Islam is not a new religion but the final culmination and fulfilment of the same basic truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is not just a personal religion but a complete way of living. Based on its linguistic origin, the Arabic word 'Islam' means to achieve peace--peace with God, peace within oneself, and peace with the creations of God through submission to God (Allah) and commitment to His guidance.
The Prophet Muhammad defined Islam in the most appropriate and precise manner. The following narration is called a Hadith, more simply it is an account of the Prophet Muhammad's speech or action. The hadith is narrated by one of the companions of the Prophet, he said:
One day we were sitting in the company of Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) when there appeared before us a man dressed in pure white clothes, his hair extraordinarily black. There were no signs of travel on him. None amongst us recognised him. At last he sat with the Apostle (peace be upon him) He knelt before him placed his palms on his thighs and said: Muhammad, inform me about al-Islam. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Al-Islam implies that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and you establish prayer, pay Zakah, observe the fast of Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the (House) if you are solvent enough (to bear the expense of) the journey. He said: You have told the truth.
He (the inquirer) said: Inform me about faith. He (the Holy Prophet) replied: That you affirm your faith in Allah, in His Angels, in His Books, in His Messengers, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in the Divine Decree about good and evil. He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth.
He (the inquirer) again said: Inform me about al-Ihsan (performance of good deeds). He (the Holy Prophet) said: That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you don't see Him, He, verily, sees you. Then he (the inquirer) went on his way.
It is reported that the prophet remarked that this inquirer was actually Angel Jibraeel (Gabriel) who had come to teach you your religion.
(Narrated by Bukhari)
In summary, Islam is based on: belief in Allah (one God) and the Prophethood of Muhammad, establishing five obligatory daily prayers, fasting the month of Ramadan, paying the Zakkah which is a charitable donation to the poor and the pilgrimage to the house of God (the holy Ka'bah in Makkah).
The followers of Islam are called Muslims. Muslims are not to be confused with Arabs. Muslims may be Arabs, Turks, Persians, Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Indonesians, Europeans, Africans, Americans, Chinese, or other nationalities.
An Arab could be a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew or an atheist. Muslims all over the world try to learn Arabic so that they may be able to read the Qur'an (the Muslim holy book) and understand its meaning. Although the Qur'an has been translated into most languages, to truly appreciate its depth it is beneficial to read it in Arabic.
While there are one billion Muslims in the world there are about 200 million Arabs. Among them, approximately ten percent are not Muslims. Thus Arab Muslims constitute only about twenty percent of the Muslim population of the world. A fifth are found in Sub-Saharan Africa; and the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia. Substantial parts of Asia are Muslim, while significant minorities are to be found in the Central Asian republics, India, China, North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe.
Allah speaks to the people of all nations of the world in the following verses of the Qur'an:
O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], and from them both He created many men and women and fear Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you. (4:1)
O mankind! the Apostle hath come to you in truth from Allah: believe in him: it is best for you. But if ye reject faith to Allah belong all things in the heavens and on earth: and Allah is All-Knowing All-Wise. (4:170)
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (49:13)
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