The Basic Principles of Islam

Islam is a way of life based on belief in God as an exclusive deity and acts of worship that enhance spiritual, emotional and social wellbeing.  Adherence to standards of conduct outlined in the Holy Quran enable individuals and communities to achieve success both in this life and the next, eternal one.  The foundations of this way of life – Islam – are outlined below.

Belief:  Islam, or “submission to God”  is based on belief in six major articles of faith.

  1. Belief in God, the Creator, the One and Only Deity.  Although commonly referred to as “He,” God is genderless; there is nothing like Him.
  2. Belief in prophets, whom God sent to guide and remind mankind, including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and many more.
  3. Belief in all of the scriptures in their original form that were sent with the prophets, with the Quran being the last and final revelation.
  4. Belief in angels, who are created by God to carry out duties assigned to Him.
  5. Belief in Resurrection, Heaven and Hellfire; this is the time and place for judgment, final justice and God’s mercy.  All unresolved issues will be addressed at this time.
  6. Belief that everything is decreed by God who has perfect knowledge, judgment and authority over human destiny. God created man with the propensity for good and evil, and granted him free will. Man exercises his free will unaware of what is destined for him since both his choice and its outcome are subject to God’s approval.  While belief in God’s decree helps one accept things beyond his control, it does not absolve him from responsibility for his choices.

Practice:  Belief in all of the above is essential to be Muslim, but not enough.  Since a Muslim’s conduct is a reflection of his beliefs, the following prescribed acts of worship show his commitment to being Muslim, or “one who submits to God.”

  1. The declaration of faith:  “I testify that there is no god but the (One) God and I testify that Muhammad is His messenger.”  This statement acknowledges God’s exclusive divinity and the guidance sent through Muhammad.  It is a pledge to submit to God and follow that guidance.
  2. Prayer five times a day, which establishes regular connection with God, cultivating a sense of awe, dependence and solace in God.  The habit of prayer not only instills a strong sense of morality and accountability, but also fosters self-discipline and time management.
  3. Fasting the days of Ramadan, the month in which the Quran was revealed, ordained to increase ones awareness of and connection with God.  The mental and physical exertion required for the process fosters a heightened God-consciousness, compassion for the poor and patience in hardship, lessons that are reinforced annually.
  4. Annual alms, which are considered a legal, moral and social duty rather than elective charity.  The obligatory dues are 2.5% of cash savings that have not been used for one year and a portion of other assets such as crops, cattle, and precious metals. Giving such alms to the poor and needy hinders personal greed and promotes social welfare and cooperation.
  5. Pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca, said to be the first house of worship on earth and the direction to which Muslims pray.  While the rites of the pilgrimage commemorate Abraham’s complete submission to God’s commands, the performance of the rites with multitudes of Muslims from around the world promotes unity, equality and brotherhood.

The Quran and Hadith:  The Quran is God’s final message to mankind that was transmitted through the final prophet, Muhammad, and has been preserved exactly as it was revealed until today. It informs the reader of a reality beyond his senses and perceptions of space and time. Through stories and instruction, it describes the beliefs and practices that are essential to ensure ultimate happiness and success both in this life and the next. The hadith are a record of Muhammad’s words and actions that were observed and recorded by his companions.  They are separate from the Quran and serve as an example of the proper interpretation and application of the teachings of the Quran.

The Sharia:   The Quran and Hadith are the two primary sources for the derivation of Islamic law which is called Sharia.  This divinely based legislation ensures social stability and prosperity.  A wholesome code of conduct is established with the objective of enabling not only individual citizens but also society at large to achieve their potential on earth, as well as their success in the next life.  Sharia law covers spiritual, personal, social, political, economic, and legal areas of life.  It comprises:

  • Personal practices that protect faith, health, intellect and integrity.
  • Family conduct that facilitates a just and wholesome lifestyle for each member.
  • Social etiquette that promotes equality, good conduct and morality.
  • Welfare measures that protect and provide for the weak and vulnerable.
  • Civil and executive duties that ensure justice, prevent oppression and meet the needs of the people.
  • Business guidelines that encourage economic development and wealth distribution.
  • International relations and principles of defense to ensure peace and security in a multicultural, religiously diverse world.

Virtue:  God is the source and perfection of all virtue; He is merciful, forgiving, truthful, just, knowledgeable, and so forth. People are encouraged and expected to adopt these qualities throughout their lives as they implement the requirements of their faith. We grow closer to our Creator when we emulate virtues that have their origin in Him.  When correct belief, regular worship, social responsibility and virtuous qualities merge, man is at his best.

The Purpose of Life:  God clearly states in the Quran that He has created us only to worship Him (51:56).  The diverse experiences of life on Earth are “tests” (3:186) that give us the opportunity to refine and enhance our worship of God.  For example, enjoying His many blessings leads us to worship Him with reverence and gratitude. Striving to earn God’s approval by following His teachings is worship through obedience. Making mistakes and realizing our deficiencies leads us to observe yet another form of worship: repentance.  Hardship and adversities often result in worship expressed as greater reliance, submission and trust in God.   Through all of life’s experiences, we learn to worship God with love, fear and hope.  Therefore, we have endless opportunities to fulfill the purpose of our life – to worship God – the quality of which will affect our eternal life in the Hereafter.

Summary:  Islam is not a new religion; all prophets came to teach mankind the same message of acknowledging and submitting to the Creator.  This message is a way of life that is based on belief in one God, the Creator, a single, unique and exclusive deity, which is the foundation of a sound relationship with Him; practice that ensures spiritual, material and social wellbeing; and rules and guidelines that emanate from the wisdom of the Creator and which, if followed, elevate civilization to its greatest potential.

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I was driving home yesterday when I spotted this sign on the road:  “Camera ahead – 80.”  I thought, how nice of the traffic department to warn us that a camera is ahead and remind us that the speed limit is 80 km/hr.  I drove ahead and looked for the camera.  Sure enough, about 100 meters from the sign was the camera, barely visible behind a tree branch.  I realized that many such signs are placed along the road – they warn us of danger, give us directions or information, prohibit certain actions, and even relate good news such as “sale!” or “opening soon.”  To all those who invest in signs to help us on our way – thank you.

Not only on the roads are there signs.  God said He placed them throughout the universe and within our own selves.   But what do they say and where do they lead?  For those who think, ponder, and reflect, the signs tell them a lot about the Creator of our world and relate certain facts of our existence.  but not everyone is paying attention to the natural phenomena around us and analyzing their meanings.  So our Creator did us a great favor by spelling out His signs in a more obvious way.  One by one, over 6000 signs are catalogued in human language in what is known as the Quran.  The “signs” share information, give directions, demarcate boundaries, prohibit dangerous actions, relate good news and give very clear warnings.  Here is a sample of God’s signs from the Quran:

Information:  God (Himself) bears witness that there is no god but Him, as do the angels and those with knowledge –He is the One upholding justice.  There is no god but Him, the Almighty, Most Wise. (3:18)

Directions:  …And establish regular prayer for My remembrance. [20:14]

Prohibitions:  …Indeed, intoxicants and gambling… are but defilement from the works of Satan, so shun them so that you may be successful. (5:90)

Good News:  Verily, the dwellers of Paradise that Day, will be busy in joyful things. They and their spouses will be in pleasant shade, reclining on thrones. They will have therein fruits (of all kinds), and all that they will ask for. ‘Peace’  shall be the word from a Merciful Lord.   [36:55-58]

Investment Opportunities!  Who is he that will lend to God a goodly loan so that He may multiply it for him many times over? (2:235)   Indeed, the charitable men and the charitable women who have loaned God a goodly loan shall have it multiplied for them by their Lord.  So for them, there is a gracious reward awaiting in the Hereafter.  (57: 18)

Advice:  Do not turn your cheek to people in contempt, and do not walk upon the earth proudly exultant.  Indeed, God loves no one who is smug, boastful. (31:18)

Warnings:  Indeed, God will not forgive associating any god with Him.  But He forgives anything less than this for whomever He so wills.  Thus, whoever associates gods with God has truly strayed far astray! (4:116)  Truly Hell is waiting- a destination for the transgressors.  (78: 21-22).

Corrections:  Righteousness in the sight of God is not the mere turning of your faces toward the East or the West.  Rather, true righteousness dwells in one who believes in God and the Last Day, and in the angels, and the Book, and in the prophets; it dwells in one who, despite his love for it, gives of his wealth in charity to close relatives and orphans, and to the indigent and the wayfarer, and to beggars and for the emancipation of slaves; it dwells in one who establishes the Prayer and gives charity, and those who fulfill their covenant when they make a covenant, as well as in those who are patient during periods of affliction and harm and times of conflict.  These are the ones who have been truehearted, and it is such as these who are the God-fearing.  (2:177)

The signs are presented in various ways and repeated often to make sure the reader understands them and the correlations between them.  Some of the signs mention the signs themselves:  “(Here) indeed are signs for a people that are wise.” (2:164).   “Thus does God make clear His signs to you, in order that you may be guided.” (3:103).  “We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their own selves, until it becomes manifest to them that this [Qur’an] is the Truth” (41:53).

