Foreword by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Propet Munammap S SAID,

“There is a kind of tree whose leaves do not wither and fall—it is like the Muslim,” explaining later, “Tt is the palm tree.”

Commenting on this, Imam al-Nawawi, the great thirteenth century scholar, wrote: “The entire palm tree is beneficial, good, and beautiful. And so is the believer entirely good, owing to his abundant devotions

and noble character.’


Beinc Musitm


Foreword by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

© 2015 Asad Tarsin

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the copyright owner except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Printed in the United States of America

First Printing, 2015

ISBN-13: 978-0-9855659-2-3

ISBN-10: 0-9855659-2-6

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015910485

Published by

Sandala Inc.

Cover design, layout, and typesetting: Umar Shahzad nev.

Illustrations: Jessica Gallon.

Typeset in Linux Libertine, Brill, and Source Sans Pro.

Printed on Mohawk Carnival 100# vellum white cover

and Glatfelter Offset 60# natural.

To my grandfather, the late Shaykh Muhammad Bariun, who was always teaching and only rarely speaking. You showed us love of God and His messenger Ss.

We still reap what you had sown.


Transliteration & Pronunciation Key Foreword


CHAPTER 1: Starting Pomwr

The Beginning

Islam in Context

Learning Islam


The Testimony of Faith (Shahddah) God (Allah) u




Judgment Day

Divine Decree (Qadr)

CHAPTER 3: Worsnr

The Legal Rulings

The Prayer (Salah)

Fasting Ramadan

The Pilgrimage (Hajj)

Other Components of Worship Rulings Particular to Women

CHAPTER 4: Semrruan Rermemenr

Human Consciousness

The Path of Refinement Destructive Vices

Saving Virtues

Noble Character

cuarrers: | ue Propuer S

The Role of the Prophet s

An Introduction to the Prophet s Blessings (Salawat) Upon the Prophet s A Brief Biography

His Miracles

CHAPTER 6: Tue Quran

The Nature of the Quran

Major Themes in the Quran

CHAPTER 7: Istannc How Dwys

The Islamic Year

The Friday Congregational Prayer (Salat al-Jumu ah) Ramadan & the Festival of Completing the Fast (Id al-Fitr) The Festival of Sacrifice (Id al-Adha)

CHAPTER 8: Larestviz

Living Islamic Law

Daily Life

Communal Life

Sexections FROM THE Quran

Recommenve Reaoines Guossary OF Commonty Usep Terms Busuiocrarny




A slight catch in the breath, cutting slightly short the preceding syllable.

S ] a An elongated a as in cat. b a As in best. . t A Qa As in fen, * th a As in thin. t Y As in jewel. h F ; ; . c Tensely breathed h sound made by dropping tongue into back of throat, forcing the air out. : kh c Pronounced like the ch in Scottish /och, made by touching back of tongue to roof of mouth and forcing air out. d 4 As in depth. 4 dh : . A thicker th sound as in the. tr See : ») Arolled r, similar to Spanish. 3 . As in zest. Ss z wo As in seen. * h Ue» : As in sheer. use : A heavy s pronounced far back in the mouth with mouth hollowed to produce full sound. : d Use 7 A heavy d/dh pronounced far back in the mouth with the mouth hollowed to produce a full sound. t Be : A heavy t pronounced far back in the mouth with the mouth hollowed to produce a full sound. BE © A heavy dh pronounced far back in the mouth with the mouth hollowed to produce a full sound. & A guttural sound pronounced narrowing the throat. : gh F 5 ‘a Pronounced like a throaty French r with the mouth hollowed. ) f As in feel. (je) # A guttural qg sound made from the back of the throat with the mouth hollowed. k J As in kit. J I a? As in lip. m . é As in melt. O i As in nest. h ° As in hen.

3 w (at beg. of syllable) As in west. ui (in middle of syllable) An elongated 00 sound, as in boo. io y (at beg. of syllable) As in yes.

