In the name of God, most Kind, most Merciful
The pluralistic American society is changing from being a "melting pot" to
a "salad bowl"' in which all ingredients are encouraged to preserve and
display their distinct individual taste and flavor. However, even though
Islam is a major religion with over 1 billion followers worldwide and over
6 million in the U.S.A., some Americans still think it is a cult, some believe
all Muslims are terrorists or have 4 wives or ask me if my wife puts on a veil,
walks behind me or does belly dancing for me! Thus, the misconceptions
about lslam continue because of a lack of correct information about the basic
teachings of Islam.
The ongoing crisis in the Muslim world and the misrepresentation of Islam
sometimes by the media challenges us to answer questions by our non-
Muslim friends about our way of life in a simple and concise language. I
have given many lectures to non-Muslim school and college students,
church audiences, inter-faith gatherings, and have appeared on radio and TV
Thus, based on actual questions asked from me due to their ignorance about
Islam, my simplified answers are presented in this booklet. I thank all those
who reviewed the manuscript for their valuable input. However, I take sole
responsibility for the contents of this booklet.
SHAHID ATHAR, MD
Dr. Athar is a physician, an Islamic writer and speaker. He is author of over
60 articles and 5 books on Islam. This booklet has been translated into
several languages including Russian and German. It can also be accessed on
the Internet (http://www.islam-usa.com).
List of Questions
- What is Islam?
- Who is Allah?
- Who is a Muslim?
- Who was Muhammad (P)?
- Do Muslims worship Muhammad (P)?
- What do Muslims think of Jesus?
- Do Muslims have many sects?
- What are the pillars of Islam?
- What is the purpose of worship in Islam?
- Do Muslims believe in the hereafter?
- Will the good actions of non-believers be wasted?
- What is the dress code for Muslims?
- What are the dietary prohibitions in Islam?
- What is Jihad?
- What is the Islamic year?
- What are the major Islamic festivals?
- What is Sharia?
- Was Islam spread by the sword?
- Does Islam promote violence and terrorism?
- What is Islamic Fundamentalism?
- Does Islam promote polygamy?
- Does Islam oppress women?
- Is Islam intolerant of other religious minorities?
- What is the Islamic view on
- dating and premarital sex
- homosexuality and AIDS
- euthanasia and suicide
- organ transplantation
- How should Muslims treat Jews and Christians?
A FEW COMMENTS RECEIVED ABOUT THIS BOOKLET
WHERE ARE THE WORLD'S MUSLIMS
1. What is Islam?
The word "Islam" means peace and submission. Peace means to be at peace
with yourself and your surroundings and submission means submission to
the will of God. A broader meaning of the word "Islam" is to achieve peace
by submitting to the will of God.
This is a unique religion with a name which signifies a moral attitude and a
way of life. Judaism takes its name from the tribe of Juda, Christianity from
Jesus Christ, Buddhism from Goutam Buddha and Hinduism from Indus
River. However, Muslims derive their identity from the message of Islam,
rather than the person of Muhammed (P), thus should not be called
2. Who is Allah?
Allah is the Arabic word for "one God". Allah is not God of Muslims only.
He is God of all creations, because He is their Creator and Sustainer.
3. Who is a Muslim?
The word "Muslim" means one who submits to the will of God. This is done
by declaring that "there is no god except one God and Muhammad is the
messenger of God." In a broader sense, anyone who willingly submits to
the will of God is a Muslim. Thus, all the prophets preceding the prophet
Muhammad are considered Muslims. The Quran specifically mentions
Abraham who lived long before Moses and Christ that, "he was not a Jew
or a Christian but a Muslim," because, he had submitted to the will of God.
Thus there are Muslims who are not submitting at all to the will of God and
there are Muslims who are doing their best to live an Islamic life. One cannot
judge Islam by looking at those individuals who have a Muslim name but in
their actions, they are not living or behaving as Muslims. The extent of being
a Muslim can be according to the degree to which one is submitting to the
will of God, in his beliefs and his actions.
