The word ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender or submission’ to the will of God. It is derived from the Arabic word ‘Salaam’, which means ‘peace’. Islam teaches that in order to achieve true peace of mind and purity of heart, one must submit to God and live according to His Divinely revealed Law. Muslims believe that Islam is not a new religion but is the same eternal message of ‘Pure Monotheism’ revealed through the ages to all of God’s prophets and messengers. For this reason, Prophet Muhammad is not considered as the founder of a new religion, as many people mistakenly believe, but as the final Prophet of Islam.
According to traditional Islamic belief, ‘Allah’, the Almighty God, created Adam out of a piece of clay. He then ordered the angels to prostrate before him. All the angels obeyed the command except the Satan (‘Iblis’), who claimed that he is superior to Adam by virtue of his creation out of fire and his long devotion to Allah. The Satan invited the wrath of the Almighty by disobeying His command and was eternally banished from His pleasure. He pleaded with Allah to grant him and his progeny (geniis) an everlasting opportunity to mislead mankind into committing errors and sins in order to test the devotion of Adam and his progeny to God. This request was granted by Allah with the commandment that whosoever followed the Satan’s path will be condemned to Hell (‘Dozaq’), while those who follow the righteous path would receive eternal blessings and go to Heaven (‘Jannat’). Thus, in Islam it is believed that there has been a continuous struggle between the believers of Allah (‘good’) and the followers of Satan (‘bad’), in which the latter have always been defeated by the former.
Basic Islamic Beliefs:
(a) Tawheed: This means, believe in one, unique, incomparable God, who is the Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of the universe, (b) Belief in the existence of Angels of God as the honoured creatures, (c) Belief in God’s Revealed Books, (d) Belief in the Prophets and Messengers of God (e) Belief in the Day of Judgement and Life after Death and (f) Belief in Predestination or God’s complete authority over human destiny.
Islam believes that life in this world is just preparatory to the eternal life which will eventually follow. Life in this world will come to an end on the Last Day or ‘Qayamah’. Thereafter Allah will resurrect every created being on the day of ‘Hashr’ and make him accountable for all his deeds. According to Islam, every individual has two kinds of obligations: first towards God (‘ibadat’) and the second towards the society (‘muamala’). Islam follows a strict moral and ethical code that prohibits adultery, intoxication, murder, suicide and other such acts, and advocates universal love, brotherhood and respect for mankind. Islam does not have caste system nor does it recognise any kind of racial superiority among human beings. Islam forbids idolism and deity worship. It is also opposed to the use of any symbols for worship or veneration. The Islamic place of worship is known as a ‘Masjid’ or mosque.
Five Pillars of Islam :
The five pillars of Islam are (1) ‘Shahada’ i.e. a Muslim’s confession of faith in no God but Allah and Muhammad as His Prophet and Messenger, (2) ‘Namaz’ or ‘Salat’ i.e. offering prayers five times a day, (3) ‘Roza’ or ‘Saum’ i.e. compulsory fasting for all Muslims above eleven years of age during the holy month of ‘Ramadan’ (4) ‘Zakat’ i.e. giving obligatory charity of 2.5% of one’s yearly savings to needy persons, and (5) ‘Hajj’ i.e. undertaking pilgrimage to Makkah once in a life time, provided one can afford it both physically and financially.
Prophets of Islam:
Allah has sent various Prophets to the world at different times and different places to guide the people on the righteous path. Islam believes in all the Prophets of the Christianity and Judaism. Prophet Muhammad (570-632 A.D.) is considered as the messenger of Allah and the last of all Prophets who restored Islam to its pristine purity. The words “Peace Be Upon Him” (pubh) are written after his name as a mark of reverence. In 622 A.D., Prophet Muhammad decided to leave Makkah and undertook the great migration or ‘Hijra’ to the city of Madinah (Medina), which marks the beginning of the Islamic Calendar.
The ‘Quran’ is the sacred book of Islam. It took Prophet Muhammad twenty three years to receive the complete revelations from Allah and these were documented in the form of Quran. The book contains 114 verses or ‘Surahs’ of varying lengths covering diverse subjects. The revelations were not written down but existed as an oral tradition. The entire ‘Quran’ was completely written down during the lifetime of the Prophet. The compilation of ‘Quran’ was started by the first Caliph Abu Bakr and was continued by Caliph Omar, but it was Caliph Usman who compiled the divine revelation in the form of a book. The second source in Islam is the ‘Ahadith’, which are reliably transmitted reports by Prophet’s companions of what he said, did, or approved of. Belief in the ‘Sunnah’ is a basic Islamic tenet.
Sects of Islam:
The Muslim world can be divided into two main sects: ‘Shia’ and ‘Sunni’. The differences between these sects lie on two main points: the succession to Prophet Muhammad, and the religious authority in Islam after him. The Shias consider Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, to be the rightful heir of the Prophet and the right person to become the ‘Khalifah’ (Caliph). They consider Abu Bakr, Omar and Usman, the first three ‘Khalifahs’ of the Sunni Muslims, as usurpers. They maintain that Prophet Muhammad had nominated Ali to lead the Muslims, who in turn nominated his successors or ‘Imams’. The Shiites form a minority sect of Islam, constituting about a tenth of the total population of the Muslim world but are concentrated in countries like Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon.
There are two main ‘Shiite’ sects: (a) The “Twelvers” who believe that the line of Ali became extinct with Al-Askari, the ‘Twelfth Imam’, who mysteriously disappeared in 873 A.D., and (b) The Ismailites or “Seveners” who only recognize the seven first Imams and consider Aga Khan as their spiritual leader.
The Sunnis constitute the majority sect of Islam, which recognizes the legitimacy of the first four Caliphs. They claim that the Caliphate is not hereditary and no one can claim to be the successor of the Prophet merely by descent or relationship. According to them, it was for the community to choose one amongst themselves as their leader or the Caliph.
Four orthodox schools of Sunni Muslims: The Sunnis have four orthodox schools (‘madhabs’) of jurisprudence: ‘Hanafi’, ‘Shafai’, ‘Malaki’ and ‘Hanbali’. The two great dynasties of the medieval period – the Mughals and Ottomans – were the followers of the Hanafi School. Most Muslims of the Indian Sub-continent belong to the Hanafi Madhab, while a majority of Kerala Muslims are followers of the Shafai Madhab.
Muslims in India:
Islam first came to India at the Malabar Coast of Kerala through the Arab traders as early as 6th century A.D., the first century of the Islamic calendar. Several centuries later the local population that embraced Islam became a well-knit social and cultural group known as the ‘Moplas’. In the next two hundred years, the first Muslim empire, the Delhi Sultanate, was established in India with its capital in Delhi. The Mughal period is considered as the golden age of Islam in India. Today, the Muslims number around 150 million, constituting nearly 15% of India’s population.