Muslims accept six basic faith affirmations that deal with God, angels, divine books, divine messengers, judgment day, and divine destiny (Chuttick, 1998). Both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims hold onto these principal beliefs. However, Shi’a denomination has an added belief in the Imamate, which refers to the spiritual line and political leaders that succeeded Muhammad, beginning with Ali (Moussalli, 2003).
In relation to resurrection and judgment, Muslims believe that all dead people will return after the ending of the world (Chuttick, 1998). They will then be judged by God. Man does not know this day. Good and evil deeds will determine the judgment of everyone. According to the Qur’an, punishable sins include disbelief, fornication, adultery, and dishonesty among others (Quran 5:31). However, the Qur’an clarifies that God will forgive those who repent if He wills. Good deeds like charity and prayer will lead to the entry to Heaven. Divine destiny means that God has the knowledge and control over all things that exist in time and space. The Qur’an says that what God decrees, whether good or evil, is what happens (Quran 9:51). Muslim theologians hold that man has a free will to choose right from wrong in spite of the predestination (Chuttick, 1998). This makes man to be responsible for his actions. Muslims believe that all prophets of God like Noah, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are mortal human beings gifted with holy revelations. God appointed these prophets to teach human beings the way to submit to His will. Some prophets can perform miracles in order to prove their claim. Muslims hold that God sent Muhammad as the last prophet to sum up and finalize God’s word. The Sunnah is the normative example of Prophet Muhammad’s actions that Muslims should follow (Chuttick, 1998).
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The most fundamental belief in Islam is a thorough monotheism referred to as Tawhid (Moussalli, 2003). Chapter 112 of the Qur’an describes God as “God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal and Absolute; He begets not and is He begotten not; and there is none like unto Him." Islam rejects core principles of Christianity which include the divinity of Jesus and Holy Trinity. According to Muslims, this is the same as polytheism (Moussalli, 2003). However, Muslims acknowledge Jesus as a prophet (Chuttick, 1998).
Muslims believe that God is beyond comprehension and believers should not visualize God. Certain names and attributes describe God, such as Al-Rahman (which means “the compassionate”) and Al Rahim (which means “the merciful”). Muslims hold that the creation of anything in the world is by God’s absolute command (Qur’an 2: 117). To love and serve God is the purpose of life. God is personal and responds whenever an individual in distress calls for Him (Qur’an 2: 117, Qur’an 2: 186). In Islam there are no intermediaries, like the clergy, to reach God. The Qur’an states that every man is near to God and simply needs to call him (Quran 50:16). Allah is the name (with no plural or gender) that Muslims use to mean the one God.
The belief in angels is essential to the Islamic faith. Muslims believe that angels are pure beings that God created in order to execute His commands as well as worship Him tirelessly (Chuttick, 1998). According to the Qur’an, angels lack free will, and, as a result, worship God in entirety (Quran 21:19–20, Quran 35:1).
Their duties involve passing revelations from God, glorification of God, recording everyone's actions, and taking an individual’s soul after death. Besides, Angels can intercede on an individual’s behalf. The Qur’an depicts angels as messengers that have two, three, or four pairs of wings because “God creates as it pleases Him” (Quran 35:1). Examples of angels are Gabriel (the angel of revelation), Michael (whose duty is to bring food), Israfel (who will blow the horn on judgment day), and Izrael (who takes the soul after death).
Muslims believe that there are holy books dictated by God to his prophets. There is a belief that previously revealed scriptures like the Torah and Gospels became distorted. Such distortion was in interpretation and text. According to Muslims, the Qur’an is the final revelation and word of God (Moussalli, 2003).
According to Muslims, God was revealing the Qur’an verses to Muhammad through the archangel Gabriel from 610 CE to 632 CE (Moussalli, 2003). Prophet’s companions memorized these verses and later recorded them in writing. The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters with 6,236 verses. Chapters revealed at Mecca primarily concern with ethical and spiritual issues. Those revealed in Medina mostly deal with social and moral topics. In addition, the written record of the life of Muhammad (known as “hadith”) supplements and assists the interpretation of the Qur’an.
My views do not differ largely with the above beliefs. For instance, I would not have a difficult time accepting the proposition of one powerful creator. This is because the claim solves some mysteries about the existence of the world. Though science tries to study the inception of the world using evolution theory, it fails to answer some questions. For instance, science is not able to create life or defeat death. This clearly shows that there is a power elsewhere (God) that directs things in the world. Besides, having accepted the existence of God, I have no problem accepting the existence of angels. The two are supernatural beings that watch us from a distance. In addition, I do not have a problem accepting the holiness of the Gospels, the Torah and the Qur’an. This is because these books stand out in wisdom and thoroughness. A human author would need to be a genius to write such texts. Indeed the Qur’an challenges anyone who doubts its divinity to produce even one verse that resembles its literal standards.