To our Creator, who gave us these signs to help us on our way – thank you.

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The Muslim’s Prayer

One of the things that fascinates me most about Muslims in their adherence to the daily prayer.   Five times a day you see them stopping whatever they are doing to make a connection with God.  It’s not uncommon to see a truck stopped by the side of the road, its driver prostrating in prayer at the appointed time, or an entire group of people praying together in a mall, amusement park or soccer field.  The prayer is the most significant act of a Muslim and, according to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, the prayer observed at its appointed time is the deed that God loves best.  Second is kindness to parents.

Prayer in Islam involves much more than in other religions, and it is the act that characterizes one as a Muslim.  In other words, if one doesn’t pray the daily prayers, he is not considered a true Muslim.  To prepare for this supremely important show of faith, the Muslim makes ablutions:  just as one would groom himself before meeting an important friend, the Muslim checks his clothes for impurities, washes his face, hands, forearms and feet, and may brush his teeth in preparation to stand before his Lord.  Ablutions prepare the Muslim both physically and mentally for his encounter with God.

The prayer itself is comprised of verses from the Quran, supplications and various gestures and positions.  As God gave us a body, mind, heart and voice, all are used in the prayer, making it an act of complete physical, mental and spiritual focus.  The Muslim begins his prayer with the words, “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) and repeats them every time he changes his position during the prayer.  If worldly concerns or distractions creep into his mind during prayer, “Allahu Akbar” reminds him that God is greater – and more important – than all of that.  Then he recites the first chapter from the Holy Quran, which constitutes what could be called “the Lords’ prayer” in Islam.  This short chapter taught me the best way to approach God in prayer: first with praise and then with supplication not only for myself but also for my brethren in faith.

Bowing and prostration are an essential part of the Muslim’s ritual prayer, and these postures are reserved for no other being but God.  While bowing humbly he repeats, “Glory to God the Great,” and while prostrating, “Glory to God the Most High.”  These words during prostration have a great effect on the mindful Muslim because as he is in his most humble position he acknowledges God’s incomparable status and His supremacy, power and majesty.  The ritual prayer ends by invoking blessings on God’s righteous servants, especially on the prophets Mohammed and Abraham.

By repeating the ritual prayer five times every day since childhood, the Muslim benefits in many ways.  The habit of remembering God is the foremost benefit and it is also the main purpose of the prayer.  The Quran states, “… and establish prayer for My remembrance” (20:14), since remembering God often fosters a habit of gratitude and prevents one from doing shameful deeds.  The prayer increases one’s self-discipline and time management skills, as well as trains us to look beyond the illusive qualities of life on earth.  When our lives get too hectic, too distracting, or too intense, the prayer is there to calm and refocus us.   And when our lives become routine and monotonous, the prayer invigorates and inspires us.

In times of trouble, prayer is a source of comfort and strength, and provides a refuge and a comfort from the minor and major trials of life.  In this respect, it is interesting to note that there are no exemptions from prayer due to travel, fear, illness or handicap, although there are concessions that make it easier at these times.  The believers are instructed in the Quran to “seek help in patience and prayer.  Truly, God is with the patient” (2:153).  The Muslim’s prayer is his lifeline.

In addition to the ritual prayer, the Muslim is encouraged to engage often in remembrance of God and supplication.  Supplication is informal communications with God, a spontaneous prayer from the heart of a believer at any moment during his life – in times of need, in moments of joy, during reflection or strenuous effort.  The prophet Mohammed set a perfect example by supplicating often from the time he woke up until he slept at night.  He repented often, sought God’s help at every opportunity and constantly glorified He who sustains us, provides for us and guides us throughout our lives.  His supplications were recorded by his companions and touch every aspect of life – from the usually mindless activities such as dressing in the morning to the most serious and somber situations like preparing a body for burial.

The concept of “prayer” in Islam is a combination of ritual prayer and supplication.  This combination is the central purpose of a Muslim’s life.  As God explains in the Quran, “I have created man and jinn to worship Me”  (51:56).  To worship the Possessor of mercy, justice, generosity and forgiveness is the most exalted occupation a human can aspire to and yet it is within anyone’s reach.  It is an occupation that requires only the time needed to pray the five daily prayers and a presence of mind for frequent supplication at other times.  It does not require one to isolate himself from worldly endeavors, but to focus on a higher authority while engaging in them.  It does not require one to abstain from physical pleasures but to express gratitude for the many bounties he enjoys.  It does not require deep study and rigid exercise, but a sincere and tender heart, ever mindful of the Creator.  As the Quran instructs us, “seek help in patience and prayer; it is indeed burdensome except for those of humble spirit – those who are mindful that they shall meet their Lord, and that they shall return to Him” (2:45).

Habitual prayer nourishes the soul, strengthens the will and revitalizes the spirit.   By understanding the importance of the prayer in the Muslims’ life, it is easy to see why you see them leaving their work, play and sleep to stand devoutly before God, oblivious to the world.

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Love in Islam

Love is an innate and essential element in the makeup of our being in the sense that we all seek to love and be loved.  In fact, love may well be the driving force in everything we do.  Our love for ourselves, for others and for God will drive us moment by moment to certain behavior.  Such a powerful thing deserves our deepest consideration.  What exactly is love?  As a noun, it is an intense feeling of deep affection or fondness; as a verb, it is to delight in, admire, cherish, or feel deep affection for someone.  It describes a subjective emotion that is not always rational.  It also describes a feeling that is often beyond one’s control — hence, the phrase “falling in love.”

Love in the sense defined above is mentioned in the Quran as something that God instills in our hearts.  “And of His signs is that he created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy”  (30:21).  “He has put affection between their hearts: not if you had spent all that is in the earth, you could not have produced that affection, but Allah has done it…”  (8:63).  These verses imply that the feeling of love and affection for others originates from God and is a gift from Him.  It is not something we can will in ourselves or create between people, which makes the feeling of love between people a sublime and blessed emotion.

Apart from loving others, people also love things, and these are mentioned in the Quran too.   Man loves wealth with immense love.” (89:20) “Man’s love for wealth is intense” (100:8)  “Beautified for people is the love for that which they desire – for women and children, heaped up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land.  That is the enjoyment of the worldly life….” (3:14) Love for these things help us to become productive, cooperative people, but excessive love can make us become destructive and selfish.  So, when it comes to loving things, we should exercise caution, as the following verse implies:  “…Perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you” (2:216).

The Quran also ties love to virtue, and this is when the Islamic concept of love gets very interesting.  “You will never attain virtue until you spend something of what you love…” (3:92) This means that you should give to others what you love for yourself. In addition, the verse “Whenever you speak, be just, even though it concerns a close relative” (6:153) reminds us that our love for others should not make us do or say something unjust.   Although the Quran never explicitly commands us to “Love one another,” it does have many commands to behave as though we love one another, regardless of our feelings.  “Say kind words to people…” (2:83) “Pardon and overlook their misdeeds” (5:13) “Do not spy on one another, nor let any of you backbite others…” (49:12) and to “…judge with justice…” (5:42).  It says that “A good deed and an evil deed are not alike; repay [evil] with something that is finer, and see how someone who is separated from you by enmity will become a bosom friend.” (41:33)

Other verses are even more specific in telling us in specific detail how to treat others:  “Your Lord has decreed that you should worship nothing  except Him and show kindness to your parents; whether either or both of them attain old age, never say to them “Uf!” nor scold either of them.  Speak to them in a generous fashion.  Serve them with tenderness and humility…”    (17:23)

Aside from these Quranic verses, Muhammad advised his followers in innumerable traditions to be good to others.  For example, he said, “Do you know what the rights of a neighbor are?  If a neighbor seeks your help, extend it to him. If a neighbor asks you for a loan, lend him.  If your neighbor becomes poor, then help him financially and attend to his poverty if you can. If your neighbor becomes ill, then visit him. If your neighbor is happy on certain gain, then congratulate him. If your neighbor is suffering a calamity, then offer him condolences. If your neighbor dies, then attend his funeral. Do not raise your building over his building, so that he would have no sun exposure or wind passage.  Do not bother your neighbor with the smell of your cooking, unless you intend to offer him some” (Tabrani, 101).   Detailing the behavior of a loving neighbor is more meaningful than a simple order to love them.

The Quran and Muhammad did not directly command us to “love one another” because love (the feeling) is a byproduct of positive actions and attitudes. Instead, we are commanded to treat one another with justice, respect, forgiveness, patience and kindness.  By acting in this way, we can arouse the feeling of love for others in ourselves, and vice versa.  Stephen Covey understood this well; read the following excerpt from his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

“Stephen, …My wife and I just don’t have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don’t love her anymore and she doesn’t love me. What can I do?”
“The feeling isn’t there anymore?” I asked.
“That’s right.” he reaffirmed. “And we have three children we’re really concerned about. What do you suggest?”
“Love her,” I replied.
“I told you, the feeling just isn’t there anymore.”
“Love her.”
“You don’t understand. The feeling of love just isn’t there.”
“Then love her. If the feeling isn’t there, that’s a good reason to love her.”
“But how do you love when you don’t love?”

