Islam and the Muslims
List of Questions
Question 1 "What is Islam?"
Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God
revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth
of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a
complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy,
and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the
extremely grave events which have come to be associated with
Question 2 "Who are the Muslims?"
One billion people from a vast range of races, nationalities
and cultures across the globe--from the southern Philippines to
Nigeria--are united by their common Islamic faith. About 18%
live in the Arab world; the world's largest Muslim community is
in Indonesia; substantial parts of Asia and most of Africa are
Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in the
Soviet Union, China, North and South America, and Europe.
Question 3 "What do Muslims believe?"
Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God; in the
Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His
revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of Judgment and
individual accountability for actions; in God's complete
authority over human destiny and in life after death. Muslims
believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including
Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron,
David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace
be upon them. But God's final message to man, a reconfirmation
of the eternal message and a summing-up of all that has gone
before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) through
Question 4 "How does someone become a
Simply by saying 'There is no god apart from God, and
Muhammad is the Messenger of God.' By this declaration the
believer announces his or her faith in all God's messengers, and
the scriptures they brought.
Question 5 "What does 'Islam' mean?"
The Arabic word 'Islam' simply means 'submission', and
derives from a word meaning 'peace'. In a religious context it
means complete submission to the will of God. 'Mohammedanism' is
thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship
Muhammad (SAW) rather than God. 'Allah' is the Arabic name for
God, which is used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.
Question 6 "Why does Islam often seem
Islam may seem exotic or even extreme in the modern world.
Perhaps this is because religion does not dominate everyday life
in the West today, whereas Muslims have religion always
uppermost in their minds, and make no division between secular
and sacred. They believe that the Divine Law, the Shari'a,
should be taken very seriously, which is why issues related to
religion are still so important.
Question 7 "Do Islam and Christianity
have different origins?"
No. Together with Judaism, they go back to the prophet and
patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly
descended from his sons--Muhammad (SAW) from the eldest,
Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them, from Isaac.
Abraham established the settlement which today is the city of
Makkah, and built the Ka'ba towards which all Muslims turn when
Question 8 "What is the Ka'ba?"
The Ka'ba is the place of worship which God commanded Abraham
and Ishmael to build over four thousand years ago. The building
was constructed of stone on what many believe was the original
site of a sanctuary established by Adam. God commanded Abraham
to summon all mankind to visit this place, and when pilgrims go
there today they say 'At Thy service, O Lord', in response to
Question 9 "Who is Muhammad?"
Muhammad (SAW) was born in Makkah in the year 570, at a time
when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe. Since
his father died before his birth, and his mother shortly
afterwards, he was raised by his uncle from the respected tribe
of Quraysh. As he grew up, he became known for his truthfulness,
generosity and sincerity, so that he was sought after for his
ability to arbitrate in disputes. The historians describe him as
calm and meditative. Muhammad (SAW) was of a deeply religious
nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society. It
became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of
Hira near the summit of Jabal al-Nur, the 'Mountain of Light'
Question 10 "How did he become a
prophet and a messenger of God?"
At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat,
Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the
Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty-three
years, is known as the Quran.
As soon as he began to recite the words he heard from
Gabriel, and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him,
he and his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution,
which grew so fierce that in the year 622 God gave them the
command to emigrate. This event, the Hijra, 'migration', in
which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah some 260 miles to
the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
After several years, the Prophet (SAW) and his followers were
able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and
established Islam definitively. Before the Prophet (SAW) died at
the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within
a century of his death Islam had spread to Spain in the West and
as far East as China.
Question 11 "How did the spread of
Islam affect the world?"
Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam
was the simplicity of its doctrine. Islam calls for faith in
only One God worthy of worship. It also repeatedly instructs man
to use his powers of intelligence and observation.
Within a few years, great civilizations and universities were
flourishing, for according to the Prophet (SAW) 'seeking
knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and woman'. The
synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with
old, brought about great advances in medicine, mathematics,
physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature,
and history. Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic
numerals, and also the concept of the zero (vital to the
advancement of mathematics), were transmitted to medieval Europe
from Islam. Sophisticated instruments which were to make
possible the European voyages of discovery were developed,
including the astrolabe, the quadrant and good navigational
Question 12 "What is the Quran?"
The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God
through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). It was
memorized by Muhammad (SAW) and then dictated to his Companions,
and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his
lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been
changed over the centuries, so that the Quran is in every detail
the unique and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad
(SAW) fourteen centuries ago.
Question 13 "What is the Quran about?"