However, the claim of distortion of other revealed texts like the Torah and Gospels seems to be farfetched. To me, this seems like an attempt to glorify the Qur’an using all possible means. Christians might as well use the same argument to discredit the Qur’an. For instance, Christians might say that those who memorized verses from Prophet Muhammad missed out some statements.
Importance of Sharia
The Sharia refers to the Islamic law that most Muslims adhere to (Moussalli, 2003). According to Islam, Sharia is the manifestation of God’s will. It constitutes of duties that Muslims should accomplish by virtue of their religious beliefs. This law covers all aspects of life. It ranges from matters of governance and foreign relations to matters of daily living. Basic categories of actions governing aspects of Muslim life are required actions, recommended actions, indifferent actions, reprehensible actions, and forbidden actions.
The sources of Sharia are two: the Qur’an and Sunnah (Chuttick, 1998). Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God. The Qur’an mostly encourages Muslims to uphold general moral values. Only eighty verses in the Qur’an have legal prescriptions (Moussalli, 2003). The Sunnah refers to the illustration of life of Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an confirms the importance of the Sunnah as an origin of Sharia (Qur’an 33: 21). The written record of the life of Muhammad (hadith) contains the Sunnah. This includes his actions, his sayings, his approval of actions, as well as his demeanor. Unlike the existence of only one Qur’an, there exist many compilations of hadith. The most authentic ones came about during the period of 850 to 915 CE. For Shiites, the Sunnah might include the anecdotes of the twelve imams (Moussalli, 2003).
Fiqh refers to the interpretation of the sources of Sharia. While the Qur’an and Sunnah are infallible, the standards of fiqh might change because of contexts. Fiqh depends on the interpretations of the Qur’an, interpretations of the Sunnah, consensus among scholars (ijma), and analogical reasoning (Qiyas or Ijtihad) (Chuttick, 1998). These four are the primary sources of authority. Between analogical deduction and consensus amongst scholars, the former is preferable (Moussalli, 2003).
Historically, fiqh came to take into account comparative law, local customs, and laws that came from public interest (Moussalli, 2003). These are secondary sources of the Islamic law. However, such consideration for the general welfare and customary practice are acceptable as long as the primary sources allow them. It is crucial to note that the contribution of human interpretation makes fiqh fallible. As a result, fiqh is not part of Sharia. Islamic Scholars refer to it as Islamic law (Moussalli, 2003). However, there is a general belief that fiqh is essential in the Islamic faith.
Forces of modernity make Muslims differ in the interpretation of Sharia (Moussalli, 2003). Modernity also affects the extent to which Sharia is applicable. An outstanding example is the application of Sharia law in secular Muslim states. Countries with a majority Muslim population like Mali and Kazakhstan have declared themselves secular. There is a prohibition of religious interference in affairs of the state, law, and politics. In these countries, the application of Sharia is limited to personal or family matters. Besides, Sharia law applies only to Muslims although the constitutions of these countries may declare Islam as the state religion (Moussalli, 2003).
In Nigeria, the legal system comes from the English common law. The constitution guarantees separation of religion from state. However, there is adoption of Sharia law by 11 northern states for people that profess Islam. Besides, there are tendencies by Muslim extremists to force the application of Sharia on everyone (Moussalli, 2003). For instance, the Nigerian Boko Haram group wants to impose Sharia law to all regions inhabited by Muslims. The group has even asked those who cannot adhere to Sharia to migrate to other areas. There are violent attacks on people of other religions like Christians. This arises from the belief that those who do not abide by the Sharia law are apostates and should die.
Saudi Arabia is an example of the countries that use Sharia in its entirety. Some gulf states also use classical Sharia. Rulers of these countries have limited authority to make or change laws. This is because they depend on the interpretation of Sharia by their religious scholars. Moussalli (2003) posits that the use of a strict Sharia have led to decrease in challenges arising from immorality. For instance, Saudi Arabia has one of the smallest number of cases of HIV/AIDS in the world. This is because adultery and fornication are among the Hudood cases that attract capital punishment.
Sharia should guide Muslims in every aspect of life. However, there exist differences in the way the faithful abide to this law. There is a tendency to tolerate cases that attract heavy punishments (Hudood cases) while prohibiting minor cases (like eating pork and drinking alcohol). This arises from the fact that Muslim nations are under pressure to do away with laws that infringe basic human rights. Indeed, the application of Sharia should be secondary to the basic human rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Human Rights.
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