1 1 Islam Seminar Study Guide These notes are based on a lecture for Southam College that I delivered on Nov 7th 2018 (big thanks to Mrs. Thomas and the students!). They are based on my understanding of Islam. I hope they help. A few preliminary points. I am a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is more closely aligned to the Sunni school of thought than the Shia one. I have therefore left out the roots/branches framework as I don t know it well, though you need to be familiar with it for the exam. My recommendations to maximise your marks in the exam is the following: a) Understand the overall purpose of Islam (in the overview below) b) Know the beliefs of Islam + quotes c) Know the pillars of Islam + quotes d) Relate every question back to these. This way, even if you don t really know the exact answer to the question, you ll still be able to get a lot of marks. Good luck in the exam! Umar Nasser Leamington Spa Co-founder of Rational Religion website/youtube channel & writer for TrueIslam.co.uk
2 2 CONTENTS CONTENTS 2 OVERVIEW 3 What s the Point of Islam? 3 ARTICLES/PILLARS SUMMARY 5 What does Islam say I should believe? 5 What does Islam say I should do? 5 ARTICLES OF FAITH 6 Belief in God s Unity 6 Belief in the Angels 7 Belief in the Religious Books 7 Belief in the Prophets 7 Belief in the Day of Judgment 8 Belief in Divine Decree (Taqdir) 8 PILLARS OF ISLAM 9 1. Shahada (Declaration of Belief) 9 2. Salat (5 Daily Prayers) 9 3. Zakat (Wealth Tax) 9 4. Sawm (Fasting in Ramadan) Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) 10 BONUS: SOURCES OF ISLAMIC KNOWLEDGE 11 The Qur an 11 The Sunnah (Practise of the Prophet) 12 The Hadith 13
3 3 OVERVIEW What s the Point of Islam? According to Islam, God desired to be known, and therefore created the universe and living beings to fulfil this wish. This is like when we have good qualities and want them to be seen. I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known, so I created creation. Hadith Qudsi (Divine revelation not in the Qur an) I did not create man and jinn but that they may worship me. Qur an, 51:56 God therefore revealed Himself via revelation to certain pure-hearted individuals around the world. These were the Prophets/Messengers. Through His revelation, He explained who He was, and how someone can get to know Him. He also explained how people should treat each other. These guidelines make up religious scriptures. God did this for many Prophets around the world. Islam claims that every religion was originally true. However, people changed their religions over time. So Islam is one final message for all people for all time, and Muslims believe it can never be changed. Even though God wanted people to know Him, He wanted people to choose to know Him rather than force it upon them. He wanted to test them, so that through choosing to know God they would be worthy of merit and reward. Islam teaches that those who believe in God and His message form a relationship with Him. This gives them a heavenly life because they have peace of mind. It teaches that those who don t believe in Him and don t have a relationship with Him have a troubled and hellish life. Islam says that these states are hidden within us in this life, just like God s presence is hidden. However, when we die, our souls are freed from this world. In the next world, God is not hidden like He is here. Instead, He is manifest (obvious). Those who already had a relationship with Him in this life enjoy the presence of God and experience
4 4 heaven. Those who ignored God in this life and ignored his teachings will hate the next life, and it will be hell for them. This Hellish state is like bitter medicine. It reforms someone until ultimately they become pure again and enjoy God s presence. Thus hell comes to a close and everyone enjoys heaven.
5 5 ARTICLES/PILLARS SUMMARY What does Islam say I should believe? Islam has a set of core beliefs, which have been expressed as 6 articles of faith. These are: 1) Belief in the Unity of God. 2) Belief in the Angels. 3) Belief in the Books. 4) Belief in the Prophets. 5) Belief in the Afterlife. 6) Belief in Divine Decree. If you need help trying to remember these GOD sends his ANGELS with his BOOKS to his PROPHETS, if we follow them we go to HEAVEN/HELL, according to his DIVINE DECREE. What does Islam say I should do? God does not want us just to believe in certain things. Unless those beliefs take on positive actions, they don t really affect us. 1. The Shahada - the declaration of belief. 2. Salat - Ritual prayer. 3. Zakat - spending money on the poor. 4. Sawm - fasting in Ramadan. 5. Hajj - once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca.
