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 A guide for the new Muslim

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PostSubject: A guide for the new Muslim   Sun Jan 10, 2010 5:05 am

by Jammaal al-Din M. Zarabozo


Congratulations to the New Muslim

Especially in these times with so many barriers placed in front of Islam and so many negative untruths spread about it, it is a great blessing from Allah that He gives specific individuals the ability to see the truth and light of Islam. A new Muslim—and, in fact, every Muslim—should always be thankful to Allah that Allah has blessed him with this ever-important knowledge and understanding of His religion.
By converting to Islam, the new Muslim has entered into a new realm that is most likely very different from his previous outlook on life. Perhaps most importantly though is that via Islam the individual has found the means by which the Lord will be pleased with him and he becomes pleased with his Lord.
As one grows more in Islam and as one’s knowledge and faith increases, the individual is able to appreciate more and more of its beauty. In turn, one’s love for Allah, Islam and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) shall continue to increase. The result is a spiritual life on a very special plane that only those who know this faith are able to expe-rience and enjoy.
There is a lot to look forward to. The embracing of Islam is the sig-nificant first step and the rest, Allah willing, shall come by increasing one’s knowledge, faith and attachment to Islam.
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PostSubject: Re: A guide for the new Muslim   Sun Jan 10, 2010 5:07 am

The Religion of Islam

The Meaning of the Word “Islam”


The word “Islam” is the verbal noun of the verb aslama. This verb is defined as, “He resigned or submitted himself.” When used with respect to God, it means, “He became submissive to God.” Thus, Islam is about an individual recognizing who his Lord is and recognizing that his attitude toward his Lord and Creator should be one of submission and worship. In other words, Islam is not simply about the recognition of the Oneness of God or the fact that the Creator exists, for example. Islam is about some-thing much greater than that. It is about the conscious decision made by the individual to worship and submit to the one and only God.
Thus, as Nomani wrote,
Literally, Islam denotes self-surrender or to give oneself up to someone and accept his overlordship in the fullest sense of the term. The religion sent down by God and brought into the world by His Apostles has been called Islam for the simple reason that, in it, the bondsman yields com-pletely to the power and control of the Lord and makes the rendering of whole-hearted obedience to Him the cardinal principle of his life. This is the sum and substance of the Islamic creed.
Perhaps it should be noted that the word “Islam” does not mean “peace.” It is true that the Arabic word for “peace” (salaam) comes from the same root as the word Islam. It is also very true that true peace—both inter-nally and externally—can only be the result of the correct implementation of Islam. At the same time, though, it should be very clear in the minds of every Muslim that his religion being Islam represents his commitment and devotion to worshipping and submitting to Allah alone. This should become the essence of what the individual Muslim is all about.
Before discussing the relationship between Islam and the other religions, it is important to recognize a more specific usage for the word “Islam” as a religion. Islam, as stated above, implies the complete submission to the one and only true God. Thus, anyone who is truly submitting himself to God—according to what has been revealed from God and not simply according to his own whims or imagination—is a Muslim.
In this sense, the religion of all of the prophets of God was Islam and they were all Muslims. Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, for example, were all Muslims and their religion was Islam, the true and sincere submission to God. Thus, Allah says in the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “The same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah - that which We have sent by inspiration to you - and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus” (42:13).
The following important passage from the Quran highlights the fact that Abraham, for example, was a true servant and worshipper of Allah alone. In other words, he was a Muslim. He was not a Jew or a Christian. His true followers were Muslims. The true followers of Moses and Jesus were also Muslims. Allah says,
And (remember) when Abraham and (his son) Ishmael were raising the foundations of the House [in Makkah], (saying), “Our Lord! Accept (this ser-vice) from us. Verily! You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. Our Lord! And make us submissive [Muslims] unto You and of our offspring a nation submissive [Muslims] unto You, and show us our ceremonies of pilgrimage, and accept our repentance. Truly, You are the One Who accepts repentance, the Most Merciful. Our Lord! Send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them Your Verses and instruct them in the Book and Wisdom, and purify them. Verily! You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.

And who turns away from the religion of Abraham except him who be-fools himself? Truly, We chose him in this world and verily, in the Hereafter he will be among the righteous. When his Lord said to him, “Submit (i.e. be a Muslim)!” He said, “I have submitted myself (as a Muslim) to the Lord of the worlds.” And this (submission to Allah, Islam) was enjoined by Abraham upon his sons and by Jacob, (saying), “O my sons! Allah has chosen for you the (true) religion, then die not except as Muslims.” Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob? When he said unto his sons, “What will you worship after me?” They said, “We shall worship your God, the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, One God, and to Him we submit (in Islam).

