Sayyid Mustafa al-Qazwini
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Discovering Islam is an invitation to learn about the fundamental message, spirit, and practice of Islam. This book covers an array of essential concepts, practices, and beliefs. It takes you through the core principle of the Oneness of God to the most contemporary concept of jihad.
The message of Islam is universal. Islam is not intended to be a faith of followers from a certain descent; nor does it belong to one geographical part of the world; nor does it belong to a different time era.
Islam is a progressive and adapting religion that transcends all racial, native tongue, socio-economic, and gender lines. It is open and free to be explored, challenged, accepted, and even rejected. God says in the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. Thus whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks." (2:256)
Islam is a faith that believes in the exclusive oneness, justice, and mercy of God and the sole purpose of this religion is to enlighten the hearts of people so that they may understand the message of God and then live by it.
This book Discovering Islam has been an instrumental tool for thousands of readers looking for a simple way of understanding Islam and Muslims. This is the third printing of the book since 1999 and it is enlightening for first-time readers who are searching for a simple, general book on Islam, and perhaps may inspire the reader to search deeper into the faith.
This book would not have been possible without the sincere assistance and suggestions of Sister Fatma Saleh. My thanks are also extended to Shaykh Saleem Bhimji who took great effort in getting this work published.
To them both I am thankful.
Orange County, California
July 23, 2008
It is customary in Islam that when the name of Allah, Prophet Muhammad, prophets, or imams (descendants and successors of Prophet Muhammad) is enunciated, the following phrases are mentioned:
Allah - "Glorified and Exalted"
Written abbreviation - SWT
Prophet Muhammad "Peace be upon him and his family"
Written abbreviation - pbuh&hf
After the names of prophets, imams from the family of Prophet Muhammad and his daughter:
"Peace be upon him/her"
Written abbreviation - pbuh
With great respect, admiration, recognition, and praise, I have omitted the mentioned phrases for the sake of continuity.
Islam 1 means "submitting or surrendering one's will to the will of God (Allah)." 2
The human beings' innate disposition naturally submits to the reverence of God; this natural feeling was infused with him or her on the day of creation. In reality, the entire universe, through its ordered workings all submit to the will of God. Modern science calls these phenomena "the laws of nature," but these laws of nature, from an Islamic perspective, are not just any set of laws, rather, they are the laws of God for nature.
Human beings depend on, and are in need of God's sustenance and guidance throughout their entire lives; thus, the human being must yield his self-will and desires to the will of the Creator.
Submission to God does not entail self-humiliation or a denial of human intellect; rather, it means trusting the knowledge, wisdom, and fairness of the Creator. In some form of an act or instance, people involuntary trust and depend on the safety of their lives to others. Hence, the decision to trust a person with more knowledge is logical; therefore, trusting the wisdom of God does not constitute abandoning one's intellect, but rather, it constitutes following one's natural inclination.
The word Islam has other meanings, one of which is "to have peace." God says in the Quran, 3 "He is Allah, there is no god but Him - the King, the Holy One, and the Peace." (59:23) Moreover, the Quran states, "And Allah invites to the abode of peace." (10:25)
By its connotations of peace and safety, the word Islam indicates that the religion is free from any deficiencies or defects. As a religion, Islam is considered perfect because it was ordained by God and not invented or marked by mankind: "This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion." (5:3)
Commanded by God, Prophet Abraham was the first person to use the words Islam and Muslim, 4 "It [the teachings of monotheism of Islam] is the religion of your father Abraham. He [God] has named you Muslims both before and in this [Quran]." (22:78) In another passage of the Quran we read, "Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian,
but he was a true Muslim [submissive to God] and was not one of the polytheists." (3:67) Not only did Prophet Abraham call his religion Islam, but the prophets after Abraham also called their religion Islam. Prophet Joseph, 5 in the chapter entitled "Joseph" in the Quran states, "My Lord! You have given me authority and taught me the interpretation of things.
O Creator of the heavens and earth! You are my guardian in this world and in the Hereafter. Cause me to die as a Muslim, submitting to Your will, and join me with the righteous." (12:101)
Thus, God declares in the Quran, "Truly the religion before Allah is Islam." (3:19)
Who are the Muslims?Who are the Muslims?
Muslims are the followers of the religion of Islam (those who submit to the will of God as explained in the Quran and the traditions 6 of Prophet Muhammad, the Messenger of Islam).
Today, the Muslim population is over a billion and it is spread over a vast range of races, nationalities, and cultures. Approximately 18% of the Muslims live in the Arab world, while the majority live in Asia and Africa. The largest Muslim population is in Indonesia, and a significant number of Muslim minorities exist in Russia, China, Europe, North America, and South America. The Muslim population in the United States is estimated to be around six million.
How Does One Become a Muslim?
The basic requirement to become a Muslim is to declare, "Ashhadu an laa ilaaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah." In English this means, "I testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God."
Anyone who proclaims this phrase joins the ranks of the Muslim nation (ummah). This statement marks the beginning of one's physical and spiritual journey in practicing the aspects of Islam. A Muslim strives to become one who the Quran terms as the faithful (mumin). Although this journey in becoming 'faithful' may be long, its rewards are numerous for those who embark on it with sincere will and intention.
Practicing Islam requires learning Islamic ideas, teachings, and practices, then adhering to them. Moreover, Islamic practice requires some sacrifice. However, the necessity of sacrifice should not be a deterrent. Prophet Muhammad states, "Whenever someone gives up something for the sake of God, God will replace it with something better."
Sincerity of belief also develops over time. When Prophet Muhammad began spreading the message of Islam, some people came to him and informed him that they were believers in Islam. In reply, God revealed the following verse, "Say [Muhammad to them]: 'You believe not,' but say, 'We have submitted to Islam,' for faith has not yet entered your hearts." (49:14)
The successor to Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, 7 has described the dynamic process of following Islam, "I am defining Islam as no one has defined it before me: Islam is submission, submission is conviction, conviction is affirmation, affirmation is acknowledgement, acknowledgement is performance of obligations, and the performance of obligations is good deeds." 8
Monotheism of Allah (Tawheed)
Monotheism is the essence of Islam. It is the affirmation of believing that there is no other divinity other than God. For the most part, the spirit of the Quran revolves around the theme of pure monotheism. Thus, God is the center of a Muslim's belief. Whereas other religions focus on individuals, for example, Christianity's focus on Jesus Christ, Islam focuses solely on God.
