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What, if anything, is fundamentally unique about Islam? Obviously there are different stories, texts, and traditions associated with Islam than with other religions. But if we cut away all the fluff from all the world religions... Is there anything that stands out as unique about the core of Islam?

To clarify what I'm asking:

  • Many religions have prophets that claim to speak on behalf of god(s).
  • Many religions have scriptures, often claimed to be inspired by their god(s).
  • Many religions report miracles, or other supernatural phenomena.
  • Many religions claim to be the only "true" religion.
  • Many religions claim to offer forgiveness of sin.
  • Many religions claim to be historically based and accurate.
  • Many religions claim to improve society.

If Islam just has a "better version" of all of these points, it sounds like Islam is fundamentally the same as most/all other religions, it's just "more completely evolved," so to speak. So what I'm asking for is any characteristics of Islam that are fundamentally unique and important, and not just improvements on existing ideas.

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I think there's an assumption being made in the question - that Islam claims to be unique. In fact the Qur'an clearly says that the message is that same as that of previous nations. Some of the details of the law are different, but in essence the message is the same. –  Ansari Jul 13 '12 at 21:47
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@Ansari: On some level, every religion claims to be unique--else it wouldn't be a different religion. :) But of course, the question is asking for something substantial and fundamental that is unique; and it may well be that Islam makes no such claims. If that be the case, then the answer to "What, if anything, is fundamentally unique?" may well be "nothing." And that would make for a perfectly valid answer. –  Flimzy Jul 15 '12 at 5:06
    
I get what you're saying. I might write up a more substantial answer later. There are definitely a few things that separate the Islamic system from other systems, but this is a result of later development, not the theology itself. One example is the intricacy and sophistication of Islamic law and jurisprudence. Then there are basic principles in economics and politics that make the resultant systems very different from one developed from Judeo-Christian or European principles. And finally, Ghasan below makes a good point about our viewing this not as better/worse but as true/false. –  Ansari Jul 15 '12 at 5:43
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BTW, I asked essentially this same question of Christianity a while ago, too. I don't want anyone to think I'm picking on Islam. :) What is unique about Christianity? –  Flimzy Jul 19 '12 at 16:48

11 Answers 11

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Here is a short summery of the answer:

Islam is not significantly different from the previous Abrahamic religions in their original forms. However there are important differences between Islam and the current practices of these religions (Judaism/Christianity). The objections made against the followers of Judaism/Christianity are mainly because of them not following their original convent with God. It confirms them, states the main divergences, and updates the sacred laws. Some differences in perspective between them are:

  • Islam emphasizes a very strong form of monotheism where God is the center of everything and there is no other (independent) force. This in addition to the fact that humans should submit to his will is the core of Islam (and where the name "Islam" comes from).

  • Spirituality and sacred laws are both important for Islam and in a sense Islam falls in the middle of the range between Judaism (focuses on following complicated external religious laws and has less focus on soul/spirituality) and Christianity (focuses on soul/spirituality and has less focus on following the sacred rules). The goal is to obtain growth and both "iman" and "good deeds" are required for this, neither is sufficient alone. Also both personal and social aspects are important in Islam.

  • There the story of creation is significantly different from the one in the Old Testament/Tanakh. This gives a different perspective regarding why God created humans and what they should do in this world.

  • Islam encourages thinking and understanding. "Iman" (which is often translated to "belief" in English) comes through knowledge. The opposite of "Iman" is "Kufr" (covering/hiding truth). Covering/hiding/rejecting truth (when one is aware of it) is the biggest "zulm" (i.e. injustice, cruelty). "Zulm" and "Kufr" are the central negative attributes in Quran (similar to "evil" in Judeo-Christian literature).

Regarding non-Abrahamic religions, they are typically not monotheist, and any religion which is not monotheist is strongly inconsistent with Islam's core beliefs. According to Quran, anyone who does not submit to the will of God will follow other false patrons, consciously or unconsciously, and following false patrons will lead to astray from the right path towards the "light" and the "growth".


From Quran's view, the core beliefs (there is one and only one God, there will be a judgment day, there are prophets sent by God, ...) and core required actions (Salah, Zakat, Sawm, Hajj, ...) in Islam are similar to those of previous Abrahamic religions. Quran invites them to accept Islam which is better.

