The first pillar of Iman establishes the baseline belief in Islam: the belief in God.
This belief in God is made up of four parts. First, we believe He exists. Once we have that established, we believe He is One in His Lordship, One His Right to be worshiped alone, without any partners, and One in His Names and His Attributes. It’s very simple, really, but given all the idol worship in our collective human history, it seems like we sometimes get the wrong idea about God, decide on strange methods of worship and all.
As the Creator, God knows this about us, knows that we’ll get it wrong, or not get it at all, and so out of His Mercy—and One of His Blessed Names in Arabic is “Ar Rahman,” the Most Merciful One—we believe He gifted us prophets and messengers to remind us of Him, teach us how to worship Him, and receive and relay messages from Him.
This is the second pillar of Iman: the belief in the prophets and messengers, may the peace of God be upon them all.
Who are these prophets and messengers, and what does this belief entail? Read on: you might be surprised…
First off, we mark a distinction between prophets and messengers: prophets remind us about God, and teach us about Him and how to worship; messengers receive and transmit His messages. All messengers are prophets, but not all prophets are messengers. We believe that God sent hundreds of thousands of prophets and numerous messengers to humanity, to all tribes and peoples in all corners of the earth, and that they all taught basically the same things: belief in the One God and worship Him alone without any partners. In the millennia since they were around, their specific texts and sayings, their lessons, and stories about them were mostly lost, except, of course, for those prophets and messengers mentioned in the Bible and the Quran.
Growing up in the Christian tradition as I did, I thought I knew all about the prophets, or all about a few of them anyway. I heard stories about Adam, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, David, Solomon, and many others, upon them all be peace. These prophets were mostly sent to the Jews and are shared by the Christians. And guess what? The Muslims believe in them too.
It’s a shock, I’m sure, but it’s true.
The Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—share virtually all the same prophets, all of the Old Testament ones, anyway. To those, the Christians and Muslims add Zechariah and John the Baptist; Muslims believe Jesus to be a prophet (remember the Oneness of God in His Lordship and Right to be Worshiped?) and add Muhammad, peace be upon them all. A full list of all the prophets and messengers of God is available all over the internets, and you probably know many of them better than I do.
The prophets and messengers in Islam, again, are the best of all of the creation, and a gift to us from God. They taught us about Him and how to worship Him appropriately. They served as examples for ways to conduct ourselves with others and in business. Some of them were so incredible as servants of the One God that He gave them Revelations to share with us: the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel, but that’s the next pillar…
Our stories about them are a bit different, and what we believe about them as people and as servants of God is a bit different than what’s found in current translations and interpretations of the Bible. We believe the prophets to be the best of humanity, and the messengers to be even better, and we give none of them preference over any other: God chose them; we follow them. The stories we have about them in the Quran differ a bit from the Biblical stories—different incidents are mentioned, the prophets and messengers are always praised as the best of creation, and the stories involving them are told in different ways—but for the most part, they’re clearly the same people, with the same clear message.
The biggest difference between Muslims and Christians is our differing beliefs about Jesus, peace be upon him. In Islam, we revere Jesus as a prophet and messenger of God. We believe he was born to the virgin Mary, that he preached and taught the worship of the One God, and that God gave him the Gospel to share with us. We believe that God saved Jesus from his enemies and that Jesus ascended to Heaven to await his next task here on Earth. At some future date, after the Dajjal (the Antichrist) comes to try to deceive the people, after the Dajjal gains a massive following and the armies of Gog and Magog run rampant, Jesus, peace be upon him, will descend, kill the Dajjal, rout Gog and Magog, unite the people of all faiths, and rule the world for many years. He will marry and bear children, and all people will live in peace and prosperity during his reign. When Jesus dies, God will send a wind to carry all the believers away, and after some period of wickedness on the entire face of the Earth, the trumpet will sound and the last day will commence.
May God spare us from any interaction with the Djall or the armies of his acolytes, and may He grant us ease after death, amen.
Jesus, peace be upon him, received special favor from God, undoubtedly, from his birth to his ascension, and he is very important to Muslims, but we don’t worship him. We worship God, alone, without any partners or intermediaries. This is the source of most of the quarrels between Christians and Muslims (and between Christians and Jews, for that matter). Well, that, and the other faiths mostly don’t recognize Muhammad, the final prophet and messenger, and the only one sent as a mercy to all of humanity.
We don’t worship Muhammad, peace be upon him, either, but he is our main prophet, the one about whom we know the most, the one with the most complete set of verified stories, the only one whose book is still available in its original form, the most recent and final messenger. He, too, has a role to play in the future, but he won’t be coming back to Earth. He died a natural death about 1400 years ago in Mecca, and he’s awaiting the Day of Judgement like all the other dead, like all those who have not yet died, like all those who have yet to be born. He will have a major role to play on the Day of Judgement, but I won’t go into that here: the Day of Judgment is the fifth pillar of Iman.
A full biography of Muhammad, peace be upon him, is beyond the scope here. If you’re interested, I can recommend two sources in English, one rather concise, the other, vast: Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet and Sheikh Dr. Yasir Qadhi’s lecture series on the Seerah (Biography) of the Prophet (available on YouTube and via podcast).
Just to recap, belief, for Muslims, includes the belief in God’s existence, His Oneness in His Lordship, His Oneness in His Right to be worshiped alone, without any partners, and in the Oneness of His Names and Attributes, and we believe that He, the Most Merciful One, sent us prophets and messengers to guide us and teach us. We revere the prophets and messengers, and we’re disgusted when we see or hear them denigrated or disrespected. Some of us take this disgust too far and and transgress the bounds established by God, and may He guide us all to better understanding of Him and better worship of Him, amen.
Up next, the third pillar of Iman, the Books.
It strikes me that I should make some mention of the people who have claimed prophethood since the death of the last prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him. In short, we don’t believe in or acknowledge them. In our tradition and belief, Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the last prophet. From my upbringing in Christianity, I know this is a common claim, but I’ve read the Quran (albeit in translation) and I know it to be the absolute, unquestioned word of God. I’ve also read the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and some of the books from some of the later faiths, and while they all have something good to offer, believe me when I say, they’re no word of God, at least not in the forms that we have them today. I’m not a scholar at all, though, and I’m merely struggling to be the best servant of God that I can be, so that’s all I have to say on that. I’m not going to denigrate anyone else’s faith if I can help it, and if you feel I’ve done that, please call me out on it: anything I say of benefit or of truth is only from God, and anything that hurts or is false is from me and the devil.