Dr. Robert Ernest Hume, in his book The World's Living Religions, defines the names "Islam" and "Muslim" for us:
The name which the founder himself used for designating this faith expresses exactly the central principle—"Islam," meaning "submission" to God. Another word derived from the same Arabic verbal root is the participle, "Muslim"... which is used as a technical term to designate "those who submit."17
The main tenets of Islam are listed as "articles of faith." I will discuss them here in the order that most Islamic sources give, although the Qur'an itself does not specify any sequential order.
1. God (Allah)
The Qur'an has many beautiful passages describing the varied attributes of God. However, the most important single quality that the Qur'an stresses when speaking of God is His absolute unity. The term for the opposite of the unity of God is called "shirk" in the Qur'an: this is asserting that others share God's attributes or that He has a partner. This is such a detestable sin that it is considered unforgivable.18
Whoever joins other gods with God,—
God will forbid him
The Garden, and the Fire
Will be his adobe. There will
For the wrong-doers
Be no one to help.
They do blaspheme who say:
God is one of three
In a Trinity: for there is
No god except One God.
(Qur'an 5:75- 76)19
Concerning this, Alhaj A.D. Ajijola, the former Attorney General of Nigeria, wrote that, "The greatest service Islam rendered to humanity was the exaltation and purification of the concept of God. Islam strove to deliver humanity from a multiplicity of gods on the one hand and from incarnationism on the other and to bring man back to the Unseen God."20
Islam, like Christianity, believes in the existence of angels, though some of the qur'anic teaching on this differs from that of the Bible. In Islam angels are intelligent creatures who have been created of light, do not possess free will, and have a multitude of duties to fulfill. "They are sent to protect men, to administer God's punishments, to carry His messages, and to perform various other functions."21 Each human being has two angels who list all of his or her deeds, both good and bad, to be brought forth on The Day of Judgment.22
Besides angels God has created, according to the Qur'an, other beings called jinn. They are intelligent, sentient creatures, possess freedom of choice, and are able to propagate their species. Some are good and others are evil. "According to Islam, Satan (Iblis or Shaytan) and his kind are jinn (not fallen angels) to whom God gave leave to try to tempt man, to lure him away from submission and obedience to Him."23
3. The Scriptures
The Qur'an mentions in various places
that God had previously sent down revelations or Scriptures to man. The Qur'an says that God "sent down the Law (Of Moses) and the Gospel (Of Jesus) before this," that is, before the Qur'an.24 It states elsewhere that God gave the Psalms to David. These three revelations are called the Taurat (Torah), the Zabur (Psalms), and the Injil (Gospel).
However, the Qur'an is believed to be God's final and complete revelation to man. For Muslims it supersedes these previous Scriptures in beauty, depth, and authority.
4. The Prophets
The Arabic word "rasul" means "one who is sent" or "a messenger," and the word "nabi" means "one who carries information or proclaims news...." There is no implication of "prophecy" or knowledge of future events in the word "prophet" as used in the Islamic sense.25
The Qur'an enjoins every true Muslim to believe in and honor all of the prophets of God. According to Alhaj A.D. Ajijola, "The number of the apostles of God is said to be more than a hundred thousand but 25 of them are more important than the others and these are distinctly mentioned in the Holy Qur'an."26 These 25 consist mostly of the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets, and kings, with only three coming from the New Testament (Zacharias, John the Baptist, and Jesus). It is interesting to note that of the non-biblical prophets two who are accepted by many Muslims are Alexander the Great and Aesop (of Aesop's Fables).27
There are many places in the Qur'an where stories of Old Testament personages are given, though oftentimes changed from the biblical accounts.28 Nowhere, however, are there more differences between the Qur'an and the Bible than in the sections speaking of Jesus. His proper name in the Qur'an is Isa, perhaps coming from "the Syriac Yeshu which derived it from the Hebrew Yeshua."29 He is always spoken of in the Qur'an with great respect and honor, as are all of the prophets of God. Indeed, when referring to any of these prophets the Muslim will always add a phrase of respect, such as "Jesus, peace be on him."