The objection made regarding the followers of the previous Abrahamic religions like Jews and Christians are mainly about them not following God's orders and breaking their convent with him, e.g. Christians considering Jesus (PBUH) as God and not following the scared laws (following Paul's teachings), Jews rejecting God's prophets like Jesus and killing them, etc.

The second suras of Quran talks with them and asks them to return, e.g. in verse 2:40 and several other places Quran tells the Israelities (i.e. the children of Israel):

يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَوْفُوا بِعَهْدِي أُوفِ بِعَهْدِكُمْ وَإِيَّايَ فَارْهَبُونِ

O children of Israel, remember the favor which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill your covenant with me and I will fulfill my covenant with you, and [only] me you [must] fear.

(This covenant, according to Quran, includes believing and accepting the prophets that God sends including Jesus and Mohammad (PBUT).)

Islam is considered as the continuation of these religions (and the final one), it is not expected to have significant difference in its teachings from the original version of previous Abrahamic religions. The intention is to confirm them, correct the mistakes that have become part of them, and update the sacred laws.

The concept of "tawhid"(i.e. a strong form of "monotheism") is very central to Islam and it's the concept in Quran that everything follows around. Everything is viewed from this perspective, there is no (independent) power in the world besides God. Clouds move by his will, rain drops by his will, trees grow by his will, birth, death, ... there is no concept of natural forces causing things to happen, everything that many people today attribute to nature/laws of physics are attributed to God. Some may say that one cannot understand Islam unless one understands this concept of the centrality of God for everything and when I am saying everything I really mean everything, and there is no other (independent) power. God is the creator of everything.

God in Quran is completely abstract and beyond human knowledge (verse 5:116), he is not like anything (verse 42:11), it is forbidden to liken God to anything, it often looks more similar to an intelligent abstract force governing everything than the person-like figure in Judaism/Christianity. At the same time, God has objectives and actively effects all events, he is not a non-participating passive force. A famous verse about God is verse 2:255 which might shed some light on Quran's perspective:

اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ ۚ لَا تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلَا نَوْمٌ ۚ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الْأَرْضِ ۗ مَن ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِندَهُ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِهِ ۚ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ ۖ وَلَا يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلَّا بِمَا شَاءَ ۚ وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ ۖ وَلَا يَئُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ

God, whom there is no god but him, the living, the self-subsisting [eternal]. The slumber does not seize him nor sleep. His are everything in the skies and on the earth. Who is there who can intercede in his presence except as he permitted? He knows what is in front of them and what is behind them, and they don't compass anything from his knowledge except as he wills. His throne extends the skies and the earth, and he felt no fatigue in guarding [preserving] them, and he is the most high, the supreme.

لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

There is no compulsion in [accepting] the religion, the growth has been clarified from the obliquity, whoever rejects the despot[s] and believes in God has grasped the trustworthy hand-hold, there will be no break for it. And God all-hearing and all-knowing.

اللَّهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا يُخْرِجُهُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ ۖ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَوْلِيَاؤُهُمُ الطَّاغُوتُ يُخْرِجُونَهُم مِّنَ النُّورِ إِلَى الظُّلُمَاتِ ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ

God is the guardian [patron] of those who believed, he brings them out from the darknesses towards the light; and those who disbelieve, their guardians [patrons] are the despot[s], bring them out from the light towards the darknesses, they will be the companions of the fire, they will dwell therein [forever].

God has many names, and understanding these names is the way to know about God. This also brings us to another major difference with Judaism/Christianity. From Quran's perspective, everything in the universe worships God, sun, moon, birds, etc. The reason that humans were created was because humans are capable of knowing the names, all of the names, and this gives them the ability to worship God in a way that even Angels were incapable of. The story of creation of Adam (like verses 2:30-39, 7:11-25, 17:61-65, and 20:115-124) is significantly different from the one in Old Testament/Torah.

According to Quran, God intended form the start for Adam be sent to earth, even before his creation. The story starts by God telling the angles that he is going to put a "khalifa" (i.e. "vicegerent") on earth. They object to this by stating the shortcoming of such a vicegerent and pointing out the fact that they do worship God already. God replies that he knows what they don't know and the story follows by God creating Adam and demonstrating to the Angles that Adam is capable of knowing all of the names while they are not. God orders all angles to "Sajdah" to Adam all do so but Satan who refuses to do so, claiming to be better than Adam. For this reason God expels Satan and the animosity of Satan towards Adam and his children starts. Then Satan causes Adam and Eve to eat from the tree and they are expelled also, but unlike Satan, Adam asks for forgiveness from God and God forgives him, so the original sin of Adam is already forgiven by God (unlike the Christian version of described by Paul where the original sin is significant to their narrative about Jesus).

