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Essentials of Islam
I. Monotheistic religious tradition originating
in the 7th century CE under the prophet
Muhammad ibn Abdullah (570-632 CE).
II. The term “Islam” literally means
“submission” or “surrender.” A Muslim is a
person who submits or surrenders himself to
III. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a
religion based on sacred scripture. For Muslims
the foundation of Islam is the Qur’an, a text
allegedly dictated to the prophet Muhammad by
the angel Jibreel (Gabriel)
IV. Central to Islam is belief in God as an allpowerful, wholly transcendent being who
created the universe and controls its every
The Arabic word for “God” is “Allah,” which is a
contraction of “al” (the) and “ilah” (God). According
to Islam, God has ninety-nine names, each of which
signifies some aspect of God’s nature. God is, for
example, “the merciful” and “the just.”
V. Islam is continuous in several respects with
the religious traditions of Judaism and
A. Islam accepts some of the fundamental ideas and
stories found in Judaism and Christianity:
Ethical Monotheism
Divine Creation of the Universe
Story of Adam and Eve
God Spoke to the Patriarchs and Prophets
(e.g., Abraham, Moses, Elijah)
Coming Day of Final Judgment
Bodily Resurrection from the Dead
Afterlife in Hell for the Wicked
B. Muslims trace their ancestry back to Abraham,
specifically to his son Ishmael. The Qur’an says
much about the patriarch Abraham.
C. Islam accepts some of the teachings of Jesus, but
they regard Jesus only as a prophet of God. Islam
explicitly rejects the Christian claim that Jesus is
D. Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the infallible
and eternal Word of God, and Muhammad is the
final prophet in the history of prophets: “seal of
the prophets.”
Prophets and Messengers
Islam distinguishes between prophets and messengers.
A Prophet (nabi) conveys a message from God to a
specific people at a specific time.
A Messenger (rasul) is a prophet sent to a specific
community but his message is universally binding
sacred law (shari`ah).
Muslims regard Muhammad not merely as a prophet
but as a messenger of God.
Life of Muhammad
I. Muhammad (570-632 CE) was born in Mecca, in what is
today Saudi Arabia. Born into the Quraysh tribe, he was
raised primarily by his grandfather and uncle.
II. As an adult Muhammad worked as a caravan driver
for a wealthy widow named Khadijah. Muhammad
subsequently married Khadijah in 595 CE.
III. At age 40, while on a religious retreat in a cave at
Mount Hira (near Mecca), Muhammad is said to have
received his first revelation from God.
• A being of light came to Muhammad and held before his eyes
a cloth covered with writing. He was told to recite what was
• Muhammad was initially skeptical of the revelation, but
became convinced that the being of light was the angel Jibreel
(Gabriel) and that the message was from God.
Mount Hira
IV. Muhammad received many subsequent
revelations, which he shared with his family and
friends. They became the first Muslims.
V. When Muhammad first began to share his
revelations with the general public, the population
was skeptical of the purported revelations.
Muhammad proclaimed only one true God, Allah, as the
object of worship. This contradicted the belief system of
many of his contemporaries who were polytheists. This,
along with Muhammad’s opposition to statues and images,
threatened the Meccan pilgrimage trade.
Muhammad also denounced usury and the failure to keep
fair contracts. This contradicted many widespread business
practices at the time.
VI. 619: Mohammad and many of his followers
faced opposition by the Meccan population.
Some of Muhammad’s followers, concerned with
their safety, fled to Ethiopia.
Muhammad’s wife (Khadijah) and uncle (Abu Talib)
died within a couple of months of each other.
VII. Night of Ascent: In 620 Muhammad had a
religious experience in which he was transported to
Jerusalem and from there the angel Jibreel (Gabriel)
guided Muhammad into heaven, where he conversed
with many of the great prophets of the past.
