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Islam is the monotheistic faith revealed by God to all considered to be Prophets of “peace through submission to God”.  Abraham, Moses, Jonah, and Jesus are a few of the prophets shared between Muslims and Judeo-Christian believers.  Islam is Arabic for “submission to God” and is described as “deen”, a way of life or religion, in Arabic.  The word Muslim means one who surrenders or submits to God.


Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is an Abrahamic religion.  According to Muslims, it is the same belief as revealed by all the messengers God sent to mankind and that the last messenger, Muhammad, received the final revelation from God in the Quran.  It is important to point out that unlike Judaism and Christianity, one of the basic tenets of Islam is the denial of man’s free will.  The pervasive use of the term inshallah, if God wills, among the populations of predominantly Muslim countries is a clear indication of this tenet.


Islam has three distinct branches of belief: Sunni, Shia, and Khariji.  Some scholars consider Sufism another branch though many Sufi orders consider themselves to be Sunni with a very small element who consider themselves Shia.  In addition to the sects is a militant political movement, Qutbism, a negative term applied by Saudi Salafi scholars to members of Jamiat al Ikhwan al Muslimun—Muslim Brotherhood and their supported  and associated organizations.  The tenets of all of Islam consist of faith and practice, or iman and deen respectively.  This is enacted through performance of the 5 pillars. 


All branches of Islam share six articles of belief:  1) in Allah; 2) in Angels; 3) in the Books sent by God; 4) in all the Prophets; 5) in Qadar, Fate; 6) in Qiyahmah, Day of Judgment and the Resurrection. 


Guidance in Islam is received first from the Quran, then the Sunnah, an interpretation of  the Hadith, or the actions of Muhammed transcribed by his companions.  The Sunnah is not a text like the Quran or Hadith but an understanding derived from the Hadith.  The guidance derived is known as Sharia, Islamic law.  Though considered essential in Islamic societies, many progressive Muslims consider sharia as ethical guidance.


The fundamental belief in Islam is the oneness of God.  Muslims believe in tawhid, absolute monotheism.  They reject the Trinity of Christianity and believe that describing God as One in Three Persons is polytheistic.  Tawhid is based in three aspects:  Tawhid ar-Rububiyya—God and only God creates and sustains the universe; Tawhid al Asma wa as Sifat—understanding God has 99 names based on His characteristics and that to deny any one of the characteristics is to reject the oneness of God; Tawhid al ibada—declaring belief in tawhid through individual acts of worship alone and in public.  There are no depictions or drawings of God in Islam as it could lead to idol worship but the 99 names of God are written in Arabic calligraphy as acceptable decoration on mosques, homes and anywhere a reminder of God is needed. 


Tawhid al ibada leads to a major disruption between Sunni and Shia stances, practices and ability to live in the same communities.  Without tolerance for opposing or variant views, Sunni fundamentalists look down on and discriminate against Shia for their reverence of the dominant historical leaders of Islam including the Imamate .  This is the basis for the declaration of Shia as apostate worse than infidels by groups such as al Qaeda and Zarqawi’s terror network.

Pillars of Islam


The first pillar is the shahadatan:  reciting and believing “La ilaha illahallah, Muhammad-ur rasul-ullah.”  Shahadatan is Arabic for two statements.  The Arabic statements translate to “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God”. 


The second pillar is performing the Salaah.  This is the performance of five daily prayers.  The morning prayer is al fajr. The after mid-day prayer is ad dh hur.  The prayer midway between mid-day and sunset is al asr.  The prayer right after sunset is al maghrib. The prayer one hour after sunset is al ‘isha.  On Fridays, the congregational prayer held at midday is known as jumu’ah. This is obligatory for men and optional for women.  During prayer, it is customary to face Mecca but not a rigid requirement for many modern Muslims.


The third pillar is the giving of Zakaah, also Zakat.  This annual charitable contribution is equivalent to the Judeo-Christian concept of tithe.  Instead of 10% the amount is based on the giver’s occupation. Generally required is 2.5% of the yearly savings for a rich man working in trade or industry and 10% to 20% of the produce for farmers.  The Zakaah is given during the month of Ramadan then distributed among the poor normally in time to celebrate Eid al Fitr. 


The fourth pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadan.  Fasting, or sawm, is the abstinence from drinking, eating, smoking, sex and other pleasures of the flesh from dawn to dusk.  There are exceptions across sects of Islam for the fast: pregnant women, children before the onset of puberty, the sick, and travelers.  Dependent on the fiqh, jurisprudence within a sect, included in the exception may be soldiers, if they are on the battlefield, the weak and elderly, menstruating women and dhimmis, or non-Muslims living under Muslim rule.


The fifth pillar is the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.  Every Muslim capable of doing so is required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.  Before the journey to Mecca the pilgrim dresses in ihram.  This is a garment made of two sheets of white unfinished cloth draped over the body and sandals. This garment signifies the lack of discrimination between rich and poor in the eyes of God.  A series of rituals are completed and the pilgrim returns home.  This pilgrimage commemorates the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina and many pilgrims make an additional pilgrimage to Medina after their trip to Mecca.


Mostly the revival of the Khawarij sect, recognized as Qutbism, proposes one additional pillar.  That is the pillar of Jihad, or personal struggle.  Since Qutbism, the militant political movement, began in the 20th century, this point of view has surfaced repeatedly.  There are other groups that declare that the sixth pillar is the Allegiance to the Imam.  To say that Jihad is the sixth Pillar of Islam to a Muslim who believes in the five pillars is extremely offensive.


Salafism, also known popularly as Wahabbism, is a religious reformation that began in the 18th century and encourages fundamentalism and a legalistic stance in religious practice.  Salafism is an Islamic revival based in the interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah in the way the Salafiyah would have determined. 


Salafists apply ijtihad, the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the sources of the law which are the Quran and Sunnah.  This application can only be made by mujtahid, who is trained in Islamic law.  The opposite of ijtihad is taqlid, imitation.



This paper is incomplete.  Salafism as a discipline of Islam covers the range of Islamic sects from Sunni to Shia and Sufi.  For an Islamic discipline to be considered Salafi, three things exist:  ijtihad, or independent judgment; restoration of the Islamic caliphate, or the return of rule to Islamic leaders; and the belief that the overthrow of heads of state that are practicing Muslims is acceptable in order to bring about the restoration of the caliphate and return to the way of the salafiya.  Using this as a guide, Iran is a great example of a Shia-Salaf government.

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