The story of creation is important for the reason that it gives a perspective about why humans were created and what was the goal. Also the role of Satan and what he can do (he doesn't have any control on humans, Satan's major ability is tempting humans to do wrong and he is skillful at it), unlike Christianity where Satan is considered a very powerful figure. The Christian narrative puts much more emphasis on Jesus (PBUH) and Satan and God is a less important actor in the events.

Another central concept in Quran is "Iman" which is often translated to as "belief" but has a more delicate meaning. Its converse is called "Kufr" which literally means "covering [truth]". Acknowledging truth when it is presented to someone and not covering it is very important from Quran's perspective. Therefore, unlike Christianity (which following Paul's teachings considers faith and belief alone as sufficient and the main force), in Islam "iman" which comes through knowledge (in Quran's sense) takes the center role, thinking about the universe and trying to understand and see the signs of God in everything is encouraged ("iman" comes from understanding and is not in conflict with it). But this is not considered sufficient, one has to walk towards God (by acting), to become "enlightened" and able to "see". If a person knowingly covers or rejects a truth, it will cause problems for their "heart". A person who doesn't have knowledge about something should neither accept (verse 17:36) nor reject it. Saying things that one does not know is criticized.

In a sense, one can say that Islam falls in the middle ground between Judaism and Christianity (as verse 2:143 seems to suggest). The spirituality is important but actions and following sacred religious rules are also important. In Quran, when describing those who will eventually "prosper", the word "iman" always comes with "good deed".

The oneness of God and the submission of humans to his will are the major themes of Islam and the reason it is called so, i.e. "[complete] submission [to the will of God]".

If you want to have a deeper understanding of the central concepts of Quran, I think having a look at Toshihiko Izutsu's books, particularly "Ethico-religious concepts in the Quran" and "God and man in the Quran" can be helpful.

Regarding other (non-Abrahamic) religions, obviously there are major differences. Most don't even believe in monotheism and believe in independent forces in the universe besides God, and that would already make them strongly inconsistent with Islam. From Quran's perspective, this is the most important truth a human should know, and the "heart" of anyone who doesn't understand and "see" this truth has severe problems.


A few unique facts about Islam:

  • The main miracle of the prophet was Quran, a book. Therefore it is timeless and accessible to people centuries after the time of the prophet (unlike other miracles where one needed to be present at the time/place to see them),

  • Muslims consider Quran to be the word of God, each word and sentence is chosen by God himself, so in a sense it is God speaking with people directly.

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I have accepted this answer, because it seems to do the best job of describing what seems to be the consensus among the comments: Islam doesn't set out to be unique, just more complete than the religions that preceded it. –  Flimzy Jul 19 '12 at 16:47
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@Flimzy, yes, it views itself as the continuation of the previous Abrahamic religions. Also trying to fix the major mistakes that have entered their beliefs and traditions (not present in the original versions of them as thought by their prophets, but created by their followers over time). –  Kaveh Jul 20 '12 at 4:47

The primary difference is the shahada, or testification of faith: "Laa ilaaha illa Allah, Muhammadun rasulullah." This translates (coarsely) to "there is no ilaah except Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger."

TLDR: The great companion, Rib'ee ibn Amir, enshrined our mission statement quite well:

Allah has sent us to deliver whomsoever chooses:

  • from the worship of men to the worship of Allah,
  • from the narrowness of this world to the vastness of this world and the Hereafter,
  • from the tyranny and oppression of (false) religions to the justice of Islam.

The main points are worship and ilah. I will explain these now. Linguistically, ilaah means any object that you worship. This can include people, objects, concepts, (false) gods, or Allah almighty.

