Assalamu ‘alaykum, peace be with you.
We would like to welcome you to the world of Islam. After receiving so many requests from new and potential Muslims for Islamic information, we have decided to compile this resource guide to further your search for knowledge and to put the resources of the entire Muslim Ummah (community) within reach.
This resource guide covers four main areas:
The first section is a summary of basic Islamic teachings and practices.
The second section concerns advice for Muslims on the path to truth.
The third section is a listing of the best books for a Muslim to read.
And finally, a listing of basic Islamic terms that you, as a new Muslim, ought to learn is provided.
May your path to knowledge be fruitful and may your road to truth lead you to the right way. Ameen (Let it be so).
To become a Muslim you only have to sincerely believe in
and say the following phrase:
“Ash hadu an la ilaha ill Allah wa ash hadu anna Muhammadar Rasul Allah.”
“I declare there is no god but Allah and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
Basic Islamic Teachings
Islam has seven main beliefs. They are contained in the formula known as the Iman ul Mufassal. It goes as follows, “Amantu bil lahi wa mala-ikatihi wa kutubihi wa rasulihi wal yowm ul akhiri wal qadri, khayrihi wa sharihi min Allahi ta’ala wal ba’ith ba’ed al mowt.”
In English it means, “I believe in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, Measurement, both the good and the bad are from Allah the exalted, and in life after death.”
A. Allah. This is the name for “God” in Arabic. Allah is not a human, not a male and not a female. We only say the term “He” when referring to Him because there is no “It” in Arabic. All nouns are automatically masculine or feminine. Allah created everything and was never created. He is never born, He never has children and the human mind cannot encompass His magnitude and greatness. He is loving but just, merciful but stern. Only by surrendering to His will can we come into accordance with His universal will.
B. Angels: They are not human, nor male or female. They are the servants of Allah and never rebel against him. We believe in a devil-creature called Shaytan (Satan) but he is not a fallen angel. He is a creature called a Jinn who rebelled against Allah. Angels record our good deeds and bad and are behind the events of nature and enforce Allah’s will in the universe, although He doesn’t need their help.
C. Books: Allah has sent revelation to thousands of humans throughout history. Some of those revelations were organized bodies of teachings meant to be recorded as “books” whether written or oral to be handed on to future generations. We know the names of five of these books. They are: the scrolls of Ibrahim, (Abraham), the Taurah of Musa, (Moses), the Zabur (Psalms) of Dawud, (David), the Injeel of ‘Esa (Gospel of Jesus) and the Qur’an of Muhammad. Only the last book has survived until the present day. All others have been lost or altered so much so that they are all but worthless.
D. Messengers: These are Allah’s Prophets and Message-bringers to whom Allah gave revelation. Every nation and race on earth received at least one in the past. They all taught the same message: to surrender to Allah and do right. Thus we say they all taught Islam. The first was Adam and the last was Muhammad. The Qur’an mentions the name of 25 Prophets and Messengers.
E. The Last Day: Human history will end one day. Allah will end the earth at some future date and all human beings that ever lived will be raised up for Judgment Day. After each person’s good and bad deeds as well as their beliefs are examined, they will be sent to either Paradise (Jannah) or Hell (Jahannam).
F. Measurement: Allah has measured the length of our life in this world, our economic status, where we will die, etc… The word “Qadr” is sometimes translated as destiny or pre-destination or even fate. But the word actually means “to measure.”
G. Life After Death: Eternal life in either Heaven or Hell for our souls based on what we believed and did while we lived in the world. Some people will be taken out of hell and admitted to heaven when the term of their punishment is over.
Islam has seven main practices in the life of a Muslim. Five of those practices are grouped together and are known as the Arkan al Islami, or Pillars of Islam. The following Hadith lists them as follows: “Buniyal Islamu ‘ala khamsin: Shahadati an la ilaha ill Allah wa anna Muhammadar Rasul Allah. Wa ooqimus Salati wa i-ta azakati wa hajjil bayti wa saumi Ramadan.”
In English it means: “Islam is built on five things: Declaring that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Establishing Prayer, paying the Charity, making a pilgrimage to the House and fasting in Ramadan.”
