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Islam is one of the largest religions in the world. However, in recent decades, this “on-again, off-again obsession” of Westerners has been mostly associated with negative connotations (Prothero 25). These negative associations, which began after 9/11, have led to a refusal to accept Islam by North Americans and Europeans who have hardly met any Muslims (Prothero 25). This paper aims to explain the major principles of Islam and give my personal opinion of the religion.
The Characteristics of Islam
Believers in Islam consider Allah to be the only God and believe that Muhammad is his messenger. Islam is the world’s second largest religion, having more than one billion adherents (Prothero 28). Only Christianity has more believers than Islam. Both of these religions are classified as Western. However, the majority of Muslims live in Asia (Prothero 28). In the context of the United States, it is believed that Islam was brought here by Muslim slaves (Prothero 29). The Nation of Islam, which first spread the religion in the US, was able to claim such an important public figure as Muhammad Ali as a member before his death in 2016. In Europe, Islam is a topic of considerable controversy, particularly because of the demand that women wear hijabs ─ head coverings (Prothero 29). According to research, there is disagreement between Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe on many issues.
The importance of prayer in Islam is quite high. Muslims pray five times each day (Prothero 27). No matter where they are and what they are doing, whenever they hear the adhan – the “invitation” to prayer – they pause their work and pray (Prothero 27). The adhan is most commonly made in Arabic since Muslims believe that God announced his final revelation, the Quran, in this language (Prothero 28). Prayers are somewhat different in various parts of the world and at different times of the day. However, they have in common their proclamation of praise to Allah. While some Muslims ignore the adhan and continue performing their chores, the majority of believers chooses to “step into sacred time” five times a day: “at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset, and night” (Prothero 30). Upon washing their faces of life’s impurities, Muslims turn so that they face Mecca, their holiest city, bow their heads, and promise to pray “for the sake of Allah and Allah alone” (Prothero 30). Thus it seems clear that Islam can be a strict and demanding religion.
The Significance of Submission to God in Islam
The most crucial issue in Islam is submission. Muslims believe that they must give themselves up to God. Every tenet of Islam talks about compliance. The Muslim understanding of sin is associated with submission as well. From the perspective of Islam, those who commit sin believe that they can go on without God. Consequently, committing a sin is regarded as an utterly wrongful act since it is not acceptable to doubt in Allah’s power. However, Islam does not treat sin as a major problem (Prothero 32). Unlike Christians, Muslims do not believe that everyone is born already subject to original sin. Therefore, the main issue is that of the self-sufficiency of God and the impossibility of a person to be self-sufficient without Him (Prothero 32). For individuals to succeed in life, it is crucial to surrender to Allah’s greatness. As a result, submission is regarded as a pivotal issue in Islam, as it is associated with the impossibility of existing independently from God.
The Interpretation of Selfishness and the Five Pillars
The major problem of Islam is not sin but selfishness. Being egotistical is explained as one’s desire to live without God and not to conform to his rules. This issue is raised when a person thinks that he or she is self-sufficient (Prothero 32). Such a belief is synonymous with considering oneself greater than God. In Islam, such conduct is condemned, and those who do not have faith in God are said to have no chance to obtain eternal life.
The major practices of Islam are referred to as the Five Pillars. These pillars are the Shahadah, salat (prayer), sawn (fasting), zakat (charity), and hajj (pilgrimage) (Prothero 33). The Shahadah is the central pillar supporting the metaphorical building of Islam. Its main statement is that there is “no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God” (Prothero 33). As for the four “supporting” pillars, they are also highly significant in Islam. The specific features of preparations for prayer have already been mentioned. Fasting is observed during Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims. During this time, they abstain from drinking, eating, sex, and smoking during the day. They engage in all these activities after sunset (Prothero 33). By doing this, people dedicate their time to God instead of satisfying their basic needs. Ramadan ends with Id al-Fitr, a festival where families gather for praying, eating, and exchanging presents.
Charity has a very large significance in Islam. It is a common practice for Muslims to give 2.5 percent of their assets to charities. However, the amount of money given depends on one’s income. Richer Muslims give larger donations that are later spent on the needs of poorer people (Prothero 33). Finally, the pilgrimage “pillar” entails traveling to Mecca during the last ten days of the twelfth lunar month. The possibility to engage in hajj depends on Muslims’ physical and financial capabilities.
My Attitude to Islam
Personally, I am a Christian, but I must admit that I find many aspects of Islam worthy of respect. In particular, I value their idea of the person’s inability to be self-sufficient. Indeed, we can only find meaning when we believe in God and consider him as the highest value in our lives. At one point in my life, I was seriously ill. My family and I prayed for my recovery, and when I got well, I had no doubt that not only the doctors’ efforts had helped me, but also the divine power that was leading and guiding them. I think that Islam has many features in common with Christianity, such as charity, fasting, and prayer. Although the traditions associated with these aspects are different, the core essence is the same: believers should obey God’s rules, respect him, and not imagine their lives without his participation in them.
As the world’s second largest religion, Islam has many interesting traditions. They are quite different from the ones I am used to, but I respect their focus on the belief in God as the most significant concept of each person’s life. I also support Muslims’ idea about condemning self-sufficiency as the act of rejecting God’s power. Working on this project has enriched my knowledge of the world’s religions and shed light on some previously unknown aspects related to faith.
Prothero, Stephen. God Is Not the One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World. HarperCollins, 2011.