What is Islam and Who are Muslims?
Islam is the last of the great Abrahamic faiths following Judaism and Christianity prior to its advent in 7th century Arabia. Abraham’s first son was Ishmael and his other son was Isaac. The progeny of Isaac became Jews and Christians while the descendants of Ishmael became Muslims. As such, Jews, Christians and Muslims have a common ancestor in Abraham and their teachings overlap significantly.
The word Islam has two seemingly unrelated meanings: “to surrender” and “peace.” The entirety of one’s life should be devoted to surrendering ourselves to the Will of God. It is in this surrender desiring the pleasure of God that we find inner peace that we seek. A Muslim is the one who is an adherent to the religion of Islam similar to Jews and Christians as the followers of Judaism and Christianity respectively.
The belief in One God, or monotheism, is at the heart of the Islamic faith from which all other teachings follow. The word for this One and unique God is Allah similar to the semitic names Ellohim and Ellih found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus is the God that Muslims worship. Moreover, the word Allah cannot be made plural or given a gender as we can in the English language by adding “s” or “dess” to the word “god.” The notion of gods or goddess is alien to the Islamic faith because Allah is unique, free of human attributes, and the originator and sustainer of all things.
The Quran is the sacred text of Islam and the word Quran literally means “to read and recite.” The Quran is recited in Arabic since Arabic was the language of revelation. There are adequate translations of the Quran that can be provided upon request, but the true essence of the Quran cannot be captured in any translation. The first seven verses of the Quran are recited in every prayer and this passage is similar to the Christian Lord’s Prayer. These verses are as follows: “All praise is to God Who is Master and Sustainer of the universe, God is Most Gracious and Most Merciful, Lord of the Day of Judgment, You alone we worship and to You alone we turn to for help, show us the straight path, the path of those You have honored, and not the path of those who You are displeased with and nor of those who go astray.” The Quran teaches that God communicated revelation to His chosen Messengers and all these noble teachers taught the worship of One God and a moral code that all of us are to follow. This is why Muslims believe in all of the great teachers including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and of
course, Muhammad who was the final Messenger sent to humanity. The Quran describes human beings as God’s representatives on earth who must do good to God’s creation as a way to attain nearness to the Divine. Terrorism or violence against civilians is condemned strongly and without equivocation throughout the Quran. In fact, the Quran declares “If anyone kills one person, it would be as if he killed the lives of all humanity. And if anyone saves one life, it would be as if he saved the lives of all humanity.”
There are 1.57 billion Muslims throughout the world and Islam is the dominant religion in 57 of the 193 countries. Despite the fact that Islam emerged in the Arabian peninsula, most Muslims are not Arabs. Again, Islam is a religion and being Arab is an ethnicity among those who speak the Arabic language. In fact, only about one-fifth of the total Muslim population consists in the Arab world, and there are sizeable Christian populations throughout Arab countries including Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. The most populous Muslim country is Indonesia, and the largest number of Muslims comes from the South Asian subcontinent comprising Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (about 500 million Muslims overall). Throughout the centuries, Muslims have lived in harmony with their non-Muslim neighbors upholding the universal values of peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.