“My friend, love is a verb. Love — the feeling — is a fruit of love, the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Are you willing to do that?”

In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. They’re driven by feelings. … Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifice you make, the giving of self …  If you want to study love, study those who sacrifice for others, even for people who offend or do not love in return. If you are a parent, look at the love you have for the children you sacrificed for. Love is a value that is actualised through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values…


We can see that true love is principle-driven, not emotion-driven. Islam insists on principle-driven love, a love that is proactive and action-based, not reactive and emotion-based.  Some people find the subject of love too complex and its requirements in conflict with their own notions of love and happiness.  Can we neglect the demands of true love?  How important is love?  Muhammad said to his companions, “You will not enter Paradise until you have faith; and you will not complete your faith until you love one another” (Muslim).  The eventual outcome of principle-driven, proactive love is feelings of affection for and delight in others – which are God’s gift to those who “walk the talk” of love.

God’s Love

While loving one another is something we should aspire for, earning God’s love is an even greater goal.  The Quran gives many descriptions of those whom God loves:  Those who do good (2:195), those who act justly (5:42) , those who are patient and steadfast (3:146), those who spend during ease and hardship, and who restrain anger and who pardon people (3:134), those who repent to God and those who purify themselves (2:222), those who are conscious of God [and act accordingly]  (3:76) , and those who depend on God after having decided on a matter (3:159).

The Quran also describes what and who God doesn’t love, such as corruption (2:205) the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged (4:148), sinning disbelievers (3:32), wrongdoers and evildoers (3:58), those who are self-deluded and boastful (4:36) , the habitual sinful deceiver (4:107) , those who are treacherous and those who are ungrateful (22:38) , those who are stingy, encourage stinginess among people and conceal what God has given them of His bounty (4:37), those who are arrogant (16:23), those who are exultant (28:76) , and those who are wasteful and excessive (7:31).  In addition, Prophet Muhammad said that the lawful thing that God hates most is divorce (Abu Dawud).

Although some people assume that God loves all people, we can see from the Quranic verses that He doesn’t.   However, God’s MERCY is for all people.  He says, “…My mercy embraces all things…”(7:156).   “… Indeed, God is ever kind and merciful to people” (2:143).  His mercy comes in forms that we should recognize: “O mankind!  Worship your Lord … Who has made the earth your couch, the heavens your canopy, sent down rain from the sky, and brought forth fruits for your sustenance…  (2:21)  Sometimes His mercy comes in the form of warnings or evidence that reform on our part is necessary:  “Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned; He may let them taste a part of what they have done so that perhaps they will return [to proper conduct].” (30:41)  In other words, suffering or hardship can be a mercy because it leads us to reassess ourselves and our circumstances to correct an improve our behavior. God also told us in the Quran how to earn His mercy:  “…I will decree it [especially] for those who fear Me and give the prescribed charity and those who believe in Our verses, those who follow the messenger…” (7:156-157).

While God’s mercy is for all people, His love is for a selected group:  “Say (O Muhammad): ‘If you love God, then follow me; God will love you…’” (3:31).  “As for those who believe and do right actions, the All-Merciful will bestow His love on them.” (19:96)    “Nothing draws My servant closer to Me more than doing what I have made obligatory upon him.  And My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with supererogatory deeds until I love him.  When I love him, I shall be his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hands with which he holds, and his feet with which he walks.  If he asks Me, I shall surely give it to him, and if he takes refuge in Me, I shall certainly grant it to him”  (hadith qudsi).

Finally – Loving God

Treating one another with kindness, forgiveness and generosity leads us to feelings of love for each other, and completes our faith so that we can enjoy happiness in the Hereafter.  Faith in God and following His messenger earn us God’s love.  But the pinnacle of our love is to love God, who is the wellspring of all other expressions of love.  The Quran says,   “Some people set up equals to God, loving them as they should love God.  But those who believe have greater love for God…”  (2:165).   We should love God first by doing what He likes in the ways He mentioned, which is to exercise the proactive meaning of love to serve Him and others.  After loving Him consistently and persistently, He will, in return, love us.  Is there any aspiration greater than that?

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Imagine a bridge between two mountain tops.  Not an ordinary bridge, but one made of ropes and planks, one that swings precariously in the wind, one whose gaps are as wide as its footing.  And you have started walking across the bridge – perhaps because it was the only path in front of you, or perhaps it was the path to where you had planned to go.  Halfway across, you get scared.  You realize the risks.  You doubt your strength to go forward.  You freeze midway between the two mountaintops and weigh your options, a vacuum all around you.  So you decide to go back, to retrace your steps and forget about reaching the other side.  But when you turn around to backtrack to safety, you see that the planks on the bridge have blown away from the ropes, and that what is left of the bridge is enveloped in misty clouds, making a return impossible.  And so there you stand.  Behind you a fading memory, below you an abyss, before you a painful trek through fear, doubt and exertion to a place whose promise is illusive.  And you have no choice but to go forward, one step at a time, to the unknown.

I’ve been there.  Perhaps you have too.  It’s a scary, lonely place to be.

Nothing will get you to the other side except a little faith.  It is faith that led me forward – faith that God could see me, faith that He knew my predicament, and faith that if He allowed me to stand in that midway place, that it was where I was supposed to be.

The story of Moses held my attention through my struggle to the other side.  After hearing God’s voice near the burning bush and discussing the task to address the Pharaoh, Moses was told:

And we had already conferred favor upon you another time when We inspired to your mother what We inspired, saying, “Cast him into the chest and cast it into the river, and the river will throw it onto the bank; there will take him an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.”  And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye [and care].

[And We favored you] when your sister went and said, “Shall I direct you to someone who will be responsible for him?”  So We restored you to your mother that she might be content and not grieve.  And you killed someone, but We saved you from retaliation and tried you with a [severe] trial.  And you remained some years among the people of Madyan. Then you came [here] at the decreed time, O Moses.  (Quran 20: 37-40)

The favors to Moses were many, and God recounts some of them: being saved from Pharaoh’s slaughter by being cast into a river – only to be adopted by the Pharaoh himself – and being raised in Pharaoh’s household, yet having access to his mother and his people…. he was torn between two peoples, two cultures, two classes, two families.  Other favors:  being spared reprisal for a crime committed, finding refuge among yet another people in a different land  – Madyan.  And finally, the words that resounded again and again in my soul:

Then you came here at the decreed time, O Moses.

An ordinary day wandering in the desert of Sinai and all the weird and unusual events that led him to that fateful conversation with God Himself were highlighted for Moses as God’s decree, blessing and selective care.

With a little introspection I retraced the steps that led me to the middle of the bridge where I could no longer see past or future, where I almost gave up if not for the faith that called me forward.  I gradually began to see the Divine Care in my life, and when I opened my heart to His continual presence, I could feel great love and direction from none less than God Almighty.  I could feel Moses’ wonder at how God had groomed him, acknowledged his struggles and anticipated his arrival, and his realization of God’s caring, nurturing, protective guidance.  All the events of Moses’ life prepared him for that moment with God and the great task assigned to him.  With faith he honored God’s command.  With faith he walked forward, one step at a time.

And with faith, I was able to cross the bridge that finally led me to solid ground and peace of mind.

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Being a Muslim

A man came to Prophet Muhammad (p) and said, “Messenger of God, direct me to a deed by which I may be entitled to enter Paradise.”  He said, “Worship God and never associate anything with Him, perform the obligatory prayer, and pay the prescribed charity, and observe the fast of Ramadan.”  He replied,  “By Him in Whose Hand is my life, I will never add anything to it, nor will I decrease anything from it.”  When he turned his back (to leave), the Prophet (p) said,  “He who would like to see a man from the dwellers of Paradise should catch a glimpse of this man” (related by Muslim).

This tradition shows how to live as a Muslim,  the first step being your declaration that you believe in a single, exclusive God and that Muhammad is one of His messengers.  Just believing in something isn’t enough — the Quran couples belief and deeds together, the latter being proof of the former.  As for beliefs, see my post below (What Do Muslims Believe In?).  As for being a Muslim, here is how:

REGULAR PRAYER:  The Quran says, “I am God!  There is no god but Me, so worship Me and perform prayer to remember Me” (20:14).  The five daily prayers in Islam are preceded with ablutions, and involve the body, mind, voice and heart with various postures that reflect submission, humility, love and glorification.  Prayers are performed before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, after sunset and after dark, and require a degree of focus, tranquility and poise.  There are concessions and exemptions for people who may be ill, travelling or incapacitated in any way, but a Muslim strives to perform every prayer to his best ability because it helps him keep a strong connection with God.  Praying the five daily prayers is the minimum that someone should pray; however, supererogatory prayers or spontaneous prayers from the heart are advisable at any moment during one’s life– in times of need, in moments of joy, during reflection or strenuous effort.   In addition to ritual prayers, remembering, asking and thanking God informally are also prayers of great merit.

