By Ehab Hassan
February 18, 2014
My Sunday school teacher had one final question for the class before he dismissed us for the day. “If someone asked you what Islam was, what would you say?” He went one by one and expected an answer from every one of us. The kid in the front answered that he would send the questioner to an Imām. The second kid, thinking that it was a great answer, added something about the five pillars and said he would then send him to an Imām as well. I believe everyone in the class said the same thing. Sending them to the Imām seemed like the only logical solution. Ready to pack our bags and run outside, our teacher stood in silence, staring at every one of us. “I am very disappointed in all of you. You don't know enough about your own religion that you would have to send them to an Imām?” Perhaps feeling defeated, not knowing where to even start with us, he paused for quite some time. No one said a word.
I have given a lot of thought to that question that my teacher asked us over 20 years ago. I've spoken to many people about Islam since then, not once telling them they had to go straight to the Imām. I met with a church group this weekend I felt that for the first time, I answered my teacher's question without having to think about it twice. Over the years, in many discussions with people of other faiths, I have discovered exactly five things that distinguish Islam from any other religion and seem to strike a chord with people. Five things that make me firm in my faith in Allāh, and give me certainty that Allāh has indeed perfected our religion.
I told the church group that I can give them Islam 101 in five minutes – A Lesson on What Makes Islam Special. And while they admittedly came in wanting to learn more about Islam so they could better teach others about accepting Jesus, they said that they walked out feeling challenged and had great questions about Islam and even questions about what it would mean to become a Muslim.
Keep in mind that these are based on my experiences and discussions, so feel free to add anything in your discussions with others. But since I haven't seen these premises summarized often, I thought it could be beneficial to those who speak to others about Islam. Here are the five points that I mention that makes Islam the perfect religion and special to me:
1. The Oneness of Allāh (Tawheed)
This goes without saying and is the absolute foundation of our religion. I told them if they forget all of my other points to remember this. While this point is simple, it is vast, and it is all that is important in our lives. This means that He has no partners; He did not beget nor was He begotten. He has no parents, He has no daughter, and He has no son. We worship Him alone. He is the One Creator, the One Sustainer, and in His hands are all things. He introduces Himself to us in theQurʾān and we learn about Him through His names and attributes. He is the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Only after someone has accepted this should they ask what Allāh wants from them. I don't even mention things that are mandatory or forbidden, because without believing that Allāh is worthy of worship, the fact that they should eat with their right hand or avoid pork is irrelevant to them.
2. Muḥammad is the Final Messenger
Okay, so if they can remember two of the five points, then this is definitely the other one. The first two, I explained, are a testament of faith. If someone wants to accept Islam, then they declare points one and two and they become one who submits – a Muslim.
The Prophet Muḥammad is the final messenger in a long chain of messengers. They include the same ones that they probably believe in – Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and the list goes on and on (peace be upon them). The Prophet Muḥammad was the seal of these prophets. He came with the same message as those who came before him. The uniqueness about him is that being the seal of prophet hood, his life is documented like no other man in the history of the world. That's how we follow his way. The Muslim strives to emulate him, as he was a perfect example for us in his life, ethics, and conduct, as he was, as his wife Aisha described him – “a living Qurʾān.” He was loved by all those who knew him. He was, as he told us, sent to perfect good manners. The Prophet teaches us that while Allāh has rights, people also have rights upon us. We will not only be judged by how we worshipped, but how we treated humanity and God's creation. And he was a perfect example of that. He is an inspiration to everyone who learns about his life, and the more you know about him, the more you will love him.
3. Islam is the Religion Meant for All People until the End of Time
I remember watching a debate between a Muslim and a Christian scholar many years ago, where the Christian asked the Muslim that if God is all Powerful, why couldn't He send the religion down at one time for all of humanity. Why would He have to send it again with Islam if it was already revealed? I wasn't very satisfied with the response, but as Allāh so often does, within a few days I accidentally came across the answer while reading a book by Imām Ibn Taymiyyah. Allāh sent every nation a prophet. That prophet had a message to deliver to those specific people for that specific time. It was never meant for all of humanity. That's why when people tried to force those religions for everyone, there was absolutely no method for preservation. Religions changed; messages changed; scriptures changed.
Islam is the final religion and the Prophet Muḥammad the final prophet and messenger. Other prophets had miracles that they performed. Moses parted the sea; Jesus raised the dead. But those miracles were for those who were there to witness them. Sure, we can try to imagine them, but unless you were there it's not the same. That is more proof that it was meant specifically for their people. While the Prophet Muḥammad did perform some miracles, his most important miracle is the Qurʾān. Not just the beauty of it, the vastness of it, the completeness of it, but the preservation of it. If every Qurʾān on earth disappeared, it could easily be duplicated because it is in our hearts and not just on paper. That is part of the preservation of our religion. The preservation of the Qurʾān in its original form is proof, by itself, that Islam is the final religion, meant for all of humanity, until the end of time. It is the word of God in its original form, verbatim. It is not an interpretation by any human being or a historical account of events. Within this book, God addresses humanity directly and describes the path that leads to Him.
