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Islam

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Islām (Arabic: الإسلام) is the monotheist faith believed by Muslims to be the latest revelation in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Over 1.3 billion adherents worldwide believe that Islam was revealed by God (called Allah in Arabic) to Muhammad (c. 610-622 CE).

Since Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, claims descent from the monotheist tradition of the biblical patriarch Abraham, it sees itself as an Abrahamic religion. Muslims hold that it is essentially the same belief as that of all the messengers sent by God to mankind, with the Qur'ān (the one definitive text of the Muslim faith) codifying the final revelation of God. Unlike Christianity, Islam has not undergone any period of reformation, although currently there are some liberal movements within Islam. Islam has three primary branches of belief, based largely on a historical disagreement over the succession of authority after Muhammad's death; these are known as Sunni, Shi'ite, and Khariji. Some consider Sufism (mystic Islam) as another branch of Islamic faith, although many Sufi orders consider themselves to be Sunni or Shia; it is found more or less across the Islamic world, though bearing distinctive regional variations, from Senegal to the Indian subcontinent.

Perhaps the most succinct and clear statement of Muslim belief is to be found in the shahādatan (Arabic for 'two statements'): Lā ilāhā illāllāh; Muhammadan rasulullāh"There is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God". One needs only to recite and believe these statements in order to become a Muslim. The other pillars of Islam are rituals rather than beliefs.

Mosque in [[GalleEnlarge

Mosque in [[Galle

, Sri Lanka]]

Table of contents
1 The meaning of the word Islam
2 Beliefs
3 Religious authority
4 The Five Pillars of Islam
5 The Qur'an
6 The People of the Book
7 Views of non-monotheistic religions
8 Views of inclusivistic religions
9 Historical origin of Islam
10 Denominations of Islam
11 Islam in the modern world
12 Islam around the world
13 Important figures in Islamic history
14 Notes
15 References
16 External links

The meaning of the word Islam

Islām is an Arabic word meaning "submission (to God)" and is described as a "Deen" in Arabic, meaning "way of life" and/or "religion". It has an etymological relationship to other Arabic words, such as Salām (a common salutation as well), meaning "peace". The Arabic word "Muslim" is related to the word Islām and means a "vassal" of God, as well as "one who surrenders" or "submits" (to God). Muslims see homage to God as a sign of distinction; this term has no negative connotations. Homage means serving the will of God above and beyond one's own goals.

Beliefs

Six Articles of Belief

There are six basic beliefs shared by all Muslims:

God

Main article:
Allah

The fundamental concept in Islam is the unity of God (tawhid). This monotheism is absolute, not relative or pluralistic in any sense of the word. God is described in Sura al-Ikhlas, (chapter 112) as follows: "He is God the One, God the Eternal. He never begot, nor was begotten. There is none comparable to Him."

In Arabic, God is called Allah, a contraction of "al-ilah" or "the deity". "Allah" thus translates to "God" in English; it is not grammatically a proper name, unlike the Israelite divine name Yahweh. The implicit usage of the definite article linguistically indicates the divine unity. Although no visual images exist of God, and no depictions due to the prohibition on idolatry in Islam, Muslims define God by the attributes mentioned in the Quran, also commonly known as the 99 names of Allah. Every chapter of the Qur'an (except for two) begins with "In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful", and these are the divine attributes that Muslims repeat most frequently during their ritual prayers (called salat in Arabic).

Prophets

Main article: Prophets of Islam

Islam teaches that God may reveal His will to mankind through an angel; such recipients of revelation are known as prophets. Islam makes a distinction between "prophets" and "messengers". Although all messengers are prophets, not all prophets are messengers.

Notable prophets include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, all belonging to a succession of men guided by God. Muhammad is viewed as the 'Last Messenger', bringing the final message of God to all mankind through the Qur'an. Messengers and prophets were sent to every nation and civilization, and every messenger was given a book for those people. These individuals were mortal humans; Islam demands that a believer accept all of the prophets, making no distinction between them. In the Qur'an, twenty five specific prophets are mentioned.

