Muslims believe in one transcendental God, Allah. The belief in one God is called Tawhid. The Arabic word Allah is unique, as it has no derivatives. It is neither plural nor gender specific; thus it emphasizes that the one and only God is neither male nor female. Allah's omnipotence and omnipresence transcend time, space and gender.
While acknowledging many of the prophets of the Old Testament, and having as an article of faith the belief that every nation in history had its own warner and messenger, Muslims believe that Muhammad was the final Prophet of God. They acknowledge the prophethood but not the divinity of 'Isa (as) (Jesus). They are careful not to attribute any divinity to Muhammad either, and in doing so they feel they are fulfilling his wishes to be remembered as a human and not an angelic or otherworldly being. Muslims believe in the eternal message of their scripture, the Qur'an, and the historical and theological relationship of other related scriptures, especially the Old Testament and the Bible. The Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad in segments of varying lengths over a twenty-three year period and remains unchanged today fourteen hundred years later.
Muslims believe in individual accountability and responsibility. All human beings start with a clean record and with the freedom to chose between right, the halal, and wrong, the haram. They are answerable to their own deeds without any intermediary between them and God. Through the Qur'an, mankind is the recipient of divine knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is glorified in Islam. The first word revealed to the prophet Muhammad was Iqra' (recite). The acquiring, spreading, and expanding of knowledge is considered a sacred duty. Muslims remind themselves of their obligation to God by worshipping (salah) five times a day, which forms part f their obligation to God or 'Ibadat, which primarily deal with the hereafter.
Their obligations to other humans, which affect life here on this earth, are called Mu'amalat (civil transactions). Like many other faiths, Islam believes in devotion to parents, goodwill, kindness, forgiveness towards others and self-restraint. The practice of self-restraint however is not to be interpreted as sanctioning or encouraging monasticism. Although there are many examples of individual Muslims who were celibate throughout their lives, it is recommended that individuals marry and that they fully participate in the joys and trials of life on this earth. The institution of marriage is at the core of Muslim family life. A Muslim marriage is a contract rather than a sacrament. Civility between spouses is mandated by the Qur'an and reinforced by the Prophet's own life. In case of marital discord, arbitration and counseling is highly recommended. Divorce is permitted only as a last resort.
The same principles that govern private conduct between individuals also govern societies. The use of alcohol and drugs is forbidden since they are both personal addictions, which are harmful to the society. Gambling enterprises, including state lotteries, are forbidden. Personal piety is reinforced by the practice of self-restraint and self-denial all during the ninth month of the lunar calendar (Ramadan). This exercise in reinvigorating personal piety by fasting, Sawm, is also a unique public event in which the whole community participates.
Justice is another value that Islam places at the core of a healthy and peaceful society. The Prophet Muhammad exhorted his followers to stop injustice actively or at the very least not to rationalize it. In extreme cases of injustice, Muslims have the right of self-defense. To struggle against an unjust cause or personal temptation is referred to as Jihad, which is not equivalent of holy war. Jihad in the deepest sense is the eternal struggle in human life between good and evil forces.
Principles of justice and equality also govern gender and race relations. Men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah. Religious responsibilities are largely the same for men and women; each must pray, fast, give alms and go on pilgrimage to Makkah. While men and women are seen as being equal, they are also seen as having distinct and complementary roles. Modesty of clothing and behavior is encouraged for both men and women. The intent is to create an environment in which the spiritual rather than the sensual qualities of men and women are given prominence. Over time, this idea has been corrupted by various cultural forces and has been made to appear as religious sanction for discrimination against women. The concept of equality applies to all classes and races. A dramatic example of this is seen during the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah called, the Hajj, where all Muslims, rich and poor, black and white, wear the same clothing as a sign of universal brotherhood. This concept of racial equality is one of the most deeply rooted principles of Islam.
The egalitarianism and emphasis on human dignity carry into the notion of self-respect and freedom from blasphemy and false accusations. In Islamic Shari'ah law the penalty for bringing a false accusation is as severe as the alleged crime. Human rights are an original Islamic concept. European crusaders learned the principles of humane treatment of prisoners of war from their contact with Islamic jurisprudence.
Muslim jurisprudence is based on the rights and principles called the Shari'ah. Individuals have a right to life, dignity, family, knowledge, property, and freedom from coercion in maters of religion. Crimes are regarded as violations of divine not human law. Islamic punishments (Hudud) have received much criticism for being harsh. These punishments are effective because they are tempered by a fastidiously fair judicial process and by compassion, forgiveness and a general God-consciousness in the society. Even in the case of death penalty for murder, relatives of the victim are encouraged to forgive and accept fair restitution. Islam believes strongly in the sanctity of human life and does not allow for its destruction, including suicide and most cases of abortion.
In Islamic law, the right to own property and generate wealth is tempered by an acute sense of fair dealing, equitable distribution of wealth and socioeconomic justice. One of the main tenets of Islam is Zakat, a compulsory sharing of wealth with needy members of the society. A productive economy free of exploitation is required and encouraged. Concerning the public polity, Islam stipulates only the guiding principles of “government by the righteous” and “governance by consultation'. No specific government structure is recommended, a fact, which has resulted in a wide spectrum of political systems. As Islam is a holistic belief system so there is no separation between religion and governance.
The richness and rectitude of the Islamic belief system is designed to enhance the social, economic and moral fiber of the society. For a few glorious years it did accomplish that ideal and has the potential to do so if the followers of Islam choose to practice it with sincerity.
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