T (in middle of syllable) An elongated ee sound, as in seen.

s Used following the mention of the Prophet Muhammad, translated as, “May Allah bless him and grant him peace.”

e Used following the mention of any other prophet, translated as, “May peace be upon him.”

f Used following the mention of three or more prophets, translated as, “May peace be upon them.”

g Used following the mention of a male companion of the Prophet, translated as, “May God be pleased with him.”

j Used following the mention of a female companion of the Prophet, translated as, “May God be pleased with her.”

k Used following the mention of two companions of the Prophet, translated as, “May God be pleased with them.”

| Used following the mention of more than two companions of the Prophet, translated as, “May God be pleased with them.”

u Used following the mention of Allah, translated as “the Sublime and the Exalted.”


Of all creatures in the world, the human is unique in that no other animal has the ability to acquire knowledge, preserve it, and transmit it. Animals have instinctual knowledge and display remarkable talents, from the highly developed dams of beavers to the majestic subterranean cities of ants, but as far as we know, no animals are discussing the purpose of life or teaching their offspring the rites of prayer. Because it is knowledge and the ability to reason that distinguishes us from other animals, it should be no surprise that the One who created us did so with that end in mind:

“Know that there is no god but God, and seek forgiveness for your wrongs.”

Quay 47:19

The ability to truly know God is a uniquely human ability. For this reason, the Islamic religion and the civilizations it produced put knowledge and its acquisition at the center of their existence. Muslims pursued knowledge to the edges of the earth. Al-Biruini, the central Asian polymath, is arguably the world’s first anthropologist. The great linguists of Iraq and Persia laid the foundations a thousand years ago for subjects only now coming to the forefront in language studies. Ibn Khaldin, who is considered the first true scientific historian, argued hundreds of years ago that history should be based upon facts and not myths or superstitions. The great psychologists of Islam known as the Sufis wrote treatise after treatise that rival the most advanced texts today on human psychology. The great ethicists and exegetes of Islam’s past left tomes that fill countless shelves in the great libraries of the world, and many more of their texts remain in manuscript form.

But all of the great learning that Muslims displayed throughout their history was always predicated on a foundational, core knowledge that the great usuli scholars of Islamic jurisprudence called fard ‘ayn, or “the individual obligations.” Fard ‘ayn knowledge is the bare minimum that every Muslim has to know, without which, upon reaching sexual maturity, he or she is considered to be in a state of sinfulness. It does not take a long time to acquire and is best done with a qualified teacher, but it can be learned, though this is discouraged, from books. Malik bin Dinar, a great early scholar and saint, said, “Whoever seeks knowledge for himself (fard ayn) ends up with little knowledge, but whoever seeks knowledge for

others should know that the needs of humanity are vast.” In other words, while the knowledge each person is required to learn is important, it is also relatively little; there is a much larger body of knowledge which is a fard kifayah, or collective responsibility for some of the community to take on. This short book has that little amount of individually responsible knowledge necessary for a new Muslim or an unlearned Muslim rediscovering his or her religion. Dr. Asad Tarsin has rendered our community an important service by designing and writing a concise, useful, and accurate manual of core knowledge that every Muslim should know. It is a basic manual, and much needed in our time of great ignorance from within and without the Muslim community. Islam is a gentle faith, one based upon mercy and ease: “God wants for you ease” (Quran 2:185). Islam is a faith that rests on four solid pillars: mercy, wisdom, benefit, and justice. On this, Ibn Qayyim says: “Should any ruling go from mercy to cruelty, it is not Islam; should it go from wisdom to folly, it is not Islam; should it go from benefit to harm, it is not Islam; and should it go from justice to injustice, it is not Islam.” The foundational principles of our religion are not hard to understand or to practice, but the religion itself is vast like the ocean. Within this wondrous ocean, some must become master swimmers; however, all people must begin by simply learning to tread water. This manual is intended to keep beginners afloat and prevent them from drowning in the vast ocean that is Islam. Hamza Yusuf Ramadan 1436 June 2015


This book was written to help Muslims live and practice their faith—to learn what Muslims believe, how we pray and fast, and how to live life in a manner pleasing to our Lord. It highlights both our spiritual struggles and aspirations; how we can, on a daily basis, develop a healthy relationship with God, through both devotions and in ordinary daily life. This book is not meant to expound on abstract theoretical aspects of Islam, but to give readers practical and useful knowledge that can help them understand what it means to be Muslim.

