What is Islam? By Alharamain Foundation

The Arabic word “Islam” literally means “submission.” Islam, as a faith, means total and sincere submission to God. such submission to God brings peace and tranquillity.

The name Islam is universal in its meaning. Islam is not named after a tribe of people or after an individual, as Judaism is named after the Tribe of Judah, Christianity is named after Christ, and Buddhism is named after Buddha. Islam was not a name chosen by human beings; it was divinely communicated from God.

Islam is a complete way of life, implying a total submission to God. One who submits his or her will to God, voluntarily, is called a Muslim. It was not Muhammad but Adam who first brought Islam to humanity. Then, each Prophet and Messenger came to exhort the people to clear understanding of God’s Commandment and offered teachings pertinent to that time, until finally the Prophet Muhammad came with the Last Testament.

Allah is the proper name of the one true God who created the heavens and the earth. It should be mentioned that Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians call God by the name Allah.

The concept of monotheism is the single most important concept in Islam. Monotheism is similar to the first of the Ten Commandments, and everything in Islam is built upon it. Islam calls humanity to worship the one and only true God. No act of worship or devotion has any meaning or value if this concept is in any way compromised.

Due to its importance, the concept of monotheism must be properly understood. Everything that we know with regard to the divine unity of God must be cherished. For ease of discussion, monotheism can be looked at from the following three perspectives:

1) The oneness of God in His Lordship
2) The devotion of all worship to the one God alone
3) The uniqueness and oneness of God in his names and attributes this breakdown is by no means the only way to approach the subject of God’s unity, but it allows the topic to be easily analysed and discussed.

1) The Oneness of God in His Lordship
The oneness of God in His Lordship means that God Has absolute mastery over the universe. He alone is the creator of all things. He alone causes everything to happen. He is the one who provides all sustenance and who determines life and death. He is All-Powerful, absolutely perfect, free from any defect. No one shares in His dominion. None can resist His decree. He is the one who created each of us from a single cell and made us into what we are. He is the one who created billions of galaxies and every electron, neutron, and quark contained within them, keeping all that exists and all the laws of nature in perfect measure. Not a leaf falls from a tree without his permission and account.

He is far greater than our imagination. He is so powerful that for anything to be created He simply says, “be,” and it is. He created time, space, and all the known and unknown worlds, yet He is not part of any of them. Most faiths recognize that the creator of the universe is one, without partner. Islam includes the knowledge that God is not a part of his creation and none of His creation shares in His power.

To believe that any of God’s creation shares in any of His power or attributes would be considered polytheism and disbelief. Examples of such false beliefs would be to consider that fortune tellers and astrologers can predict the future; God says only He has knowledge of the future. Only the divine can bring divine help! No being has the ability to give divine help or divine guidance. Believing good luck charms and talismans have divine power is a form of polytheism. These concepts are renounced in Islam.

2) The devotion of all worship to the one God alone
only God is to be worshipped. This was proclaimed by all the prophets and messengers of Islam who were sent by God throughout the ages and is the core belief of Islam. God tells us that the purpose of the creation of mankind is to worship Him alone. The purpose of Islam is to call people away from the worship of creation and to direct them toward the worship of the creator only.

This is where Islam differs from other religions. Though most religions teach that there is a creator who created all that exists, they are rarely free of some form of polytheism (idolatry) with respect to worship. These religions either call on their adherents to worship other beings besides God as gods (though usually placing these other gods on a lower level than the God who is the creator), or they demand that their adherents call on other beings as intercessors between them and God.

All the prophets and messengers of God, from Adam to Muhammad, called people to worship God alone with neither partner nor intermediary. This is the purest, simplest, most natural faith. Islam rejects and refutes the notion held by cultural anthropologists that the early religion of human beings was polytheism, which gradually evolved into monotheism. In fact, the truth is just the opposite – human cultures descended into idolatry during the gaps between the many messengers of God. Subsequent messengers were commissioned by God to bring people back to monotheism.

The authentic, natural religion of humanity is to worship God alone. Satan, on the other hand, does his utmost to get people to turn away from monotheism, inviting man to the worship of other beings. Most of mankind seem to have a tendency to focus their devotion on something they can visualize, something imaginable, even though they have an instinctive knowledge that the creator of the universe is far greater than their imaginations. Throughout human history, God sent prophets and messengers to call the people back to the worship of the one true God, and repeatedly, people deviated to the worship of created beings (idolatry and polytheism).

