A Primer on Islam
Prepared by the students in
HON 313 Justice in Islamic Thought
Fall 2004 - Nazareth College of Rochester

Five Central Beliefs

Five Pillars

Hadith and Sunna


Marriage and Divorce

Daily Roles of Women



  "The Five Central Beliefs of Islam"

by Dan Horn

The basic doctrines of Islam are collectively known as the Five Doctrines of Islamic Faith. They include a belief in the absolute unity of God, belief in angels, belief in prophets, belief in scriptures, and belief in the Final Judgment. In addition, some texts include a sixth pillar, that of God's divine decree and predestination.

The first of the doctrines is faith in the absolute unity of God.
Tawhid, meaning "making God one," refers to the strict belief of monotheism and the refusal to compromise this position. In fact, another name for Muslims is muwahhidun, translated as "unitarians" or "upholders of divine unity" (Denny 107). He is the only creator and disposer of the Universe, has no partner and no comparable being, none but Allah is worthy of worship (Morgan 91). Tawhid is so essential and central to the faith that shirk, or the associating anything with God, is the one fundamental error for Muslims. As described in the following Quranic verse, shirk is the only sin that God cannot forgive:

God forgives not that aught should be with Him associated; less than that He
forgives to whomsoever he will. Whoso associates with God anything has
gone stray into far error. (4:116)

The association of anything with God denies God in His true nature. In order for followers to allow belief into one's heart they must first surrender to God in his completeness. In fact, the Arabic word, islam, is translated as "to surrender" or "to submit." Associating anything with God is considered to be opposite to surrendering to Him, and therefore, no belief would be possible (Glasse 370).



The second doctrine of the faith asserts the belief in Angels as part of God's creation (Esposito 27).
In Arabic angels are known as malak, from la'aka meaning "to send on a mission" (Glasse 42). These angels have no sex and are made of light, whereas humans are made of clay (Denny 108). All of them are considered good, except Iblis/Satan, who was sent out of heaven after he refused God's command to bow down to Adam (Denny 108). The angels have various functions that are concerned with the spirits and souls of human that include carrying revelations, orders, and messages to the prophets, preaching the true and the good and encouraging believers by God's good tidings and His Eternal Paradise, and registering all human deeds (Morgan 99).

Although the angels work as messengers and helpers of God, none are considered to be superior to humans. The angels do not have free will and are completely obedient to God's commands. They have no central state, and therefore do not have the capacity, as humans do, to truly know God (Glasse 42).

Muslims also recognize another kind of supernatural creature, the Jinn. They can be differentiated from angels in several ways. Jinn, created from fire, are much lower than angels, are either male or female, have limited life spans, and can be either virtuous or wicked. Like humans, they too receive revelations through God's prophets.

The third doctrine is the belief in the prophets.
Muhammad was the last in a long line of prophets who were entrusted with bringing Scriptures to their peoples (Denny 108). The prophets are divided into two classes, rasuls and nabis. A rasul, or "messenger," was given a major new revelation and was called to communicate what God had sent to them (Denny 69). A nabi, or "prophet," is also one whom God has spoken to, but their mission lies within the framework of an existing religion (Glasse 318).

Regardless of the classification of the prophet, all are believed to "possess all natural perfections, excellent character, truthfulness and honesty in speech and deed before his appointment to office, because it is by virtue of these that he has deserved Prophetic mission and has come into contact with Angels, and received revelation" (qtd. in Glasse 318).

The fourth doctrine involves belief in the scriptures.
The Quran, meaning "recitation", is held to be the eternal, literal word of God. Therefore, to accept and believe in the messages of Allah is a mere consequence of belief in Angels and the prophets, the mediums by which God's word is revealed. All Scriptures are God's work, but the people before the dawn of Islam had corrupted the original messages to suit their own inclinations. The Quran is the purest extant scripture on Earth, as it is all the pure word of God's and has not been subject to tampering (Denny 108). It was revealed to Muhammad and preserved in the Arabic language and was placed in an order that was commanded by divine revelation (Esposito 9).


The fifth doctrine, belief in the Final Judgment, is of extreme significance and is very often emphasized in Islam. With the promise of reward for a life of faith and one of punishment for the unfaithful, final judgment emphasizes ultimate moral responsibility and accountability for each believer (Esposito 28). Salvation on the "Last Day" is assured for believers who displayed both faith and works. God will save the repentant sinner, but will not accept repentance on the verge of death. One must have established a pattern of repentance and good works, even if it was preceded by a life filled with evil-doing.

The time of the "Day of Distinguishing" is unknown to all but Allah. The angel Isafril will sound the trumpet and at that moment the order of the natural world will be inverted. The Quran describes the Garden of Paradise as a heaven filled with peace and dotted with flowing rivers, gorgeous gardens, and shining streams. It is life-affirming and emphasizes the beauty of creation and enjoyment of pleasures within the limits set by God (Esposito 28). Contrastingly, hell is a place of endless pain, suffering, and torment. It is filled with flames, boiling water, and blistering wind. This punishment is a just one for a life filled with unfaithfulness.

Finally, some texts include a sixth doctrine, a belief in God's divine decree and predestination. There is great tension between a belief in
God's foreordaining and human choice, and by and large all sects of Muslims do not agree (Farah 118).

The sayings of Muhammad, recorded in the Hadith, tend to favor a more predestinarian viewpoint than the Quran. For example, he was quoted to say, "...And God said: 'Write down the fate of every individual thing to be created,' and accordingly the pen wrote all that was, and that will be, to eternity" (Farah 120).

However, neither the Quran nor any other source unequivocally supports the doctrine of predestination. The position of free will is also embraced and implied (Denny 112). Some Muslims assert that omnipotence of God does not prevent free will. One can have a sense that nothing can be done to oppose the will of God, but man nonetheless has gift of free will in that he still makes choices.

Anyone who denies these basic tenets of Islam cannot be treated as a Muslim nor subjected to Muslim rules. Muslims believe that these doctrines are the basis of every divine religion and every human is called by Allah to adopt these beliefs. A mu'min, or one who has faith or "right belief", and also follows "right practice" is one who will enjoy eternal Paradise.

Works Cited

Denny, Frederick Matthewson. An Introduction to Islam. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1994.

---. Islam and the Muslim Community. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1987.

Esposito, John L. What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Farah, Caeser E. Islam: Beliefs and Practices. Woodbury, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1970.

Glasse, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Morgan, Kenneth W., ed. Islam-The Straight Path: Islam Interpreted by Muslims. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1958.