Notes on a Tour of Islam

(Because we can’t teach this stuff enough.)

This post comes from notes on a lecture given by Muslim writer and activist, Susan Douglass. Ms. Douglas is an American Muslim who conducts the educational outreach program at the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which operates out of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Relations, at Georgetown University. In 2006, she was a senior researcher for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

Islam is the Third Religion of the Book

Muslims believe the first prophet was Adam. A prophet is anyone who receives revelation from God.

Muslims believe that both Adam and Eve equally fell to temptation when they decided to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve did not eat it first—and she did not persuade Adam into sinning with her.

Abraham is a prophet, and Muslims believe that he is a role model for all believers. The Quran mentions Abraham more often than it mentions Muhammad himself. Muslims believe that Abraham fathered the entire line of prophets. And they see his willingness to sacrifice his son as a demonstration of the fact that in matters of sacrifice, the intention is what matters more than the act.

The word Muslim means someone who strives to submit to God. In the Islamic view, all prophets are Muslim.

Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet. They accept his virgin birth, the miracles he performed, and his ascension. In their tradition, however, Jesus ascended before his crucifixion. God took Jesus “up to himself,” and it only “appeared to them that Jesus was crucified.” Jesus did return to earth three days later. The reason for the pre-ascension is because Muslims don’t see why God would torture one of his prophets. They do not, however, believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Allah is alone to himself. He can’t have a son.

The Beginning of Islam

The angel Gabriel revealed the Quran to Muhammad over a period of twenty-three years. Gabriel bid Muhammad disperse the Qur’an, “so others will know/understand.”

God bestowed the Quran in order to restate the basics of the Old and New Testament. Muslims don’t see Islam as a new religion as much as it is a reinforcement and recovery of what had already been lost.

With the Quran accomplished, Muhammad became the “seal” of the prophets. No new ones will appear, and nobody will write new books. Reformers might come and go as the need arises. 

Muslims believe in equality among all prophets.

Muslims believe that the only, truly authentic version of the Quran is in classical Arabic. (Notice how this belief addresses the inevitable warping of meaning that comes from translation.) Classical Arabic is preserved, thanks to the Quran.

Because Arabic is God’s language, the preservation of Arabic is critical to Islam. This gives us insight into why Americanization of some Arab nations would become problematic. 

That said, the Quran celebrates human diversity as a gift that arrives so that “we may know each other.” Muslims believe that regardless of doctrine, each individual is ultimately responsible for herself, before God.

Points of Doctrine

Traditionally, Islam has no clergy and no central authority. Muslims recognize mullahs, who are scholars on Islamic law, and they use imams as worship leaders. They believe that the foundation of human authority comes from knowledge.

Muslims embrace the Five Pillars of Islam as a primary expression of devotion. They are the following:

Shahadah: The declaration of faith. Muslims proclaim, “I bear witness that there is no god except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

Salat: Regular prayers. Muslims pray to God five times a day. 

Zakat: Giving to the poor. All able Muslim adults must give 2.5 percent of their annual earnings to the less fortunate.

Ramadan: Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. This is to commemorate Mohammad’s reception of the Quran. Those who are feeble or on a journey may truncate their fast.

Hajj: Every able Muslim must endeavor to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime. They believe Abraham started this ritual when he and Ishmael built the Ka’bah, which is the cubed structure at Mecca’s center.

In addition to the Five Pillars of Islam, Muslims keep all Ten Commandments, except for the Sabbath. They don’t believe God needed to rest on the seventh day, so they don’t either. Their high prayer day is on Fridays.

Muslims also follow the prescriptions of the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad’s sayings and actions that was recorded after the Quran appeared. These precepts require that:

A Muslim should care for herself as a creature of God. Suicide is the worst sin after idolatry. This is significant when you think of the terrorism that occurs today. It’s also interesting to note that as Islam developed, the Law of Hirabah asserted that publicly-directed violence is a capital offense.

A Muslim should respect parents, relatives, and neighbors. Think of this in contrast to what we hear about the extremists’ treatment of women, who are, after all, mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters.

Some scriptures both from the Quran and Hadith are as follows:

O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them He has spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim your rights of one another, and toward the wombs that bore you. Lo! Allah is a watcher over you.” (Quran 4:1)

And among His sights is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts; verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. (Quran 30:21)

Your wives are your garments, and ye are their garments. (Quran 2:187)

They (women) have right like those (of men) against them; though men are a degree above them. Allah is Almighty, All-Knowing. (Quran). OK, this scripture is pretty stark. But notice that Allah is so big and so mighty, that compared to him, the difference between man and woman is pretty darned small.

I inquired the Prophet (peace be upon him) about his teaching in respect of women. He replied: “Feed them as you feed yourselves, clothe them as you clothe yourselves, and do not beat or scold them.” (Hadith)

Our Prophet (may God bless and keep him!) said, “Women are the twin halves of men.” “The rights of women are sacred. See that women are maintained in the rights granted to them.” (Hadith)

A Muslim should conduct herself with honesty.

A Muslim should keep promises.

A Muslim should treat others as she would like to be treated.

A Muslim should refrain from waste and greed.

A Muslim should care for the earth as a trust from God

Much like every major world religion, Islam is extremely old. And as such, it reflects ancient values as much as it contains timeless wisdom. It admits from its very inception that as a divine gift in human hands, we will need to reform our treatment of it as the ages evolve. As with Judaism and Christianity, a number of sects have interpreted Islam in light of various circumstances–for better and for worse. 

Some useful websites include: 




(Originally posted July 21, 2015)

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