Monday, August 23, 2010

Islam: Main Teachings and 5 Pillars

The Teachings of Islam

The teachings of Islam resemble much the teachings of Judaism and Christianity. Authoritatively originating from Mohammed’s acclaimed revelations, they stood in stark contrast to the prevailing beliefs of the people of his own time. The people of Arabia were superstitious, polytheistic, and idolaters. Their lives were steeped in blind beliefs, immorality, blood-drenched wars, and purposeless living. In the midst of such chaos, Mohammed arose as a prophet of the One God to lead his people back to their God. The word “Islam” means “to surrender or to submit oneself for obedience to God."[1] A Muslim is one “who surrenders himself to obey God.” The name Islam is received from the Koran itself:

“This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM.”[2]

Mohammed tried to return his people back to God in accordance to and by the revelation, he received; they are recorded in the Holy Koran. All who chose to receive and abide by these teachings of Islam became a Muslim. Following are the teachings of Islam on God, universe, human beings, angels, Koran, and the Law:

1. God: - The Muslims refer to God as Allah. Allah means ‘the one and only God.’[3] Three things about Allah are noticeable.

a. The Uniqueness of Allah: The uniqueness of God is fundamental to the faith of Islam. Any variance from this standing is considered infidelity. This also reflects in Islam’s rejection of the Christian doctrine of Trinity. God can’t be three; He is One. This is not non-dualism. While non-dualism holds that all existences are only one existence appearing to be plural but essentially non-dual, Islamic monotheism holds that the world is surely pluralistic, God being transcendent and beyond the universe. There is nothing in this universe to match or compare with Him. Allah is the one God, the Creator of the universe. There is not and cannot be anyone equal to Him.

b. The Attributes of Allah: To know what God is like would have been very impossible if the Koran had not revealed it. This is so because there is none like Allah in the whole world. Following are some things about Allah that we can know from the Koran:
  1. Allah is eternal. He is beyond time.
  2. Allah is omniscient. Nothing, past, present, and future is hidden from Him.
  3. Allah is omnipotent.
  4. Allah’s will is supreme. Nothing can happen without His will.
  5. Allah hears all sounds; yet, He doesn’t have an ear like men.
  6. Allah sees all things; yet, He doesn’t have an eye like men.
  7. Allah communicates with men.
c. Names that Reveal His Nature: The Koran mentions various names of Allah. Following are few of them:[4]
  1. The One, the Real, the Living, the Secure, the First, the Last.
  2. The Wise, the Knower,  the One who comprehends (everything).
  3. The Great, the Powerful, the Strong, the Mighty.
  4. The Agent, the Beginner, the Creator, the King, the Sovereign, the Governor.
  5. The Hearer, the Answerer (of prayer).
  6. The Watcher, the See-er.
  7. The Giver, the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forgiver, the Generous, the Loving.
2. The Universe: - Islam teaches that the universe is made up of both visible and invisible entities. Heaven and hell are also part of God’s universe, His creation. Angels and zins are all part of the creature world. So is Iblis the devil and his angels. Heaven is a place of cool gardens, rivers, and fruit trees. It is the place where the believers will rest forever.  Hell is the place where the wicked and the unbelievers will go to suffer forever. It has been divided into various compartments, each reserved for its kind of the condemned.

3. Human beings: - The Koran states that Allah created humans out of dust, then from a little fluid.

“Allah created you from dust, then from a little fluid, then He made you pairs (the male and female).”[5]

The life of a human is conditioned by God’s sovereign will. Nothing happens to him without Allah’s approval.

“No female beareth or bringeth forth save with His knowledge. and no one groweth old who groweth old, nor is aught lessened of his life, but it is recorded in a Book.”[6]

God appointed humans as His agents to rule on earth. And so humans are servants of Allah. The greatest honor a man can have on this earth is to be called ‘a servant of God.’ The fall of humans resulted from the disobedience of Adam who chose to listen to Satan instead of listening to Allah. Allah guides whom He wills unto a straight path.[7]

4. Angels: - Angels one of the means by which Allah communicates with and guides men. These unseen companions of men work as envoys of God. One of the most important of them is Gabriel who brought the Koran to Mohammed.

5. Koran: - The Muslims believe that the whole Koran is a copy of the Heavenly Book written before the world began. It is in the Arabic language; an exact translation of it is considered impossible. The Koran was revealed to Mohammed in portions over a time span of over twenty years. The Koran has been divided into 114 Surahs, all of which had been recorded before the Prophet’s death. In the Caliphate of Othman, all existing copies of the Holy Koran were called in and an authoritative version, based on Abu Bakr’s collection and the testimony of those who had committed the whole Koran to memory, was compiled. This version preserved in its original form till now is considered the true copy of the Heavenly Book. The Muslims treat the Koran with much veneration. They cannot tolerate any dishonor of it. They will not touch it with dirty hands and will neither hold it in hand below the loins. The Sikhs got their way of venerating the Guru Granth Sahib from the Muslims.