The Quran, the last revealed Word of God, is the prime source
of every Muslim's faith and practice. It deals with all the
subjects which concern us as human beings: wisdom, doctrine,
worship, and law, but its basic theme is the relationship
between God and His creatures. At the same time it provides
guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and an
equitable economic system.
Question 14 "Are there any other sacred
Yes, the sunna, the practice and example of the Prophet
(SAW), is the second authority for Muslims. A hadith is a
reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet (SAW) said, did,
or approved. Belief in the sunna is part of the Islamic faith.
Examples of the Prophet's sayings
The Prophet (SAW) said:
- 'God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others.'
- 'None of you truly believes until he wishes for his
brother what he wishes for himself.'
- 'He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food
is not a believer.'
- 'The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with
the prophets the saints, and the martyrs.'
- 'Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed
powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger.'
- 'God does not judge according to your bodies and
appearances but He scans your hearts and looks into your
- 'A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a
well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he
saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud
to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the
same thirst as he had felt so he went down into the well again
and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God
forgave his sins for this action.' The Prophet (SAW) was
asked: 'Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards
animals?' He said, 'There is a reward for kindness to every
living thing.' (From the hadith collections of Bukhari,
Muslim, Tirmidhi and Bayhaqi.)
Question 15 "What are the 'Five
Pillars' of Islam?"
They are the framework of the Muslim life: faith, prayer,
concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage to
Makkah for those who are able.
- First Pillar: Faith
There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad
is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the
Shahada, a simple formula which all the faithful pronounce. In
Arabic, the first part is la ilaha illa'Llah - 'there is no
god except God'; ilaha (god) can refer to anything which we
may be tempted to put in place of God--wealth, power, and the
like. Then comes illa'Llah: 'except God', the source of all
Creation. The second part of the Shahada is Muhammadun
rasulu'Llah: 'Muhammad is the messenger of God.' A message of
guidance has come through a man like ourselves.
- Second Pillar: Prayer
Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which are
performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the
worshiper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in
Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned
person who knows the Quran, chosen by the congregation. These
five prayers contain verses from the Quran, and are said in
Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal
supplication can be offered in one's own language.
Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and
nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day.
Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a
Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices,
factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are
struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life.
A translation of the Call to Prayer is:
'God is most great. God is most great. God is most great.
God is most great. I testify that there is no god except God.
I testify that there is no god except God. I testify that
Muhammad is the messenger of God. I testify that Muhammad is
the messenger of God. Come to prayer! Come to prayer! Come to
success (in this life and the Hereafter)! Come to success! God
is most great. God is most great. There is no god except God.'
Once Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem, but during the
Prophet's lifetime it was changed to Makkah. From the minbar,
the pulpit, the Imam who leads the prayer gives the sermon at
the Friday noon community prayers.
- Third Pillar: Zakat
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all
things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by
human beings in trust. The word zakat means both
'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified by
setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the
pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages
Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually.
For most purposes this involves the payment each year of two
and a half percent of one's capital. A pious person may also
give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so
preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as
'voluntary charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet (SAW)
said: 'Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is
The Prophet (SAW) said: 'Charity is a necessity for every
Muslim.' He was asked: 'What if a person has nothing?' The
Prophet (SAW) replied: 'He should work with his own hands for
his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in
charity.' The Companions asked: 'What if he is not able to
work?' The Prophet (SAW) said: 'He should help poor and needy
persons.' The Companions further asked 'What if he cannot do
even that?' The Prophet (SAW) said 'He should urge others to
do good.' The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?'
The Prophet (SAW) said 'He should check himself from doing
evil. That is also charity.'
- Fourth Pillar: The Fast
Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from
first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and
sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a
journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted
to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in
the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must
feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to
fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many
Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is
regarded principally as a method of self purification. By
cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short
time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go
hungry as well as growth in one's spiritual life.
- Fifth Pillar: The Pilgrimage (Hajj)
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah, the Hajj, is an obligation
only for those who are physically and financially able to
perform it. Nevertheless, about two million people go to
Makkah each year from every comer of the globe providing a
unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one
another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors, the
annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year
(which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall
sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear
special clothes: simple garments which strip away distinctions
of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin,
include circling the Ka'ba seven times, and going seven times
between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during
her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the
wide plain of Arafa and join in prayers for God's forgiveness,
in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgment.
In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking.
Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with
water, modem transport, and the most up-to-date health
The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha,
which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in
Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a
feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main
festivals of the Muslim calendar.