A. Shahadah. Declaration of Faith. Saying, “Ash hadu an la ilaha ill Allah wa ash hadu anna Muhammadar Rasul Allah.” “I declare there is no god but Allah
and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
B. Salah. Prayer. This is the ritual prayer that Muslims perform at five set times each day. To neglect any one of them counts as a sin. The names and times of each prayer are as follows:
1. Fajr. Before sunrise.
2. Zuhr. About a half an hour after noon.
3. ‘Asr. About two to three hours before sunset.
4. Maghrib. Immediately after sunset.
5. ‘Isha. After the last light of the departing sun is gone from the sky.
C. Zakah. Purifying Charity. It is the annual payment of 2.5% of our yearly economic accumulations, after expenses, for the benefit of the poor, orphans, the needy, etc…
D. Saum. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from all food, drink, anger, sex, smoking and bad deeds from just before fist light until sunset. This is a training time for us to learn to control our gluttony, anger and bodily needs. We learn our mind is stronger than our urges, weaknesses and desires.
E. Hajj. Pilgrimage. A once in a life-time trip to Mecca to purify your soul and reconnect with our ultimate purpose in life. The month of Hajj is when millions of Muslims all over the world arrive to serve Allah wearing only simple, white clothes and no status or titles. We remember the real poverty of this world and the severity of the Day of Judgment.
The other two practices are known as Da’wah and Jihad. Da’wah means calling others to Islam and Jihad means to struggle in Allah’s cause. That struggling can be physical, spiritual or mental. The word Jihad does not mean “Holy War.” For a good online resource and more information you can try: www.newmuslim-guide.com
There are only two official holidays in Islam. One comes at the end of Ramadan and is called the ‘Eid ul Fitr. (Festival of the Fast Breaking). The other comes at the end of the Hajj and is called the ‘Eid ul Adha. (Festival of the Sacrifice.)
Some Muslims celebrate such things as the birthday of the Prophet, (Mawlud un Nabi), or the ‘Eid ul Ghadir (which is a much later holiday centered on ‘Ali, the Prophet‘s cousin, whom a group of Muslims called “Shi‘a” revere), but standard Islam (Qur’an + Prophet’s sayings and example) doesn’t seem to give any overt or tacit support to these holidays. The Blessed Prophet said in authentic sayings that there were only two holidays in Islam, ‘Eid ul Fitr and ‘Eid ul Adha. The commemoration of the Prophet’s birthday is debated among Muslim scholars.
IV. Halal and Haram.
Halal items are allowed by Allah. Most foods in the world are Halal. Haram means forbidden by Allah. Haram foods are alcohol and other intoxicants, pork, carrion, most carnivorous animals, meat dedicated to idols. For the meat of an animal, other than seafood, to be Halal for a Muslim, it must be slaughtered in a specific manner. The process is called Dhabiha. Basically it is a similar procedure to the Jewish method of kosher preparation. Kosher meat is also allowed for Muslims, as per the Qur’an. Some Muslims believe that “supermarket” meat and fast food meat is also halal, but Allah said in the Qur’an that the meat prepared by the Jews and Christians is allowed, whereas almost no one in America practices Christianity anymore, as it was practiced in ancient times. Modern slaughtering techniques, with their attendant cruelty and unsanitary nature, do not pass the halal test for us. It is a bit of a hardship but we believe in the prevention of cruelty to animals and modern slaughterhouses are places of tremendous cruelty. There are detailed books on the subject.
There are also Halal and Haram ways to make money. Any business or activity that involves Interest-money is Haram as is any business involving gambling, alcohol, Haram foods or deceit.
V. Male/Female Relations.
Islam provides a code of manners for male/female interaction outside the home. It is impossible not to interact with the opposite sex in daily life such as in the workplace, school or shopping centers. Some very conservative Muslims have this silly and misguided notion that men and women are forbidden to have any interaction unless they’re married. Reading the Qur’an and Hadith, however, we get a different picture. The early Muslims, until recent times, had a relatively egalitarian attitude towards male/female relations. Muslims have only freaked out in the last two hundred years with isolationism and ultra-conservatism becoming rampant. Today’s arch conservatives would have you believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and nothing more, but this is not what you will find when you read about Muslim society in former times. Men and women can interact in legitimate settings such as in a business, market, school or social gathering provided they follow certain points of etiquette.