FASTING IN RAMADAN:  The Quran says, “Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may learn God-consciousness” (2:183).  Fasting the month of Ramadan is required of adults, who refrain from food, drink, conjugal relations, smoking, and all hurtful speech and actions from before sunrise until sunset.  There are many benefits of the month-long fast, such as increased self-discipline, patience, God- consciousness, sincerity, compassion, gratitude, and brotherhood, as well as documented medical benefits.  With reference to fasting, the Quran says that “God wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship…” (2:185) and for that reason, people who are ill or travelling can make up missed days at a later time.  If one cannot fast due to chronic ill health, feeding a poor person for every day missed is sufficient compensation.  Fasting Ramadan is the minimum that a Muslim should fast; however, optional fasting is meritorious.  Prophet Muhammad regularly fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and frequently on other days.  He said that the fast of Prophet David, which was on alternate days, was the fast most loved by God.

ZAKAT:   Neither charity nor a tax, zakat is a compulsory annual payment of cash or materials for the benefit of the poor, preferably person-to-person.  The word zakat literally means “purification” as it purifies people from greed and selfishness.  It prevents one from hoarding and promotes a more fair distribution of wealth that narrows the gap between the wealthy and the destitute.  The zakat reminds us that we are merely trustees of our wealth whose source is God, and its distribution promotes brotherhood and goodwill in the community.  The rate of zakat is 2.5% of savings that have accumulated for one year, 5% of agricultural produce, a portion of cattle (1-3%) and 20% of mined materials (except gold and silver, which are treated as cash).  The Quran says that zakat is “a legal obligation from God – and God is Knowing, Wise” (9:60).   If someone does not have savings that have accumulated for a year, he is exempt from paying zakat.   While zakat is the minimum amount that a person should give per year, charity and generosity are encouraged at all times.  The Quran repeatedly refers to good believers as those who “spend out of what God has provided for them” and instructs Muhammad to tell those who ask what they should spend in charity to say, “The excess (ie, what is beyond your needs)” (2:219).  Prophet Muhammad said that spending on your family is considered the best kind of charity.

PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA (HAJJ):  The Quran says, “Indeed, the first house of worship established for mankind was that at Bacca – a blessing and guidance for the worlds…. And due to God from the people is pilgrimage to the House, for whoever is able to find a way to it” (3:96-97).  A Muslim has an obligation to visit Mecca (formerly known as Bacca) during the first ten days of the month of Thul-Hijja once in his life, providing he has the financial and physical ability to do so.  During the pilgrimage, a Muslim performs rites that commemorate the faith and acts of Abraham and his family, including circumambulating the Kaaba, which Abraham and his son once built, jogging between two hills as Hagar did in search of water, and slaughtering an animal, which commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (the meat of the sacrifice is distributed to the poor).  During the pilgrimage a Muslim connects with other Muslims through space and time, particularly Abraham and his family and the current Muslim ummah with representatives from virtually every country on earth.  The pilgrimage removes all outward signs of wealth or status to remind us of our equality and brotherhood, enables one to put worldly interests aside for a spiritual retreat and a chance to refocus, and reminds us of the inevitability of death, resurrection and gathering in front of God.  The pilgrimage season is the most important of the year, during which Muslims who do not attend often fast, offer extra prayers, increase charity and good works, and slaughter an animal to distribute its meat to the poor.

Conclusion:  The main acts of worship in Islam are the testimony of faith, which is a pledge and a commitment to God to submit to His will and follow Muhammad’s example; prayer, which is worship at regular intervals with the body, mind, voice and heart; fasting in Ramadan, which is an annual month-long course to develop God-consciousness, fostering self-discipline, compassion and gratitude; zakat, which is compulsory and trains us to share; and pilgrimage, which is an answer to God’s eternal call to worship Him.  These acts have many tangible and spiritual benefits, but the Muslim does each one as an act of worship, an act of obedience, and an act of gratitude for being in the fold of Islam.

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Meet a Hero

Meet Debbe Magnusen, a suburban mother who decided to make a difference when she read an article about a baby who died after being abandoned by a dumpster in her community.  In order to help provide prenatal care for desperate mothers or help them to find adoptive families for their unwanted babies, she founded Project Cuddle.  In ten years since she started work from her kitchen table, she has helped save over 500 babies.[1]  Her work was recognized on the Oprah show.

Meet Candy Lightner.  In 1980, she founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which is now the one of the most successful victim activist organizations in the United States. With three million members and more than 600 chapters, MADD provides a wide range of victim assistance, advocacy and prevention activities. MADD trains volunteers to counsel victims of drunk driving accidents, accompany them through court proceedings, and speak to the media; it trains volunteers to serve as watchdogs for victims’ rights in courts, and has played a key role in awareness campaigns and passing state and federal bills related to the prevention of drunk driving.[2]

Meet Isaac Lerer.  He saved an elderly widower named Sam from neglect and abuse at the hands of his son, grandson and daughter-in-law.  Isaac periodically called Sam to check on him and, when he lost contact with him, accompanied the police when they broke into his son’s house where Sam lived.   The house was filthy and filled with junk and Sam, who was locked in a room on the first floor without any toilet facilities, was found covered with bruises and soiled from head to foot.  His son had abandoned the family and his daughter-in-law was forcing Sam to give her his pension and Social Security checks.   Isaac called an ambulance, and had Sam admitted to a nursing home.  He became Sam’s legal guardian and saw that his income went to keeping him comfortable at the nursing home until he died.[3]

The people you met above are modern day heroes — they saw a problem and did something about it.  We all admire initiative and compassionate problem-solving, and such opportunities exist all over the world.  However, many Muslims feel they do not participate enough in solving the world’s problems.  I beg to differ.  The average Muslim contributes in ways he is probably not aware of by adhering to the Islamic paradigm of proactivity.  Being proactive means taking positive measures to avoid the occurrence of a problem in the first place.  Here’s what I mean:

The average Muslim has saved the life of an unwanted baby.  Around the world, approximately 46 million abortions are performed each year.[4]  That is an average of approximately 126,000 abortions per day! The lifetime average is about 1 abortion per woman.[5]  Of the 857,475 legal induced abortions reported to the US Center for Disease Control for the year 2000, more than 80% were performed on unmarried women.[6]  By staying sexually abstinent until marriage, the average Muslim has prevented an unwanted pregnancy that could have led to abortion. Now add to this the other risks of sexual promiscuity, such as AIDS and other STDs.  There are 33 million  people living with AIDS worldwide, including 3 million children under the age of 15.[7]   Not only have they saved the lives of unwanted babies, they have also saved themselves, their spouses and their children from AIDS.

The average Muslim has also saved a life.  By avoiding alcohol, s/he has decreased the chances of killing someone in a drunk driving accident to zero.  In the United States, someone is killed by a drunk driver every 39 minutes.[8]  In addition to that, there are 21,634 alcohol-induced deaths each year and 12,928 deaths due to alcoholic liver disease.[9]  That’s over 48,000 alcohol-related deaths a year in one country.  Now imagine the number of other drug-related deaths – due to cocaine, heroine, meth, and the list goes on.  By avoiding the intoxicants and mind-altering drugs prohibited in Islam, the average Muslim has saved two lives – his own and someone else’s.

Not only that.  The average Muslim has saved an elder from abuse and abandonment.  The US National Center for Elder Abuse estimates that more than one million elderly Americans suffer from neglect, abandonment, isolation, or other forms of physical, psychological, or financial abuse every year.[10]  Abuse may be suffered at the hands of nursing home staff as well as their own children or other relatives. By treating parents kindly in their old age as ordered in the Quran, one of the most vulnerable sectors of society is protected.  In fact, by maintaining family relations and extending a helping hand (and pocketbook) to less fortunate members of the extended family, the average Muslim may also be protecting other vulnerable groups such as orphans.  According to UNICEF, there are nearly 44 million children living in orphanages worldwide,[11] more than double the entire population of Australia.[12]  This does not include street children, who often must turn to crime and prostitution to survive.  By keeping strong and charitable family ties, the average Muslim has saved someone from abuse, abandonment and desperation.

The statistics above show the magnitude of human suffering that can result from alcohol consumption, extramarital sex and family neglect.  And these are only the tip of the iceberg.  I believe that most people’s approach to problems is reactive – addressing a problem that has occurred, or addressing the symptoms of a problem that has occurred.  Sometimes we cover up a problem or don’t admit or even realize that it is a problem at all.