Islam is based on the Absolute (God), not His manifestations. The Quran itself speaks about the oneness of God, "Allah has borne witness that there is no god other than Him, and the angels, and those with knowledge also witness this. He is always standing firm on justice. There is no god but Him, the Mighty, the Wise." (3:18)
The oneness of God is not only a philosophical argument, rather it is also an affirmation which all human beings once declared before their souls entered their body, as God says, "[Remember] when your Lord brought forth the children of Adam from their loins and made them testify over themselves, saying, "Am I not your Lord?" They said, "Yes! We testify," lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection, 'Verily, we were unaware of this.'" (7:172)
In this event, every person to be created until the end of time proclaimed God's majesty, sovereignty, power, transcendence, and absolute oneness.
Such was the covenant God made with all people at the time of their creation, whether people presently claim to believe in God or not. Similarly, all people today, regardless of their origin, are naturally inclined towards the idea that God is one and does not have a partner. The Quran informs Prophet Muhammad of the following, "Set your face to the true religion [the Islamic belief of monotheism], the natural inclination [fitra] with which Allah has created mankind. [Let there be] no change in what Allah has made; that is the straight religion, but most people do not understand." (30:30)
One of the shortest chapters in the Quran, "The Oneness of Allah," 9 summarizes the nature of God in five verses, "In the name of Allah, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Most Merciful: Say, 'He is Allah, the One; Allah, the Eternal Originator; He does not bear children, nor was He born; and He is beyond compare.'"
The most fundamental Islamic teachings about God are contained in the previous verses; there is only one God, He is eternal, unique, and has no kinship, creator, or resemblance to any human being.
Throughout their mission, every prophet stated some of the divine attributes of God. Prophet Abraham said, "My Lord is He who gives life and causes death." (2:258) When confronting Pharaoh, Moses said, "Our Lord is He Who gave each thing its form and nature then guided it aright" (20:50). These two verses describe God and His relation to human beings; however, God's being extends far beyond His relation to mankind. Imam Ali described God in the following manner:
"He who assigns to Him different conditions does not believe in His oneness, nor does he who likens Him, grasp His reality. He who illustrates Him, does not signify Him; he who points at Him and imagines Him, does not mean Him. Everything that is known through itself has been created, and everything that exists by virtue of other things is the effect of a cause.
He works but not with the help of instruments; He fixes measures, but not with the activities of thinking; He is rich, but not by acquisition. Time does not keep company with Him, and implements do not help Him. His being precedes time, His existence precedes non-existence, and His eternity precedes beginning.
By His creating the senses, it is known that He does not possess such senses. By the contraries in various matters, it is known that He has no contrary, and by the similarity between things it is known that there is nothing similar to Him. He has made light the contrary of darkness, brightness that of gloom, dryness that of moisture, and heat that of cold.
He produces affection among inimical things. He is not confined by limits, nor counted by numbers. Material parts can surround things of their own kind, and organs can point out things similar to themselves…Through them, the Creator manifests Himself to the intelligence, and through them He is guarded from the sight of the eyes…He has not begotten anyone lest He be regarded as having been born. He has not been begotten; otherwise, He would be contained within limits. He is too high to have sons…Understanding cannot think of Him so as to give Him shape…" 10
God expresses His own eternity and perpetuity in the Quran when He states, "Everything on earth shall perish, but the face of Allah will remain, full of majesty and honor." (55:26-27)
The 99 Names of Allah
The Quran states, "And to Allah belong the most beautiful names, so call on Him by them." (7:180)
Islamic tradition states that God has many different names representing different aspects of His being; ninety-nine are known commonly among Muslims.
The Giver of Life
The Lord of Majesty and Bounty
Dhul Jalali wal Ikrim
The Acceptor of Repentance
The Guide to the Right Path
The Owner of Sovereignty
The Source of Goodness
The Creator of Death
The Source of Goodness
Viewpoints of Islam and Christianity Concerning God
The emergence of Islam returned the Abrahamic monotheism to its original purity. Islam perceives the doctrine of trinity and incarnation as a veil cast upon the complete reality of Divine unity. Nothing should compromise divine unity. God is the absolute, the One without condition, and above all relations.
The distinguishable feature of the Islamic faith from other monotheistic religions is its insistence on absolute monotheism. Islam entirely opposes any association concerning God and the notion that Jesus, the Messenger of God, was God himself. God states in the Quran, "It is not for a man, that Allah should give him [Jesus] the Book [Gospel], and judgment and apostleship, and yet he [Jesus] should say to people, "Worship me rather than Allah," but rather [he would say] "Be a godly people, because of your teaching the Book and because of studying it [yourselves]." (3:79) 11
Muslims believe that Jesus was a human prophet who was divinely inspired by God, and they consider him to be a servant and conveyer of God's message and neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament mentions that Jesus was the son of God.
Barbara Brown, a contemporary American scholar, supports this idea with the following statement:
The doctrine of divinity states that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh. Even though Jesus himself never claimed to be divine, Paul gave him this attribute for one reason - to gain converts among the Gentiles. The Gentiles were pagans who were used to worshipping gods that had wonderful legends and myths behind them.
Several of the pagan deities of the time such as Mithras, Adonis, Attis, and Osiris were the offspring of a supreme ruling idol and each had died a violent death at a young age, coming back to life a short time later in order to save their people. Paul took this into account, giving the pagans something similar in Christianity. He attributed divinity to Jesus, saying he was the Son of God, the Supreme, and that he too had died for their sins. In doing so, Paul compromised the teaching of Jesus with pagan beliefs in order to make Christianity more acceptable to the Gentiles.
