Doctrines and Philosophy

Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Religious Texts

  • Qur’ān: The Qur’ān is the primary sacred scripture of Islam. The word qur’ān (‘recitation’) is a nominal form of the verb qirā’ah meaning ‘to recite’. This is a reference to the method the text was transmitted. It is believed the text was revealed to the Prophet Muḥammad in Arabic. The text is divided into 114 chapter-units (each chapter is known as a surah). These chapters are classified into the Meccan surahs (received when the Muḥammad resided in Mecca) and Medinan surahs (received after Muḥammad and his followers moved to Medina). The Qur’ān is understood as the divine word of God and the ultimate source of guidance.
  • Ḥadīth: A ḥadīth is a record of the traditions, narratives, actions and sayings of the Prophet Muḥammad. Ḥadīths are considered an authoritative source of revelation after the Qur’ān and serve as a source of biographical material of Muḥammad. Every ḥadīth is accompanied by an extensive list of names (isnād) that show how the text traces back to the word of Muḥammad himself. The isnād (‘chain of narration’) determines the authenticity and reliability of a ḥadīth. An accepted ḥadīth is categorised under ṣaḥīḥ or ḥassan, according to the strength in the isnād. A ḥadīth that is not accepted is classified under the ḍa’īf category. The collective body of authenticated ḥadīth reports is considered to constitute the Sunnah of Muḥammad. 
  • Sunnah: The Sunnah is a compilation of the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muḥammad that have been revealed through authenticated ḥadīths. It is believed to complement the divinely revealed message of the Qur’ān, thus constituting a source for establishing and Islamic law. For many Muslims, Muḥammad serves as the ultimate exemplar of a devout Muslim and his actions as listed in the Sunnah form the body of social practices and customs.

General Beliefs

God (Allāh)

One of the major beliefs in Islam is strict , which refers to the existence of one and only one God (Allāh in Arabic). The concept of ‘unity’ (tawḥīd) captures the fundamental Islamic belief in God’s unity and uniqueness as the creator and one who sustains the universe. There is a strong rejection of (the belief of multiple deities), the association of other beings with God (such as idolatry) and the internal multiplicity of God (such as the Christian notion of the Holy Trinity). The belief in the unity and uniqueness of God comprises the first part of the testimony of faith (shahādah).

The Qur’ān and Sunnah list 99 names which define God’s attributes, such as the Most Compassionate (al-Ra’uf), the Merciful (al-Raḥīm), the Wise (al-Ḥakīm), the Witness (al-Shāhid) and the Most Sublime (al-‘Aliyy). Given the omnipotence and greatness of God, the believer (muslim meaning ‘one who submits’) is to surrender to the will of God. The phrase inshā’Allāh, which means ‘God willing’ or ‘if God wills’, punctuates daily speech and signifies one’s submission and acceptance of God’s will.

The God described in Islam is believed to be the same God revered in the original teachings of Judaism and Christianity. Muslims generally believe that there are no intermediaries between humans and God, thus allowing humans to directly interact with God.

The Message and Messenger of God

Islam emphasises a belief in the message and messenger of God, as embodied in the Qur’ān and the Prophet Muḥammad respectively. The Qur’ān is understood as the eternal spoken word of God. The foremost messenger (rasūl) and prophet (nabiy) of God is Muḥammad, who is believed to have received the Qur’ān over a period of 23 years (from the age of 40 to his passing at the age of 63). The belief in the role of Muḥammad as the messenger of God comprises the second part of the testimony of faith (shahādah).

Angels (Malāk) and Genies (Jinn)

Alongside humans, it is believed there are other kinds of beings. One kind of being is angels (malāk), who usually act as agents of God. They have three special functions: as worshippers of God; as an instrument of God in human affairs (especially in Muḥammad’s life); and as mediators during the final judgement before the Resurrection (al-Ma’ād). Some angels are thought to serve as guardians over humans as well as record keepers of the human’s good and bad deeds. Another kind of being are genies (jinn), who possess reason and responsibility but are more prone to evil than humans.

The Resurrection (al-Ma’ād)

The Resurrection (al-Ma’ād, also known as al-Qiyāmah) refers to the bringing back to life of all human beings for the final judgement of their actions. All the deeds of an individual are thought to be recorded in a book by angels and, on the basis of this record, the person will be either accepted or denied entry into heaven, or condemned to hell. It is thought that a series of events will mark the coming of the resurrection, such as the sun rising from the West.

Imamate (al-Imāmah)

The term al-Imāmah roughly translates as ‘the Imamate’ or ‘the Leadership’. It is a concept found in the Shī‘á tradition of Islam. The term refers to the descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad who are the rightful successors of leadership. In Shī‘á Islam, the line of descent begins with Muḥammad’s son-in-law ‘Alī and his daughter Fāṭimah. In the most followed branch of Shī‘á Islam, the Ithnā-‘ashariy (Twelvers), there are twelve infallible and divinely appointed imāms. The twelfth imām is believed to be living in a spiritual form of existence known as ‘occultation’ and will return at the end of time to restore justice and equity.

Get a downloadable PDF that you can share, print and read.

Guaranteed secure stripe badge

A unified, searchable interface answering your questions on the world's cultures and religions

Sign up for free