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Beginner's introduction

In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful

An Introduction to Islam

Unity of God

Justice of God




Development of juriprudence and theology






Amr bi l-ma'aroof (Directing others towards good)

Nahy 'an al munkir (Directing others away from evil)


Other Acts of Piety

Articles of Faith

1. Unity of God


Muslims believe that Allah is ONE. He was neither begotten nor does He beget. He has no Partner. He is the Beginning and He is the End. He is Omniscient and Omnipresent.

The Quraan says that He is closer to man than his jugular vein yet He cannot be encompassed by human intellect.

See the following verses of the Quraan:











Imam Ali says in a supplication:

"Oh God, verily I ask Thee by Thy Name, in the name of Allah, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate, O the Possessor of Majesty and Splendour, the Living, the Self-subsistent, the Eternal, there is no God other than Thou, Oh He of Whom no one knows what He is, or how He is, or Where He is, or in respect of what He is, And yet, we know that He is."

2. Justice of God

Allah is Just. In XCV:8, the Quraan says "Is not Allah the most conclusive of all judges?"

Again in XXI:47 "And we have provided a Just balance for the Day of Judgement. No soul shall be dealt with unjustly in any way. (Any good deed or evil deed) though it be as small as a grain of the mustard seed, will be brought forth by Us (in testimony). We suffice as the best of reckoners."

The Sunni School of thought subscribes to the view that nothing is good or evil per se. What God commanded us to do became good by virtue of His command. What he forbade became evil.

The Shias believe that there is intrinsic good or evil in things. God commanded us to do the good things and forbade the evil. God acts according to a purpose or design. Human reason cannot comprehend this design or purpose in its entirety though man must always strive to understand as much as he can.

Compulsion or Freedom?

The various schools of thought are divided.

  1. Mutazzilas believe that man is totally free and God exercises no power over his action. Those who subscribe to this view are also known as Qadariyyas.
  2. Mujabbira school of thought believe that man has no freedom and is only a tool in the hands of God.
  3. The Asharia school of thought to which most Sunnis subscribe believe that though man has no free will, he will earn the reward of his good deeds. The Sunni scholar Al-Ghazzalli sums up this doctrine as follows: "No act of any individual, even though it be done purely for his benefit, is independent of the will of Allah for its existence. There does not occur in either the physical or the extra-terrestrial world the twinkle of an eye, the hint of a thought, or the most sudden glance except by the Decree of Allah, of His Power, Desire, and Will. This includes evil and good, benefit and harm, success and failures, sin and righteousness, obedience and disobedience, polytheism and true belief."
  4. The Shias believe that there is neither total compulsion nor total freedom. The true position is the one in-between. They maintain that Allah has fore-knowledge of human action but does not compel man to any particular course of action.

See Quraan:














God created mankind to serve Him (LI:56). He endowed man with faculties and freedom of action and out of His Grace (LUTF) and Justice sent Prophets to instruct and guide mankind. No nation or community was left without such guidance. (X:47 and XVI:36).

Some of these prophets were sent with Divine Revelation, scripture and miracles. The first Prophet was Adam and the last was Muhammad, the Seal of Prophets (XXX:40).

While Quraan mentions only twenty-five most prominent of the prophets it also states that there were many more whose names have not been revealed in the Quraan. (XL:78). Muslims believe that there have been 124,000 prophets. Amongst those specifically mentioned are Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Issac, Lot, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, Ezekiel, David, Solomon, Jonah, Zachariah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Muhammad.

Five of these prophets brought new codes of law. These were Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. These are called the "ulu l-azm" prophets meaning those of great constancy.

Quraan mentions five divine books.

  1. The Book of Abraham, sometimes referred as the Booklet (LXXXVII:19).
  2. The Psalms given to David (IV:63 and XVII:55).
  3. The Torah granted to Moses (II:87, III:3 & 4, VI:91 & 154).
  4. The Evangel or the Gospel revealed to Jesus (V:46).
  5. The Quraan revealed to Muhammad.

A Muslim must believe in all the Holy Books. (II:4 & 285). He must also believe in all the prophets. (IV:152).

The Shiahs also believe that all the prophets were infallible and sinless. Not all the Sunnis subscribe to this belief.