To be reactive isn’t necessarily a bad thing but there is something much better, and that is proactivity.  Although it makes sense that proactivity is the more valuable approach, it often seems less impressive because a crisis didn’t occur, a hero didn’t appear, and the day wasn’t saved on live TV.  Proactivity is more difficult and needs wisdom, forethought and restraint, qualities that not everyone has all the time.  But God has done a lot of the thinking for us, presenting us with a way of life that – with its proactive paradigm – spares us from crises that can devastate individuals and whole societies.  That way of life is Islam.  So be a hero – be a Muslim.

References (All sources accessed in August 2008).

[1] The Oprah Winfrey Show. Cheers to You!

[2] US Department of Justice.  Office of Justice Programs.

[3]Reaching out to Help Victims of Elder Abuse.

[6]  Abortion Surveillance, United States, 2000.

[7] UNAIDS. Report on the Global Aids Epidemic 2008.

[8] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment – A Preview.” DOT 810 791.WashingtonDC:National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, July 2007.

[9]NationalCenter for Health Statistics.  Final data for 2005, tables 10, 23.

[10] National Citizen’s Coalition for Nursing Home Reform.  “Facts and Stats on Elder Abuse.”

[11] UNAIDS and UNICEF. Children on the Brink 2002:  A Joint Report on Orphan Estimates and Program Strategies.

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From the Oases of Sinai

The Sinai Peninsulais awesome.  During my many visits to Egypt I usually take a trip through Sinai to Hurgada, Sharm el-Shaikh, or Nuwaiba, where some of the best coral reefs in the region can be enjoyed.  It is in Sinai that you can hear singing dunes, see turquoise waters and stand in the shadow of towering desert mountains.  You can visit the tombs of prophets, climb Moses’ mountain and tour the site of the burning bush.  No less impressive are the oases of Sinai – luxuriously green places in the starkness of sand and sky all around – and the people who live there, a few families coexisting as if they were the only inhabitants on earth.

For years, when I drove through the peninsula, I marveled at the beauty and at the history of the location.  I would be deep in thought, meditating on its significance, when suddenly I would spot an oasis in the distance, and immediately feel a jolt of confusion and distress.  There was something profound in the oasis with its simple people, something I couldn’t understand, something I couldn’t even express in the form of a question or problem.  This continued for many years.  Each time I would pass by bewildered, as the issue escaped me.

Then one summer I realized the source of my anxiety.  I looked at the people there and realized that they live in utter isolation and seeming insignificance.  This presented somewhat of a problem to me, since it clashed with the ideals and principles on which I was raised.  As an American girl born during Kennedy’s presidency, I was taught, “ask not what America can do for you, ask what you can do forAmerica.”  I was taught that each person has a contribution to make, and that the purpose of life is to “make a difference.”  I grew up searching for my calling and wondering how I would make a positive change in the world.   It was a concept that permeated my thinking and had a profound influence on my outlook in life.

I’ve been a Muslim for a long time and well aware of the “purpose of Life” according to the Quran:  God said, “I have created jinn and men to worship me.”  (51:56)  And yet, I was unsettled by life in an oasis.  I soon realized that these people challenged my deep-seated beliefs that we are all here to do something useful.  What if someone wasn’t useful?  What if the resources, relations, or opportunities he had were not sufficient for him to enact positive change in the world?  What if he merely survived, living day to day, and then died.  Was his existence useless?  Was he a mistake?  Was it his fault?  What was the purpose then, of his life?  And by extension, what was the purpose of my life?

I thought long and hard about the verse, “I have created jinn and men to worship me.”  I thought about living in a modern city, and I thought about the people in the oases.  About people on islands and in forests, about nomads, prisoners, and hermits.  “I have created jinn and men to worship me.”  We were not created to enact good.  We were created to worship God.  And I wondered, what is worship?  How can people from such varied locations and manners of living realize their purpose, the purpose of their creation, which is worship?

Again, the Quran had the answer.  It tells us how to worship our Creator:

With remembrance:  “I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed. I am God [alone]!  There is no god but Me, so serve Me and keep up prayer to remember Me by.”  (20:14)

With gratitude:   “You who believe, eat any wholesome things We have provided you with, and thank God, if it is He whom you serve.”  (2:172)   “He is the One Who has furnished you with hearing, sight and intellect; yet seldom are you grateful.”  (23:78)

With glorification:  “Have you not seen how everyone in Heaven and Earth glorifies God, even to the birds lined up in flight?  Each knows its prayer and how to glorify Him.  God is Aware of whatever they do.” (24:41)

With supplication:  “God is the One Who has granted you the Earth to settle down on, and the sky as a canopy, and has shaped you.  He has made your shapes handsome and provided you with wholesome things.  Such is God, your Lord; so blessed is God, Lord of the universe.  He is the Living; there is no deity except Him, so appeal to Him sincerely, making religion exclusively His.  Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe!” (40: 64-65)

With obedience:  “Say, I have been forbidden to serve those you appeal to instead of God, since clear proofs have reached me from my Lord, and I have been ordered to commit myself to obey the Lord of the Universe.”  (40:66)

With love:  “Yet there are some people who adopt partners beside God whom they love just as they should love God.  Those who believe are firmer in their love of God.”  (2:165)

With reliance on Him:  “If God supports you, there is no one who will overcome you; while if he should forsake you, who is there to support you?  On God should believers rely.”  (3:160)

With sincerity:  “O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, that you may become righteous.  He Who made for you the earth a bed [spread out] and the sky a canopy and sent down from the sky rain, and brought forth thereby fruits as provision for you.  So do not attribute to God partners while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him].” (2:21-22)

With total dedication:  “Say, ‘My prayer and my devotions, my living and my dying, all belong to God, Lord of the Universe; no partner has he; with that I am commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims (i.e, those who submit to Him).’” (6:163)

If the purpose of life is worship, and if remembrance, gratitude, glorification, supplication, obedience, love, reliance, sincerity and total dedication are parts of worship, then the Arabs in Sinai could fulfill the purpose of their lives completely.  And so could the people on islands and in forests, as well as nomads, prisoners, and hermits.  And if someone without the resources, relations, and opportunities to enact positive changes in the world could at least worship his Creator, then he would have lived fully, and he would be acknowledged by the only Power that really matters.   I realized that mere survival with worship is meaningful, yet “changing the world” without worship has no lasting value.

And so when I pass by the oases of Sinai, I feel content that among them are people who worship God and live full, rich lives because of it.  And interestingly enough, I realized that their lives in the oases of Sinai made a difference. 

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Who Was Prophet Muhammad?

Muhammad Abdalla Abdul-Mutalib was born inMeccain 570 AD.  His father died before his birth and when he was six his mother died in his presence after a brief illness.  His grandfather took him in, but also died two years later, after which a poor uncle with several other children took over his care.  Soon Muhammad would take work as a shepherd, spending days on end in the desert.  He once said, “God sent no prophet who was not a shepherd.”  He had no formal education and was illiterate.  However, he often sat with the elders of Mecca and when there were public disputes he was a fine arbitrator whose opinion was heeded.

His society was a wealthy trading center and touristic destination.  However, drunkenness, gambling and promiscuity were rampant.  Women were degraded and exploited sexually, being regarded as property. Slavery was practiced, and the poor and helpless were denied basic rights.  Gang warfare was widespread, with rivals fighting for booty, revenge and sport.  Idol worship was common, and the religious customs and rituals had no basis in scripture.   However, Muhammad was a firm believer in God and despised the idol worship, lawlessness and decadence of his community.  Instead of spending his time partying, fighting and gambling like his peers, he tended to the needs of the sick, poor and helpless in his community. At the age of 15, he participated in an alliance among Meccan tribes to maintain peace in the city, suppress violence and injustice, and protect and care for the weak and destitute.

His first profession was as a businessman. At the age of 12 he accompanied his uncle on a caravan trip toSyria.  At 24, he made his second trip toSyriaas an agent.  Soon he had a reputation as conscientious and intelligent trader and was nicknamed “al-Sadiq” (the truthful one) and “al-Ameen” (the trustworthy one) due to his honesty and integrity.   He was hired by a wealthy widow and mother of three to handle her business.  Impressed by his ability, ethics and morals, she soon proposed marriage, and he accepted.  In their 25 years of marriage, they had six children, two of whom died in infancy.  Muhammad spent much of his earnings caring for the needy in the community.  When asked what actions are most excellent, he replied, “To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured.”

As he approached 40, he spent more and more time in seclusion, praying and pondering on how to reform the corruption, misery and evil of his time.  His prophethood began during a retreat in a cave in Hira Mountain two miles outside ofMecca, when he was visited by the archangel Gabriel and received the first revelation.  Shaken and afraid, he rushed home and related his extraordinary experience to his wife, who said, “God will never disgrace you!  You keep family ties, you help the weak, you serve the guest, you support the destitute and you help those in trouble.”  She was the first to believe in his mission and message.