Question 16 "Does Islam tolerate other
The Quran says: God forbids you not, with regards to those
who fight you not for [your] faith nor drive you out of your
homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth
those who are just. (Quran, 60.8)
It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged
status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of
worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History
provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths:
when the caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam
granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the
Islamic law also permits non-Muslim minorities to set up
their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the
When the caliph Omar took Jerusalem from the Byzantine, he
insisted on entering the city with only a small number of his
companions. Proclaiming to the inhabitants that their lives and
property were safe, and that their places of worship would never
be taken from them, he asked the Christian patriarch Sophronius
to accompany him on a visit to all the holy places.
The Patriarch invited him to pray in the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher, but he preferred to pray outside its gates, saying
that if he accepted, later generations of Muslims might use his
action as an excuse to turn it into a mosque. Above is the
mosque built on the spot where Omar did pray.
According to Islam, man is not born in 'original sin'. He is
God's vicegerent on earth. Every child is born with the fitra,
an innate disposition towards virtue, knowledge, and beauty.
Islam considers itself to be the 'primordial religion', din al-hanif,
it seeks to return man to his original, true nature in which he
is in harmony with creation, inspired to do good, and confirming
the Oneness of God.
Question 17 "What do Muslims think
Muslims respect and revere Jesus (SAW) and await his Second
Coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God's
messengers to mankind. A Muslim never refers to him simply as
'Jesus', but always adds the phrase 'upon him be peace'. The
Quran confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Quran is
entitled 'Mary'), and Mary is considered the purest woman in all
creation. The Quran describes the Annunciation as follows:
'Behold!' the Angel said, 'God has chosen you, and purified
you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary, God
gives you good news of a word from Him, whose name shall be the
Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and the
Hereafter, and one of those brought near to God. He shall speak
to the people from his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of
the righteous.' She said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son
when no man has touched me?' He said: 'Even so; God creates what
He will. When He decrees a thing He says to it, "Be!" and it
is.' (Quran, 3.42-7)
Jesus (SAW) was born miraculously through the same power
which had brought Adam (SAW) into being without a father:
Truly, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of
Adam. He created him of dust, and then said to him, 'Be!' and he
was. (3.59) During his prophetic mission Jesus (SAW) performed
many miracles. The Quran tells us that he said:
'I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for
you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe
into it and it becomes a bird by God's leave. And I heal the
blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by God's leave.' (3.49)
Neither Muhammad (SAW) nor Jesus (SAW) came to change the
basic doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier
prophets, but to confirm and renew it. In the Quran Jesus (SAW)
is reported as saying that he came:
'To attest the law which was before me. And to make lawful to
you paff of what was forbidden you; I have come to you with a
sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey Me.' (3:5O)
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:
'Whoever believes there is no god but God, alone without
partner, that Muhammad (SAW) is His messenger, that Jesus is the
servant and messenger of God, His word breathed into Mary and a
spirit emanating from Him, and that Paradise and Hell are true,
shall be received by God into Heaven.' (Hadith from Bukhari)
Question 18 "Why is the family so
important to Muslims?"
The family is the foundation of Islamic society. The peace
and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued,
and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members. A
harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended
families; children are treasured, and rarely leave home until
the time they marry.
Question 19 "What about Muslim women ?"
Islam sees a woman, whether single or married, as an
individual in her own right, with the right to own and dispose
of her property and earnings. A marriage dowry is given by the
groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps her
own family name rather than taking her husband's.
Both men and women are expected to dress in a way which is
modest and dignified; the traditions of female dress found in
some Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs.
The Messenger of God said:
'The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is
best in manner and kindest to his wife.'
Question 20 "Can a Muslim have more
than one wife?"
The religion of Islam was revealed for all societies and all
times and so accommodates widely differing social requirements.
Circumstances may warrant the taking of another wife but the
right is granted, according to the Quran, only on condition that
the husband is scrupulously fair.
Question 21 "Is an Islamic marriage
like a Christian marriage?"
A Muslim marriage is not a 'sacrament', but a simple, legal
agreement in which either partner is free to include conditions.
Marriage customs thus vary widely from country to country. As a
result, divorce is not common, although it is not forbidden as a
last resort. According to Islam, no Muslim girl can be forced to
marry against her will: her parents will simply suggest young
men they think may be suitable.
Question 22 "How do Muslims treat the
In the Islamic world there are no old people's homes. The
strain of caring for one's parents in this most difficult time
of their lives is considered an honor and blessing, and an
opportunity for great spiritual growth. God asks that we not
only pray for our parents, but act with limitless compassion,
remembering that when we were helpless children they preferred
us to themselves. Mothers are particularly honored: the Prophet
(SAW) taught that 'Paradise lies at the feet of mothers'. When
they reach old age, Muslim parents are treated mercifully, with
the same kindness and selflessness.