4. Resurrection

The world will come to an end on the Day of the Rising (Qiyamah), the day of final human accountability. All men will be resurrected and presented before God Who will decide their fate according to their deeds. The good will be rewarded with paradise (jannah) and the evil will be punished with hell (jahannam). (XXII:6-9 & 1-2; III:185; VI:62). The dominant factor in the administration of His Justice by Allah will be His Mercy (VI:12).

5. Imaamah

Only the Shiahs believe in the institution of Imaamah. Literally "imaam" means a leader. In Shiah belief an Imaam is the person appointed by God and introduced by the Prophet and then by each preceding Imaam by explicit designation (nass) to lead the Muslim community, interpret and protect the religion and the law (shariah), and guide the community in all affairs.

An Imaam is first and foremost the Representative of God and the successor of the Prophet. He must be sinless and possess divine knowledge of both the exoteric and the esoteric meaning of the verses of the Quraan.

There are many Shiah sects e.g. the Zaidis, the Ismailis etc. The principal sect is the Twelvers (Ithnasharis).

(NOTE: In these Notes, unless specifically stated otherwise, references to the Shiahs and Shiah beliefs, should be construed as references to the Shiah Ithnasheriyya school of thought.)

The Twelvers believe that the Prophet was succeeded by twelve Imaams. These are:

1. Ali ibne Abu TalibDied 40 A.H./659 A.D
He was the Prophet`s son-in-law, having married his daughter Fatimah.

2. Hassan ibne Ali

Died 50 A.H./669 A.D.

3. Hussain ibne Ali

Died 61 A.H./680 A.D.

4. Ali ibne Hussain

Died 95 A.H./712 A.D.

5. Muhammad ibne Ali

Died 114 A.H./732 A.D.

6. Ja'far ibne Muhammad

Died 148 A.H./765 A.D.

7. Musa ibne Ja'far

Died 183 A.H./799 A.D.

8. Ali ibne Musa

Died 203 A.H./817 A.D.

9. Muhammad ibne Ali

Died 220 A.H./835 A.D.

10. Ali ibne Muhammad

Died 254 A.H./868 A.D.

11. Hassan ibne Ali

Died 260 A.H./872 A.D.

12. Muhammad ibne Hassan

Born 256 A.H./868 A.D.

On the death of his father in 260 A.H. the twelfth Imam went into occultation (Gaybah), appearing only to a few leading Shiahs. Until 329 A.H./939 A.D. he performed the functions of the Imaam through representatives appointed by himself. He then went into major occultation which will continue until the day God grants him permission to manifest himself.

The Sunni View

The Sunnis use the term Imaam synonymously with the term khalifah. A khalifah may be elected, or nominated by his predecessor, or selected by a committee, or may acquire power through military force. A khalifah need not be sinless. It is lawful for a person of inferior qualities to be made a khalifah while persons of superior qualities are present.

Development Of Jurisprudence And Theology

A. The Shiah School

During their life time the Imaams remained the chief exponents of the shariah, the Islamic law. Many of the Imaams, when the political atmosphere permitted, held theological classes and also taught other sciences.

Since the major occultation of the twelfth Imaam the Shias have, as commanded not only by him but also most of the preceding Imaams, sought guidance from mujtahids and followed the institution of taqleed.

Taqleed literally means to follow or to imitate someone. In Islamic jurisprudence it means to follow a mujtahid in matters pertaining to law. (XXI:7 and IX:124)

Taqleed applies only to matters of shariah. There is no taqleed in matters of beliefs (the articles of faith). A Muslim must seek to attain conviction of their truth through reflection and rational examination.

A mujtahid must be a person learned in all the Islamic sciences. At any given time there would normally be a number of persons qualified as mujtahids and it is not uncommon to have two members of the same family in taqleed of two different mujtahids.

Any muslim can address any question of law to any mujtahid, whether or not he is in the taqleed of that mujtahid and the mujtahid would issue a fatwaa giving his opinion on that subject. This would invariably be by way of a statement of the law which in the opinion of the mujtahid is the correct legal position. The fatwaa would be binding on all the persons in the taqleed of that mujtahid.

A mujtahid is so called because he does ijtehaad which term means to strive for deriving the laws of the shariah from its sources which are:

  1. the Quraan;
  2. the sunnah which mean the traditions (ahadees) and the practice of the Prophet and the Imaams;
  3. reasoning (aql);
  4. consensus of the mujtahids (ijmaa).

B. The Sunni School

The ruling khalifah invariably assumed the mantle of the chief exponent of the shariah.

