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“What Are the Basics of the Islamic Worldview?”
We can often learn something important about a religion just by examining its name. The name “Christianity,” for instance, draws attention to the importance of Christ in Christianity. Similarly, the word “Islam” tells us something about the religion preached by Muhammad. “Islam” is Arabic for “submission” or “surrender,” and, in its religious context, the term refers to submitting one’s will to “Allah” (the Arabic for “God”). The word “Muslim” means “one who submits” (to Allah).
So we can already tell that Islam’s going to have a lot to do with submitting to God. And Muslims who preach Islam in the West emphasize this when they preach. They say, “Islam just means submission to God. You want to submit to God, don’t you? Well, then, Islam is the religion for you.” Now if the message of Islam were simply, “Submit to God,” Christians and Jews would agree. We want to submit to God. But the message of Islam isn’t just that you must submit to God; it’s a message about how you must submit to God.
According to Islam, you submit to God by doing certain things and by believing certain things. And Islam has two convenient lists for us—a list of the most important deeds (called the “Five Pillars”) and a list of the most important beliefs (called the “Six Articles of Faith”).
The five pillars of Islam (the five most important practices) are shahada, salat, zakat, sawm, and hajj.
“Shahada” means “testimony.” To become a Muslim, all you have to do is recite the words “La ilaha illa Allah; Muhammadu rasul Allah.” (“There is no god but Allah; and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” By reciting this “testimony of faith,” or creed, a person formally submits to Allah and Muhammad.
“Salat” refers to prayer and worship. Muslims are required to pray five times per day. These prayers are memorized recitations in Arabic that are accompanied by specified bodily positions (standing, prostrating, and sitting). Muslims perform ceremonial washings called “ablutions” before prayers, and they pray facing the “Kaaba,” which is a cube-shaped shrine in Mecca.
“Zakat” refers to alms-giving, which is required of all Muslims except for those who are extremely poor. Muslims have to give 1/40 of any monetary wealth they’ve held for an entire year, along with various percentages of agricultural products, livestock, and other goods.
“Sawm” is Islamic fasting, which is especially associated with “Ramadan,” the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. When fasting, Muslims are required to abstain from food, beverages, and sexual intercourse during daylight hours (so, from dawn till sunset).
The “Hajj” is the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim who is physically and financially able must take a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in life. The communal Hajj takes place annually during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims circle the Kaaba seven times, run or walk back and forth between the nearby hills of Safa and Marwah, pelt walls with pebbles to symbolize stoning the devil—things like that.
So Islam requires submission to Allah, and Muslims demonstrate their submission by performing these five deeds.
Muslims are also required to believe certain things. These are summarized in the Six Articles of Faith: belief in Allah, belief in angels, belief in inspired books, belief in prophets, belief in the day of judgment, and belief in predestination. And these beliefs aren’t just some kind of intellectual assent to the existence of God or the existence of angels—they require belief in what Islam teaches about God, angels, and so on.
So, belief in Allah isn’t just belief that God exists. It’s belief in the Islamic view of God—most importantly that Allah is one, with no division in essence or person. The oneness of Allah (a doctrine called “tawhid”) is so central to Islam that denying Allah’s oneness is the worst sin a person can commit in Islam. It’s the sin of “shirk”—associating partners with Allah.
The second article of faith is belief in angels. In Islam, angels are created from light and are incapable of disobeying Allah. So there are no fallen angels in Islam. “Iblis,” or Satan, is one of the “jinn.” Jinn are created from fire rather than from light and may rebel against Allah.
Then there’s belief in Allah’s revealed books. The Qur’an affirms the inspiration, preservation, and authority not only of the Qur’an but also of the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel.
Muslims have to believe in Allah’s prophets. Counting Muhammad, the Qur’an mentions 25 prophets by name, though there are numerous unnamed prophets as well. The most respected prophets in Islam are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.
Belief in the Day of Judgment includes belief in a general resurrection of the dead, followed by a final reckoning. After hearing their deeds read from a scroll, faithful Muslims will enter “Jannah” (the “Garden,” or Paradise), while unbelievers and hypocrites will be thrown into “Jahannum” (referring to hell).
Belief in Predestination is interesting. Some passages of the Qur’an suggest that human beings are ultimately responsible for their own actions. But passages indicating Allah’s complete control over human actions are clearer and more common. If you do right, it’s because Allah wanted you to do right. If you do wrong, it’s because Allah wanted you to do wrong. Allah controls everything we do.
So, those are the basics of Islam. There are a lot more beliefs and practices in the Muslim sources, but these are the beliefs and practices that are most significant.