What is Islam?
It is no exaggeration to say that answering this question takes a lifetime of experience and effort. Each person will have their own perspective and understanding. To begin with, then, we present you with one of the most famous hadiths of all, an account of a meeting between the angel Gabriel (or Jibra’eel in Arabic), the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and some of his closest companions.
This hadith was reported by Muslim (one of the foremost compilers of ahadith).
‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (the second Rightly Guided Caliph) reported: One day when we were with God’s messenger, a man with very white clothing and very black hair came to us. No mark of travel was visible on him, and none of us recognized him. Sitting down before the Prophet, leaning his knees against his, and placing his hands on his thighs, the stranger said, “Tell me, Muhammad, about submission [islam ].”
The Prophet replied, “Submission means that you should bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger, that you should perform the ritual prayer, pay the alms tax, fast during Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the Ka’aba if you are able to go there.”
The man said, “You have spoken the truth.” (We were amazed at this man’s questioning the Prophet and then declaring that he had spoken the truth).
The stranger spoke a second time, saying, “Now tell me about faith [iman].”
The Prophet replied, “Faith means that you have faith in God, His angels, His books, His messengers and the Last Day, and that you have faith in the measuring out, both its good and its evil.”
Remarking that the Prophet again had spoken the truth, the stranger then said, “Now tell me about virtue [ihsan ] (that is, about doing what is beautiful).”
The Prophet replied, “Virtue—doing what is beautiful—means that you should worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you.”
Yet again the man said, “Tell me about the Hour (that is, the coming of the Day of Judgment).”
The Prophet replied, “About that he who is questioned knows no more than the questioner.”
The stranger said, “Then tell me about its marks.”
The Prophet replied, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, the naked, the destitute, and the shepherds vying with each other in building.”
At that, the stranger went away.
After I had waited for a long time, the Prophet spoke to me: “Do you know who the questioner was, ‘Umar?” I replied, “God and His messenger know best.” The Prophet said, “He was Gabriel. He came to teach you your religion.”