Fundamentals of Islam

Islam itself, the act of submission, is differentiated into the “five pillars” of Islam; second is iman or belief in God, the prophets, angels, the holy books, the day of judgment, and God’s foreknowledge; third is ihsan, or spiritual virtue to create a deep intimacy with God – for whose cultivation you are supposed to pray. The first of these dimensions is “external” or material; the second is mental; the third is about the heart, as a Muslim does all things, to imagine that he sees God before him, and that God sees him.

The fundamentals of practice and belief in Islam are derived from many sources, including many verses of the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, notably an incident where Angel Gabriel appeared in the form of a man. He approached Prophet Muhammad ﷺ while he sat in a group and he asked the Prophet ﷺ the questions:

  • Tell me about Islam
  • Tell me about Faith
  • Tell me about Ihsan (spiritual perfection)
  • Tell me about The Hour (i.e. the Day of Judgment)

After the Prophet ﷺ answered, Gabriel stood up and departed. Then, the Prophet ﷺ turned to his companion who had witnessed the exchange and said,

“That was Gabriel. He came to teach you your religion.”

(Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasai)

The Articles of Faith

When asked by Angel Gabriel, “O Muhammad! Tell me about faith,” the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ listed six beliefs which would come to be known as the six ‘articles’ of Islamic faith, and Gabriel said, “You have spoken rightly.”

They are belief in God, angels, scriptures, prophets, Last Day, and pre-decree (see also Quran 2:177, 2:285, 59:49). Faith, for a Muslim, is not a matter of creed or a belief in the heart, rather it is physically put into practice.

Belief in God means that the universe has only One Lord Who alone created and owns it, and controls and directs its affairs in terms of sustenance, actions, life, death, benefit and harm and that there is no lord besides Him. He alone does whatever He wills and decides whatever He wishes. To Him belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earths and He is capable of doing all things. He has knowledge of all things.

Since God cannot be seen God in this life, part of belief in God is believing in what are known as His names and attributes that He acquaints us with through revelation. The created beings do not share with Him in His qualities. God is absolutely free from all attributes of defects and imperfection like sleep, incapability, ignorance, and injustice. He also is beyond comparison to the created beings. Furthermore, the belief entails:

The Beautiful Names mentioned in the Quran and Sunna are God’s true Names without adding or reducing anything from them

(Quran 59:23).

Allah Who names Himself and that none among His creature has authority to give Him names. It is Allah Who praises Himself with these Names and so they are not invented and created.

The meaning of divine must be respected and they should not be altered or denied.

To believe in the impact of each Name (for example, one of God’s Name is is the ‘All Seer,’ therefore, one must be certain that nothing is hidden from God).

Only God deserves worship, both apparent and hidden. The True God is the One Whom all hearts worship, full of love, to the exclusion of any other thing. Hearts are full of hope for Him to the exclusion of all other things. Hearts are content to pray to Him, seek His help, and fear Him to the total exclusion of others.

God has created angels from light and they are naturally inclined to obey Him. They carry out His commandments. No one knows their precise number except God. God assigns to them different duties and functions. God states in the Quran:

“Each one believes in God, His angels, His books and His messengers. (They say): ‘We make no distinction between any of His Messengers.”

(Quran 2:285)

Muslims believe that the angels are creatures of God whom He created for the purpose of worshipping Him. Their existence is real and that our inability to see them does not mean that they do not exist. They are servants of God whom He has honored with elevated ranks. Among them are messengers of God with whom He sent revelation and and that they are unable to do except that which God gives them the ability to do. In spite of all this, they cannot avail themselves or others of any benefit or harm except by the will of God. That is why it is forbidden to pray to them or ask them for help. Angels are humble, winged creatures with huge bodies (Quran 35:1) that fit the function that they are assigned to carry out. They do not eat or drink, are intelligent beings, and have the ability to change shape. They suffer from death. They worship God with sincerity without slack and are immune from committing sins. God has told us the names of some of His angels in the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad has told us their names in the Sunna. Some of the greatest angels are:

1. Jibreel (Gabriel) is the Holy Spirit who brings down revelation by which the hearts live, to the prophets.

2. Meekaaeel (Michael) is put in charge of rain by which the earth lives. He drives rain to wherever God commands him.

3. Israafeel is in charge of blowing into the Horn to announce the end of this world and the beginning of the Hereafter by which the bodies will be brought back to life.

Muslims also believe in books that God send as a mercy and guidance for the mankind, so that they might achieve prosperity in this world and the Hereafter; in order that it may be a path upon which they march and a judge between people as regards what they differ in. God actually spoke the words of those Books. They were revealed to be a reference for people to judge in matters they differ in. The books help preserve the religion and the teachings of a prophet after his death.

