The teachings of Islam, the religion, was aptly summed up by its founder some eighty days before his death. The following describes the incident, as narrated by the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) close companion and the second caliph of Islam, Umar ibn al-Khattab:
One day we were sitting in the company of God’s Apostle (peace be upon him) when there appeared defore us a man dressed in pure white clothes, his hair extraordinarily black. There were no signs of travel on him. None amongst us recognized him. At last he sat with the Apostle (peace be upon him). He knelt before him placed his palms on his thighs and said: Muhammad, inform me about Islam.
- The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said: Islam implies that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of God, and you establish prayer, pay Zakat, observe the fast of Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the House if you are solvent enough (to bear the expense of) the journey.
- He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth.
- He (Umar ibn al-Khattab) said: It amazed us that he would put the question and then he would himself verify the truth.
- He (the inquirer) said: Inform me about Iman (faith).
- He (the Prophet) replied: That you affirm your faith in God, in His angels, in His Books, in His Apostles, in the Day of Judgment, and you affirm your faith in the Divine Decree about good and evil.
- He (the inquirer) said: You have told the truth. He (the inquirer) again said: Inform me about Ihsan (excellence).
- He (the Prophet) said: That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, for though you don’t see Him, He, verily, sees you.
- He (the enquirer) again said: Inform me about the hour (of Doom). He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: the one questioned about it knows no more than the questioner.
- He (the inquirer) said: Tell me some of its signs.
- He (the Prophet) said: That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress that you will find barefooted, destitute goat-herds vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings.
- He (the narrator, Umar ibn al-Khattab) said: Then he (the inquirer) went on his way but I stayed with him (the Holy Prophet) for a long while.
- He then, said to me: Umar, do you know who this inquirer was?
- I replied: God and His Apostle know best.
He (the Prophet) remarked: He was Gabriel (the angel). He came to you in order to instruct you in matters of religion
The hadith created a lasting typology of Islam’s subject-matter. Islam comprises of “islam”, the practical outward expression of the faith; “iman”, the inward beliefs and “ihsan” a spiritual excellence that animates all aspects of the Muslim experience. The last part of the hadith informs us that Islam is an eschatological faith, and expects that man recognises his earth-bound temporal existence that will ultimately determine his abode in the life to come.