The term "son of God" was not something new. However, it had been used in the Old Testament to refer to David (Saul 2:7) and his son Solomon (I Chronicles 22:100) and to refer to Adam (Luke 3:38) in the New Testament. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, detailed in Matthew 5, Jesus tells his listeners, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." In all cases, the term "son of God" was not meant to be applied literally but to signify love and affection from God to the righteous. "Son of God" means a special closeness to God, not to be of God. After all, people are sons [spiritual dependants] of God, and God is the creator of all life. 12
Christians who lived during the time of Jesus believed that Jesus was divinely inspired by God and not God himself. However, after the ascension of Jesus to heaven, Saint Paul, who was deeply influenced by Roman paganism, wanted his preaching of Christianity to be more appealing to the Gentiles and thus, he compromised the teachings of Jesus by adopting certain pagan ideas and interpolating them into Christianity. Even though it was not part of the original teachings of Jesus, the idea of the trinity has widely spread.
Anyone who believes in the monotheism taught by Islam must also believe in God's justice.
God is just and He never wrongs. Moreover, He does not have a cause for injustice toward His creatures, for injustice is an immoral action and God is incapable of evil. God is omniscient and never neglects any matter. God is self-sufficient and He is not in need of help from others. He is also the possessor of everything, and His wisdom transcends the universe. For example, the Quran states, "He is always standing firm on justice. There is no Allah but Him, the Mighty, the Wise." (3:18) Another verse reads, "And your Lord does not deal unjustly with anyone." (18:49) A third verse tells us, "We 13 did not wrong them, but they wronged themselves." (16:118)
Just as God encourages human beings to emulate some of His attributes, such as being patient and forgiving, God also requires mankind to follow the ways of justice. For example, the Quran states, "Say: 'My Lord has enjoined upon me justice.'" (7:29) Although people may falter in the way of justice, none of God's prophets or their successors has ever committed acts of injustice.
God's justice embraces the entire universe and whoever ponders over the existence of the universe and the order therein will not only observe the expansion of God's justice over His entire creation, but also each of the creations become apparent in all aspects of nature, from the physical world to the biological world, and from the microcosms to the macrocosms. The justice of God is particularly visible in the destiny and free-will of human beings.
Although God's justice encompasses everything, people should invoke God to treat them not with His justice, but rather His mercy. If God had punished people immediately for their sins, then humanity would have perished long time ago.
Compulsion (Jabr) or Free Will (Tafwid)
The question of man's pre-destination or freedom of choice has preoccupied human beings throughout the ages, and it continues to be discussed by Islamic philosophers and scholars.
Ultimately, two schools of thought regarding this question emerged. One, called the Compulsionist (Jabr), holds that human beings do not have the freedom of choice. Every decision, utterance, and action a person performs has been pre-destined since the time of creation. Compulsionists believe that the faithful have no choice in their faith. Likewise, the unfaithful also have no choice but to not believe in God. They maintain that everything is unalterable and pre-determined.
The second school of thought who believe in Free Will (Tafwid) declare that human beings are masters over their own acts. This notion is in concordance with the Quran which states, "None will be wronged in anything, nor will you be requited anything except that which you used to do." (36:54) In addition, they rely upon another verse from the Quran which states, "The truth is from your Lord. So whomever wills, let him believe, and whoever wills, let him disbelieve." (18:29) From these two verses, it can be concluded that human beings have the freedom to act, but they must bear the moral responsibility and consequence of their own actions. Furthermore, the acknowledgement of Divine will itself makes people accept that their very actions are not pre-destined.
The beginning of spiritual guidance is always from God, but the beginning of man's destruction is one's own erroneous choice, as the Quran states, "Whatever good reaches you is from Allah, but whatever evil befalls you is from yourself." (4:79)
Prophets are individuals who received Divine revelation and guidance to lead humanity towards righteousness and a recognition of God.
Since the inception of history, God sent numerous prophets and messengers to mankind. The messages of the prophets were of two types: regional or universal. While the local prophets were sent with specific messages to specific groups of people; the universal prophets were sent with messages and books for mankind and these were limited to five: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon all of them).
A unique characteristic of all the prophets and messengers is that they were infallible. They committed no sins. To demonstrate the validity of this concept is to consider that humanity needed prophets and messengers to set an exemplary structured lifestyle to emulate and follow. If they had committed errors, then people might be obliged to exemplify and excuse their errors, thus making the prophets and messengers untrustworthy.
Infallibility means protection from error in teaching doctrine of faith and morals and is defined as a spiritual grace from God that enables a person to abstain from sins by his own free will. The power of infallibility and immunity from sins does not make a person incapable of committing mistakes; rather, he or she refrains from transgression by his or her own power and will, due to realizing the consequences of their actions.
Infallibility is essential since the mission of the prophets and messengers was not only to convey Divine scriptures from God, but also to guide humanity toward the right path [God]. Therefore, prophets and messengers had to be role models and perfect examples for humanity. The mention of infallibility is stated thirteen times in the Quran, and one such example is when God said to Satan, "Certainly you shall have no authority over My servants except those who follow you and go astray." (15:42) In another instance in the Quran we read, "Satan then said to God, 'By Your might, then I will surely mislead them all, except Your chosen servants among them [the messengers and imams].'" (38:82)
When we look at the example of Prophet Muhammad, we see that he never committed any sin, nor was he ever harsh to any person or animal! God has stated in the Quran, "And by the mercy of Allah you dealt with them [people] gently, and had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you." (3:158)
In most societies, people with questionable records of conduct would be ineligible from becoming presidential or gubernatorial candidates, since they would have to set the examples of righteousness and honesty in order to lead society rightfully. This is also expected of the prophets.
Unfortunately, many distorted stories and images about God's prophets exist. For example, stories in the present-day version of the Old Testament accuse Prophet David of adultery with Baath-Sheba; Prophet Noah of being drunk; Prophet Lot of having committed incest; and Prophet Moses of committing adultery! Islam adamantly opposes such unethical and immoral writings that have been attributed to the prophets of God.
Nonetheless, the Quran does mention the slips of some prophets, such as the instruction that forbade Adam from eating of the tree. 14 However, such a verse cannot be understood literally as Prophet Adam having committed a sin because the verses of the Quran can be divided into two types - allegorical and metaphorical verses - and both types are quite common in the Quran. 15 Prophet Adam did not disobey the obligatory commands of God; rather, the command which he did not honor was a recommended suggestion. Therefore, in the teachings of Islam, Prophet Adam cannot be considered as having committed a sin.