4. Who was Muhammad? (P)
In brief, Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was born in a noble tribe of Mecca
in Arabia in the year 570 AD. His ancestry goes back to Prophet Ishmael
(P), son of Prophet Abraham (P). His father died before his birth and his
mother died when he was six. He did not attend a formal school since he was
raised first by a nurse as it was the custom those days, and then by his
grandfather and uncle. As a young man, he was known as a righteous person
who used to meditate in a cave. At age 40, he was given the prophethood
when the angel, Gabriel, appeared in the cave. Subsequently, the revelations
came over 23 years and were compiled in the form of a book called the Quran
which Muslims consider as the final and the last word of God. The Quran
has been preserved, unchanged, in its original form and confirms the truth
in the Torah, the psalms and the Gospel.
5. Do Muslims worship Muhammad? (P)
No. Muslims do not worship Muhammad (P) or any other prophets.
Muslims believe in all prophets including Adam, Noah, Abraham, David,
Solomon, Moses and Jesus. Muslims believe that Muhammad (P) was the
last of the prophets. They believe that God alone is to be worshiped, not
any human being.
6. What do Muslims think of Jesus? (P)
Muslims think highly of Jesus (P) and his worthy mother, Mary. The Quran
tells us that Jesus was born of a miraculous birth without a father. "Lo! The
likeness of Jesus with Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust,
and then He said unto him: Be and he is" (Quran 3.59). He was given many
miracles as a prophet. These include speaking soon after his birth in defense
of his mother's piety. God's other gifts to him included healing the blind and
the sick, reviving the dead, making a bird out of clay and most importantly,
the message he was carrying. These miracles were given to him by God to
establish him as a prophet. According to the Quran, he was not crucified but
was raised into Heaven. (Quran, Chapter Maryam)
7. Do Muslims have many sects?
Muslims have no sects. In Islam, there are two major schools of thought, the
Shia and the Sunni. Both have many things in common. They follow the
same book - Quran. They follow the same prophet Muhammad (P). Both
offer their prayers five time a day. Both fast in the month of Ramadan. They
both go for hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. Those who follow Prophet Muhammad
(P), in accordance with his sayings and actions, are called Sunni and those
who in addition follow the sayings and views of Ali (Muhammad's son-in-
law), as the rightful successor to Prophet Muhammad (P), are called Shia.
Shia means a partisan (party of Ali) and it started more as a political party
to help Ali in his conflict with his political adversaries. Most Shias live in
Iran and Iraq while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. Shias
comprise about 16-percent of the Muslim population.
8. What are the pillars of Islam?
There are five major pillars of Islam which are the articles of faith. These
pillars are 1) the belief (Iman) in one God and that Muhammad (P) is His
messenger, 2) prayer (Salat) which are prescribed five times a day, 3)
fasting (Siyam) which is required in the month of Ramadan, 4) charity
(Zakat) which is the poor-due on the wealth of the rich and 5) hajj which is
the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime if one can afford it physically and
financially. All the pillars should be of equal height and strength in a
building in order to give the building its due shape and proportions. It is not
possible that one would do hajj without observing fasting or without
practicing regular prayers. Now think of a building which has pillars only.
It would not be called a building. In order to make it a building, it has to have
a roof, it has to have walls, it has to have doors and windows. These things
in Islam are the moral codes of Islam such as honesty, truthfulness,
steadfastness and many other human moral qualities. Thus in order to be a
Muslim, one should not only be practicing the pillars of Islam but should also
have the highest possible attribute for being a good human being. Only then
the building is completed and looks beautiful.
