About Saudi Arabia
For centuries the people of the Arabian Peninsula have possessed a strong identity based upon the tenets of Islam. Saudi Arabia is a modern nation that adheres to Islam, honors its Arab heritage and tradition, and presses vigorously forward in the service of Islam while securing the welfare of its people.
Islam, one of the world's great monotheistic religions, has Saudi Arabia as its heartland. The followers of Islam, called Muslims, believe in God - in Arabic, Allah - and that Muhammad is His Prophet. Today, the worldwide community of Muslims, which embraces the people of many races and cultures, numbers well over one billion.
Historically, Saudi Arabia has occupied a special place in the Islamic world, for it is towards Makkah and Islam's most sacred shrine, the Ka'abah, located in the Holy Mosque there, that Muslims throughout the world turn devoutly in prayer five times a day. An appreciation of Islamic history and culture is therefore essential for a genuine understanding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its Islamic heritage and its leading role in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Table of Contents
- Guardian of The Holy Places
- Islam And Muslims
- Saudi Arabia: Islam's Heartland
- The Coming Of The Prophet
- The Community Of The Faithful
- The Five Pillars Of Islam
- The Rise Of Islam
- Understanding Islam
- What Do Muslims Believe?
- How Does Someone Become A Muslim?
- What Does 'Islam' Mean?
- Why Does Islam Often Seem Strange?
- Do Islam And Christianity Have Different Origins?
- What Is The Ka’abah?
- Who Is Muhammad?
- How Did He Become A Prophet And A Messenger Of God?
- How Did The Spread Of Islam Affect The World?
- What Is The Qur’an?
- What Is The Qur'an About?
- Are There Any Other Sacred Sources?
- Examples Of The Prophet's Sayings
- What Are The 'Five Pillars' Of Islam?
- Does Islam Tolerate Other Beliefs?
- What Do Muslims Think About Jesus?
- Why Is The Family So Important To Muslims?
- What About Muslim Women?
- Can A Muslim Have More Than One Wife?
- Is Islamic Marriage Like Christian Marriage?
- How Do Muslims Treat The Elderly?
- How Do Muslims View Death?
- What Does Islam Say About War?
- What About Food?
- Islam In The United States
- How Does Islam Guarantee Human Rights?
Saudi Arabia is the home of two of Islam's holy sanctuaries: Makkah the Blessed and Madinah the Radiant. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, enclosing the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, completes the trio of venerated shrines in the Islamic world.
To Saudi Arabia, caring for the holy cities of Makkah, the birthplace of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, and Madinah, the Prophet's burial place, is a sacred trust exercised on behalf of all Muslims. Recognizing the unique and historic tradition these holy sites represent, King Fahd bin Abdulaziz adopted the official title of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques as an expression of his deep sense of responsibility toward Islam.
Saudi Arabia's dedication to Islam is demonstrated by its superb maintenance and expansion of the holy sites, enabling greater numbers of Muslim pilgrims to perform the Hajj. This has always been an essential priority for the Kingdom. Every year funds from the annual budget are allocated exclusively for this purpose. The Ministry of Pilgrimage, in conjunction with other government agencies, oversees the annual logistical challenge of preparing for the Hajj and supports projects in the Kingdom and abroad that promote Islam's role in the community.
Beginning with the late King Abdulaziz, Saudi leaders have directed a series of ongoing projects aimed at improving the quality of accommodation, health care and other services for the pilgrims. An essential component of this policy has been the expansion of the Holy Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. At the time of Saudi Arabia's unification in 1932, the Holy Mosque could accommodate 48,000 worshipers and the Prophet's Mosque 17,000. A series of expansion plans, the latest of which was completed in 1992, increased the capacity of the two holy mosques to more than one million and over half a million, respectively. Under the personal direction of King Fahd, the work also improved the infrastructure and services necessary to enable the millions of pilgrims to carry out their religious observances in comfort and safety. This has included new airport and port facilities in Jeddah and other points of entry for pilgrims, roads to Makkah and Madinah, comfortable accommodations and an extensive health care network. It is an effort that is ongoing, with improvements each year that have included the installation of fire-proof tents and the provision of telecommunication facilities.