That was a nation who has passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do. And they say, “Be Jews or Christians, then you will be guided.” Say (to them, O Muhammad), “Nay, (we follow) only the religion of Abraham, of pure monotheism, and he was not of those who worshipped others along with Allah.” Proclaim (O Muslims), “We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down to us and that which has been sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and to the twelve sons of Jacob, and that which has been given to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have submitted (in Islam).” So if they believe in the like of that which you believe, then they are rightly guided, but if they turn away, then they are only in opposition. So Allah will suffice you against them. And He is the All- Hearer, the All-Knower. [Our religion is] the Religion of Allah and which religion can be better than Allah’s? And we are His worshippers.

Say [O Muhammad to the Jews and Christians], “Dispute you with us about Allah while He is our Lord and your Lord? And we are to be rewarded for our deeds and you for your deeds. And we are sincere to Him in worship and obedience.

Or do you say that Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve sons of Jacob were Jews or Christians? Say, “Do you know better or does Allah [know better that they all were Muslims]? And who is more unjust than he who conceals the testimony he has from Allah? And Allah is not unaware of what you do.” That was a nation who has passed away. They shall receive the reward of what they earned, and you of what you earn. And you will not be asked of what they used to do. (2:127-141).

In fact, as this passage demonstrates, Islam was the religion of all of their followers as well. In other words, every true believer from the time of Adam to the last believer on earth practices Islam and is a Muslim. Furthermore, it is the only religion that Allah ever commanded humankind to follow. Islam, therefore, is the only religion that has ever been acceptable to Allah. Allah says, “Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam (submission to Him)” (3:19). Allah also says, “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers” (3:85).

Thus, the brotherhood of Islam and the bond of true faith stretches all the way from Adam until the end of time, spanning all localities and peoples. The true believers love one another and support one another. It is truly a blessed and unique brotherhood.

In particular, the true Muslims throughout all the ages believe in all of the prophets. They support all of them and defend their honor as well. One would never hear a pious Muslim ever speak badly about Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jesus or any of the prophets. Instead, the Muslim respects, honors and loves them all in the manner they deserve.
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PostSubject: Re: A guide for the new Muslim   Mon Jan 18, 2010 2:58 am

The Final Message

Allah had sent numerous prophets throughout the centuries. However, He had determined that He should send a final messenger with a final message. This final messenger would be the messenger for all of humankind from his time until the Day of Reckoning. There was to be no later revelation and no later prophet to bring any changes to this revelation. Hence, this one had to differ from the previous in some ways.

First, since no one could come later to correct any mistakes or distor-tions, the revelation received by the last prophet had to be preserved in its pristine purity.

Second, the nature of the “sign” of the last prophet would have to be different as well. This is because this sign would have to affect not only the people who were alive during the time of the prophet but also all those who would come later.

Third, this final prophet could not simply be sent for one community among humankind—each then having their own final prophet and then differing with one another. This final prophet had to be sent for all of humankind, putting an end to the succession of prophets and being suitable for the world as a whole.

Fourth, the laws and teachings of this message had to be fixed in matters that need to be fixed for all of humankind until the Day of Judgment and guiding yet flexible or accommodating in those matters that need to be open to change due to the changing circumstances of human-kind.

On all of these points, one sees that it is the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that fits all of these criteria. The Quran and the Sunnah were preserved in great detail. Similarly, the nature of his “sign,” the Quran, the ultimate miracle, can still be expe-rienced today.

As for the third issue, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the only prophet to make it known that he was not sent only for a certain people but he was sent for all the various peoples of the world. The Jews, for example, consider themselves to be a chosen race and that their message is meant exclusively for themselves. Thus, many orthodox Jews do not believe in proselytizing their faith. The New Testament also makes it clear that Jesus’ mission was to the Tribes of Israel. Matthew 10: 5-6 read: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus is reported to have said when the Canaanite woman came to him for help, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). This limited mission of Jesus’ is also affirmed in the Quran (61:6).