In the winter of 2005 I met a young new convert who, unlike most converts I had met before, had almost no real exposure to Islam or Muslims before embracing the faith. I was caught off guard when he began to ask me for a list of do’s and don’t’s. After affirming some things he already knew, I told him that first he needed to learn the basics, such as how to pray. Still, he continued to press me for guidelines.

While I admired his earnestness, I realized that this was not the best way for him to learn the religion; he needed context and prioritization for this new information. So I resolved to help him get started in a more systematic manner. I began to think of the books on Islam that I was personally familiar with and realized immediately that none of them suited his needs well. I then searched Muslim bookstores and found a few books that would be somewhat helpful, but they were either narrow in their scope or intended for children. As we began to meet and talk, I started compiling a list of the things I thought essential for new Muslims to know early in their Islamic learning.

And so, this manual before you was born, out of the realization that beginner English-speaking Muslims, whether new or returning, were underserved with regards to written materials to help them learn and practice their faith. These Muslims face multiple obstacles in their quest for knowledge. First, the information they need is scattered in multiple books that one would have to already know in order to find what one is looking for. Even if one knew how to find these books, they contain information beyond a novice’s level and needs, which could be distracting and overwhelming. Second, these books presume a level of background knowledge that these readers lack. Third, many books introduce Arabic

words without consistent translation, which often leads to the reader becoming focused on memorizing terms rather than understanding them.

To be clear, this work is by no means an original production. Rather, it is a compilation of concepts, explanations, and wisdom from the works of multiple luminaries, past and contemporary, brought together into one manual. The function I attempted to serve is analogous to that of a cloudy lens—although it inevitably distorts and diminishes the light—it at least focuses the separate beams upon one point. Anything of value found in this work testifies to the radiance of the beams of light that could penetrate such a lens—for the lens generates no light of its own. This work is firstly indebted to those luminaries who preserve for us all the light that came forth from the Holy Prophet Muhammad s. It is my hope that this manual makes the vital and revivifying knowledge they preserve and teach more easily accessible to the eager learner. I pray that, by striving to gather light for others, I too, despite the reality, by God’s grace, am counted among those illuminated.

“Whoever has not thanked people, has not thanked God.” _ Proruer Mousamman S

After thanking and praising God, without Whom nothing is possible, I would like to thank others whose contributions were vital to the completion of this work.

While this work is influenced by many, it is most indebted to a man whose contribution to Islam in the West is arguably unparalleled. His writing, teaching, and lecturing has inspired countless Muslims over the last twenty years (including myself), shifting paradigms and rectifying cognitive frames. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a great master of two traditions, has revived Islam in the West by helping Western Muslims rediscover traditional Islam while making it immediately relevant to the context of the modern world. In describing his contributions to Islam in the West, one can only remember, “God suffices as a witness!” (Quran 48:28).

I would like to thank my parents, Dr. Mahmoud Tarsin and Dr. Fawzia Bariun for their unyielding love and support. We are all who we are because of your love. May Allah grant your children the ability to serve you well. To my brother and friend, Amjad Tarsin, thank you for your constant support and for staying on me. A very special thanks to Aftab Malik for encouraging me in the early phases of this project—you tolerated me and

were there with your experience and invaluable advice at every turn. To my partner in this project, Zahid Ahmed, thank you for always being there. To my dear friend Feraidoon Mojadedi, thank you for your urging me across the finish line. To my dear sister, Aisha Subhani, thank you for all of your support. For editing content and advice, my deep appreciation to both Imam Zaid Shakir and Faraz Khan. For diligently editing and really helping bring this to completion, I want to thank you, Tom Devine, for all of your work— it made all the difference. I am grateful to Mariam Jukaku, Sadia Shakir, and Zaynab Salman who helped proofread the manuscript. This work is indebted to Brad Brennan, a good friend who inspired me with his courage to leap towards the light without hesitation. Lastly, my deep appreciation to my supportive and understanding wife, Imaan Youssef, and my children, Yaseen, Maryam, and Ahmed Zarruq.