“Indeed We have sent Our Messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance (justice) that mankind may keep up justice.”

(Quran 57:25)

Muslims believe that revelation from God is the link between the Creator and human beings. God chose some prophets and messengers to convey His message to us. We know the names of some of them, others we don’t. Following the prophets is the criteria that determines who is guided and disobeying them is equivalent to going astray. The prophets, Islam teaches, faithfully delivered the message they were entrusted with.

“Say: We believe in God and that which has been sent down to us and that which has been sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and to the offspring (of the twelve sons of Jacob), and that which has been sent to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been sent to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have submitted in Islam.”

(Quran 2:136)

Prophets were send by God:

  • So people could worship and serve God
  • To acquaint human beings with the purpose of their creation
  • So people have no excuse left of not knowing why they are here
  • To explain what can not be seen and lies beyond human comprehension
  • To provide role-models for human beings to live their lives
  • To reform and purify the souls
    • There is no deity rightfully worshipped but Allah,
    • Muhammad ﷺ is His Messenger.

Belief in the Last Day is another essential belief taught by Islam. The life of this world will end with death and after that we will pass into an intermediate stage known as Barzakh, culminating with the entry into Paradise or Hell. The nearness of the Last Day will be preceded by what are known as:

Minor Signs: most have already happened, like the mission of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, rise of sky-scrapers, and the spread of immorality.

Major Signs: will appear immediately before the Last Day. They are ten and none of them have appeared. One of them is the return of Jesus.

The dead will be questioned in their graves after burial about his Lord, religion, and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. After that the grave will be either a seat of bliss or a place of torment. A horn called the Trumpet will be blown by the angel Israafeel which will kill all creatures except whom God spares. The Hour will appear in which people will come of their graves by the command of their Lord for reckoning. The good will get their reward and the evil-doer will be punished. God says in the Quran,

“The Day when they will come out of the graves quickly as racing to a goal.”

(Quran 70:43)

People will be gathered, called to account, and paid back for their earthly deeds.

“We shall gather them all together so as to leave not one of them behind.”

(Quran 18:47)

The final abode will be either Paradise or the fire of Hell. Those who turned away from the truth will end up in Hell, whereas those who accepted the truth will enter Paradise to stay in it forever.

The last article of faith is the decree or God’s preordainment. God is the Lord also means that nothing escapes God’s eternal knowledge, the fate of all creatures has been recorded, God’s will and power are all-embracing, and that God is the true Creator of all things.

The Five ‘Pillars’ of Islam

When asked by Angel Gabriel, “O Muhammad! Tell me about Islam,” the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ listed five actions which would come to be known as the five Pillars of Islam, and Gabriel said, “You have spoken rightly.”

God has mandated five acts upon which the whole religion of Islam is built. These acts of worship are as follows:

1. Testimony of faith (Shahadah)

One must profess this testimony of faith, summarized in the two testimonies:

Through the belief and attestation of the testimony of faith (Shahadah) one enters the fold of Islam. It is the central belief that a believer maintains throughout his or her life, and is the basis for all a Muslim’s beliefs and worship.

2. Formal Prayers (Ṣalah)

One must offer the five daily prayers at their specific times and in their prescribed manners. Through the prayer, a Muslim maintains his relationship with God, comes to remember Him often, and avoids falling into sin.

3. Compulsory Charity (Ẓakah)

Those who have saved a certain amount of wealth for at least a year must allot a specific portion of it annually to designated recipients among the needy. Zakah is not voluntary charity; it is an obligatory duty upon the wealthy and a right of the poor.

4. Fasting (Ṣawm)

Muslims must fast for a period of one lunar month, which is the month of Ramaḍan, by refraining from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk. The goal of fasting, as mentioned in the Quran, is to increase one’s piety and God-consciousness. It helps people sympathize with impoverished and hungry people. And it purifies the body. Fasting Ramadan is an obligation for physically capable individuals.

Some individual circumstances exempt one from the fast, temporarily or permanently. For example, a traveler or a menstruating woman is temporarily exempted; they may make up the fast in other days when they return home or finish their period. Ill people with chronic conditions precluding fasting, such as some forms of diabetes, or elderly people may pay a charity instead of fasting. There is not supposed to be any real physical hardship in the fast; it is more a matter of being patient. If there is physical hardship, then the person is exempted from the fast, but he or she must either make it up by fasting other days or feed the poor in replacement of the fast.

5. Pilgrimage (Ḥajj) Pilgrimage to the House of God, the Ka’bah, in Makkah is obligatory for every able Muslim once in a lifetime. The Hajj is a physical and visual proof of the brotherhood of humanity, and their equality in front of Allah. Being capable of performing Hajj includes considerations of financial cost as well as physical health.

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