Salam (Peace) Ajit,
I am happy to receive such challenging and important questions.
Before I proceed, I would like to make two main points very clear. The first is that we should avoid stereotyping and branding people by the actions of some small groups.
The second point is that we should start exploring each other and discovering our differences because people of the world are no longer living in isolated islands.
Let’s start the answer by stating that Islam came at in era when paganism and idol worship were the creed and the way of belief chosen by the local society.
For thirteen years, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was working hard to purify the minds and hearts of the people in Arabia from the stains of idol worship.
Striving for that noble cause, he was actually raising humanity from the degrading status of worshiping stones to the great and elevated status of worshiping the True Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that exists.
In his march to liberate the minds and the hearts of people, the Prophet cut the links with anything that may distract mankind from its noble mission of worshiping Allah.
Therefore, he told us clearly that dead people cannot benefit us in the least, nor can they benefit themselves. “When a son of Adam dies,” the Prophet said clearly, “all his actions stop generating reward or otherwise.”
The Quran also tells Muslims all the time that death is a phenomenon that should serve as an admonition to the living that one day they, too, will meet the same destiny.
Islam makes it clear that the living have no relation with the dead except in taking admonition from their death and following their same tracks if they were good and righteous.
Islam adamantly prohibits glorifying dead people or paying them any reverence more than to say, if they were good and righteous, “may Allah bless their souls”, and if the contrary wee true, then to say “may Allah forgive them”.
It is the living who pray for the dead, not vice versa. Muslims do not worship the dead. What you might have seen is no more than heresies against which we were warned by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Even when visiting graves, Muslims should renew their purpose and intention of their hearts that they are there to take admonition and to see how people passed before them and finished their term on this earth and that they too will follow soon. I recall the words of the poet Qass ibn Saeda Al-Ayadi:
In people who passed before,
Many lessons we have for sure,
When I saw men coming and going,
I realized that one day I will be following.
So the practices that you mention do not reflect Islam’s view or stance. This is because people have developed many things that have nothing to do with Islam. The customs and traditions you may witness everywhere may be blended with religion and called, mistakenly, religious.
Speaking of who is the “real” Muslim, I would like to state that a real Muslim is someone who basically believes in only the One Creator and in the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The real Muslim also tries his or her best to follow the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet). Many strive to be real and correct, but it is only Allah Who knows what is in the hearts of people.
Regarding your point about the Kaabah, I would state that the Kaabah is the symbol of unity for Muslims. It does not have any power to benefit or harm. It is the direction in which all Muslims — from the four corners of the globe — face when praying, thereby creating the feeling of belonging to one center and one heart and one purpose.
As for what makes a Muslim differ from a Hindu, of course there are many things. A Muslim is one who peacefully submits himself or herself to Allah, the One and Only Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, worshiping Him purely without any association and thus leading a life of harmony and peace in this world and in the next.
A Muslim has six main beliefs constituting the core and the crux of faith, and five main deeds formulating the basis of his actions. A Muslim needs to believe in —
- Allah, the One True God Who has no father or son
- Messengers of Allah who were sent to convey God’s Message to humankind, the final one being Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
- The Angels who are creatures always bound to worship Allah
- The Divine Books including the Torah, the Gospel, and the Psalms as they were originally revealed, and the Quran
- The Day of Resurrection when people will be raised up from death to receive their book of deeds and punishment or reward accordingly
- Divine destiny, believeing that nothing happens in this world without the knowledge of Allah.
Also, every Muslim has to practice five main deeds:
- Testify that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah
- Establish the five daily prayers
- Pay zakah (obligatory alms)
- Fast the lunar month of Ramadan
- Perform Hajj (pilgrimage) to Makkah once in a life time, if it is possible
If a person believes in the aforementioned and practices the above, he or she is a Muslim and cannot be a Hindu.
I hope this makes things clearer. Please keep in touch!
This response is from About Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.
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