Tenets of Islam
Islam means surrender or submission to the will of God; one who
submits is a MuslimThe basic creed or profession of faith, the
shahadah, succinctly states: "There is no god but Allah
(God), and Mohammad is His Prophet/Messenger." Mohammad is the
"seal of the prophets"; his revelation is believed to complete
for all time the series of revelations received by Jews and Christians.
After the Prophet's death, his followers compiled those of his
words regarded as coming directly and literally from God. This
became the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. The precedent of
the Prophet's personal deeds and behavior were set forth in the
Sunna as a supplement extending the Quran. Other sayings
and teachings recalled by those who had known him during his lifetime
are known as Hadith. Together, the Quran, the Sunnah
and the Hadith form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical,
and social conduct of life. Islamic jurisprudence, the Shariah,
which is based on these sources, is a system of ethics regulating
Thus Islam is a legalistic religion with sets of God-given laws
that are applied to all aspects of everyday life. Historically,
Islam recognizes no distinction between religious and temporal
spheres of life for all human behavior is expected to comply with
God's will. It draws no distinction between the religious and
the secular nor differentiates between religious and secular law.
Therefore there is no concept of the separation of church and
The Shariah, along with commentaries (tafsir)
on the Quran and Hadith, developed primarily through the accretion
of precedent and interpretations by various learned judges and
scholars (ulama) attempting to divine the will of Allah
through juristic analogical reasoning (qiyas) and consensus
(ijma). By the tenth and eleventh centuries, these legal
opinions had hardened into rigid authoritative doctrine, and the
right to exercise independent reasoned interpretation (ijtihad)
was effectively denied. This severely limited flexibility in Sunni
Islamic law. In contrast, Shia Islam tended not to curb the use
of ijtihad to such an extent.
Sunni communities have no clerical hierarchy: each individual
stands in a personal relationship to God needing no intermediary.
Any adult versed in the form of prayer is entitled to lead prayers.
Men who lead prayers, preach sermons, and interpret the law do
so by virtue of their superior knowledge and scholarship rather
than because of any special powers or prerogatives conferred by
ordination. Among the Shia, on the other hand, a highly structured
hierarchy of divinely inspired religio-political leaders exists.
The Imam who must be directly descended from the Prophet Mohammad
and Ali is invested as the final authoritative interpreter of
God's will as formulated by Islamic law.
Every individual is responsible for carrying out the duties and
rituals commonly referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam. These
include the recitation of the creed (shahadah), daily
prayer (salat, namaz in Afghanistan), almsgiving
(zakat), fasting (sawm, ruzah in Afghanistan),
and pilgrimage (hajj).
The muezzin intones the call to prayer to the entire
community five times a day, at day-break, midday, mid-afternoon,
sunset and nightfall. Ritual ablutions of purification proceed
prayers. Prescribed body movements, including genuflections and
prostrations, accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites
while facing toward Mecca, the holy center of Islam where the
Kaaba has remained sacred since the polytheistic idols were destroyed
following the conquest of Mecca in AD 630. Prayers may be performed
wherever a person may be at the required time, but congregational
prayers in the central mosque on Friday are usual. Friday noon
prayers provide the occasion for weekly sermons by religious leaders.
In numbers of Muslim societies, women may also worship at mosques
where they are provided segregated areas, although most prefer
to pray at home.
Daily prayers consist of specified prayers, including the opening
verse and other passages from the Quran. At the end, the shahadah
is recited. Prayers seeking aid or guidance in personal difficulties
must be offered separately.
Zakat or almsgiving fulfills the individual's obligation
towards his shared responsibility for the welfare of the community.
Alms may be given individually; in some cases zakat is collected
for distribution by governments.
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan (in Arabic)
a period of obligatory fasting that commemorates the Prophet Mohammad's
receipt of God's revelation, the Quran. Fasting is an act of self-discipline
that leads to piety and expresses submission and commitment to
God. By underscoring the equality of all Muslims, fasting strengthens
a sense of community. During Ramadan, all but the sick, weak,
pregnant or nursing women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary
journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking,
sexual activity, or smoking from sunrise to sunset. Official work
hours often are shortened during this period.
Because the lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar
calendar, Ramadan revolves through the seasons over the years.
When Ramadan falls in the summertime, a fast imposes considerable
hardship on those who must do physical work. Id al Fitr, a three-day
feast and holiday, ends the month of Ramadan and is the occasion
for new clothes and much visiting between family members.
Ramadan is followed by the beginning of the hajj pilgrimage
season during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. At least
once in their lifetime both men and women should, if economically
able, make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca where special rites
are focused on the Kaaba and nearby sites associated with the
Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail. Pilgrims, dressed
in two white, seamless pieces of cloth (ihram), perform
various traditional rites expressing unity and harmony with the
worldwide Muslim community (ummah) by affirming obedience
to God and their intent to lead a righteous life following the
path directed by God. Returning pilgrims are entitled to use the
honorific "hajji" and enjoy a respected status in their communities.
Id al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, marks the end of the hajj
month. The sacrificial meat is often shared with neighbors and
The permanent struggle for the triumph of God's word on earth,
jihad, represents an additional duty. This concept is
often taken to mean holy war, but in its basic sense it encompasses
the efforts made by individuals to live a virtuous life overcoming
all forms of evil so as to follow Islam.
Aside from specific duties, Islam imposes a code of ethical conduct
encouraging generosity, fairness, honesty, tolerance, respect
and service for the benefit of the common welfare of the ummah.
It forbids the shedding of human blood, thieving and lying. It
also gives explicit guidance on proper family relations and forbids
adultery, gambling, usury, and the consumption of carrion, blood,
pork, and alcohol.
Data as of 1997