Below are a few points of reference for the reader:

Quotations from the Quran are referenced by their chapter (st#irah) and verse (ayah) number. For instance, a quotation followed by “(2:136)” refers to Chapter 2, verse 136. For the translation, I have relied almost exclusively on the work of M.A.S. Abdel Haleem. However, for a few verses, when it better illustrated the point being made, I used the translation of Thomas Cleary.

For some of the transliterated Arabic terms, I sometimes added an “‘-s”’ to denote the plural instead of transliterating the linguistically correct Arabic plural form. I did this for terms that English-speaking Muslims commonly use as though they are anglicized. For example, in Arabic the plural form of masjid (mosque) is masdjid. However, for the sake of simplicity, I used the term masjids.

Lastly, this work presents Islam from the Sunni orthodox perspective and does not compare or contrast with other sects of Islam for the sake of clarity.

The erring servant of God, ever in need of His mercy, Asad Tarsin

Ramadan 1436

June 2015


Starting Point

... A light has now come to you from God, and a Scripture making things clear, with which God guides to the ways of peace those who follow what pleases Him, bringing them from darknesses out into light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path.

Quran 5:15-16


In God’s Name (Bismillah);

Praise belongs to God (Alhamdulillah); O God: Bless and Send Peace Upon Our Master, Muhammad! (Allahumma salli wa sallim ‘ala sayyidina Muhammad): The feeling of disorientation can be one of the greatest challenges to any new experience. It can lead to a distraction of energies, insecurity, unease, and confusion. If you are new to practicing and learning Islam, it can be a dizzying task to orient yourself to the landscape of the religion with all its concepts and terminology.

This book endeavors to bring together the elements of Islam that are most necessary for developing a basic understanding of the religion. It should serve as a starting point, and should give you most of what the average practicing Muslim would know. It is by no means comprehensive—tt is not meant to give you all that you must know as a Muslim; but neither is it minimalistic—in some aspects, it gives you more than the bare minimum you need to know.


Before you set out to learn and practice the material contained in this manual, some advice may prove helpful.

First, consciously think about your reasons for wanting to learn this material. Prophet Muhammad s taught us the fundamental precept, “actions are [judged] according to intentions.” So it is essential that we examine our motivations for the things we do, especially before beginning such an important endeavor.

Also, keep in mind that you are in this for the long run, so pace yourself. Take things in gradually, internalize them at a pace that is appropriate for you, and do not feel that you need to figure it all out immediately. On the other hand, do not become complacent; use your enthusiasm to push yourself ever higher.

As you grow in your practice of Islam, try not to make too many changes too quickly. Some people adopt the religion and then, within a few short months, change their entire social circuit and even marry someone new— likely unwise! Adopting a new faith is a sign that you are growing, and thus changing, as a person. Growth is a gradual process, and you may grow into

someone different from the person you were at the outset. It may be useful to keep this in mind as you contemplate life-altering decisions. Before proceeding, allow yourself the time and space to process your new experiences fully.

Set for yourself appropriate expectations and anticipate a challenge. You may be elated that you have been guided to God’s religion and are now committed to it. You may assume that the rest is easy. But know in advance that this 1s not the case! Growth is an intrinsically challenging and difficult process. You'll have good days and bad ones. Be patient and perseverant, and rely on God to take care of the rest.

As you progress, process new things, and grow, always strive to keep God first and foremost in your life. It can sometimes be easy to mistake the means for the end. Remember that everything in this handbook (and the entire religion) is simply about developing a healthy relationship with God. Never forget the purpose of the things you do as you practice your religion. You may feel that certain acts are more rewarding than others, but stay focused on what God wants, not what you may feel at some point in time. Talk to Him, call upon Him for help, and keep Him the center of your journey as you move forward.

In your long journey, you will find much benefit and comfort in a good support group. If you do not have one yet, make some good Muslim friends who can support you as you progress. They do not have to replace your current friends, but they can support you in the shared experience of being a Muslim. Books, CDs, and websites can be informative, but good friends to support your growth are invaluable.

As you learn and grow, be sure not to erase who you are at your core. Islam doesn’t replace you with someone else; it enhances who you already are. Work towards becoming a devout Muslim who is still genuinely you. This will make you more sincere in your interaction with God and is absolutely necessary for sustained growth.