There were three distinct phases of his prophethood: during the first three years he preached discreetly to trusted friends and relatives; in the following ten years he preached publicly in Mecca in the face of ridicule, persecution, assault, boycotts and assassination attempts; during the last ten years he settled in Medina where he established a community that lived according to the Quran, defended  itself, made treaties with neighboring tribes, attracted delegations from throughout the region, and peacefully united the peninsula.

Muhammad had a very simple lifestyle, caring little for worldly comforts.  He rarely ate alone, and shared what little he had with others.  He was generous and never turned down anyone’s request for help or material things.  If asked for any of his possessions, he gave it.  If he had nothing to give, he allowed the petitioner to take a loan in his name. If he was needy, he was offered loans, as his reputation for repaying them was flawless.  He was mild mannered, never raising his voice or hand in anger or taking revenge for personal grievances.  He prayed for those who persecuted him and his fellow Muslims.

He had several major roles in the community.  As a prophet, he served as a conduit of divine revelation and ensured its correct transcription.  He restored the pure monotheistic faith of Abraham, explained God’s commandments and demonstrated their practical application in personal and communal life.  As an educator, he taught people on variety of subjects such as law, hygiene, family life and social relations.  He encouraged literacy and arranged for education in his community.  When asked, “Who are the learned?” he replied, “Those who practice what they know.”

As a social activist, he fed the hungry and encouraged others to do so.  He carried the loads of the weak and gave loans to the needy.  He promoted cooperation and goodwill in the community, saying, “Do you know what is better than charity, fasting and prayer?  Keeping peace and good relations between people…”  He cared for many widows and orphans, and supported women’s rights, especially financial independence, choice and dignity. He was an abolitionist who bought many slaves in order to set them free, and encouraged others to do so. He supported laborers and counseled people to “pay the worker his wage before his sweat dries.”  He said, “The best among people are those who benefit mankind” and “One who meets with others and shares their burdens is better than one who lives a life of seclusion and contemplation.”

As a leader, he diplomatically mended relations with warring tribes and unified the Arabian Peninsula.  He was a commander in chief who defended Medina from several attacks despite great odds.  As a head of state, he dictated the Medina constitution, one of the earliest constitutions ever written. He was so renowned for his justice that even Jews brought their suits to him to judge in accordance to their law.

His greatest achievements are that he related the Quran and ensured its correct transcription as it was revealed to him.  He established a community that lived by the Quran and inspired generations of Muslims with his teachings and exemplary behavior.  He is quoted in thousands of prophetic traditions that are second in authority only to the Quran.  He is mentioned four times in the Quran by name:  “Muhammad is the messenger of God…”  (48:29)  “Muhammad is only a messenger. Other messengers have passed on before him…” (3:144)  “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the messenger of God and the last of the prophets…” (33:40)  “As for those who believe, do righteous deeds and believe in what has been sent down upon Muhammad – and it is the truth from their Lord – He will remove from them their misdeeds and amend their condition.” (47:2)  Muhammad is addressed in the Quran with:  “And We sent you as a messenger to [instruct] mankind.” (4:79)  “And truly you (stand) on an exalted standard of character. (68:4)  Finally, many verses start with “say” as instructions to him on how to address the people.  For example, chapter 112, which Muhammad said is worth one-third of the Quran, commands:

 Say (O Muhammad): ‘He is God [Who is] One, God, the Eternal Refuge. He neither begets nor is born, nor is there anything comparable to Him.’ (112:1-4)

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What Do Muslim’s Believe In?

(Excerpts from the Quran are indicted between parenthesis as chapter:verse.)

GOD:  The Muslim believes in God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, the One and Only Deity.  The Muslim’s belief in God implies rejecting and denying all notions or concepts that ascribe any partner or sharer in Gods divinity.  “Allah,” an Arabic name that means “the God,” is a proper name of God and is used by Muslims as well as Arabic-speaking Christians.  Although commonly referred to as “He,” God is genderless.  The Quran says that He is “high exalted above anything that people may devise by way of definition” (6:100) and that “He neither begets nor is born, and there is nothing like Him” (42:11).  He is transcendent yet very near to man, to be addressed directly, without any intermediary.  The Quran says, “If my servants ask you about Me, I am near.  I answer the call of the caller when he calls on Me” (2:186) and “If God supports you, there is no one who will overcome you; while if He should forsake you, who is there to support you?  On God should believers rely” (3:160).  Sound belief in God as an exclusive deity is the foundation of all other articles of faith.

ANGELS:  The Muslim believes in angels, who are spirits created by God who carry out duties assigned by Him with absolute obedience, such as recording our words and deeds, guarding us (6:61, 86:4)  and taking our souls at death (32:11).  “The angels exalt with praise their Lord and ask forgiveness for those on earth…” (42:5)  Some angels were sent to convey messages to prophets, and to the Virgin Mary, about God’s decree (3:39, 3:45).  One of the angels is Gabriel, who was sent by God with the revelation to various prophets (2:97).  Although usually invisible to us, angels can assume human form (11:69-70).  Angels are not divine in any way (3:80).

PROPHETS:  The Muslim believes in all prophets of God who were sent at different times to lead their people to the path of God. The Quran says, “We sent no messenger before you [O Muhammad] without revealing to him: There is no god but Me so worship Me.” (21:25).  The Quran says that the faithful believe “in God, His angels, His books and His messengers, [saying], ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers…’”  (2:285)  The names and stories of 25 prophets are mentioned in the Quran, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elisha, Jonah, Zachariah, John [the Baptist], Jesus and Muhammad. There were other prophets as well:  “And [We sent] messengers about whom We have related [their stories] to you before and messengers about whom We have not related to you…”(4:164).

SCRIPTURE:  The Muslim believes in all scriptures revealed by God, including the scripture of Abraham (4:54, 87:19), the Torah that was revealed to Moses (11:110, 48:29), the Psalms of David (17:55), the Gospel that was revealed to Jesus (57:27) and the Quran that was revealed to Muhammad (12:2).  The Quran is the only book of divine guidance currently available in its complete, unchanged and original form, with God as its protector (15:9).

PREDESTINATION:   The Muslim does not believe that God is distant and removed from human actions, nor is he fatalistic, believing God’s omnipotence renders it useless to act or react in life.  Rather, the Muslim acknowledges that he is endowed with free will and accepts responsibility for making choices, planning his life and taking necessary action; however, he understands that his choices and the outcome of his actions are subject to God’s acceptance and absolute authority.  The Muslim believes that everything is decreed by God who has perfect knowledge, judgment and complete authority over human destiny.  God says, “Nothing occurs, either in the earth or in yourselves, without its being in a Book before We make it happen” (57:22) and  “He directs every matter from Heaven to Earth…”  (32:5)  God also clarifies man’s responsibility by stating, “God never changes a people’s state until they change what is in themselves…” (13:11). Because God’s knowledge has no time boundaries, He knows what will happen tomorrow as naturally as He knows what happened yesterday.  Therefore, each man’s destiny is known to God even before he is born.

THE HEREAFTER:  The Muslim believes in the life of the hereafter, which begins with death and will eventually be followed by the collapse of the universe on the first blow of “the Trumpet.”   “We shall roll up the heavens as the scribe rolls up the scrolls. As We began the first creation, We will repeat it – a promise binding upon Us…” (21:104)  “Everything will be destroyed except His Face…”(28:88).   On the second blow of the Trumpet (39:68) “…you [people] will come forth in multitudes” (78:18).

Justice will be established on Judgment Day.  God asks “Is one who was a believer like one who was defiantly disobedient?  They are not equal!”  (32:18) and assures us that “not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least. And if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed We will bring it (to account)” (21:47).  “Then as for he who is given his record in his right hand, he will be judged with an easy account and return to his people in happiness.  But as for he who is given his record behind his back, he will cry out for destruction and enter a blaze to burn… indeed, he thought he would never return [to God]” (84:7-14).  Prophet Muhammad (p) said: “The son of Adam will not pass from God until he is asked about five things: how he lived his life, and how he utilized his youth, how he earned his wealth, how he spent his wealth, and what he did with his knowledge.”  According to a prophetic tradition, grievances between people will also be settled on Judgment Day.  The currency of settlement is vice and virtue: the victim will take the good deeds of the one who wronged him, but if the wrongdoer has nothing to give, the victim’s bad deeds will be transferred to him.  Finally, their good and bad deeds will be weighed on a precise scale.

