General Questions About Islam
What is the difference between the words “Islam,” “Islamic,” “Muslim,” and “Arab”?
Islamic is an adjective that modifies a non-human noun, as for example, “Islamic art,” “Islamic architecture,” “Islamic beliefs,” etc. This term should not be used to refer to a person.
A follower of Islam is called a Muslim, or “one who is in a state of peace by following God’s guidance.”
While the term Arab has been used in the past to refer to members of a Semitic ethnic group from the Arabian Peninsula, today the word “Arab” refers to people from Arabic-speaking countries, most of which are in the Middle East and North Africa. The term Arabian was historically used to describe an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula. Today “Arabian” is used as an adjective to describe a non-human noun (e.g., Arabian coffee); it should not be used to refer to people. The following questions about basic Muslim beliefs (2 through 12) are answered in accord with the scholars mentioned above, reflecting majority Sunni views.
What does Islam teach?
What are the major beliefs of Muslims?
belief in God;
belief in angels;
belief in God’s prophets/messengers;
belief in God’s revelations in the form of holy scriptures sent to the messengers;
belief in an afterlife that follows the Day of Judgment on which people will be held accountable for their actions and compensated accordingly in the afterlife; and
belief in God’s divine will and His knowledge of what happens in the world.
How do Muslims practice their faith?
the profession of faith, namely that there is only one God, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God;
the five daily prayers;
required annual donation to charity in the amount of 2.5% of one’s excess wealth;
fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; and
making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if one is mentally, physically, and financially able.
What are the foundational sources of Islamic beliefs and practices?
For Shi’as, in addition to the aforementioned, the rulings of the twelve Imams are considered a primary source. Other sources may exist for different Muslim sects.
In addition to these primary sources, Muslims have also traditionally relied on the following: scholarly consensus, that is, the agreement of knowledgeable scholars upon a particular issue; and analogical reasoning, which means applying principles or laws derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah to similar situations not explicitly addressed by them. The lived experience of Islam, which naturally varies widely not only in different cultures but also with different individuals, also impacts and determines a Muslim’s understanding and practice of Islam.
God & Angels
Why do some people suffer so much in this life, especially the innocent, such as children?
God’s love for humanity is a central theme in many religions. Are there similar teachings in Islam?
What do Muslims believe about angels?
What does Islam say about Satan?
How do the stories of the prophets in Islam compare with those in Christianity and Judaism?
That depends on which prophet we are talking about. In many cases, the stories of the prophets in the Qur’an are similar to the stories that are in the Bible. Some examples include:
the story of Noah and his ark;
the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their son Isaac, who is also considered a prophet;
the story of Jacob and his twelve sons, including Joseph, who is also considered a prophet; and
the most oft-mentioned prophet in the Qur’an, Moses, and the story of his mission in Egypt to rescue his people.
Some of the major differences between the biblical account of some of these prophets and the Qur’an stem from the fact that the Qur’an holds that all prophets were immune from major sins. The stories of Prophet Jesus are close to the Bible in their descriptions of his virginal birth and miracles but differ sharply in their account of the divinity of Jesus and crucifixion; the Qur’an states that Jesus was only a man, not divine, and that before the crucifixion Jesus was taken into heaven and replaced by a person who looked like him.
Were there female prophets?
Why do Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet?
Why can’t you display images of the Prophet Muhammad?
There is no specific teaching in traditional Islamic sources forbidding images of the Prophet Muhammad, and in fact one can find representations of Muhammad and other prophets in different periods of Islamic history. What scholars warn against is the worship of such images, which in more recent times has led some groups to promote the idea that it is forbidden to represent the Prophet Muhammad.
Why did some Muslims respond with protest and violence against portrayals of Muhammad in cartoons and film?
This question refers to protests, sometimes erupting into lethal violence, as in the recent attack in Paris, against cartoons published in a French satirical weekly and against the film The Innocence of Muslims. These protests raise the question of freedom of expression, and the instances of violence clearly violated the principle of respect for life.
The great majority of American Muslims and many Muslims elsewhere affirm freedom of expression even for material that is offensive. Muslim leaders and organizations worldwide, even in countries that restrict the publication of such offensive material, vigorously condemned the instances of violence.
Violent reaction to these images was almost certainly fueled by political issues rather than purely by anger at the offensive images. Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf insisted that the Benghazi attack, claimed to be a spontaneous response to caricatures of Muhammad published in Denmark, was in fact long planned by militants, while the Paris atrocities were the work of militants who may well have been striving to recruit French Muslims to al-Qaeda by creating an incident that would isolate them from other French people. In either case, the images served only as a pretext.
Jesus was a non-violent reformer while Muhammad fought in wars. Why is there a difference between Jesus and Muhammad in terms of their approach?
This question, as posed, assumes that there is only one way of looking at Jesus, as a “non-violent reformer.” This is not the case, just as it is not the case with Muhammad, who has been and is seen in many different ways by Muslims.
In his book Jesus through the Centuries, church historian Jaroslav Pelikan depicts and analyzes the varied views of Jesus at different times and in different cultures. He devotes a whole chapter to Jesus as both “Prince of Peace” and instigator of divine warfare—sometimes at one and the same time.
The representations of Muhammad are likewise multiple. In her book The Lives of Muhammad, Kecia Ali writes “Far from being uniform or non-changing, both non-Muslim and Muslim views of Muhammad have been diverse, multifaceted, and subject to dramatic changes over the centuries.”
Even when one considers Jesus and Muhammad as historical figures, it is important to keep in mind a significant difference between their positions. Jesus founded a community of believers that was politically powerless and had to function in the shadow of the overwhelming power of the Roman Empire. Muhammad, on the other hand, eventually found himself at the head of a new political community in Medina and was therefore called upon to function as a political and even military leader. Whatever differences one may find between Muhammad and Jesus should not obscure the fact that, in our vision of Islam, both Christianity and Islam uphold the principle of respect for life.
Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry so many women?
Polygamy was common in 7th-century Arabia, as it has been in many other cultures, especially for a political leader; for instance, the patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible are shown as having multiple wives, and the kings of Israel are described as having harems numbering in some cases into the hundreds. According to Muslim historians, the Prophet Muhammad’s marriages were contracted to assist needy widows and divorcees and to solidify the community of Muslims by forging alliances among the tribes in and around Medina. In light of the time and place, there was nothing unique or unusual about Muhammad marrying several women.
Why did the Prophet Muhammad marry a nine-year old? If she was not nine, how old was she?
The actual age of Aisha at the time of her marriage to Muhammad is disputed, but, the marriage could not have been consummated until she reached puberty. In many cultures, women are or were married years before a marriage is consummated. The custom of early betrothal and marriage continued until the late 19th and early 20th century in much of the world, including Europe and North America.