Islam And Its Believers
The religion of Islam was founded by Muhammad (d. 632 AD). Muslims believe he was a messenger of God (Allah) and that his primary mission from Allah was to confirm the doctrine of monotheism that had previously been preached by Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Muslims also believe Muhammad was God’s final prophet, whose spiritual calling began when the angel Gabriel appeared to him in a cave. It was there that he allegedly received his first revelation from Allah. As for the Koran—Islam’s guiding text for faith and practice—it’s supposedly a record of the revelations of truth received by Muhammad from Allah over the course of about 23 years. These revelations, which were first transmitted orally, were eventually written down by Muhammad’s followers. Then, after his death, they were copied into a single book to be passed on to other generations.
What does Islam teach? What do Muslims believe? The answers to these questions depends on how in-depth one wants to delve. Certain basic beliefs are embraced by all Muslim. But at a certain point, their views diverge significantly — much like Christians, who fall into numerous off-shoots, denominations, sub-groups, sects, and in more extreme cases, criminal/violent cults (where the identity of members as true “Christians” is simply unrealistic). Just like the differences between many Christian groups, the differences between many Islamic groups/sects range from relatively to moderate. In other cases, the difference are so vast and intense that they’ve been the cause of bloody wars. Perhaps a close analogy to Christianity might be the bloody 1968 – 1998 conflict between Irish Catholics and English Protestants that took place primarily in Northern Ireland. It was a political war that included acts of murderous terrorism against innocent civilians by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As recently as 2014, tensions between Catholics and Protestants were again in the news.
Such divisions, both political and religious, have plagued the Muslims world for centuries. The following chart shows the major branches of Islam, each of which includes one or more sub-divisions, movements, sects, and/or factions:
Generally speaking, all Muslims believe a basic set of doctrines, just like most Christians/Buddhists/Hindus/Jews believe a basic set of docrines. For Muslims, this foundational set of beliefs include the following:
1. Allah is the one and only true God.
– Allah is eternal, omniscient, and omnipresent
– Allah is can’t be seen/heard and is neither male, nor female
– Allah is perfectly just and merciful
– Allah is approachable through sincere prayer and reading the Koran
2. The Koran, the Sunnah, and the Hadith are divinely-inspired holy books.
– Koran: revelations given to Muhammad by Allah
– Sunnah: examples of rightly practicing Islam taken from Mohammad’s life
(Shiites add to the Sunnah the practices of some Muslims leaders, Imams)
– Hadith: reports of what Muhammad said and/or approved
3. Angels exist and are active in the world.
4. Allah sent prophets: Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, etc.
5. Muhammad is Allah’s final prophet.
6. There will be a Day of Judgement for all humanity.
7. Allah knows everything that will happen in the future.
– All we experience in life happens by divine decree. It’s pre-ordained.
– Our life events are pre-ordained, but we still have choice in our responses.
8. Salavation is attained by: faith in Allah, repentance, asking Allah for forgiveness, trying to not sin (commit wrongs), doing good deeds (serving Allah), and reading the Koran. These steps toward salavation are summed up in the Five PIllars of Muslim Worship: 1) DECLARATION OF FAITH – “There is no deity except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God”; 2) PRAYER – Five times a day — dawn, noon, late afternoon, sunset and night; 3) CHARITY – Based on two and a half percent of one’s income and wealth; 4) FASTING – “Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar. People gather in the evenings for a festive breaking of the fast. When fasting, Muslims refrain from food, liquid, and sexual activity. During Ramadan, Muslims are also supposed to abstain from negative behaviors such as lying, gossip, petty arguments, and negative thoughts or behaviors, including getting angry” ( see Beliefs & Daily Lives of Muslims, PBS); 5) PILGRIMMAGE — Every Muslims is expected to make one trip to the holy city of Mecca if financially/physically able to do so.
Beyond these basic beliefs, there is a wide field of viewpoints, ideas, activities, perspectives, and even ways of dressing that are represented by Muslims in the world. Some Muslims are quite liberal in their lifestyles (and interactions with society), especially in the West. Other Muslims are best thought of as either moderate or conservative. And a small minority of Muslims (i.e., terrroists such as those in ISIS and Al Qaeda) are extremists. What is crucial to understand is that: 1) extremists/terrorists do not represent the vast majority of Muslims; 2) extremists/terrorists do not represent the modern and widely-accepted understanding of Islam or the Koran.