Islam in a nutshell

The five pillars of Islam, as is commonly referred, are the foundational platform of this great religion. On top of these strong supports comes the rest of the faith which works like a five wheeled car, and the rest of the car being in the inner mechanisms of Islam, could not run without the wheels. And you, the ruh or soul, is the driver.

Briefly they are the shahadah or the declaration of faith (iman), the duty to perform your five daily prayers or salat, the duty to fast (sawm) in the holy month of Ramadhan, the duty to give alms (zakat) to the poor annually, and to perform the pilgrimage (hajj) if one is able to do so.

Islam is not just this. A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God. A Muslim is one who works hard to beautify his or her own character. Therefore, a Muslim must follow very high standards of moral behaviour.

A Muslim must refrain from committing sin or doing anything that is forbidden (haram) and in all aspects of his or her life try to do what is permissible (halal).
If a Muslim sins, then one can ask for forgiveness and try not to repeat the mistake. A Muslim’s sins can be expatiated by doing acts of goodness and righteousness such as feeding the poor, fasting or praying. The more halal acts that you do and the less haram acts, then the more beautiful your character becomes. It’s a simple formula for success in this world and the next.

Muslims believe that Allah (God) knows best and is the best of judges and is all-Merciful and All-beneficent.

A Muslim is someone who has a personal relationship with God. There are no intercessors or middle men. No-one else is able to take responsibility for your actions, words or thoughts. Once you die and begin your journey to the Hereafter, no-one can act on your behalf, no-one can intercede, only Allah (God) will judge you based on how you lived your earthly life and the deeds that you carried out.

A Muslim is someone who not only believes and upholds the five pillars of Islam but a Muslim is someone who also understands and accepts the complete contents of the Quran, its message and its guidance and follows the sunnah or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

The five pillars are there for a reason. The reason we declare our faith is because without intention and belief, there is no way to progress. You must have sincere faith and real belief before you can do anything else.

When we pray (Salat), we not only acknowledge God and worship God, we strengthen that faith and we constantly remind ourselves of our responsibilities to God and to our fellow humans. While we pray we also purify our hearts, we cleanse the negative things in our minds and ask for forgiveness for the mistakes that we have made.

When we fast, we show love for God and follow what He has commanded us to do.
Fasting also cleanses the body physically and spiritually. It creates empathy for those less fortunate who are starving and it motivates us to help them. It helps us build discipline in our lives and makes us better human beings.

When we give our money away to a charitable cause (Zakat), we feel better, we purify our hearts and we remind ourselves that material wealth is not why we are here and that spiritual wealth is much more important. Zakat also helps keep society functioning, it reduces poverty and creates fairness and justice in society. It can also reduce the temptation for crime or corruption. Ultimately, Islamic practices are designed to reduce corruption and the breakdown of organic community values.

A Muslim today has basically two things to guide him or her: the Quran (and its scholarly interpretation) and the sayings and actions of the Prophet (pbuh). So the Prophet in almost every aspect of Islam tried to explain the meaning of verses as they came to him.

One must understand that the Prophet was only a medium for the message which came directly from God. The Prophet did not invent the verses, he did not change them to suit his needs, he did not write the Quran.

The Quran or revelations came down to him over a period of 23 years, which was essentially the period of his prophethood. He received the first surah or chapter of the Quran when he was aged 40 in the year 622 CE. In this 23 year period, the Prophet established the whole religion as a perfected system of belief and law (shariah).

The Prophet is referred to as the seal of prophets and the Quran states itself, that Muhammad is the final messenger and that there will be no-one after him.

So we are more or less at the end of long line of messages and messengers that have been sent throughout the Earth and to all communities. The first messenger or prophet was Adam and the last is Muhammad (peace be to them both). We often refer to ourselves as the sons of Adam. That is, that humanity’s reference point is Adam. From there we have developed, progressed and advanced to what we term modernity.

As Muslims we all have a responsibility to live our lives according to the standards set by Adam and the proceeding prophets after him. The most recent and most accurate information that has been handed down to humankind is that of the period of the prophethood of Muhammad. According to Islamic teachings, the books of other prophets before Muhammad, have been lost in their original form and the Quran, is the only surviving revealed book in its entirerity.

The reality is that life is not so simple. In God’s wisdom, humans were given the ability for free-will and independent reasoning. No other creature (accept the Jinn) can do this. This is a special gift from God. We have been given the position of God’s vice-gerent or representative on Earth. We have certain responsibilities to follow, however, God has also given us choices that relate to those responsibilities and while there is such a creation as the Satan, there will always be temptations to shirk one’s responsibilities and duties and make mischief on the Earth. One may follow one’s selfish desires (nafs) and do things which either cause harm to others or to society. Islam therefore tries to protect that through the wisdom related in the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Islam is a natural and organic approach to faith, more than a religion it’s a way of life and that is why so many people are attracted to it. It gives you a sense of direction, a purpose and of course belonging to the family of Muslim worldwide (ummah). The key elements of Islam are justice, preserving peace and building strong morally sound communities. Remember, everything in this life, according to Islam, is temporary and it is in the next phase of your existence that all your thoughts, decisions and actions will come to fruition and make sense.