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The Beliefnet Guide to Islam
Cover of The Beliefnet Guide to Islam
The Beliefnet Guide to Islam
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This concise introduction to Islam offers a sophisticated and informative exploration of the history, beliefs, tenets, and practices of the second-largest religion in the world.

There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today, yet Islam remains a misunderstood faith. In this day and age, when issues related to Islam are dominating current affairs, The Beliefnet® Guide to Islam takes readers into the heart of this global religion, describing its origins, its links to Judaism and Christianity, and its place and practices in the modern world.

In clear, unbiased language, the authors outline the core beliefs that shape the daily lives of practicing Muslims: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and self-purification (during the period of Ramadan), and the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca). They clarify the differences between the Sunni and the Shia, the two main branches of Islam, shedding light on a topic that has garnered attention during the current crises in Iraq and other parts of the Muslim world. Hassaballa and Helminski also look at the many misinterpretations of basic terms and beliefs that have had a serious impact on the relationship between Muslims and those who practice other religions, explaining such essentials as the meaning of jihad, Islamic teachings on the role of women in society, and much more.

From the premier source of information on religion and spirituality, the Beliefnet® Guides introduce you to the major traditions, leaders, and issues of faith in the world today.

This concise introduction to Islam offers a sophisticated and informative exploration of the history, beliefs, tenets, and practices of the second-largest religion in the world.

There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today, yet Islam remains a misunderstood faith. In this day and age, when issues related to Islam are dominating current affairs, The Beliefnet® Guide to Islam takes readers into the heart of this global religion, describing its origins, its links to Judaism and Christianity, and its place and practices in the modern world.

In clear, unbiased language, the authors outline the core beliefs that shape the daily lives of practicing Muslims: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and self-purification (during the period of Ramadan), and the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca). They clarify the differences between the Sunni and the Shia, the two main branches of Islam, shedding light on a topic that has garnered attention during the current crises in Iraq and other parts of the Muslim world. Hassaballa and Helminski also look at the many misinterpretations of basic terms and beliefs that have had a serious impact on the relationship between Muslims and those who practice other religions, explaining such essentials as the meaning of jihad, Islamic teachings on the role of women in society, and much more.

From the premier source of information on religion and spirituality, the Beliefnet® Guides introduce you to the major traditions, leaders, and issues of faith in the world today.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1


    What Is This Religion Called Islam?


    The religion we know as Islam began in Arabia in the sixth century when a man named Muhammad began to experience a series of "revelations," or communications from the Divine. He was a reluctant prophet at first, even fearing that his own sanity was in question, but his beloved wife, Khadija, said, "Muhammad, a man like you doesn't go crazy." Over a period of twenty-three years he would receive periodic guidance from this Divine Source, often in response to the particular needs of his growing community, in a language of great depth and beauty. This revelation is called the Qur'an and it is the foremost inspiration, reference point, and final authority of the religion of Islam. Here is some of what it says about itself:

    God has sent down the best of teaching in a Book fully harmonious with itself, repeating the truth in manifold ways and often repeated in recitation; A Book that causes the skins of all who stand in awe of their Lord to shiver, but in the end their skins and their hearts soften at the remembrance of God. Such is God's guidance. (39:23)

    And We have sent down to you, step by step, this Book, to make all matters clear, and as guidance and grace and good tidings unto all who have submitted themselves to God. God commands justice, the doing of good, and giving to one's relatives; and He forbids all that is shameful and runs counter to reason, in addition to aggression. He exhorts you so that you may bear this in mind. (16:90)

    Surely it is a sublime Book. No falsehood can ever enter it from before nor behind; it is a bestowal from on high by the One who is All-Wise, ever due to Him all praise. (41:41-42)


    It is of great significance that the religion of Islam is founded upon the Qur'an and that all Muslims see this book as the final authority. The Qur'an occupies a position in Islamic civilization similar to the place held by the Constitution within American society. People may debate its meaning and interpret it according to their own views, but finally when they want to establish justice, claim their rights, or justify their actions, they will refer to it. But only a small part of the Qur'an refers to legal or social issues; the greater portion of it is for spiritual guidance.

    The Qur'an is not believed to be the voice of Muhammad, but a voice from beyond the human realm. Yet it is addressed to the essential needs of human beings, reminding them of their essential nature, their moral responsibilities, and of the exquisite grace and guidance that the Divine showers upon humanity. It is also full of warning about the ways in which human beings can harm themselves, each other, their world, and finally their own souls.

