Portal: Islamic Doctrine

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There is much in Islamic scripture that is not of direct legal relevance and which can be understood as constituting doctrine. The Arabic word aqeedah, or creed, has generally been understood to encompass a more limited range of ideas than what, to a modern person, would appear as Islamic doctrine. Whereas theologians writing in the 8th-11th centuries may not, for instance, have felt that The Islamic Whale (the cosmic whale below the universe), the literal creation of humans from clay, or even the reality of the Jinn constituted topics of special theological interest, as beliefs in these types of phenomena were commonplace in much (albeit not all) of the world (much as belief in gravity is commonplace today), today, these entities stand out as relatively unique or at least interesting objects of Islamic belief. Indeed, anything mentioned in the Quran and what are considered the authentic and widely narrated (tawaatur) hadiths can be said to be a part of Islamic doctrine, as rejecting any part of scripture is considered an act of kufr, or disbelief. In the view of mainstream Sunni orthodoxy, which until today reads scripture literally (including where physical or metaphysical phenomenon are described), any and every item mentioned in relied-upon scripture can be considered as essential an item of belief as the prophethood of Muhammad or the oneness of God, for to deny any part of what Muhammad or God said is, it is held, to deny them, and thus and act of disbelief. To quote the Quran, "So do you believe in part of the Scripture and disbelieve in part? Then what is the recompense for those who do that among you except disgrace in worldly life; and on the Day of Resurrection they will be sent back to the severest of punishment."[1]


Islam's most defining characteristic is the emphasis it places on strict and unadulterated monotheism, or tawheed. The word Islam itself describes an absolute submission to and obedience of God and his law, as revealed through Muhammad. All tendencies which militate against the unilateral and exclusive power of God have, as a result, proven controversial - be it the obedience of entities lesser than God or even the theological status of the Quran, the challenge of whose 'eternal existence' had to be quelled through inquisition in the early history of Islam. Orthodox Islamic theologians hold God to be omnipotent and omniscient above all else and, as a result, have at times been willing to straightforwardly profess that Allah must be more powerful than he is just.

According to Islam, Allāh is the Creator of the Universe. Allah does not mean 'God' but rather 'the God' and is thus one of the remnants of Islam's pagan origins. In the pre-Islamic era, Allah was the supreme creator god of the Arabs. Yet he was still only one god among the many others they believed in. The goddesses; Allāt (the feminine form of “Allah”, meaning 'the goddess' ), Manāt, and al-‘Uzzá were Allah's daughters. In Islamic theology, Allah is thought of as the same and singular god of the other Abrahamic traditions.
Tawheed (also spelled tawhid) is the Islamic monotheistic concept of god. Although the concept of monotheism is intrinsic to tawheed, tawheed encompasses more than the concept of god simply being one. It also refers to all of the implications of the existence of one god who created the universe and has very specific wishes for his creations. It stands in contrast to shirk, or polytheism, in all of its forms.
Naskh, or abrogation, is the process whereby Allah is said to replace or revise his plans. Previous scriptures, such as those of Jesus and Moses, are said to have been abrogated by the Quran just as the militant Medinan revelations of the Quran are said to have abrogated the mostly theological and moralistic Meccan revelations. Here, Islam stands firmly on one side of Euthyphro's dilemma: God can and does change what is right, rather than being bound by it.
The Islamic tradition holds that while god has very and perhaps infinitely many names, there are 99 special ones. Knowing these 99 in particular is said in Bukhari to guarantee heaven, but a list of these 99 is not forthcoming in scripture, which contain a cumulative 276. These names include everything from Allah (the God), al-Rahim (the Most Merciful), al-Noor (the Light) , and al-Walee (the Friend) to al-Mumeet (the Deadly), al-Qahhar (the Despot), al-Muntaqim (the Revenger), al-Mutakabbir (the Arrogant), and al-Mudhil (the Humiliator)

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Other beings

Islamic scriptures feature a menagerie of metaphysical creatures drawn from a mixture of biblical and non-biblical pre-Islamic sources. This includes the individual angels known to the Abrahamic tradition as well as the various species of Jinns, or genies, believed in by the Arabs of the 7th century. At times, these characters overlap and merge with one another - on most interpretations, the species of Jinn take the place of Abrahamic demons. There is, however, some innovation. Muhammad's personal behavior is elevated, especially by latter Islamic scholars, to the realm of supernatural infallibility, and thus takes on a quasi-metaphysical aspect as Muhammad is conceived of as the Uswa Hasana ("an excellent model") and, even more strongly and evocatively, as the al-Insan al-Kamil ("the perfect human").

