Introduction to Islam
by Dr. Zahid Aziz
Basic Beliefs and Practices
“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free, and keeps up prayer and pays the Zakat; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict. These are they who are truthful, and these are they who keep their duty.” (The Holy Quran, 2:177)
Is there a list of basic Muslim beliefs?
Yes. The Kalima itself is known as the ‘brief expression of faith’. It summarizes the basic Muslim beliefs, which are five in number. These are belief in:
- God, Who possesses the most perfect and excellent qualities.
- Angels, who act upon the heart of each person, inspiring him to do good.
- Prophets and Messengers of God, sent to all the nations of the world, who taught virtue by their own high moral example.
- Books of God, which were revealed to all the nations through their respective prophets, containing guidance on how man should live and conduct himself.
- Life after death, when each person shall become conscious of all the deeds, good or bad, he/she did in this life, and shall face the consequences.
What is the most important point Islam teaches about belief?
It is this, that belief does not just mean believing something in one’s heart, but also acting on the belief. Mere faith counts for nothing if not carried into practice. The purpose of belief is to show us what to do in practice. No ‘belief’ by itself can bring salvation.
How does this apply to the five beliefs of Islam?
It applies as follows:
|Belief in:||Means we should:|
|God||Try to perfect ourselves and acquire the best qualities.|
|Angels||Follow our good thoughts and impulses.|
|Prophets||Try to model our lives on the examples of the righteous ones in all the nations on earth.|
|Books of God||Follow all the truths, in whatever scripture or religion they may be found.|
|Life after death||Remember that all our actions, good and bad, open and secret, will be judged.|
What are the basic practices a Muslim has to perform?
In order to submit to God, and to be at peace with fellow beings, a Muslim has to perform certain duties to God and to fellow-beings. The duties to God are:
- Prayer (salat)
- Fasting (saum), and,
- Pilgrimage to Makka (hajj).
The duty to fellow beings is to spend one’s resources, time, energy, money, etc. for the welfare of others; in particular, to give a part of one’s wealth to help those in need (known as giving zakat, a charity-tax).
What is the main point to remember about these practical duties?
It is that the purpose of performing these duties is to draw us closer to God, and to lead us to do good to others and refrain from wrong-doing in our daily lives. Therefore, we should carry out these duties, not as rituals, but remembering God from the bottom of our hearts. Performing these acts of worship can only benefit us if we use them as the basis for improving our character and conduct in daily life. If a person prays and fasts, but fails to do good and give up bad habits, his prayer and fasting will be useless.