In the case of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), however, Allah says, “Say (O Muhammad to the people), ‘O mankind! Verily, I am sent to you all as the Messenger of Allah’ (7:158). Another verse reads, “And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a giver of glad tidings and a warner to all mankind” (34:28). There are yet other verses giving the same purport. The Prophet Muhammad also stated that he was distinguished from the earlier prophets by five matters. The last he mentioned was, “The prophet would be sent to his people only while I have been sent to all of mankind.”

Allah decreed that this Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) should be His final messenger. Allah says, “Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the seal of the Prophets. And Allah is Ever All-Aware of everything” (33:40). The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself said, “I have been sent to all of the creation and the prophets have been sealed by me.” Again, he said, “The Children of Israel were led by the prophets; whenever a prophet died, a prophet succeeded (him). Lo! There will be no prophet after me”

Hence, no one has the right to accept the other prophets while rejecting the Prophet Muhammad. No one has the right to say that Mu-hammad was truthful but, “I chose to still follow Jesus or Moses instead.” Logically speaking, one should not expect this to be acceptable to Allah. Allah has sent His final messenger to be believed in and followed, superseding and canceling what is left of the teachings of earlier prophets. In the Quran, Allah describes such an attitude: “And when it is said to them, ‘Believe in what Allah has sent down,’ they say, ‘We believe in what was sent down to us.’ And they disbelieve in that which came after it, while it is the truth confirming what is with them” (2:91).

Allah has further declared people of this nature to be disbelievers. He has said, “Verily, those who disbelieve in Allah and His Messengers and wish to make distinction between Allah and His Messengers (by believing in Allah and disbelieving in His Messengers) saying, ‘We believe in some but reject others,’ and wish to adopt a way in between. They are in truth disbelievers. And We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating torment. And those who believe in Allah and His Messengers and make no distinction between any of them, We shall give them their rewards, and Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (4:150-152).

The Prophet said, “[I swear] by [God], the One in whose hand is my soul, there will be none of my addressed people, be he Jew or Christian, who hears of me and dies without believing in that with which I was sent except that he will be from the inhabitants of the Hell-fire.” The Prophet even told one of his companions, “If my brother Moses were alive today, he would have no option but to follow me.”
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PostSubject: Re: A guide for the new Muslim   Mon Feb 01, 2010 6:20 pm

The Sources of Islamic Law and Guidance

The goal of Islam is for the human to become a true servant of Allah. Therefore, his source of guidance and the foundations for his actions must be rooted in the revelation from God. It is from this vantage point that the scholars speak about the sources of law in Islam. The two ultimate authorities in Islamic Law are the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet.

The Quran is the speech of Allah and a revelation that came directly to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) from Allah via the angel Gabriel. The Quran was revealed piece by piece over a period of twenty-three years. It guided the early Muslim community along every step it took. It thus completely transformed that community into a pious generation. In the meantime, it set examples for all later Muslim communities who will face some of the same circumstances they faced. It transformed an Arab people who were on the margins of the civilized world at that time into the leaders of a great civilization, whose influence still continues today. When read, understood and applied properly today, it will also transform individuals or society and exalt them to new heights of piety and closeness to God.

Upon receiving the words of the Quran, the Prophet (peace and bless-ings of Allah be upon him) would pass those words onto his followers. In addition, he would have his scribes record the newly revealed verses. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said about the Quran, “There was no Prophet among the Prophets but was given miracles because of which people had had belief, but what I have been given is the Divine Revelation which Allah has revealed to me. So I hope that my followers will be more than those of any other Prophet on the Day of Resurrection.” In other words, the Prophet Muhammad’s great sign and miracle was the Quran.

Indeed, the Quran is miraculous in many ways. For example, the Arabs at the time of the Prophet excelled in language. However, even though they greatly opposed the Prophet for many years, they realized that they could not meet the literary eloquence of the Quran. But the Quran is much more than simply a “literary miracle.” It is miraculous as well with respect to its fulfilled prophecies of future events, its internal consistency (although revealed over a period of twenty-three years), its scientific accuracy, its historical accuracy, its precise preservation, its magnanimous and wise laws, its affect that it had and still has in reforming and changing humans and so forth.
In addition to the Quran, there are the sayings and example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), known as the Sunnah. It is also a form of inspiration that was given by Allah to the Prophet. The Prophet said, “I have been given the Quran and something similar to it with it.”

