WHAT IS ISLAM? By Shams Jilani



In response to questions represented to me by the Vancouver Cross-cultural Seniors Network Society I have written a brief introduction to Islam centered around the questions. The questions were:

What are the key beliefs of Islam ?

What stereotypes do you experience from non-Muslims?

What are the Madrassas?

What are the Muslim attitudes towards the women concerning equality and education?

What is the relationship between fundamentalism and violence?

What are the current trends in Islam

I have taken the questions up in the same sequence in which they were presented. So I will start with the first question.

Question No. 1: What are the key beliefs of Islam ?

Answer: Islam means peace. It requires total submission to Allah (God). He is sovereign, His law, His will, and His love must prevail over all the creatures. We believe in all angles, prophets from Adam (pbuh) to Muhammad (pbuh) the last messenger of this chain including Mosses (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh), all the revelations including Torah and Gospel and Quran (the final revelation from God), Day of Resurrection, accountability on that day about deeds (good or bad), Hell, Paradise and fate according to the deeds on that day, in presence before Allah ( the almighty God).

Islam has Five Pillars or fundamental requirements.

   1.. Belief in Allah alone and nothing alike to Him.

   2.. Praying to Allah five times a day is compulsory.

   3.. Zakat (alms giving) is given to the poor of the community on the basis of one's accumulated property or wealth after paying the dues and debts.

   4.. Fasting daily is prescribed for the whole month of Ramadan in which one fasts from dawn to dusk and abstains from certain activities like smoking, drinking, eating, intercourse and all wrong doings etc.

   5.. Hajj is pilgrimage to Mecca, which is required to be performed once in a lifetime if a person can afford and has met all his family responsibilities and debts.

Those who practice these five fundamental requirements of Islam are the Fundamentalists. Islam is a moderate religion and no extremism or modernism is accepted in Islam. The concepts of modern and orthodox come from Christianity and were introduced in U.S.A. during the 18th century. The basic theme of Islam is good behavior and justice for every one. Jihad (fighting) is not among the five basic Pillars of Islam. In Islam Jihad Akbar means purification of self from all bad practices.

Question No. 2: What stereotypes do you experience from non-Muslims?

Answer: Ignorance and misrepresentation, which may be created intentionally or unintentionally, is the root cause of stereotyping. I believe that the Media creates the images for public consumption and ignorant members or blind followers consume these ready made images. These days a stereotype of a Muslim is a bearded man with a gun in hand and some times shown as praying but mostly as a terrorist gunning down or bomb blasting the innocent people. Killing the innocent is not in the spirit of Islam or taught any where in Quran or instructed by the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). On the contrary it is said in Quran that " if you kill one innocent person then you have killed whole humanity and to save a life is like saving the whole humanity".

Question No. 3: What are the Madrassas?

Answer: Traditionally the Madrassa's were the noble institutions created for teaching and propagation of Islam and in this context the first Madrassa was started by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in Medina. In last couple of decades instead of teaching Islam, Madrassas were used by an other supper power to produce soldiers for Afghanistan to fight against Russia and by that superpower they were assured that they were fighting for Islam and they named it Jihad, which is against the true spirit of Jihad. Jihad is a defensive war fought for our own existence for the protection of religious sanctity and protection of Law and Order situation in consensus by the Muslim community at large. Present day Villain Osama bin Laden actually was a creation of such an activity.

Question No. 4: What are the Muslim attitudes towards the women concerning equality and education?

Answer: In Islam women and men are considered essentially equal, and lead in different responsibilities and division of work. Man is responsible for providing for the family's material needs while women have the responsibility raising the children and taking care of the house and honor. There is no restriction to women for education or earning of money in Islam. It is not expected for her to spend her earning on family if she does not voluntarily want to do that.

If she inherits money or property, she does not need to share it with the family in her lifetime that is why her share in the heritage is half but comparatively husband has all the responsibility for expenses of the family. In this way she has privilege over man. As for as the veil wearing of women is concerned it is custom of the area rather than a requirement by Islam, however women is expected to cover her head as a symbol of being an honorable woman and be respected as such.

Instruction in Quran says that her face and hands should be visible. The veil used by women in Afghanistan is customary to that area and will remain irrespective of the government there as it is part of their culture. In Islam Polygamy is allowed only in need and not for sexual pleasure. However, in Quran it is permitted if justice can be done to all wives. First of all religions, Islam gave equality and rights to women as before that she had none. Islam restricted the number of marriages, as before that there was no limit to the number of wives. Previously all chiefs and kings had unlimited number of wives. For example, David (pbuh) had 99 wives according to the Old Testament. Prophet Muhammad did not marry after the restriction was revealed in Quran. For different reasons and needs, he married eleven times.

Question No.5: What is the relationship between fundamentalism and violence?

Answer: There is no relationship in Islam to fundamentalism and violence. The fundamentalism is adherering to the basic principles of Islam, which does not teach violence. Instead Islam teaches peace and love as its fundamental requirements as mentioned earlier. Suicide is prohibited strictly in Islam.

The suicidal bombing is NOT Islamic for example even the funeral prayer for the Suicidal death is not permitted.

Tactics like hijacking, bombing or killing innocents is not Islamic in nature but may be tactics of political strife for frustrated people against suppressive powers not allowing them democratic means for resolution of their problem. Suicide or Hara karri was considered noble in Japan and was introduced in the Second World War. Highjacking was introduced by Socialist organizations active in Palestine. Afterwards these methods were practiced by Christian organizations in Ireland and in political strife in Sri Lanka.

Question No. 6: What are the current trends in Islam?

Answer: The main current trends in Islam are twofold:


   1.. Revival of Islam in their lives and countries

   2.. To have Islamic democratic system in their countries which is little bit close to the US system with the underlying principle of accountability for every one.

Democracy is not the same in every country. Like British and French democracies, Islam has its own democratic system, which can enforce Islamic Welfare State and Accountability for every one. Islam was the first system that gave the Welfare concept to world which was later adopted by western countries in 20th century to counter Socialism. Since the demise of Socialism the welfare facilities gradually started to disappear. As the Socialism is totally opposite to Capitalism, the interested sector does not want Islamic System to replace the vacuum.

The modern world has double criteria. They like Democracy for themselves, but don't allow it to the Muslim population areas and always stop their democratic process by force, and at that time they don't care even for the Resolutions passed by United Nation's Security Council or General Assembly.

Question No. 7: What is the position of Capital Punishment and Secularism in Islam?

(This question came from the floor)

Answer: In Islamic state capital punishment is a must to stop the Adultery which was originally allowed in Old Testament and Quran only endorsed it. Other such crimes like theft, robbery etc. are crimes punishable by capital punishment in an Islamic welfare state only.

In Islam Secularism has no place, because Islam is not only a religion but a system also. In this system the Sovereignty lies with Allah subhanu tala and not with the people. Islam is a complete system in itself and provides complete protection to minorities. Islam is not forced upon us or on an Islamic state, that is why I have chosen to show you what the Islam is about. Many of the practices in the name of Islam are not Islamic and usually stem from Sectarianism and are far away from what is taught in Quran and Sunnah ( traditions of the Prophet).

Send questions or comments to M. Rafiq & S. Pervaiz