MSU | Islam
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Read below for information about Islam and resources for learning more.

What is Islam?

Islam is a purely monotheistic religion that was preached to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the 7th century CE. The Arabic word Islam linguistically means “submission,” because to be a Muslim (follower of Islam) is to submit one’s will to the will of Allah (God). 

The central tenet of Islam is known as Tawhid, or the oneness of God. There are also five pillars of Islam, which every Muslim is required to practice: 

      1. Shahada – Profession of faith, testifying that “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” 
      2. Salat (Prayer) –  Praying five times a day to remember and glorify God. 
      3. Zakat (Alms-giving) – Annually giving a portion of one’s unspent wealth to the poor.
      4. Sawm (Fasting Ramadan) – Refraining from food or drink in the daytime every day during the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting has many benefits, such as developing self-restraint, patience, and empathy for those in less fortunate circumstances than us.
      5. Hajj (Pilgrimage) – Making a religious pilgrimage to Mecca (the holiest city), once in your life, if you have the means (wealth and health) to do so.

Islamic belief shares some similarities with Christianity and Judaism, such as the belief in God, revelation from God, and many of the same prophets. There are also important differences, however, which we elaborate on in the following questions.

What do Muslims Believe?

Belief or faith in Islam is known as iman. Just like there are 5 pillars of practicing Islam, there are 6 pillars of belief or iman:

      1. Belief in Allah
      2. Belief in the Angels of Allah
      3. Belief in the Revealed Scriptures of Allah
      4. Belief in the Messengers of Allah
      5. Belief in the Day of Judgement
      6. Belief in Al Qadr (predestination)

Who is Allah?

Allah is the name of God in Islam, who is uniquely One, and is the omnipotent, omniscient, most Merciful, Creator of the Earth and Heavens. There are 99 names of Allah that describe his attributes: It is important for Muslims to learn these names and reflect upon them.

Who was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)?

Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a righteous man who lived in 7th-century Arabia (Mecca and Medina). He is the final prophet and messenger of God (known as the seal of the prophets) in a long chain of prophets that includes Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Adam, peace be upon them all. Muhammad (PBUH) was sent to preach the same message of Tawhid, the oneness of God, as all the prophets before him. The prophets themselves are human, not gods or relatives of God; the only God is Allah (SWT) and we do not associate any partners to Him.

What is unique about Muhammad (PBUH), in addition to being the final messenger, is that he was sent as a guidance to all of humanity for the rest of our time on Earth, which includes you! To learn more about the Prophet’s life, character, and teachings, please refer to our resources section below.

What is the Quran?

The Quran is the verbatim, true word of Allah, revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel over the course of 23 years (610-632 AD). It is the final revelation from Allah, affirming previous scriptures, such as the Torah of Moses and Gospel of Jesus. However, the previous books were changed by humans, and thus the Quran is the only perfectly preserved revelation from God that we have today. The Quran is the most authoritative source of Islamic knowledge, including matters of creed, law, and spirituality.


The Quran was revealed in the Arabic language, and it has been meticulously preserved in this form to fully preserve the meaning. Any translation of the Quran necessarily loses some of the original meaning, and thus, it is not considered to be the “Quran” itself, but a mere translation of it. However, it is beneficial for non-Arabic speakers to read a translation of the Quran in a language they know, in order to access as much of the meaning as possible.


Check out our resources section below for good English translations of the Quran!

What is the Sunnah? What is Hadith?

The Sunnah is the traditions and customs of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), including things he said, did, or agreed to. The prophet was the perfect human being, and so Muslims follow him as a role model in all aspects of life.


The Sunnah is recorded in hadiths which were recorded and meticulously preserved by the Prophet’s companions and Muslim scholars throughout the centuries. Unlike the Quran, the hadiths are the words of the Prophet, not the words of Allah, although it is important to know that the Prophet never said something unless it was in agreement with what Allah had revealed to him.

The hadiths are compiled in books, the most authoritative of which are Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim (check resources section for more info). After the Quran, the hadiths are the most authoritative source of Islamic knowledge.

What is the Purpose of Life? Why Follow Islam?

Allah says in the Holy Quran, “I did not create jinn and humans except to worship Me” (Quran [51:56]). 


Our purpose in this life is to worship the one true God, to submit our will to His, and to seek his love and reward in both this life and the afterlife. Muslims do not believe that the existence of humans or of the universe happened by accident, but rather that we were intentionally put here by the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, and that our lives are meaningful and successful in so far as we fulfill the purpose He gave us. 

