Muslim testament of faith
The fundamental message of Islam is simple: To worship Allah (Arabic word for God) alone. The Quran (the revealed scripture of Islam) states:
“Say, He is Allah , (who is) One, Allah , the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent.” [Quran: Chapter 112]
The first part of the Muslim testament of faith (the shahada) is the basis for the concept of God in Islam. Muslims must bear witness that: “There is no Deity worthy of worship but Allah”. The concept of deity is strictly monotheistic and Unitarian. God alone has absolute being, totally independent and totally self-sufficient. Whatever exists or ever could exist does so by His will. He has no “partner” either in creating the universe or in maintaining it in existence. He is not only the “First Cause” but also ultimately, the only cause and He is Himself uncaused (Hassan Gai Eaton – The concept of God in Islam).
The second part of the testament of faith is: “Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final Messenger.”
Muslims hold in high esteem all the previous Prophets and messengers including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and many more (peace be upon them all); all of whom submitted and surrendered themselves to the One God who created them and chose them to be the bearers of His message. As the Quran states:
“Say, (O believers), “We have believed in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the Descendants (twelve sons of Jacob) and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims (in
submission) to Him.” [Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 136]
Muhammad, the last messenger
The last and final Prophet in a long chain of prophets and messengers was the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was sent to the lands of Arabia and thus spoke the language of Arabic. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to re-affirm the message that all the previous prophets and messengers were sent with—calling to the worship of One God.
Michael Hart, in his book “The 100: A Ranking Of The Most Influential Persons In History” states: “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels. Of humble
origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world’s great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive.”
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a prominent figure is universal not only because of his message of equality, but because of his selfless character. He constantly helped the poor and anyone who needed assistance of any kind. His teachings apply to any time frame, to people from any part of the world, be they rich or poor. Amongst his many wise teachings was: “Do not belittle even the smallest act of kindness, even if it were no more than greeting your brother with a smiling face”.
The following story demonstrates the Prophets altruism. An old woman had a habit of throwing rubbish on Prophet Muhammad whenever he passed by her house. When the old woman threw trash on him, he would pass silently without showing any anger or annoyance and this happened on a regular basis. One day when the Prophet was passing by, the woman was not there to throw the trash.
The Prophet asked permission to visit the woman. He found that she was actually ill. She thought that he had come to take revenge when she was unable to defend herself. But the Prophet assured her that he had only come to see her and to look after her needs, as it was the command of Allah that if anyone is sick, a Muslim should visit and help them if their help is needed. The old woman was greatly moved by this kindness and love of the Prophet. By this example, she understood that he was truly the Prophet of God and Islam was the true religion. She subsequently embraced Islam.
In this manner, before the Prophet died at the age of 63, most of the people of Arabia had embraced the message of Islam, and in less than a century the message had spread to Spain in the west and as far east as China.
In the Islamic view, the “message” transmitted through Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him) represented, not a completely new religion, but a corrective to the falsifications and distortions which had taken place, and at the same time, an uncompromising re-assertion of the pure doctrine of the One God.
Just as the Prophets Moses, Jesus and David (peace be upon them) were given books of revelation (The Old and New Testaments and Psalms respectively; all of which Muslims acknowledge) so too was the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The message brought by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was consolidated through successive revelations collectively known as the Quran—which means to recite or read in Arabic. The Quran contains guidance for the whole of humankind, and it exists today in exactly the same form as it did when it was revealed over 1400 years ago.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Quran: Chapter 49, Verse 13]
The guidance contained in the Quran enables all of us to live a life in a manner that God loves and is pleased with. As the Creator, God knows us best and is therefore best placed to guide us on how to “function optimally”. Suppose you bought your first iPhone, would you read an instruction manual produced by Sony Ericsson? Logically, no! The logic is quite simple; the company that produces the phone knows its product inside out and so it is best placed to write an instruction manual for its users. The same is true of us. God created us, therefore He knows us better than we think we know ourselves. The Quran is therefore a handbook, from the Creator to the creation. Allah says:
“This (Quran) is enlightenment for mankind and guidance and mercy for a people who are certain (in faith).” [Quran: Chapter 45, Verse 20]
And in another verse:
“O mankind! there hath come to you a direction from your Lord and a healing for the (diseases) in your hearts,- and for those who believe, a guidance and a Mercy.” [Quran chapter 10 verse 57]
A Muslim enjoys two very specific relationships
1. A relationship with his/her Creator. This essentially strengthens one’s faith and enables one to draw closer to Allah through engaging in acts of worship.
2. A relationship with the society within which he/she resides. Muslims have a responsibility to uphold basic moral values like enjoining good, forbidding evil, standing up for justice, fulfilling trusts, being kind to their neighbors, and helping the less fortunate etc.
There are numerous verses in the Quran that illustrate this, for example:
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but (true) righteousness is (in) one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask (for help), and for freeing slaves; (and who) establishes prayer and gives zakah (charity); (those who) fulfill their promise when they promise; and (those who) are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” [Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 177]
“Indeed, Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice. Excellent is that which Allah instructs you. Indeed, Allah is All-Hearing and All-Seeing.” [Quran: Chapter 4, Verse 58]
“Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” [Quran: Chapter 16, Verse 90]?
What makes someone a Muslim?
