Islam, in a Nutshell.

by Seemi Ahmad

A mini-primer for visitors to an Islamic country.

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Mohammed Ali Mosque, Cairo

Islam, Christianity and Judaism all trace their roots to the prophet Abraham (“Ibrahim” in Arabic). Today they are known as the three great monotheistic religions and are practiced worldwide. All three traditions worship the One Universal God, Creator of the Universe. “Allah” is the Arabic word for the One Universal God, as “Dios” is in Spanish and “Dieu,” in French.  Ideally, followers of all three religions commit themselves to prayer, peace with justice, harmony, cooperation, compassion, charity, family responsibility, tolerance towards people of other faiths and respect for the environment.

Islam is practiced in many countries around the world and takes on specific local socio-cultural traits that include styles of dress, food, and expectations for male-female interactions. Generally, Muslims, the people who practice Islam, submit to God’s will by giving charity, feeding the hungry, showing humility, gratitude, and otherwise being good citizens. They believe the Quran is the final revealed word of God that provides a complete guide for human behavior. The text was revealed directly to the prophet Muhammad between 610 and 632 C.E. Muhammad is revered as the last of God’s prophets and as an exemplary human being. He is not worshipped. In fact, the essential testament of faith in Islam is that “There is no god but God. Muhammad is His prophet and final messenger.”

Muslim women and men should obtain an education, may own property, and are encouraged to engage in business, professions and public life. Both men and women are to dress modestly out of respect for public morality. The Muslim husband is financially responsible for the support of his family; what the wife earns as a professional is hers to keep. As a mother she takes on primary management of home and children. Divorce, while strongly discouraged, is possible and can be initiated by either wife or husband. Muslims assume personal responsibility for care of other relatives and those in need. Within Islam a widow or elderly person is almost never left to fend on her or his own. Societies that oppress or discriminate against women do so in spite of, not because of, Islam.

Of course the ideal expression of any faith within society may be marred by ignorance, greed, and other cultural influences. Islam preaches moderation and abhors extremism, terrorism, fanaticism, oppression and subjugation. True and faithful Muslims are committed to living according to the Quran and to tolerance, charity, hard work and cooperation with others.

There are five “pillars” of Islam to which practicing Muslims endeavor to adhere:

  • State (and remember) the decree of faith: “There is no god but God. Muhammad is His prophet and final messenger.”
  • Offered five times daily at prescribed hours.
  • Giving and distributing charity and alms for the less fortunate (approximately 2.5% of rightly earned income).
  • Abstaining from food, drink, and rude behaviors from dawn to dusk throughout the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.
  • Undertaking a journey of faith that starts at the Ka’aba in the city of Meccas during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. This pilgrimage is recommended — at least once — for those who are physically and financially able.

 Edited by Anisa Mehdi (www.AnisaMehdi.com)

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