Islam is one of the largest religions in the world, and it's growing. With over 1,000,000,000 members, Islam is actually the second largest religion falling short by approximately .6 billion members from the largest religion in the world, Christianity. The truth is, many people don't know very much about Islam. As the second largest religion in the world, Americans ought to know more about it.
Islam has many traditions, but one of the most important is that Muslims (followers of Islam) are required to fulfill the 5 Pillars of Islam in their lifetime. The 5 Pillars of Islam are so important because they are the foundation to how a Muslim lives, and include Shahadah, Salah, Zakat, Swam, and Hajj.
The Pillars are meant to guide a Muslim on how to live so that they may enter into paradise after death. The first pillar, Shahadah, is a proclamation of faith. To complete this Pillar of Islam, a Muslim must say that "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." By completing Shahadah, a Muslim verbally proclaims their belief. The second pillar, Salah, is prayer. Muslims believe that they have a direct relationship with Allah; by praying, they can communicate with and ask things of Allah. The third pillar, Zakat, is giving alms (money) to the poor. Muslims consider this to be an act of service to Allah. The fourth pillar, Sawm, is the practice of fasting during the months of Ramadan. The fast is considered a "deep act of spiritual worship." The last pillar, Hajj, is a pilgrimage to Mecca. This is considered the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith.
Now that we have the basics down, let's look at what Muslims believe.
"Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions; in God's complete authority over human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace be upon them. But God's final message to man, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing-up of all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through Gabriel."
Muslims obviously believe in one God, Allah. The theology of Allah is very simple: the word "Allah" is the very foundation of Islam. There is no God except for Allah, who is indivisible and transcendent.
According to Islam 101, God "is similar to nothing and nothing is comparable to Him. Worship and obedience belongs to Allah and Allah alone. Joining other gods with God is an unforgivable sin. Any one who joins other gods with God has strayed far, far away from the Truth."
The Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, states "He is Allah: The Creator, The Evolver, The Bestower of Forms. To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: Whatever is in the heavens and on earth doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is The Exalted in Might, The Wise" (Chapter 59 Surah Hashr verse 24).
Where there is good there must be evil. The evil figure throughout the Qur'an is known as Iblis. Islam states that Iblis is neither a fallen angel or an agent of God. The Qur'an refers to Iblis as a "Jinn". A Jinn is categorized as less than an angel, but more than a human. In the Qur'an, Allah grants Iblis pardon from his wrongdoings and allows Iblis to suggest evil to man. Iblis and his minion cannot force man to do evil, they can only try to suggest or influence man to go against God, and therefore lose their path to eternal paradise. The reason for Iblis is to give man the choice between good and evil.
Similarly to many other monotheistic religions, there is a good side and an evil side. However, there also happens to be mention of a prophet sent by God. In Islam, that man's name is Muhammad.
"Prophet Muhammad is a direct descendant of Isma'il, the first son of Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham). Prophet Muhammad was born in Makkah as a fulfillment of the prayer of Abraham."
For those of you who don't know, Abraham had a promise from God that he would have descendants so vast that they were compared to the number of starts in the sky. However Abraham and his wife were too old to have children so he prayed to God for a child, resulting in a massive family tree.
To judge a religion, we should not look at its followers. Rather we should look at who they strive to be. If we look at Muhammad, we can see how he lived, and by those observations we should judge Islam. Muhammad was born in 570. Both of his parents had died, so he lived with his uncle in the tribe of Quraysh. Muhammad received his first revelation at the age of forty from God through the angel Gabriel. These revelations went on for 23 years, and today, they are known as the Qur'an. After gathering a small group of believers, Muhammad and his disciples were forced out of Makkah. Muhammad took his disciples 270 miles north. After many years, Muhammad invaded Makkah and lived there until he died at the age of 63.
Sadly, today when we think of Muslims it can be associated with negative feelings about the Middle East. Muslim extremist groups make up less than 1% of Muslims. Remember, always keep an open mind, a guarded heart and a good attitude to people of other religions.
"And turn not your face away from men with pride." [Luqmaan 31:18] (Quote from the Qur'an)