Once I asked my students the following question: “If a non Muslim asks you to explain all about Islam in an hour, what you would do?” This is how they responded: “That: would be impossible! He would have to study the principle of the Oneness of God, commentaries on the Holy Qur’an – and he’d have to learn how to recite from the Holy Qur’an, study the Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the system of Islamic law. He’d also need to delve into problems and issues which could take him fifty years’ I retorted by saying, “Glory be to God! What about the simple and uneducated Bedouin who came to our Prophet and learned all about Islam Just by staying in his company for a day – or even less? And didn’t those very same Bedouin then carry the message of Islam to the desert folk, and in turn become their teachers and guides? Don’t you remember how our Prophet explained our religion in three brief sentences? He spoke about Iman (faith) Islam (the religion) and Ihsun (Man’s realization of his relation to God). So why is it, then, that we can’t explain our religion in an hour in this day and’ age?” So what is Islam – and how does one become a Muslim?
Pre-requisites of Joining a Group or Association: Every creed, whether its basic principles are based on truth or falsehood, every society, good or bad, and every political party, regardless of whether its intentions are noble or not, operate on certain basic principles and precepts that define its goal and outline its course of action. These principles and precepts are put together in the form of a constitution to guide its members and followers. Anyone wishing to become a member of such an organisation would need to start off by studying these guidelines. If he finds that they satisfy both his conscious and subconscious mind, and believe without any doubt in their validity, he will decide to Join that organisation and become one of its members and supporters.
From then on he has to obey the laws laid down in the constitution and to pay the membership fee. He also has to prove, in due course, his genuine commitment to the principles and precepts of the organisation. This means he has to remind himself of them constantly and make sure he does nothing to contradict them. He has to set an example, through his character and behaviour, of one who ardently follows and supports those principles. So we can say that membership to a society means:
These are accepted conventions which are all applicable to Islam.
Anyone wishing to embrace Islam has to accept its intellectual principles with total conviction right from the start. This means he will have developed the faith within himself. The principles he has to accept are outlined briefly as follows:
An individual can pronounce his/her ‘faith in Islam’ by pronouncing: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.” The moment he pronounces this statement of faith he becomes a Muslim and is entitled to all the rights enjoyed by Muslims; he also agrees to perform all the duties (ibadat) enjoined upon him by Islam.
The ibadat (duties) of a Muslim, are the prescribed forms of worship. There are only a few and they are easy to perform and do not require much effort or exertion. There are four, as outlined below:
I). Salah (Prayer): A Muslim has to pray two rak’ats (prostrations) at dawn, during which time he has communion with his Lord. He asks Him of His goodness and seeks refuge in Him from His punishment. Before making these prostrations, a Muslim has, to perform wudu (ablutions): he washes his face, hands and feet, or takes a bath if he is in a state of ritual impurity. Besides the dawn prayer, he has to pray at four other times four rak’ats at midday; four rak’ats in the afternoon; three rak’ats at sunset; four rak’ats at night: These are obligatory (faradh) prayers, the performing of which will not, on the whole, take more than half an hour per day. There is no particular place or person required for the performance of these prayers, and it is not necessary for a Muslim to have an intermediary when he prays, as he prays directly to his Lord.
II). Fasting (Saum): In a certain month during the year a Muslim has to fast. This is known as the period of Ramadan. Breakfast is consumed before dawn, lunch is taken after sunset, and during the day all Muslims abstain from food and water and must not have sexual intercourse. Ramadan is a month of self-purification for every Muslim when he purifies his body and soul. It is also a month to fulfill the desire to do good and be generous, and to reflect the brotherhood of man in the material life.
III). Zakah (alms): A Muslim has to give 2.5 % of his wealth as alms to the poor and needy. He does this on an annual basis, once his own needs and those of his family have been met. This financial support paid by every Muslim comes as a great source of comfort’ and assistance to the poor, the sick and the needy. It thus helps to alleviate poverty and establishes a form of social security.
IV). Congregations: Islam has arranged certain periodical gatherings for Muslims. They congregate together five times a day to offer prayer. There need be no disruption of work for anyone whatever his trade or profession. Those who miss the congregation can pray at home, though they will, in fact deprive themselves of the joyful reward of praying together in a group. Then there is the weekly congregation on Fridays for Jum’a prayer. This lasts for less than an hour, and it is compulsory for all male Muslims to attend. Besides the above, there are mass congregations held twice a year on the occasion of the two Eids (festivals). Attendance is not compulsory and they last less than an hour. Finally there is the annual world congregation known as the Hajj. It is a kind of mammoth public gathering, held once a year at Makkah. This congregation provides guidance in all aspects: spiritual, physical and intellectual. A Muslim is expected to attend once in his lifetime, but only if he is able to do so. These are the duties and acts of worship enjoined upon every Muslim.
