Muslim Beliefs and Practices

Muslim Beliefs in God (Allah)

Belief in God (Allah) is the first and central Muslim beliefs in Islam. He is depicted as a sovereign, king, ruler and master who is utterly other than his creation. His transcendent status is encapsulated in the familiar Muslim expression, Allahu Akbar (God is great).

Idolatry, the worship of more than one God, is strongly condemned for Islam stresses the oneness or unity (tawhid) of God. He is one and has no partners and no children. Associating anything else with God is an unforgivable sin, referred to as shirk. Explaining this key Islamic teaching, Badru Kateregga, a Ugandan Muslim, states:

Because God is one, no one else can share even an atom of His Divine power and authority. God alone possesses the attributes of Divinity. Because God is one and one only, to associate any being with God is a sinful and an infidel act.

Islam makes it clear that God has no son, no father, no brother, no wife, no sister and no daughters. In His unity, God is not like any other person or thing that can come to anyone’s mind. His qualities and nature are conspicuously unique. He has no associates.

The emphasis on the oneness of God means that he is never conceived of as a father. Fatherhood would imply that he has children, which to the Muslim mind implies that he cohabited with a woman in order to produce a child. The Quran asks, ‘How can He (Allah) have a child, when there is for Him no consort?’ (6:101). In the eyes of Muslims, Christians are committing shirk by referring to Jesus as the Son of God and believing in the Trinity (which, according to the Quran, consists of God, Mary and Jesus – 5:116).

God is merciful, compassionate and loving, but only to believers (Muslims). The New Testament ideas of God’s love for the sinner, the lost sheep, the lost coin or the prodigal son are alien to Islam. God is  severe,  especially  with  unbelievers,  and  in  the  Quran  he  orders Muhammad to fight them and treat them harshly (9:74; 66:9).

Some Muslims interpret the Oneness of God to mean that because God is One, there can only be one true religion (Islam) and one true  community  of  believers  (Muslims).  In  the  Quran,  God  declares to Muhammad, ‘This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM’ (5:3). Again ‘whoso seeketh as religion other than the Surrender [Islam] it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the Hereafter’ (3:85).

During a Muslim–Christian debate in Dar es Salaam, one Tanzanian Muslim activist declared that ‘there is one God, one people and one religion. It is thus unacceptable that the people in this audience belong to different religions.’ Revivalist and conservative Muslim groups take this belief seriously and literally.

Idolatry, the worship of more than one God, is strongly condemned for Islam stresses the oneness or unity (tawhid) of God. He is one and has no partners and no children. Associating anything else with God is an unforgivable sin, referred to as shirk. Explaining this key Islamic teaching, Badru Kateregga, a Ugandan Muslim, states:

Because God is one, no one else can share even an atom of His Divine power and authority. God alone possesses the attributes, this is a most important part of Muslim Beliefs.

Muslim Beliefs in Angels (Malaika) and Other Supernatural Beings:

The second key Muslim Beliefs in Islam is belief in supernatural beings, who fall into three categories: angels, jinns and the devil.

Angels:

Angels are believed to be created from light and are endowed with life, speech and reason. They neither eat nor drink and have no gender differences, and hence do not procreate. They dwell in heaven and their chief task is praising God, carrying out his orders and interceding for  mankind  (42:3).  Angels  mentioned  in  the  Qur’¯an  include  Jibril (Gabriel), the angel of revelation (2:91; 66:4); Mikail (Michael), the angel in charge of rain and sustenance (2:92); Israfil, not mentioned in the Qur’¯an, but believed to be the angel who will sound the trumpet at the last day; and Izrail, the huge and ugly angel of death (32:11 and 6:93). Mankar, ‘the unknown’, and Nakir, ‘the repudiating’, are two angels who are believed to visit the dead in the grave to interrogate them about their belief in God and Muhammad. Malik is said to be the presiding angel of hell (43:77), while Ridwan is the angel in charge of heaven.

Two angels are also said to sit on the shoulders of every person, recording their deeds (43:80; 82:10–13). There are also guardian angels who protect believers from danger (6:61; 86:4).

Jinns:

Jinns are dealt with in Sura 72 of the Qur’¯an. They are said to have been created of smokeless fire (15:27) and to be peaceable by nature. They eat and drink and procreate among their own kind, though sometimes in conjunction with human beings.