The simple advice given above won’t be the only kind you will need, but it may be helpful to hear it early in your development as a Muslim. As a general rule, it would be wise to look at the experiences of others and learn from them, to help make your transition into a new faith, and way of living, as smooth as possible.


To more fully understand the message of Islam, it is helpful to appreciate its place within the greater human story. In this way, you will understand the bigger picture and keep it in mind as you navigate new ideas and concepts. It is also important to understand the general layout of the religion, and so we will examine an outline of Islam provided by the founder himself, Prophet Muhammad s.


To start at the beginning: At a time before time, every human soul ever created was gathered before God. During that existence, which is detailed in the Quran, God asked us all, “Am I not your Lord?” To which every last one of us responded, “Oh yes! We bear witness.” In the Islamic understanding, each of us has this knowledge on some subconscious level.

Through this Grand Covenant, each of us sealed our moral responsibility to acknowledge the Lordship of God. Throughout our lives here on Earth, we have the challenge of living according to this acknowledgement. In fact, this is one of the implications of the Two Testimonies of faith. The first part, “There is nothing worthy of worship except God,” is a reaffirmation of our bearing witness to God’s Lordship over us at a time before our time here. The second testimony, “Muhammad is the messenger of God,” is a statement that God’s lordship over us necessitates that we live in line with His will. It is as if to say, “We remember the covenant we made before life here, and we still honor it, and we will live our lives according to it.”

After testifying to God’s Lordship over us, we as a species were charged with the weighty responsibility of being His delegates in the world. We are responsible for setting its affairs right, ensuring justice and security, and acting so as to make the conditions of society conducive to knowing and worshipping God.

Then, God created the first humans, the vessels of the souls that were gathered before Him. Tempted by Satan, Adam and Eve both disobeyed God, but when they realized what they had done, they repented, and God accepted their repentance. Still, He decreed that they and all of their offspring were to be expelled from the Garden down to Earth to live their destined worldly lives. Along with this exile came God’s promise to send us guidance so that we may again find our way back to Paradise.

God then sent a succession of prophets and messengers, reminding people of their covenant before creation and their duty to God. Each was sent to a particular people, sometimes with a message particular to them, but always with a core message to surrender to the Lord of all creation, the One, the Almighty. Most people were selfish and resistant, while a number believed in and followed God’s prophets. With the passage of time, sustaining the authenticity of the message became more and more difficult. People began to alter the scriptures brought by the messengers of God. The ideas of men were sold as truths from God, and yet still, each time, God renewed His guidance to us to help us find our way home to the Garden.

The divine guidance that God sent through these messengers concluded and culminated in the most eminent of His messengers, Prophet Muhammad s. He came not to replace previous versions of the message, but to perfect and complete them. Each of God’s prophets taught the same essential truths, but only the teachings of Prophet Muhammad s survived unaltered over history. This protection from distortion, along with the universality of its teachings, is what makes Islam the religion of God for all people everywhere.


To better understand the final message from God to humanity, we will examine a concise yet comprehensive summary of the religion by Prophet Muhammad s. These words were spoken at one of the most famous and significant historical events in Islam, on a day when the messenger of God s was sitting with some of his closest companions (Sahdabah).* The story is narrated by ‘Umar g who tells us the following: One day, while we were sitting with the messenger of God, there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him, and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet. Resting his knees against his and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs, he said, “O Muhammad, tell me about is/am’”’ The messenger of God said: “/s/am 1s to testify that there is nothing worthy of worship except God and that Muhammad is the messenger of God, to perform the prayers, to pay the purifying alms, to fast in Ramadan, and to make the pilgrimage to the Sacred House if you are able to do so.”

He said, “You have spoken rightly.” And we were amazed at him asking him and saying that he had spoken rightly. He then said, “Then tell me about imdan.”

He replied, “It is to believe in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and to believe in divine decree, both the good and the evil thereof.”

He said, “You have spoken rightly.” He then said, “Then tell me about isan.”

The Prophet said, “It is to worship God as though you are seeing Him, for even if you cannot see Him, He indeed sees you.”

He said, “Then tell me about the Hour.”

The Prophet replied, “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.”

He then said, “Then tell me about its signs.”

He replied, “That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute herdsmen competing in constructing lofty buildings.”