For a person to claim he is a Muslim, they must adhere to five fundamental duties that a Muslim willingly practices which are known as the 5 pillars of Islam. Allah says in the Quran:
“This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah, Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them, And who believe in what has been revealed to you, (O Muhammad), and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain (in faith). Those are upon (right) guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful.” [Quran: Chapter 2, Verses 2-5]
Practicing Muslims follow the commandments of Allah in order to seek His pleasure. But in addition to this, the commandments themselves contain certain inherent wisdoms. The five pillars of Islam thus form the basis of Muslim life.
The first pillar was mentioned previously and it is to testify that there is no God worthy of worship except Allah, and that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final messenger. This is in fact is the essence of Islam.
The second pillar is to establish the five daily prayers. Allah says:
“Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.” [Quran: Chapter 20, Verse 14]
And in another verse:
“Recite (O Prophet) what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do. [Quran: Chapter 29, Verse 45]
Prayer is a time to stand before Allah and express faith, give thanks for the blessings He has bestowed upon us, as well as to seek guidance and forgiveness. Through bowing and prostrating to the ground, Muslims express their utmost humility before the Almighty.
If we look at the concept of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) we see that there is a two-directional relationship between our thought processes (Neuro), our communication (Linguistic) and our behavior (Programming). If you change one, it has a knock on effect on the other two variables. So if you change your behavior to perform prayer (which is a physical action as well as verbal communication with Allah) it will naturally affect your thought processes- increasing your faith as well as inspiring you to want to draw closer to Allah by performing righteous deeds.
The third pillar is to fast during the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) from dawn till dusk for nearly 30 consecutive days. Allah says:
“O you who have believe, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” [Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 183]
Fasting enables a person to develop self-control and frees them to devote their body and soul to worship. Ramadan is also a great opportunity to appreciate the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon us and gives us a taste of what the poor and hungry across the globe experience; often on a regular basis.
For more on fasting and Ramadan click here.
The fourth pillar is Zakah or giving 2.5% of one’s surplus wealth to those ordained by Allah to receive it. One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings as a loan. In Arabic, the word Zakah 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 new growth. Allah says:
“Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect (zakah) and for bringing hearts together (for Islam) and for freeing captives (or slaves) and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the (stranded) traveler—an obligation (imposed) by Allah. And Allah is All Knowing and All Wise.” [Quran: Chapter 9, Verse 60]
The active practice of zakah demonstrates that in following His commandments, the love for Allah is greater than the love for wealth. It also serves to help the poor, those in debt and protects the nation as well as strengthening one’s faith.
The fifth obligatory pillar upon a Muslim is that she/he performs the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to do so. Allah says:
“Indeed, the first House (of worship) established for mankind was that at Makkah – blessed and a guidance for the worlds. In it are clear signs (such as) the standing place of Abraham. And whoever enters it shall be safe. And (due) to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House—for whoever is able to find thereto a way. But whoever disbelieves—then indeed, Allah is All Free from need of the worlds.” [Quran: Chapter 3, Verses 96-97]
On average, approximately 2 million people attend the Hajj every year and it is an amazing spectacle for all of humanity. It demonstrates unity despite multiplicity and for the individual pilgrim it inspires patience and tolerance. The journey itself is entirely a spiritual one, incomparable to any other on earth.
The 6 articles of faith
Besides enacting the five pillars of Islam in their lives, Muslims must also accept:
1. Believing in only One God
The concept of 1 God is so important in Islam that it is the first in the 5 pillars and 6 articles of faith.
2. All the previous prophets and messengers
Of which, Adam is the first and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last messenger
3. All revealed scriptures
4. The existence of angels, for example
The archangel Gabriel (who was responsible for bringing the revelation)
Michael, The keeper of hell-fire
Angel of Death
5. A final day of reckoning (The Day of Judgment) when every individual will be held to account for their actions.
Our deeds will be judged by Allah and we will either enter paradise or hell-fire.
Allah is The Just, so he rewards and punishes fairly; however, one of His magnanimous qualities is that He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.
6. Divine decree and predestination
All good and evil has been proportioned and that Allah has full knowledge of all things. However, every individual has free will within the realm of responsibility and is not per-destined against their will, therefore is able to make choices in life.
Although the dictionary defines Islam as “the religious faith of Muslims” it is in fact much more than that. Islam is a way of life; an entire system of living that permeates every aspect of an individual’s day to day activities. Practicing Islam is truly fulfilling and enables one to be at peace with oneself, one’s Creator, one’s family, neighbors and with society at large. The universe is filled—like a great picture book—with signs, which bear witness to its Creator and reminds us that if we have pure hearts, then we would have eyes to observe God’s power, majesty and His beauty. The Quran states:
“Indeed, within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers. And in the creation of yourselves and what He disperses of moving creatures are signs for people who are certain (in faith). And (in) the alternation of night and day and [in] what Allah sends down from the sky of provision and gives life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness and (in His) directing of the winds are signs for a people who reason.”
[Quran: Chapter 45, Verses 3-5]
“In summary, the God of Islam is transcendent, the All Powerful, All Knowing Creator and Lawgiver, though at the same time infinitely merciful, generous and forgiving. The Human, His creature and servant, stands before Him without intermediary or intercessor, meeting Him through prayer during this brief life on earth, and meeting Him face to face when life is over. In Islam, God does not embody Himself in any human being and doesn’t make Himself accessible through idols or images. He is what He is, absolute and eternal, and it is as such the Muslim worships Him” (Hassan Gai Eaton – The concept of God in Islam).