Skip to main content
Message Font: Serif | Sans-Serif
No. of Recommendations: 8
Frequently Asked Questions

Bismillah ar Rahman ar Rahim
In the Name of God Most Gracious Most Merciful

This FAQ is in three sections: recommended reading, definitions, and basics of Islam. I will update as we go along.


Qur'an Translations:

“The Holy Qur'an Text Translation and Commentary” by A. Yusuf Ali (This Qur'an contains extensive commentary, which is essential for those new to the study of Islam.)

“The Message of the Qur'an” by Muhammad Asad
(Also extensive commentary in this copy.)

“The Noble Qur'an: A New Rendering of its Meaning in English” by Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley (No commentary in the Qur'an, but it is a nice translation in modern English. It transliterates some terms which have a detailed explanation in the Glossary.)

Basics of Islam:

“Islam in Focus” by Hammudah 'Abd al 'Ati

The Life of Muhammad:

“Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources” by Martin Lings

Sufism and other Miscellaneous Topics:

“Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship” by Al-Ghazzali, translated by Muhtar Holland

“Shi'ite Islam” by Tabatabai, translated by S. H. Nasr

“Remembering God, Reflections on Islam” by Charles Le Gai Eaton


Islam: the religion of submission to God and peace, as preached by Muhammad (sas)

Muslim: a follower of Islam

Qur'an: the holy book of the religion of Islam. Muslims believe it is a divine revelation from God revealed through the Prophet Muhammad (sas). It is identical in its original Arabic form across the world to this day, however there are translations available in most languages.

Allah: the one God. Muslims believe in the same God as the Christians and Jews, and also believe in the biblical Prophets.

Sunnah: the life and practice of Muhammad (sas) as recorded in hadith…

Hadith: recorded traditions of Muhammad's (sas) actions and sayings. These are not considered to be infallible as the Qur'an is, there is a wide range of authenticity in these teaching. They are indispensable however, as they explain many things only given brief mention in Qur'an. For instance, the Qur'an says to pray, the hadith explain how the Prophet (sas) performed these prayers.

Sunni: majority sect in Islam, the claim here is that this branch follows “Qur'an and Sunnah” (see a more detailed explanation in the section below for this and the following two sects)

Shi'ite: one minority sect in Islam stemming from a political division early after the death of the Prophet (sas). A long and sordid history here between the sunni's and the shi'ites, with the shi'ites often persecuted horribly. “Shi'ite Islam” (see above) provides a good explanation of the events and ideological differences from a shi'ite perspective.

Sufi: another minority sect of mystics…although most would prefer not to be recognized as a different sect at all. Focus in their practice is often on the inner dimensions of the religion, although most who identify themselves as Muslims practice the outer dimension as well.

The following are some further definitions (some repeated) written by a friend of mine:

Adab: Islamic etiquette based on the practice of the Prophet. Covers many areas, but some that might be of interest to non-Muslims when dealing with Muslims include removing shoes when entering homes or mosques, refraining from directing the soles of the feet toward another person, not greeting an unrelated person of the opposite sex with a hug or a kiss, and being gentle when correcting another.

Al-Azhar: Considered the oldest university in the world. Founded by the Fatimid Shi'ite dynasty is Cairo, it later became the most respected institution of Sunni learning. Now largely coopted by the Egyptian government to prevent its having any independent voice.

Al-Hamdu Llah: “All praise is for Allah”. Uttered frequently by Muslims as an expression of thankfulness and to acknowledge that all good comes from God.

Al-Quds: Jerusalem.

Astaghrufiru Llah: I ask for God's forgiveness. Another phrase prayed frequently by Muslims.

Basmallah: The name for the phrase, “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” Said before commencing any important action or one for which one seeks God's blessing, for example, before reading any part of the Qur'an, before eating, or before driving.

Dar ul-Islam: “The abode of Islam”. The Muslim equivalent of “Christendom”.