Then [the man] left and I stayed behind for a time. Then [the messenger of God] said, “O “Umar, do you know who the questioner was?”

I said, “God and His messenger know best.”

He said, “He was Gabriel (Jibril), who came to you to teach you your religion.”

With four questions, the Archangel Gabriel (Jibril) e brought forth a summary of the foundational elements of the religion from God’s final prophet to humanity. The religion, we learn, is comprised of three elements: islam, iman, and ihsdn. The fourth aspect mentioned, namely the signs of the Hour, provides us with the understanding that there is a downward trend of the human story, and thus of the believing community as well. There are many such statements from Prophet Muhammad s which indicate the moral decline of the latter days, and the consequent need for believers to hold more tightly to their principles, values, and beliefs, despite increased difficulty in doing so.

These three elements are called the dimensions of Islam. The first of the three dimensions discussed was is/am, which is presented as a sub-category within the religion itself, Islam. In Arabic, the word is/am means “to surrender” or “to submit.” We see from the definition laid out by Prophet

Muhammad s that it is the dimension of our religion involving the external actions of our bodies, acts of surrender. To state the Testimony of Faith,‘ to pray, to fast, to pay alms, and to make pilgrimage are all acts we perform through the medium of our bodies. These are called the Five Pillars of Islam. We understand from them that actions of external conformity, which include ritual worship and more, are absolutely indispensable to a complete characterization of the religion.

Next, we heard about iman. In Arabic, iman means “to believe.” Prophet Muhammad s starts his definition by using that phrase exactly: “It is to believe....” What follows is a series of beliefs that a person must affirm in order for their faith to be complete. Unlike the dimension of is/am, these are not acts, but convictions of the mind which settle in the heart. We thus learn that the affirmation of realities as they truly exist is also essential to the characterization of the religion of Islam.

Lastly, we learn about ihsdn. The word in Arabic means “to make beautiful or good.” We are told that iisan involves the internal constitution of a believer’s heart—his or her spiritual state. This is the basis of your relationship with God Almighty. Here, Prophet Muhammad s defines this dimension by telling us its result. So, to attain a particular spiritual constitution, that of complete awareness of and reverence for God u, is an indispensable component of the religion, the one that gives it purpose.

Each of these components speaks to an aspect of human experience. The first 1s action—of the body; the second is belief—of the mind; and the third is purity—of the soul. And so Islam is a religion that speaks to every element of our humanity. Only when all three of these dimensions—faith, conduct, and character—are fulfilled simultaneously and harmoniously is the religion truly being practiced. To neglect any one of these will lead to imbalance and misplaced emphasis, a sure path to misguided religiosity. For example, to neglect the affirmation of our beliefs would make Islam a kind of cultural tradition void of its main purpose. To neglect the external conformity to God’s commands leads to an abstract religion guided by personal whims, with no arena within which to prove faith through application. And lastly, a neglect of the spiritual leads to a version of the religion that, void of reverence and love of God u, becomes rigid, cold, and legalistic. It is thus only with the complete surrender of our minds, bodies, and spirits to God u that the complete vision of Islam can be realized.

islam practice

ISLAM COMPLETE RELIGION iman ihsan faith refinement

Figure 1: The Three Dimensions of Islam


From the above narration (hadith) and from the Quran, we can develop a more complete understanding of the term is/am. It has meanings on various levels, and by appreciating them we can gain a deeper understanding of the concept itself.

On the grandest scale, all created beings are in a state of surrender (islam) to God by the very nature of our dependence upon Him and subjugation to His will. We can only do whatever God allows us to do. A second use refers to voluntary submission: deliberately living in accordance with God’s will. In this sense, Islam has existed from the beginning of the human story and has been the message of all of God’s prophets. All of them ultimately called for submission to God and were themselves in a state of submission, and thus could be called muslims.2 The third use, the one which most know best, refers to the religion brought by Prophet Muhammad s in the seventh century CE. Those who follow the religion of Islam, the final form of the ultimate submission taught by all prophets, are properly called Muslims: We are not named after a person, ethnicity, or region, but after our chosen relationship with God. Lastly, as a sub-category of the final religion of Islam, is/am is the dimension of surrender to God through devotional practices, as discussed above. These general and specific meanings of the word is/am enhance our understanding of submission to God and His final religion.


