Answers to Questions About Muslims

What is the difference between the words “Islam,” “Islamic,” “Muslim,” and “Arab ?

Islam is the name of a religion, as Christianity and Judaism are names of religions. In Arabic the word Islam is commonly translated as “submission or surrender to God” or “peace.” Combining both translations results in the combined meaning “peace through following God’s guidance.” For Muslims, this is the goal and objective of Islam: to first establish peace within oneself by following God’s commandments, and as a result to interact peacefully with one’s family, neighborhood, city, etc and to work towards a peaceful and just society. Islam is considered a way of life for Muslims because it includes beliefs, practices, and good works in all aspects of a person’s life.

Islamic is an adjective that modifies a non-human noun, for example, Islamic art, Islamic architecture, Islamic beliefs, etc. This term should not be used to refer to a person.

A follower of Islam is called a Muslim. More commonly, a Muslim is defined as a person who believes in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad.

While the term “Arab” has been used in the past to reference members of an ethnic group from the Arabian Peninsula, today, the word “Arab” refers to people from Arabic-speaking countries, most of which are in the Middle East and North Africa. The term “Arabian” was historically used to describe an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula. Today “Arabian” is used as an adjective to describe a non-human noun (e.g., Arabian coffee); it should not be used to refer to people.

What does Islam teach ?

Islam’s primary message is a continuation of the monotheistic, Abrahamic tradition’s belief in one God. The three major dimensions of Islam include: beliefs, ritual practices, and doing good works. There are six major beliefs in Islam. There are also five central practices which are referred to as the Five Pillars. The last dimension of Islam focuses on good works and excellence in character in both one’s spiritual relationship with God as well as in one’s everyday actions.

What are the major beliefs of Muslims ?

The six major beliefs in Islam are: belief in God; belief in angels; belief in God’s prophets/messengers; belief in God’s revelations in the form of holy scriptures sent to the messengers; belief in an afterlife which follows the Day of Judgment on which people will be held accountable for their actions and compensated accordingly in the afterlife; and belief in God’s divine will and His knowledge of what happens in the world.

How do Muslims practice their faith ?

Muslims practice their faith in many different ways, but the major practices are known as the Five Pillars, which include: the profession of faith, namely that there is only one God, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; the five daily prayers; required annual donation in the amount of 2.5% of one’s excess wealth; fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; and making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if one is mentally, physically and financially able.

What are the primary sources of knowledge about Islam ?

The primary sources of knowledge about Islam are the Qur’an, which Muslims believe to be the divinely revealed word of God, and the Sunnah, which refers to the example or precedent of the Prophet Muhammad (i.e., what he said, did, approved, disapproved, caused, ordered, or allowed to happen). Much of what is known about the Sunnah is from the collection of sayings or reports known as hadith, or prophetic tradition. The hadith describe actions of the Prophet Muhammad or actions that his companions attributed to his teachings. Hadith also elaborate and provide context to the Qur’an.

In addition to these primary sources, Muslims have also traditionally relied on the following: Scholarly consensus which basically means that knowledgeable scholars agree upon a particular issue that is not addressed specifically in the previously mentioned; primary sources; and analogical reasoning, which means applying principles or laws derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah to similar situations not explicitly addressed by them. For Shi’as, the rulings of the twelve imams are also considered a primary source.

Why do some people suffer so much in this life especially the innocent such as children ?

Muslims believe that God tries people in different ways, through both hardship and ease. While the cause of suffering is not always evident, the way that people respond to difficulty is a test of their moral fiber. Responding to hardship with patience and fortitude is a virtue for which Muslims believe a great reward is promised in this life and the afterlife. Additionally, there may be a silver lining behind every difficulty. For instance, major disasters often bring out the best in people, inspiring them to perform remarkable acts as they respond to a personal or another’s hardship with compassion and courage. Muslims believe that they are responsible for coming to the aid of suffering people and will be held accountable in the afterlife for how they respond to those in need. Muslims also take comfort in their belief that life doesn’t end after death.