The successful ones will be granted Paradise while the wrong doers will be assigned to Hell.  Some of the punishments mentioned in the Quran for the people of Hell are shackles and chains, scorching fire, scalding water to drink, bitter food to eat, the shade of black smoke, and evil companions.  They will be told, “Today We will forget you as you forgot the meeting of this Day of yours…” (45:34).  The people who reach Paradise will stay there eternally (10:26).  The Quran says, “And you will have in [Paradise] whatever your souls desire, and you will have whatever you request – accommodation from a Forgiving and Merciful [Lord]” (41:31).  Some of the things mentioned in the Quran for the people of Paradise are luxurious homes, fine clothes, jewelry, good food, loving spouses, friends, delightful scenery, and perfect weather. “And no soul knows what has been hidden for them of delights for the eye as a reward for what they used to do.” (32:17)

Conclusion: When someone believes in these six articles of faith, he is one statement away from being a Muslim.  That statement is:

 I testify that there is only one God and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

While belief in Satan is not one of the main articles of faith, the Quran gives many details about him, and repeatedly warns that he is an enemy to mankind and to beware of him.  Satan also has many helpers among spirits and humans (26:95, 114:5-6).  Out of spite, they try to drive people away from God and his guidance, hoping to eventually lead them to Hell.  Specifically, they deceive people so that they will disobey God, mislead people from true faith, and inspire them to be disobedient and ungrateful (7:16-17, 15:39-42).  They sow discord between people (17:53) and cause friction between husband and wife (2:102).  They put the fear of poverty in us so that we will be miserly, or entice us to greed and wastefulness (2:268).  They attract people to drinking and gambling to keep them from remembering God (5:91), command indecency and wrongdoing (24:21), and make such deeds appealing and attractive to them (8:48).  Satan says to people “disbelieve” and when they do, he says, “I am innocent of your deeds…” (59:16).

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So What Does God Have to do With Me?

With or without knowledge of God, the perplexing question that nags all of us (or should at least) is, “What am I supposed to do with my life?”  If we observe the average person, we will find appetites that demand satisfaction, ambitions that propel him to achieve, and psyches that seek love, belonging and respect.  In short, the average person wants to be happy both physically and emotionally, which entails a degree of material and social success.   Nobody would deny that he wants to be happy, and yet he might feel selfish to say, “The purpose of my life is to be happy.”  We can see that it isn’t such an absurd notion if we consider that many parents’ greatest wish for their children is that they would be happy.  Complete, uninterrupted happiness seems to be one of the main drives in everyone’s life.

What if God would have told us, “I have created you to be happy.”  Would life then have more meaning as we pursue whatever pleased our bodies, souls and egos? Where would that lead us?  What if what made you happy would eventually lead to your ruin?  What if what made you happy made someone else miserable?  What if everyone’s feeling of entitlement to happiness led people to hostility, crime and war?  If our sole aim in life was happiness, we would be miserable.

Although God does want us to be happy, He proclaimed in the Quran that He created mankind to worship Him (51:56).  Knowing that our ultimate happiness lies in worshipping Him, God created us for that purpose – but not for His satisfaction, as He is not in need of our worship, but for our own well-being and happiness.  Worshipping God, it seems, is the methodology to achieve happiness.

What Does Worship Have to Do with Happiness?

Worship to some may seem like a distinctly un-enjoyable activity, one that involves denial of self or a disciplined rejection of pleasurable experiences.  However, by creating us to worship Him, God didn’t mean we should spend our lives in secluded prayer.  There is overwhelming evidence in the Quran that He expects us to lead lives with rich physical and emotional experiences, satisfying activities in all spheres of life and fulfilling relationships with others.   Even though He created our environment and our abilities to be enjoyed, God makes it clear that the purpose of our creation is to worship Him.

Like a loving parent who wants the best for his child, God wants the best for us.  Like a loving parent who works hard to provide a comfortable life for his child, God created the whole earth for our use.  And like a loving parent who tells her child to “eat your vegetables” “brush your teeth” and “do your homework,” God has suggestions that will make our lives happy.  They are suggestions because God doesn’t compel anyone to follow them.  But like the loving child who obeys his parents’ rules with faith and trust, the believer takes God’s suggestions very seriously.  By obeying God’s rules, the believer acknowledges God’s wisdom and knowledge of what would lead to his ultimate happiness.

Our parents’ rules to eat our vegetables or do our homework are ingrained in us, and we see the benefits of following such advice.  Likewise, God’s rules are there for our benefit, and provide a framework for personal, material, emotional and social happiness.  Following God’s suggestions while believing in His authority is worship.  That statement is so important that it is worth repeating:  Following God’s suggestions while believing in His authority, is worship.  God’s suggestions are worded as orders.  To one who believes in His authority, a mere suggestion is an order, but to one who values his own opinion foremost, even a clear order is viewed as a mere suggestion.

God’s instruction manual for the achievement of personal and social happiness – both short-term and long-term – is the Quran.   It is there that you will find the answer to that nagging question, “What am I supposed to do with my life?”

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Why shouldn’t God have a son?

To have a son is one of the aspirations of most people.  It is often through our sons that we feel pride, stability and continuity.  Having a child is a distinctly pleasurable and meaningful experience that most people seek.  So why shouldn’t God have a son?

First of all, God isn’t human.  He is not like us. True, He created us in His image, but we, in turn, shouldn’t project our image onto Him.  The Quran says that “There is nothing like Him” (112:4).  Having a son implies having a family – a wife, perhaps other children.  Although a noble aspiration for humans, this is above the needs and desires of a god.

Secondly, why should God have a son and not a daughter?   Just as we look down on cultures who value sons over daughters, while girls are just as lovable and valuable as boys, we should object to a patriarchic god.  And if God were to have a son, wouldn’t it make sense that His first creation – Adam – would be the likely candidate?  After all, He created Adam without a human mother, which would qualify him to be truly God’s son, and His only son.  But he’s not, and nobody ever assumed so.

Third, what’s the point of having a son-god if the father retains the ultimate authority?  Being God implies being perfect – absolutely knowledgeable, absolutely capable, absolutely powerful.  There seems to be little need for a son, who could only serve as an heir, a deputy, a consultant, or some kind of subordinate.  If God did have a son, either he would be a faithful servant to his father, or he would compete for authority and power.  All of these notions negate the absoluteness and perfection of God, who has no need for another god or semi-god.

Fourth, the notion of a son being created for the purpose of redeeming God’s favored creation seems barbaric.  Any society who has required, even once, a blood sacrifice, a human sacrifice, or a virginal sacrifice to avoid God’s displeasure or punishment would seem superstitious at best to most modern people.  If we don’t accept such behavior among ourselves, how can we accept it in our God?

Fifth, and most importantly, the notion of God having a son negates His qualities of mercy and forgiveness.   God says in the Quran that Adam “forgot” when he ate from the forbidden tree, and he asked God for forgiveness, and God forgave him (2:35-37).  End of story.  One of God’s most important qualities is that he is a merciful, forgiving Lord – this quality is mentioned repeatedly in the Quran.

Sixth, which is as important as fifth, God is also just.  The story of original sin is simply about original sin, not an unforgiven sin, the burden of which passed to all mankind.  As parents, we would never punish one of our children for the misdeeds of the neighbors.  So why would we accept that from God, thereby ascribing to ourselves a far greater level of justice than to Him?  If God isn’t just, how can He be God?

Why shouldn’t God have a son?  Because it doesn’t make sense.  What does make sense is that there is one God.  That’s the only possibility that make sense to me.  Belief in that single, exclusive God is the cornerstone of Islamic faith.

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Islam’s Vision of Life

Islam’s vision of life is an answer to the common question, “What is the meaning of life?”  God says in the Quran, “And We did not create the heaven and the earth and that between them aimlessly. That is the assumption of those who disbelieve…” (38:27).  He clearly states that he created mankind to worship Him (51:56).  However, in addition to worship through prayer, for example, any lawful and moral activity done with the intention of pleasing God is also regarded as worship, such as studying, performing on-the-job tasks, nursing a child, exercising, building friendships, and so forth.  Some aspects of worship are mentioned in the Quran, and are considered man’s responsibility toward God, such as:

  •  Acknowledgement and remembrance: “I am God [alone]!  There is no god but Me, so serve Me and keep up prayer to remember Me by.”  (20:14)
  • Love: “Yet there are some people who adopt partners beside God whom they love just as they should love God.  Those who believe are firmer in their love for God.”  (2:165)
  • Obedience:  “O you who have believed!  Obey God and His messenger…” (8:20)
  • Reliance:  “If God supports you, there is no one who will overcome you; while if He should forsake you, who is there to support you?  On God should believers rely.”  (3:160)

The purpose of our creation is to worship God, and our sincerity in doing so is tested throughout our lives.  We are tested through blessings and comfort as well as trials and tribulations:

  •  “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving.”   (67:2)
  • “Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.”   (21:35)
  • “And God created the heavens and earth in truth and so that every soul may be recompensed for what it has earned, and they will not be wronged.” (45:22)
  • “Do the people think they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and that they will not be tried?” (29:1)
  • “You will surely be tested in your possessions and yourselves.” (3:186)

The challenges of life facilitate our growth in areas such as self-awareness, so we acknowledge our limitations and need for God; mental capacities, so we understand the nature of good and evil; social responsibility, since we witness how our deeds impact others; and self-actualization, or the attainment of our potential as a human being.  However, this character development is a matter of personal choice and free will that is aided by:

  • Belief:  Say, “It is the truth from your Lord. So whoever wills, may believe, and whoever wills may disbelieve.”  (18:29)
  • Correct knowledge:  Islam is not a religion of “blind faith.”  The Quran stresses  the importance for people to use their minds to reason and think logically, and strongly rejects mentalities driven by myths, ignorance, blind imitation of others, assumption, prejudice, and selfish desire.
  • Good conduct and good deeds:  “Verily, man is in loss except for those who believe and do good works…” (103)

In his struggle to do well, man should not slip into asceticism. “Seek the home of the Hereafter… yet don’t forget your share of this life.” (28:77)   “Wear your fine apparel… eat and drink, but be not excessive” (7:31) Muhammad said, “The strong believer is better than the weak one.” So in Islam, success in the Hereafter and success in the world are not antithetical; they coincide and converge, support and strengthen each other.