Another belief of the Muslims is that God preordained all of the prophets; but at the same time, they had to strive for prophethood. The foremost example of the vocational test that prophets had to endure is told in the life of Prophet Abraham, the father of all prophets.
Prophet Abraham was born into an idolatrous society, but the purity of his nature recognized that the worship of idols was wrong, and he acknowledged that the idols were incapable of doing any harm or good.
One day, when no one was present, Prophet Abraham destroyed all of the idols, except for the largest. Upon their return to the village, the people began to question Prophet Abraham about the destruction of their gods. Prophet Abraham's reply was for the people to question the remaining statue for the answer since they believed that their stone idols had power.
Although the people were aware that their idols were indeed powerless, they did not know how to respond to the situation. Thus, out of embarrassment and anger, they cast Prophet Abraham into a colossal fire. However, God protected Prophet Abraham from the fire and confounded the plots of the polytheists. 16
After being tortured for and then saved by his faith in God; Prophet Abraham still had to undergo the hardest test of obedience - a direct order in the form of a dream (which came from God 17) to sacrifice his son Ishmael.
Although sadness overwhelmed him, Prophet Abraham was a strong believer in God, and thus, did not question the Divine order. Ishmael, too, unquestionably accepted the command of God by allowing his father to lead him to a mountain-top to be sacrificed. Ishmael's only request was that his father place him face down in order that his father would not see his facial expression during the sacrifice.
Prophet Abraham raised his blade, ready to comply with the command of God, when a revelation intercepted and caused the cessation of the sacrifice of his son. Prophet Abraham had proven his loyalty to God, and this incident was a trial to measure his faith.
Prophet Abraham was then given a sheep to sacrifice instead. The great trial of this prophet is remembered every year as the Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha). This is a special holiday for Muslims in which the meat of animals is distributed to the poor.
After passing these tests, Prophet Abraham became the leader of mankind, as well as the father of the prophets of the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Why Did God Send Different Prophets and Different Religions?
The total number of prophets that God sent to humanity was 124,000, and although they were sent to nearly all civilizations, the Quran only mentions twenty-five of them by name. The first of them was Prophet Adam, the father of humanity, and the last of them was Prophet Muhammad, the seal of the prophets.
Throughout history, different messengers with slightly different messages were sent to diverse societies. The reason was that the religious needs of humanity were growing and developing just as the human race was growing and developing. Also, diverse civilizations needed to be approached differently in relation to guidance. Nevertheless, the source and basic message behind the calling was the same - that there was only one God.
God sent Prophet Moses with the Torah as a light and guidance for the Children of Israel, along with many other prophets, such as prophets David and Solomon.
One thousand and five hundred years after Prophet Moses, God sent Prophet Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the Torah and bringing the Gospel, which was also a book of guidance and light.
Finally, six-hundred years after Prophet Jesus, God sent Prophet Muhammad with the Quran to confirm the messages sent before him and to complete the revelation of a universal religion to humanity.
Since all of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic prophets were sequentially sent, the question arises as to why Judaism, Christianity, and Islam now exist as separate religions. The answer is that the followers of these religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity, interpreted the teachings of their prophets differently. The Quran says, "Verily, the religion with Allah is Islam [total submission to Allah's will]; and those whom the Book had been given did not differ but after the knowledge [the truth] had come unto them, out of envy among themselves." (3:19) 18
Nevertheless, many scholars consider the different religions as a Divine test. The Quran says, "For each of you, We have made a Law and a clear way. If Allah had willed, He would have made you one nation but that He may test you in what He has given you. So strive in good deeds. Your return is to Allah; then He will inform you about that which you used to differ." (5:48)
The Life of Prophet Muhammad
In the 6th century ce Arabia, the majority of people were pagans. They lived in tribes, each with its own leader. Some were agriculture and cattle farmers, others were merchants and traders, while others raided other tribes for booty as a means of survival.
It was into this society, in 570 ce, that Prophet Muhammad was born into the tribe of the Quraysh, 19 in the city of Mecca. His father 20 died before he was born and his mother 21 died when he was still a young child, and thus, it was his grandfather 22 who brought him up and looked after him. When his grandfather died, his paternal uncle, Abu Talib 23 cared for him.
While growing up, Prophet Muhammad became known as "Muhammad the Truthful and the Trustworthy One" (As-Sadiq, al-Amin).
Early into his adulthood, Prophet Muhammad worked for a successful widow, Khadijah, 24 who was so impressed with his honesty that she asked him to marry her. At that time, the Prophet was twenty-five years old, and remained in this monogamous marriage until Khadijah's death twenty-five years later.
Often, Prophet Muhammad would take a respite from the bustle of Mecca by traveling to a cave for periods of reflection. During one such time, when Muhammad was forty years old, he heard the voice of an angel named Gabriel 25 giving him a command, "Recite in the Name of your Lord who creates, creates man from a clot. Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful, who taught the use of the pen, taught mankind that which they knew not." (96: 1-5)
Prophet Muhammad repeated the words until he had memorized them. He then rushed home and told his experience to his wife, Khadijah who comforted and reassured him. Khadijah and the Prophet's young cousin, Ali, were the first people to understand and accept that God had chosen "the Truthful and the Trustworthy" to deliver God's final guidance. Prophet Muhammad continued to receive revelations for over twenty years. 26
As time passed, it became clear to the ever-increasing number of people that Prophet Muhammad was indeed the Messenger of God. The least receptive people were the powerful Meccan leaders whom dealt in idols and slaves. They benefited mostly from idol worshiping and the pilgrim trade. The Meccans treated Prophet Muhammad with derision, but despite this, he continued to deliver the revelations of God's mercy and justice which were welcomed by the poor and oppressed.