God created human beings to worship him alone. The greatest possible sin is to worship any other than God, even if the worshipper intends to get nearer to God by offering devotions to another being. God does not need intercessors or intermediaries. He hears all of our prayers and has complete knowledge of everything that happens.

At the same time, God does not need our worship, but he says that it is pleasing to him. He is completely independent of all things. All creation is dependent upon Him. If every person in the world were to come together to worship only God, it would not benefit God in the least. It would not add an atom’s weight to His dominion. Conversely, if all creation abandoned the worship of God, it would not decrease His dominion in the least. By worshipping God, we benefit our own souls and fulfil the noble purpose for which we were created. God has no needs; He is the eternal, the absolute.

Worship is not just traditional religious ceremonies and practices. the concept of worship is inclusive. changing a diaper or a tire or picking up a piece of glass from the sidewalk all can be forms of worship if they are done to please god. if any sort of gain—wealth, job, power, recognition becomes more important than pleasing god, even that is a form of polytheism.

3) The uniqueness and oneness of God
In His names and attributes indicates that God does not share in the attributes of created beings, nor do they share in any of His. God is unique in every way. He cannot be limited in any way, for He is the creator of everything. God the most high says, “God! There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).” (Quran 2:255)

It is forbidden in Islam to attribute to God characteristics of His creation. The only attributes that are permitted to be ascribed to God are the ones He revealed Himself in the Quran or those used by the prophet to describe Him. many of God’s names and attributes seem to have equivalents on the human level, but this is only a reflection of human language. God’s attributes, like God Himself, are unlike anything in our experience. For instance, God Has divine knowledge. Man has knowledge. God’s knowledge, though, is nothing at all like the knowledge of human beings. God’s knowledge is unlimited, timeless, and unchanging. It is neither learned nor acquired. It encompasses all things without experiencing increase or decrease. Human knowledge, on the other hand, is acquired and limited. It is constantly changing, increasing and decreasing, and subject to forgetfulness and error.

God Has divine will. The human being also has a will. God’s will always comes to pass. Like His divine knowledge, it is timeless and unchanging, encompassing all things that God wants to come to pass in creation, past, present, and future. Human will, on the other hand, is merely an intention, a desire. It can only come to pass if God wills it to happen.

Human attributes cannot be ascribed to God. All human attributes are limited. He Has no gender, deficiency, or weakness. It is a form of polytheism to ascribe to God attributes of created things. It is likewise a form of polytheism to ascribe to created things attributes that belong to God alone. For instance, anyone who believes that any other than God is all-knowledgeable or all-powerful has committed the sin of polytheism. “Blessed be the name of thy Lord, full of Majesty, Bounty and Honour.” (Quran 55:78)

What is the Quran?
The Quran is the final, infallible, and direct Word of God brought down by the
Angel Gabriel (often referred to as the holy spirit) and firmly implanted into the heart of His final Messenger Muhammad. The Quran was learned and memorized by his companions, and passed down to us via meticulous oral (primary) and written (secondary) preservation through the centuries.

– It is taught in Islam that the holy spirit is the angel Gabriel and should not be worshipped. (Belief in the trinity clearly contradicts the core principle of the Islamic faith—monotheism.)

The books that came before the Quran, through God’s Prophets and Messengers, were also Sent by God. The Quran is unique in a number of ways. God has Perfectly Preserved the Quran and Guaranteed it from corruption until the end of time. The Quran is regarded, not just by Muslims but also by historians of religion, as the most authentic holy text among the world’s religions.

None of the other revealed books have reached us in their original form. Some of them, like the scrolls that were revealed through Abraham, have not reached us at all. Over the course of time, parts of other scriptures were rewritten and some parts removed, contaminating their message. These books were not preserved because God did not Take it upon Himself to Preserve them.

God did not Allow this to happen to the Quran since it is His final book for all of humanity until the Day of Judgment. No new Prophet or Messenger is going to be Sent. If the Quran were corruptible, God’s Message would be lost to humanity for all time. For this reason, God did not entrust human beings with preserving the Quran.