Dome of the Rock (in Jerusalem)
VIII. 622: Muhammad arrived in the city of Yathrib
(250 miles north of Mecca) to arbitrate between two
feuding tribes. Muhammad established the first Islamic
commonwealth at Yathrib, which became known as the
“city of the Prophet” or Medina (“the city”).
Mosque in Medina
IX. 624: In response to Muslim raids on Meccan
caravans returning from Syria, the Meccans sent an
army to Medina. In the Battle of Badr, the
Muslims defeated the Meccans.
X. 625: the Meccans prevailed over the Muslims in
battle at Mount Uhud (near Medina), where
Muhammad was badly injured.
XI. 627-628: Meccans attacked Medina in the Battle
of the Trench (627). The Muslims withstood the
attack. The Meccans were consequently forced to
seek a truce (628).
XII. 630: The Quraysh breached the truce established
two years earlier. Muhammad sent an army to Mecca
to conquer Mecca. The Meccans surrendered without
opposition and accepted Islam.
XIII. 632: Muhammad’s death.
“Within 80 years the Muslims would administer the
largest empire the world had ever known, stretching
from southern France through North Africa and the
Middle East into India and Central Asia” (Hussain
and Ayoub, in Oxtoby and Segal (eds), World
Religions, p. 205).
Five Pillars of Islam
I. Creed (Shahadah): “There is no God but Allah,
and Muhammad is his messenger.” The creed is a
simple affirmation of monotheism, and it expresses
belief also in Muhammad as a messenger of God.
II. Prayer (Salat): Muslims are called on to pray five
times a day (before dawn and at midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nighttime).
A. Prayers are preceded by water cleansings.
B. Prayer is announced by a muezzin, who calls out from the
top of a tower (minaret) connected to the mosque.
C. Muslims pray toward the holy city of Mecca.
D. Public prayer is offered on Fridays.
III. Charity to the Poor (Zakat): Islam requires that
Muslims donate a certain percentage of their total
income, herds, and produce each year to the poor.
In addition, Muslims are also expected to perform
regular acts of generosity and charity for the poor.
IV. Fasting During Ramadan (Sawm): Muslims
abstain from food and drink from dawn until
dusk during the 9th month of the Muslim (lunar)
Fasting is a widespread practice within the religious
traditions of the world.
V. Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj): A Muslim is
expected to visit the holy city of Mecca at least
once during their lifetime.
The Holy Qur’an
The sacred scripture of Islam is called the Qur’an.
“Qur’an” means “the recitation.” Muslims believe
that the text of the Qur’an (in Arabic) was revealed
to Muhammad during a 22 year period by the angel
Jibreel (Gabriel), roughly between 610 and 632
II. The Qur’an is only fully authoritative in Arabic,
the original language of the Qur’an. Translations are
regarded as interpretations. The first official version
of the Qur’an was produced within 20 years of
Muhammad’s death.
III. The Qur’an is divided into 114 chapters (surahs).
The order of the surahs is not chronological. The
final surahs (also the shortest) are generally
believed to be earliest teachings of Muhammad,
whereas the longer surahs represent Muhammad’s
later teachings.
113 Surahs are preceded by the invocation “in the
name of God, the All-merciful, the
IV. The Qur’an discusses historical persons found in
the Jewish and Christian scriptures (e.g., Abraham,
Moses, Jesus), provides practical admonitions about
everyday life, describes events in the life of the
prophet Muhammad, and lays out a variety of
religious doctrines (e.g., ethical monotheism,
creation, sin, righteousness, day of final judgment, the
afterlife, relationship between Islam and other
“In the name of God,
The Compassionate,
The Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe,
The Compassionate, the Merciful,
Sovereign of the Day of Judgment!
You alone we worship,
and to You alone we turn for help.”
(Opening of the Qur’an)
V. In addition to the Qur’an, Muslims accept the
Hadiths (“recollections”), a collection of sayings of
Muhammad, as a document of secondary but great
importance to the faith.