4. Jesus was a Prophet of Allāh
Not just any prophet, but from among the five elite prophets. His name is mentioned in the Qurʾān five times more than that of “Muḥammad”. We believe in his original message; we believe in his miracles, and we believe in his return to earth before the end of days. His status is no different than that of the other great prophets. One thing I challenge people with is to ask if they follow the religion of Abraham and other prophets. If Jesus was born after all of these prophets, how could any of them have worshipped him? Scientists say that humans have been on earth for over 200,000 years. Jesus was put on earth just 2,000 years ago – just 1% of that time. How can just those who were born in that 1% of time achieve salvation through him, and those who don't accept him as God be destined to the hellfire? Do we have a different scale to be judged on the humanity that lived in 99% of time since the beginning?
I explain that back in my college days when people asked what Islam says about Jesus, I would tell them to read the Chapter of Mary in the Qurʾān and to start from verse 16 when Allāh (swt] relates to us the story of Mary and the miraculous birth of Jesus. It wasn't until years later that as I was reading the beginning of the chapter that I realized that I missed the entire point of the first 15 verses – the story of Zachariah. Zachariah whispers a prayer to God –
“My Lord, my bones are weak, my hair is grey, but you've never let me down when I prayed to you. I fear evil from my kinsmen after I'm gone. My wife is barren. So grant us a child.” [Surah Maryam, Verse 4-5]
Allāh responds that He will grant him a child named Yahya (John). Yet after this beautiful prayer that Zachariah makes, knowing that God always answers his prayers, he says:
“My Lord, how can we have a son when my wife is barren and I've reached extremely old age?” [Surah Maryam, Verse 8]
And Allāh answers him:
“So shall it be. Your Lord says – It is easy for Me. For beyond a doubt, I created you before and you were nothing.” [Surah Maryam, Verse 9]
There it is. Allāh has now set us up for the miracle birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. Allāh can grant a child to an elderly couple. He can create Adam from nothing, and Eve from his rib. Not only that, but every single one of our births is a miracle. Just because we think we can explain something scientifically doesn't make it less than a miracle. And just as Yahya's birth was a miracle, so was Zachariah's. And just as Allāh created Zachariah out of nothing, He is about to tell you in the upcoming verses how He did the same with Jesus. And it was just as easy for Him.
5. We Will Have Accountability for Our Actions
In this world when someone commits a crime, we want nothing less than justice. If someone murders people, harms someone, cheats, or steals, then we desire justice and want nothing short of it. Why then would God, the Most Just, accept less than that? And just as we would not accept someone committing a crime and a different person being sentenced to death for that crime, why would the Most Just allow someone else to die for our sins? And if that were the case, what is the purpose of this life?
“Allāh created death and life to test us which of us is best in deeds…” [Surah Al-Mulk, Verse 2]
We have no guarantees of where we will end up. We have to keep striving. There is a Day of Judgment and we will all stand before Allāh with our book of deeds and be held accountable for our own actions. There is a paradise and a hellfire. They are eternal and everlasting. And while there is accountability and ultimate Justice on that Day, it's important to note that Allāh is the Most Merciful and Forgiving. We will not earn Paradise by our deeds alone, but Allāh has reserved most of His Mercy for humanity for the Day of Judgment, which transcends any notion of mercy that we could possibly imagine.
As I spoke about accountability to the church group, someone stopped me and asked me what paradise was like in Islam. I narrated to them the Hadith of the last person to enter into Paradise. I told them it was what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no heart could imagine. I gave them descriptions of gardens beneath which rivers flow, the palaces of paradise, the structures, the changing colors, the gold, the silver, the pearls, having all that you can wish for, the marketplace, the presence of the Prophets, the silk garments, the throne of Allāh which would be the roof of paradise, the Light of Allāh and His presence, and even with that we still can't imagine it. When I was done, they all had smiles on their faces, and the person next to me in our circle took a breath and asked, “How do I get there?” I told him – “You may not like what I'm about to tell you, but you have to worship Allāh alone; associating no partners with him and no son. You strive to do what's right and while I cannot even guarantee anything then, you will at least be on the right way.” He smiled, nodded, and thanked me.
He then emailed me to thank me on behalf of their church group and said, “Many of us, including myself, were challenged last night.” As a Muslim, it is only our duty to share with the world the beauty that we have been given. It is time that we define ourselves. And these interactions are the best way to do it.
And Allāh knows best.
Ehab Hassan is a Muslim youth activist and Islamic worker. He has served on several councils and boards of various Islamic organizations while concentrating much of his efforts in youth work over the past 15 years. He strives to motivate and connect with Muslim youth and families by delivering sermons, leading discussions, and organizing creative community activities. His passions lie in Islamic manners, family development, and sharing heart-softening stories, as he tries to get the world to feel something – because people can be so numb sometimes. By day, Ehab is a Mechanical Engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, and by night he is a family man trying to maintain his status as the world's best dad. Ehab resides in Maryland with his wife and two young kids.