As part of the Kingdom's efforts to better serve Muslim pilgrims, whose numbers are expected to continue to increase, in 1993 King Fahd re structured the Ministry of Pilgrimage and Endowments into two separate organizations -- the Ministry of Pilgrimage, which deals exclusively with the Hajj, and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance.
The vast financial and human resources Saudi Arabia has committed to the Hajjreflect the dedication of the leadership and citizens of the Kingdom to the service of Islam and the holy sites and to preserving them as a haven of peace for all Muslims.
What is Islam?
Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith.
Who are the Muslims?
One billion people from a vast range of races, nationalities and cultures across the globe—from the southern Philippines to Nigeria—are united by their common Islamic faith. About 18% live in the Arab world; the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia; substantial parts of Asia and most of Africa are Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in the Soviet Union, China, North and South America, and Europe.
Islam has profoundly affected the history and development of the Arabian Peninsula and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular.
In the 18th century, a religious scholar of the central Najd, Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, joined forces with Muhammad bin Saud, the ruler of the town of Diriyah, to bring the Najd and the rest of Arabia back to the original and undefiled form of Islam.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the heartland of Islam, the birthplace of its history, the site of the two holy mosques and the focus of Islamic devotion and prayer. Saudi Arabia is committed to preserving the Islamic tradition in all areas of government and society. Islam guides not only the lives of the people, but also the policies and functions of the government. The Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the Kingdom and Shari'ah (Islamic law) is the basis of the Saudi legal system.
Saudi Arabia is a leader in the pursuit of worldwide Islamic solidarity. It hosts the Muslim World League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, institutions dedicated to preserving Islamic interests.
In many respects, the Kingdom has been responsive to the needs of the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia contributes generously to the Islamic Development Fund, which provides assistance for community infrastructure projects; to the Islamic Development Bank, headquartered in Jeddah, and to the Islamic Organization for Science, Technology and Development. Saudi Arabian leaders also work tirelessly to promote peace and stability in Muslim and Arab countries and throughout the world.
Around the year 570 AD, Muhammad was born into a family of the ruling tribe of Makkah. Makkah, a caravan city in the western region of Arabia, grew around the Ka'abah (the House of God), a shrine of ancient origins built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. Pre-Islamic Arabia was polytheistic and idols used to be housed in and around the Ka'abah. In the 6th century, Makkah was one of Arabia's thriving commercial centers.
Orphaned as a child, Muhammad spent several years among the Bedouins of the desert, developing a love for the rich Arabic language. As a young man, Muhammad traveled widely with the trade caravans before dedicating his life to Islam.
In 610 God revealed His word to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. In this way, Muhammad became the chosen bearer of the divine message and began proclaiming the oneness of God. The name of this new religion, Islam, means "submission to God" The followers of Islam are called Muslims, meaning "those who submit."
As more revelations enjoined him to proclaim the oneness of God universally, the Prophet Muhammad's following grew. God's message as conveyed through Muhammad was not, however, unanimously accepted in Makkah. Pagan worshippers threatened by the new monotheistic religion and merchants anxious to preserve the profitable pilgrimage trade intensified their opposition to the followers of Islam. To foil an assassination plot against him, Muhammad and a small group of his dedicated followers in 622 emigrated to the town of Yathrib, which was later named Madinat Al-Nabi, meaning 'City of the Prophet', and now known simply as Madinah. This, the Hijrah or emigration, dates the beginning of the Islamic calendar and the history of the Islamic community. Within the next few years, several battles took place between Muhammad's followers and the pagans of Makkah. The Prophet Muhammad unified the tribes so successfully that in 628 he and his followers reentered Makkah without bloodshed, destroying the idols in the Ka'abah, and the inhabitants of Makkah embraced Islam.
Less than 100 years from the advent of Islam, the Islamic Empire extended from Spain to areas of India and China. Islam made no distinction based on race, class, or background, and the Muslim world was considered a single worldwide community, the ummah.
