The answers below about islam are based on Quran and Hadith, the 2 primary sources of knowledge about Islam. These were taken from The Islam FAQ website and provide basic information about Islam. Please see the website Islam Tomorrow for additional information on Islam.
Q: What is Islam?
A: Islam means “submission to the will of God.” Islam teaches belief in only one God, the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions. Islam greatly values peace; in fact the traditional Muslim greeting is 'Salaam' which means "peace."
Q: What are the basic teachings of Islam?
A: The basic teachings of Islam are similar to those of Christianity and Judaism. Islam teaches the belief in one God, the Angels, the Day of Judgment, Heaven and Hell, Adam and Eve, Prophets, Prayer, and Equality.
There are five Pillars in Islam:
- Faith: Believe in one God and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as his last messenger
- Prayer: Pray towards Mecca five times each day to remember God and thank him for his grace
- Charity: Donate a portion of your wealth to the poor
- Fasting: Go without food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan to empathize with the poor and learn self-discipline
- Pilgrimage: Visit Mecca and perform the Hajj once in a lifetime, if you are able and have the means
These pillars are built on the Articles of Faith:
- God: There is only one God with no associate or partner. All that happened in the past, is happening now and is going to happen in the future is by the will of God.
- The Angels of God: Angels can only do only good and serve God
- The Books of God: This includes the Torah, the Psalms given to David, The Bible and gospels revealed to Jesus (peace be upon them) and recorded by his disciples, and the Quran the holy book of Islam.
- Prophets of God: Muslims believe that there were thousands of prophets who preached God's message. Muslims believe in all of the prophets mentioned in the Torah and the Bible including Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them). We also believe that Muhammad was the last prophet for all humanity and completed the message of God started by Adam (peace be upon him).
- Day of Resurrection or Judgment Day: Muslims believe that all mankind will be raised back to life and judged by God. Those whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will be rewarded and those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds will be dealt with according to God's judgment.
- Power of doing Good or Evil: Humans are given intelligence and the knowledge of right and wrong actions. The free will and conscience of each individual is their guide.
- Life after Death: The eternal life in heaven where one will be rewarded for living a righteous life on Earth, or the fire of hell where one will be punished for the evil that one committed.
Q: When was Islam started?
A: Contrary to popular belief, Islam was not started by Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century. Muslims, the followers of Islam, believe that Islam was first followed by Adam, then by all of the prophets thereafter. Muslims believe that the same basic message of belief in one God was communicated through all prophets including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them) over time.
Q: What is a Muslim?
A: A "Muslim" is one who follows Islam and submits to the will of God.
Q: How many Muslims are there?
A: There are currently 1.2 Billion Muslims in the world, with 7 million in the United States. Contrary to popular perception, only 20% of Muslims are Arabs and live in the Middle East. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are India and Indonesia with about 175 million Muslims each.
Q: Who is "Allah"?
A: "Allah" is simply the Arabic word for God, the same God worshiped by Christians and Jews. It is the God of Abraham and Moses, not a different God. Christian Arabs also refer to God as "Allah".
Q: What is the Quran/Koran?
A: The Quran is the holy book of Islam. Muslims believe that the Quran was divinely revealed and is the last testament of God. The Quran is preserved in its original Arabic form and has never been changed.
Q: What are Hadiths?
A: Hadiths are the sayings of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Q: Who was Muhammad?
A: Muslims believe that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a prophet and the last in a series of messengers of God. Muslims believe in many prophets including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them). Muhammad was born in Mecca in the year 570 CE, during the period of history Europeans call the Middle Ages. Muhammad was the son of 'Abd Allah, a noble from the tribe of the Quraysh. Muhammad's father died before Muhammad's birth, and his mother, Aminah died shortly afterwards. Muhammad was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib.
As he grew up, Muhammad became known for his truthfulness, generosity and sincerity, earning the title of al Amin, the trustworthy one. Muhammad was frequently called upon to arbitrate disputes and counsel his fellow Meccans.
Muhammad was of a contemplative nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira' near the summit of Jabal al Nur, the 'Mountain of Light' near Mecca.
Q: How did Muhammad become prophet and messenger of God?
A: At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad (peace be upon him) received his first revelation from God through the Archangel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty-three years, is known as the Quran.
Muhammad began to recite the words he heard from Gabriel and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him. The people of Mecca were steeped in their ways of ignorance and opposed Muhammad and his small group of followers in every way. These early Muslims suffered bitter persecution.