The main concept is that worship is an all-encompassing idea in Islam. Islam is a deen, which means a comprehensive and complete way of life; everything from the way you sleep and eat to political policy at a state level:

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Say, "Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah , Lord of the worlds. (Surah An'aam, verse 162)

Islam differed from other religions in this. Islamically, passing a law on what is permissible and not permissible is worship. Praying to anyone for supernatural aid is worship. Sacrificing in the name of anyone is worship. And Islam limits this to only Allah; not anyone else, not even Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

And if Muhammad had made up about Us some [false] sayings, We would have seized him by the right hand; Then We would have cut from him the aorta. (Surah Haqqah, verses 44-46)

As supporting evidence, consider this hadith of rasulullah:

Imam Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Jarir At-Tabari recorded a Hadith via several chains of narration, from `Adi bin Hatim r.a., who was a Christian during the time of Jahiliyya … The Messenger of Allah recited this Ayah:

اتَّخَذُواْ أَحْبَـرَهُمْ وَرُهْبَـنَهُمْ أَرْبَاباً مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ

(They took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah). `Adi commented, "I said, 'They did not worship them.'" The Prophet said: "Yes they did. They (rabbis and monks) prohibited the allowed for them (Christians and Jews) and allowed the prohibited, and they obeyed them. This is how they worshipped them." (Musnan Ibn Ahmad)

This is really the crux of the message of Islam, and what distinguishes it from other religions.

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Thanks for the answer. This clearly distinguishes Islam from new-age type religions, or polytheist religions. But Islam isn't the only religion that identifies a single God, and says no one/nothing else should be worshiped. Is there a fundamental difference about Islam on this level, or is Islam simply the most complete/least corrupt in this area? –  Flimzy Jul 13 '12 at 19:03
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I would challenge your assumption that it's not the only religion that says God alone should be worshipped. Considering the Islamic definition of worship, nobody else does what we do. All –  ashes999 Jul 13 '12 at 19:17
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Maybe you need to expand on your definition of worship. "Praying to anyone for supernatural aid is worship. Sacrificing in the name of anyone is worship. And Islam limits this to only Allah; not anyone else, not even Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him." -- Both Christianity and Judaism would agree with this statement (exception: Some Catholics pray to saints, but this is not universally accepted), if 'Islam' were replaced with 'Christianity' and 'Judaism' respectively, and if 'Prophet Muhammad' was replaced with the name of any other prophet the respective religion recognizes. –  Flimzy Jul 13 '12 at 21:12
    
Sure, that sounds like a good idea... I'll try to remember to come to the chat room on Monday. Thanks :) –  Flimzy Jul 13 '12 at 21:38

Unfortunately the word 'Deen' in Arabic which Islam says it is, doesn't have a direct translation in English. Therefore it roughly translates to 'Religion' in English. Although Islam rests on 5 pillars(You can read more about this anywhere, but since you question is in a different scope I will try to address that).

Islam isn't just a religion (A set of beliefs and faith) its a total way of life. The prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) taught not just religion but nearly every aspect of life. Starting from birth to death. There are etiquette of walking, sleeping, eating, drinking, behaving with parents, marriage, wars, charity, business, writing, learning etc. The list is endless. There are also laws, codified which are believed to be divine. In other words there is nothing on the face of earth that Islam doesn't teach you to deal with. For example one companion of the prophet is believed to have narrated the following.

Abû Dharr al-Ghifârî, narrated:

Muhammad (peace be upon him) had left us in the following state: that there was not even a bird in the sky flapping its wings without his having already imparted to us knowledge about it.

Islam is a new civilization, a total way life which touches a persons every aspect of life. But Islam believes that Allah sent prophets and messengers who taught the same path of monotheism and same fundamental beliefs of Islam, the only variation being the way of life different from time to time based on comfort of people at that time. Therefore all the prophets of Jews and Christians, are prophets in Islam too. Except that Muslims believe their message was lost or went corrupted.

This is in huge contrast with Christianity. Please note Christians don't have their laws of their own. The old or new testament doesn't have laws, but only guidelines on faith. Similarly Jews don't have a codified divine law, but torah is basically a work of humans over years.

Therefore it's wrong to look at Islam as a religion and trying to understand it from that perspective and will not give you an accurate picture. The best example is Prophet Muhammad's immediate companions and their lives and how it changed after Islam. You will see that nearly everything changed about a whole nation.

