The Essence and Prominent Characteristics of Islam
Islam has a distinct essence and prominent characteristics that are crucial for us to fully benefit from the religion. This faith has not reached us through the world’s scholars and philosophers; rather, it is a revelation from Allah Almighty, delivered to us through prophets who received divine revelations. It has reached its completion in the form of the last Prophet, Hazrat Muhammad (ﷺ), who was the bearer of Allah’s final message. It is essential for us to make a sincere effort to understand the essence and characteristics of Islam correctly so that we can practice it in the right manner. Below, the unique essence and characteristics of Islam are mentioned.
Islam: A Complete Religion
One of the distinctive features of Islam is its completeness, meaning that the religion has reached its perfection. Its continuity, i.e., it will remain in its correct form from its inception until the Day of Judgment, is another unique characteristic. It has been declared by Allah Almighty that belief, law, and everything necessary for happiness in this world and salvation in the Hereafter have been fully provided for. The complete teachings have been imparted, and now this religion is equipped with all the capabilities to fulfill all human needs and requirements and to endure forever. This proclamation is clearly stated in the Quran:
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلْمَيْتَةُ وَٱلدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ ٱلْخِنزِيرِ وَمَآ أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ ٱللَّهِ بِهِۦ وَٱلْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَٱلْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَٱلْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَٱلنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَآ أَكَلَ ٱلسَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى ٱلنُّصُبِ وَأَن تَسْتَقْسِمُوا۟ بِٱلْأَزْلَـٰمِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ ۗ ٱلْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَٱخْشَوْنِ ۚ ٱلْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ ٱلْإِسْلَـٰمَ دِينًۭا ۚ فَمَنِ ٱضْطُرَّ فِى مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍۢ لِّإِثْمٍۢ ۙ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌۭ رَّحِيمٌۭ ٣
Prohibited for you are: carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, and those upon which (a name) other than that of Allah has been invoked (at the time of slaughter), animal killed by strangulation, or killed by a blow, or by a fall, or by goring, or that which is eaten by a beast unless you have properly slaughtered it; and that which has been slaughtered before the idols, and that you determine shares through the arrows. (All of) this is sin. Today those who disbelieve have lost all hope of (damaging) your faith. So, do not fear them, and fear Me. Today, I have perfected your religion for you, and have completed My blessing upon you, and chosen Islam as Dīn (religion and a way of life) for you. But whoever is compelled by extreme hunger, having no inclination towards sin, then Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful. (5:3)
This announcement signifies that Hazrat Muhammad (ﷺ) is the Seal of the Prophets, and Islam is the final and complete religion. After this clear declaration, humanity is safeguarded from the danger of anyone making a false claim to prophethood or introducing a new law.
The Preservation and Perpetuity of Islam
Another characteristic of Islam is that it remains preserved in its true form, original essence, and freshness. Its book, the Quran, is safeguarded and is easily understandable in every era. Its followers (Muslims) are protected from common misguidance, ignorance, and social deviation from the religion. In contrast, in other religions, at some point in their history, and particularly in the case of Christianity, followers strayed from the original teachings.
The primary source of Islam, the Holy Quran, is under the direct protection of Allah Almighty, and its complete preservation is ensured in such a way that not only the words and recitation methods but also their meanings and practical application in life are all within the circle of Allah’s protection. The complete preservation of the Quran implies that its words, meanings, and messages, as well as the correct ways to implement them in one’s life, will always remain safeguarded.
The Prophetic Model for Practicing Islam
Since Islam is a living and practical religion, not a mere philosophy, it requires an appropriate environment and framework, along with a practical model, to understand it correctly and to incorporate it into one’s life. This environment and framework, along with a practical model, should provide intellectual guidance as well as a practical example for every individual, in every era, and at every juncture of life. It should encompass belief and practical conduct, emotions and sentiments, as well as aesthetics.
For the religion, this conducive environment and framework, along with a practical model, are provided by the guidance and teachings of the Prophet of Allah (ﷺ). His blessed way of life and traditions offer the Muslim community a comprehensive understanding of the faith, its ethics, values, emotions, and aesthetics. This environment and framework, along with a practical model, surround every aspect of life, and the traditions of the Prophet serve as a source of guidance and direction for the Muslim community. Through these traditions, the concept of a virtuous life (Hayat Tayyibah) is made accessible to the Muslim community.
Collections of Hadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet) have always served as a beacon of correct Islamic thought within the Muslim community. They enable scholars to differentiate between what is right and wrong, what constitutes Sunnah (the Prophet’s tradition) and Bid’ah (innovation), and with their help, the community can strive for reform whenever there is a decline in knowledge and awareness of the Prophetic traditions. Whenever there was a gap in understanding and knowledge of the traditions and Sunnah, Muslim society became susceptible to innovations, ignorance, and non-Islamic influences.
This is the unique essence, distinguishing characteristics, and prominent features of Islam that set it apart from other religions and philosophies. Through these, we can remain steadfast on the path of the religion in every era and achieve the blessings and success of serving and safeguarding it.