Islam Basics

This is written to help people who have no idea (or knowledge) of Islam. Apart from writing basics of Islam, I also added glossary of Islamic terms and some other information so that interested people can study Islam on their own.

1. Islam in Arabic means ‘submission’, not ‘peace’ as few Muslims say. The word for peace in Arabic is ‘salam’. Both the words came from the same root S-L-M.  Just because they have the same root, it does not mean that both the words have same meaning. One should note that Arabic scripture has no vowels when Koran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad in the 7 nth century.

2. Islam was founded by Prophet Mohammad who lived in Saudi Arabia (Mecca and Medina (called Yathrib in those days)) in 6th and 7 nth centuries .

3. The holy book of Islam is Koran. It  is also the primary text of Islam. Islamic scriptures and Muslims say that Koran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad through the angel Gabriel by Islamic god Allah – the only god according to Muslims – in the years 610 – 632 AD. Muslims believe Koran to be a literal, unadulterated and infallible word of Allah. Many Muslims consider it so holy that they will only touch it in a state of ritual purity. Islamic law bans Non-Muslims from touching Koran except under certain circumstances.

Online Koran:

4. The creed of Islam (Shahadah in Arabic) is the declaration or the statement ‘There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’.  This is the formal statement in conversion to Islam. Any one wishing to convert to Islam has to recite Shahadah 3 times and he/she becomes a Muslim. Shahadah is the most important part of the faith of Islam.

5. The Five Pillars of Islam. These constitute 5 basic principles of Islam or duties of Muslims.

1. Believing that There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah (i.e. Shahadah is the first pillar of Islam)
2. Offering the (compulsory congregational) prayers dutifully and perfectly (salah)
3. To pay the tax called Zakat (Muslims tell this to Non-Muslims as charity or alms giving)
4. Making a Pilgrimage to Mecca atleast once if one could afford (hajj)
5. Observing the fast during the month of Ramadan

6. Shahadah and the five pillars of Islam do not tell anything else about Islam as they do not describe Islam in its entirety. Islam is much more than these two can be realized from the fact that both shahadah and the five pillars of Islam are not found in Koran.

7. The picture emerging from Koran is that Allah is the only sovereign master having the authority over all things.

8. As Islam means submission, a Muslim being the submitter,  the question that arises is submitting to what ? How to be a submitter ? It is about submitting to the will and the guidance of Allah (as laid in Koran and Sunna(?) ).  Allah demands submission of entire humanity to his authority and his guidance. Those who are not Muslims (i.e. Non-Muslims) are in a state of rebellion against Allah. The relation between Allah and Muslims is like that of a relation between a master and his slaves.

9. Muslims find the guidance of Allah in Koran and Sunna (?) . These two together regulate the total way of life for Muslims.

10. Koran contains the beliefs of Muslims, message to Muslims about what they find in paradise and hell and guidance that regulates all aspects of human life, including the state of relations that should exist between Muslims and Non-Muslims. In fact, more than 60% of text in Koran is about Non-Muslims.

11. Another source of guidance for Muslims is Sunna. Sunna means the example of life of Prophet Mohammad. In Koran, about in 90 verses Allah orders Muslims to obey and follow Prophet Mohammad; disobeying Mohammad amounts to disobeying Allah himself and this makes what Prophet said and preached very important. Allah also says Prophet Mohammad is the example for all Muslims to follow; and this makes deeds of Prophet Mohammad very important -If he did something then it is lawful for Muslims to do the same because what he did can never be wrong. These words (sayings) and deeds of Prophet Mohammad are collectively called Sunna.

12. The Sunna of Prophet Mohammad is as central as Koran to Islam. It can simply be verified from every day’s practical life by looking at Muslim men growing beard and applying perfumes. Koran never tells Muslims to grow beard ! Muslims grow beard because Prophet Mohammad had one. Muslim men simply mimic Prophet Mohammad in their life.

13. The sayings and doings of Prophet Mohammad (Sunna) were collected and recorded. Each recorded saying or doing is called hadith. These hadith were compiled by different people over the time but not all collections are considered reliable. But Muslims consider hadith compiled by Bukhari and Muslim to be reliable and call these two sahih (authentic). Sahih Bukhari, hadith compiled by Bukhari, is the second most important book in Islam, next only to Koran. English translations of both the hadith, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, are available online.

Online hadith :

14. So, any belief or law in Islam comes from these two sources  i.e. Koran and Sahih Hadith.

15. Islamic Literature besides Hadith also consist of biographies of Mohammad and Tafsirs. Earliest biography of Prophet was written by a Muslim Ibn Ishaq, popularly called Sira (Sirat Rasul Allah). Its translated in to English by A.GUILLAUME under the title ‘The Life of Mohammad’.

16. A Tafsir is an exegesis (explanation) of Koran verse by verse. Many Muslim scholars have written tafsirs (author of a tafsir is mufassir). Classical tafsirs like tafsir al-Jalalayn and tafsir Ibn Kathir are popular among Muslims. In modern times, tafsir written by (late) Abul Ala Maududi – founder of Jamaat-e-Islaami- is also popular among Muslims in south Asia.


Allahu akbar            –   Allah is greater

tawheed                     – oneness of Allah (God)

sunni                            –   a denomination of Islam

shia                               –  another denomination of Islam

sura                               – a chapter in Koran

ayah ( or ayat)            – a verse in Koran

kafir                               – infidel, Non-Muslim (originally it meant the one who conceals or hides)

kuffar                             – Plural for kafir

kufr                                 – Disbelief in Islam (and also it means concealment)

halal                                – anything which Muslims are free to do

jahiliyyah                      – ignorance (Muslims consider pre-Islamic era to be in a period of jahiliyyah)

shirk                                 – association of other gods with Allah (the greatest sin in Islam); In Islamic theology all Non-Muslims commit shirk.

fitna                                  – persecution/oppression/seduction of Muslims or opposition to Islam. To be accurate, it is a state of hindering Islamic advancement. It can also be said as disbelief in Islam.

jihad                                 – striving (or fighting) to make Islam superior in the whole world

da’wa                               – The act of Muslims calling Non-Muslims to Islam by preaching Islam

dhimmi                           – any Non-Muslim living under Islamic law (or in Islamic nation)

dar al-Islam                  – The territory under the control of Muslims (house of peace)

dar al-garb                    – The territory under Non-Muslims (house of war)

ghazwa                            –  a jihad raid

ridda                                 – apostasy (leaving Islam)

umma                               – brotherhood of Muslims

sharia                                – path to (or way); sharia law means Islamic sacred law, based on Koran and Sunna, which regulates all aspects of life

hanaafi, maliki, hambai and shafi’i – four major schools of Islamic thought (or philosophy) and also Islamic jurisprudence

jizya                                    – a tax required to be paid by all Non-Muslims living under Islamic law

hijra                                     – period of Prophet Mohammad and Muslims moving to Medina from Mecca (Islamic calender starts from this period)

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