It was part of God’s divine wisdom that His final message to all of creation would be revealed to Prophet Muhammad s in seventh century Arabia. This has many implications, and for these reasons and more, the historical events and circumstances surrounding the life of Prophet Muhammad s are a necessary and inseparable context for understanding revelation.

Perhaps the most central and permanent of these implications is the revealing of the Quran, God’s word, in the Arabic language.* For believers, Arabic is thus the sacred language of Islam: It alone is to be used for ritual worship, such as the recitation of the Quran and the daily prayers. However, for other activities, such as supplication (du ‘a’), reading translations of the Quran, sermons, or study of Islam, any language may be used. Many scholars of Islam believe that, since the Quran is in Arabic, to understand aspects of the Arabic language may even provide insights into the realities of the world as God u created it.

To develop a basic understanding of how we can gain profound insights from Arabic itself, it would help to examine the root-word system of the language. In Arabic, words are derived from root bases. With rare exceptions, these root words are made up of three letters. The arrangement and alteration of the letters of a root word follow specific patterns that tell you something about the intended meaning of any word based on it. You can derive many insights from studying the root-word relationships among words that otherwise seem unassociated. All this may seem abstract at first, but it will become clearer as you learn some basic vocabulary.

Throughout this handbook, Arabic terms that you should eventually learn will be transliterated in parenthesis after the English translation. This is to help you understand the concepts and learn the words. When such a word is used for the first time in a paragraph, a reminder of the Arabic equivalent will follow, even if the term has already been introduced.

A standard Arabic transliteration key is provided at the beginning of this book to aid you in pronouncing the Arabic terms.


The first task for every Muslim is to learn the things he or she will need to practice the religion and fulfill his or her duties to God u. In Islam, there is a very close correlation between religious knowledge and increased piety, since knowledge of God u and His religion brings you closer to Him, if you apply what you learn. Prophet Muhammad s said, “To seek knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim man and Muslim woman.” Learning should be an essential part of every Muslim’s life, and you should commit yourself to becoming a lifelong learner and applying what you learn.

The contents of this handbook are just an introduction to the various subjects it contains. After studying the material provided here, you should further your learning by exploring the “Recommended Reading” section in the back.


The purpose of Islamic scholarship is to derive, refine, and preserve the guidance found within Islam. When Prophet Muhammad s passed on from this world, he did not leave gold or land to be inherited. He left knowledge of God’s last message of guidance to humanity. An indication of this is found in a famous narration (hadith) where he stated that “the scholars are the inheritors of the prophets.”

The guidance that God u sent through Prophet Muhammad s is preserved in two primary sources of knowledge: the Quran and the Prophetic Way (Sunnah). The Quran, the direct word of God u, is the first source of Islamic teachings. In the Quran, some verses are explicit and easy to understand, while others are more ambiguous in meaning. To interpret God’s words requires specialized training in various disciplines; the scholars capable of such interpretation are called Quranic exegetes.

The Prophetic Way (Sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad s is unanimously accepted as the perfect interpretation of the Quran, and it is used by scholars as an explanation and commentary of the Quran, and thus of the religion itself. The Prophetic Way is understood from the life of Prophet Muhammad s: some parts of it consist of his own statements, while others are based on his actions—either actions he performed himself or his reactions to what others did in his presence. For most scholars, the primary, but not only, source of understanding the Prophetic Way is through the body

of narrations (hadiths) about Prophet Muhammad s.* These narrations have been compiled over time, and each has been evaluated as to its level of reliability. Despite the modern misconception that only the most rigorously verified narrations can be used, how to use the various types of narrations is actually the realm of scholars; laypeople should simply strive to make use of the basic guidance we can derive from them.

These sources then provide scholars with proof-texts from which to derive particular religious understandings or legal rulings. Proof-texts are usually in the form of a Quranic verse, a prophetic narration (hadith), or a secondary source, such as analogous legal reasoning, the consensus of the jurists, or the words of an authoritative scholar.