– The Quran is a single book, unlike the various current versions of the Bible. Protestant Christians count 66 books in their version and Roman Catholic Christians count 72 books. There are even more books in other versions.

Divine Preservation of the earlier scriptures was not as critical because God Continued to Send a succession of Prophets and Messengers to the people. The law as embodied in these older scriptures was not in its final complete form. By God’s order, Jesus came with modifications to the law, for instance, making lawful some things that had previously been unlawful without making any changes to the core concept of monotheism.

Another unique quality of the Quran is that it is an amazing miracle in and of itself. A miracle is a phenomenon that goes against the natural order of things and clearly demonstrates the Direct Intervention of God Almighty.

All the Prophets and Messengers brought miracles from God that clearly demonstrated the truthfulness of their claim to Prophethood. Abraham survived being thrown into a blazing fire without being harmed. Moses raised his staff and the Red Sea parted for him by God’s Mercy. Jesus, son of Mary, touched the dead and terminally ill and restored them to full health by the permission of God. All of these miracles revealed the legitimacy and validity of the Prophets and Messengers, but these miracles could only be witnessed by the people who were actually there at that time.

While the Prophethood of Muhammad was similarly attested to by various miraculous occurrences, by far the most important of all, first Revealed in the blessed month of Ramadan through the final Messenger, is the Holy Quran. The Quran is for all people and is available to us in its original, living language, Arabic, which is still utilized throughout the world by millions of people. The original texts of many other religious books have been lost over time and were originally written in languages that are no longer commonly spoken.

When Muhammad first openly proclaimed the message to the people, he met with fierce resistance. Not a single word in the Quran is the word of Muhammad. Muhammad was an illiterate man. Muhammad recited the Quran while his companions, at his direction, recorded it in writing and memorized it. The Quran is the direct Word of God.

The Quran is the only book we have today that is known to be Authored by God alone. Although there are many translations of the meaning of the Quran, which are not nearly as magnificent and beautiful as the Quran’s plain Arabic text, there are no other versions of the Quran “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him” (Quran 112:1-4)

God Challenges those who doubt the authenticity of the Quran to produce a single chapter like unto it. This has never been accomplished though there have been many throughout history who would have loved to discredit the Quran and destroy Islam. God’s Challenge remains open until the Day of Judgment. One of the Quran’s miracles is that it is the pinnacle of literary excellence. It is the most eloquent Arabic prose in existence. It has a style like no other work in the Arabic language, a style that is inimitable. It should be pointed out that the smallest chapter of the Quran is composed of just three short verses.

The Five Pillars Of Islam
There are five obligatory acts of worship that every Muslim must dutifully carry out. Failure to do so is a grave sin. The edifice of Islam rests upon these pillars. One cannot be considered a Muslim if he or she denies that any one of these acts is obligatory.

The five obligations of Muslims are:
1) To Testify that there is no deity except God, and that Muhammad is His Messenger;
2) To pray five times a day;
3) To pay the yearly Alms;
4) To fast during the month of Ramadan;
5) To make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

1) The declaration of faith
It is obligatory for every person intending to enter Islam to believe and to “Testify that there is no deity except God, and that Muhammad is His Messenger.” With this simple, important, and powerful declaration, a person is considered a Muslim. There is no initiation into the fold of Islam.

The concepts within the testimony of faith can be explained by analysing each of three parts within the testimony. The first part “No deity…” is a negation of polytheism. It is a disclaimer to the existence of any deity except God, or any entity that shares in any of the divine attributes of God. The second part “…except God” is an affirmation of monotheism: God is the only One worthy of worship.

“Muhammad is God’s Messenger” is the third part within the testimony of faith. It is an affirmation of the Prophethood of Muhammad as the final Prophet and Messenger of God.10 This requires the unconditional acceptance of the Quran and the authentic sayings and traditions of Muhammad. This law supersedes all previously revealed laws, texts, and scriptures.

By believing and saying the testimony of faith, a person rejects all false objects of worship and asserts that God is the only One to be worshipped. God is without equal or partner. God Promises that once a person affirms and sincerely “Testify that there is no deity except God, and that Muhammad is His Messenger,” all of their previous sins are forgiven and turned into good deeds. Their previous good deeds may also be Rewarded by God.

– This negation means that nothing is to be worshipped except God, nothing has divinity except God, none share the attributes of God, and none can be a creator or sustainer of creation except God who is without equal or partner.

