This is Islam


Dr. Abdel Azim Elsiddig

Bridges Program



The Arabic word “Islam” literally means submission without question, suspicion or doubt (2:04), or finding peace of mind and joy through knowing, understanding and serving the only one God, Allah. Followers of Islam are called Muslims which simply refers to anyone who chooses to freely and unconditionally accept and follow Islam as revealed in the Quran and practiced by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger of God and the Quran refers to him as the “Seal of the Prophets” (33:40).  Muslims pray five times every day in addition to other voluntary prayer services they do on their own in their attempts to follow the sunnah or practice of their Prophet Muhammad.

On Fridays, Muslims gather in mosques for communal prayers led by their imams or religious leaders. Every adult Muslim of sound mind is required to strictly adhere to the arkan or the Five Pillars of Islam: shahadah, or creed which is basically a firm belief and declaration that there is no deity worthy of worship or service except Allah (Arabic for God), and that Muhammad is his messenger); salat, or prayer (five times a day, at prescribed times); zakat, or charity which is the giving away of a certain percentage of one’s wealth to eight categories of people as prescribed in the Quran(9:60); sawm, or fasting (during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims refrain from food, drink and sexual relations during the day); and hajj, or pilgrimage (all Muslims who are able are required to travel to Makkah once in their lifetime).

Islam acknowledges that several prophets preceded Muhammad. Only God knows the exact number of the prophets and messengers who brought the same message of Oneness and Peace to humanity through history (14:9). The most notable ones besides Muhammad are Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus who earned the Quranic title “steadfast” (46:35). Each of those four great prophets in addition to another great one, David, received revelation from God through scriptures as mentioned and contained in part into the Old and New Testaments. These predecessors to Muhammad are considered great prophets who spoke the word of God to certain people at a very specific time. Jesus, for example, was sent only to the Children of Israel at his time (61:06). See also Matthew 15: 24 where Jesus was reported to have said: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” This specificity applies also to Moses (61:05) and to every other prophet save Muhammad who was sent as mercy to all of humankind (21:107).

Islam is the eternal message of Allah to all people without any exception. The mission of calling people to God began with Noah through Abraham, Moses and Jesus to reach its final and refined form with the final prophet and messenger Muhammad. Practically speaking, Islam in its final form is based on six basic concepts of faith (belief) and five fundamental pillars (words and actions) without which one’s belief is not complete. The six beliefs are:

1. Belief in One God, Allah. (This is tawhid in Arabic.)

2. Belief in the Angels,

3. Belief in the Scriptures,

4. Belief in all Messengers,

5. Belief in the Day of Judgment.

6. Belief in Predestination.

The five pillars of Islam are:

1. Al-Shahada or creed with its transliteration in Arabic as ašhadu ‘al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa ‘ašhadu ‘anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh meaning I bear witness to the truth that there is no deity worthy of worship or any form of ritual service except Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.  The shahada is considered the most essential pillar in Islam and the other four pillars are but a manifestation of this foundation. The shahada is also used by Muslims in calling for their five daily prayers or while standing in lines to show the formal prayer is about to start.  New Muslims usually say it in public in front of an imam to announce their formal acceptance of Islam before they become active members of the Muslim community, large or small.

2. Salat or prayer: Muslims are required to pray five times a day at specific times. These mandatory five prayers are fajr (morning), Thuhr (noon), A’sr (afternoon), maghrib (sunset or evening), and Isha(night). Salat in Arabic means link, bond or connection. It is the natural, simple and direct spiritual connection between every individual Muslim and their Creator Allah. It goes far beyond the other four pillars to create in a Muslim that special and sweet sensational feeling of security, inner peace, fulfillment and satisfaction.

3. Zakat or charity: it is the Muslim’s personal commitment to help the poor and those who are in need by providing them with a fixed and specific portion of his/her wealth as part of a community service to fight poverty and social inequality. It should be done by every able Muslim individual as a duty not a favor to the poor and needy community members.

4. Sawm or fasting: Fasting every day of the whole month of Ramadan is a special form of worship that is more than abstaining from food, water, and sex from predawn to sunset but also refraining from anything bad said or done which may hurt or harm others. The purpose is to purify the soul and uplift the spirit to reach its heights and free itself from any worldly trap or bondage. That’s the only way for the souls to seek and find that very special connection with Allah. Now we can understand why in Islam the salat and sawm always go hand in hand, and for this reason, Muslims who fast through the day are encouraged to do extra-long taraweeh prayers through the 29 nights of the month of Ramadan.