Islamic rule thrived well into the 17th century, and while Europe was passing through the Middle Ages, the Islamic civilization made tremendous scientific, medical, literary and artistic advances that have had a lasting impact on the world.
Islam is at once a religion and a total way of life. It prescribes order for individuals, societies and governments and codifies law, family relationships, matters of business, etiquette, dress, food, hygiene and much more. The ummah, or community of believers, is unified across national boundaries by its conscious acceptance of the oneness of God and its dedication to the teachings of Islam. There is no human hierarchy that intervenes between the individual and God; in the eyes of Islam, all people are equal.
The Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, is the Word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabic language. It is the final revelation and Muhammad is the final Prophet. For 14 centuries the Holy Qur'an has illuminated the lives of Muslims with its eloquent message, shaping their everyday lives, anchoring them to a unique system of law and inspiring them by its guiding principles. The Sunnah (teachings and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) complements the Holy Qu'ran as it embodies his meticulously documented teachings that were preserved by his companions in a body of writings called the Hadith.
The Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah provide the framework for Shari'ah, the sacred law of Islam, which governs all aspects of the public and private, social and economic, religious and political life of every Muslim.
Profession of faith, is the first pillar of Islam. Muslims bear witness to the oneness of God by reciting the creed "There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God." This simple yet profound statement expresses a Muslim's complete acceptance of and total commitment to Islam.
Prayer, is the second pillar. The Islamic faith is based on the belief that individuals have a direct relationship with God. The world's Muslims turn individually and collectively to Makkah, Islam's holiest city, to offer five daily prayers at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening. In addition, Friday congregational service is also required. Although salah can he performed alone, it is meritorious to perform it with another or with a group. It is permissible to pray at home, at work, or even outdoors; however it is recommended that Muslims perform salah in a mosque.
Almsgiving, is the third pillar. Social responsibility is considered part of one's service to God; the obligatory act of zakat enshrines this duty. Zakat prescribes payment of fixed proportions of a Muslim's possessions for the welfare of the entire community and in particular for its neediest members. It is equal to 2.5 percent of an individual's total net worth, excluding obligations and family expenses.
Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, is the fourth pillar of Islam. Ordained in the Holy Qur'an, the fast is an act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a richer perception of God. Fasting is also an exercise in self-control whereby one's sensitivity is heightened to the sufferings of the poor. Ramadan, the month during which the Holy Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, begins with the sighting of the new moon, after which abstention from eating, drinking and other sensual pleasures is obligatory from dawn to sunset. Ramadanis also a joyful month. Muslims break their fast at sunset with a special meal, iftar, perform additional nocturnal worship, tarawih, after evening prayer; and throng the streets in moods that are festive and communal. The end of Ramadan is observed by three days of celebration called Eid Al-Fitr, the feast of the breaking of the fast. Customarily, it is a time for family reunion and the favored holiday for children who receive new clothing and gifts.
The pilgrimage to Makkah, is the fifth pillar and the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world. For those Muslims who are physically and financially able to make the journey to Makkah, the Hajj is a once in a lifetime duty that is the peak of their religious life. The Hajj is a remarkable spiritual gathering of over two million Muslims from all over the world to the holy city. In performing the Hajj, a pilgrim follows the order of ritual that the Prophet Muhammad performed during his last pilgrimage.
The five pillars of Islam define the basic identity of Muslims - their faith, beliefs and practices - and bind together a worldwide community of believers into a fellowship of shared values and concerns.
Summoned by its call, the faithful spread Islam across the Arabian Peninsula. Within a century, Islam had swept across the Middle East and North Africa. At its apogee, Islam held sway as far as Spain in the west and India and China in the east. Islam introduced a comprehensive faith and a political-legal system that established order and justice.
Islam fostered the flowering of brilliant civilizations and the development of great centers of learning. It was a period of dynamism, a melding of ancient and new thought, with the Muslim world acting as the repository of knowledge and a bridge between the east and the west. Great contributions were made by Muslim scholars and artists. Islamic civilization - rich, sophisticated and varied - has taken its place among the great cultural achievements of human history. The genius of Muslim civilization set the stage for the European Renaissance.