Islamic law

Main article: Sharia

The reading and recitation of the Qur'an is central to Muslim culture, and leads to modern debates over Islamic law, known as the Shariā. Since Qur'anic passages explicitly mention rules concerning slavery, inheritance, marriage, divorce, women's attire, and so forth, as well as punishments for crimes such as theft and adultery, a traditional body of Islamic law has developed, dealing with both civil government and personal behavior. This body of knowledge greatly influenced the traditional norms of Muslim societies. Thus the separation of church and state has not historically been a part of Islam; although challenging Sharia is generally the goal of many liberal movements within Islam. However, application of Islamic laws in Muslim nation-states today is far from uniform. Some of the largest Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and Bangladesh have mainly secular constitutions with a few religious provisions.

Conservative Muslims generally view Islamic law as essential to their religious outlook. The Qur'an is the foremost source of Islamic jurisprudence; the second is the Sunnah (the practices of the Prophet, as narrated in reports of his life). The Sunnah is not itself a text like the Qur'an, but is extracted by analysis of the Hadith (Arabic for "report") texts, which contain narrations of the Prophet's deeds. The distinction is that a hadith (plural ahadith) is a report about the life of the Prophet, including a chain of transmission or isnad which is traditionally used to verify authenticity; as opposed to the Sunnah, which is his life itself.

Islamic eschatology

Main article: Islamic eschatology

Islamic eschatology is concerned with the Qiyamah (end of the world) and the final judgement of humanity. Like the other Abrahamic religions, Islam teaches the bodily resurrection of the dead, the fulfillment of a divine plan for creation, and the immortality of the human soul; the righteous are rewarded with the pleasures of Jannah (Heaven), while the unrighteous are punished in Jahannam (Hell). A significant fraction of the Qur'an deals with these beliefs, with many ahadith elaborating on the themes and details.

Other beliefs

Other beliefs include the Angels, the Jinns (a species of invisible beings), and the existence of magic (which is strictly forbidden).

Pre-Islamic practices

Some Islamic rituals are similar to pre-Islamic practices from the Arabian Peninsula—in particular, the hajj and three of its associated practices: circling the Kaaba, kissing the Black Stone, and the stoning of three pillars outside Mecca.

Religious authority

There is no official authority who decides whether a person is accepted to, or dismissed from, the community of believers, known as the Ummah. Islam is open to all, regardless of race, age, gender, or previous beliefs. It is enough to believe in the central beliefs of Islam. This is formally done by reciting the shahada, the statement of belief of Islam, without which a person cannot be classed a Muslim. As no one can split open another's heart to see what's inside, it is enough to believe and say that you are a Muslim, and behave in a manner befitting a Muslim to be accepted into the community of Islam.

The Five Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam2 are five basic duties of Muslims:

Note: Some add a sixth pillar, Jihad, the struggle to devote oneself completely to Islam in thought, worship and daily life.

The Qur'an

Main article: Qur'an

The Qur'an (also spelled "Quran" or "Koran") is the holy book of Islam. Its title means "Recitation" or "Reading". It consists of 114 chapters (or Surahs) laid out roughly in order of size, the largest being near the front, the smallest near the back. It is regarded by Muslims as God's message to Humanity; describing the origins of the Universe, Man, and their relationship to each other and their Creator. It sets out rules for society, morality, economics and many other topics. It is intended for recitation and memorization. The Qur'an is primarily taught from one generation to the next this way. Muslims regard the Qur'an as sacred and inviolable. Muslims do not touch the book unless in a state of ablution, known as "wudu." Muslims will typically keep it on a high shelf in their room, as a show of respect for the Qur'an, and some carry small versions with them for comfort or security. Only the original Arabic version of it is regarded as the Qur'an; an attempt at translations would omit the original's meaning and nuance, as well as flow of the verse.

For Muslims, the Qur'an answers questions about daily needs, both spiritual and material. It discusses God and God's Names and attributes; believers and their virtues, and the fate of non-believers (kuffar); Mary, Jesus, and all the other prophets; and even scientific subjects. Muslims do not follow the laws of the Qur'an exclusively; they also follow the example of Muhammad, which is known as the Sunnah, and the understanding of the Qur'an contained in the teachings of the prophet known as the Ahadith.