Dhikr: “Rememberance” or “mentioning”. Refers most broadly to remembering God through reciting the Qur'an or studying Islam. Among the Sufis it refers to repeating the name “Allah”, another of the names of God, or a pious formula and is the cornerstone of their spiritual practice.

Hadith, pl. ahadith: “Event, report”. Among the Sunnis the term is usually reserved exclusively for the recorded sayings of the Prophet that were painstakingly collected over the course of roughly the first two Islamic centuries. The Shi'ites include among the ahadith the sayings of all of the imams.

Hijab: The hair covering for Muslim women. Legal scholars are generally in agreement that it is required and are in dispute as to whether it should include covering the face. Its purpose is to protect her modesty and society's morals. Its intent is to allow women to function in society as persons reasonably prevent their being regarded as sexual objects. Wearing it is not in any way a sign of extremism and in all but the fundamentalist states women wear it freely if at all.

Halal: “Permitted.” Often heard in relation to food as a sort of Muslim equivalent to “kosher”. With regards to meat, it refers to what is additionally ritually slaughtered.

Haram: “Forbidden.” In addition to the obvious moral violations, Muslims regard pork, alcohol, and gambling as forbidden.

In sha' Allah: “If God wills”. Muslims take very seriously that fact that a person by himself cannot bring about anything without God's permission or blessing, a fact expressly pointed out in the New Testament. This phrase is repeated whenever a Muslims makes any intention.

Ka'aba: The holy house in Mecca. A place of prayer established originally by Adam and then re-built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. The pagans of Mecca housed the idols of various peoples therein until the total reached 360. These were removed at the time of the conquest of Mecca. It is now empty in witness to Islamic monotheism's doctrine forbidding statues, idols, and icons to emphasize God's transcendence and incomparability.

Kafir: An unbeliever, sometimes meaning a pagan. Literally “one who covers”, that is, one who covers up the truth, primarily of monotheism, but secondarily of Islam.

Masjid: “Mosque”.

Masjid ul-Aqsa: “The furthest mosque”. Regarded as the third holiest site in Islam, following Mecca and Medina. Refers to the entire Temple Mount area in Jerusalem, the main mosque of which is known as the “Dome of the Rock”, regarded by Muslims as the most probably site of the Jewish temple's Holy of Holies and as the place from which the Prophet ascended to Heaven during his Night Journey (Laylat ul-Isra'i wa-l-Mi'raj).

Muslim: “One who submits”, makes peace with God through the acceptance of His truth and through the intention to obey His commands. It is important to note that all previous believers, be they Jewish or Christian, are regarded as muslims and are frequently so-called in the
Qur'an. Islam is the act of submission; the one who does it is Muslim.

99 Names of God: Also “The Most Beautiful Names of God” (Al-Asma'u Llah ul-Husna) A traditional list of names of God, in principal numberless, including, for example, Ar-Rahman (The Compassionate), Ar-Rahim (The Merciful), Al-Quddoos (The Holy), Al-Haqq (The Truth/Real), As-Saboor (The Patient), Al-Kareem (The Generous), Al-'Adl (The Just), Al-'Aleem (The Knower), Al-Ghafoor (The Forgiver), Al-Wadood (The Loving), Al-Haleem (The Tenderheated/Kind), and Al-Wahhaab (The Bestower), Al-Jabbaar (The Compeller). The Qur'an encourages Muslims to call upon God by these different names according to their need. A common form of names among Muslim men is 'Abd + one of the names of God, meaning “Servant/Worshipper of ____”, for example, 'Abd ul-Jabbaar, 'Abd ur-Rahman, 'Abd ul-Kareem. (Note: There is no name “Abdul”, which would mean “Servant/Worshipper of the”. The first part of the name might be written like that in English, but there will always be a name of God following and one should always include it when addressing that person.)

Qur'an: The holy book of Islam. Regarded in its essence as eternal. Given by God to the Prophet via the archangel Gabriel (Jibril).

Shirk: Association. Refers to associating others with God, thereby detracting from monotheism. Since monotheism is the most important truth, shirk is regarded as the worst sin. One who commits shirk is a mushrik.