In the 20th century, Islam reemerged on the world stage as a major political and economic presence. Despite great changes in traditional societies as well as the demands of the contemporary age, Islam has demonstrated its unique adaptability and grown as a dynamic and universal religion with a continued impact on world affairs. Through its emphasis on peace, equality, tolerance and justice, Islam remains a strong spiritual and moral force in many countries and societies.
Understanding Islam and the Muslims.
In the Name of God, Most Gracious,Most Merciful.
Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of Judgement and individual accountability for actions; in God's complete authority over human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace be upon them. But God's final message to man, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing-up of all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through Gabriel.
Simply by saying 'there is no god apart from God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.' By this declaration the believer announces his or her faith in all God's messengers, and the scriptures they brought.
The Arabic word 'Islam' simply means 'submission', and derives from a word meaning 'peace'. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of God.
'Mohammedanism' is thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad rather than God. 'Allah' is the Arabic name for God, which is used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.
Islam may seem exotic or even extreme in the modern world. Perhaps this is because religion does not dominate everyday life in the West today, whereas Muslims have religion always uppermost in their minds, and make no division between secular and sacred. They believe that the Divine Law, the Shari'a, should be taken very seriously, which is why issues related to religion are still so important.
No. Together with Judaism, they go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly descended from his sons - Muhammad from the eldest, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from Isaac. Abraham established the settlement which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka'abah towards which all Muslims turn when they pray.
The Ka'abah is the place of worship which God commanded Abraham and Ishmael to build over four thousand years ago. The building was constructed of stone on what many believe was the original site of a sanctuary established by Adam. God commanded Abraham to summon all mankind to visit this place, and when pilgrims go there today they say 'At Thy service, O Lord', in response to Abraham's summons.
Muhammad was born in Makkah in the year 570, at a time when Christianity was not yet fully established in Europe. Since his father died before his birth, and his mother shortly afterwards, he was raised by his uncle from the respected tribe of Quraysh. As he grew up, he became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, so that he was sought after for his ability to arbitrate in disputes. The historians describe him as calm and meditative.
Muhammad was of a deeply religious nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira near the summit of Jaba al-Nur, the 'Mountain of Light' near Makkah.
At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the Angel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty-three years, is known as the Qur'an.
As soon as be began to recite the words he heard from Gabriel, and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him, he and his small group of followers suffered bitter persecution which grew so fierce that in the year 622 God gave them the command to emigrate. This event, the Hijra, 'migration', in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah some 260 miles to the north, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
After several years, the Prophet and his followers were able to return to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and established Islam definitively. Before the Prophet died at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century of his death Islam had spread to Spain in the West and as far East as China.
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. It also repeatedly instructs man to use his powers of intelligence and observation.
Within a few years, great civilizations and universities were flourishing, for according to the Prophet, 'seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man and woman'. The synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas and of new thought with old, brought about great advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, art, literature, and history. Many crucial systems such as algebra, the Arabic numerals, and also the concept of the zero (vital to the advancement of mathematics), were transmitted to medieval Europe from Islam. Sophisticated instruments which were to make possible the European voyages of discovery were developed, including the astrolabe, the quadrant and good navigational maps.
The Qur'an is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Qur'an is in every detail the unique and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad fourteen centuries ago.
The Qur'an, the last revealed Word of God, is the prime source of every Muslim's faith and practice. It deals with all the subjects which concern us as human beings: wisdom, doctrine, worship, and law, but its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creatures. At the same time it provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and an equitable economic system.
Yes, the Sunna, the practice and example of the Prophet, is the second authority for Muslims. A Hadith is a reliably transmitted report of what the Prophet said, did, or approved. Belief in the Sunna is part of the Islamic faith.
The Prophet said:
- 'God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others'.
- 'None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself'.
- 'He who eats his fill while his neighbor goes without food is not a believer'.
