What are the most important features of Islam?
The belief that the universe has a finite origin which spurred its expansion and development. This uncaused cause and origin of everything is Allah (God), the lord and creator of all worlds. There can be nothing before this universe because God is its origin and the source of all things in it.
God (the uncaused cause and origin of everything) is characterized by three major qualities:
- Infinite, ever-present self-existence: God is self-existent and all creatures depend on His ever-presence, as they cease to exist without Him.
- Divine Unity: He has no partner or associate, nor is He composed of parts (i.e. He is not limited to a body). He is beyond all types of boundaries and limitations, such as time and place.
- Absolute attributes: God possesses infinite attributes of perfection that are inseparable from His essence (i.e., they are not achieved through acquisition), such as knowledge, power, wisdom, justice, and more. All perfection is from Him and terminates with Him.
God is He who created the physical world of the five senses and the world which is beyond perception. Hence, He is the creator of the plants, animals, and inanimate objects, as well as imperceptible creatures like angels and jinn. However, the greatest of all creatures are human beings, whom God honored by giving them reason, free will, and numerous capabilities for accessing and utilizing the resources of the universe, which makes the perpetual journey towards perfection full of discovery and creativity.
God is all-knowing and is the source of knowledge for humankind. He supplies them with information which they then comprehend, study, and analyze, and thereby chart out their path of fulfillment through innovations, achievements, and the eventual accomplishment of their desired human perfection. As such, God communicates His knowledge to certain chosen of His humankind through one of the following means:
- Speech (i.e., a voice) from behind a mountain, a wall, or a veil, for instance.
- Sending an angel that speaks directly to them.
- Infusing knowledge into their hearts such that it becomes intrinsic to them.
When God created Adam and the human population began to grow, and its aspirations and needs advanced and became complex, God chose individuals who possessed distinctive qualities and appointed them as prophets and messengers to preach, guide, and proclaim His message. Thus, the journey of the prophets and messengers of God began and became intertwined with human existence, starting with Prophet Adam and continuing all the way to the seal of the prophets, Muhammad. Furthermore, prophets and messengers varied in terms of the importance of the message they brought, the task entrusted to them, and the extent and specificity of people to which they were sent. Some of the prophets were sent to their families, while others were sent to their communities or to their nations, and yet others were sent to all people on earth like Prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
Islam acknowledges all the prophets and messengers, and asserts that a subsequent prophet completes the mission of his predecessor because God is one and so is His religion. Hence, variety is in terms of specific legislations, methods of guidance, degree of disseminated information, and spiritual obligation—in this case, the five divine religious laws: the law of Noah, the law of Abraham, the law of Moses, the law of Jesus, and the law of Muhammad, (peace and blessings be upon them all).
Along with the mission of the messengers, heavenly divine scriptures revealed by God, the Exalted, spread among people in tablet, written, and oral forms. Unfortunately, those scriptures were altered by people over time, all except for the Holy Quran, which is the complete and all-comprehensive divine book. It has never been distorted or altered to this day, since Almighty God promised to preserve it. Moreover, God challenged anyone to produce a verse like its verses. The Holy Quran remains as a timeless miracle, which continues to present renewed guidance through its bountiful knowledge and by being timely in addressing all human progress to this day. The Holy Quran is translated into nearly eighty different languages. However, these are merely translations that reflect the translators’ understanding and opinion. These interpretations do not necessarily amount to understanding God’s word the same way it would be understood in its revealed language, Arabic, which is considered one of the most important and comprehensive languages in the world.
Islam maintains that the divine message of God to humanity was completed and perfected through Islam (i.e., the religion of Prophet Muhammad), thus humanity no longer needs any further prophets or messengers. Instead, religion requires divinely chosen successors to the prophets who possess the same qualities and characteristics, so they can carry and preserve the message from loss and distortion and propagate it to the whole of humanity.
Most of the prophets had at least one successor, while Prophet Muhammad had twelve successors one after the other who were appointed by God as divine leaders and not prophets and tasked with carrying and preserving the message of Islam. The first of them is Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib and the last is al-Mahdi, who is the awaited savior in occultation and who shall fill the world with justice on the promised day when he returns.
Both prophets and their successors must possess the following qualities:
- Complete knowledge that is greater and superior to the knowledge of other people.
- Infallibility, which means being sinless, faultless, free of negligence, forgetfulness, fanaticism, prejudice, and personal interest, and having complete resistance to the whims and desires of the self.
- Moral characteristics such as integrity, courage, determination, patience and other qualities of moral perfection.
Sometimes a prophet was a successor of another prophet but occupying a lower status or was a prophet in a different era. However, this was not the case for the successors of Prophet Muhammad who were granted by God the same qualities and attributes of perfection as Prophet Muhammad except for prophethood. (Click here to view details of the fourteen infallibles).