Greetings and as-salamu alaikum,
It is absolutely a pleasure to be a part of these video series discussing different aspects of Islamic theology, practice and worship. In his famous encounter with Angel Gabriel, the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh), explains what this journey of religion is all about. Gabriel, in the form of a traveler, comes next to him and asks what faith is. And Prophet Muhammad explains the central core theological doctrines of Islam. Believing in one God, the previous revelations, the Prophets, the Messenger, life after death, and divine destiny and so on.
But it’s again so essential that Angel Gabriel asks the second question. What is Islam? Islam is not only a belief system. In our religion, you cannot only experience God through beliefs or ideas. In short, it’s only a theory. You have to take that vertical relationship with God and the individual and you have to manifest that relationship horizontally with fellow human beings and in action.
In many, many verses of the Qur’an, God says
“Those who have faith and do good action”.
So in many ways, in Islam, both what you believe as a religion, the doctrines, the theological commitments, the belief system that you take on as a Muslim, is as important as also what you do with that belief system, or how that belief system manifests itself in the human experience. How do you manifest that love of God, that belief in God, that belief in Scripture into human action?
So it is this second step of the religious journey as Angel Gabriel asked to him,
“What is Islam?”
which we will be talking about in the next few videos of this series.
“What are the rituals? What are the forms of worship in Islam ?”
And how do Muslims, after taking on the belief in God, what do they do in practice? How do they take their belief system and try to live it in their day-to-day lives? This is what we will be talking about.
And the third, of course, Angel Gabriel continues to ask.
“What is ihsan ?”
(ihsan is to worship God as if you see God, for even if you do not see God. God sees you.) Both this vertical belief in God and horizontal manifestation of that belief into human action should bring everything back to God. That you should be able to live an ethical, moral life where every aspect of your life, from family life to business life, to student life, your role as husband, wife, or sister should manifest itself in the best of ethical, moral conduct. You should be able to worship God or live your life as if you are always in the presence of the Almighty, the Divine.
But let’s get back to the five pillars of Islam. The Prophet of Islam answers the question of Angel Gabriel,
“What is Islam ?”
and he answers,
“Islam is five things”.
And famously these five things have become the five pillars of Islam. As you can imagine, by definition the pillars mean everything else has been built upon these five foundations.
The 1400 years of Muslim history, Islamic theology, Muslim understanding of ethics, morality, treatment of non-Muslims, the way we take this love of God and show it in the service of humanity, and the way we understand charity, it’s all encapsulated and embodied in the five pillars of Islam.
The first one, the first pillar of Islam, in this first video we will talk little bit more, is the shahadah. Shahadah is the key to world of Islam. It means bearing witness. It’s not only enough to believe in the God’s Oneness, in God’s previous revelations, in God’s previous Prophets and Messengers. You have to say it. There is a power in the form of words and you have to practice and repeat it every time as part of your five daily prayers. That there is no deity worthy of worship but God alone, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and all the Prophets before him is the final Messenger of God.
If you go to any mosque anywhere around the world, in the altar where the Imam leads the congregational prayers, you will see the word Allah (God) and the word Muhammad next to it. This symbolizes this key, central ritual. It is the testimony of faith in Islam that makes someone a Muslim. Not because of his family lines, it is not a blood relationship. What make someone a Muslim is that after the age of puberty, with your own conscious, with your own commitment, if you believe in God’s Oneness, and you try to connect and center your life around that Oneness, and try to live a life according to uniting yourself with that Oneness of God, and you believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final Messenger of many Prophets before him, that is what make someone a Muslim.
It is an individual journey that you take onto yourself. Of course Islam has social aspects, and communal aspects. But at the core of this message is what you believe and what you say as the first pillar of Islam, the shahadah, where you remind yourself of God’s Oneness. In this regard, I would like to say it is unique. Believing in God’s Oneness and trying to unite, trying to be in relationship with that One God who has created everything in the heaven and earth is central to Islamic theology.
That’s why it is very important not only to believe the first pillar of Islam, but to practice, and to say this as part of your prayers every day. If you look into other world religions, they are either named after their founder like Christianity, or like Buddhism, or they are named after the geography where they were born like Hinduism, or like Judaism.
But when it comes to Islam, it is not named after Muhammad. Nor is it named after the Arabian Peninsula where historically the religion was born. It is instead named after its central quality, its first pillar, the first doctrine that God is One.
So it is this testimony which makes someone literally and technically a Muslim. When somebody converts to Islam, there is no institution to approve, or endorse perse the conversion. There is no clergy to accept and reject per se. Someone can technically become Muslim by keeping God and himself or herself as a witness and saying these few important and life changing words, the testimony, the first pillar of Islam.
“There is no god but God alone, there is no deity worthy of worship but God alone. And God is One and Prophet Muhammad is the final and true Messenger of God.”
This testimony, this first pillar of Islam is the key which opens the door to the world of Islam as a religion and to the community of Muslims which is 1.7 billion people as we speak today.