Questions & Answers on Islam and Arab-Americans
Q: What is Islam?
A: Muslims believe in one God and in the Day of Judgment and Individual accountability for actions. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets beginning with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus.
God’s message was reaffirmed and finalized by the Prophet Muhammad. Islam is a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness. Muslims pray in a mosque in the same way that Christians pray in a church.
Q: What is the Koran?
A: The Koran, or Quran, is the Muslim holy book, like the Bible is to Christianity. It is the record of the exact words revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his companions.
Q: What does "Islam" mean?
A: The Arabic word "Islam" means "submission," and it derives from a word meaning "peace." In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of God. "Allah" is the Arabic name for God, which is used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.
Q: What are the "Five Pillars" of Islam?
This is the framework for Muslim life:
- The declaration of faith: "There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God."
- Prayer: Muslims perform five obligatory prayers each day. Islamic prayers are a direct link between the worshiper and God. Islam has no hierarchical authority or priesthood.
- Zakat: One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and that wealth is held in trust by human beings. Zakat, or charitable giving, "purifies" wealth by setting aside a portion for those in need.
- Fasting: Every year in the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The fast is another method of self-purification.
- Pilgrimage: A pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, or Hajj as it is called in Arabic, is an obligation for those who are physically and financially able to make the journey.
Q: Who are the Muslims?
A: People who follow the Islamic faith come from all over the world. No more than 20% of Muslims live in the Arabic-speaking world. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia.
Q: What about the American Muslim community?
A: An estimated 7 million Muslims live in the USA. They are made up of people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and national origins. Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the United States and around the world.
Q: What is the role of women in Islam?
A: Under Islamic law, women have always had the right to own property, receive an education and otherwise take part in community life. Men and women are to be respected equally. The Islamic rules for modest dress apply to women and men equally.
Q: Why do Muslim women cover their hair?
A: Islam teaches modesty for women and men. Women are required to cover their bodies so that their figure is not revealed and only their faces and hands are shown. The head scarf is called a hijab or chador. The long, robelike garment is called an abayah, jilbab or chador. This requirement is designed to protect women and give them respect. The dress of Muslim women is similar to that of Christian nuns, who also cover their bodies and hair. Muslim women are not required to cover their faces as is done in some Middle-Eastern countries.
Q: Some Arab men wear a checked garment on their heads. What is that?
A: It is called a kafiyyeh, and it is traditional, not religious. Wearing the kafiyyeh is similar to an African-American wearing traditional African attire or an Indian wearing a sari. The kafiyyeh shows identity and pride in one’s culture.
Q: What is Jihad?
A: Jihad does not mean "holy war." Literally, jihad in Arabic means to strive, struggle and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within one’s self, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense or fighting against tyranny or oppression.
Q: What does Islam say about Christianity?
A: Islam teaches that Christians and Muslims are both "people of the book." By that it means that the two religions share the same basic beliefs articulated through the Bible and the Koran. The main difference between Christians and Muslims is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet who was granted special powers by God to show people the power of God.