Islam is an Arabic word meaning submission to God alone. As a religion Islam calls for complete acceptance of and submission to the teachings and guidance of God. The word has connotations of peace and wholeness. It has the same root as ‘salam’ – peace.
A Muslim is one who freely and willingly accepts and submits to the supreme power of God alone and strives to live his or her life in accord with the teachings of God.
Allah is the Arabic language word for God. Allah is also used by Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews in prayer or speaking about God. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the three great monotheistic world religions.
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is God’s Words as revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. The Qur’an is the basis for Muslim beliefs regarding God, worship, morality, knowledge, wisdom, the human relationship to God, and relationships among human beings. While reading the Qur’an does not allow one to unambiguously know the will of God, reading the Qur’an in reference to the practices of Muhammad does allow one to unambiguously determine how Muslims should behave on important issues. Muslims believe that it is the Qur’an itself which is that Word and manifestation. The original text of the Qur’an is in Arabic and translations are available in major libraries and bookstores everywhere.
Muhammad (SAW) is respected as a prophet. He is not regarded as the founder of Islam, but rather as one in a long line of prophets from Adam to Abraham, Moses, Solomon, and Jesus. Islam therefore did not begin with Muhammad, whose role was that of a messenger who received and passed on a revelation from God. He made it clear that Muslims should call him the servant of God and His messenger. He is regarded as a human being and in no way divine. He is seen as the final prophet who completed the revelation began by the earlier prophets.
The Hadith– the teachings, sayings and actions of Muhammad- were reported and collected by his devoted companions. They explain and elaborate the Quranic verses and provide a model for the conduct of Muslims.
Every action done with the awareness that it fulfills the will of God is considered an act of worship, but the specific acts termed the Five Pillars of Islam provide the framework of Muslim spiritual life.
1) The Declaration of Faith: This is to bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.
2) Prayer is prescribed five times a day as a duty towards God. Prayer strengthens and enlivens belief in God and inspires one to a higher morality.
3) Fasting is called for during the month of Ramadan. This involves abstention from food, beverages, and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset and it means curbing evil intentions and desires. Allowances are made for health, age and circumstances. After sunset, there are family and community meals and celebration.
4) Zakat is a proportionately fixed contribution from the surplus earnings and wealth of the Muslims. It is spent on the poor and needy and for the welfare of society as a whole.
5) The Hajj is the pilgrimage to the Kaabah in Mecca, at least once in a lifetime, provided one has the means to undertake the journey.
Qur’an has many stories about Biblical characters which are very similar to those in the Old and New Testaments. Jesus is very highly honored as a prophet, although Muslims believe that Christians erred in regarding him as divine. Muslims greatly respect Mary as the mother of Jesus. They believe in the virginal birth of Jesus through the power of the Spirit of God. However, they believe that errors have crept into the Jewish and Christian traditions and into the text of the Bible. The mission of Muhammad was to correct those errors and restore the call of mankind to the worship of One and Only God to its pristine form.
Nonetheless, the Qur’an teaches that Jews and Christians are People of the Book. As believers, Jews and Christians have juridical rights under Islamic law to live as protected peoples. Historically, Islam has been a relatively tolerant religion. Islam clearly teaches that There is to be no compulsion in matters of religion. In the 7th century Muslim armies brought vast territories under Muslim political control, but conversion to Islam was voluntary and was not imposed by the sword. This is a Western myth. The Muslim community expanded rapidly after the Prophet’s death. Within a few decades, the territory under Muslim rule had extended onto three continents–Asia, Africa and Europe. Over the next few centuries this Empire continued to expand and Islam gradually became the chosen faith of the majority of its inhabitants. Among the reasons for the rapid and peaceful spread of Islam was the simplicity of its doctrine- Islam calls for faith in only One God worthy of worship. Islam also repeatedly instructs human beings to use their powers of intelligence and observation. Most of the important philosophical and scientific works of Aristotle; much of Plato and the Pythagorean school; and the major works of Greek astronomy, mathematics and medicine such as the Almagest of Ptolemy, the Elements of Euclid, and the works of Hippocrates and Galen, were all rendered into Arabic. Furthermore, important works of astronomy, mathematics and medicine were translated from Pahlavi and Sanskrit. As a result, Arabic became the most important scientific language of the world for many centuries and the depository of much of the wisdom and the sciences of antiquity.