- 'The truthful and trusty businessman is associated with the prophets, the saints, and the martyrs'.
- 'Powerful is not he who knocks the other down, indeed powerful is he who controls himself in a fit of anger'.
- 'God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds'.
- 'A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action'. The Prophet was asked: 'Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?' He said, 'There is a reward for kindness to every living thing'.
From the Hadith collections of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Bayhaqi
They are the framework of the Muslim life: faith, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.
There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula which all the faithful pronounce. In Arabic, the first part is la ilaha illa'Llah - 'there is no god except God'; ilaha (god) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God -- wealth, power, and the like. Then comes illa'Llah:' except God, the source of all Creation. The second part of the Shahada is Muhammadun rasulu'Llah: 'Muhammad is the messenger of God'. A message of guidance has come through a man like ourselves.
A translation of the Call to Prayer is:
God is most great. God is most great.
God is most great. God is most great.
I testify that there is no god except God.
I testify that there is no god except God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Come to prayer! Come to prayer!
Come to success (in this life and the Hereafter)! Come to success!
God is most great. God is most great.
There is no god except God.
Salah is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Qur'an, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the Qur'an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one's own language.
Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life.
3. The 'Zakat'
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakat means both 'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.
Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one's capital.
A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet said 'even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity'.
The Prophet said: 'Charity is a necessity for every Muslim'. He was asked: 'What if a person has nothing?' The Prophet replied: 'He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity'. The Companions asked: 'What if he is not able to work?' The Prophet said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The Companions further asked 'What is he cannot do even that?' The Prophet said 'He should urge others to do good'. The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet said 'He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.'
4. The Fast
Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier.
Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method of self-purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one's spiritual life.
5. Pilgrimage (Hajj)
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah—the Hajj—is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those
of different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments which strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Ka'abah seven times, and going seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafa and join in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgement.
In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with water, modern transport, and the most up-to-date health facilities.
The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.
The Qur'an says: God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just. (Qur'an, 60:8)
It is one function of Islamic law to protect the privileged status of minorities, and this is why non-Muslim places of worship have flourished all over the Islamic world. History provides many examples of Muslim tolerance towards other faiths: when the caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city.
Islamic law also permits non- Muslim minorities to set up their own courts, which implement family laws drawn up by the minorities themselves.
Muslims respect and revere Jesus, and await his Second Coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God's Messengers to mankind. A Muslim never refers to him simply as 'Jesus', but always adds the phrase 'upon him be peace'. The Qur'an confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Qur'an is entitled 'Mary'), and Mary is considered the purest woman in all creation. The Qur'an describes the Annunciation as follows:
'Behold!' the Angel said, 'God has chosen you, and purified you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary, God gives you good news of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near to God. He shall speak to the people from his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of the righteous.'
She said: 'O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?' He said: 'Even so; God creates what He will. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, "Be!" and it is.' (Qur'an, 3:42-7)
Jesus was born miraculously through the same power which had brought Adam into being without a father:
Truly, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust, and then said to him, 'Be!' and he was. (3:59)
During his prophetic mission Jesus performed many miracles. The Qur'an tells us that he said:
I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by God's leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by God's leave. (3:49)
Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it. In the Qur'an Jesus is reported as saying that he came:
To attest the law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden you; I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey me. (3:50)
The Prophet Muhammad said:
Whoever believes there is no god but God, alone without partner, that Muhammad is His messenger, that Jesus is the servant and messenger of God, His word breathed into Mary and a spirit emanating from Him, and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be received by God into Heaven. (Hadith from Bukhari)
The family is the foundation of Islamic society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued, and seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members. A harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended families; children are treasured, and rarely leave home until the time they marry.
Islam sees a woman, whether single or married, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own and dispose of her property and earnings. A marriage dowry is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she keeps her own family name rather than taking her husband's.
Both men and women are expected to dress in a way which is modest and dignified; the traditions of female dress found in some Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs.
The Messenger of God said:
'The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife.'
