Who are Muslims?
Muslims come from all races, nationalities and cultures across the globe. They have varied customs, languages, foods, and dress; even the way they practice Islam may differ. Yet they all consider themselves to be Muslim.
Less than 20% of Muslims live in the Arab world; a sixth are found in Sub-Saharan Africa; and the world’s largest Muslim community is in Indonesia. Substantial parts of Asia, and almost all the Central Asian republics, are Muslim. Significant Muslim minorities are found in China, India, Russia, Europe, the United States, Canada, and South America.
Muslims believe in the One, Unique, Incomparable, Merciful God — the Sole Creator, Master, Sustainer and Cherisher of the Universe; in the Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to humankind; in the Day of Judgment, and in individual accountability for actions; in God’s complete authority over destiny, be it good or bad; and in life after death. Muslims believe that God sent His messengers and prophets to all people. God’s final message to humanity was revealed to the last prophet, Muhammad, through the Archangel Gabriel.
Muhammad, the Last Messenger
Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born in Makkah in the year 570, during the period of history Europeans call the Middle Ages. He was a direct descendant of Ishmael, the eldest son of Abraham.
Muhammad was orphaned at a young age, and was a shepherd in his youth. As he grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity; earning the title, al-Amin, the trustworthy one.
At age 25, Muhammad married Khadijah, an honorable and successful businesswoman. They were blessed with two boys and four girls. It was an ideal marriage, and they lived a happy family life.
Muhammad was of a contemplative nature and had long detested the decadence and cruelty of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the cave of Hira’ near the summit of Jabalan-Nur, the “Mountain of Light,” on the outskirts of Makkah.
At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation continued for twenty-three years and is known as the Qur’an.
Muhammad began to share the revelations he received from God with the people of Makkah. They were idol worshippers, and rejected Muhammad’s call to worship only One God. They opposed Muhammad and his followers in every way. These early Muslims suffered bitter persecution.
In 622, God gave the Muslim community the command to emigrate. This event, the hijrahor migration, in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Madinah provided Muhammad and the Muslims a safe and nurturing haven in which the Muslim community grew.
After several years, the Prophet and his followers returned to Makkah and forgave their enemies. Then, turning their attention to the Ka’bah (the sanctuary that Abraham built), they removed the idols and rededicated it to the worship of the One God.
Before the Prophet died at the age of 63, most of the people of Arabia had embraced his message. In less than a century, Islam had spread to Spain in the west, and as far, east, as China.
How did the spread of Islam affect the World?
The Muslim community continued to grow after Muhammad’s death. Within a few decades, vast numbers of people across three continents — Africa, Asia and Europe — had chosen Islam as their way of life.
One of the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the purity of its doctrine — Islam calls for faith in only One God. This, coupled with the Islamic concepts of justice and freedom, resulted in a united and peaceful community.
As millions of people embraced Islam, they brought with them the heritage of ancient civilizations like that of Egypt, Greece, India, Persia, and Rome. The synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old, brought about great advances in the various fields of study. Scholars working in the Islamic tradition developed and excelled at art, architecture, astronomy, geography, history, language, literature, mathematics, medicine, and physics.
Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic numerals, and the very concept of zero (crucial to the advancement of mathematics), were formulated by Muslim scholars and shared with medieval Europe. This sharing of knowledge was a direct cause of the Renaissance.
Muslims invented sophisticated instruments that made future European voyages of discovery possible: the astrolabe, the quadrant, and detailed navigational maps.
What is the Qur’an?
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the very word of God Almighty: a complete record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad.
The Qur’an is the principal source of every Muslim’s faith and practice. It deals with all subjects that concern us as human beings, including wisdom, doctrine, worship and law; but its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creation.
At the same time, the Qur’an provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and equitable economic principles.
“He (God) has sent down to you the Book (the Qur’an) with truth, confirming what was revealed before; And He sent down the Torah (of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) before this as a guide to humankind; and He sent down the Criterion (the Qur’an)...”
What are the “Five Pillars” of Islam?
The “five pillars” of Islam are the basis of Muslim life. Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said:
“Islam is founded on five pillars: to testify that ‘there is no deity except God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God;’ to establish the ritual prayers; to give charity (to the needy); to perform the pilgrimage to the House (of worship in Makkah); and to fast during the month of Ramadan.”