The Meccans were becoming more and more intolerant of Prophet Muhammad and felt threatened by the messages he was advocating, such as the oneness of God, and with the increasing number of converts to Islam within the region, the Prophet was becoming a serious threat. In an attempt to dissuade the expansion of Islam, the Quraysh exiled the Prophet, his family, and followers from Mecca. The Quraysh then sanctioned an economic blockade on trade and association with the Muslims. 27
For three years, the Muslims were sheltered in the valley of Abu Talib, near Mecca. In conditions of hardship and hunger, the Muslims often faced the allotment of one date a day; and at times, two people shared one date. Yet, because of the Muslims' tenacious faith, the siege ended unsuccessfully.
Shortly after the siege ended, the Prophet was once again faced with tribulation. Two of the most influential and dearest people to him died - his uncle, Abu Talib and his beloved wife, Khadijah. Overwhelmed by grief, the Prophet declared that year as "The Year of Sadness."
No longer being protected and supported by his uncle, the Prophet became more vulnerable to the escalating pressure by the Quraysh.
Leaders from the distant town of Yathrib 28 secretly invited the Prophet and his followers to settle in their hometown and to preach the word of Islam. Before migrating to Madina in 622 ce, the Prophet narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Mecca. 29
The migration from Mecca to Madina became known as the Hijrah, which marks the starting point of the Muslim calendar. 30
Prophet Muhammad was received with excitement and jubilation 31 in Madina, where he became head of what was to become the first Islamic state. Throughout the first ten years in Madina, Muslims witnessed several occasions that were to become milestones in the history of Islam.
The primary task was to build a mosque in Madina. The Prophet himself participated in building the mosque which also incorporated his home. In addition, the companions of the Prophet built their homes in close proximity to the mosque to be near the Prophet.
It was necessary for the Prophet to create a center where its members could assemble; and thus the mosque was not only a place of worship, but also a center of social, political, and educational services.
It was in Madina that the unity of brotherhood amongst the Muslims was introduced. There were two major tribes in Madina: the Muhajireen (immigrants) and the Ansar (indigenous). 32 The Ansar were divided into two groups: Aws and Khazraj 33 - tribes who had been fighting each other for over 100 years. Under a common purpose [Islam], the Prophet appeased the animosity that existed among the two tribes by establishing a form of brotherhood between them. "Now you have become brothers in faith, by pairs," the Prophet said to his followers. 34 By this method, the Prophet insured the political and spiritual nature of his nation.
Today, the unity of brotherhood continues to remain a tremendous act of equality among Muslims. Islam is a foundation upon which all races, nationalities, cultures, socio-economic levels, and genders can be united by religious kinship.
The Prophet made the institution of matrimony easier as well. The gift of marriage (mahr), which the man is to give to his bride was made moderate, and inter-marriages with other tribes became more accessible as socio-economic or ancestral descent was no longer a major factor in marriage. The establishment of marriage became a form of uniting, securing, and promoting Islam within various tribes and nations. Marriage not only symbolized the religious union of a man and a woman, but also, indirectly influenced and affected social and political ties. The Prophet said, "He who wishes to appear before God with a pure soul, should get married." 35
The Prophet set the example of marriage with his own daughter, Lady Fatima. Although many friends and companions of the Prophet had proposed marriage to Fatima, they were made aware that her marriage was not going to be based on affluence, rank, or descent. The men knew that the person that resembled the Prophet in matters of truthfulness, spiritual merit, and moral excellence would be none other than Ali.
The Prophet (by God's direction) told the suitors that the marriage of Fatima would only occur by Divine order. When Ali approached the Prophet to seek his blessings in marrying his daughter, he was overcome with shyness. The Prophet encouraged him to speak at which point Ali proposed. However the Prophet did not answer him immediately. The Prophet then consulted Fatima and sought her reply, which she accepted. The marriage of Ali and Fatima was then solemnized by God Himself and declared as such by the Prophet .
After the migration to Madina, the Prophet faced continual threats from the Quraysh and the polytheists of Mecca, and the non-Muslims who lived in and around Madina. Peace and security were paramount, yet the Prophet's attempts to keep peace within the region were proving to be futile. The opposition in Mecca mobilized its troops to demolish the newly established Islamic state in Madina.
Standing firm in the face of military aggression, the Prophet was compelled to defend Islam in what became known as the "Battle of Badr." The battle erupted only two years after the hijrah (migration), and although the Prophet's army was far outnumbered - historians report that they were out powered and outnumbered three to one - they triumphed. A story about this battle in the Quran reveals that God sent an army of angels to assist the Muslims against the Meccans. 36
The Muslim success in the battle gave immense prestige to the infant Islamic community in Madina and struck a major blow to the pride of the Meccans.
The following year, the Meccans wanted to avenge their defeat. On a small mountain called Uhud, west of Madina, the second major battle was fought which became known as the "Battle of Uhud."
In the beginning of the battle, the Muslims showed signs of victory. However, the insubordination 37 of some Muslim men caused the final setback in the battle in which many Muslims were injured and lost their lives. The Prophet himself was injured and he lost his beloved uncle, Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib, who was one of his greatest supporters.
Although the Battle of Uhud was a setback for the Muslim community, they were able to remain in Madina.
Afterwards, many other victorious defensive battles consolidated the Muslims; 38 hence, Islam became an ever-increasing spiritual and political force in Arabia, which eventually paved the way to the conquest of Mecca.
In the ninth year of the hijrah (630 CE), Prophet Muhammad and his followers entered Mecca after a peaceful surrender by the Meccans. The Prophet went directly to the Kabah 39 to perform the tawaf (circumambulation). As he entered the station of the Kabah, there sat the three main idols that the pagans had worshipped above the Kabah's door entrance. With his spear, Prophet Muhammad destroyed them while reciting, "And say, truth has arrived and falsehood has perished, for falsehood is bound to perish." 40
Subsequently, more than three-hundred idols were destroyed inside and around the Kabah. The destruction of the idols symbolized the arrival and the proclamation of truth and the end to falsehood. Islam was now home. The Prophet then granted general amnesty to all the Meccans who had fought against him for twenty-two years. Afterwards he addressed them with these words, "You have been unreasonable countrymen. You refuted my prophethood and turned me out of my home, and when I took refuge in a far-off place, you rose to fight against me. You killed my uncle and my best companions. However, in spite of all these crimes of yours, I forgive all of you and make you free, and declare that you may go after the pursuits of your life." 41
During the tenth year of the hijrah, the Prophet performed the "Farewell Hajj," 42 which was also his only and final Hajj pilgrimage. On the day of Arafat, 43 over 100,000 pilgrims were present when the Prophet commenced his sermon by saying, "O people! Hear my words, for it possible that I may not meet you at this place in the future. O people! Your blood and property (honor and reputation) are forbidden toward one another until the day you meet Allah. O people! Your women have rights upon you and you also have rights upon them. You should treat them with kindness and love, and you should provide them with a comfortable means in life…" 44
After the farewell pilgrimage and three months before the Prophet's death, the final verse of the Quran was revealed, "Today I [Allah] have perfected for you your religion, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion." (5:3)
On the 28th of Safar (the second month of the lunar-based, Islamic calendar) 11 AH (632 ce), at the age of sixty-three, the Noble Prophet died. At the time of his death, the majority of the people in Arabia had accepted Islam as their religion and way of life.