2) Praying five times a day
It is required for every Muslim to perform five obligatory prayers a day. A Muslim turns toward Mecca. (Mecca) when performing these prayers, facing the first house ever built for the worship of One God. This house is called the Kabah, located in Mecca., in contemporary Saudi Arabia. It was erected by Abraham and his son Ishmael upon foundations set by Adam. It was originally established by Adam, and then rebuilt by Abraham and his son Ishmael. It was always dedicated to the worship of only One God.

One must remember that in Islam we do not have any sacred relics or symbols. We are simply worshipping God while facing the Kabah; we are not worshipping the Kabah. Facing the Kabah to pray unites the worshippers in their prayer to the One God. Anyone who worships the Kabah or any other creation would be considered an idol worshipper. To put it plainly, the building materials that make up this house are no more sacred than any other building materials.

These prayers take place throughout the day and night and are a constant reminder of a person’s duty and submission to God. It is a chance to turn to God in worship, to give thanks, to ask for forgiveness, and to ask for His Guidance and Mercy.

A Muslim may voluntarily perform prayer more often. Prayer, in the general sense of supplication, can be offered at practically any time or place.

3) Paying the yearly alms
It is a religious duty for every Muslim to give a portion of his or her wealth to the needy each year. These alms are called Zakat in Arabic which literally means purification. Paying these alms is a way for people to purify the ethically gained wealth that God has Bestowed upon them. In addition, it is a means to distribute wealth throughout society. Alms also purify the soul of the giver, reducing greed and strengthening compassion and generosity amongst humanity.

– One may ask, “If Islam teaches that all the Prophets and Messengers are equal then why does the testimony of faith only affirm the Prophethood of Muhammad without mentioning other Prophets?” It must be understood that anyone who affirms the Prophethood of Muhammad must affirm the Prophethood of all the Prophets and Messengers of God that came before him. If one were to testify, for example, that, “there is no deity except God, and Moses is the Messenger of God,” this does not necessitate the person’s acceptance of the Prophets and Messengers that followed Moses such as Jesus or Muhammad.

– The amount of these alms is 2 1⁄2% of unused wealth calculated annually.

4) Fasting during Ramadan
A Muslim must fast during the lunar month of Ramadan. This month is significant because the first revelations of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during this month. Since the lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar calendar, the month of Ramadan gradually passes through all seasons of the year. Fasting begins at dawn and ends at sunset, local time. During daylight hours, a fasting person must abstain from food, drink, and marital sexual intercourse (Islam forbids any premarital sexual relationships). These activities are permissible from sunset to the following dawn. Fasting teaches self- control and patience. Like prayer, it is a way of turning to God in sincere worship.

5) Making a pilgrimage to Mecca
Every Muslim is to make the pilgrimage to the House of God, in Mecca, once in a lifetime if he or she has the means to do so. Muslims from all over the world gather together for the purpose of worshipping and pleasing God alone.

The pilgrimage to Mecca compels the pilgrims to break down racial, economic, and social barriers that their societies may still be plagued with. It also induces the pilgrim to practice patience, self-restraint, and piety.

Each of these obligatory acts of worship keeps the remembrance of God alive and reminds all Muslims that from God we come and to God we will all return.

The Six Articles of Faith
There are certain things that every Muslim must believe. A person who doubts any of these things cannot be considered a Muslim. These articles of faith are:

1. Belief in God
2. Belief in His Angels
3. Belief in His Books
4. Belief in His Prophets and Messengers
5. Belief in the Day of Judgment
6. Belief in God’s Divine Decree

1) Belief in God
Islam emphasizes that God is One, The Creator of all that exists, and He is Unique in every way. Only God Has the right to be worshipped.

God is beyond the human attribute of gender. Here we have used the pronoun “He” only because there is no gender-neutral pronoun in Semitic languages, and it follows the conventions of English usage. When the royal “We” is used in the Quran to refer to God, it is for respect and in no way implies plurality.

2) Belief in His angels
The angels are creations of God. God Created them from light. They are powerful and always do precisely as they are Commanded by God. God has Revealed to us the names and the duties of some of the angels. A Muslim must believe in the existence of angels. Gabriel and Michael are among the angels mentioned in the Quran. For instance, it is Gabriel’s duty to take God’s Revelation to the Prophets and Messengers.