In the mainstream theology of Sunni Islam, the Prophet Muhammad is known as al-Insān al-Kāmil (lit. "the perfect human") and uswa hasana (lit. "an excellent model"). This is taken to mean that his conduct in all things, from how he prayed, how he conducted himself in business and in war, his sexual relations with his wives, slaves and concubines, and even how he cleaned himself after defecation and urination is an exemplar and model for all humans to follow at all times, regardless of historical circumstance and independent of culture.
Jinn or, as Romanized more broadly, genies, are said to be supernatural creatures that occupy a parallel world to that of mankind. They are mentioned in the Qur'an, hadith, other Islamic texts and Arab folklore. The Jinn are believed to exist in many sub-species themselves, with some living in the air, others as humans on land, and some like "snakes and dogs". Together, the various jinns, humans and angels make up the three sentient creations of Allah. Like human beings, the jinn can also be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent.
Houris, or heavenly virgins, are a variety of celestial being that, according to Islamic scriptures, serve as a key attraction of Heaven or Jannah (Arabic: جنّة‎ 'Jannah'; plural: Jannat). Houris are mentioned in Qur'anic text as a reward for believing men in the afterlife. According to the Quran, once in Jannah, believers are wed to virgin houris who have "full grown", "swelling" or "pears-shaped" breasts
The Islamic whale (in Arabic الحوت الإسلامي, al-hoot al-islami), is a mythological creature described in Islamic texts that carries the Earth on its back. It is also called Nun (نون), which is also the name of the Arabic letter "n" ن. Two alternative names of the whale are Liwash and Lutiaya. The details behind the mentioning of this creature is a unclear topic. There is little mention of Nun in the Quran, however there is further mention of it in other Islamic scriptures such has Hadith and Tafsir along with context verses.

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Earthly places and relics

While Islam is to some extent unique in the fervor of its iconoclasm, it does not fully abandon the material in its conception of the metaphysical: there are, upon the Earth, locations, structures, landmarks, and objects of divine origin and importance. The cities of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem are the three harams which are considered sacred and protected (the word haram in Arabic refers, at once, to that which is sacred, prohibited, and - most importantly - off-limits). The site of the Ka'bah in Mecca hosts the key relics of Islam: the hajr aswad (said to have descended from heaven and blackened over time), the maqam Ibrahim (said to have carried Abraham as he constructed the Ka'bah with Ishmael), and the Ka'bah itself (said to be the - it is assumed, metaphorical - "house of Allah).

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The Ka'aba (الكعبة, lit. "the Cube") is the holiest mosque in Islam located in Mecca (Muhammad's city of birth) and is figuratively known as the "House of God" (or Bayt Allah, lit. "House of Allah"). Another name for the Ka'aba is Masjid al-Haram, which means "Mosque of the sanctuary", where "the sanctuary" is the name for the part of the city of Mecca that is considered sanctified.
Medina, also known as al-Madinah al-Munawwarah (المدينة المنورة, lit. "the enlightened city") is a city in the Hijaz region of the Arabian peninsula, today ruled by Saudi Arabia. It is considered the second most holy city in Islam, is host to the second most holy mosque in Islam (Masjid al-Nabawi, lit. " the prophetic mosque") and is the burial place of Muhammad. Medina is considered, among other things, plague-proof; this doctrine, found in Bukhari and Muslim, proved controversial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Well of Zamzam (زمزم) is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 20 meters (66 feet) east of the Ka'bah, the holiest place in Islam. The well is 35 meters deep and topped by an elegant dome. Millions of Muslims visit the well each year while performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages, in order to drink its water and, in many cases, to take home some of its water for distribution among friends and relations believing the well and the water which it pumps to be miraculous.
Five times a day Muslims prostrate towards the Ka'aba which houses the black stone (Ruknu l-Aswad). Historians say that the black stone is a baetyl originating from pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism. It is an important part of the hajj pilgrimage, performed primarily because it is mandatory and because Muslims believe their sins will be forgiven thereby. The pilgrims kiss the Ka'bah's eastern cornerstone (the black rock), and if they cannot kiss it, they point to it during circumambulation. The stone is supposed to have come down when Abraham built the Ka'bah and to have turned from white to black as a result of the sins of humans.

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  • Seal of Prophethood
  • Past and future events

    Islam places itself in the midst of the universal history set out in its scriptures and heavily inspired by Abrahamic themes. Mankind was sent down to Earth from Heaven upon the sin of Adam and his wife. Subsequent generations diverged from the message and command of God, despite it being repeatedly reified through prophets who were sent to every human society on the face of the Earth, most of whom were rejected. The age of the prophets and revelation comes to a close with the death of Muhammad, whose message God vows to preserve until the end of time (unlike the previous scriptures, which Islamic scholars hold have been corrupted). This message is the final testament, meant to guide all of mankind henceforth and must be spread through glorious Jihad. The end is ever nigh, and, when it arrives, those who followed the latest messenger will reside thereafter in Heaven, those who didn't, in Hell. The Shi'ite version of this universal history replaces messengers with a number of Imams who are supposed to lead the ummah of believers in the place of messengers after Muhammad.