The scholars of Islamic law laid out the legal methodologies by which a proof-text is processed and used in developing the overall picture for an issue. The methodologies are complex, but they include linguistic analysis, historical contextualization, chronological assessment, and __juristic examination, among many other disciplines. Some of the great Islamic jurists differed somewhat in the methodologies and processes they used for reaching legal conclusions; this led to the development of different legal schools (madhhabs) in Islam today. However, the schools of law all agree on the primary sources of law, differing mainly in their analysis and utilization of them. As a result, all of the schools agree on the essential issues and differ only on finer details that are secondary in nature.

Jurists use proof-texts to derive legal rulings. It is an oversimplification and an error to treat a proof-text as a ruling in and of itself—it must be processed by jurists using the legal methodologies, including a global analysis of all relevant proof-texts. The result of such a process may be a conclusion that seems quite different from the apparent meaning of the original verse (ayah) or narration (hadith) on which the ruling is based, but this should not be mistaken as “contradicting” the proof-text. With an understanding of these concepts, you will have an overall appreciation for the complexity of deriving religious rulings and be less likely to fall into confusion or oversimplification.

Each legal school (madhhab) is both a particular methodology for deriving law and a corpus of centuries of scholarship contributing to the analysis of issues based on that methodology.* The very existence of the schools (madhhabs) clues us in to an essential reality in Islam: Differing positions can each be legitimate and valid, and believers can legitimately

hold different positions, as long as each position is backed by qualified scholarship. Scholastic pluralism is a source of strength and divine mercy for the religion. It is the acknowledgment that in the absence of an infallible prophet, no one can be so certain of their interpretation that everyone else is morally bound to follow them. The holder of each position genuinely feels that they are correct, but each respectfully allows for differences to coexist harmoniously. When the allowance for scholarly differences 1s combined with the agreed upon standards and methodologies of religious scholarship, the result is a rich pluralism which avoids both religious monopoly and religious anarchy.

This should give you at least some idea of the complexity of definitively concluding that the religion says “A” or “B” on a given subject. Jurists of the past spent their entire lives working out the finer points of the religion so that it may be more easily practiced by the rest of us. Each of us is, thus, not expected to start over and figure everything out for ourselves. We are, however, expected to follow qualified scholarship. For centuries, this has taken the form of following one of the legal schools, affirming widely- accepted works of creed, utilizing the works of masters of the spiritual disciplines, and deferring to the scholars when we encounter unknown religious territory. These parameters still allow for a vast array of opinions under the same methodologies listed above.

In addition to respecting the complexity of the scholarly process, we should develop a deep respect for “the inheritors of the prophets.” In the Islamic view, there is a strong correlation between knowledge and piety, since knowledge predisposes one to increase one’s commitment to God u. This is one of the reasons Prophet Muhammad s taught that we should all be lifelong students of Islam. We should strive to develop in ourselves a deep respect for the scholars, great men and women who spent their lives preserving the guidance we need to succeed in the next life.


As with all religious texts, just as there is the possibility of coming to different valid interpretations, so there is the danger of misinterpreting the primary sources of Islam. The reasons for this are many. One reason is the fact that the Arabic language conveys meaning in a very concise way. In the Quran, for example, many pronouns are used, and these frequently require an in-depth analysis to determine what they are referencing. Also, in Arabic

a particular term can have different meanings based on its context. To understand its meaning in a particular sentence requires both a deep knowledge of the many meanings of the word and a clear understanding of that particular context. There are also phrases and statements in the Quran which have become proverbial in nature: When these are quoted in isolation from the words or verses that come before and after them, a naive listener may end up with a serious misunderstanding of their intended meaning.

In addition to these intrinsic challenges, there is the modern trend of untrained and unqualified individuals attempting to derive their own understandings directly from primary texts. Historically, even to gain access to scholarly works, a person had to study under a trained authority. With the advent of the information age, however, practically anyone can access scholarly works without any guidance, training, or supervision. Some have likened this situation to people having access to medical textbooks and presuming they can diagnose conditions or perform surgery, without training under qualified physicians.

All of the above issues combined can make interpreting the primary sources of Islam quite complex. Hopefully, this brief sketch illustrates the dangerous potential that exists of misunderstanding the divine guidance.

Beinc Musi: AN OVERVIE