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+1 For explaining difference between religion and deen –  Hasan Khan Jul 13 '12 at 13:11
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Jewish tradition does state that the Torah was written or dictated directly by God, letter-for-letter. However, not every Jew believes this, and it's not considered a central feature of the religion, whereas Islam seems to put a much higher importance on the divine origin of its scripture. –  octern Jul 13 '12 at 18:42
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Christianity and Judaism are full of laws. Especially in the old testament. The first five books of the Jewish scripture (aka Christian Old Testament) are called "The Law" (or "The Law of Moses"). The New Testament also has many "laws." Furthermore, I know most Christians believe that Christianity dictates how one should live their entire life, not just their "religion." What little I know of Judaism would suggest that most Jews feel the same way about their religion, too. I'm not seeing this as a fundamental difference... or hardly even a difference at all. What piece am I missing? –  Flimzy Jul 13 '12 at 19:09
    
strict Judaism is not very far away in terms of how it guides daily life. It could perhaps be argued that Buddhism comes pretty close in terms of being an overall pervasive life philosophy; although of course it is much less rigid/prescriptive than Islam. –  Marc Gravell Jul 18 '12 at 9:54
    
@MarcGravell. Some forms of Buddhism are pretty prescriptive, specially for the monks. –  TRiG Dec 14 '12 at 18:18

Islam is the final religion and the most complete religion.

there is no prophet after Muhammad PBUH

each religion was usable only for its own time. but Islam is for all times.

Islam did not left anything about life of human talks about every aspect of human life including very detailed aspects as well as politics, education, sleep, eating, food, marriage, etc.

all past religions (in their original form and not deviated form) were a non-complete version of Islam.

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The almost unique feature of Islam is "Tawhid" or "strict monotheism". This is also the most important concept of Islamic faith. I said "almost" because comparable level of strictness on monotheism can be found in Judaism also. Because both of the religions are from same God or Allah. Though Christianity is also from same God, this "Tawhid" is not preserved there.

And what separates Judaism from Islam is, Judaism is for the Jews only which is by born. This is according to their view. But Islam is for the whole Mankind. I think the combination of this two is unique to Islam. At least to someone comparing and choosing among religions.

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But people who are not born of the Jewish race can become religious Jews. –  Flimzy Jul 15 '12 at 16:47
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@flimzy Non-jew people CAN convert to Judaism. But They are not invited. According to Judaism laws given to Noah alaihis salam is sufficient for non-jews. But if someone want, s/he can convert. Yet s/he will not have the same status of a born jew. And converts are not always well accepted by every communities. See- judaism.stackexchange.com/a/7222 –  Gulshan Jul 15 '12 at 17:31

I think the question presumes religions are trying to sell themselves with some sort of get rich quick scheme. As an important aside, it should be mentioned that "religion" as a category or concept is completely modern; prior to probably the 17-18th centuries, there was no way to conceptually isolate what we now categorize as "religion" or the "religious". So even in speaking about what can "religions" offer, there is a presentist bias inherent in the question itself that makes assumptions about what "religion" is or isn't. And, no, reading a "religion's" scripture is not sufficient when it comes to determining what that "religion" is. There is such a thing as "lived" religion, that is how a religion's practitioners have historically molded their lives with reference to "religion".

As for the question, I agree with earlier commentators who've pointed out that Islam itself makes the claim that it's more of a corrective to earlier religions than it is a "competitor". With that said, according to Islam's vision of itself, no, there is nothing particularly unique (vis-a-vis pristine Judaism and Christianity) about Islam at the core theological levels. Of course, Islam claims that contemporaneous versions of Judaism and Christianity at the time of Islam's advent are partially inauthentic, so its uniqueness is one of authenticity more than anything else.

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Prior to probably the 17-18th centuries, there wsa no way to conceptually isolate what we now categorize as "religion" or the "religious." -- I challenge this. Can you provide some sources? Many ancient religious texts talk about religions, good religions versus bad religions, etc. Perhaps your claim is valid, but it needs greater clarification; as it's worded, the only way thing I can imagine it to mean, is clearly wrong based on what I know of Jewish and Christian scriptures making references to religion. –  Flimzy Jul 18 '12 at 2:47
    
What I mean is that the way we understand "religion," whether that be Islam, Judaism and so on, at least in the global north, is completely different than the way adherents of those religious traditions understood religion in their day. I am not claiming that ancient religious sources do not refer something we may call "religion" in the present day, but I am saying what is intimated by and included in the term/concept "religion" has changed over time, especially, again, in the global north. I will elaborate in a new comment since there is apparently a limit to what I can write per comment. –  mozahsuf Jul 18 '12 at 17:46
    