6. The Law: - The Law of Islam is referred to as the shari’a. This Arabic term means ‘the road to the watering-place’.[8] The Shari’a is the road of right conduct following which a person can keep himself in submission to Allah. However, every Muslim understands that conformation to this Law, especially in this age, is not totally possible. Even interpretations of it differ. Seeing the difficulties associated with it, Islamic rulers and people resorted to various means of  diluting and substituting the Shari’a with local customs and other feasible norms. Following are the two forms of law, in addition to the Shari’a, that guide the lives  of Muslims:
  1. Customary Laws: Local customs and the Shari’a are intermixed to form customary laws. The African Muslims, for example, have retained their African customs along with the Shari’a.
  2. The Civil and Criminal Laws of Government: The Shari’a was meant to regulate the lives of people of a very different time and place. Therefore, it cannot be wholly applied to a different time and situation. Muslim rulers, having sensed this difficulty, have come up with their own laws of trade and civil administration. Most Islamic countries have adopted a law code that is often based on European law. Nevertheless, the Shari’a is the law that is a reflection ideal living to every Muslim, being endorsed by the Koran itself.
The Five Pillars of Islam and Their Practice by Muslims

The five Pillars of Islam are:
  1. Declaration of the Islamic Creed: the Shahada.
  2. The Prayer-act: the Salat.
  3. Almsgiving: the Zakat.
  4. The Fast during the month of Ramadan: the Sawm.
  5. Pilgrimage to Mecca: the Hajj.
The above are mandated by the Shari’a to every Muslim. They are what makes up Islamic service, or worship, ‘ibadat.

1. Declaration of the Islamic Creed, the Shahada. The creed is a declaration in the form, “I testify that thee is no god except Allah, and that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah.” The sincere confession of this creed makes a person a Muslim. The creed affirms the central belief of Islam that God is one, Mohammed is the final and supreme prophet of God, and he has established the brotherhood of all believers.

2. The Prayer-act, the Salat: Muslims are required to perform the Salat five times a day: at dawn, before sunrise; soon after mid-day; during the afternoon; soon after sunset; before retiring to bed. In addition to the time, a Muslim must also observe the regulation regarding the posture: stand facing towards Mecca in a fixed position, prostration with forehead on the ground. This should be done only after having undergone the required ablutions. Various prayer verses are uttered during the prayer act. The prayer is not a mere personal prayer but a requirement of the law. The prayer-act must conform to the form prescribed by the law.

The prayer-act in the Mosque is done under the leadership of the leader called the imam. Friday noon is the prescribed time for congregational prayers.

3. Alms giving, the Zakat: The Zakat refers to the giving of contributions to the poor and the payment of tribute of the crops, products, income, etc. generosity and charity are encouraged by Islam. The Zakat money usually goes for the aid of the poor, the needy, and the travelers.

4.Fasting, the Sawm: The Koran’s command regarding the observance of the fast is as follows:

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil). (Fast) a certain number of days; and (for) him who is sick among, you, or on a journey, (the same) number of other days; and for those of who can afford it there is a ransom; the feeding of a man in need – But whoso doeth good of his own accord, it is better for him: and that ye fast is better for you if ye did but know – The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth nor hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful.”[9]
This fast is observed very strictly during the day, to the extent that a Muslim is not meant to even swallow his spit during the day. Feasting, however, goes on till late in the night. During the day a Muslim is required to keep away from all food and drink, from tobacco, use of perfume, sexual intercourse, and evil speaking.

5. The Pilgrimage, the Hajj: The fifth obligation or Pillar of Islam is pilgrimage to the holy places. The prescribed time for the Hajj is the month of dhu-al-Hijrah. The primary place of pilgrimage is Mecca.  Pilgrims, having gone through the required ablutions, put on a special garment, and proceed towards the sacred area in Mecca under the guidance of specially appointed mullahs (priests). They then circle the Kaaba seven times kissing it once on each round. This Black Stone (i.e. the Kaaba) is said to have descended from the paradise of God, and will, on the last day, witness in favor of all those who had kissed it. Other spots of pilgrimage include the valley of Mina and Mount Arafat. The person who returns having completed his Hajj receives the title Haji, and obtains a very honored position in Muslim society.[10]

The festival of ‘Id al-Adha, which begins on the tenth day of the Month of Pilgrimage, is an opportunity of the whole Muslim community to share a little in the pilgrimage. ‘Id al-Adha means ‘The Festival of Sacrifice.’
    In addition to the above five obligations, a Muslim is also required to fulfill one other duty known as the Jihad. In recent times, this term has often been quoted as a controversial element of Islam, often in association with the terroristic activities carried on by Islamic fundamentalists and militants. The term originally means ‘holy war’ and refers to the duty obligatory on every Muslim ‘to strive to bring the whole world under the banner of Islam, if necessary, by war against the non-Muslim world.’[11] It is the duty of spreading Islam and thus, get the whole world to surrender to Allah, which is the only way to world peace. Though not one of the five Pillars, Jihad seems to have been given the same importance as the five of them. This element of Islamic religious duty has given rise to much religious intolerance and community tension, especially in India. Perhaps Islam has been rightly referred to as a state building religion.


    [1] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions , (Delhi: ISPCK, 1998), p. 182
    [2] Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, Trs., The Meaning of The Glorious Koran, Surah V: 3, (New Delhi: Islamic Book Service, 1996), p.96
    [3] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p.207
    [4] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p.208
    [5] Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, Trs., The Meaning of The Glorious Koran, Surah XXXV: 11, p. 312
    [6] Ibid., p. 312
    [7] Ibid, Surah II. 213, p.52
    [8] David A. Brown, A Guide to Religions, p.211
    [9] Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, Trs., The Meaning of The Glorious Koran, Surah II: 183-185, p.49
    [10] K.V. Paul Pillai, India’s Search for the Unknown Christ, IV ed. (New Delhi: CLC, 1990)pp. 86,87
    [11] Ibid, p.87

    © Domenic Marbaniang, ACTS Academy of Higher Education, Bangalore, February 2003.

    1 comment:

    Jessy said...

    Glory be to God Lord Almighty! Honourable Pastor Domenic, I appreciate the great ministry that the Lord is performing through you to unveil the mysteries of the Holy Scriptures the only true Word of God, very authoritatively and in a simple manner in its purity. May God bless your sincere and tireless efforts in the Lord and sincerely pray that this light may open the eyes of UNDERSTANDING of those millions lost in the darkness of this perishing world.
    In Christ,