3) Belief in His books
Muslims believe in all of the original scriptures Revealed by God to His different Messengers. A Muslim must believe in every scripture Mentioned by God in the Quran. God Revealed them, and they are the actual Word of God. The scriptures that God Mentions in the Quran are as follows:

1. The original Scrolls as revealed to Abraham
2. The original Torah as revealed to Moses
3. The original Psalms as revealed to David
4. The original Gospel as revealed to Jesus
5. The Quran as revealed to Muhammad (which is still available in its original form).

Muslims and most Christians today do not consider the Bible that is presently in circulation in various editions and versions to be an accurate representation of the older scriptures that were revealed before the Quran.

According to the Quran, people have distorted these scriptures for their own worldly gain. What remains of them is a mixture of original divine text, man-made interpretation, and contamination (falsehood). Although Muslims believe in all the previous books, they only live and are guided by the Quran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

4) Belief in His prophets and messengers
The Prophets and Messengers were individuals who received Revelation from God and conveyed it to mankind. They were Sent to humanity to return people to monotheism and to guide them to the path of salvation. None of the Prophets and Messengers share in any part of God’s Divinity. They were merely human beings. It is forbidden for a Muslim to worship them or to use them as a conduit to God.

A Muslim should never invoke them, make supplications to them, or seek God’s Mercy and Forgiveness through them. All such acts are polytheistic, and anyone who engages in them is outside the fold of Islam as taught by every single Messenger. Throughout the ages, God Sent Prophets to nations all over the world. A Muslim must believe in all of the Prophets and Messengers Sent by God. God has Mentioned some of them in the Quran. Among those who have been mentioned by name are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

– The different gospels in today’s Bible were written after the time of Jesus by other authors. The Gospel mentioned in the Quran refers only to the revelations which came through Jesus, son of Mary.

– The Prophets mentioned in the Quran are: Elisha, Job, David, Dhul-Kifl, Aaron, Hood, Abraham, Idris, Elias, Jesus, Isaac, Ishmael, Lot, Moses, Noah, Saleh, Shuaib, Solomon, Ezra, Jacob, John, Jonah, Joseph, Zechariah, and Muhammad. Peace be upon them all.

All the Prophets and Messengers of God brought the teachings of Islam. Throughout history, all monotheistic people who submitted to the Will of God and followed the revealed teachings of the Prophets and Messengers of God, would be considered Muslims. For example, when Moses came and proclaimed his Prophethood, anyone who truly followed him in monotheism was Muslim.

Likewise, when Jesus came and declared his Prophethood with clear signs and miracles, it was obligatory for everyone to accept him unconditionally if they were to be considered Muslims. All those who rejected him became disbelievers by that rejection. The rejection of any of God’s Messengers disqualifies one as Muslim. All the Prophets and Messengers called upon humanity to worship The Creator alone without ascribing to Him any partner, and they all submitted completely to God, which is Islam.

The Prophets, from Adam to Muhammad, were all brothers in faith. They all called people to the same truth. Different Messengers came with different sets of laws that God Sent through them to guide and govern the people, but the essence of their teachings was the same. They all called people away from the worship of created things to the worship of The Creator.

Muslims are required to love and respect all of the Prophets and Messengers of God. If a person rejects or dislikes any one of them, that person is not a believer.

In Islam, Muhammad has the distinction of being God’s final Messenger and the seal of the Prophets. This is because God Completed His Revelations to mankind and Perfectly Preserved them forever in the Quran, and because His final Prophet and Messenger was able to lead an exemplary life for the twenty-three years of his Prophethood and set clear guidelines for all the generations to follow. God Says in the Quran that no Prophet or Messenger will come after him. This is the reason Muhammad is known as the seal of the Prophets. This means that the manifestation of the Divine law that is embodied in the teachings of Prophet Muhammad is for all of humanity until the Day of Resurrection (Day of Judgment).

To be a believer, it is obligatory to believe in Muhammad and the laws that have been revealed through him, as well as in all the Prophets and Messengers of God who came before. Muhammad and the Prophets and Messengers before him also had to believe in and obey Almighty God. Although Muslims believe in all the Prophets and Messengers of God, they are to follow and emulate only the lifestyle of Muhammad, the final Prophet and Messenger.