Muslims are taught that God sent down other books. Besides the Qur'an, the others are the book of Ibrahim (now lost) the Law of Moses (the Taurah), the Psalms of David (the Zabûr) and the Gospel of Jesus (the Injil). The Qur'an describes Christians and Jews as "the people of the Book" (ahl al Kitâb). The teachings of Islam concern many of the same personages as those of Judaism and Christianity. However, Muslims frequently refer to them using Arabic names which can make it appear they are talking about different people: e.g. Allah for God, Iblis for Satan, Ibrahim for Abraham, and so forth. (See also: The Bible in Islam)


The Qur'an has had its share of controversy. A few critics have stated that there were verses removed, known as The Satanic Verses. Muslim scholars dispute this claim, citing evidence from original written Qur'ans and hadith, as well as the lack of any conclusive proof to back up the claim.

Revelation of the Qur'an

Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad through the angel Jibrail (Gabriel); Muhammad then recited this to his companions, many of whom were said to have memorized it and written it down on available material. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was illiterate; the revelations to Muhammad were later gathered by his companions and followers in book form. Muhammad is considered to be the final prophet, sent to preach the same message as the prophets of Christianity (Jesus) and Judaism (Moses) (and possibly Zoroastrianism and other ancient religions).

According to Islam, all the prophets successfully taught their nation the same message of the oneness of God. In the past, however, the message of Islam became distorted by later generations and the revealed scripture corrupted, leaving reason for another messenger to be sent. As Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last of a long line of prophets, they have taken his message to be a sacred trust, and have taken great care to ensure the message was assembled and transmitted in a manner that did not betray that trust. Although Muslims make scrupulous efforts to protect and respect the Qur'an, they believe that it is not through their own endeavours, but by the mercy of God that the Qur'an is preserved intact and will never be altered.

The People of the Book

Main article: People of the Book\

This group includes the Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to Islam, all nations were given a Messenger and guidance from Allah. Eventually, due to their abandonment of adherence to strict monotheism, the followers of Moses earned God's anger (by supposedly worshipping the Golden Calf, mentioned in the Biblical account of Moses, and later Ezra) and the followers of Jesus Christ supposedly went astray (by worshipping Jesus Christ). It is popularly held by the vast majority of Muslims that the Holy Taurah (revelation given to Moses) and the Holy Injil (revelation given to Jesus Christ) have been corrupted over time and that the present day Bible and Torah share little or no resemblance to the original message. According to Islam, Muhammad was sent during a time of spiritual darkness and once the Qur'an was finally established, all past revelations were abrogated, making the Last Testament not only for the Arab nation but for all mankind until the Day of Judgement.

Some parts of the Qur'an attribute differences between Muslims and non-Muslims to tahref-ma'any, a "corruption of the meaning" of the words. In this view, the Jewish Bible and Christian New Testament are true, but the Jews and Christians misunderstood the meaning of their own Scripture, and thus need the Qur'an to clearly understand the will of God. However, other parts of the Qur'an make clear that many Jews and Christians used deliberately altered versions of their scripture, and had altered the word of God. This belief was developed further in medieval Islamic polemics, and is a mainstream part of both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam today. This is known as the doctrine of tahref-lafzy, "the corruption of the text".

Historically, Islamic scholars have agreed that the Qur'an gives "People of the Book" special status, allowing those who live in Muslim lands (called dhimmi—protected people) to practice their own religions and to own property. People of the Book were not subject to certain Islamic rules, such as the prohibitions on alcohol and pork. Under the Islamic state, they were exempt from the draft, but were required to pay a tax known as jizyah, part of which went to charity and part to finance churches and synagogues. (They were, however, exempt from the zakat required of Muslims.) This agreement has in the past led to Islamic countries practicing religious toleration, often more so than some European countries of the past.

One verse of the Qur'an says "God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for [your] faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just." (Qur'an, 60:8), which is interpreted as a clear admonition not to be disrespectful or unkind to non-Muslims. According to a hadith, Muhammad said to his people "The one who murders a dhimmi [non-Muslim under protection of the state] will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, even if its smell was forty years travelling distance" [Sahih Ahmed].