9. What is the purpose of worship in Islam?
The purpose of worship in Islam is to be God conscious. Thus the worship,
whether it is prayer, fasting, or charity, is a means to achieve God consciousness so that when one becomes conscious of God, in thought and in action,
he is in a better position to receive His bounties both in this world and the
10. Do Muslims believe in the hereafter?
God is Just and manifest His justice, He established the system of accountability. Those who do good will be rewarded and those who do wrong will
be punished accordingly. Thus, He created Heaven and Hell and there are
admission criteria for both. Muslims believe that the present life is a
temporary one. It is a test and if we pass the test, we will be given a life of
permanent pleasure in the company of good people in Heaven.
11. Will the good actions of the non-believers be wasted?
No. The Quran clearly says that, "anyone who has an atom's worth of
goodness will see it and anyone who has done an atom's worth of evil will
also see it" (Quran 99:7-8). By that it is meant that those who are non-
believers but have done good will be rewarded in this world for their good
deed. On the other hand, those who do good if they are Muslims, they will
be rewarded not only in this world but also in the world hereafter. However,
the final Judgment is up to God himself. (Quran 2:62)
12. What is the dress code for Muslims?
Islam emphasizes modesty. No person should be perceived as a sex object.
There are certain guidelines both for men and women that their dress should
neither be too thin nor too tight to reveal body forms. For men, they must
at least cover the area from the knee to navel and for women, their dress
should cover all areas except the hands and face. The veil is not essential.
13. What are the dietary prohibitions in Islam?
Muslims are told in the Quran not to eat pork or pork products, meat of the
animals who died before being slaughtered or the carnivorous animals (as
they eat dead animals), nor drink blood or intoxicants such as wine or use any
14. What is Jihad?
The word "Jihad" means struggle, or to be specific, striving in the cause of
God. Any struggle done in day-to-day life to please God can be considered
Jihad. One of the highest levels of Jihad is to stand up to a tyrant and speak
a word of truth. Control of the self from wrong doings is also a great Jihad.
One of the forms of Jihad is to take up arms in defense of Islam or a Muslim
country when Islam is attacked. This kind of Jihad has to be declared by the
religious leadership or by a Muslim head of state who is following the Quran
15. What is the Islamic Year?
The Islamic year started from the migration (Hijra) of Prophet Muhammad
(P) from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. It is a lunar year of 354 days. The
first month is called Muharram. 1996 AD is in Islamic year 1416 AH.
16. What are the major Islamic festivals?
Idul Fitre, marks the end of fasting in the month of Ramadan and is celebrated
with public prayers, feasts and exchange of gifts. Idul Adha marks the end
of the Hajj or the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. After the public prayers, those
who can afford, sacrifice a lamb or a goat to signify Prophet Abraham's
obedience to God, shown by his readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael.
17. What is Sharia?
Sharia is the comprehensive Muslim law derived form two sources, a) the
Quran b) the Sunnah or traditions of Prophet Muhammad (P). It covers
every aspect of daily individual and collective living. The purpose of
Islamic laws are protection of individuals' basic human rights to include
right to life, property, political and religious freedom and safeguarding the
rights of women and minorities. The low crime rate in Muslim societies is
due to the application of the Islamic laws.
18. Was Islam spread by the sword?
According to the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), thus,
no one can be forced to become a Muslim. While it is true that in many places
where Muslim armies went to liberate people or the land, they did carry the
sword as that was the weapon used at that time. However, Islam did not
spread by the sword because in many places where there are Muslims now,
in the Far East like Indonesia, in China, and many parts of Africa, there are
no records of any Muslim armies going there. To say that Islam was spread
by the sword would be to say that Christianity was spread by guns, F-16's
and atomic bombs, etc., which is not true. Christianity spread by the
missionary works of Christians. Ten-percent of all Arabs are Christians.
The "Sword of Islam" could not convert all the non-Muslim minorities in
Muslim countries. In India, where Muslims ruled for 700 years, they are still
a minority. In the U.S.A., Islam is the fastest growing religion and has 6
million followers without any sword around.
