GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT ISLAM

ISLAM AND MUSLIMS

1. What is the difference between the words “Islam,” “Islamic,” “Muslim,” and “Arab”?

Islam is the name of a religion, as Christianity and Judaism are names of religions. The Arabic word “Islam” is based on the root “slm,” which means peace or surrender to God. Combining both translations results in the combined meaning “the state of peace through following God’s guidance.”

Islamic is an adjective that modifies a non-human noun, as for example, “Islamic art,” “Islamic architecture,” “Islamic beliefs,” etc. This term should not be used to refer to a person.

A follower of Islam is called a Muslim, or “one who is in a state of peace by following God’s guidance.”

While the term Arab has been used in the past to refer to members of a Semitic ethnic group from the Arabian Peninsula, today the word “Arab” refers to people from Arabic-speaking countries, most of which are in the Middle East and North Africa. The term Arabian was historically used to describe an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula. Today “Arabian” is used as an adjective to describe a non-human noun (e.g., Arabian coffee); it should not be used to refer to people.

GOD

6. Why do some people suffer so much in this life, especially the innocent, such as children?

This is a challenging issue for all religions that proclaim a belief in a God who is at once omnipotent and beneficent. We believe that God tries people in different ways, through both hardship and ease. While the cause of suffering is not always evident, the way that people respond to difficulty is a test of their moral fiber. Responding to hardship with patience and fortitude is a virtue for which we believe a great reward is promised in this life and the afterlife. Additionally, there may be a silver lining behind every difficulty. For instance, major disasters often bring out the best in people, inspiring them to perform remarkable acts as they respond to their own or another’s hardship with compassion and courage and come to the aid of those in need. Muslims also take comfort in their belief that life does not end after death.

ANGELS

8. What do Muslims believe about angels?

Angels are mentioned many times in the Qur’an and Hadith (prophetic sayings). Unlike humans, angels are described as beings who obey God’s commandments without fail, by nature, and are assigned to specific duties. Two of the most prominent angels mentioned by name in the Qur’an are Gabriel (Jibril) and Michael (Mikhail). Gabriel is the angel of revelation and Michael is the angel in charge of rain and earth’s plant life.

SATAN

9. What does Islam say about Satan?

Satan (Shaytan in Arabic) is believed to be a third type of creation, in addition to humans and angels, known as a “jinn.” Humans are said to have been made from clay, angels from light, and jinn from fire. While the Qur’an teaches that some jinn are good and submit to God, it states that others, such as Iblis or Shaytan (Satan), try to tempt people to do evil, similar to the belief about Satan in traditional Christian theology.

PROPHETS

10. How do the stories of the prophets in Islam compare with those in Christianity and Judaism?

That depends on which prophet we are talking about. In many cases, the stories of the prophets in the Qur’an are like the stories in the Bible. Some examples include:

  • the story of Noah and his ark.
  • the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their son Isaac, who is also considered a prophet in the Qur’an.
  • the story of Jacob and his twelve sons, including Joseph, who is also considered a prophet in the Qur’an: and
  • the most oft-mentioned prophet in the Qur’an, Moses, and the story of his mission in Egypt to rescue his people.

Some of the major differences between the biblical account of some of these prophets and the Qur’an stem from the fact that the Qur’an holds that all prophets were immune from major sins. The stories of the Prophet Jesus are close to the Bible in their descriptions of his virginal birth and miracles but differ sharply in their account of the divinity of Jesus and his crucifixion; the Qur’an states that Jesus was only a man, not divine, and that before the crucifixion Jesus was taken up to heaven and replaced by a person who looked like him.

MUHAMMAD

12. Why do Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet?

Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet on the basis of statements in Islamic scripture, including the following Qur’anic verse: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of God, and the Seal of the Prophets and God has full knowledge of all things.” (Qur’an, 33:40) There are also various Hadith (prophetic sayings) which designate Muhammad as “the Seal of the Prophets.” Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was preceded by a long succession of prophets before him that include Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, and Jesus. Muslims believe that all the prophets were sent by God and that some of them foretold the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.

JESUS AND MARY

18. What do Muslims believe about Jesus?

Muslims overwhelmingly revere Jesus and believe that he was born to the Virgin Mary through an act of God, without a father, just as Adam is believed to have been created by God without a father or mother. The Qur’an describes his conception and birth and his many miracles such as healings of the sick. The Qur’an also emphasizes that Jesus was a great prophet of God and a messenger who received revelation from God, but that he was, like all other prophets, only a human being. For Muslims, God, in his divine transcendence, is incomparable to His creation in every aspect, and therefore He does not procreate, even metaphorically. Muslims also believe that Jesus was not crucified but instead was taken to heaven and will return to earth to live out the rest of his life, a belief commonly known as the second coming of Jesus.

QUR’AN

22. Is the Qur’an read only in Arabic?

Since only 15% of all Muslims are Arabs, the Qur’an has been translated into and is read in many other languages, with multiple English translations. However, because Muslims consider the original Arabic text to be the literal word of God, during ritual prayers, the Qur’an is recited in its original Arabic language (just as some Catholic churches still perform mass in Latin or synagogues perform part of their prayer in Hebrew). In order to fully comprehend the Qur’an for instruction and spiritual enrichment, non-Arab Muslims also read the translation in their native language.

KA’BAH

27. What is the Ka’bah?

The Ka’bah is the cube-shaped building covered with a black cloth in Mecca that is believed by Muslims to have been the first house of worship to God. Muslims throughout the world face towards the Ka’bah when they perform each of their daily prayers.

DAY OF JUDGMENT

29. How will God determine who goes to heaven and hell?

We believe that only God knows where a person will end up in the afterlife, since only God knows a person’s intentions, deeds, circumstances, and limitations. We also believe that God will judge human beings according to His complete justice on the Day of Judgment based on both their beliefs and actions, considering the opportunities and abilities that He gave them. In the Qur’an, God’s names include “the Judge” and “the Just.”

FREE WILL

31. What good is “free will” if everything is predestined? If God already knows if we are going to heaven or hell, why doesn’t He just put us there?

This is a topic of debate in all religions. Muslims believe that humans have free will to commit good or evil, but that God’s knowledge and power encompasses all that happens in this life. That means that we will be held accountable for our actions, since God, while knowing what the outcome will be, allows people to act on their own free will to choose good or evil.