Worship in Islam is very comprehensive, however. It includes the very important ritual acts of prayer and fasting, but it also encompasses anything that God has commanded humans to do. Seeking knowledge, supporting your family and community, and even smiling in the face of your brother/sister all count as good deeds of worship, provided that you have the right intention in your heart.

Seen this way, Islam is not meant to be just a ritual act that you perform privately at home, but a holistic way of life. Every belief and value you hold or action you take can be informed by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

In one of the last verses of the Quran to be revealed, Allah (SWT) says, “Today I have completed your religion for you, perfected My favor upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion” [5:3]. Thus, Muslims follow Islam, because they believe it is the true and complete religion from God, given to us as a favor and guidance to follow.

How many Muslims are there in the World?

According to a Pew Research Center estimate in 2015, roughly 24% of the global population is Muslim, and Islam is the world’s fastest-growing major religion. While Islam began in Mecca and Medina (in modern-day Saudi Arabia), within a century it had spread all the way to Spain in the West and India in the East. The Muslim-majority countries are primarily located in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, but there are significant native and diasporic communities all around the world, including in China, Europe, Australia, and the Americas. 

Muslims, regardless of ethnic background, are part of the same Ummah, or community, bound together by the ties of religion. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever” (Source: Sahih al-Bukhari 5665, Sahih Muslim 2586).

How many Muslims are there in the U.S.? At Stanford?

According to Pew Research Center, “there were about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the U.S. in 2017…about 1.1% of the total U.S. population.” The Muslim community in the U.S. is also verse diverse, including (but not limited to) African American Muslims, who have the longest history of representing American Islam, as well as Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrant Muslim populations. At Stanford, we are blessed to have Muslims from all over the world, including international and domestic students with diverse backgrounds.

Dispelling Misconceptions

      1. Race/ethnicity/nationality/tribe – All of these things do not matter for our salvation or spirituality in Islam, because the only thing that Allah judges us on is our faith and actions. Islam unifies people of all races and tribes into one Ummah (community) that supersedes all other identities.
      2. Terrorists/extremists – Islam is a peaceful religion. All but one chapter in the Qur’an begins with “in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.” Mercy is preached in every aspect and unjustified violence is against the core pricipals of Islam. “Jihad” is an Arabic word that translates to “struggle.” This can manifest in an internal struggle with one’s self to do good or, in a societal context, against oppression. Killing innocent civilians is not condoned at all and any individuals who engage in terrorism reject the fundamental teachings of Islam.
      3. Women – Women are honored, NOT oppressed. Islam honors them as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and aunts. In pre-Islamic Arabia, women had very little rights and Islam came with protections for them and improved their status. There are some misogynistic elements within the Muslim (and entire) world, however, these are due to cultural and political factors, not to Islam as a religion.
      4. Hijab – The hijab is worn for the sake of Allah. A woman’s beauty is not for men; women are not objectified or sexualized in Islam. Modesty is a virtuous trait in Islam and that is what the hijab represents.
      5. Education – Islam is very pro-education and study of knowledge. Islamic intellectual history is rich with progress in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, poetry, and literature among other fields. The Quran contains the Arabic word for knowledge – ilm – and its derivatives hundreds of times, and constantly tells humans to reason, reflect, and ponder about themselves and the universe around them.
      6. Conversions/Dawah – Conversions to Islam are NOT forced. A conversion is only valid if it is intentional and informed. Everyone is accountable for their own actions and choices.

Meet a Muslim at Stanford:

Are there Muslims I can talk to?

Yes! The Muslim Student Union at Stanford has put together a list of Muslim students who would love to talk about Islam and answer questions you may have. However, a couple of important disclaimers:

1.  None of the students listed are Islamic scholars, and thus, are not trained in or deeply knowledgeable about the Islamic sciences. For serious religious questions, we refer you to Dr. Amina Darwish and Dr. Rania Awaad, our chaplain and chaplain affiliate. The students are primarily here to share their perspectives and refer you to other resources.

2. The Muslim world is very diverse and spans many countries, ethnic groups, languages, and backgrounds. It’s impossible for one Muslim to represent all of Islam and Muslims on their own. We encourage you to talk to multiple people to get different perspectives, and consider attending MSU events to learn more about the community.

[Muslim Students]

Can anyone be Muslim? How do I convert?

Yes, anyone can become a Muslim! There is no class, ethnic, racial, or gender barrier in accepting Islam. In order to become Muslim, one must only accept in their heart the shahada (the first pillar of Islam), and testify that “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” It’s that simple!


If you want to speak to someone about converting, we refer you to Dr. Amina Darwish, our chaplain at Stanford:


Coming soon inshaAllah…