Good ones are very beautiful or handsome, while evil ones are ugly. Jinns can appear to people in the form of snakes, dogs, cats or human beings, and can appear and disappear at will. Some jinns are Muslim and good, while others are non-Muslim and evil.

Devil:

The devil is referred to in Islam as shaytan or iblis. He is believed to have been one of the angels of God. He disobeyed God by refusing to bow down or prostrate himself before Adam, the first created human.

God then cast him down to earth and banned him from the precincts of heaven. Iblis is therefore roaming the face of earth, trying to deceive human beings. He sometimes hides behind the walls of heaven to listen to what is going on there. When he is spotted by the angels, they pelt him with stones, and so his other name is the ‘pelted one’.

Muslim Beliefs in Prophets:

Two terms are used for prophets in Islam: nabi (prophet) and rasul (apostle/messenger). Muslims believe that every group of people has at one time or another been sent a prophet of their own kind (16:36). The total number of prophets is believed to be 124,000. The Qur’¯an mentions only twenty-eight by name, including Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Some of the prophets have special titles:

Adam                                 Safi u-llah                               the Chosen of  God

Noah                                   Nabi u-llah                             the Prophet of God

Abraham                            Khalil u-llah                           the Friend of God

Ishmael                               Dhabih u-llah                        the Sacrifice of God

Moses                                  Kalim u-llah                            the Converser with God

Jesus                           Kalimat u-llah / Ruh u-llah          the Word/Spirit of God

Muhammad                            Rasul u-llah                         the Apostle of God

Even though Muslims are warned not to make distinctions between the prophets of God, Muhammad occupies the highest place as the ‘Seal of the Prophets’ (Khatam Nabiyin 33:40). One Muslim writer declares: ‘Allah has taught us that Muhammad (PBUH [peace be upon him]) has closed (sealed) the long line of His apostles. Who is able to oppose the Qur’¯anic teaching?’3

Christian students will observe that those referred to as patriarchs in the Judaeo-Christian traditions, such as Abraham, are regarded in Islam as prophets, while most of the major and minor Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea are not accorded any significant place.

Muslim Beliefs in Scriptures:

Belief in divinely inspired books, or Scriptures, is the next fundamental belief in Islam. Muslims believe that God has given holy books to different prophets in the past (2:130; 4:135; 5:47, 70, 72 etc).

The main such books are the Tawrat (Torah) given to Moses, the Zabur (Psalms) given to David, and the Injil (Gospel) given to Jesus. All these books are portions of the ‘mother of books’ (umm ul-kitab), which resides in heaven. The Qur’¯an, however, is the final chapter of the heavenly book and contains the perfect revelation from God.

Muslim Beliefs in the Last Day (Akhira):

Every Muslim is expected to believe in the Last Day and the Day of Judgement, which is graphically described in Suras 75:1ff; 81:1–19; 82; 83 and 84. This day is variously referred to as Yaumu l-Qiyamat (the Day of Resurrection), Yaumu l-Hisab (the Day of Reckoning), Yaumud-Din (the Day of Judgement) and As-Sa‘a (the Hour).

No one except God knows when it will be (41:47). It will be preceded by signs that will include the appearance of the Mahdi, the Rightly Guided One, followed by the second coming of Jesus.

Judgement will then take place by the weighing of deeds, for in Islam salvation has to be earned, whereas in Christianity it is God’s gracious gift.. If one’s bad deeds outweigh one’s good deeds, one will be  condemned  to  hell  (jahanna).

The  Quran  speaks  of  a  purgatorial hell for Muslims, where after a little suffering they are admitted into heaven (19:72), a blazing fire for Christians (98:5), intense fire for Jews (104: 4) and a huge hot fire for idolaters (2:113).

Muslim Beliefs in Predestination:

Though predestination is not always included among the official beliefs of Islam, it is present and very strong in Muslim society. Predestination means that God decrees all things, good and evil, and that nothing happens without his sanction. God has decreed everything in the lives of individuals, including their eternal destination, whether heaven or hell. In his sovereignty, God guides and misguides whomsoever he wills. These decrees are written and preserved on a tablet in heaven and are unchangeable. Insha Allah, or God willing, the favourite expression of Muslims, testifies to their belief in the irresistible will and decrees of God (Allah).