God promises in the Quran that “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life…” (16:97).  This “good life” is a physical, social, material, mental and spiritual state of well-being.  It is characterized by a healthy body built on wholesome food and drink, healthy relationships built on respect and kindness, a standard of living based on righteous earnings from valuable and wholesome activities, and, most importantly, a close relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of all.

Man’s responsibilities aren’t only to God and himself.  Because he is a social creature, he has responsibilities towards others, which are outlined throughout the Quran.  Some of the Lord’s commandments include:  “Do not associate anything with Him, and show kindness towards both [your] parents.  Do not kill your children because of poverty; We shall provide for you as well as for them.  Do not indulge in shameful acts, be they open or secret.  Do not kill any person whom God has forbidden, except through [due process of] law.  He has instructed you in this so that you may reason.  Do not approach an orphan’s wealth before he comes of age, except to improve it.  Give full measure and weight in all fairness.  We do not assign any person more than he can cope with.  Whenever you speak, be just even though it concerns a close relative.  Fulfill God’s covenant.  Thus has He instructed you so that you may bear it in mind.  This is My Straight Path, so follow it and do not follow [other] paths that will separate you from His path.  Thus has He instructed you so that you may do your duty.”  (6:151-153)

Man’s relationship with others is inclusive, not competitive.  Prophet Muhammad said,  “Do you know what the rights of a neighbor are?  If a neighbor seeks your help, extend it to him. If a neighbor asks you for a loan, lend him.  If your neighbor becomes poor, then help him financially and attend to his poverty if you can. If your neighbor becomes ill, then visit him. If your neighbor is happy on certain gain, then congratulate him. If your neighbor is suffering a calamity, then offer him condolences. If your neighbor dies, then attend his funeral. Do not raise your building over his building, so that he would have no sun exposure or wind passage.  Do not bother your neighbor with the smell of your cooking, unless you intend to offer him some.” (Tabrani, hadith 101).  Following Prophet Muhammad’s advice would ensure that every single person is cared for in a chain reaction.

In summary, man can be said to be God’s deputy on earth in the sense that he is responsible for applying His law for the smooth functioning of society in harmony with the smooth functioning of the universe as God created it.  Jihad, which is the struggle for self-perfection (responsibility to self) and social perfection (responsibility to others), is an important aspect of this role.  By applying God’s teachings in his life, man can be confident that he will pass the test of “life” with its duties to God, self and others, and that he will fulfill the purpose of his creation, which is the worship of his Creator and Lord. The following prayer, which comprises the opening verses of the Quran, reflect Islam’s vision of life:

“All praise is [due] to God, Lord of the worlds – the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment.  It is You we worship and You we ask for help.  Guide us to the straight path, the path of those on whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger, or of those who are astray.” (1:1-7)

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Islamic Art

Islamic art – the geometric, symmetric, and possibly infinite continuation of lines, curves and patterns – 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.  Islamic art is the ideal art form in the sense that anyone can produce a beautiful work of art provided he consistently and meticulously refers to the central point of measurement.  Upon achieving that discipline, there are limitless ways to express one’s individuality and creativity in unique works of art.

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.

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Who is God

Human’s conceptions and imagery about God is mostly conjecture.  We have no firm knowledge about God other than what He teaches us.  The Quran says that we cannot comprehend God, that He is “high exalted above anything that people may devise by way of definition” (6:100) and that “there is nothing like Him” (42:11).

 The Muslim learns about God from the Quran and prophetic traditions.  The Names of Allah, also known as The Most Beautiful Names of God are specific attributes by which Muslims regard God and which are described in the Quran and prophetic traditions. Some of the names are:

The Sovereign Lord, The Holy, The Majestic, The Almighty, The Supreme, The Most High, The Sublime One, The Noble One, The Praiseworthy, The One, The Unique, The Eternal, The Glorious, The Everlasting, The Merciful, The Compassionate, The Loving, The Source of Peace, The Courteous, The Generous One, The Appreciative, The Patient, The Responsive, The Forbearing, The Oft-Forgiving, The All-Forgiving, Accepter of Repentance, The Pardoner, The Protecting Friend, The Cherishing Lord, The All-Knowing, The Hearer, The Seer, The Well-Aware, The Watchful, The All-Embracing, The Wise, The Witness, The Guide, The Just, The Judge, The Keeper of Accounts, The Truth, The Trustee, The Protector, The Resurrector, The Reckoner, The Avenger, The Equitable.

God’s names show His absolute power and control over all things, including evil.  God is the perfection, the source, and the dispenser of all virtue and authority, as well as the source of all good.  This knowledge has a profound impact on the life of a true Muslim:  Knowing that God’s knowledge is complete, he acts within God’s stated limits and accepts God’s will.  Knowing that God’s power is absolute, he prays for himself and others, depends on God for his needs, calls on Him exclusively, and feels reassured and relieved in times of distress.  Knowing that God is both just and merciful, he tries to avoid God’s displeasure and hopes for His acceptance and mercy.  Knowing that God is loving and wise, he feels cared for and particularly blessed, he knows that God’s choices for him are best, and he feels confident and serene. If harm comes his way, the Muslim knows it is because there is a purpose behind it and it is for his ultimate good.

 How do we experience God?

Prophets may experience God by hearing His voice, such as Moses: “And when he came to it [the burning bush], he was called, ‘O Moses, indeed I am your Lord…’” (Quran, 20:11-12).  Or God may send an angel, such as to Zachariah:  “The angels called out to him while he was standing in prayer… ‘God gives you the good news of [a son] John, who will come to confirm a Word from God…’” (3:39).  Or He may send revelation or inspiration:  “And thus We have revealed to you (O Muhammad) an inspiration of Our command…” (42:51)

However, regular people can experience God through His revealed scripture, which is His word in human language.  The Quran says, “You receive the Quran directly from One who is All-Wise, All-Knowing”(27:6).  Another way to experience God is through prayer, which is conversation with God.   The Quran says, “If my servants ask you about Me, I am near.  I answer the call of the caller when he calls on Me” (2:186).  Finally, adopting His attributes in our struggle for personal and social perfection (jihad) is a way of experiencing God.  For example, when we forgive, we experience something of the infinite forgiveness that comes from “The Forgiving.”  When we defend others, we experience some of the infinite guardianship that comes from “The Protector.”  When we are honest, we experience something of the Truth that has “The Truthful” as its source.  We can experience God’s divine names (His Being) as recipients of others’ goodness and as doers of good.  But in order to experience God to our fullest capability, we have to acknowledge the source of goodness.  Virtue without God-consciousness is defective and incomplete.

The Quran says that nothing beside God is divine in any way:

  • “God bears witness that there is no god but Him, as do the angels and the people of knowledge…” (3:18)
  • “It is not befitting for God to take a son.  Exalted is He!  When he decrees a matter, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.” (19:35)
  • “Say (O Muhammad), ‘I am only a human like you…'”  (18:110)
  • “O men! A parable is presented, so listen to it!  Indeed, those you invoke besides Allah will never create [as much as] a fly, even if they all gathered together for that purpose! And if the fly should steal from them a [tiny] thing, they could not recover it from him.  Weak are the pursuer and the pursued!”  (22:73(
  • “Say: ‘O people of the Book! Let us come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than Allah.'”  (3:64)
  • “Do you not see that whatever is in the heavens prostrates to God and whatever is on the earth, and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the people?…”(22:18)

In summary, the Quran describes God as a single and absolute power, and mentions many of His attributes.  God relates to humans in various ways, but most people experience Him through prayer, reading the Quran and developing qualities whose perfection is in Him.  No other being is divine in any way, whether prophets, angels, saints, humans, animals, or anything in nature.  The Quran commands us to:

 “Say, ‘I call only upon my Lord and do not associate anyone else with Him.’” (72:20)

“Say, ‘He is Allah the One, Allah the eternal refuge.  He neither begets nor is born, nor is there any equivalent to Him.’” (112)

 These powerful statements of faith lends greatness and sublimity to man because, by applying it, he is freed from servitude and submission to anything or anyone other than the Majestic, Eternal and only God.

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