Islam began with the first man, who was also the first prophet, namely Adam (peace be upon him). The meaning of Islam is submission and obedience to Allah, the Creator of all. From Adam (peace be upon him) through to Muhammad (peace be upon him) was delivered the message of Allah to mankind; calling them to the worship of the One true God and establishing piety on earth.
Each prophet was sent to a particular group of people, like Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Ishmael, Isaac, Elias, Zakariah, Jonah, Moses, and Jesus (peace be upon them all) (as well as many others). The difference with the final prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was that he was sent to the whole of mankind and his message would continue until the Day of Resurrection.
The essence of Islam is the acknowledgement of the Lordship of Allah; that He alone is to be worshipped and obeyed. The whole of creation is His handiwork and thus should be respected and cared for. That is why even when killing animals for food, the Muslim mentions the name of Allah, and so acknowledges the fact that this animal is owned by Him and has been provided for mankind out of His bounty. The Muslim recognizes that nothing happens within creation except by the knowledge and permission of Allah and that there exists wisdom and knowledge far beyond the reach of human beings. Indeed of knowledge, we have only been given a little. Hence there is no pride or arrogance as Allah alone is the Sovereign Lord and one of the things, which He dislikes is oppression. The Muslims have been called upon to spread good relations, honor the ties of the womb, help the poor and oppressed and alleviate suffering. To help the Muslims do this, Allah prescribed a way of life for the human beings so that all their duties and responsibilities in life could be fulfilled, as well as their spiritual potential and the development of their character.
Everything done in the life of a Muslim can be regarded as an act of worship if it is done with the intention of gaining the pleasure of Allah. So learning, working, taking care of the family and even the so-called mundane duties of life can be turned into means of closeness to Allah, as they are performed according to Islam and with the intention of gaining closeness to Allah.
In His Infinite Mercy, Allah turned to mankind and provided them with the necessary guidelines to live by, in order to attain success in this life and the next. Prohibitions from evil and all that leads to it, and encouragement to do good and establish piety have been prescribed and clearly set out.
The Muslim must worship Allah alone, pray five times a day, fast from dawn to sunset in the month of Ramadan, pay Zakat (a percentage of ones' wealth given to the poor), and perform Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah, if one is able to do so, once in their life time). Along with these basic pillars of Islam, the Muslim must follow the laws of Allah which outline the duties and responsibilities of family members, behavior in society, business, etc including all aspects of life. Every person has a trust, a role to perform which binds society into a harmonious unit. There are strict punishments for murder, theft, adultery, oppression and vices, which destroy the body and soul of man. How many families have been destroyed because of adultery? How many children suffer because of that? How many people today live in constant fear of being killed or robbed? These laws were instituted to protect human beings from evil.
The human being is regarded as a wondrous creation of Allah and within each person resides an innate nature that urges him/her to search for Allah (God) , truth, peace, justice and all that is good. Each child is born pure and no one bears the sins o r burdens of another. However, as the child grows, often this innate nature becomes distorted according to environment and education, but it remains deep within the psyche of man, emerging from time to time throughout life; responding to the individual's desire to attain their spiritual potential and closeness to Allah.
The relation between the body, mind and soul of man is paid a lot of attention in Islam. Man was created, prone to weakness and desires and so a lot of spiritual strength is required to overcome the evil in and around us. The struggle between good and evil is ongoing. It began in the beginning of time when satan refused to bow down to Adam and acknowledge his superiority and then again when satan tempted both Adam and Eve until they were cast out of the Gardens of Paradise. Allah forgave Adam and Eve but the consequences of their actions was that they were to live on the earth. Hence, the beginning of mankind. Satan remains as the enemy of mankind, having vowed to entrap as many as possible in his evil designs but Allah promised His help and protection to those who follow His ways and trust in Him.
Islam prescribes many forms of worship which help to develop spiritual strength in man. For example, prayer five times a day becomes a life line for the Muslim; a time to stop the activities of life and remember the bounties of Allah, His Mercy, Kindness and the reality of the Day of Judgment. It requires commitment and discipline and a high level of personal cleanliness of both body and soul. Also, fasting in Ramadan from dawn until sunset is a rigorous feat that can only be performed by those who are patient. It is not just keeping away from food and drink, but controlling the tongue, the desires and the urge to become angry, gossip and all other kinds of evil. There is also the pilgrimage to Makkah, which was the first mosque erected in the history of mankind, for the worship of Allah. It was built by prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael and continues to be visited by Muslims from all over the world. People until today, travel to Makkah in many ways. Some by plane, ship, motor vehicle and still some walk and ride animals. The atmosphere there is one of peace, love and fear of Allah, seeking forgiveness of sins and renewal. It is an event of great spiritual and practical significance, as people return from Hajj, refreshed and ready to face life and its hardships, while striving to obey Allah and establish piety of earth..
Contributed by : Velma Cook, Australia