A quick introduction to the Islamic faith

Further Reading

The following are a selection of books and resources about Islam:

  • M. Abdel Haleem, The Quran, A New Translation

  • Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History

  • Gai Eaton, Islam and the Destiny of Man

  • John Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path

Page 2 of 2

What is Jihad?

Often mistranslated as ‘holy war’ jihad is an all encompassing terms that literally means ‘to strive, or struggle’. Within Islam, its context is to strive in the path of God as exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Jihad pertains to the difficulty and complexity of leading a good life, struggling against the evil in oneself and to become virtuous and moral, to perform good actions and to contribute to the betterment of society. It is distressing that today a violent minority have abused the word jihad and have thus distorted its true meaning.

What is the meaning of life in Islam?

Life is a sacred trust from God and a human is a trustee who should handle the trust with honesty and skill, and with mindfulness of God. When God gives life He endows the human being with unique qualities and abilities, and charges the human with certain obligations. God means to help humankind fulfil the purpose of life and realise the goal of existence: to seek the pleasure of God in order to have eternal pleasure in the afterlife.

"Live in this world as if you are a traveller or a wayfarer" is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad. Life may be likened to a journey starting from a certain point and ending at a certain destination. It is a transitory stage, an introduction to the eternal life in the Hereafter.

Britain's Oldest MosqueAccording to Islamic teaching, the best use of life is to live it according to the guidance of God and perform good deeds in order to ensure a place in Paradise. As life is a means to an ultimate end, Islam has laid down a comprehensive system of principles and regulations on how to lead it. Muslims believe that we all belong to God and to Him is our final return. Life, therefore, is a complete circle and death is a doorway that leads to the true eternal existence.

What is the status of women in Islam?

The Quran states that men and women were created to be equal parts of a pair [51:49] and that their relationship is one of love and mercy such that they are like garments to one another. The revelation of the Quran elevated the status of women throughout society via numerous means: abolishing the status of women as property, allowing them to retain their maiden name after marriage, furnishing them the right to vote – thirteen centuries before women attained the right to vote in the UK, and the right to inheritance and owning property and businesses. 

In Islam, education, social and political participation is a duty on both women and men. Early Islamic history saw the rise of Muslim women as scholars, politicians, businesswomen, jurists and doctors at a time when Europe still regarded women as a commodity.

Some verses of the Quran have been quoted to suggest gender discrimination, but there is a clear distinction to be drawn between verses that respond to specific social and cultural contexts and those that represent universal principles. A common area of confusion is the stipulation regarding polygamy, which actually restricted the practice rather than encouraging it at a time when Arabs in seventh century society married many women and being monogamous was not the norm, "if you will not be able to deal justly [with them, marry] only one" [4:3]. It may be noted here that today more than 99% of Muslim marriages are monogamous, polygamy being the exception rather than the rule.

What is hijab?

Hijab is another source of interest and has been victim to much criticism and debate. Modesty in Islam is something that is stressed for both sexes, "Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty, and say to the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty" [24:30–31]. Hijab literally means ‘veil’, ‘covering’ or, barrier’, while the Arabic word ‘khimar’ refers to the head scarf, however hijab has come to take on the meaning of a Muslim woman’s head-dress. Hijab symbolises many things: religious devotion, discipline, respect, identity and modesty.  It is viewed by many Muslim women as another part of their ‘ibadah’ or worship of God since worship in Islam can be seen in a holistic sense, for example, giving charity or helping a neighbour is also seen as acts of worship.

What is Shariah?

Shariah covers all laws and governance pertaining to a Muslim’s life. The Arabic word literally refers to a waterway that leads to a main water source. Just as following all laws and principles set out by Islam, Muslims ultimately submit to the will of God, the source of life. Shariah is a framework that governs interactions between the individual and God, and between human beings. Both have public and private dimensions and both give Islam a prominent role on Muslim community life. Shariah is only applied to Muslims and not to people of other faiths and beliefs.

Does Islam promote race equality?

The Islamic civilisation nurtured genuine social equality irrespective of colour or race. During his final sermon, Prophet Muhammad said, All men are from Adam, and Adam is from clay. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor a white person over a black person except in God-consciousness. These principles were implemented throughout daily life: in the mosques people of all colours and races met to pray shoulder to shoulder, they worked together in government and academia.

Among the closest companions of the Prophet was the former Abyssinian slave, Bilal who became the first man to call people to prayer, the first muezzin. Prophet Muhammad had ordered him to scale the Kaba on the day of the peaceful conquest of Mecca to call people to prayer. That this man could stand with the divine sanctuary under his feet was a declaration that piety transcends all things and it sent a powerful message to all that racism has no place in Islam.

How did Islam contribute to the field of medicine?

Medical science made extraordinary progress during the Islamic civilisation and formed much of the basis of western healthcare today. Muslim experts pioneered in all areas of medicine including surgery, anatomy, ophthalmology, pharmacology, and physiology. The great Translation movement which began in the ninth century initiated under the Caliph Mamun in Baghdad, led to thousands of Greek works by Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, Ptolemy and Galen being translated into Arabic, and this knowledge was later transferred to Europe. Medical texts were not only translated, but their concepts and methods were further developed by the Muslims who pioneered in medical progress. Ibn Sina who was born in the tenth century, known as Avicenna in Europe, became renowned for his magnum opus, the cannon of Medicine – an encyclopaedia covering all aspects of medical practice which was used in the universities of Montpellier and Louvain as late as the seventeenth century. The thirteenth century medic Ibn Nafis discovered pulmonary circulation in contradiction to Galen’s view that blood was continually being made and used up, nearly four centuries before William Harvey announced his discovery that blood circulated around the body in 1616.

What is the relationship between science and Islam?

Scientific discovery and learning flourished under Islamic civilisations for centuries. The remarkable leap in science between the eighth and twelfth centuries was known as the Golden Age of Islam. Today many words from the Arabic language enter the sciences, words like alchemy, algebra, algorithm and alkali. Muslims pioneered in fields of astronomy, mathematics, physics. Muslim astronomers established large observatories and produced highly sophisticated and accurate devices such as the astrolabe which was used in navigation through celestial calculation.

Quranic verses allude to scientific phenomena, like the cosmology: "And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit. ‘(God is) the one who created the night, the day, the sun and the moon. Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" [21: 33], and to embryology: "We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed" [22:5].

Islam is not at odds with science that has been soundly established, and it is clear that the sciences have enjoyed a thriving development under the Islamic ethos enjoining the pursuit of knowledge and learning.

previous page 1 2  

? Back to top

Fast facts

Date of first revelation


Location of revelation 

Mecca (Saudi Arabia)

Sacred text


Size rank

Muslims form the world's second largest faith group


1.5 billion

Place of worship

Mosque. There are an estimated 1500 mosques in the UK

What does "Islam" mean?

"Islam" means peace or submission

What does "Muslim" mean?

"Muslim" means someone who submits themselves to the will of God

Muslims in the UK

Islam is the second largest religion in all four countries in the UK. Recent estimates suggest there are 2.4 million Muslims in the UK

Ever wanted to know...

Who was Muhammad?

What is

Who are