Islam confesses that the Muhammad Ibn Abddullah was the final prophet from Allah (god), and in fact he is the seal of the prophets making him the last person to be the voice of God to bring the message of Allah to all people. To be able to properly understand who Muhammad was we must first examine the context that he lived in.
He lived during the sixth century A.D. in the lands of Arabia, which at the time was filled mainly with polytheistic tribes of people, some were nomadic while others were sedentary. The tribes in Arabia were communal bases due to the harsh demands that came with desert dwelling. There were also monotheistic communities in Arabia at the time that were mainly comprised of Christians, Jews, and a group of Arabian monotheistic tribes called Hanifs. Hanifs specifically professed to worship the God of the biblical figure Abraham and thought that the polytheistic practices of other tribes were pure idolatry and offensive to the God of Abraham. Keep in mind that the Hanifs existed prior to the establishment of Islam, even if often Muslims will claim that they were simply the form of Islam prior to the prophetic ministry of Muhammad.
Muhammad did not have a long relationship with his parents, he was primarily raised by his grandfather on his father’s side of the family and his uncle. They helped train him in learning trade and travel skills so that as he grew he would become well experienced tradesmen for their family tribe (Quraysh). He would trade in both the Mediterranean sea and Indian ocean, also caravanning across the Arabian peninsula. According to tradition, Muhammad was known to have been a faithful and honest tradesmen in life and this reputation brought him the opportunity to marry a tradeswoman named Khadijah. From what records modern scholars have today, it would seem as if Muhammad had a respectable and joyful marriage.
Now that the background of Muhammad’s life has been summarized, the story of his prophetic ministry can be examined. It is said that Muhammad would spend weeks at a time praying alone in a cave near Mecca, one of the times he visited the cave that the angel Gabriel appeared to him, commanding Muhammad to recite sections of scripture that would be included in the Quran. But since Muhammad was illiterate he continued to tell Gabriel that he was unable to do so. This went on until Gabriel embraced Muhammad and gave him revelation of the Quran piece by piece orally from Allah and told Muhammad that he was to be the final prophet to bring the message of Allah to mankind. Because of this, Islam has often referred to Muhammad as “the seal of the prophets” meaning that with him all prophecy has ended and the message of God is fulfilled.
The Quran is the sacred scripture by which the religion of Islam establishes all of it’s beliefs. It is believed that the Quran is the very words of Allah given to Muhammad. Islam will often make the distinction that the words of Allah given in the Quran cannot be defined as “divine inspiration” but rather they are totally, completely, and uniquely the very words of Allah spoken verbally. Now, according to tradition it is believed that Muhammad was not a formally educated man, therefore the reason that the Quran was spoken to Muhammad and he in turn proclaimed it verbally to others is due his being illiterate (not being able to read or write). Because of this, when Muhammad would tell them the Quran orally his companions would then scribe the words he was speaking to make sure that there was a written record of the words of Allah.
The Quran is not simply a text of scripture according to the religion, it is the very words of Allah announced in proper Arabic dialect. While there are written forms of the Quran in Arabic and various languages; it was common practice for those who were and still today entrusted to memorize the Quran so that it can continue to be carried down in oral tradition. These men are given the title of Hafiz which translates to “guardian” from the Arabic language.
Tawhid is an interesting concept and is in a basic sense the Islamic understanding of the nature and being of God. Islam states that Allah exists as a pure expression of a unified oneness. This is due to the fact that many Arabian tribal communities were polytheistic and even the Christian Arabians when expressing their beliefs about God would explain what the Nicene Creed called the Holy Trinity more formally known as a trinitarian monotheism. The Holy Trinity is a complex doctrine to explain so it would make sense that Muhammad and his followers would reject any senses of plurality with Allah, in favor of communicating the unique unity and oneness that is expressed through him.
The Tawhid is often declared through the expression of the shahadah which states, “I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”. This statement is the cornerstone confession of belief that is required to become a practitioner of Islam and it is require to be stated in the original Arabic dialect. Now, why is the shahadah so important? Well as stated previously, many Arabian tribes were polytheists and Muslims often saw the Christians as believing in tritheism rather than monotheism.
In their eyes anyone who attributes divinity to someone or something other than Allah is guilty of the unpardonable sin which is commonly known as shirk. This would mean that anyone who doesn’t confess that Allah alone is the only true divine is destined to be condemned to hell if they die while still guilty of shirk. So for clarity’s sake, the sin of shirk is unpardonable if one dies guilty of it, but if someone changes and repents from shirk they will not be guilty of it when judgment comes at the end of their lives.
Therefore, the Tawhid is not a statement to solely combat the trinitarian beliefs of Christians in their day (although it is possible that they may have been an influential factor), it is a belief that distinguishes the Islamic practicing Arabian tribes from all of the polytheistic practices they were surrounded by in their culture.
Five Pillars Of Islam
The five pillars of Islam are foundational practices which are required to be a practitioner of Islam. They could be compared today to the sacramental system of Roman Catholicism or to the profession of faith, baptism, and the Lord’s supper in most Protestant denominations. So, the five pillars are as follows… The first pillar is Shahadah (Confession of Faith), second pillar is Salah (Prayer), third pillar is Zakat (Almsgiving), fourth pillar is Sawm (Fasting), and the fifth pillar is Hajj (Pilgrimage).
Shahadah states, “I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”. This statement is the cornerstone confession of belief that is required to become a practitioner of Islam and it is require to be stated in the original Arabic dialect. This is important because it is commonly believed that Arabic is an eternal and divine language due to the fact that the Quran is the eternal word of God as expressed through Arabic to the prophet Muhammed.
Salah is a reference to the prayer practices in Islam. Prayer in this scenario involves recitation of the Quran in Arabic; this can be either given aloud or meditated on internally, and it needs to be done five times a day with the practitioner prostrated in the direction of Mecca. These prayers can be practiced anywhere, but it is often preferable to be in a mosque during these prayer times. A Muslim must also be sure to cleanse themselves prior to these prayer sessions as a way to present themselves clean before Allah.
Zakat is the practice of almsgiving (charity) for those who are in need and less fortunate, although it most literally can be translated to mean purification. Muslims will often give money to specific charities, but can also donate belongings to those who may be in need of those items for assistance in some manner. This practice is believed to purify the practitioner so that they can receive blessings from Allah in this life with the hope of rewards in the afterlife as well.
Sawm takes place specifically during Ramadan which is considered a holy month according to Islamic tradition. This practice involves abstaining from any form of food or drink from dawn till dusk. So, they are still able to eat after nightfall and before sunrise during Ramadan. This often means that they will essentially eat one meal each day of the month to demonstrate their own weakness and the need for assistance from Allah to be able to continue through Sawm.
And lastly Hajj, this is practice of traveling to Mecca at least once in their life to be able to engage in walking around the Kaaba seven times, touching the black stone of the Kaaba which is called Istilam, and traveling the distance between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah seven times. This pilgrimage is only required by those who are able according to the Quran, which means that if someone is unable to fulfill all of these demands for any reason that they should pray that Allah would show forgiveness for their inability. The Hajj is a form of expressing one’s total devotion and submission to Allah and not a means for gaining social status and reputation.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR PART 2! There I will talk about how Christians should handle responding to criticisms of Christianity and basic tips for sharing the gospel!