6 6 ARTICLES OF FAITH There is only one quote you need to learn for the articles of faith because it includes all of them! The Prophet Muhammad said: The requirements of Faith are that you should believe in Allah and in His Angels and in His Books and in His Prophets and in the Last Day and that you should believe in Allah s decree. 1 Hadith of Sahih Muslim Belief in God s Unity Believing in the oneness of God has different meanings. The most obvious meaning is to not bow down to or pray to idols. These can be stone idols of differents gods, like in hinduism, or they or they can be idols of people like Buddha, Jesus, or Mary. In Islam, any kind of personification of God is termed idolatry ( shirk). However, shirk can be internal as well as external. Internal shirk (idolatry) means to set other things as your god, meaning something that you worship or seek to please instead of God. For instance, if you spend your entire life worrying about how good you look or how thin you feel have to be, then you re spending your entire life worshipping yourself, and missing the point of your life. If you re only ever trying to please your boss at work, and do bad things for your boss even if they go against the teachings of religion, then this is idolatry too. Even being arrogant and looking down on others is a type of idolatry in Islam, because you think that you re intrinsically superior to someone else. However, only God is truly superior to others. According to Islam, this is important because you can only develop a relationship with God if you recognise his special qualities. When you recognise Him, you can get to know Him. When you get to know Him, you can then follow Him and become a truly moral and spiritual person yourself. 1 A hadith is a saying recorded in history. Sahih Muslim is the name of one of the main books of hadith. Sahih means reliable, and Muslim comes from the man who collated it. He is known as Imam Muslim.
7 7 Belief in the Angels According to Islam, angels are like unseen spirits which act in full accordance with God s commands. They are like the servants of a King. They only do what they are commanded to, and cannot deviate from their instructions. This is different to Christianity, where Satan is a Fallen Angel, ie: an angel who disobeyed God. This is generally not the view of Muslims, as angels cannot disobey God. The purpose of angels is to enact certain attributes of God. For instance, God is the one who sends down revelation to his Prophets. So he created angels to carry that revelation. The angel Gabriel is the head of these angels. Another attribute of God is The Provider. The angels of this attribute control the development of vegetation from the Earth, and control the other natural forces in the world. According to Islam, the patterns in how these angels work are what we call the laws of nature. Belief in the Religious Books Islam teaches that the religious books of all the Prophets were based on true revelation. However, Islam also says that all the other religious books became changed over thousands of years, until they became self-contradictory and no longer representative of God s message. This is why God sent the Qur an, claim Muslims, which has never changed. It was supposed to be the final message for everyone. Belief in the Prophets According to Islam, there have been hundreds of thousands of Prophets throughout human history. They came to every town and city in the world, and guided their people to God. The people chosen as Prophets were always the people who had the best morals, and who never lied. God chose these people so that other people couldn t say that they were already known liars before they started talking about God contacting them! And for every people there is a Messenger. Qur an 10:47 According to Islam, Moses, Jesus, Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael were just some of many Prophets. However they were all Prophets for a limited time and for a specific people. But their messages would become out of date and be corrupted by their followers. So, Islam claims to be the final message, for all people and for all time.
8 8 Belief in the Day of Judgment Islam teaches that heaven and hell are real. They are not places as such after death, but rather the state of our soul in the presence of God after we die. If we knew God and loved him, then His presence will be pleasant to us. However, if we spent our entire life ignoring God and doing things He doesn t like, then his nearness after death will be painful. According to Islam, the day of Judgment is the period when souls will be awakened and ushered into a new realm of existence. It is here that the destiny of souls will become apparent. The Prophet Muhammad said that there would come a day when the gates of hell would shut, and there would be no one left within it. Based on this, and certain verses of the Quran, many Muslims believe that hell is not eternal. Instead, they say it is like a hospital by which people get better with bitter medicine. However, some Muslims think that hell is eternal. It is not an area where everyone agrees! Belief in Divine Decree (Taqdir) Divine decree relates to the laws of God which manifest in the world around us. In some ways, they manifest in the laws of nature which we study in nature. However, Islam teaches that we can never have a complete understanding of these, and that their ultimate control lies with God. There are also other spiritual laws which God uses. One such law is the idea that God s Prophets always succeed. Taqdir relates to the interplay between our own free will and these laws of God. We are free to go against these laws of God, but we will fail if we do so. However, if we follow the laws of God, both in the physical and spiritual domains, then we will succeed.
9 9 PILLARS OF ISLAM 1. Shahada (Declaration of Belief) This is the phrase There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger. This single phrase sums up Islam. It tells us not to associate partners with the true God (Allah) and that we have to follow the message of Muhammad. 2. Salat (5 Daily Prayers) Salat/Salah is the five prescribed prayers that Muslims do at different times of day. They are obligatory upon all Muslims. They are seen as a minimum standard of worship in order to have a true relationship with God. Quote? The Qur an says it is a blessing for Those who observe Prayer and pay the Zakat and who have firm faith in the Hereafter. Qur an, 31:4 3. Zakat (Wealth Tax) Zakat/Zakah is a tax on someone s wealth to give to the poor. It is not like a normal tax on your daily earnings. It only applies if you have some wealth stored away which you re not already spending in the economy. It is used to uplift the poor and help those in need. Zakah can be called charity in English, or alms, which means the same thing. Use the same quote as the one for salat! 4. Sawm (Fasting in Ramadan).