A. Women and men must be wearing clothes that fulfill Islamic requirements of decency. Men must be covered from the knees to the navel, and normal daily wear consists of some type of robe, or pant/shirt combo. A turban or some other form of a headgear is strongly recommended. Muslim men are required to have some sort of a beard (if they can grow one). Many secular minded Muslims do not wear a beard due to the influence of certain dominant cultures in the world which look down upon beards.
Women must be covered from their ankles to their necks and down to their wrists in loose fitting clothes. In addition, a head covering must be wrapped over the hair. This is called the Hijab, or scarf. (Khimar is a related term.) Face veils, gloves and socks are not required, even though some very conservative Muslims hold that it makes a woman more purified and sincere. (It is more a cultural trend than an authentic religiously sanctioned position.)
B. An unmarried man and woman should never be alone together in a room. No person should ever be alone with someone of the opposite sex unless they are married to that person.
C. Men and women are not to talk to each other in a soft or intimate-sounding voice unless they are married to each other. Women are to address men in a firm and even tone so that the men don’t get any false ideas.
D. When meeting and greeting: Men shake hands and hug only other men. Women shake hands and hug only other women. (Unless they are married to each other, of course.)
E. Men and women who are not married to each other never touch.
F. If two people are interested in getting married, the woman should arrange for a male relative to act on her behalf as her representative. That way she doesn’t have to feel pressured or undignified. If a woman doesn’t have any reliable male relatives to represent her interests, she may choose another Muslim male, usually an Imam or other trusted person to act on her behalf.
Islam does not require a person to change his or her name. The only case where a person should think about changing their name is if the meaning of their name is offensive. (Once a man came to the Prophet and introduced himself. The man’s name meant “Downcast and somber.” The Prophet suggested he change his name to a better once such as Abdur Rahman: “Servant of the Merciful.”)
Many Muslims like to take on Islamic or Arabic-style names as an expression of their affiliation, but this is not required. An Arab name is not always an Islamic name. Names identified with Islam exclusively usually have some relationship to being a servant of Allah or to the Prophet and the most famous Muslims around him.
There are many books which give lists of names associated with both Islam and Muslim culture. Some examples of currently available books are:
1. A Dictionary of Muslim Names.
2. The Book of Muslim Names.
3. A Digest of Muslim Names. Amana Publications.
4. Names for Muslim Children.
VII. Islamic Phrases.
Islam has its own key phrases to use in daily life. Some of these are listed below along with the times to use them.
1. When starting to do something: “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem.”
(In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.)
2. When mentioning something that will be done in the future. “Insha’llah.” (If Allah wills.)
3. When praising something say, “Subhanullah.” (Glory to Allah.)
4. When in pain or distress. “Ya Allah.” (O Allah.)
5. When appreciating something say, “Masha-Allah.” (As Allah willed.)
6. When thanking someone. “Jazakullah.” (Allah reward you.)
7. When you see something bad. “Nowthzubillah.” (Allah protect us.)
8. When saying you’re sorry to Allah for a sin. “Astaghfirullah.” (Allah forgive.)
9. After sneezing or when you’re happy about something. “Alhumdulillah.” (Praise Allah.)
10. When meeting someone. “Assalamu ‘alaykum.” (Peace be upon you.)
11. Replying to the above greeting. “Wa ‘alaykum assalam.” (And upon you be peace.)
12. When hearing about a death or tragedy. “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun.”
(To Allah we belong and to Him we return.)
13. When giving in charity. “Fee eemanullah.” (In Allah’s faith.)
14. When taking an oath. “Wallah.” (I Swear to Allah.)
15. If someone sneezes and they say, “alhumdulillah,” you reply with, “Yarhamakullah.” (Allah have mercy upon you.) The sneezer will reply back, “Yehdikumullah” which means, “Allah guide you.”