All of the universal messengers of God had successors. God appointed His messengers for the guidance of mankind; and as a matter of necessity, He also appointed successors to the prophets and messengers.
Prophet Abraham was succeeded by two of his sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Prophet Moses after his lifetime, was succeeded by Yusha ibn Noon. Even Prophet Jesus had a successor, Sham'oon ibn Hamoon al-Safa to continue the propagation of his message. Similarly, Prophet Muhammad was succeeded by twelve distinguished successors, one after another. These successors are called imams and were appointed by God, not by the masses.
The right to ordain imams belongs to God alone, and the Quran makes this point in many verses, "And remember when your Lord said to the angels, 'Verily I am going to place a successor [khalifa] on the earth.'" (2:30) "And remember when the Lord of Abraham tried him with certain commands which he fulfilled; Allah said to him, 'Verily I am going to make you a leader [imam] over mankind.'" (2:124) God addressed Prophet David as such, "O David! Verily We have placed you as a successor on the earth." (38:26) God also attributes the right of appointing leaders to Himself, God says, "We made from among them leaders, giving guidance under Our command." (32:24)
During the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, he specifically mentioned the names of the leaders [imams] that would come after him and said that there would be twelve leaders, and that all of them will be from the descendents of the tribe of the Quraysh. 45
The imams were the authorities of God among mankind and they all had unique qualities in matters of knowledge, forbearance, morality, and justice.
The twelve successors of Prophet Muhammad are as follows:
1. Ali ibn Abi Talib
Father's name: Abu Talib ibn 46 Abd al-Muttalib
Mother's name: Lady Fatima bint 47 Asad
Birth: Mecca, on the 13th of Rajab, 23 bh 48 (600 ce)
Death: Murdered at the age of sixty-three. While praying in the mosque, he was mortally wounded by a poisoned sword of an assassin on the 21st of Ramadan, 40 ah 49 (661 ce), in Kufa. He is buried in Najaf al-Ashraf (Iraq).
Known as the "Commander of the Faithful" (Amir al-Mumineen), Imam Ali was the Prophet's first cousin and son-in-law (married to Lady Fatima); he was also the first male to embrace Islam. The Prophet ascribed Imam Ali with historical sayings, such as, "I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate," and "Whoever considers me his leader, Ali is also his leader." 50 Imam Ali was recognized for his knowledge, wisdom, bravery, and justice. Many of Imam Ali's traditions and speeches have been preserved in a book called The Peak of Eloquence (Nahj al-Balagha).
1. Hasan ibn Ali
Father's name: Ali ibn Abi Talib
Mother's name: Lady Fatima bint Muhammad
Birth: Madina, on the 15th Ramadan, 2 ah (625 ce)
Death: Died at the age of forty-six. Poisoned under the direction of Muawiyah, governor of Syria on the 27th of Safar, 49 ah (670 ce). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.
Imam Hasan was the eldest son of Imam Ali and Lady Fatima. He devoted himself to the sacred mission of peacefully propagating of Islam. He excelled all others in knowledge and spiritual perfection. He resembled the Prophet in forbearance and generosity. For example, this Imam shared beneficence towards a man who was verbally abusing him.
The Imam approached the man with a smile and remarked, "May peace be with you. I think you have just arrived in this town, if you need food, I can provide food for you. If you need clothing, I can provide you with clothing. If you need shelter, I can provide you with a place to stay. If you need transportation, I can provide you with a ride; and if you need protection, I can protect you." After hearing this, the man replied, "I testify that you are the vicegerent of God on earth, and God knows better whom to entrust with the Divine message."
1. Husayn ibn Ali
Father's name: Ali ibn Abi Talib
Mother's name: Lady Fatima bint Muhammad Birth: Madina, on the 3rd of Shaban, 3 ah (626 ce) Death: Martyred at the age of fifty-eight in Karbala (Iraq), by the ruling army of Yazid ibn Muawiyah, on the 10th of Muharram, 61 ah (680 ce) and buried there.
Imam Husayn devoted his life to following the footsteps of his father and grandfather. During the time of the Umayyad Dynasty, corruption and mischief prevailed. Imam Husayn took it upon himself to oppose the authoritative regime of Yazid. By the invitation of the people of Iraq, Imam Husayn left his home in Madina and journeyed to Kufa with his family and companions. Before reaching Kufa, about sixty miles south of Baghdad, on the plains of Karbala, Imam Husayn was unfairly surrounded by Yazid's mass army and ultimately, on the 10th of Muharram, Imam Husayn, his family, and companions were massacred in an unequal and ruthless battle.
This day is known in the Islamic history as the "Day of Ashura." The battle of Karbala represents a battle between truth and falsehood, good and evil, justice and injustice, and freedom and oppression. Consequentially, the Imam became the beacon of light for the freedom of all of humanity. His martyrdom shook the foundations of the Muslim nation and stirred the consciousness of the people. Numerous revolutions and revolts followed Imam Husayn's martyrdom until the empire of Bani Umayyad collapsed.
Ashura still plays a very significant role in the life of Muslims today, in that the sacrifices of the martyrs symbolize the endeavor to fight injustice and deviation for all times and societies.
