The essence of Islam can be found in a single statement, the “kalimah,” which embodies both its doctrine and practice. We hear this statement five times a day from the minarets: “There is no god except Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.” Any true religion should offer sound doctrine and clear practice, and this simple statement sums it up.
The doctrine is that our Creator – the Lord of the universe – is the only one deserving of our worship; all matters of faith revolve around that. To understand the significance of this statement, consider Islamic art – the geometric, symmetric, and possibly infinite continuation of lines, curves and patterns – which always begins with a single point on a page or canvas. It is from this point that a line or circle is first drawn, and from which a beautiful work of art takes shape. Without that point of reference, without the consideration that each line and curve originated from that point, and without respect for the relation that every intersecting point has with the original one, the whole pattern will be imperfect, unbalanced and eventually unrecognizable.
Islam, as the inspiration for this beautiful art form, is identical in that it, too, has as its epicenter a single point from which every thought, intention, action and hope begins. That point of reference is God. When someone makes God the single reference point in his life, from which all expression originates, his life can be one of both precision and beauty, of discipline and creativity. In Islamic art, the original point is simply a dot on a page. In Islam, a single, unique God is the focal point, around which all of life revolves.
The second part of the statement instructs us of the practice of Islam: that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is God’s messenger, a man whose role was to convey the message and implement it in all spheres of human conduct. Thus, he is a role model for humankind. He is the teacher with textbook in hand, and his role was to apply the teachings of the Book, answering the questions of his students along the way.
Not only did Muhammad (peace be upon him) relate God’s Word to the world, he answered, with his sayings and conduct, one of the most important questions ever asked: “How are we supposed to live?” He provided guidance in all matters of life, whether in the home, on the job, in the marketplace, or on the battlefield. He interacted with men and women, young and old, friends and foes. He taught us how to manage personal relationships and international treaties. He taught us to be fully human, yet quintessentially spiritual.
The simple statement, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger” is a profound concept that sums up the thought and practice of a true Muslim. It is the vision, mission, objective and benchmark of life, all in one.