In the year 622 CE, God gave the Muslim community the command to emigrate. This event, the hijrah or migration, in which they left Mecca for the city of Medina, some 260 miles to the North, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Madinah provided Muhammad and the Muslims the safe and nurturing haven in which the Muslim community grew. After several years, the Prophet and his followers returned to Mecca where they forgave their enemies and dedicated the Ka'bah to the worship of the One God. Before the Prophet died at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century of his death, Islam had spread to Spain in the west and as far east as China.
Q: What is Hajj?
A: The pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj) is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to do so. Nevertheless, over two million people go to Mecca each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another.
The annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments that strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include going around the Ka'bah seven times, and going seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar (Hajir, Abraham's wife) during her search for water. The pilgrims later stand together on the wide plains of 'Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Mecca) and join in prayer for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgment.
The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the 'Id al Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This and the 'Id al Fitr, a festive day celebrating the end of Ramadan, are the two holidays of the Islamic calendar.
Q: What does Islam say about Christians and Jews?
A: Islam teaches that Christians, Jews and Muslims are all descended from Abraham and are "people of the book". By that it means that the three religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through their holy books. Muslims hold Jesus and Moses (peace be upon them) in high regard and believe that they were prophets blessed with the power of miracles to show the glory of God.
Q: What is an Islamic Fundamentalist?
A: This term has no basis in Islam. This term is incorrectly used in the media to refer to some Middle Eastern people and does not represent Muslims.
Q: What does Islam say about War?
A: Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.
One reads in the Quran: "Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors." (Quran 2:190)
"And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers." (Quran 2:193)
"If they seek peace, then you seek peace. And trust in God for He is the One that hears and knows all things." (Quran 8:61)
War is therefore the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The often misunderstood and overused term jihad literally means "struggle" and not "holy war" (a term not found anywhere in the Qur'an). Jihad, as an Islamic concept, can be on a personal level- inner struggle against evil within oneself; struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; and struggle on the battlefield, if and when necessary.
Q: How does Islam view terrorism?
A: Islam does not support terrorism under any condition or circumstances. Terrorism goes against every principle of Islam. If a Muslim engages in terrorism he is not following the religion. He may be wrongly using the name of Islam for political or financial gain.
Q: How does Islam view killing innocent people?
A: Islam does not condone the killing of innocent people under any condition or circumstances. It is one of the greatest sins in Islam.
Q: How does Islam view suicide?
A: Islam states that life is a gift from God and must be cherished. Suicide is a major sin in Islam and not permitted or justifiable under any circumstances.
Q: What is "Jihad"?
A: Jihad does not mean "holy war". Jihad in Arabic means to strive, struggle and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, for self-defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression.
Q: What is a "Fatwa"?
A: A "Fatwa" is a religious ruling to a question based on Islamic law and issued by Islamic scholars.
Q: How does Islam view women?
A: Islam views women as equal to but different from men. Islam teaches that women must be respected and protected. Islam does not condone oppression of women but to the contrary provides many rights to women. In some Middle Eastern countries women may be limited in certain rights. This is not due to Islam but due to the culture of that area.
According to the Qur'an, men and women are equal before God; women are not blamed for violating the "forbidden tree," nor is their suffering in pregnancy and childbirth a punishment for that act.
Islam sees a woman, whether single or married, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own and dispose of her property and earnings. A marital gift is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use, and she may keep her own family name rather than adopting her husband's. Roles of men and women are complementary and collaborative. Rights and responsibilities of both sexes are equitable and balanced in their totality.
Both men and women are expected to dress in a way that is simple, modest and dignified; specific traditions of female dress found in some Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs rather than religious principle. Likewise, treatment of women in some areas of the Muslim world sometimes reflects cultural practices which may be inconsistent, if not contrary, to authentic Islamic teachings.
The messenger of God said:
"The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife."
Q: Why do Muslim women cover their hair?
A: Islam teaches modesty for women and men. Women are required to cover their bodies so that their figure is not revealed and that only their face and hands are shown. This requirement is designed to protect women and give them respect. The dress of Muslim women is very similar to that of Christian Nuns who also cover their bodies and hair.
Q: How does Islam view human rights?
A: Freedom of conscience is laid down by the Quran itself: "There is no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from falsehood; whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And God is All-Hearing and All-Knowing." (Quran 2:256)
The life, honor and property of all citizens in a Muslim society are considered sacred whether the person is Muslim or not. Racism and sexism are incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur'an speaks of human equality in the following terms:
"O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware." (Quran 49:13)
Q: What is a Mosque/Masjid?
A: A Mosque or Masjid is a place of worship for Muslims. Muslims pray in a mosque in the same way that Christians pray in a church.
Q: Where can I learn more about Islam?
A: One way to learn about Islam is to read an authentic translation of the Quran. Most libraries carry an English translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. An English translation is available online where you can also find general information about Islam.