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 An Introduction to Islam: 2. Fundamentals of Islam

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An Introduction to Islam: 2. Fundamentals of Islam

Khaled Nusseibeh

After a prolonged process of warfare, proselytizing and struggle Muhammad and the Muslim community achieved hegemony over most of Arabia. In fact, even Mecca surrendered to the authority of Islam and the Ka`aba was purified of idols and idol-worship. In effect, the achievements of Muhammad were monumental: he established a state that unified Arabia, he brought a revealed book to the Muslims which became the paradigm and guide for millions upon millions of Muslims until today, and he provided the impetus for the creation of a civilization that was to encompass a vast geographical expanse stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, from Africa and Europe to China and Indonesia- and likewise, an astounding variety of races and ethnic groups that assimilated into the melting pot of the universal culture of Islam, belonging to a single community – umma - and bound by a common faith.

Introduction to Islam
Table of Contents

Introduction to Islam

Fundamentals of Islam

Sources of Doctrine in Islam

Doctrine in Islam

Islamic View of Man and the Universe

Suffis and Suffism

Islam in the Modern World - Interfaith Dialogue

 

It is worthy of mention that the word ‘Muslim’ is the active participle of the verb Islam which literally denotes surrender i.e. human surrender to the One God, unique Lord of the worlds, Creator, sustainer and restorer of the world, and to His Will enshrined in the doctrines, laws and precepts of Islam. Furthermore, Islam or surrender likewise entails submission to and belief in Muhammad as the Messenger of God and seal of the Prophets. Hence, the Will of Allah is knowable through the H. Qur`an as well as the Sunna which contains the sayings (hadith) and actions of Muhammad, and which represents an expounding and elaboration of the principal revelational element, namely, the Qur`an- which literally means recitation or reading.

According to Muslim belief, Muhammad is the final of a series of Prophets and apostles spanning the totality of history, among whom are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus whose messages are identical in terms of doctrine, but may differ in points of law and legislative precepts. Thus the more recent revelation vouchsafed by God to a messenger may abrogate the legislative precepts of a previous legislation.

The fundamental article of Muslim faith is represented in the ‘shahadah’, or the Muslim confession of faith: ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ As a corollary to this testimony are a core set of beliefs or doctrines: namely, a belief in God; angels; the revealed books, namely, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel; belief in the prophets; belief in the last day, or the day of Judgment; belief in providence, or predestination.

As a consequence of the foregoing creed, a Muslim must also observe a set of duties, characterized as faraid or duties by the Muslim jurists (the fuqaha): 5 daily prayers (salat ar.) , a welfare tax called zakat, fasting from daybreak until sunset during the month of Ramadan (siyam), and pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). All of these religious observances including the profession of faith are considered the five pillars of Islam. It may be noted that the foregoing religious duties are characterized by an individual as well as a communal dimension. To illustrate this point, one may mention that prayer is more laudably carried out in group forms of worship. Again, fasting in Ramadan is undertaken by all able Muslims, and is thus both an individual and collective form of worship. This epitomizes something that is intrinsic in Islam- namely, its balancing between the individual and the collectivity within the context of a community: to use Qur`anic terms, the best nation ever raised among mankind, enjoining good and forbidding evil.

As earlier mentioned, Islam acquired its characteristic ethos in Medina as embodying both the temporal and spiritual dimensions, with its law regulating both the individual’s relation to God as well as human interrelationships in a social environment and setting, Thus, unlike Western Christendom, there does not exist in Islam a religious institution that is independent of a temporal dimension. The fact is, that the two dimensions coalesce, and the aforementioned religious duties have both an individual significance as well as a communal one. It may be mentioned that the experience of modern Turkey insofar as the separation of church and state so to speak, represents a novelty in the venture of Islam- a novelty that has also been embraced by many secular Arab and Muslim thinkers and statesmen in the preceding century and the present one. In the intellectual and social ferment of Arab and Muslim society, the relation between religious identity and authority on the one hand, and the temporal or worldly plain continues to animate vigorous debate- perhaps even antagonism- as it does in Western societies. Hence, recently we witnessed the heated debate and emotions engendered by the French government’s decision to ban the Islamically enjoined hijab (or head scarf) based on the premise that it violated the secular premises of the French Republic.

Introduction to Islam (3)Continued


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