The authority of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah is not because he is some kind of demigod. He was definitely only a human being, just like all of the other prophets. The prophet’s authority is related to the issue of submission to Allah: It is Allah in the Quran who establishes the authority of the Prophet. Hence, following the way of the Prophet is nothing but acting in obedience and submission to Allah. Allah has virtually said such when He said, “He who obeys the Messenger has indeed obeyed Allah, but he who turns away, then we have not sent you (O Muhammad) as a watcher over them” (4:80).

In the Quran, Allah makes it clear that if someone loves Allah and wishes that Allah should love him in return, the key is to follow the way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Allah says, “Say (O Muhammad to humankind), ‘If you (truly) love Allah then follow me, Allah will love you and forgive you of your sins. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful’” (3:31).

The Quran says about the Prophet, “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example to follow for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much” (33:21). The Prophet was, in a way, a “living Quran.” When the Prophet’s wife Aishah was asked about his character and behavior, she replied, “His character was the Quran.”

There is a very important relationship between the Quran and the Sunnah. The Sunnah demonstrates how the Quran is to be implemented. It is a practical explanation of what the Quran is teaching. It defines the morals, behaviors and laws of the Quran in such a way that its meaning becomes clear. This complete, human embodiment of the teachings of the Quran is a great blessing and mercy for Muslims. It makes the guidance from God more complete and accessible to all.
Thus, the Quran and the Sunnah form one united unit that offers all the principles of guidance that humankind will need until the Day of Judgment.

The Quran, of course, comprises one book that can be captured in some two hundred pages or so. The Sunnah, on the other hand, is quite different, covering all of the statements and actions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Sunnah is captured in what is known as the hadith literature. A hadith is a report about what the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said or did.

Muslim scholars recognized that the religion of Allah must be pre-served properly. They also recognized that not everything attributed to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) may be correct as even honest people can make mistakes. Hence, they meticulously and methodically studied the various hadith and statements ascribed to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), sifting those that can be authenticated from those that cannot be authenticated. Thus, in Islamic law, not every hadith is considered an authority. Only those that can meet rigid standards of authenticity are considered authoritative. The scholars call these types of hadith sahih (authentic) or hasan (good). Unacceptable hadith are classified as daeef (weak), very weak or fabricated.

Although the original Arabic texts of both the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings are available, one has to resort to modest translations to convey their meanings to non-Arabic speakers. With respect to the Quran, two translations in particular can be recommended. They are The Noble Quran: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, translated by al-Hilali and Khan , and The Quran: Arabic Text with Corresponding English Meaning, translated by “Saheeh International.” These two are recommended due to their translations being based upon the understanding of the Quran as can be traced back to the Prophet himself and his closest Companions.

To truly appreciate the depths of the Quran, one should also read a commentary of the Quran. Unfortunately, there are not a large number of excellent commentaries available in English—although there is a plethora of them in many other languages.

One very important work available in English is the ten-volume Tafsir ibn Kathir (Abridged). This is the translation of an abridgment of a classical work of Quranic commentary by ibn Kathir (1301-1372 C.E.) In his study of Quranic commentaries, Muhammad Hussein al Dhahabi calls this commentary one of the best of its kind. In this work, ibn Kathir follows the principles of Quranic commentary as elucidated by his teacher, the well-known ibn Taimiyyah. Perhaps the only drawback of this work is that it is a translation of a classic work and therefore was not written in a style that many today are most comfortable with.

Towards Understanding the Quran: English Version of Tafhim al-Quran by Abul Ala Maudoodi is also one of the most complete and extensive works of Quranic commentary available in English. It was written by Abul Ala Maudoodi, who died in 1979. Maudoodi wrote numerous books and a large number of them have been translated into English.

The goal of the Tafhim al-Quran was to present the meaning of the Qu-ran to the Urdu speaking populous of Pakistan/India in such a way that its meaning would be very clear to the masses. Although this work has been the target of various criticisms, some warranted and some not so warranted, it remains as the most comprehensive and informative works on the entire Quran available in English.

Another work that the serious student should take note of is Tafsir Ishraq al-Ma’ani: Being a Quintessence of Quranic Commentaries by Syed Iqbal Zaheer. This work is written by a contemporary author and is quite comprehensive.

As for collections of hadith or the statements and actions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), two important collections are available in complete form in English. They are known as Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.