For nearly a hundred years following the death of the Prophet the State retained absolute control over authentication, collection and publication of the sayings (ahadees) of the Prophet. A few unscrupulous khalifahs did not hesitate to use this power to legitimise their misdeeds by arranging to have apocryphal ahadees produced.

After the Banu Abbas came into power in 132 A.H. (750 A.D.), the formation of the Sunni community was formalised.

Although there are many sects and sub-sects in the sunni school of thought, the four main sects are-

  1. The Hanafis, founded by Imaam Abu Hanifa an-Nu'maan ibne Thabit (died 150 A.H./769 A.D.). He is a scholar greatly respected not only by his followers but also the other sunnis.
  2. The Malikis, founded by Imaam Abu Abdullah Malik ibne Anas (died 179 A.H./797 A.D).
  3. The Shafeis, founded by Imaam Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibne Idris al- Shafei (died 204 A.H/819 A.D.)
  4. The Hanbalis, founded by Imaam Ahmed ibne Muhammad ibne Hanbal (died 241 A.H./855 A.D.)

Although there are many irreconcilable differences in the four Sunni schools, in the main, however, they agree on the fundamental bases of their doctrines and laws. Each claims to have derived them from the following four sources:

  1. The Quraan;
  2. The Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and at times the Sunnah of the first four khalifahs;
  3. The Ijmaa (consensus among the companions of the Prophet or of the religious leaders or among the followers);
  4. The Qiyas (deduction of legal prescriptions from the Quraan and the sunnah through rational analogy).

The extent of the acceptance of the theological and legal doctrines of any of the above four sunni schools depended largely on the inclination of the ruler of the time. For example, although Abu Hanifa himself did not gain great popularity with the khalifah, his successor Abu Yusuf became a powerful figure in the court and held office of the Chief Kadhi.

The khalifah, however, always continued to remain the final arbiter in the exposition of the law and the jurists were relegated to an advisory role.

Since the abolition of the institution of khilafah following the fall of the Ottoman Empire the sunni schools have not developed as fast as they need to so as to keep pace with the social, economic, political and scientific development. Some Sunni sects have recognized the need for ijtehaad, a few appear to concentrate on ijmaa as the main instrument for reform.

In addition to their differences in jurisprudence, the Sunnis and the Shiahs hold divergent theological views on various aspects of the articles of beliefs e.g. human freedom of action and the Justice of God (both discussed above), whether God has a corporeal form. Some sunni sects believe in anthropomorphism.

The Shiahs and the Sunnis, however, agree on the following fundamental beliefs:

  1. That Allah is One and has no partners;
  2. That Muhammad is the last Prophet of God;
  3. That there will be Resurrection and Judgement.

Acts of Worship

The Arabic term used for Acts of worship is Ibaadah. This does not mean worship. It means service. To serve God in the manner in which He has commanded his creatures to serve Him is Ibaadah. The term would include all acts of piety as well as the mandatory acts of worship.

The mandatory acts of worship accepted by both the Sunnis and the Shiahs are:

1. Salaah (The Daily Prayers)

Every Muslim, from the time he or she attains puberty must perform the salaah. Except for a woman in menstruation, no person is excused from this act of worship.

Before a person begins his salaah he must perform the ritual ablution in the prescribed form. The object is symbolic preparation for the salaah and not, as often believed, cleanliness. A person has to be clean to perform the ablution (wudhoo). Then he stands facing Mecca and declares his intention to pray for gaining proximity to Allah. With this declaration he enters the formal state of salaah in which he remains until the completion of his prayers.

A salaah consists of a number of units called rakaahs. Each unit (rakaah) consists of

  1. recitation of the opening chapter and one other chapter of the Quraan while in the standing position,
  2. the bowing down (rukoo) and glorifying God in that position and
  3. two prostrations each called a sajdaah in which again God is glorified. Then the second rakaah would commence.

The morning prayers to be performed between the dawn and sunrise have two rakaahs, the mid-day prayers four rakaahs, the sunset three and the evening four.

The prayers are ended by affirmation that Allah is One and has no partners and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. Salutations are offered to the Prophet, all the righteous souls and all who are engaged in prayers.

Salaah is regarded as not only a ritual act of worship but a communion with the Maker. It is the most important form of ibaadah and sickness (other than insanity), age or infirmity is no excuse for not performing prayers.