1. Ali ibn al-Husayn
Father's name: Husayn ibn Ali
Mother's name: Lady Shah-Zanan, daughter of Yazdeger III, King of Persia Birth: Madina, on the 15th of Jamadi al-Awwal, 36 ah (659 ce)
Death: Died at the age of fifty-eight. Poisoned by Walid ibn Abdil Malik ibn Marwan on the 25th of Muharram, 95 ah (713 ce). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.
He was known for his consistent worshipping and spiritual perfection in helping the needy. He used to carry bags of flour and bread on his back to take to the poor and needy families in Madina. He left behind many legacies of spiritual guidance, prayers, and supplications. A collection of his devotions and prayers are known as "Az-Zabur Aale Muhammad" (The Psalms of the Family of Muhammad - As-Sahifatul Kamilatul Sajjadiyah). Whenever a needy person approached him for help the Imam would say, "Welcome to those who carry my supplies to the next life."
1. Muhammad al-Baqir
Father's name: Ali Zaynul Abidin
Mother's name: Lady Fatima bint Hassan
Birth: Madina, on the 3rd of Safar 57 ah (676 ce) Death: Died at the age of fifty-seven. Poisoned by the ruler Hisham ibn Abdel Malik ibn Marwan, on the 7th of Dhul al-Hijjah, 124 ah (733 ce). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.
A man of great virtue and extensive knowledge, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir established the foundation of a grand university for Islamic studies in Madina. His pupils compiled books on different branches of science, jurisprudence, and arts under his instruction and guidance. A distinguished scholar from Mecca, Ibn Ata once described him by saying, "I never saw other scholars look as small as they did in the presence of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir." One of his students, Muhammad ibn Muslim said, "I asked al-Baqir all the questions that came to my mind (30,000 questions over a period of time), and he competently answered them all."
1. Jafar as-Sadiq
Father's name: Muhammad al-Baqir Mother's name: Lady Fatima bint al-Qasim Birth: Madina, on the 17th of Rabi al-Awwal, 83 ah (702 ce) Death: Died at the age of sixty-five. Poisoned by Abu Jafar al-Mansur, the Abbasid caliph on the 25th of Shawwal, 148 ah (765 ce). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq's father taught him the science of religion and the teachings of Islam. He became an authority for scholars and preachers and an expert in jurisprudence. After the martyrdom of his father, Imam as-Sadiq transformed the Prophet's mosque in Madina into a university from which to teach and expand upon Islamic theology. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq graduated hundreds of scholars who were versed in Islamic science and traditions of the Prophet.
He also taught some of the founders of the various Islamic schools of jurisprudence. Scholars and preachers gave testimony, acknowledging Imam as-Sadiq's great knowledge of Islam. One scholar, Sibt ibn al-Jawzi said, "Never have I seen scholars less knowledgeable in the presence of a man like Jafar as-Sadiq." Men of knowledge and piety recognized the characteristics of Imam as-Sadiq in leadership, scholarship, and as an unprecedented educator. The Imam was also a great social personality and an effective political force.
Imam as-Sadiq narrated thousands of traditions (hadiths), regarding every facet of life. He extensively discussed Islamic ethics, mannerism, integrity, goodness of character, and acts of worship. Additionally, he discussed jurisprudence and debated with leaders from various Islamic schools of thought.
1. Musa al-Kadhim
Father's name: Imam Jafar as-Sadiq
Mother's name: Lady Um-Hamida Birth: Abwa (an area between Mecca and Madina) on the 7th of Safar, 128 ah (746 ce) Death: Poisoned at the age of fifty-five on the 25th of Rajab, 183 AH (799 CE), and is buried in Baghdad, Iraq.
Imam al-Kadhim was the most knowledgeable person of Islam during his time, and he was mainly known for his long prostrations to God. He was known as "al-Kadhim" which means "one who swallows his anger," for showing his extreme patience and forbearance, due to his resistance against the tyranny of the Abbasid Caliph, Harun. He was imprisoned for fourteen years in a hostile environment in Basra and Baghdad, and eventually murdered.
1. Ali ar-Rida
Father's name: Imam Musa al-Kadhim
Mother's name: Lady Najma Birth: Madina on 11th of Dhul Qadah, 148 ah (765 ce) Death: Poisoned by the Abbassid Caliph on the last day of Safar, 203 ah (818 ce). Died at the age of fifty-three and is buried in Mashad, Iran.
Imam ar-Rida was summoned by the Abbassid Caliph, Mamoon, to the province of Khorasan, Iran to be crowned a prince as an attempt to quell the resistance of the caliph's dynasty. The Imam initially refused; but, he was then threatened with death. The Imam accepted conditionally, and proceeded to Iran and was eventually murdered there.
1. Muhammad al-Jawad
Father's name: Imam Ali ar-Rida
Mother's name: Lady Sabeeka Birth: Madina, on the 10th of Rajab, 195 ah (811 ce) Death: Poisoned by the Caliph, Al-Mutasim, at the age of twenty-four in the city of Baghdad on the last day of Dhul Qadah, 220 ah (835 ce).
At a very young age Imam al-Jawad was engaged in interfaith dialogue with the scholars of his time. Consequently, he became known among the people for his vast knowledge of Islam.
1. Ali al-Hadi
Father's name: Imam Muhammad al-Jawad
Mother's name: Lady Samanah Birth: Madina on the 15th of Dhul Hijah, 202 ah (827 ce) Death: Poisoned on the 3rd of Rajab, 254 ah (868 ce) at the age of forty-one and is buried in Samarra, Iraq.
During his time, Imam Ali al-Hadi remarkably surpassed others in human perfection, moral qualities, and generosity. He was summoned by the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mutawakil to the city of Samarra which housed the military barricade of the Abbasid Dynasty. There, Imam al-Hadi was placed under house arrest and was later murdered.
1. Hasan al-Askari
Father's name: Imam Ali al-Hadi Mother's name: Lady Jiddh Birth: The 10th of Rabiul Thani, 232 ah (846 ce)
Death: Poisoned by the caliph of his time on the 8th of Rabiul Awal, 260 ah (874 ce), at the age of twenty-one in the city of Samarra, Iraq. Imam al-Askari physically and spiritually resembled his great grandfather, the Prophet. The Christians of the time looked upon him as sharing the same qualities as Prophet Jesus.