Apart from the above, abstention from certain modes of behaviour are also deemed as ibadah (worship). These are actions which any sensible person would deplore, such as killing without a valid reason, intruding on the rights of others, aggressive behaviour and all forms of injustice, any kind of intoxication which would affect the brain, adultery, since it destroys honour and dignity and violates the sanctioned form of blood relationship. Other forms of forbidden behaviour include usury, lying, betrayal and deserting any form of military service which seeks to glorify the Divine Writ, making false oaths or producing false witnesses – and, above all, disobedience to one’s parents or dismissing them and neglecting their needs. However, God forgives a Muslim who fails to carry out some of his duties and disobeys some of the Islamic laws but repents and asks for pardon. On the other hand, a Muslim who does not repent will be considered as a rebel, who will be punished in the next world. This punishment will, however, be only temporary and will not be equal to that of a non-believer. As for a Muslim who refuses to acknowledge any basic Islamic principle or belief, rejects his duties and Islamic regulations or denies even the smallest detail outlined in the Holy Qur’an, he will be considered as an apostate deprived of his Islamic identity. Apostasy is similar to a crime of high treason, from the Islamic point of view. Unless a person gives up his un-Islamic beliefs and repents, he will be given a death sentence.
Faith has to be accepted in totality and, therefore, a denial of any aspect is deemed as a denial of the whole. Therefore, anyone who accepts 99% of the faith but denies 1% is considered an infidel. You may come across Muslims who are nonbelievers. They can be compared with someone who joins a political party or a society, attends all its meetings, pays his subscription – and does whatever is required of a member, but nonetheless refuses to accept its principles and remains unconvinced. It may seem that such a person has joined the party or society simply to find out what’s going on or to create trouble. Such a Muslim is a hypocrite – hypocrisy is defined as “outward profession of faith and concealment of disbelief”. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), used to say that a hypocrite can be recognised in three ways: failure to keep his promise, I lying and betraying anyone’s trust. A hypocrite pronounces statements of faith and performs his religious duties, yet deep and down he remains unconvinced. Such a person may be considered a Muslim by the outside world but not by God, Who knows what is hidden in our hearts and innermost beings.
One is a believing Muslims if he/she fully believes in the intellectual and theoretical basses of Islam, which are:-
a) Giving full testimony to the existence Allah (God) and declares He has neither associate nor intermediary.
b) Belief in the angels, all Prophets and all revealed Holy Books, including Qur’an.
c) Belief In the destiny.
d) Expression of the statements of faith (Shahada, kalimah).
e) Performance of the obligatory prayers.
f) Fasting in the month of Ramadan;
g) Payment of zakat (alms);
h) Performance of Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca once in a lifetime, if this is possible.
i) Abstention from everything that is forbidden by Muslim consensus.
Generally speaking, adhering to the Iman (Faith) is more beneficial to us – we feel better and enjoy tremendous rewards. This is why, even though it may be hard to stick to these laws 100%, we feel better in ourselves if we follow them. Our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) summed up the characteristics of a true Muslim in an eloquent sentence which states the essence of faith and action in a nutshell: “You should worship God as if you can see him.” This means we must strive to be in total awareness of God’s presence all the time. This is the very essence of Islam – to be God conscious in all our actions, whether or not they are serious. God is watching us constantly and is aware of our every move. This is why anyone who is truly God-conscious will obey His laws, and he will not despair either, knowing that God is with him all the time. A person who is strengthened in this way will not need to ask for help from anyone because he can always ask God to fulfill his needs. And, if anyone disobeys God’s laws, as it is in his nature to sin, provided he asks for forgiveness, God will forgive him. This is just a brief introduction to Islam and in to following chapters we shall be looking into all aspects of faith in detail.
If a Muslim fails to perform some of his obligations and is remiss in practice or commits some such actions as are forbidden, yet he believes in the liability of all obligations and the impropriety of all unlawful deeds, he will continue to be a Muslim though he will be a sinner. [The concept of Takfeer i.e declaring a non-practicing Muslim, to be ‘apostate’ and liable to be killed; by some extremist groups, calling themselves as ‘True Muslims only’, is rejected.]