Lapsed prayers constitute a debt to God and are a first charge on a muslim's time and conscience. In the event of a person having died without having said any of his lapsed prayers, the eldest son, or if the deceased is not survived by a son, his heir must say or pay someone to say the lapsed prayers of the deceased.

Seyyid Hossein Nasr writes in his Ideals and Realities of Islam:

" In the canonical prayers man stands before God as the representative of all creatures. He prays for and in the name of all beings."

Amongst the many sayings of the Prophet on the subject are:

" Salaah is the spiritual ascension of the faithful where he communes with Allah."

" The good deeds wipe out the evil deeds of a man. The salaah and patience (sabr) are the best of deeds."

Salaah is a spiritual activity where the person performing it is totally immersed, mentally and physically, in the remembrance of God. (XXIX:45, XXII:34 & 35, XXVII:1-3, XX:6-7 and 14, IX:71, LXXIV:38-48, VI:71 & 72, XV:98 & 99, XI:114 & 225).

2. Saum (Fasting).

The second act of worship is fasting in the month of Ramadhaan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. This is obligatory upon every mature muslim except the sick, the traveller, a woman during her menstruation period and those infirm by age.

Fasting involves refraining from eating, drinking and sexual activity from the beginning of the nautical dawn to sunset. But these are not the sole objectives. Fasting is a conscious obedience of Allah's command. It is the human being's struggle to dedicate a whole month to activities which please his Maker. "It is the means", says Nasr, "by which man pulls the reins of his animal desires and realizes that he is more than an animal."

Fasting also begins with a declaration of intent to fast for the attainment of proximity to Allah. (II:184, 185, 187)

It is incumbent upon a muslim to know why he prays and why he fasts. Imaam Ali says, "One who knows not why he prays or why he fasts, his prayers and fasts are little more than meaningless physical exertions, hunger and thirst."

3. Hajj (Pilgrimage To Mecca).

Every Muslim who has attained puberty and has sufficient means not only to undertake a journey to Mecca but also for the subsistence of his dependants during his absence, must once in his life time perform pilgrimage.

Kaaba is the edifice which was presented to God as a gift by His Prophets Abraham and Ishmael.

The rites for the pilgrimage begin on the 8th of the eleventh month and culminate into the Idd of Sacrifice on the 10th. (II:158, 196-203; III:97; V:3; XXII 26:33).

A muslim's journey to the House of God, and there seeking his Maker's forgiveness through expression of repentance and the performance of all the rituals attending pilgrimage, is a spiritual experience so overwhelming that the pilgrim's very soul appears to undergo a purification.

The pilgrimage has another philosophical aspect.

In the Quraan, like in the Old Testament, there is the story of Abraham having been commanded to sacrifice his son. The Quraan, however, states that the son was Ishmael.

The father communicates the message to the young lad who had just attained puberty. The lad exhorts the father to comply with the divine command adding, "God willing, you shall find me amongst the patient ones."

Unbeknown to the mother, the father and the son travel to the planes of Arafaa, a short distance from Mecca. There they spend the night in prayers. The following afternoon they travel to the town of Meena where the sacrifice was to take place. They spend the night on the outskirts of the town. The following morning they enter Meena.

On the way to the appointed place, the Satan tries thrice to lure them into abandoning the enterprise, but each time the father and the son chase him away by throwing pebbles at him.

When they get to the place of sacrifice, the father blindfolds his son saying that he did not wish the lad to see the anguish on the father's face. He then blindfolds himself for, as he reasoned, how could any father watch his son die ?

God saves Ishmael by substituting a ram and sends His salutations to Abraham for his act of obedience. God also promises Abraham to immortalize the event. (II:125-127; III:96-97; XXXVII:101-111).

The mother, on learning what had happened, screams and falls unconscious at the thought of what might have happened had Allah not intervened to save her beloved son. Shortly afterwards she dies and is buried close to Kaaba. Her burial place is treated as being included in the hallowed ground around which the pilgrim circumambulates.

Every pilgrim takes the same route which Abraham and Ishmael had taken. He too spends the first night, as they did, in Arafaa and the second night outside Meena. He too symbolically stones the satan at the three places in Meena.

While of-course the visit to the House of Allah has its own great spirituality, the pilgrim also must reflect upon the rituals which appear to enshrine family values, parents' love for their off-spring, the vanquishing of the satan, the one within man's heart, by symbolically stoning him and above all the willingness to make sacrifices for the pleasure of God.

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