First encounters with Islam

One of the most striking things about Egypt, the first country on our route, is the Islamic culture. Alcohol is very rare, women are robed and five times a day the call to prayer is heard far and wide. Islam has received a lot of negative media attention in recent months but it is the Islamic fundamentalists, a small minority, who are to blame for this. So what exactly is Islam and what do Muslims believe?

What is Islam?

Islam is more than a religion. It is the way of life of Muslims of the world. There are over one billion Muslims spread across the globe in a multitude of nationalities, languages and ethnic backgrounds. Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion.

God and Heaven

Allah in Arabic, constitutes the very foundation of Islam. There is no deity except Allah. He is indivisible and absolutely transcendent. God is the Almighty, the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe, who is similar to nothing and nothing is comparable to Him. Worship and obedience belong to Allah and Allah alone. Islam is the way of life for those who believe in God and want to live a life in worship and obedience to none but God. The reward is forgiveness from God and an everlasting life in Heaven.

The Prophet Muhammad

Muhammad was born in Makkah, a city in the present-day Saudi Arabia in 570 C.E. He is a direct descendant of Prophet Ishmael, the first son of Prophet Abraham. Muhammad received divine revelations over a period of 23 years in the seventh century of the Christian Era. Muslims believe that he is the last Messenger sent by God for the guidance of mankind until the Day of Judgment and they also recognise Jesus as a prophet.

The Quran

The Quran or Koran is the Divine Book revealed to Muhammad. The Holy Quran confirms what was revealed to earlier messengers of God and serves as the criterion of right and wrong. The Quran is the only divine Book extant in its original text and is therefore believed to be the only source of Guidance from God for all mankind. The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad refers to his sayings and actions, his approvals and disapprovals. The Sunnah is collected in books separate from the Holy Quran and are known as Hadith books. While the Holy Quran is 100% word of God revealed to the Prophet, not every Hadith is authentic. Early Muslim scholars have classified hadith into various categories ranging from different levels of authenticity to false hadith.

Muslims are said to have…

Belief in God
Belief in the Angels
Belief in God’s Revealed Books (including the Gospel)
Belief in the Prophets and Messengers of God
Belief in the Day of Judgment
Belief in Al-Qadar (pre-destination)
The Five Pillars of Islam

The Testimony of Faith

Giving Zakat (Support of the Needy)
Fasting for the Month of Ramadan
The Pilgrimage to Makkah
The Call to Prayer

When the muezzin, or call to prayer, is sung by the Imam and broadcast simultaneously from every mosque in the city at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, or after dark, the haunting sounds echo from every direction and even the streets feel holy.

The Role of Women

Certainly, women are not considered equal according to Islam. The opinion of one man is said to equal that of two women. Women are considered a tempation and Muhammad said that the majority of those in hell were women. The Quran permits husbands to hit their wives and polygamy is also permitted in certain circumstances. Woman’s status in Islam is one of the most controversial and serious issues of our time, not only among Muslim women and those who represent them in the area of women’s rights in the Islamic world, but also among fundamentalist Muslims.

The veil is one of the most significant reminders that we are in a Muslim country. It is considered in the West to be the greatest symbol of women’s oppression and servitude but the tradition was not always confined to Islam: it was the custom of Jewish women to be veiled and St. Paul argued for its use in the New Testament. Today, more and more women in Islam are choosing to wear the veil. It is a mark of their culture and also signifies a woman’s self-respect and social status. In fact. the only purpose of the veil in Islam is protection. It is a sign of modesty with the purpose of protecting women, all women.

– Written by Niamh O Riordan and published in The Imokilly People

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