The achievement of scholars working in the Islamic tradition went far beyond translation and preservation of ancient learning. These scholars built upon and developed the ancient heritage before passing it on to the West.
Muslims excelled in art, architecture, astronomy, geography, history, language, literature, medicine, mathematics, and physics. Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic numerals, and the very concept of the zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics), were formulated by Muslim scholars and shared with medieval Europe. Sophisticated instruments that would make possible the later European voyages of discovery were invented or developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and navigational charts and maps.
Muslim, Arab, and Islam are not interchangeable terms. Islam refers to the religion itself. Muslims are the followers of Islam. Arabs are a linguistic and cultural community with a common history. Most but not all Arabs are Muslims. Most Muslims are not Arabs. About 85% of the world’s Muslims are not Arabs. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. About 12 million Arabs are Christian and thousands are Jewish.
Mohammadanism is a misnomer for Islam and offends its very spirit, since Muhammad was a merely a messenger of God.
Islamic Fundamentalism: In many ways religious fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon, sometimes characterized by a sense of embattled alienation in the midst of the surrounding culture, even where the culture may be nominally influenced by the adherents’ religion. This is particularly true of Christian fundamentalists, who were the original creators of the term, and who uniquely bore the label, until its popular redefinition by the media in the 1980s.
Given this background, it would be wrong to carelessly label all Muslims as fundamentalist in the negative connotation of the term that does not represent the fact that all Muslims simply believe that the Islamic law and the tenets of our religion are indispensable for us.
Historical development and misapplication of the term fundamentalist: In the past decade almost all Islamic revivalist movements have been labeled fundamentalists, whether they be of extremist or moderate origin. The widespread impact of the term is obvious from the following quotation from one of the most influential Encyclopedias under the title Fundamentalist: “The term fundamentalist has … been used to describe members of militant Islamic groups”. Why would an encyclopedia make this type of statement? This shows the depth of corruption that has crept into the political usage of the term and the wide deviation from its original usage.
Before the term fundamentalist was branded for Muslims, it was, and still is, being used by certain Christian denominations. Most of them are radical Baptist, Lutheran and Presbyterian groups. The Southern Baptist Convention in the US is one such group; they take pride in being called the Fundamentalists. Because, according to them, they have gone back to the fundamentals of Christianity. They preach absolute Biblical inerrancy and Millenarianism (belief in the physical return of Christ to establish a 1000 year reign). These radical groups form only a minute minority of the total Christian population, although they may be the most vocal. They want the Church to be the only authority.
So to apply this specific terminology with relation to only a select group of Muslims, in the sense of its original meaning, is neither fair nor valid. Because in the case of Islam all Muslims believe in absolute inerrancy of the Qur’an, since it is a basic Islamic tenet. Anyone who does not hold this particular belief is not a true Muslim. Therefore the media would have to use the word fundamentalist for all Muslims! In the case that the media wishes to apply this term to certain extremist religious group however; it must follow the simple guideline of applying the terminology only to groups which describe themselves as such. It will be unfair and invalid to apply the terminology selectively to the groups it finds convenient to criminalize. It is this dual definition and applications that is unfair to the Islamic faith. Therefore the media should either stop using the word Fundamentalist to describe any and all Islamic organizations, or be much more careful and selective in its usage.
Better still, unless an Islamic group calls itself so, it would be disgraceful and unacceptable for individuals or body and especially the media to use the term Fundamentalist, or the misnomer Islamist, to label any Muslim or Muslim group with whom /which they do not share ideals and values.