5. Hajj or Pilgrimage: It is a mandatory ritual and a religious duty for Muslims who are able to travel from their home lands with the intention to perform hajj in Makkah, the birth place of the Prophet of Islam. It takes 5 or 6 days starting on the 8th day of Dhu Al Hijja which is the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is, by all means, the most manifest symbol of equality in the world today. All Muslims at the Hajj sites stand together in the same place at the same time wearing the same clothes and doing the same rituals regardless of their race, gender, color, status, nationality, and sect. The two pieces of plain white fabrics Muslim men wear during Hajj is a reminder that we do not really need too much of everything to go through this life. One of the lessons I got during my past hajj tours is the beauty of simplicity. We have and want much more than we usually need. God is always on the side of those who are faithful, humble and simple. These are the three main components of hajj in Islam. One must also remember the animal sacrifices offered during hajj days which help feed millions of starving people all over the world.

Islam cannot be defined in one word and cannot be covered in a short article like this. For a committed Muslim, Islam is a complete and comprehensive way of life which governs, regulates and organizes the personal life of the individuals and the society. Hence it covers the spiritual, social, economic, cultural, political and international aspects.

The Quran for Muslims is the word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic through the Angel Gabriel. It was written down during the life of Prophet Muhammad by some of his trusted secretaries, and later compiled in one text during the time of the third Caliph Othman. Muslims also refer to the Sunnah which means the sayings, actions and the ratifications of the Prophet as narrated by his companions and later collected by some Muslim scholars in their books of sunnah and hadith. The most authentic texts of hadith are the Muwatta of Imam Malik of Medina and the two Sahih Books of Imams Bukhari and Muslim. While the majority of Muslim scholars do not regard the hadith as revealed or divine scripture in the technical sense of the word, the Sunna nevertheless comes second to the Quran as the main source of the Islamic Sharia Law.  Sharia Law contains enough teachings, rules and guidelines to govern every aspect of the Muslim life from simple things like halal food and family life to complicated issues such as banks and governments.

Two Important Dates

Muslims all over the world celebrate the end of the month of Ramadan with Eid al- Fitr which is the feast of completing the fast. Another bigger event follows 70 days later on the hajj day when Muslims enjoy the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha meaning the feast of sacrifice. In this holiday’s tradition, Muslims relive and replay the story of Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismail as it is portrayed in the Quran.


Many Muslims today are not aware of how Islam evolved to reach its position in the contemporary world. It started as a simple religion more than fourteen centuries back in the small town of Makkah in Arabia. It struggled there in Makkah for thirteen years until the Prophet and his companions were forced to seek shelter in Medina where he died ten years later after he liberated Makkah from idolatry and any other form of polytheism. The Prophet was succeeded by four caliphs who took over the responsibility of spreading Islam outside Arabia to its neighbors and beyond. Islam went all the ways west to Europe and went far enough to Indonesia and Malaysia in the East.

Islamic legacy today is a result of many complicated sociopolitical factors. In most places, Islamic culture is made up of old pre-Islamic traditions mixed up with misinterpretations of original Islamic teachings and some other foreign elements. Many sects and groups appeared and died throughout Islamic history. Those who survived from among the Sunni followers as opposed to the Shia Muslims are either salafi, sufi or somewhere in between the two big sects. While the salafi adherents focus on the literal interpretation of the text, the sufi novices on the other hand are dedicated to revive the lost spiritual component of the mission of all the Prophets including Jesus.

Some Muslims consider themselves fortunate enough to have been born and raised in sufi territories where they find it easy to start a long and challenging spiritual journey with their praying partners and the peace loving men and women from among the Jews and Christians. Prayer circles and spiritual fellowships are quietly and privately spreading inside the United States and beyond to create a healthy atmosphere for believers to communicate, connect, break bread and pray together for peace and reconciliation. These seemingly small circles are our hopes to turn organized religions into a worldwide revolution of hearts and minds, and leave behind a legacy of love, peace and brotherhood for the next generations. Thanks to our good hearted fellows and friends like Mark and Nancy Siljander, Carl and Chris Medearis, Safi and Eman Kaskas along with many other good folks who made it easy for some of us to follow in their footsteps. Together, they have created a unique and unprecedented spiritual track that is open to every peace-loving individual or group to follow.