The following is insight from a teacher of mine: “Religion” as an abstract category, an x which can equal Islam, Judaism and so on, is not an identifiable thing that performs the same kind of function across time and space. “Religion,” as we understand it today, is a modern Western conceptual category that traces its genesis to the efforts of Enlightenment thinkers to define Christianity. –  mozahsuf Jul 18 '12 at 17:55
    
That's why, as I alluded to above, there is a presentist, or even secular, bias when it comes to "defining" what religion is or isn't. So again the issue here is that “religion” is not an identifiable thing shared by all across time and space. –  mozahsuf Jul 18 '12 at 17:55
    
That's why, as I alluded to above, there is a presentist, or even secular, bias when it comes to "defining" what religion is or isn't. So again the issue here is that “religion” is not an identifiable thing shared by all across time and space. You can find more on this issue in works on intellectual history. For example, check out anthropologist Talal Asad's books on secularism and religion, or any critical work on the emergency of "modernity" in the "Enlightenment" and post-Enlightenment era. –  mozahsuf Jul 18 '12 at 18:05

While there are some decent answers here, I feel most of them are verbose and stray from the question. And it is an important question.

Islam is distinguished by the following principles.

  • There is a Creator: Allah.
  • That the Creator is unique, and that there are no other entity to be worshipped other than Allah.
  • While Allah has sent other prophets down in the past, Muhammad is the final, and most important one.
  • The Quran is Allah's revelation to humanity.

For better or worse, anyone who claims to be Muslim believe in these points. There are a lot of disagreements among Muslims, including everything outside the Quran, but everyone will agree on these points.

Does it improve society? In some cases, yes. In some cases, people have interpreted Islam in their own way to do evil. But it is besides the point.

Islam does not claim to be the only 'right' religion. Some Muslims believe that Jews, who also accept the Oneness of Allah, are closely related. But Judaism is not Islam, because they don't take Muhammad as the final prophet.

While a few Christians recognize Muhammad as a Prophet and recognize the Quran's validity, many do not agree that God takes only one form. If a Christian believes in a single God who takes only one form, believes in Muhammad as a messenger, and believes the Quran is God's revelation to humanity (through Muhammad), then he can claim to be a Muslim as well (even if he takes the Bible to heart).

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Quran is among the most important things in Islam that makes it unique compared to the previous versions of the God's religion. In a Hadeeth the only verse that Solomon --peace be upon him-- knew from Quran was the verse [1:1] which he used in his letter to Belqeys, [27:30]:

في عيون الاخبار باسناده الى الرضا عن آبائه عن على عليهم السلام انه قال: سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه و آله يقول: ان الله تبارك و تعالى قال لي: يا محمد «وَ لَقَدْ آتَيْناكَ سَبْعاً مِنَ الْمَثانِي وَ الْقُرْآنَ الْعَظِيمَ» فأفرد على الامتنان بفاتحة الكتاب و جعلها بإزاء القرآن العظيم، و ان فاتحة الكتاب أشرف ما في كنوز العرش، و ان الله عز و جل خص محمدا و شرفه بها و لم يشرك معه فيها أحدا من أنبيائه ما خلا سليمان عليه السلام فانه أعطاه منها «بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ» يحكى عن بلقيس حين قالت: إِنِّي أُلْقِيَ إِلَيَّ كِتابٌ كَرِيمٌ إِنَّهُ مِنْ سُلَيْمانَ وَ إِنَّهُ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيم

from: تفسير نور الثقلين، ج‏4، ص: 86

From Imam Ali ar-Ridha from his fathers from Ali --peace be upon them-- that he said: I heard the apostle of Allah --peace be upon him and his household-- that he said: It is true and noway false that Allah who is so blessing and excellent called me: O Muhammad! "And We have bestowed upon thee the Seven Oft-repeated (verses) and the Grand Qur'an [15:87]" and sent down the "opening of the book" [Surah Al-Hamd, the 1st Surah] and made it [somehow] equivalent of His great book, and it is true and noway false that the "opening of the book" is cherished more than all the treasures in Throne, and it is true and noway false that Allah who is mighty and glorified apportioned it to Muhammad only and cherished him by this apportioning and did not involve any share in this for anyone among his prophets but only Solomon peace be upon him to whom He gave from it "In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful [1:1]" quoted from Belqays when she said "... here is delivered to me - a letter worthy of respect. / It is from Solomon, and is (as follows): In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful [27:29,30]

