Resources

Some Basic Facts About Islam

By Christine Schirrmacher
January 01, 2002

Moslems believe in Allah, who is unique, almighty, eternal, merciful, and creator of heaven and earth. They believe in Allah's sending the prophet Muhammad. Every human being will be submitted to judgment at the Last Day and will give an account for his creed and every deed. Every single Moslem, man and woman, after puberty has to fulfill the five pillars of Islam if he wants to have hope of entering paradise after death.

The Five Pillars of Islam

  • The recitation of the Moslem creed (in Arabic: shahâda): There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.
  • Ritual prayer (in Arabic: salât): Every word spoken during prayer and every movement is prescribed by tradition. Prayer has to be recited in Arabic towards the city of Mecca.
  • Alms (in Arabic: zakât): About 2% of any Moslem's income should be given as alms.
  • Thirty days of fasting during the month of Ramadan (in Arabic: saum) from dawn to sunset. Voluntary fasting can be kept on additional days.
  • Pilgrimage to Mecca (in Arabic: hajj): All adult Moslems, men and women, are obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime.

Even if a Moslem is trying hard to fulfill all of these duties all of his life, there is no certainty of salvation for him, because he never knows if he has done enough good deeds to please Islam's god. Moslems believe that all human beings will be "brought back" to their creator (see e.g., surah 30:12) at the Day of Judgment and their deeds will be weighed on a scale. Good deeds and sin are balanced against each other.

On one hand, the Koran emphasizes that the god of Islam is merciful and gracious, but on the other side, he is almighty, and unlimited in his power. Therefore he is absolutely free in his decisions, and his judgment of men is totally unpredictable, because that would means limiting his sovereignty. In this case, man would dictate god's decisions and this is unthinkable. The only way to receive salvation and enter paradise for sure is to die as a martyr in the holy war, because the Koran promises direct entrance into paradise for everyone dying as a martyr.

"... and Muhammad Is His Prophet"
Not only does the Moslem creed contain a passage concerning belief in its god, it is also necessary to accept Muhammad as a messenger of Allah. He is the last prophet of history, the "seal of prophets" (surah 33:40). The Islamic perception of history is cyclic: Muhammad has preached the same message as all prophets preceding him (Adam, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, John the Baptist, and Jesus), the message of one god and the last judgment. Whenever men practiced paganism and idol worship after Allah sent one of his prophets, Allah would send another prophet who would again preach monotheism, i.e., Islam to the people.

Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus were Moslems and preachers of Islam. The Koran often speaks of Jesus (in about 93 verses) and always with respect. Jesus is called "messiah," "word of God," or "spirit of him." The Koran also refers to the virgin birth. Nevertheless the differences between the Bible and the Koran are much more significant than the similarities: the Koran categorically denies Jesus' representative death on the cross, as well as His resurrection, His deity, and the Trinity. In the Koran, Jesus is portrayed only as a human being and a prophet, a messenger of Allah.

Angels, as well as good and evil spirits (in Arabic: jinn), played an important role in pre-Islamic times. We read of good and evil spirits in the Koran; and in folk Islam, spirits play an important role. (Folk Islam is normally of much more significance for an average Moslem than is orthodox Islam.) Many Moslems live constantly in desperate fear of the influence of evil spirits and demons, of the "evil eye," and all emerging consequences, which can be reversed by "counter magic." In folk Islam, there are grave cults, praying to dead saints and mystics, magic practices and amulets, exorcism, relic cult, and pilgrimages to holy shrines, etc.

Islam as such encloses all areas of life of a people group, of a family, and a single being. Islam gives directions for politics as well as for economics, for family life, and for all of society.


Topics: Theology, World History

Christine Schirrmacher

Christine Schirrmacher (born 1962), M.A., Dr. phil. (Ph.D.), in Islamic Studies at the State University of Bonn, Germany, is married to Thomas Schirrmacher, the mother of two children, and lecturer of Islamic Studies at Martin Bucer Seminary Bonn and Hamburg. She is also professor and head of the department of Islamic studies at Whitefield Theological Seminary, Lakeland, Florida. She is author of a two-volume standard introduction to Islam, as well as of books and numerous articles published in German, English, French, and Dutch magazines. She can be reached at [email protected].

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