"Islam" means "surrender" or "submission". "Salam" (which means "peace") is the root word of "Islam". In a religious context the word "Islam" means "the surrendering of one's will (without compulsion) to the true will of God in an effort to achieve peace".
"Muslim" means "anyone or anything that surrenders itself to the true will of God". By this definition, everything in nature (trees, animals, planets, etc.) are "muslims" because they are in a state of surrender to God's will. In other words, they are fulfilling the purpose for which God created them.
Islam is not a new religion or cult. It is a universal way of life and civilization. Studies show that between 1.5 and 1.8 billion people in the world identify their religion as Islam. Along with Judaism and Christianity it traces its roots through Prophet Abraham and back to the first humans Adam and Eve.
There are five pillars of practice in Islam. These practices must be undertaken with the best of effort in order to be considered a true Muslim: 1) Declaration of faith in One God and that Muhammad is a prophet of God. 2) Formal prayer five times a day. 3) Poor-due "tax" - 2.5% of one's excess wealth given to the needy once a year. 4) Fasting during the daylight hours in the month of Ramadan. 5) Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once, if physically and financially able.
There are six articles of faith in Islam. These are the basic beliefs that one must have in order to be considered a true Muslim. They are belief in: 1) the One God. 2) all of the true prophets of God. 3) the original scriptures revealed to Moses, David, Jesus and Muhammad. 4) the angels. 5) the Day of Judgment and the Hereafter. 6) destiny.
Muslims believe in the one Creator of the Universe, referring to Him as “Allah” which is the Arabic word for “God”. Muslims worldwide, even English-speaking Muslims, frequently use the Arabic word “Allah” because Arabic is the language of the Qur’an. But Allah is no different than the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The Creator is the Creator regardless of what people call Him. In the English language He is most commonly referred to as “God”. Yet Jesus spoke a different language, referring to God as “Eloi” in Mark 15:34 of the New Testament. Are “God” and “Eloi” different gods? Many Hispanics call God “Dios” and many French say “Dieu”. It would logically follow then that people who refer to God as “Allah” in the Arabic language are referring to the very same God. In fact, many Arab Jews and Arab Christians call God “Allah”. And the word “Allah” is written in Arabic script on the walls of many Arab churches and on the pages of Arabic Bibles. So while the understanding of God may differ between faith groups, the various names used to describe Him does not change the fact that the one Creator of the Universe is the God of all people.
The Islamic concept of God is that He is loving, merciful and compassionate. Islam also teaches that He is all-knowing and the perfect judge of affairs, and will punish (or forgive) accordingly. However, Allah once said to Muhammad, “My mercy prevails over my wrath”. So Islam teaches a balance between fear and hope, protecting one from both complacency and despair.
Muslims believe that God has revealed 99 of His names, or attributes, in the Qur'an. It is through these names that one can come to know the Creator. A few of these names are the All-Merciful, the All-Knower, the Protector, the Provider, the Near, the First, the Last, the Hidden and the Source of All Peace.
The Christian concept of "vicarious atonement" (the idea that Jesus died for the sins of humanity) is alien to the Islamic concept of personal responsibility. Islam teaches that on the Day of Judgment every person will be resurrected and will be accountable to God for their every word and deed. Consequently, a practicing Muslim is always striving to be righteous while hoping and praying for God's acceptance and grace.
Muslims believe in all of the true prophets that preceded Muhammad, from Adam to Jesus. Muslims believe they brought the same message of voluntarily surrendering to God's will (islam, in a generic sense) to different peoples at different times. Muslims also believe they were "muslims" (again, in a generic sense) since they followed God's true guidance and surrendered their will to Him.
Muslims accept the original unaltered Torah (as revealed to Moses) and the original unaltered Bible (as revealed to Jesus) since they were revealed by God. But none of these scriptures exist today in their original form or in their entirety. Therefore, Muslims follow the subsequent, final and preserved revelation of God, the Qur'an.
If all Qur'ans in the world today were destroyed, the original Arabic would still remain. This is because millions of Muslims, called "hafiz" (or "guardians") have memorized the text letter for letter from beginning to end, every word and every syllable. Also, chapters from the Qur'an are precisely recited from memory in each of the five formal prayers performed daily by hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world.