The Testimony of Faith
“There is no deity except God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
This simple declaration of faith is required of all those who accept Islam as their chosen way of life. The words have to be uttered with sincere conviction and under no coercion. The significance of this testimony is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God; and this is achieved through following the example of Prophet Muhammad.
A key element of Muslim life is the obligatory, ritual prayer. These prayers are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. This very personal relationship with the Creator allows one to fully depend, trust and love God; and to truly achieve inner peace and harmony, regardless of the trials one faces.
An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God; wealth is therefore a trust held by human beings. Obligatory charity, or zakah, means both “purification” and “growth.” Setting aside a proportion for those in need and for the society in general purifies our possessions. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is an essential part of being a Muslim. Muslims abstain from food, drink, and from intimate relations with their spouses from dawn until sundown. Ramadan is a special time for Muslims everywhere, a time for reflection and greater spirituality.
The end of Ramadan is observed by a holiday — Eid al Fitr. On this day, Muslims all over the world celebrate with prayers, visit one another and exchange gifts.
The pilgrimage to Makkah (the Hajj) is a once-in-a- lifetime obligation for those who are physically and financially able. Over three million people, from all corners of the globe, go for Hajj each year making it the largest gathering for peace. Hajj provides a unique opportunity for people from different nations to meet one another.
The rites of the Hajj include visiting the Ka’bah and standing together on the wide plains of ‘Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Makkah). Here pilgrims pray for God’s forgiveness, in what is often considered a preview of the Day of Judgment. The Hajj provides a unique opportunity for Muslims to reflect on their lives and to return to their families and homes spiritually rejuvenated.
Muslim Family and Social Life
The family is the foundation of Islamic society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members. It is quite common in the Muslim community to find large, extended families living together; providing comfort, security and support to one another.
Parents are greatly respected in the Islamic tradition. Mothers, in particular are further honored. God says in the Qur’an:
“And We have enjoined upon man to be good to his parents. With difficulty upon difficulty did his mother bear him, and wean him for two years. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents; to Me is your final goal!”
Marrying and establishing a family is very strongly encouraged.
And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves; that you may find peace with them. And He put between you love and compassion. Surely in this are signs for people who reflect.”
How are Islam and America Related?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endorsed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
These ideals are very much part of the Islamic faith. Muslims believe that all humans are created equal and are blessed by their Creator with certain rights - the right to life, the right to pursue eternal happiness and the right to liberty. Liberty, as Muslims see it, is not just defined as freedom of religion, assembly, and speech, but freedom from subservience to any creation of the Creator. It is the freedom to serve the Creator, God Almighty, alone.
While many so-called Muslim nations are not, Islam is democratic in spirit. Islam advocates the right to vote, he right to self-governance and the right to self-determination. The Qur'an enjoins Muslims to rule themselves through consultation and consensus. Muslims believe that each person is responsible for his or her own deeds; and that all stand equal before God. This independent sprit on one hand, coupled with an egalitarian worldview on the other, are both uniquely American.
The American ideals of independence, liberty, democracy, equality, and especially monotheism "- one nation under God," are all found within Islam.
Verily, this nation of yours is one nation and I am your Lord, so worship Me." (Qur'an 21:92)
Who are American Muslims?
There are over 8 million Muslims who live in the United States, representing every race, ethnicity and culture. They come from all social demographics, and contribute to American society as entrepreneurs, engineers, industrialists, physicians, scientists and teachers. Many were born in the United States; others migrated to America seeking a better life.
The first Muslims in America were West Africans who traded with Native American tribes prior to Columbus. Later, large numbers of African Muslims were forcibly brought to the US to work on plantations as slaves. Very few retained their Islamic identity.
Today, many African Americans are rediscovering their Islamic heritage. From the 1930's onward, the Nation of Islam (a different faith, not related to Islam) played a major role in bringing African Americans to mainstream Islam. Many who joined the Nation, such as Malcolm X, left it after realizing that the true teachings of Islam were universal and not restricted to a chosen race of people.
Like their fellow countrymen, American Muslims were shocked and saddened when terrorists attacked their homeland on September 11th, 2001. In today's post 9-11 America, Muslims have taken on a new role - bridging the gap between the Muslim world and America, and educating the rest of America about the true and peaceful nature of Islam.
What do Muslims think about Jesus?