See also: Islam and Judaism -- Judeo-Islamic tradition -- The Bible in Islam -- Islam and anti-Semitism -- Projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs

Views of non-monotheistic religions

In spite of Islam's implicit message of peace and its explicit tolerance of Judaism and Christianity, the spread of the Islamic empire was little different from the building of any other imperial power - by warfare in many cases. Qur'anic verses revealed in the context of Muhammad's war with the pagan Meccans provided justification for some leaders. While portions of the religion instructed the followers to go to war, it also established some limits. For example, the Qur'an forbids forcibly converting anyone. It does allow for non-muslim conquered people as slaves, but then slavery was a widespread phenomenon at that time. However The Qur'an demotivate to take any slaves and for almost any (significant) sin you've to free a slave. It is claimed by some historians that there never was a forced mass conversion, though Islamic conquest of various lands is well-attested in history. The nature of conversions (whether forcible or voluntary) is a contentious issue among some scholars, but the influence of Islam can be seen, for instance, in the Indian subcontinent (in particular modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) where 45% of the formerly Hindu landmass is now Muslim. The Islamic view of non-monotheistic ("People of the Book") religions differs among scholars, and also varies according to circumstance, time and place. Consequently, the relationship of Islam with Hinduism and other non-monotheist religions varied greatly according to the religious outlook of individual rulers. (The emperor Akbar, for example, was very tolerant towards Hindus, while Aurangzeb wasn't.)

Views of inclusivistic religions

One other way to categorize religions is inclusivistic vs. exclusivistic. So for example inclusivistic eastern religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism believe that all other religions are simply different paths to reach the same goal of supreme truth or God. On the other hand, the exclusivistic religions like Islam and Christianity believe that theirs is the only true word from the God. This has caused many conflicts between the proponents of exclusivistic faith like Islam and the inclusivistic faith like Hinduism and may be one of the reasons for continued conflict between them.

Historical origin of Islam

Main articles: History of Islam, Muhammad

The growth of Islam today

Islam is the largest religion after Christianity. According to sources such as the World Network of Religious Futurists[1], the U.S. Center for World Mission[1], and the controversial Samuel Huntington, Islam is growing faster numerically than any other religion; this growth is attributed both to natural population growth and a rate of conversion higher than all other religions combined. In the U.S., more people convert to Islam than any other faith.

The religion of Islam brought by Muhammad began in the Hejaz region of present-day Saudi Arabia in about 610 CE, and according to [1] it now comprises 1.3 billion believers, 23% of the world's population. However, only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world; a fifth is found in Sub-Saharan Africa, about 30% in the Indian subcontinental region of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and the world's largest single Muslim community (within the bounds of one nation) is in Indonesia. There are also significant Islamic populations in China, Europe (especially in the Mediterranean countries), the former Soviet Union, and South America. There are approximately 7 million believers in the USA and Canada.

Denominations of Islam

There are a number of Islamic religious denominations, each of which has significant theological and legal differences from each other. The major branches are Sunni, Shi'a and Sufi Islam, although Sufism is often considered an extension of either Sunni or Shi'a thought. All denominations, however, follow the five pillars of Islam and believe in the six pillars of faith (mentioned earlier).

The Sunni sect of Islam comprises the majority of all Muslims (about 90%). It is broken into four similar schools of thought (madhhabss) which interpret specific pieces of Islam, such as which foods are halal (permissible) differently. They are named after their founders Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Hanbali. Each school of thought differs on minor issues, although they agree on major points.

Shia Islam comprises most of the Muslims that are not counted among the Sunni. The Shia consist of one major school of thought known as the Jafaryia or the "Twelvers", and a few minor schools of thought, as the "Seveners" or the "Fivers" referring to the number of infallible leaders they recognise after the death of Muhammad. The term Shia is usually taken to be synonymous with the Jafaryia/Twelvers.

While some consider the Islamic mysticism called Sufism to constitute a separate branch, most Sufis can easily be considered Sunni or Shia. Sufism is the hardest to understand by non-practitioners because on first sight it seems that sufis are either of Shiah or Sunni denomination, but it is true that some sects of Sufism can be categorised as both Sunni and Shiah whilst others are not from either denomination. The distinction here is because the schools of thought (madhhabs) are regarding "legal" aspects of Islam, the "dos" and "don'ts", whereas Sufism deals more with perfecting the aspect of sincerity of faith, and fighting one's own ego. Other people may call themselves Sufis who may be perceived as having left Islam (or never followed Islam). There are also some very large groups or sects of Sufism that are not easily categorised as either Sunni or Shiah, such as the Bektashi or those that can be categorised as both at the same time, eg the Brelvi.