Sharia is the law that regulates the daily life of a Muslim and serves as a guide for living by Islamic principles. As Islam is not only a belief system but a complete way of life, the law covers all aspects of living including moral, spiritual, intellectual, physical, economical, political, etc. Sharia law is derived by scholars through interpretations of Islam's canonical texts, the Qur'an and Hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammad). As with any legal system the interpretations can range across the liberal-conservative spectrum, and opinions on the meanings and applications will often differ. Therefore sharia law is essentially an effort to comprehend God's instructions and apply them in daily life. Since the interpretations are made by humans, they are subject to error and even perversion. This occurs when unqualified, ignorant and/or corrupted individuals make the interpretation. For instance the KKK perverts Christian texts to conjure up false rulings. The same can be said for certain Muslim groups and so-called "Islamic states" regarding Islamic texts. While there is no Pope in Islam to serve as the authoritative interpreter, there are recognized institutions and scholars whom analyze, discuss, deliberate and arrive at reasonable rulings through a process known as "fiqh" (Islamic jurisprudence). This nuanced and sophisticated science operates on the premise that the Islamic texts are fluid and dynamic; that anything outside of the very basic tenets can, and should, be interpreted according to the particular time, place and culture. So if any version of sharia advocates brutality, injustice, extremism, terrorism, etc., the question must be asked: are such rulings endorsed by mainstream Islamic scholars, or are they being posited by those devoid of a true understanding of the religion, or the wisdom to apply it?
Some attribute the early and rapid spread of Islam to forced conversions by the sword. While it is accurate that the Muslim empire initially spread, for the most part, through battles and conquests (a common phenomenon for that time) the religion of Islam itself was never forced on anyone who found themselves living under Muslim rule. In fact, non-Muslims were afforded the right to worship as they pleased as long as a tax, called "jizyah", was paid. During the Dark Ages, Jews, Christians and others were given protection by the Muslims from religious persecutions happening in Europe. Islam teaches no compulsion in religion (Qur'an 2:256 and 10:99). For more, read "The Spread of Islam in the World" by Thomas Arnold.
Terrorism, unjustified violence and the killing of non-combatant civilians (or even intimidating, threatening or injuring them) are all absolutely forbidden in Islam. Islam is a way of life that is meant to bring peace to a society whether its people are Muslim or not. The extreme actions of those who claim to be Muslim may be a result of their ignorance, frustration, uncontrolled anger or political (not religious) ambitions. Anyone who condones or commits an act of terrorism in the name of Islam is simply not following Islam and is, in fact, violating its very tenets. These people are individuals with their own personal views and agendas. Fanatical Muslims are no more representative of the true teachings of Islam than fanatical Christians are of the true teachings of Christianity or fanatical Jews are of the true teachings of Judaism. The most prominent examples of such “religious” fanatics are Anders Behring Breivik, the 2011 Norwegian terrorist who claimed in his manifesto to be “100 percent Christian” and Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the 1994 Hebron massacre who is considered by some Jews to be a “hero” and a “saint”. Extremism and fanaticism are problems not exclusive to Muslims. Anyone who thinks that all Muslims are terrorists should note that terror groups like ISIS (or ISIL), Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram kill Muslims as well. Also, the former boxer Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most celebrated person of our era, is a practicing Muslim.
The word "jihad" does not mean "holy war". It actually means "to struggle" or "to strive". In a religious context it means the struggle to successfully surrender one's will to the will of God. Some Muslims may say they are going for "jihad" when fighting in a war to defend themselves or others, but they say this because they are conceding that it will be a tremendous struggle. But there are many other forms of jihad which are much more relevant to the everyday life of a Muslim such as the struggles against laziness, arrogance, stinginess, one's own ego, or the struggle against a tyrant ruler or against the temptations of Satan, etc. Regarding the so-called verses of "holy war" in the Qur'an, two points: A) The term "holy war" neither appears in the Arabic text of the Qur'an nor in any classical teachings of Islam. B) The vast majority of verses in the Qur'an pertaining to violence refer to wartime situations in which Muslims were permitted to defend themselves against violent aggression. Any rational, intellectual analysis of the context and historical circumstances surrounding such verses, often ignored by pundits or violent extremists, proves this to be true. Other verses of violence deal with stopping oppression, capital punishment and the like.