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    While early Islamic scholars such as Ibn al-Layth, Ibn Rabban, Ibn Qutayba, Al-Ya'qubi, Al-Tabari, Al-Baqillani, Al-Mas'udi, and Al-Bukhari would disagree, today it is a common belief among Muslims that the Qur'an states that the previous scriptures (the Taurat and Injil) have been physically corrupted by those who were charged with safeguarding it (the Jews and Christians). Thus, the Qur'an is the 'return' to the true message of the God of the Bible.
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    Jahannam (جهنم) is the Arabic language equivalent of the word Hell and is used in Islam to refer to the eternal abode of fiery torment, or the specific Islamic conception of Hell. The word 'Jahannam' comes from the Hebrew 'Gehinnom'. Jahannam is the foil to Jannah (Paradise), which is the eternal abode of bliss. Both are said to coexist with the temporal world but will only be occupied by humans after the Day of Judgement. Other names for Jahannam in the Quran include al-Nar (lit. "the fire"), Jaheem (lit. "the blazing fire"), Hutamah (lit. "that which shatters"), Haawiyah (lit. "the abyss").
    Jannah (جنة) is the Arabic word for "garden" and is used in Islam to refer to the eternal abode of bliss, or the specific Islamic conception of Heaven. It is also the place from where Adam and his wife Hawa (Eve) are said to have descended after eating from a tree forbidden to the them (the "tree of immortality"), thus inaugurating human history. Jannah is the foil to Jahannam (Hell), which is the eternal abode of torment. Both are said to coexist with the temporal world but will only be occupied by humans after the Day of Judgement.
    Shi‘ites (or Shi‘is) are adherents of Shi‘ite Islam (also referred to as Shi‘a Islam or Shi‘ism), and make up the second largest sect of Islam with an estimated 10-20% of the total Muslim population worldwide. The historic background of the Sunni–Shi'ite split lies in the schism that occurred when the Islamic prophet Muhammad died in the year 632 AD, leading to a dispute over succession to Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community spread across various parts of the world which led to the Battle of Siffin.

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    Society and human nature

    Beyond the normative, historical, and apocalyptic prescripts they contain, Islamic scriptures have what can only be described as a distinctive Islamic understanding of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. Here, the world is comprised of two fundamentally distinct parties: those who believe and live by the law of God, and those who don't - the latter must variously be transformed into the former, suppressed, or exterminated. The believing, obedient peoples are the members of the Muslim ummah, or nation, which enjoys a global unity. The lands of these people comprise the dar al-Islam, or Abode of Islam - the rest of the Earth, until it can be transformed, is ultimately the dar al-harb, or Abode of War. Tactical and temporary alliances with non-Muslim entities may, however, be permissible. All humans are born upon the fitrah, which is the natural instinct to believe in and obey the Islamic God - children's un-Islamic upbringings, however, numb them to this instinct. Still, they can be called back to their (pre-)natural disposition - this invitation to return is known as Da'wah. This Da'wah can be anything from an intellectual to a military enterprise - Indeed, per a quote from Muhammad recorded in Sahih Bukhari, some people will be dragged to "Paradise in chains".[2] Since true religion cannot follow from compulsion, the Muslim Ummah is tasked only with achieving the extrinsic and perceptible markers of faith and khilafah, or holy empire - persons may be punished or rewarded for what they say, but the true proving grounds of submission are, incontrovertibly, in the heart.

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    Quran 2:256 famously opens, "There is no compulsion in religion". While some modern interpretations have read this verse to contain legislative value, suggesting that the death penalty traditionally prescribed by consensus for apostasy is somehow not applicable. Historically, however, this verse was mostly either read as having been abrogated (for instance, by Ibn Kathir), or read as descriptive rather than legislative - that is, it was understood to simply mean that a person could not be forced to believe (as this is plainly impossible), without commenting on the consequences of their refusal to believe. The scholars who did read this verse as legally prescriptive did not view it as applicable to pagans and apostates.
    Ummah (أمة‎) is an Arabic word meaning "community" or "nation". In Islam the word is used to refer to the collective worldwide body of Muslim believers, including both the Muslim population of Dar al-Islam and the Muslim population of Dar al-Harb who are living outside the lands where Islam rules. The leader of the ummah is known as the is theoretically to be the Caliph, "Amir Al-Mu'minin" or "Commander of the Believers", although no widely-accepted figure has held this position since the fall of the Ottoman caliphate after the end of the World War I.
    Fitrah (فطرة) is a term in Islamic theology which has many interpretations. The most popular interpretation today is that it's a natural human disposition to believe in Islam.
    Da'wah (دعوة‎) literally translates from Arabic to mean "invitation", but is usually used as an Islamic term which refers to Islamic proselytism. Similarly, a Da'ee is someone who "invites" to Islam, or carries out the Islamic proselytization. Da'wah can refer to both "external" and "internal" proselytism, as it is considered equally meritorious in Islam to invite a non-Muslim to Islam as it is to invite a non-practicing Muslim to practice Islam. Some of the biggest Da'wah movements (like the Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan), as a result, focus almost exclusively on spreading Islamic practice among a population that is already Muslim.

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  • Al-Wala' wal-Bara' (Loyalty and Disavowal)
  • Kafir (Infidel)
  • Lesser and Greater Jihad
  • References