In Islam, serving one's parents is a duty second only to
prayer, and it is their right to expect it. It is considered
despicable to express any irritation when, through no fault of
their own, the old become difficult.
The Quran says: Your Lord has commanded that you worship none
but Him, and be kind to parents. If either or both of them reach
old age with you, do not say 'uff' to them or chide them, but
speak to them in terms of honor and kindness. Treat them with
humility, and say, 'My Lord! Have mercy on them, for they did
care for me when I was little'. (17.23-4)
Question 23 "How do Muslims view
Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe that the present
life is only a trial preparation for the next realm of
existence. Basic articles of faith include: the Day of Judgment,
resurrection, Heaven and Hell. When a Muslim dies, he or she is
washed, usually by a family member, wrapped in a clean white
cloth, and buried with a simple prayer preferably the same day.
Muslims consider this one of the final services they can do for
their relatives, and an opportunity to remember their own brief
existence here on earth. The Prophet (SAW) taught that three
things can continue to help a person even after death; charity
which he had given, knowledge which he had taught and prayers on
their behalf by a righteous child.
Question 24 "What does Islam say about
Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in
defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been
expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of
combat which include prohibitions against harming civilians and
against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see
it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good men were
not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause. The Quran
'Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but
do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.' (2.190)
'If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God
for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things.' (8.61)
War, therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the
rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The term jihad
literally means 'struggle', and Muslims believe that there are
two kinds of jihad. The other jihad is the inner struggle which
everyone wages against egotistic desires, for the sake of
attaining inner peace.
Question 25 "What about food?"
Although much simpler than the dietary law followed by Jews
and the early Christians, the code which Muslims observe forbids
the consumption of pig meat or any kind of intoxicating drink.
The Prophet taught that 'your body has rights over you', and the
consumption of wholesome food and the leading of a healthy
lifestyle are seen as religious obligations.
The Prophet (SAW) said: 'Ask God for certainty [of faith] and
well-being; for after certainty, no one is given any gift better
Question 26 "What is Islam's presence
in the United States?"
It is almost impossible to generalize about American Muslims:
converts, immigrants, factory workers, doctors; all are making
their own contribution to America's future. This complex
community is unified by a common faith, under-pinned by a
countrywide network of a thousand mosques.
Muslims were early arrivals in North America. By the
eighteenth century there were many thousands of them, working as
slaves on plantations. These early communities, cut off from
their heritage and families, inevitably lost their Islamic
identity as time went by. Today many Afro-American Muslims play
an important role in the Islamic community.
The nineteenth century, however, saw the beginnings of an
influx of Arab Muslims, most of whom settled in the major
industrial centers where they worshiped in hired rooms. The
early twentieth century witnessed the arrival of several hundred
thousand Muslims from Eastern Europe: the first Albanian mosque
was opened in Maine in 1915; others soon followed, and a group
of Polish Muslims opened a mosque in Brooklyn in 1928.
In 1947 the Washington Islamic Center was founded during the
term of President Truman, and several nationwide organizations
were set up in the fifties. The same period saw the
establishment of other communities whose lives were in many ways
modeled after Islam. More recently, numerous members of these
groups have entered the fold of Muslim orthodoxy. Today there
are about five million Muslims in America.
Question 27 "How does Islam guarantee
human rights ?"
Freedom of conscience is laid down by the Quran itself:
'There is no compulsion in religion'. (2.256)
The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are
considered sacred whether a person is Muslim or not.
Racism is incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Quran speaks
of human equality in the following terms:
'O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and
female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may
come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God
's sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing,
Question 28 "What is the makeup of The
The Muslim population of the world is around one billion.
Most Muslims live east of Karachi. 30% of Muslims live in the
Indian subcontinent, 20 % in Sub-Saharan Africa, 17% in
Southeast Asia, 18% in the Arab world, 10% in the Soviet Union
and China. Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan comprise 10% of the
non-Arab Middle East. Although there are Muslim minorities in
almost every area including Latin America and Australia, they
are most numerous in the Soviet Union, India, and central Afnca.
There are 5 million Muslims in the United States.
This information is taken from a fairly popular brochure
published by Saudi Arabia entitled Understanding Islam and
the Muslims. The original brochure contains a number of
beautiful photographs drawn from the Muslim world, including
shots of people and masjids. You may order it from:
The Embassy of Saudi Arabia
Department of Islamic Affairs