Women are not oppressed in Islam. Any Muslim man that oppresses a woman is not following Islam. Among the many teachings of Muhammad that protected the rights and dignity of women is his saying, "...the best among you are those who treat their wives well."
Islam grants women many rights in the home and in society. Among them are the right to earn money, to financial support, to own property, to an education, to an inheritance, to being treated kindly, to vote, to a bridal gift, to keep their maiden name, to worship in a mosque, to a divorce, and so on.
Muslim women wear the head-covering (hijab) in fulfillment of God's decree to dress modestly. This type of modest dress has been worn by religious women throughout time such as traditional Catholic nuns, Mother Teresa and the Virgin Mary.
Forced marriages, honor killings, female genital mutilation and the confinement of women to their homes are all forbidden in Islam. These practices stem from deeply entrenched cultural traditions and/or ignorance of the true Islamic teachings or how to apply them in society. Arranged marriages are allowed in Islam but are not required. In fact, one of the conditions for a valid Islamic marriage contract is the mutual consent of both parties to the marriage. And divorce is permissible provided the Islamic guidelines are followed which protect the rights of all affected parties, especially women and unborn children.
Islam and the Nation "of Islam" are two different religions. Islam is a religion for all races and enjoins the worship of the One Unseen God who never took human form. On the other hand "the Nation" is a movement geared towards non-whites that teaches God appeared as a man named Fard Muhammad and that Elijah Muhammad was a prophet. According to orthodox Islam these are blasphemous beliefs that contradict the basic theology defined throughout the Qur'an and other authentic texts. The followers of "the Nation" adhere to some Islamic principles that are mixed with other practices and beliefs completely alien to authentic Islamic teachings. To better understand the differences read about Malcolm X, his pilgrimage to Mecca and his subsequent comments to the media. Islam teaches equality amongst the races (Qur'an 49:13).
All Muslims are not Arab, Middle-Eastern or of African descent. Islam is a universal religion and way of life that includes followers from all races. There are Muslims in and from virtually every country in the world. Arabs only constitute about 20% of Muslims worldwide. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are not located in the Middle East. They are Indonesia (over 200 million Muslims) and Pakistan and India (over 350 million Muslims combined).
In the five daily prayers Muslims face the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is a cube-shaped stone structure that was built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael on the same foundations where Prophet Adam is believed to have built a sanctuary for the worship of the One God. Muslims do not worship the Kaaba. It serves as a focal point for Muslims around the world, unifying them in worship and symbolizing their common belief, spiritual focus and direction. Interestingly the inside of the Kaaba is empty.
The hajj is an annual pilgrimage to the Kaaba made by about 3 million Muslims from all corners of the Earth. It is performed to fulfill one of the pillars of Islam. The rituals of hajj commemorate the struggles of Abraham, his wife Hagar and their son Ishmael in surrendering their wills to God.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today. Conversions are a major factor but natural growth is the main reason. Statistically Muslim women have the highest fertility rates in the world. According to the Pew Research Center by the year 2050 Muslims will equal the number of Christians for the first time in history. Currently, the most popular name in the world is Muhammad. And perhaps most interesting is the fact that Muhammad (alternate spellings included) is the most popular name for newborn boys in England and Whales.
Over the past 1400 years Muslim intellects have made substantial contributions in the areas of physics, medicine, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, philosophy and geography. At no time was this more evident than in the Middle Ages, a period commonly referred to as the “Golden Age of Islam”. It produced such luminaries as Jabir ibn Hayyan (considered the father of early chemistry), al-Khwarizmi (one of the fathers of algebra), al-Zahrawi (a father of surgery), al-Razi (father of pediatrics), Ibn Sina (one of the greatest medical scholars in history), Jabir ibn Aflah (promoter of trigonometry in Europe), Ibn Rushd (reviver of Aristotle) and Ibn Khaldun (a father of modern sociology, historiography, demography and economics) to name only a few. Their contributions ultimately helped to usher in the European Renaissance. This influence on Western civilization is recognized in a mural painted in the 1890s on the ceiling of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Islam is included along with England, France, America, Greece, Rome and others in a depiction of the “Evolution of Civilization”.