10 10 Ramadan is a month when Muslims don t have any food or water between sunrise and sunset. It goes by the lunar calendar which is a few days shorter than our solar calendar. For this reason, Ramadan seems to jump ten days earlier every year! The first purpose of Ramadan is to show your dedication to God through your sacrifice of not eating. Another purpose of Ramadan is to give moral training to Muslims. As a Muslim, you re supposed to restrict yourself from certain sins. Ramadan trains Muslims to restrict themselves from having even food or water. If you can do this, then you learn that actually you have the moral strength to refrain from moral vices. Being hungry in Ramadan also makes you feel more charitable towards the poor who don t have much food all year round. Charity therefore increases in Ramadan. Not everyone has to fast. The young, the old, the sick, and women on their periods are exempted from fasting. People who travelling are also exempt. Essentially, it should only be done by those who are physically able to do it easily. O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous. 2: Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, where Islam was born. The main mosque in Mecca (the Kaaba ) is seen as a symbol of religion throughout the ages. Muslims believe that it was a mosque originally restored by Abraham, and some even believe it goes back to the time of Adam. All Muslims who are able to should do Hajj at least once in their lifetimes. However, if you re too poor or sick then you don t have to go. Hajj is meant to create a sense of unity amongst Muslims. It also reminds Muslims of the origin of their religion, and therefore creates a sense of gratefulness in them. "And complete the Hajj and the Umrah [mini-pilgrimage] for the sake of Allah. Qur an, 2:196
11 11 BONUS: SOURCES OF ISLAMIC KNOWLEDGE This section is to help you understand the basics of Islamic knowledge. It s not really part of the overall framework, but if you re interested it might help your overall understanding. The three traditional sources of Islamic knowledge are: 1) The Qur an 2) The Sunnah the practice of the Prophet Muhammad 3) The Hadith - the oral traditions. The Qur an The Holy Qur an is a set of verbal revelations sent down to the Prophet Muhammad. It was revealed in the Arabic language. (There are lots of translations. The ones here are my favourites). The revelations were not revealed in the order we read today. Rather, they had direct applicability to what was going on in the lives of the Muslims, and were re-organised for their book form. The Prophet was generally surrounded by his devoted companions (the sahaba ). They would memorise the verses when the Prophet said them. Many would also write them down. Every Ramadan, the Prophet would recite the entire Qur an. There were dozens of companions that had memorised the Qur an. At these recitations, they would check to ensure that their memorisation was complete. When the Prophet died, his successors compiled a written version of the Qur an. They compared it to what everyone had memorised. They then standardised the checked version, and had it spread far and wide. The Qur an is not like the Bible. It is not a collection of stories from different narrators compiled together. Instead, it claims to be the direct word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, from beginning to end. This verse describes the revelation of the Qur an (20:115). You may want to remember it:
12 12 The Gracious God, He has taught the Quran, He has created mankind. Qur an, 55: 1-3. This is the opening chapter of the Qur an. It is a prayer. You don t have to learn it. In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful, All Praise belongs to Allah, Lord of All the Worlds, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgement Thee Alone do we worship and Thee alone do we ask for help, Guide us on the right path, The path of those upon who you have bestowed your blessings, not of those who have incurred your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray. The Sunnah (Practise of the Prophet) If God wanted to just send down holy books, He would have just sent down pieces of paper or inscribed it on trees. However, He knew that people need teachers. They need role models who practise what they preach. According to Islam, this is why God chose Prophets. Not only do they convey God s message, they also show you how to practise it. So when the Qur an says pray at these certain times, it was the Prophet Muhammad who actually showed the early Muslims how to pray. This was a source of knowledge complementing (matching) that which is in the Qur an. The practise of the Prophet is called the sunnah. The sunnah was taught to the Companions, who taught it to their friends and family, and so on. This chain of teaching others continues until today. When people convert to Islam, they are generally taught how to pray and do Islamic things by other Muslims. They generally don t just read it out of a book. The verse of the Qur an about the sunnah is as follows: Verily you have in the Prophet of Allah an excellent model... Qur an 33:21
13 13 The Hadith The Prophet said many things in his life, which were often memorised by his companions. They then passed these nuggets of wisdom to the next generation, who passed them to the next generation, etc Within a few decades, people realised that this could turn into Chinese whispers, and the original words could be lost. Moreover, there were some people who pretended to be Muslims and made up words of the Prophet for their own purposes. For instance, if they wanted to take someone s wealth, they could pretend that they had heard a saying of the Prophet that allowed you to take someone else s money in a certain scenario! So the early Muslims felt that they had to write all these down. The written sayings of the Prophet are called the hadith. The hadith collectors went to great lengths to make sure the hadith were reliable. They went through every person who had narrated them over the ages and checked that they were honest and reliable people with good memories. So many hadith are reliable and useful, however there are definitely some which are unreliable. This makes the hadith a more controversial source of Islamic knowledge. For most Muslims, the sign of a true hadith is whether it agrees with the Qur an. If the hadith conflicts with the Qur an, then that hadith is discarded, as it conflicts with a more reliable source. The hadith is not as fundamental a source as the Qur an and Sunnah, as they only came about later. However, they are still important.