Before we talk about the religion of Islam, we must explain what we mean by the word religion. We know that there are many religions in the world today such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and, of course, Islam. The question we want to ask then is: what is the common factor among all these religions? Before we answer this question let us take a look at some religious people, of whatever faith they may be, and compare them with the people who do not follow any religion. In such a comparison we notice some important differences between the two groups:
Now, we can make an attempt at phrasing a definition of religion:
Religion is a system of beliefs and worships which includes a code of ethics and a philosophy of life
As we mentioned earlier, there are many religions in the world today. Some of these religions are of recent origin but most of them are very old. In fact we know from history that man has always had a religion. Even the primitive men living in caves or jungles had some sort of religion. The concepts and rituals in man’s religion have continually evolved and become more rational and sophisticated as time went on. The primitive religions of the Cave Man and the Bush Man gave rise to the modern religions of the past three thousand years. Today, the major religions of the world include
These are the great religions of the world which are not only responsible for all our accumulated wealth of wisdom, philosophy, ethics, and social and moral codes, but have influenced the culture, the language and the moral attitudes of almost every person living today.
Islam is the last of the great religions and contains in itself the essential principles of all earlier religions. Islam is a strongly monotheistic religion with the worship of One God as its central theme. Islam was founded by the Prophet Muhammad some 1400 years ago, and establishes the continuity of God’s revelation which had descended upon earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. Islam, in fact, requires its followers to believe in all earlier prophets and Scriptures. According to Islam all the great religions that preceded it were revealed by God to His chosen messengers.
A Jew today believes only in the prophets of Israel; a Christian believes in Jesus Christ and, to a lesser degree, in the prophets of Israel; a Buddhist believes only in Buddha and a Zoroastrian in Zoroaster; a Hindu in the sages who appeared in India and a Confucian in Confucius. But a Muslim believes in all these prophets and also in the prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him.
The word Islam in the Arabic language is derived from the root SLM and means “peace” and “obedience”. The religion is called Islam because it offers peace and requires complete submission to the will of God. According to the Quran, there is only one religion acceptable to God and that is complete submission to His Will. In the broader sense of the word Islam was also the religion of the earlier prophets like Abraham, Moses and Jesus, because they also submitted themselves to the will and obedience of God. This element of universality is unique to Islam and goes beyond the traditional barriers set up between religions. Islam not only endorses the bonafide status of all earlier prophets and revealed books, but also of any future prophets that may come. Thus Islam is not a religion of an ethnic group or a nation, but the religion of mankind.
Islam is not a new religion in the sense that most of its teachings are those that were also given to earlier peoples like the Jews and the Christians. Islam, however, does bring together in one place the best of all earlier teachings and presents them in a perspective completely unknown before. Islam offers far greater insight into the various attributes of God, the purpose of sending messengers, the nature of the Day of Judgment, and man’s relationship with his Lord.
Finally, the religion of Islam is not a mere collection of rites and rituals but a complete system of strong moral convictions, true sincerity brought to the worship of God and the service of humanity, giving up of worldly desires in favour of spiritual achievements, a moral courage in undertaking what one believes to be right and in abstaining from what one believes to be wrong, and a genuine fear of God.
The study of Islam has been dealt with under four broad headings in this Section:
A summary of what is included under each heading is given below:
B. ACTS OF WORSHIP
C. CODES FOR SOCIAL AND MORAL BEHAVIOUR
D. PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE