Islam More Than A Religion


Despite its huge following around the world and the growing Muslim
communities in the United States, Islam is foreign to most Americans who are
familiar with Christianity or Judaism. Because most Americans know little or
nothing about Islam, they have many misconceptions about Muslim beliefs and
rituals. The negative image many people in the United States and Europe have
of Islam and the Muslim world has a long history. Many have judged Islam
without making an effort to consider this religious tradition on its own terms,
without bothering to become acquainted with its teaching and the ways in which
Muslims practice their faith.
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a monotheistic religion, based
on the belief in one God.. This religion was proclaimed by the Prophet Muhammad
in Arabia, in the 7th century A.D. The term Islam virtually means “surrender”.
Within Islam the believer (called a Muslim) use the Arabic word for God, Allah,
to refer to the creator of the world and of all life within it. Allah is viewed
as the sole God----creator, sustained, and restorer of the world. The will of
Allah, to which man must submit, is made known through the sacred scriptures,
the Qur\'an (Koran). Allah revealed the Qur\'an to his messenger, Muhammad.
According to Islamic beliefs, Muhammad is the last of a series of prophets
(including Adam, Noah, Jesus, and others). Muhammad\'s message concurrently
perfect and do away with the “revelations” attributed to earlier prophets.
From the very beginning of Islam, Muhammad had indoctrinated a sense of
brotherhood and a bond of faith among his followers. The Prophet Muhammad fled
to Medina in AD 622, it was during this time that his preaching was accepted and
the community-state of Islam emerged. During this early period, Islam acquired
its characteristics as a religion uniting in itself both the spiritual and
temporal aspects of life. Islam also seeks to regulate not only the
individual\'s relationship to God (through his conscience) but human relationship
in a social setting as well. Thus, there is not only an Islamic religious
institution but also an Islamic law, state, and other institutions governing
society.
During the earliest decades after the death of the Prophet, certain
basic features of the religio-social organizations of Islam were singled out.
The features are to serve as anchoring points of the community\'s life and
fashioning as the “Pillars of Islam.” There are five pillars. To these five,
the Khawarij sect added a sixth pillar, the jihad, which, however, was not
accepted by the general community. Jihad means “holy war” or “holy struggle”.
The first pillar is the profession of faith which states, “There is no god but
God; Muhammad is the prophet of God.” The profession must be recited at least
once in one\'s lifetime, aloud, correctly, and purposively, with an understanding
of its meaning and with a covenant from the heart. The second pillar consists
of five daily congregational prayers, which may, however be offered individually
if one is unable to go to the mosque. The first prayer is performed in the
morning before sunrise. The second prayer is performed just after noon, the
third in the later afternoon, the fourth immediately after sunset, and the fifth
before retiring to bed. However, only three prayers are mentioned in the
Qur\'an: morning, evening, and middle prayer in the afternoon. In strict
doctrine, the five daily prayers cannot be waived even for the sick, who may
pray in bed and, if necessary lying down.
The third pillar is the obligatory tax called zakat which means “
purification.” Zakat indicts that such a payment makes the rest of one\'s wealth
religiously and legally pure. In today\'s society the payment of zakat has
become a matter of voluntary charity dependent on individual conscience.
The fourth pillar of the faith is fasting during the month of Ramadan
(ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar). Fasting begins at daybreak and ends
at sunset, and during the day eating, drinking, and smoking are forbidden. The
Qu\'ran (2:185) states that it was during the month of Ramadan that the Qu\'ran
was revealed.
The fifth pillar is the annual pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca prescribed for
every Muslim once in a lifetime -- “provided one can afford it” and provided a
person has enough provisions to leave for his family in his absence.
By the eighteenth century Black Muslims begin to arrive in North
America; coming by the thousands, working as slaves on plantations. As slaves
these early communities were cut off from their heritage, families, and
inevitable their Islamic identity. During the nineteenth century America
experienced an influx of Arab Muslims arriving from Europe,