The pillars are the Shahadah (Declaration of Faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (giving to the poor and needy), Sawm (fasting) and Hajj (Pilgrimage).
The Shahadah is the key belief of Islam and is, therefore, the first pillar. The Shahadah declares that “there is only one God (Allah) and Muhammad (pbuh) is His messenger”. All Muslims recite this regularly. If a person is to become a Muslim or convert to Islam from another religion, then they should say the Shahadah twice in front of two witnesses. However, the Shahadah should really be said in Arabic, which is the language of the Qur’an.
Muslims pray five times a day. Prayer times are measured according to the movement of the sun. The times of day that a Muslim will pray are near dawn (fajr), just after noon (dhuhr), in the afternoon (asr), just after sunset (maghrib) and around nightfall (isha’a). Due to the pace of life in the modern world, as well as things such as ill health, under some very limited circumstances prayers can be shortened or combined. However, if a prayer is completely missed, it should be made up later in the day.
All Muslims should give to charity. The third pillar, Zakat, requires Muslims to contribute at least 2.5% of their income to the poor and needy. This applies to all Muslims, but the rich are encouraged to give more. Today, many Muslims give money to Islamic charities such as the Red Crescent or Islamic Relief, which help people in developing countries and disaster zones.
All Muslims are encouraged to fast. Fasting is the avoidance of eating during certain times of day. Muslims will fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting allows them to understand hunger and be both sympathetic to those in need and to be thankful to Allah for providing food. Muslims do not starve themselves throughout this month. They can eat after sunset and before sunrise. They only fast during daylight hours. The very young, the elderly, the ill and sick as well as pregnant women do not have to fast.
All able bodied (fit and healthy) Muslims should make a trip to Mecca if they can afford it. Mecca is in Saudi Arabia and is the place where Muhammad founded Islam. It has a very holy site called the Kabbah, which is also believed to be a temple dedicated to Allah dating back to the time of Adam. Hajj takes place every year and up to two million Muslims make the trip each time. They all wear white to show equality.
Jihad is an important part of Islam, but it is also very misunderstood by non-Muslims. There are two types of Jihad; the ‘Greater Jihad’ and the ‘Lesser Jihad’. The Greater Jihad involves avoiding the temptation to do things that you should not do. A Muslim will fight the want to drink, smoke, have extra-marital sex and seek unwholesome pleasure. The ‘Greater Jihad’ has nothing to do with war or violence towards others. The ‘Lesser Jihad’ is better known amongst non-Muslims. This Jihad is a form of self-defence against people attacking Muslims, Muslim land or Islam. The Qur’an says that when Jihad results in violence and fighting, children, women and non-combatants/fighters should not be hurt or killed.
Shari’ah law is Islamic law. The Arabic word shari’ah roughly translates as ‘way to water’. This is because Muslims believe it is important like water in an arid desert. Importantly, sharia’ah law is a law to live your own personal life by as well as a possible law for an Islamic government or country. The law comes from three sources. These are the Qur’an, the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad (pbuh)) and the sunnah (the example of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh)). Therefore, Muslims believe that this law comes directly from Allah and His prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Many of the laws in shari’ah deal with issues surrounding ritual and worship. Other laws concern things such as marriage, divorce and taxes. However, amongst non-Muslims shari’ah is often associated with punishments for dangerous crimes. These include things such as the death penalty for murderers and the chopping off of thieves hands. Although these punishments exist, they are very rare in countries that practice shari’ah law. They are for the worst crimes and many Muslims believe they are a deterrent. A deterrent puts people off committing crimes.
Not all countries use the harsher punishments. Although Islamic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia do, other countries such as Egypt and Tunisia have ‘limited’ aspects of shari’ah law. Some countries have shari’ah law for Muslims and other laws for non-Muslims. These include Malaysia and Indonesia. Some Muslim countries, such asTurkey, are secular and generally have non-religious laws.