19. Does Islam promote violence and terrorism?
No. Islam is religion of peace and submission and stresses on the sanctity
of human life. A verse in the Quran says, [Chapter 5, verse 32], that "anyone
who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole of mankind and anyone
who has killed another person (except in lieu of murder or mischief on earth)
it is as if he has killed the whole of mankind." Islam condemns all the
violence which happened in the Crusades, in Spain, in WW II, or by acts of
people like the Rev. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, or the
atrocities committed in Bosniaby the Christian Serbs. Anyone who is doing
violence is not practicing his religion at that time. However, sometimes
violence is a human response of oppressed people as it happens in Palestine.
Although this is wrong, they think of this as a way to get attention. There
is a lot of terrorism and violence in areas where there is no Muslim presence.
For example, in Ireland, South Africa, Latin America, and Sri Lanka.
Sometimes the violence is due to a struggle between those who have with
those who do not have, or between those who are oppressed with those who
are oppressors. We need to find out why people become terrorists.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians who are doing violence are called terrorists,
but not the armed Israeli settlers when they do the same sometimes even
against their own people. As it turned out to be in the Oklahoma City
bombing, sometime Muslims are prematurely blamed even if the terrorism
is committed by non-Muslims. Sometimes those who want Peace and those
who oppose Peace can be of the same religion.
20. What is "Islamic Fundamentalism"?
There is no concept of "Fundamentalism" in Islam. The western media has
coined this term to brand those Muslims who wish to return to the basic
fundamental principles of Islam and mould their lives accordingly. Islam is
a religion of moderation and a practicing God fearing Muslim can neither be
a fanatic nor an extremist.
21. Does Islam promote polygamy?
No, polygamy in Islam is a permission not an injunction. Historically, all the
prophets except Jesus, who was not married, had more than one wife. For
Muslim men to have more than one wibe is a permission which is given to
them in the Quran, not to satisfy lust, but for the welfare of the widows and
the orphans of the wars. In the pre-Islamic period, men used to have many
wives. One person had 11 wives and when he became Muslim, he asked the
Prophet Muhammad (P), "What should I do with so many wives?" and he
said, "Divorce all except the four." The Quran says, "you can marry 2 or 3
and up to 4 women if you can be equally just with each of them" (4:3). Since
it is very difficult to be equally just with all wives, in practice, most of the
Muslim men do not have more than one wife. Prophet Muhammad (P)
himself from age 24 to 50 was married to only one woman, Khadija. In the
western society, some men who have one wife have many extramarital
affairs. Thus, a survey was published in "U.S.A. Today" (April 4, 1988
Section D) which asked 4,700 mistresses what they would like their status
to be. They said that "they preferred being a second wife rather than the
'other woman' because they did not have the legal rights, nor did they have
the financial equality of the legally married wives, and it appeared that they
were being used by these men."
22. Does Islam oppress women?
No. On the contrary, Islam elevated the status of women 1,400 years ago by
giving them the right to divorce, the right to have financial independence and
support and the right to be identified as dignified women (Hijab) when in the
rest of the world, including Europe, women had no such rights. Women are
equal to men in all acts of piety (Quran 33:32). Islam allows women to keep
their maiden name after marriage, their earned money and spend it as they
wish, and ask men to be their protector as women on the street can be
molested. Prophet Muhammad (P) told Muslim men, "the best among you
is the one who is best to his family." Not Islam, but some Muslim men, do
oppress women today. This is because of their cultural habits or their
ignorance about their religion. Female Genital Mutilations has nothing to
do with Islam. It is a pre Islamic African Custom, practiced by non Muslims
including coptic Christians as well.
23. Is Islam intolerant of other religious minorities?
Islam recognizes the rights of the minority. To ensure their welfare and
safety, Muslim rulers initiated a tax (Jazia) on them. Prophet Muhammad
(P) forbade Muslim armies to destroy churches and synagogues. Caliph
Umer did not even allow them to pray inside a church. Jews were welcomed
and flourished in Muslim Spain even when they were persecuted in the rest
of Europe. They consider that part of their history as the Golden Era. In
Muslim countries, Christians live in prosperity, hold government positions
and attend their church. Christian missionaries are allowed to establish and
operate their schools and hospitals. However, the same religious tolerance
is not always available to Muslim minorities as seen in the past during
Spanish inquisition and the crusades, or as seen now by the events in Bosnia,
Israel and India. Muslims do recognize that sometimes the actions of a ruler
does not reflect the teachings of his religion.