In the Qur'an three surahs are named after references to Jesus, and He is spoken of in 15 surahs (93 verses) altogether. The Qur'an has much to say about Jesus, but the one thing that it emphasizes more than anything else is that He was only a man, a messenger of God, not the Son of God, or God in human flesh.
O People of the Book!
Commit no excesses
In your religion; nor say
Of God ought but the truth.
Christ Jesus the son of Mary
Was (no more than)
An apostle of God,
And His Word.
The Jews call 'Uzair a son
of God, and the Christians
Call Christ the Son of God.
That is a saying from their mouth;
(In this) they but imitate
What the unbelievers of old
Used to say. God's curse
Be on them: how they are deluded
away from the truth!
Orthodox Muslims maintain that Jesus did not die on the cross, believing instead that another person was substituted for Him, and that He was taken up bodily into Heaven by God. Most Muslims also believe that He will "come again at the last day, slay anti-Christ, kill all the swine, break the Cross and remove the poll tax from infidels. He will reign as a just King for 45 years, marry and leave children, then die and be buried near Mohammad at Medina."31
Of course all Muslims believe that Muhammad was the greatest apostle and prophet of all, being the messenger of God's final revelation. Maulvi Muhammad Ali states, in a footnote within his translation of The Holy Qur'an, that the "excellence of the Holy Prophet over other prophets was... immeasurable."32 The Qur'an states that:
Muhammad is not
The father of any
Of your men, but (he is)
The Apostle of God,
And the Seal of the Prophets.
5. The Hereafter
All orthodox Muslims believe in the resurrection of the dead, a terrible "Day of Judgment," the existence of hell with eternal punishment for all non-believers, and in Heaven, where true believers will exist forever in a garden of beauty and joy.
Concerning the sometimes very sensual descriptions of heaven that we find in the Qur'an, J.N.D. Anderson, a Christian who is a renowned expert on Islam,33 believes that "it is only fair to add that the sensual delights of paradise are interpreted in metaphorical terms by more spiritually-minded Muslims."34 This is confirmed by looking at the comments on these verses by both Maulvi Muhammad Ali and Yusuf Ali in their own translations of the Qur'an.35 However, as we read the verses, letting them speak for themselves, these descriptions appear to speak of very literal rewards for the righteous.
In them will be (Maidens),
Chaste, restraining their glances,
Whom no man or Jinn
Before them has touched;—
Then which of the favours
Of your Lord will ye deny?—
And We shall join them
To Companions, with beautiful,
Big and lustrous eyes.
Samuel M. Zwemer, the Christian church's greatest missionary to the Muslims and a man who lived almost his entire life among them, comments on this, and then quotes from a revered Muslim scholar:
What commentators say on these texts is often unfit for translation. The orthodox interpretation is literal, and so was that of Mohammad, because the traditions give minute particulars of the sanitary laws of Heaven, as well as of its sexual delights. According to Al Ghazzali (AH 450), Mohammad said: "The believer in Paradise will marry 500 houris,37 4,000 virgins and 8,000 divorced women" Al Ghazzali is one of the greatest theologians of Islam, and no orthodox Muslim would dispute his statement."38
And finally, salvation in Islam is based on good works, primarily on the true repentance of one's sins and fasting. Suzanne Haneef sums it up: "The Living and Merciful God is able to and does forgive sins if repentance is sincere, and every human soul has direct access to...His forgiveness without any intermediary or intercessor whatever. Consequently there is no need for a Savior, and in any case God Most High alone can save."39
6. The Divine Decree
The last article of faith pertains to the total sovereignty of God. Since He is all-powerful and controls all things then "Nothing can take place without His ordaining it, nor is there such a thing as a random, chance event."40
Now surely Allah makes err
whom He pleases
and guides aright
whom He pleases.41
Concerning this "Divine Decree" Al Ghazzali wrote the following:
He willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion. All we do we do by His will: what He willeth not does not come to pass....In creating unbelievers, in willing that they should remain in that state; in making serpents, scorpions and pigs: in willing, in short, all that is evil, God has wise ends in view which it is not necessary that we should know.42
Thus in Islam God is the author of both good and evil. Muslims loudly deny the biblical doctrines of the fall and original sin, leaving them with no other alternative than that which we have just seen.