Tenets of Islam
The shahadah (profession of faith, or testimony) states
succinctly the central belief, "There is no God but God Allah,
and Muhammad is his Prophet." The faithful repeat this simple
profession on ritual occasions, and its recital designates the
speaker as a Muslim. The term Islam means submission
to God, and he who submits is a Muslim.
The God preached by Muhammad was previously known to his countrymen,
for Allah is the general Arabic term for the supreme
being rather than the name of a particular deity. Rather than
introducing a new deity, Muhammad denied the existence of the
pantheon of gods and spirits worshipped before his prophethood
and declared the omnipotence of God, the unique creator. Muhammad
is the "Seal of the Prophets," the last of the prophetic line.
His revelations are said to complete for all time the series of
revelations that had been given earlier to Jews and Christians.
God is believed to have remained one and the same throughout time,
but humans are seen as having misunderstood or strayed from God's
true teachings until set aright by Muhammad. Prophets and sages
of the biblical tradition, such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are
recognized as inspired vehicles of God's will. Islam, however,
reveres as sacred only the message, rejecting Christianity's deification
of the messenger. It accepts the concepts of guardian angels,
the Day of Judgment, resurrection, and the eternal life of the
The duties of the Muslim form the "five pillars" of the faith.
These are shahadah, salat (daily prayer), zakat
(almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage).
The believer prays facing Mecca at five specified times during
the day. Whenever possible, men observe their prayers in congregation
at a mosque under direction of an imam, or prayer leader, and
on Fridays are obliged to do so. Women are permitted to attend
public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from men,
but their attendance tends to be discouraged, and more frequently
they pray in the seclusion of their homes.
In the early days of Islam, a tax for charitable purposes was
imposed on personal property in proportion to the owner's wealth;
the payment purified the remaining wealth and made it religiously
legitimate. The collection of this tax and its distribution to
the needy were originally functions of the state. But with the
breakdown of Muslim religiopolitical authority, alms became an
individual responsibility. With the discovery of petroleum in
Libya and the establishment of a welfare society, almsgiving has
been largely replaced by public welfare and its significance diluted
accordingly (see Health and Welfare , this ch.).
Fasting is practiced during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar,
Ramadan, the time during which the first chapters of the Quran
were revealed to Muhammad. It is a period during which most Muslims
must abstain from food, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity
during the daylight hours. The well-to-do accomplish little work
during this period, and many businesses close or operate on reduced
schedules. Because the months of the lunar calendar revolve through
the solar year, Ramadan occurs during various seasons. In Libya,
among the strictest of Muslim countries, cafes must remain closed
during the day. But they open their doors after dark, and feasting
takes place during the night.
Finally, at least once during their lifetime all Muslims should
make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca to participate
in the special rites that occur during the twelfth month of the
lunar calendar. Upon completion of this and certain other ritual
assignments, the returning pilgrim is entitled to the honorific
"al Haj," before his name.
In addition to prescribing specific duties, Islam imposes a code
of conduct entailing generosity, fairness, honesty, and respect
for others. Its proscribes adultery, gambling, usury, and the
consumption of carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol. Although proscription
of alcohol is irregularly enforced in most Muslim countries, the
Libyan revolutionary government has been strict in ensuring that
its prohibition be effective, even in the households of foreign
Muslims traditionally are subject to the sharia, or religious
law, which--as interpreted by religious courts--covers most aspects
of life. In Libya the Maliki school is followed. One of several
schools of Islamic law, it predominates throughout North Africa.
The sharia, which was developed by jurists from the Quran and
from the traditions of the Prophet, provides a complete pattern
for human conduct.
Data as of 1987