24. What is the Islamic view on-
a. Dating and Premarital sex: Islam does not approve of intimate mixing
of the sexes, and forbids premarital or extramarital sex. Islam encourages
marriage as a shield to such temptations and as a means of having mutual
love, mercy and peace.
b. Abortion: Islam considers abortion as murder and does not permit it
except to save the mother's life (Quran 17:23-31, 6:15 1).
c. Homosexuality and AIDS: Islam categorically opposes homosexuality
and considers it a sin. However, Muslim physicians are advised to care for
AIDS patients with compassion just as they would for other patients.
d. Euthanasia and Suicide: Islam is opposed to both suicide and
euthanasia. Muslims do not believe in heroic measures to prolong the
misery in a terminally ill patient.
e. Organ transplantation: Islam stresses upon saving lives (Quran 5:32);
thus, transplantation in general would be considered permissible provided
a donor consent is available. The sale of the organ is not allowed.
25. How should Muslims treat Jews and Christians?
The Quran calls them "People of the Book", i.e., those who received Divine
scriptures before Muhammad (P). Muslims are told to treat them with
respect and justice and do not fight with them unless they initiate hostilities
or ridicule their faith. The Muslims ultimate hope is that they all will join
them in worshipping one God and submit to His will.
"Say (O Muhammad): O people of the Book (Jews and Christians) come to
an agreement between us and you, that we shall worship none but Allah, and
that we shall take no partners with Him, and none of us shall take others for
Lords beside Allah. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we
are those who have surrendered (unto Him)." (Quran 3:64)
What about Hindus, Bahai, Buddhists and members of other religions?
They should also be treated with love, respect, and understanding to make
them recipients of Invitations to Islam.
1. The Holy Quran (A-Yusuf Ali trans.) - Amana Corp., MD
2. Islam in Focus (H. Abdalati) - Islamic Teaching Center, Plainfield, IN
3. "Towards Understanding Islam" - (A. Moududi) - ATP, Indianapolis
4. "Reflections of an American Muslim" (Shahid Athar) - Kazi Publication,
A FEW COMMENTS RECEIVED ABOUT THIS BOOKLET:
- "I found your booklet interesting and informative. Thanks and best
wishes." - Hon. Richard G. Lugar, U.S. Senator (R-Indiana).
- "You have certainly focused on important questions and present the
answers in an understandable format. Best wishes in your continued
efforts to build bridges of understanding in our state, nation, and world."
- Honorable Evan Bayh, Governor of the State of Indiana.
- "I found the booklet extremely informative and interesting. It is very
important to educate people about different religions, thus dispelling
false impressions." - Honorable Senator Joseph L Lieberman, State
- "Thank you for the autographed pamphlet 25 Most Frequently Asked
Questions About Islam. I found this extremely valuable and insightful in
furthering my understanding of Islam." - Honorable Governor Kirk
Fordice, State of Mississippi
- "May God help you in all your efforts at this difficult moment of Islamic
history."-Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic history,
The George Washington University.
- "It is a judicious, useful, balanced and good natured guide that should be
appreciated by a wide range of people interested in learning some basics
about Islam and Muslim." - Professor Frederick M. Denny, Dept. of
Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado.
- "I deeply appreciate your furthering understanding of Islam and it is the
way for us to gain appreciation and acceptance of persons in our
society." - Rev. C. Edward Weisheimer, Regional Minister, Christian
Church in Indiana (Disciples of Christ)
- "I do thank you for sending me your thoughtful publication explaining
the Islamic faith. I have found it to be most helpful and informative."
- Hon. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.S. Senator (D-New York)