although there is a debate between the scholars if Solomon --peace be upon him-- wrote this single verse of Qur'an in Arabic or not. Of course he knew Arabic as he knew all the other languages available at those times and even the language of the animals and birds but it is not very clear if he wrote to Belqeys also in Arabic or not. Anyway even if it was not in Arabic, then still Allah has mentioned his writings (which should have been then quite longer not as short as this single sentence) translated in the form of this verse of Qur'an and that means Solomon anyway has been aware of this verse!

You may ask here that Qur'an contains the statements and speeches of many prophets and even atheists so that one can claim any one of them knew something from Qur'an but that's not correct, no one of them knew what Allah would select among their all speeches and reasonings to include in Qur'an. For example, Qarun talked a lot with Moses --peace be upon him-- and his companions but Qur'an only quotes a few sentences of Qarun and say these sentences made him fail and for penalties to become obligatory about them. Qur'an contains only the key sentences and speeches and behaviors that were going to make obligatory a reward or a punishment. So that even we have in a Hadeeth that Gabriel --peace be upon him-- was always sad until the verse [10:91] was revealed, the holy prophet --peace be upon him and his household-- asked him for its reason and he answered because when Moses --peace be upon him-- and his followers crossed the sea and the dried way through the sea became in destruction with water from all around, pharaoh that saw his death has been come said " آمَنتُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ وَأَنَا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ" which means "I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit (to Allah in Islam)", [10:90]. But then I told him "آلْآنَ وَقَدْ عَصَيْتَ قَبْلُ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ" which means "Ah now!- But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion!- and thou didst mischief (and violence)!", [10:91], and I told him on my own so after that I got sorry what if Allah was going to accept his repent? So I was sorry and sad about it until today that I found out what I said was already meant by Allah. So you see, Qur'an contains many stories but only selected stories, selected speeches and behaviors in the story, and then conclusions based on God's wisdom and traditions, this way we can learn best what are the rules of Allah, what will bring for us blessings and reward in this life and in the Hereafter, and what will bring to us misery and sorrow and penalties here and in the Hereafter.

Beside Qur'an but also the holy prophet himself --peace be upon him and his household-- and his household are also what make Islam unique. To abbreviate only let me count a few issues expressed and discussed at length in Ahadeeth about them. When Adam and Eve --peace be upon them-- were sent down to the Earth Adam cried a lot until Allah revealed to him some words to ask Allah with them for Him to accept his repent: "فَتَلَقَّىٰ آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ" which means "then learnt adam from his lord words of inspiration, and his lord turned towards him; for he is oft-returning, most merciful", [2:37], and we read in Ahadeeth that the words which were revealed to Adam was the names of the Five under Kisa. These names were the names also Noah --peace be upon him-- sticked to his arc for the arc to remain safe during such a great flood, and many other Ahadeeth in which Ahlul Bayt are introduced to be the tools for Allah giving blessing to a group of people and rescuing them from a difficult situation. Even in some Ahadeeth the command of Allah for the angels to prostrate in front of Adam and the Israelite to prostrate in front of the door of the city they were supposed to enter (see [4:154] for example) was due to those Five. Imam Ali --peace be upon him-- stated in a Hadeeth that I helped all the previous prophets of Allah in stealth and helped the last prophet in open. Now you can see what would be unique about Islam is not only Quran but also the Five and them being completed to the 14 infallibles, behind the last of whom Jesus peace be upon him will pray in Beyt ul-Muqaddas.

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There's nothing to say after the previous answer of Kamaal :)

But I wanted to add this aya:

إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِندَ اللَّـهِ الْإِسْلَامُ ۗ وَمَا اخْتَلَفَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ ۗ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِآيَاتِ اللَّـهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ

The true way with God is peace; and the people of the Book did not differ until knowledge (of this revelation) had come to them, out of mutual opposition. But those who deny the signs of God (should remember) He is swift in the reckoning.[Al-i-Imran]

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Some duties in Islam are special, e.g Jihad is a Muslims' duty.

