Salam (Peace) Dear William,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
You will be happy to hear that it is a very simple process to become a Muslim, and better yet, no membership fees! It is merely a matter of making a declaration of faith to the effect that you bear witness that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger.
It is a simple statement, as I have said, but the meaning and ramifications of this statement in the life of a believer are the most significant step that this person will take in his or her life.
To bear witness that there is no god but God, or ‘Allah’ in the Arabic language, means that the believer submits his or her will to the will of nothing or no one other than the One and Only Lord and Cherisher of the universe.
There are many Arabs who follow the Christian and Jewish faiths and the word Allah is the name they use for ‘God’ as well.
A ‘Muslim’ is one who submits his or her will to God’s Will, putting what pleases God ahead of everything else in their life. ‘Islam’ is the name of this way of life and worldview.
It is also important to know that Arabs make up only about 20 percent of the entire Muslim world’s population, so it is not necessary to be an Arab to be a Muslim. Islam is a universal faith of over 1.6 billion people of every ethnic or cultural background.
Nothing takes priority over our duty to the One who created us and provides us with every single thing we need to succeed in this life and the Hereafter. Out of God’s infinite mercy, what pleases Him just so happens to be what is beneficial to us and is in accordance with all of our desires and needs.
He has created the entire universe for our benefit and has set only a few limits to the freedoms He has blessed us with. He is high above any of His creation and is not in need of any of it, including us.
We are in need of God, so obeying Him in every aspect of our lives is absolutely crucial to our success in this life and the next. But what do Muslims believe? For someone to call themselves a Muslim they must believe in six things.
Six Beliefs of Muslims
- Muslims believe in the ‘One-ness’ of God. That He shares His power and authority with no partners and no descendents. He is unique and we know Him by His divine attributes, such as ‘The Most Merciful’, ‘The Creator’, ‘The Eternal’, and ‘The Supreme’ to name but a few. He has knowledge of all things and to Him we will return to be held to account for all of the blessings He has given us in this life.
- Muslims believe in the Angels that God has created. They are created from light, whereas humans are created from the soil of the earth. They are a separate form of creation than humans. Angels do not possess a free will as we do and are not subject to sin as we are. They are designated specific duties by God and fulfill them unfailingly. They are 100% obedient, 100% of the time. Humans on the other hand, are subject to sin and making mistakes. Human beings reproduce and have children whereas the Angels do not. They are neither male nor female. Human beings cannot become Angels after death.
- Muslims believe in the revelations that have been sent by God to the people of previous nations. Examples are the Torah sent to Moses, the Gospel sent to Jesus, as well as the Psalms sent to David and of course the Qur’an, the final revelation of God to all of mankind sent to Muhammad. May the peace and blessings of God be upon all the prophets of God from Adam to Muhammad (peace be upon them).
- Muslims believe that prophets and messengers have been sent by God, out of His infinite Mercy, to all nations throughout humanity at least once in their history. These prophets were the best models of faith and character of their communities and chosen by God to convey His Guidance. They are free from committing sins but were human beings, nonetheless, who ate and drank, slept and worked hard to serve God by fulfilling their missions.
- Muslims believe in the Day of Judgment, which is a fixed point in time in the future where all of mankind will individually be held accountable by God for all that they did in this life. Injustices committed between people in this life that were not rectified here will be settled by God on that day. Everyone will receive the rights due to them from others and all debts will be settled. If our righteous deeds are accepted by God and outweigh our sins, God will grant us Paradise by His Mercy. If our sins outweigh our good deeds we face the possibility of the punishment of Hell-fire, unless of course God shows mercy on us and forgives us.
- Muslims believe in the Divine Will of God and His Divine Plan. If good comes to us in this life, we recognize it as God’s Will and a blessing from Him. We do not let it cause us to forget that He provides us with everything we need. It is not merely our knowledge and skill that enable us to achieve good in this life. If misfortunes befall us, we also recognize it as God’s Will and a test of faith for us. We remain patient and do not lose faith or despair of God’s Mercy on us. Nothing can happen in this life that is against God’s Will. He is not subject to our actions at all; we are subject to His Will.
Much of what Muslims believe is common to people of Christian and Jewish faiths. How we put these beliefs into practice in our daily lives is what distinguishes us from others. Muslims practice their faith by implementing five simple but powerful forms of worship in their lives.
Five Deeds of Muslims
- Declaration of Faith (Shahadah)
The first and most important pillar of practicing Islam is to make a declaration of faith, preferably in front of Muslim witnesses. The importance of making a declaration that there is no god but God has been detailed above.
The significance of declaring that Muhammad is the Messenger of God lies in the fact that he was sent as a mercy from God to all of mankind. Muhammad is a role model for every Muslim in all matters of this life.
In following his example of conduct with people, whether Muslims or not, we learn how to have the noblest character possible and to live in peace and justice with everyone. We follow his example in performing acts of worship in the ways that please God so that we can achieve His blessings and mercy in this life and the next.
- Prayers (Salah)
The second pillar of Islam is to establish daily prayers, five times throughout the day and night. Regular Prayers are designed to develop a close personal relationship with the One who created us and sustains us in every way. Through the Prayers we seek His guidance and forgiveness on a regular basis and thereby avoid falling into shameful acts and speech, by His mercy.
- Almsgiving (Zakah)
Muslims take an accurate account of their wealth, once a year, in order to forward a small amount to the poor and needy. This is a way of purifying our wealth and our souls at the same time. God has given some of us wealth as a test to see if we will share His blessings with those who need it. The poor and needy, of course, must be offered a hand up, not merely a hand-out. The goal of Zakah is to bring those in need up to a level where they are able to take care of themselves. This protects their dignity as human beings who rely on God first, and then on their own initiative.
- Fasting (Sawm)
Muslims fast the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, in accordance with the command of God so that we can draw closer to Him and learn greater God-consciousness. Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual relations during daylight hours for the entire month. We also strive to increase the number of Prayers, charitable works, knowledge of Islam, etc. throughout the month. Sharing meals with friends and loved ones upon breaking the fast is a common and praiseworthy practice during this very special month in the lives of Muslims.
- Pilgrimage (Hajj)
Muslims perform a series of simple rituals during a pilgrimage to the city of Makkah in Arabia. This is required by every Muslim at least once in their lifetime, so long as they are able physically and financially. The pilgrimage is a commemoration of the lives of Prophet Abraham, his wife Hagar and son Ishmael (peace be upon them). Abraham and his son Ishmael built the first house of God on the face of the earth known as the Kaabah. Millions of Muslims make the journey every year as a sign of unity in faith.
Muslims form a tight knit, world-wide community of believers who perform their acts of worship in the same way regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. Muslims strive to avoid all types of shameful and harmful acts in order to live peaceful and prosperous lives.
Theft, adultery, gambling, consuming alcohol and murder are considered the gravest of sins in Islam. To associate partners with God, however, is the gravest of all sins. Other behavior such as lying, slander, and back-biting are also to be avoided at all costs. Muslims must treat all people equally and with kindness, regardless of whether they are Muslim or not.
There is a deep sense of brotherhood among us that is unmatched in any other faith in the world. We live our lives in very similar ways and share the same general outlooks on life, God, and service to our community and the society around us. Muslims frequent mosques to participate in congregational Prayers many times a week.
This builds bonds between the believers as we worship together on a regular basis, the main congregational Prayer being on Friday at midday. Mosques are the busiest houses of God you will find anywhere!
I hope this has been helpful to you. I ask God to guide us all to what pleases Him.
Salam and Please keep in touch.