5) Belief in the Day of Judgment
All Muslims must believe, without doubt, in the Day of Judgment and the physical resurrection when the body will be recreated and the soul will be reunited with the body by God’s Unlimited and Amazing Power. Just as God Created us the first time, He is surely Able to Bring us forth from death to stand in Perfect Judgment before Him. From the Day of Judgment, death will be no longer; our existence will be forever. The Day of Judgment is when each and every individual will stand before The Creator and be Questioned about his or her deeds. On that climactic day, we will each see in detail the results of even the smallest good and the smallest evil we have set forth in this life. On this day, lying and deception will be impossible. The ultimate reward is Paradise and the penalty is Hell. Heaven and Hell are literal places of existence, not a figment of imagination.

God Describes Paradise as a fantastic place of pleasure, filled with amazing eternal gardens with rivers flowing beneath. No hot or cold, no disease or fatigue, no evil will exist. God Will Remove disease from the heart and body of mankind, and everything one wishes for will be Granted. It will be said to those who enter Paradise, “This Paradise you have inherited as a result of God’s Mercy and your good deeds.”

God Describes Hell as an eternally horrible place, beyond imagination, a fire whose fuel is men and stone. When stern angels place people in Hell, they will say, “Taste of that which you used to deny.” (Being a Muslim does not assure Paradise unless he or she dies in a state of Islam – submission.) We believe God is Most Compassionate, Most Merciful; however, He is Severe in His Punishment.

God’s Infinite Justice is Absolute and Perfect. On the Day of Judgment, all deeds will be revealed, and everyone will be justly treated. We will not enter Paradise because of our deeds alone, but by God’s Majesty and Unlimited Grace.

6) Belief in divine decree
God in His Timelessness, Knows everything that goes on in His creation and when it occurs. From the perspective of temporal beings like us, this means that God Knows everything that happened in the past through His All-Encompassing Knowledge, everything that is now taking place by His Supreme Power, and everything that will happen in the future by His Infinite Wisdom. God’s Divine Knowledge is Perfect. He Knows all, and all that He Knows will come to pass.

God Has Absolute Sovereignty over His creation. Everything that exists within His creation and every event that occurs is a direct result of His Creating it. Nothing happens in creation except by His Power, His Will, and His Knowledge.

Women and men are equal before God. They are both accountable before God. They equally receive their reward in the hereafter for their faith and good deeds. Islam sees every woman, married or unmarried, as an individual in her own right. She has the same right to own property, earn wealth, and spend it as a man has. Her wealth does not become the property of her husband after marriage. A woman has the right to choose whom she marries and, when married, does not change her last name out of respect for her lineage. A woman can seek divorce if her marriage does not work out.

Economically, each man and woman is an independent legal entity. Men and women have the right to own their individual property, engage in business, and inherit from others. Both have the equal right to receive an education and enter into gainful employment, as long as the guidelines of Islam are followed.

Seeking knowledge is the obligation of every Muslim, male or female. The type of knowledge that is most emphasized is religious knowledge. It is also required within a society to have professionals of both genders available for the benefit of the public. For example, society requires doctors, teachers, counsellors, social workers, and many other important vocations. When there is a shortage of qualified personnel, it may become obligatory for women or men to gain expertise in these fields to fulfil the needs of the Muslim community. In this situation, the guidelines of Islam must be upheld.

Women are encouraged to seek Islamic knowledge, pursue their academic endeavours within the framework of Islam, and strive to fulfil their intellectual curiosity. To prevent anyone from getting an education is contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Men are responsible for maintaining and protecting the family, and providing the basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter for their wife, children, and if needed, other female relatives in the household. Women are not primarily responsible for this, even if married.

Male chauvinism and the Muslim world
Many people perceive Islam as a chauvinistic religion that belittles women. They cite the condition of women in some “Muslim countries” to prove their point. Their mistake is that they fail to separate the culture of a given people from the true teachings of the religion that they may profess. It is appalling that today the oppression of women still exists in many cultures around the world. Women in many Third World countries live horrible lives. They are dominated by men and denied many of their basic human rights. This does not apply to Muslim countries alone, nor does it apply to all Muslim countries. Islam clearly condemns this oppression. It is a tragic injustice to blame these cultural practices on religious beliefs when the teachings of the religion do not call for such behaviour. The teachings of Islam clearly forbid the oppression of women.