According to Shaikh al-Akbar Mahmood Shaltoot, Head of the al-Azhar University, the Ja'fari school of thought, which is also known as "al-Shia al- Imamiyyah al-Ithna Ashariyyah" (i.e., The Twelver Imami Shi'ites) is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought. This means that some regard there as being five schools of thought, while others say only four, counting the Shia as a different group.

Another denomination which dates back to the early days of Islam are the Kharijites. Members of this group in the present day are more commonly known as Ibadhi Muslims. A large number of Ibadhi Muslims today live in Oman.

Another more recent group are the Wahhabis, though some classify them as the ultra-conservative branch of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. Wahhabism is a movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab in the 18th century in what is present-day Saudi Arabia. One thing which distinguishes Wahhabi teachings from Sunni teachings is that Wahhabis consider several things prohibited which the four schools of Sunni Islam consider permitted.

Another recent denomination is the Ijtihadists, commonly known as Free-thinking Muslims or Liberal/Reform Muslims. They are independant of the Sunnis or Shiites; they develop a personal interpretation of the Qur'an and the hadiths. See: Liberal Islam

See also: Imam -- Islamic philosophy -- Zaiddiyah

Religions based on Islam

The following groups call themselves Muslims, but are not considered Islamic by most Muslims:

The following religions might be said to have evolved from Islam, but consider themselves independent religions with distinct laws and institutions:

Sikhism is widely seen as a syncretic mix of Hinduism and Islam, though its history lies in the wars between local Indian peoples and invading Muslim armies. The philosophical basis of the Sikhs is deeply-rooted in Hindu metaphysics and certain philosophical practices, while Muslim values like tawhid and rejection of image-worship inform much of Sikh ideology.

The following religions might have been said to have evolved from Islam, but are not considered part of Islam, and no longer exist:

Islam in the modern world

Although the dominant movement in Islam in recent times has been religious fundamentalism, there are a number of liberal movements within Islam which seek alternative ways to reconcile the Islamic faith with the modern world.

Islamic traditions have several sources: the Qur'an, the hadiths, and interpretations of both by scholars. Over the centuries, there has been a tendency towards fundamentalism, with interpretations being regarded as immutable, even those that consist of folk religion not directly traceable to the prophet Muhammad.

Early shariah had a much more flexible character than is currently associated with Islamic jurisprudence, and many modern Muslim scholars believe that it should be renewed, and the classical jurists should lose their special status. This would require formulating a new fiqh suitable for the modern world, e.g. as proposed by advocates of the Islamization of knowledge, and would deal with the modern context.

This movement does not aim to challenge the fundamentals of Islam; rather, it seeks to clear away misinterpretations and to free the way for the renewal of the previous status of the Islamic world as a center of modern thought and freedom. See Modern Islamic philosophy for more on this subject.

The claim that only liberalisation of the Islamic Shariah law can lead to distinguishing between tradition and Islam is countered by many Muslims by saying that 'fundamentalism' rejects the cultural inventions e.g. they will accept that men and women have God given rights and duties that no human can infringe on but it rejects riba (interest). Fundamentalism as referred to often means traditionalism which is a separate issue. A good example of a fundamentalist organisation is Hizb ut-Tahir [1].

Islam around the world

Important figures in Islamic history

See also
list of Muslims

Shi'ite valued persons

Notes

1 In some older English texts they are referred to as "Muhammadans" or "Mohammedans," but these terms are deprecated because they imply, incorrectly, that Muslims worship Muhammad, and so are offensive to many Muslims.

2 The Egyptian Islamic Jihad terrorist group claims, as did a few long-extinct early medieval Kharijite sects, that Jihad is the "sixth pillar of Islam." Some Ismaili groups consider "Allegiance to the Imam" to be the so-called sixth pillar of Islam. For more information, see the article entitled Sixth pillar of Islam.

References

External links

Online sources

General

Aspects

Organisations

Comparative religion

Perspectives