Shaykh: “Elder, old man.” As a title it usually refers to an Islamic scholar or to the head of a Sufi order or branch (whose followers are known as “mureed”s). More rarely, it can also refer to the head of a tribe or clan.

Subhana Llah: “Glory be to God”. An expression used frequently by Muslims when in awe of something God has done or created.

Sunnah: The practice of the Prophet. It includes, somewhat in order of emphasis, all that he did, all he recommended doing, and all that was done in his presence that he did not disapprove.

Ta'weedh: The phrase “A'oodhu bi-Llahi min ash-Shaytan ir-Rajeem” (I seek refuge with God from Satan the Accursed). Often said before the Basmallah, especially before a ritual act.

The Black Stone: Al-Hajir al-Aswad. The stone placed in one of the corners of the Ka'aba's wall. Not worshiped, of course, but kissed during the pilgrim's circumambulation of the Ka'aba. Tradition says that it fell from heaven and was once as white as snow, but has blackened due to the sins of mankind.

Umma: The community of all Muslims. Far more important for Muslims than nationalism.

Wudu: The ritual purification with water that is required for salat. It consists of rinsing or wiping (in order) the hands, nose, face, forearms, hair, ears, and feet.

Wali, pl. Awliyaa': Friend (of God). Islamic equivalent of the term “saint”. Almost always from among the Sufis.


I will post a “factsheet” written by a friend of mine as I believe it provides an excellent overview of the basics.

The Prophet Muhammad

Arabic: “The Praised”. Regarded as the last prophet to be sent before the end of the world. A descendant of Abraham (Ibraheem) through his eldest son, Ishmael (Isma'il). He is not ever regarded as divine, hence the Muslims' offence at being termed Muhammadans. Among the community of prophets, he represents totality, the fullness of human nature as intended by God. The other prophets are regarded as having manifested particular perfections, for example, Jesus is viewed by many as being the most perfect example of the spiritual life “in this world but not of it”, while Moses is the exemplary Lawgiver. The Prophet died on June 8, 632 AD and is buried in Medina.

The Five Pillars of Islam

Shahadatan (“The two testifications”): There is no god but God, and Muhammad is His messenger. The first bears witness to Islam's pure monotheism; the second to the prophethood of Muhammad. Muhammad is not regarded as “His messenger” in an exclusive sense, for Islam teaches that God has sent a prophet to each and every community. Most of these previous prophets are unspecified and remain unknown by us, but included among the known ones are Adam, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and all the other prophets of Israel, and Jesus. Muslims do not traditionally refer to a prophet merely by mentioning his name, which would be regarded as showing a lack of respect, rather they say, for example, Our Liegelord (Sayyiduna) Jesus ('Isa), upon whom be peace ('alayhi as-salaam). Following the name of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims say, “May God bless him and grant him peace” (Salla 'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam).

Salat: The five daily canonical prayers.
Fajr: Between dawn and sunrise.
Thohr: Starts when the sun begins its decline and ends when an object's shadow is equal to (or twice) its length.
'Asr: From the end of Thohr until sunset.
Maghrib: From sunset until full darkness.
'Asha': From the beginning of darkness until the end of the first third of the night or some say until dawn.

The salat is composed of cylces that include standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting, and all recitation therein should be done in Arabic. While standing, the Muslim recites the opening surah of the Qur'an, called al-Fatiha (“The Opener”). It is followed during the first two cycles by a recitation of a portion of the Qur'an, according to the choice the one leading the prayer. The salat may be performed individually, but it is preferred to perform it in congregation. Muslims often prayer on a small carpet just to be sure that the place where they are prostrating is clean.
The following is a translation of the Fatiha:

“In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
All praise is for God, the Lord of the Worlds,
the Compassionate, the Merciful,
the Owner (or “King”) of the Day of Judgment.
You do we worship
and from You do we seek help.
Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those favored by You,
not the path of those who anger You
nor of those who go astray.”