– Unfortunately, an “Islamic country,” does not necessarily mean that the country’s government or the people are following Islamic Law (Sharia).

Oppressive practices against women that exist in certain parts of the world have, unfortunately and mistakenly, been associated by some people with Islam. One of these is the ancient pagan custom of female genital mutilation, sometimes mistakenly called “female circumcision,” which originated and is still practiced in the Nile River Valley and surrounding areas. It is practiced there by a number of ethnic groups of a wide variety of faiths. Many women in Africa are victims of this horrible, dismembering, barbaric custom. In Kenya, for example, one group of people who do not practice female genital mutilation are the Muslims.

Female genital mutilation is an abomination and is absolutely forbidden in Islam. It is most unfortunate that, even though Islam forbids it, certain ethnic groups have perpetuated this practice even after their conversion to Islam, leading some to think that it is a part of Islam. Today, as these people become more knowledgeable about Islam, they are abandoning this cruel pagan practice.

Male circumcision is an Islamic practice and in fact was taught by God’s Prophets and Messengers including the Prophet Abraham. Another horrible practice is that of honour killing, where a man kills a female relative in his family because he feels disgraced by her behaviour. We hear of cases where a brother has killed his sister simply because she refused to marry the person that her family arranged for her. This is outright murder in Islam. It is not permissible for a person to kill anyone out of some notion of “honour.” This conduct, though not common, is practiced by certain groups of people in the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and other places. It is by no means exclusive to “Islamic countries,” and it violates Islamic law.

Unfortunately, forced marriage is practiced in many traditional societies. It is another practice that is forbidden in Islam. Some fathers had forced their daughters into marriage at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. When the women complained to him of this, he nullified their marriages or gave them the option of ending the marriage even if it had already been consummated, establishing the clear precedent for Islamic law concerning freedom of choice about marriage and putting an end to this oppressive practice. Sadly, this still goes on in many parts of the world today, including a number of “Islamic countries.” Though the practice is illegal in almost all countries, many women in traditional societies either do not know their rights or are too afraid to demand them.

All of these practices are against Islamic law, and it is the responsibility of all Muslims to eradicate them in their societies. Yes, Islam is tolerant of cultural diversity and does not believe in eradicating the ways of life for different people, nor does it force people to give up their cultural identity when they embrace Islam. However, when the cultural practices of a people contravene the laws of Islam and deprive people of their God-Given, inalienable rights and freedom of choice, it becomes a religious obligation to abandon them.

The free will of the human being
An important aspect of Islam is that every human being has the free will to choose between right and wrong. God has honoured humanity with this great gift. It carries grave responsibility, and, on the Day of Judgment, we will be accountable for our use of this gift.

Human free will does not in any way contradict the fact that God knows every- thing that will ever occur in creation. Someone might ask: “If God Knows that I am going to commit a sin tomorrow, then it is unavoidable that I do so because God’s knowledge is Infallible and what God knows will come to pass.” God’s knowledge of this person’s decision does not mean that he or she is being forced to make that decision.

Human free will does not in any way contradict God’s absolute sovereignty over everything in creation. Nor does it contradict the fact that nothing happens in creation except what God wills. Some might say, “Therefore, I have no free will. My free will is but an illusion.” God created within each of us the ability to formulate an intention. God wants us to be able to make our own choices. When a person makes a choice, God, by His divine will, creates the actions and circumstances that allow the person’s intention to be carried out.

It is God’s will that human beings have free will. God is not always pleased with the decisions people make, but He wants them to be able to make these decisions from their own free choice. An example is a person’s will to do a good deed. The good deed may never be carried out, but God may reward the person for his or her intention to do a good deed. If the good deed comes to pass, God’s will allowed it to take place and God will reward for both intent and action. God may reward you for good deeds willed but not carried out; He does not punish for bad intent not acted upon. God allows us choice (which we often squander).

There is no compulsion in religion
It follows from this emphasis on free will that Islam can only be accepted by free choice. The purpose of human life is to worship God of one’s own free will. Therefore, matters of faith only have value if they are accepted on the basis of choice. If a person is coerced into accepting any religion, that acceptance is false and has no value. God says:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.” (Quran 2: 256)