Learning the absolute essentials about Islam

Working in the field of interreligious dialogue, it is imperative to learn about and understand the beliefs and practices of another’s religion. Throughout 2023, Kim Chong, staff member of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Sydney, undertook a free online course in the essentials of Islam. Below is Kim’s report of her studies.

The Seekers Academy offer free online comprehensive courses on Islam for the public.

The Seekers Academy offer free online comprehensive courses on Islam for the public.

During 2023, I participated in a free online course with Seekers Guidance: The Global Islamic Academy. The Islamic Studies Curriculum provides a systematic five-level program for students to learn the essential teachings and practices of Islam. It is taught by qualified scholars.

I began at the beginning, with the course ‘Absolute Essentials of Islam (Hanafi): Getting Started with Your Belief and Practice’. It is taught according to the Hanafi school, the oldest of the four traditional major Sunni schools of Islamic Law. It consists of 12 modules, authored and taught by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, a Pakistani-Canadian Islamic scholar. The modules each consisted of video and audio recordings of Shaykh Faraz teaching the course and a PDF of slides which you can print and write notes. At the end of the module, I would take a quiz to proceed to the next module. The course materials were clear and consistent and covered the basic guidance of Islam in its three dimensions:

(1)    beliefs (iman) – how to have sound belief in Allah, His Prophets, and the Hereafter;

(2)    submission (Islam) – how to make your purification and prayer valid, sound, and proper; and

(3) spiritual excellence (ihsan) – looking at key sins and vices to avoid and key virtuous actions and traits to uphold in seeking closeness to Allah.

Each section begins with verses of the Qur’an. Shaykh Faraz then unpacks the verses by explaining their essential attributes. He couples these explanations with basic and obligatory acts for living out these attributes. For instance, drawing on Qur’an 2:285, Shaykh Faraz explains the essential attributes of “belief in Allah”. These attributes, for example, are understanding Allah as “Being”, “Creator”, “Sustainer”, “Oneness”, “Life”, and more. Declaring one’s faith, the first of five pillars of Islam, is to return to this belief. Further to this is faith in the remaining articles of belief – the angels, books, messengers, the last day, and destiny.

Following ‘beliefs’, the modules continue in this format, providing detailed explanations and practical accounts on the following essentials of Islam:

  • Rulings of the Sacred Law, a list of eight rulings that Muslims action in the name of moral responsibility;
  • Purification (tahara), a detailed account of the obligatory actions of ritual bathing and ablution (wudu) a Muslim must undergo before prayer, such as “washing the entire face, from the top of the forehead to the bottom of the chin in length and from earlobe to earlobe”;
  • The Prayer (salat), which covers essential practices, namely Conditions for Prayer, such as ritual purity; The Integrals (arkan) of the Prayer – standing, reciting, bowing; The Necessary (wajib) Actions of the Prayer, such as reciting the opening sura of the Qur’an; Performing the Prayer, and then a 23-step Description of the Prayer. This section ends with Actions Disliked (makruh) in the Prayer, such as omitting a necessary action, and Actions that Invalidate the Prayer, such as excessive movement.
  • The Path to Salvation, a guide to live morally responsible lives, such as “giving in charity to the needy, especially those who are without food”, “keeping one’s promises” and “being good to one’s parents and relatives”.

The text that accompanied the course, of the same title, also offers an Appendix of selected prayers and “Dealing with Doubts and Misgivings”.

The course was generous in its comprehensiveness and access to resources, if not a little overwhelming in its detail! Nonetheless, such detail has provided me with deep insight into Muslims’ conditions of belief, ritual, prayer, and spirituality. I have gained a greater appreciation of how serious and meaningful their rituals are in taking them deep into their spiritual relationship with God during prayer and in their everyday lives. I can now continue the work of interreligious dialogue with greater knowledge of the Muslims I meet, allowing for greater clarity in their faith and lives, and thereby better dialogue and better relations.  

Kim Chong is the Media & Community Liaison at the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations in Sydney.

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Ten things everyone needs to know about Islam

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This 36-page booklet (A5) provides an excellent introduction to Islam for schools, parishes, homes and offices. Written by John L. Esposito. 

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