Saum Ramadhan: Fasting from just before dawn until just after sunset during the month called Ramadhan. During the fast, Muslims do not eat, drink, or engage in sexual activities and are encouraged to maintain an attitude of prayer. Special prayers, called taraweeh, are made each night of Ramadhan after the 'Asha' prayer. It is customary to read the entire Qur'an section by section over the course of the month during these prayers.

Zakat: Annual almsgiving roughly equivalent to 2 1/2% of one's total “net worth”.

Hajj: Pilgrimage to the Holy Ka'aba in Mecca at least once in one's life if one is able.

Jihad is often mentioned as a duty, but it is not one of the five pillars. The term means “struggle” and is used most often in non-military contexts. In a military context it refers to a defensive war to protect the Muslim community or to overturn unjust, non-Muslim rulers as a mercy to those oppressed. There are strict rules as to what makes it justified and as to how it is to be carried out. Completely prohibited, for example, is not only the killing of non-combatants, but even the unnecessary destruction of livestock, foodcrops, and trees. Also, it is important to note that the Prophet taught that there were two “jihad”s, the greater and the lesser. The latter refers to the term as it is usually understood by non-Muslims, that is, the one against an external enemy, the former refers to the battle against the ego.

Major Divisions

Sunni: Approximately 85% of Muslims are Sunnis. They consider the first successor (khalifah) to the Prophet to have rightly been Abu Bakr. They regard the first four caliphs (Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman, and 'Ali) to have been “rightly guided”. Following these four caliphs, rulership became dynastic and often very un-Islamic and the capital was moved to Damascus and later to Baghdad.

Shi'i: The remaining 15% of Muslims. There name comes from the Arabic for “party” or “partisans”. They believed that the successor to the Prophet needed to be not only a political ruler, but the spiritual and jurisprudential leader as well. There are three main divisions, but each agrees that the Prophet designated his son-in-law, 'Ali, as his successor. They differ in regards to how many successors after him are regarded as imams. The main body, composed of most Iranians, about half the Iraqis, and a significant minority of Lebanese, Pakistanis, Indians, and Afghanis, accept twelve imams and believe the last one went into occultation in the 9th century A.D. The second largest group, much smaller than the first, are the Ismailis, who accept seven imams and whose main leader is the Agha Khan. The third group are the Zaydis, who accept five imams, and are mainly found in Yemen. Neither the seventh imam of the Ismailis nor the fifth imam of the Zaydis is accepted by the Twelvers (Ithna'ashariyya). The Twelvers tend as a whole to be less legalistically oriented due to the great emphasis they place upon loving the Family of the Prophet (Ahl ul-Bayt) and their descendants, the imams. The belief that the Shi'ites are generally fundamentalists or especially militant is a popular misconception that is mostly untrue.

Sufi: Not properly speaking a division, but rather the spiritual or mystical tradition that can be found within both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam, although more common in the former. Among the Sunnis, Sufism tends to be the esoteric complement based upon love or metaphysical vision of God, while the non-Sufis, by and large, are more exclusively legalistically oriented toward obeying God and maximizing their worldly and posthumous reward thereby. There are many Sufi orders (tariqah, pl. turuq), all of which trace their lineage back to the Prophet, and they agree in their doctrine but sometimes differ in their preferred methods. Each order is headed by a shaykh. The Sufis most famous among non-Muslims in the West include Rumi, al-Ghazali, and Ibn al-'Arabi. Other famous Sufi shaykhs who have “founded” major turuq include al-Junayd, Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani (the Qadiriyya), Abul-Hasan ash-Shadhdhuli (the Shadhdhuliyya), Baha' ud-Din an-Naqshbandi (the Naqshbandiyya), and Moinuddin Chishti (the Chishtiyya).