1. Muhammad al-Mahdi
Father: Imam Hasan al-Askari
Mother: Lady Nargis Birth: Samarra on 15th of Shaban, 255 ah (869 ce) and is still alive up to the present day. Imam al-Mahdi is the last of the imams, and it is with him that the line of succession to Prophet Muhammad ends. All Islamic schools of thought agree that at the end of time, Imam al-Mahdi will come to make justice prevail on earth after it is overwhelmed with injustice and tyranny.
The idea that humanity will be saved is not peculiar to the Islamic faith. It is also shared by other religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism.
Although the concept of Imam al-Mahdi being alive after nearly thirteen centuries seems unconceivable by some, the Quran sets several examples of prophets who are still living, such as Jesus and Elijah. 51 The Quran also gives two other examples in the story of the "companions of the cave" 52 and Uzayr. 53 The continuous existence of Imam al-Mahdi is considered one of the miracles of God, and Muslims believe in it as part of the unseen world. 54 Imam al-Mahdi, still lives in this world by the will of God, but he does not live in public view. However, toward the end of human civilization, when the world is filled with evil and injustice, Imam al-Mahdi will re-appear to restore order and allow justice to prevail.
Father's name: Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah
Mother's name: Lady Khadijah bint Khuwaylid
Birth: Mecca on the 20th day of Jumaadi al-Thani 55, 7 bh (614 ce) forty-five years after the birth of the Prophet. Death: On the 3rd of Jumaadi al-Thaani, 11 ah (632 ce), at the age of eighteen, and buried in Medina.
Although Lady Fatima al-Zahra is not considered as an imam, she is however, included in this list because of her high status and importance.
Lady Fatima was five years old upon the advent of Islam. Although the Prophet had several children, Fatima was his favorite. Fatima and her father, Prophet Muhammad had a unique bond. Aisha, 56 one of the wives of the Prophet said, "I never saw a person who so resembled her father in speech, movements, and gestures more than Fatima, and when she went to visit her father, he would stand, take her hand, kiss it, and place her in his own seat." 57 Lady Fatima was very loving and spiritually close to her father. The Prophet once said this about his daughter, "Fatima is a part of me. Whoever angers her, angers me; and she is the mother of her father." 58
Lady Fatima carried the light of the message of the Prophet to the generations that were to come through her offspring [imams].
A chapter in the Quran was revealed about her in which God has said, "Verily, We have granted you [Prophet Muhammad] al-Kawthar. 59 Therefore, turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice for Him. And he who makes you angry - he will be cut off from offspring."
Lady Fatima was married to Imam Ali and had four children: Hasan, Husayn, Zaynab, and Um Kulthoom. Lady Fatima was the perfect example of virtue and righteousness; an exemplary woman in Islam. She set many examples in her social and political life.
A few days after the demise of the Prophet, Lady Fatima died at the young age of eighteen.
The Family of the Prophet (The Ahlul Bayt)
The term Ahlul Bayt refers to the immediate family members of Prophet Muhammad: his daughter Fatima, cousin and son-in-law Ali, and grandchildren Hasan and Husayn. The purity of the Ahlul Bayt is spoken about in the Quran, "Allah only wishes to remove all uncleanliness from you, O People of the House (Ahlul Bayt), and to purify you completely." (33:33)
These five members and the nine imams which descend from Husayn are referred to as Ahlul Bayt; and all of them are considered to be infallible.
Near the end of Prophet Muhammad's life he said, "It is probable that I will be called soon, and I will respond, so I leave behind me, for you, two weighty things: the Book of God [the Quran], and my Ahlul Bayt. Verily, God, the Merciful, the Aware, has informed me that these two will never be separated from each other until they meet me at the fountain in Heaven called Kawthar." 60 The Prophet also said, "The parable of my Ahlul Bayt is similar to that of Noah's ark. Whoever embarks on it will certainly be rescued, but whoever opposes the boarding of it will surely be drowned." 61
As a statute, the prophets of God did not ask for any reward in compensation for the pain and suffering that they endured while attempting to guide mankind. In fact, this refusal to accept compensation can be seen as the mark of a prophet. The Quran states, "Obey those who ask no reward from you and who have themselves received guidance." (36:21) However, by the command of God, Prophet Muhammad made one slight exception; although the Prophet refused to accept anything for himself, he was commanded by God to say, "I do not ask you for any reward except love for my relatives [the Ahlul Bayt]." (42:23)
Imam Ali spoke about Ahlul Bayt as, "We the Ahlul Bayt, possess the doors of wisdom and the light of governance. Be aware that the path of religion is one and its highways are straight. One who follows them achieves and secures the aim and objective; and one who stands away from them goes astray and incurs repentance." 62 Further he said that the example of the descendants of Prophet Muhammad is like that of stars in the sky, "when one star sets another one rises." 63
The Prophet of Islam has stated, "We are lights of the heavens and the earth and the ships of salvation. We are the repositories of knowledge, and toward us is the homecoming of all matters. Through our Mahdi (the final successor to the Prophet) all arguments shall be refuted, and he is the seal of the imams, the deliverer of the Muslim nation (ummah), and the extremity of the light. Happy are those who hold onto our handle and are brought together upon our love." 64
There will be a time on earth when everything that God created will cease to exist. The day of resurrection will be the time when all of mankind will be brought back to their original physical form and every human being, from the past to the present, will be resurrected and examined by the deeds that they performed during their lifetime - this day is called the "Day of Judgment."
The Quran has devoted almost one-third of its verses to this event, and in one passage we read:
"O mankind! If you are in doubt concerning the resurrection, then verily, We created you from dust, then from a drop, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh [both] shaped and shapeless, that We make it clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterwards We bring you forth as infants: then you attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dies [young] and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life so that, after knowledge, he knows nothing.
And you see the earth barren, but when We send down water on it, it thrills and swells and puts forth every lovely kind [of growth]. That is because Allah is Reality, and it is He Who gives life to the dead, and it is He Who has power over all things,
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