As stated earlier, Islamic Law has to be flexible enough to meet the needs of all peoples until the Day of Judgment. Hence, not every detail of the law has been spelled out in the Quran and Sunnah. Allah has left some issues for the Muslims to discover on their own, thus forcing them to learn and study the Quran and Sunnah in great detail. The conclusions that are derived from the Quran and Sunnah, and not explicitly stated in the Quran or Sunnah, are known as "personal reasoning" or ijtihaad (which implies utmost striving to derive a conclusion).

This source of jurisprudence is obviously not infallible. In fact, it is possible for scholars to come to differing conclusions—although the truth with Allah will always be only one. Each scholar's efforts, if they are sincere, will be appreciated by Allah, as the hadith states, “If a judge exerts himself and comes to a correct conclusion, he shall receive two rewards. If he exerts himself and comes to an errant conclusion, he shall receive one reward.”

However, this does not mean that their conclusions become an ultimate authority. Personal judgments must be evaluated in the light of the Quran and Sunnah and whatever seems to be most proper according to the Quran and Sunnah should be adhered to. It is important for the Muslim to always remember that his ultimate goal is to follow the truth, which means that which is consistent with the Quran or Sunnah.

A historical development occurred in which specific scholars worked diligently to codify the laws of the Quran and Sunnah as well as extend those laws through personal reasoning to situations not explicitly covered in those texts. The work of these scholars continued until “schools of law” developed based on their teachings. Although these different schools of law are definitely not sources of Islamic law nor are they considered infallible in any way, it is important that the new Muslim become familiar with them because he will most likely here reference often to them.

The most dominant of these schools of law are four, named after their founders as follows:

(1) Abu Haneefah (80-150 A.H. ) and the Hanafi School: Abu Haneefah was an early scholar who lived in Iraq. Today, his school is the most pre-dominant in Turkey, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, the ex-Soviet Muslim states and parts of the Middle East.

(2) Maalik ibn Anas (95-179 A.H.) and the Maliki School: Maalik ibn Anas lived in Madinah, the city of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), throughout his life. Today, his school is the most popular in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. For centuries it was the predominant school of Andalusia or Muslim Spain.

(3) Muhammad ibn Idrees al-Shafi’ee (150-204 A.H.) and the Shafi’ee School: Al-Shafi’ee was from the Qurashi tribe, the same tribe as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He studied and lived in numerous places, finally settling in Egypt. Today, his school is most influential in Malaysia, Indonesia and some parts of the Middle East.

(4) Ahmad ibn Hanbal (164-241 A.H.) and the Hanbali School: Ahmad ibn Hanbal lived in Baghdad and was known to be a great scholar of hadith. Today, his school is the predominant school in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

These great scholars and others sometimes came to differing conclu-sions. It is important to understand that there are many causes for differences of opinion among the jurists. There are also some important points to be kept in mind with respect to such differences of opinion among the scholars that one is bound to run into in Islam.

First, as stated earlier, the ultimate goal of the Muslim is “the truth.” Hence, he should exert himself to discover the truth and follow it in every circumstance. The manner in which the revelation has come offers the individual the ability to worship Allah by seeking the truth, via pondering over the revelation as found in the Quran and hadith. It also tries him by seeing if he does follow the truth and the strongest views when he finally comes upon them.

Second, these differences in interpretation are bound to occur. A person may sincerely be seeking to please Allah and yet come to a con-clusion that another finds weak or unacceptable. As long as a person’s view does not clearly contradict the Quran or Sunnah and has some basis via some acceptable proof, he, as a person, should be respected. In fact, the mistaken individual will be rewarded by Allah for his efforts if he were sincere, as noted in a hadith quoted earlier. Thus, even though one may disagree with his view and one may even feel the need to refute his view, such acceptable differences may never be allowed to strike at the root of the brotherhood of Islam and enter into the hearts of the Muslims, thereby tearing them apart.
Finally, it is important to note that the Quran, Sunnah and “personal reasoning” are not simply the sources of what is customarily considered “law” today. Instead, many other aspects, such as morality, ethics and behavior, must also be subjected to these same sources. In other words, in reality, these sources are not simply the sources of law but the sources of guidance for a Muslim's actions encompassing every aspect of his life. Thus, for example, how to behave towards one's parents, neighbors and others are also covered by the Quran and Sunnah, as shall be discussed later, although traditional “law” today would not be concerned with such issues. Hence, when Muslim scholars speak of the sources of “law” in Islam they actually mean the sources of complete guidance for human behavior in all aspects of life.

Jammaal al-Din M. Zarabozo
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