Wahhabi: A reform movement begun in the 18th century by Muhammad Ibn Abdul-Wahhab and embraced by the Saud family of the Najd, a region in central Arabia. His teaching was based somewhat on an earlier scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, and is properly speaking “fundamentalist”, vehemently denying the spiritual path of Sufism, reducing the religion largely to a set of rigid rules, and readily proclaiming traditional Sunnis and Shi'ites to be non-Muslims. This is now, and has always been, the official Islam of Saudi Arabia and has been spread throughout the Islamic world, with varying degrees of success, through Saudi patronage. Its doctrine lies at the root of the radical, politicized Islam so evident today that looks to reestablish the idealized glory of an apostolic period largely through an almost exclusive focus on the externals of sharia and ritual practice and with an excessive admiration for the most difficult and extreme interpretations and practices. The New Testament term “pharisaical” perhaps best describes this approach.

Salafi: A diluted form of Wahhabi Islam which, by avoiding extreme Wahhabi language, has been able to infiltrate Muslim hearts and minds throughout the Islamic world with the same basic tenets of its more offensive progenitor. Their program of accusing Muslims of heresy who disagree with their aberrant interpretations has left their ascendancy marked everywhere by inter-Muslim strife and militancy. While not followed by the majority of Muslims in America, they often control the mosques here, (with the important exception of the African-American mosques, which are mostly aligned with Warith ad-Din Muhammad's Muslim American Society, the largest Muslim organization in the US and the main body succeeding the old Nation of Islam and which since the time shortly after Malcolm X, and following his example, has re-entered the fold of Sunni Islam.)

Schools of Law (Madhaahib)
There are five surviving Sunni schools of law, namely, the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali. They are largely geographically defined. The Shiites follow the Ja'fari school. These schools do not differ in terms of the basic beliefs, but only as regards their understanding of the details of Islamic Law (Sharia). The Ja'fari school, although Shi'ite, does not differ any more from the Sunni school than do the Sunni schools from one another. None are to be regarded as extreme or “fundamentalist”, although by reputation, and very broadly speaking, the Hanafi school is more accommodating, while the Shafi'i school is in some respects more uniform and rigorous. Modernist and fundamentalist Muslims tend to reject the traditional requirement that one follow a specific school.

Islam and Christianity
Islam sees itself as restoring Abrahamic monotheism and so vehemently denies the Trinity, the the divinity of Jesus, and the necessity of his sacrificial death. This latter it does by denying that Jesus died on the cross, referring obliquely that his enemies only thought they crucified him. Some Sufis interpret this as meaning that “he lived though he were dead”.

Despite this, there is still much common ground between the religions. Christian faith also, and equally, affirms the unity of God, while Islam allows for some differentiation within the divine nature through its doctrine of the Ninety-nine Names of God. As for Islamic christology, Jesus is regarded as the “Word of God” born of the Virgin Mary through the agency of Gabriel. He and his mother have the unique distinction of having entered the world without the “touch of Satan”, a reference to their immaculate conception. Jesus ascended to heaven in the flesh as is returning at the end of the age to defeat the Antichrist. On the Day of Judgment, Jesus will, along with other prophets and saints, intercede on behalf of sinners.

The Quran refers to the Christians as the community closest to the Muslims in their love, and states explicitly that Jews and Christians who believe in God and the Last Day and who do deeds of righteousness have no need to fear for God will reward them. It further states that God has made those who follow Jesus superior to the pagans until the Day of Judgment, so there is no justification for Muslims regarding traditional Christians as no more than the pagans of old.

Various events within the life of the Prophet also bespeak the good relationship between the religions. In the early days when the weak among the Muslims were being severely persecuted by the Meccan pagans, the Prophet sent them to the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, saying that the ruler was just and would protect them. Later the Prophet received a delegation of Orthodox Christians from Najran, which is in southern Arabia. He received them within the mosque at Medina and, when time came for their prayer, he allowed them to pray in the mosque in the direction of Jerusalem which was their custom. The story is told that after the conversion of Mecca, when the idols that they pagans had placed within the Ka'aba were being destroyed, the Prophet protected with his own hands an icon of the Virgin and Child.

Christians need to understand, however, that Muslims having widely different levels of knowledge of these teachings and events. The general tone today seems to be one of rivalry.

Print the post  


What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.