The religion of Islam was revealed for all societies and all times and so accommodates widely differing social requirements. Circumstances may warrant the taking of another wife but the right is granted, according to the Qur'an, only on condition that the husband is scrupulously fair.
A Muslim marriage is not a 'sacrament', but a simple, legal agreement in which either partner is free to include conditions. Marriage customs thus vary widely from country to country. As a result, divorce is not common, although it is not forbidden as a last resort. According to Islam, no Muslim girl can be forced to marry against her will: her parents will simply suggest young men they think may be suitable.
In the Islamic world there are no old people's homes. The strain of caring for one's parents in this most difficult time of their lives is considered an honor and blessing, and an opportunity for great spiritual growth. God asks that we not only pray for our parents, but act with limitless compassion, remembering that when we were helpless children they preferred us to themselves. Mothers are particularly honored: the Prophet taught that 'Paradise lies at the feet of mothers'. When they reach old age, Muslim parents are treated mercifully, with the same kindness and selflessness.
In Islam, serving one's parents is a duty second only to prayer, and it is their right to expect it. It is considered despicable to express any irritation when, through no fault of their own, the old become difficult.
The Qur'an says: Your Lord has commanded that you worship none but Him, and be kind to parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, do not say 'uff' to them or chide them, but speak to them in terms of honor and kindness. Treat them with humility, and say, 'My Lord! Have mercy on them, for they did care for me when I was little'. (17:23-4)
Like Jews and Christians, Muslims believe that the present life is only a trial preparation for the next realm of existence. Basic articles of faith include: the Day of Judgement, resurrection, Heaven and Hell. When a Muslim dies, he or she is washed, usually by a family member, wrapped in a clean white cloth, and buried with a simple prayer preferably the same day. Muslims consider this one of the final services they can do for their relatives, and an opportunity to remember their own brief existence here on earth. The Prophet taught that three things can continue to help a person even after death; charity which he had given, knowledge which he had taught and prayers on their behalf by a righteous child.
Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defence, in defence of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good men were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause. The Qur'an says:
Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors. (2:190)
If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things. (8:61)
War, therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The term Jihad literally means 'struggle', and Muslims believe that there are two kinds of Jihad. The other 'Jihad' is the inner struggle which everyone wages against egotistic desires, for the sake of attaining inner peace.
Although much simpler than the dietary law followed by Jews and the early Christians, the code which Muslims observe forbids the consumption of pig meat or any kind of intoxicating drink. The Prophet taught that 'your body has rights over you', and the consumption of wholesome food and the leading of a healthy lifestyle are seen as religious obligations.
The Prophet said: 'Ask God for certainty (of faith) and well-being; for after certainty, no one is given any gift better than health!'
It is almost impossible to generalize about American Muslims: converts, immigrants, factory workers, doctors; all are making their own contribution to America's future. This complex community is unified by a common faith, underpinned by a countrywide network of a thousand mosques.
Muslims were early arrivals in North America. By the eighteenth century there were many thousands of them, working as slaves on plantations. These early communities, cut off from their heritage and families, inevitably lost their Islamic identity as time went by. Today many Afro-American Muslims play an important role in the Islamic community.
The nineteenth century, however, saw the beginnings of an influx of Arab Muslims, most of whom settled in the major industrial centers where they worshipped in hired rooms. The early twentieth century witnessed the arrival of several hundred thousand Muslims from Eastern Europe: the first Albanian mosque was opened in Maine in 1915; others soon followed, and a group of Polish Muslims opened a mosque in Brooklyn in 1928.
In 1947 the Washington Islamic Center was founded during the term of President Truman, and several nationwide organizations were set up in the fifties. The same period saw the establishment of other communities whose lives were in many ways modelled after Islam. More recently, numerous members of these groups have entered the fold of Muslim orthodoxy. Today there are about five million Muslims in America.
Freedom of conscience is laid down by the Qur'an itself: 'There is no compulsion in religion'. (2:256)
The life and property of all citizens in an Islamic state are considered sacred whether a person is Muslim or not.
Racism is incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur'an speaks of human equality in the following terms:
O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in peity. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (49:13)