Muslims love and respect Jesus. They consider him one of the greatest of God’s prophets and messengers to humankind. A Muslim never refers to him simply as “Jesus,” but always adds the phrase “may the peace and blessing of God be upon him.” The Qur’an confirms his virgin birth, and a chapter of the Qur’an is titled “Mary,” after the mother of Jesus.
Jesus was born miraculously through the same power that had brought Adam into being:
“Truly the example of Jesus in relation to God is as the example of Adam. He created him from dust and then said to him, ‘Be!’ and he was.”
During his prophetic mission, Prophet Jesus performed many miracles. In the Qur’an, Jesus is reported as saying:
“I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you out of clay, as it were, a figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by God’s leave.”
Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it. Jesus said:
“And I have come to attest the Torah that was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so be conscious of God and obey me.” (Qur’an 3:50)
“Read! In the name of your Lord Who created. Created man from clinging cells. Read! And your Lord is Most Bountiful. The One Who taught with the Pen. Taught man what he did not know.”
What is the purpose of Creation?
Muslims believe that all existence has purpose; that a Merciful and Loving Creator Who has brought everything into existence has also provided a reason for all that exists. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation. They have been made for one purpose alone ¬— to worship their Maker, their Creator — God Almighty.
“Those who remember Allah standing and sitting and lying on their sides and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Master! You have not created all this in vain! Glory be to You; protect us then from the torment of the Fire.” (Qur’an 3:192)
“Surely I am Allah, there is no god but I, so serve (worship) Me and establish the prayer to remember Me.” (Qur’an 20:14)
Worship, as understood by Muslims, is much more than ritual prayer. Serving one’s fellow human beings; doing good; abstaining from bad; being kind, loving, generous and considerate are all forms of worship. Earning an honest living, being truthful even in the face of adversity is worship. Taking care of oneself, one’s parents, siblings, the elderly, family and the community is all worship.
Muslims therefore understand that inner peace — genuine contentment — real happiness can only be attained when we connect to our Creator through all these forms of worship.
The following sections are about your own part of the world. You need to put questions like “How are Islam and (Your country or your region or the majority religion in your area) related?” or “Who are (Your country or region) Muslims?” and then answer them. See the following examples for what we did for the United States of America. Please do not translate the following – use it as a model to create your own regional, customized questions and answers.
Who is Allah?
Allah is the proper Arabic name for God. Muslims believe in and worship the same One God that Jews and Christians worship. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And do not debate with the People of the Book, unless in the best of manner, but not with those who are unjust, and say: ‘We believe in the Revelation that has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is One; and to Him do we wholly give ourselves.’”
Allah is a unique term with no plural and no gender. It predates Muhammad and was also used in the form of El, Elahor Elohimby David, Moses, Jesus and other messengers of God, peace be upon them all.
“He is God, that there is no deity except Him; the Knower of the unseen and the apparent; He is the Source of All Mercy, the Merciful.
He is God, that there is no deity except Him; the King, the Holy, the Source of All Peace, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver, the Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme; Glory to God, beyond their associations
(of partners with Him)!
He is God, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner. To Him belong the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him; and He is the Mighty, the Wise.”
Foreground (above left): Muslims believe that these were the first five verses that God revealed to Prophet Muhammad over 1,400 years ago. Muhammad received this Divine message while meditating in a cave on the “Mountain of Light” outside Makkah (above right).
1. The Islamic Center of Washington, Washington DC.
2. Mosque in Mindanao, Philippines. Young Qur’an students in Mauritania
3. The “testimony of faith” in beautiful Arabic calligraphy.
4. Muslims performing prayers in the Zócalo, Mexico City, Mexico.
5. The name “Muhammad” in geometric Arabic calligraphy.
6. The Great Mosque and the Ka’bah in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
7. 11th Century Al-Idrisi map of the world. Ottoman vase with Arabic inscriptions.
8. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.
9. The Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
10. Anatomical drawing of the human body from 17th Century Persia.
11. 10th Century Muslim Astrolabe.
12. Stained glass window depicting Muslim philosopher and scientist, Al-Razi, in the Princeton University Chapel, New Jersey.
13. Mosque in Mombasa, Kenya.
14. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
15. Beautifully decorated Qur’an.
16. Food aid being provided at a relief camp in Chechnya.
17. Girls breaking fast in Paris, France.
18. Pilgrims going around the Ka’bah in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
19. Pilgrims on the plains of ‘Arafat outside Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
20. African American Muslim couple in Orlando, Florida.
21. Hispanic American Muslim family.