The "lesser jihad" is the physical struggle against the enemies of Islam. This physical struggle can take a violent form or a non-violent form.

And in Muslims' holy-book, God, encouraged Muslims too kill Islam's enemies in too many Ayeh. You can see result of this duty in first 200 years of Islam in the Muslim conquests.

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You are taking the Ayahs out of context, we are to attack if we are attacked, other than that we cannot attack, of course there are some rules on that. As for the non-violent part of the lesser Jihad, there is no such thing, killing is violent, but we can only kill those who are fighting us, not women or children, even if they are throwing stones. And priests have their own rules. And also, this does not answer the question. –  Mujahid مجاهد Jan 3 '13 at 20:03
    
@AlUmmat, Yes I wrote, God in Qura'n encourages Muslims to kill "Islam enemies", but doesn't mentioned men,women, or kids (wrote in general): The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/quran/verses/… we can continue on meta. –  Saeed Jan 4 '13 at 9:59

What is unique about Islam is prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him.

He sat out examples that no prophet has ever done before. He did not have any miracles as other prophets used to have, he did not have any miraculous powers yet he accomplished everything with any special privilege from God. He was thus the most beloved prophet of God.

He was stoned severely by the people of Taif when he was giving them the message of Islam. When God saw his beloved prophet is bleeding from stones because he was propagating his message, he immediately sent Angel Jabriel to help. Jabrial asked the prophet, if you want I can crush the people of Taif between the two moutons (this place was valley between the two moutons). The prophet said no, they are ignorant, they do not know who I am. Most Muslims believe any other prophet in the situation would have order this punishment, as was in the case of Noah and other prophets, but Muhammad forgave them. He choose love instead of hate.

Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was not given any special power to assist in spreading Islam. For example Moses could divide the sea in two and his stick could change in serpent. Jesus christ could heal any one who was near death. He would even make a dead person alive. Suleiman could understand the language of all animals and everything was under his command. He would order a bird and that bird would obey his order. Prophet Muhammad was not given any special power yes he preach Islam like other prophet did in the past.

Prophet Muhammad was given the complete code of life. No other prophet was given this privilage.

The justice that Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him preached was unmatched by any other prophet in the past. He made himself subject to any punishment that his follower were subjected too. Towards the completion of the Dean (Islam), once the prophet addressed a crowd and said is there anyone to whom I owe anything? No one came up except one Sahabi. He said, oh the prophet in one of the battle I was hit by one of your arrow near the side of the gut. The prophet exposed his gut and said you can hit me too. In other words, his justice was unmatched by any prophet. He was fully accountable by all islamic rules that he preached himself and he did not deviate.

He by far exceeded the goodness of any man who can possibly exist.

{note I need to clarify my last para more. Did some research but did not find relevant info}

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Thanks for taking the time to answer. Many religions claim to have a leader, prophet, or founder who had "exceeded the goodness of any man who can possibly exist." Christianity and Buddhism are two examples I can think of off the top of my head. Christianity claims that Jesus was the only sinless person ever to have lived, and that he forgave his persecutors saying "Father, forgive them for they no not what they do" as he was being brutally tortured and executed. I know less about the Buddha, but he was certainly considered to be especially/uniquiely "enlightened" by his followers. –  Flimzy Jul 15 '12 at 16:57
    
@Flimzy I answer this question from the point of view how Muslims believe Islam is unique. Because this is a very valid question and Muslims have their own explanation. If it coincides with other religion, well you might right, other religion might have similar reasons for uniqueness but this is at least Islamic point of view from what I know. I do not need to twist the facts in order to create something new that is totally unique. At least this is what I know. –  muslim1 Jul 15 '12 at 20:10
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I'm not asking you to twist any fact. I honestly want an honest answer. I guess I'm just saying that this doesn't really answer my question. Your answer is not a fundamental difference between Islam and other religions. That's not to say that your answer is incorrect or invalid; only that it doesn't really answer this specific question. Although as mentioned in comments on the question above, an answer of "Islam is not unique." would also be a valid answer. Maybe that's what you're saying? Islam doesn't have any fundamentally unique characteristics? –  Flimzy Jul 15 '12 at 20:28
    
@Flimzy totally agree with you but at least this is what we were taught why Islam is different and unique from the rest of the crowd, oh I may well edit the answer a little bit also :) –  muslim1 Jul 15 '12 at 20:37

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