Nearly a quarter of the global population are Muslims, the name given to those who are followers of Islam. Indeed, Islam is the second largest religion in the world and, along with Judaism and Christianity, is seen as one of the three Abrahamic religions. According to the 2011 census, there are around 2.7 million Muslims living in England and Wales today.
It is important, then, to have an understanding of Islam and the beliefs and practices of Muslims and, in the first part of this course, we will examine the fundamental tenets of the faith.
The word Islam itself has a number of meanings. First and foremost it means submission to the will of God. A person who submits themselves to the will of God is a Muslim. Secondly Islam means peace: inner-peace, peace with friends, neighbours, humanity and nature. The common Muslim greeting ‘Assalamualaykum’ (peace be upon you) reflects this understanding. The Prophet Muhammad says, ‘The true Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hands others are secured.’
Islam is a blend of beliefs (Iman), practice (Islam) and good manners (Ihsan). There are six basic beliefs in Islam which are the fundamentals of the faith. They are:
- Belief in God, that He is the Creator (al-Khaliq), the Sustainer (al-Bari’) and the Fashioner (al-Musawwir). He is unique (al-Ahad) in his Godhead and there are no gods but He.
- The Prophets play a major role in communicating God’s message to humanity. Muslims believe in Biblical Prophets like Abraham, Moses, Job, Jonah and Jesus. Believing in Muhammad as the final Prophet of God is a core Islamic doctrine.
- Muslims also believe that God communicated his message to humanity through written texts which were taught to the people by the Prophets. The Five books mentioned in the Qur’an are: Abraham’s scriptures (Suhuf), the Torah, Psalms (Zabur), the Gospels of Jesus (Injeel) and the Qur’an.
- Angels are God’s creation like humans. The Qur’an says that angels are created to carry out God’s work without questioning. Muslims believe that the angels facilitate the smooth running of the world.
- Life after death and belief in the hereafter is an integral part of the Islamic faith. Muslims believe that the fruits of the labour of this world will be reaped in the hereafter, therefore one needs to live a God-conscious life. Muslims believe that there will be a time of reckoning or Judgement Day when all people will be judged for what they have done in this world.
- The final article of faith is to believe that ultimately everything happens with the will of God.
In addition to the above articles of faith, Islam commands its followers to pray, to give charity, to fast and to travel to Mecca for pilgrimage for those who can afford it. What are these religious practices and what is their significance? We will have the opportunity to explore these in the steps that follow.
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