    Muhammad had a voice, too, and his pithy and wise sayings were remembered and recorded, eventually becoming a supplementary source of Islamic practice and conduct. And yet the voice of Muhammad remains indistinct from the voice of the Qur'an. Muhammad's character and behavior became a model for all Muslim behavior, and his conduct and manner of worship became the model of Islamic practice and spirituality. In fact this model has remained so powerful and alive that when the great German poet Rilke visited Egypt in 1900, he observed that the memory of Muhammad was so present, it was as if he had died only last week. Here is some of what the Qur'an says about the Prophet Muhammad:


    [He] enjoins upon them [his followers] the doing of what is right and forbids them the doing of what is wrong, and makes lawful to them the good things of life and forbids the bad and impure things, and lifts from them their burdens and the shackles that have...
About the Author-
  • HESHAM A. HASSABALLA is a pulmonary/critical care physician currently practicing in the Chicago area. He is a columnist for Beliefnet.com and the author of "Why I Love the Ten Commandments," published in Taking Back Islam, which won the Religion Communicators Council's 2003 Wilbur Award for Best Religion Book. He lives with his wife and two daughters in suburban Chicago.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 12, 2005
    This short book, one in a series published by the spirituality Web site Beliefnet.com in collaboration with Doubleday, offers a workmanlike and incomplete introduction to Islam. Hassaballa, a practicing physician, and Helminski, a well-known American Sufi whose work includes excellent translations of poetry by Rumi, describe the major principles of Islam, including the Five Pillars and monotheism. Although they provide basic introductory information about Islam, their analysis is dull. Described in the foreword as not "a work of scholarship," the book is offered as part of the dialogue created by the September 11 attacks. But this book's contribution to that dialogue is minimal as the authors trudge through the beliefs of Muslims. For instance, the chapter on hadiths, which are sayings or statements of the Prophet Muhammad that Muslims often turn to when facing dilemmas, is mostly a simple reprint of hadiths, with no accompanying explanation. Indeed, the book can be divided into two parts: lengthy quotations from sacred texts and a loose response to evangelical Christian criticism of Islam. This primer pales in comparison to the many excellent introductions to Islam now available, including Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History
    and John Esposito's What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2006
    Books such as Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and Elaine Pagel's "Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas" have piqued the public's interest in strands of Christianity that have since become extinct. Valantasis's ("Spiritual Guides of the Third Century") concise guide is an accessible primer to such early Christian diversity. It covers Gnostic theology as well as Gnostic sects (e.g., the Sethians, Valentinianas, and Carpocratians) and other gospels and includes a list of recommended reading, a glossary, and two appendixes (the complete text of and an outline of the canon).

    Hassaballa's guide examines the world's second-largest and fastest-growing religion, Islam, which boasts 1.3 billion adherents. Beliefnet.com columnist Hassaballa, a pulmonary/critical care physician practicing in the Chicago area, outlines the cardinal beliefs of practicing Muslims and discusses the differences between the Sunni and Shia branches of the religion. He also addresses hot-button issues and misinterpreted concepts, such as jihad, the role of women, and Islam's relationships with other theistic faiths (namely, Judaism and Christianity). Both Beliefnet guides would make welcome additions to public and academic libraries; collection developers may also be interested in Beliefnet's evangelical Christianity and Kabala guides." -C. Brian Smith, Arlington Heights Memorial Lib., IL"

    Copyright 2006 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2006
    Apologies for Islam are legion since 9/11, and, among them, the new offering in the thus-far excellent Beliefnet series ranks toward the top. Dispensing with the mantra chanting about Islam being a religion of peace that some politicians practice, Hassaballa and Helminski calmly review the religion's famous five pillars of faith; its founder, Muhammad; the Qur'an; the Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad; and Islamic attitudes about freedom, jihad, and the status of women. They emphasize that Islam's holy book is most profitably read when one knows the historical circumstances in which specific " suras" (as its chapters are called) were written as well as the prophetic tradition (basically that of the Jews through and including Jesus) in which Islam's scripture participates and to which it constantly refers. One consults the Hadith, especially the two best-attested collections of them, to interpret and humanize the Qur'an's revelation. Properly informed understanding, the authors conclude, apprehends that Islam condones only defensive violence (which, however, sometimes seems preemptive, too). They make a good basic case for this reading of Islam.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2006, American Library Association.)

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