Islam is the second largest religion in the world with an estimated 1.7 billion adherents representing 23% of the world’s population. It is the fastest-growing religion in the world and second largest religion now in Europe. Most Muslims live in South-East Asia with only about 20% in the Middle East where the religion began. Islam is an exclusively Monotheistic religion requiring its believers to submit to the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-merciful God – Allah. Along with the other major Monotheistic religions, Judaism,  and Christianity, Islam believes in Angels, Satan, Prophets, Revelation, moral accountability and responsibility, divine judgement, eternal reward and punishment. Thus for Muslims, Islam is the fulfilment and completion of earlier revelations. There is one Islam revealed in the Koran and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, but Islamic tradition and heritage reveal many interpretations of Islam, some complementing each other, and others in conflict.

Islam: means to ‘Submit’ or ‘Surrender’ to the commands of God found in the Koran.

 

Muslim: means one who submits to the will of God.

 

Allah: means the One transcendent God, creator, sustainer, and ruler of the Universe.

 

Muhammad: The Prophet and founder of Islam based on the commandments of Allah. Islam recognizes 25 prophets before Muhammad including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The Prophet Muhammad is seen as the latest of these prophets from Allah. He is the final prophet charged by Allah to bring humanity back to the one true religion with a worship of complete submission to an all-powerful God. Muslims are forbidden to worship the Prophet. He was human and chosen to communicate the commandments of Allah to humanity via the intermediary of the angel Gabriel.

 

Koran: The Holy Book of Islam which represents the final revelation to humanity dictated by the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic language.  The Koran is the literal word of God comprising 114 chapters (Suras) and 6236 verses in Arabic. All prayers from the Koran must be said in Arabic.

 

Hadiths: different accounts of Muhammad’s life and application of the commandments given in the Koran. Ethics, morals, parables, based on The Prophet’s life are viewed as a guide to enacting the Koran in real life. Some Hadiths are viewed as better sourced in The Prophet’s life than others.

Shariah Law: a legal system based on The Koran and Hadiths. Iran and Saudi Arabia practice Shariah Law and some other countries have aspects of Shariah Law within their existing legal systems.

Ummah: the community of believers.

 

Kaaba: cube-like structure covered in black cloth in the holy city of Mecca which contains the Black Stone. This was a holy place pre-Islam and according to Muslim history, was cleansed by Muhammad and continues as the holiest shrine in Islam today. Every Muslim is expected to visit it once in a lifetime if their situation and health permits such a pilgrimage.

 

The Five Pillars of Islam:

 

  1. Shahadah: Faith: give yourself up to faith in Allah. There is no God but Allah and Mohamed is the messenger of Allah.
  2. Salah: Prayer: a Muslim should pray in a prescribed manner five times per day facing the city of Mecca.
  3. Zakat: Charity: Muslims are expected to give away a certain proportion of their wealth to those who are less fortunate.
  4. Sawm: Fasting: In the month of Ramadan Muslims are not allowed to eat between sun-up and sun-down. This is to remind Muslims of hardship and obedience to Allah.
  5. Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca: every Muslim should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives if their circumstances and health permit, so that they can pray at the Kaaba, touch the Black Stone kept therein, and take part in the ritual of stoning the Devil.

 

Jihad: literally means ‘to strive’ or ‘struggle’. Jihad implies the obligation to follow and realize God’s will: to lead a virtuous life and too extend the Islamic community through preaching, education, example, writing, etc. ‘Jihad’ involves an internal struggle with ourselves to realize God’s will. It also includes the obligation to defend Islam and the community of believers from aggression. Despite the fact that ‘Jihad’ is not supposed to include aggressive, offensive warfare, as distinct from defensive warfare, this has occurred throughout history.

 

Major Sects:

 

Sunni: those who believe that Abu Bakar (Muhammad’s father-in-law) the first Caliph, or leader of Islam, after Mohamed was the legitimate leader. Sunni Muslims adopted the belief that leadership should pass to the most qualified person, not through hereditary succession. Sunni Muslims make up 85% of the world’s Muslims;

 

Shia: those who believe that Ali, Muhammad’s first cousin and Muhammad’s closest living male relative, was the Prophet’s legitimate successor. He eventually became the fourth Caliph after 35 years. The differences between Sunni and Shia do not have to do with religious dogma but, rather, are political, concerning the qualifications for the head of the Muslim community;

 

Sufi: the mystical sect of Islam.

 

History of Muhammad and Islam:

 

570CE: the birth of Muhammad in the city of Mecca, in what is now Saudia Arabia, into an upper-class family. Orphaned as a young boy, lived in the city and the desert, visited Syria as a boy and interacted with a Christian monk who had a great influence on him. He identified with the Abrahamic lineage. Abraham was the father of Judaism and Abraham had two sons Isaac and Ishmael. Muhammad’s lineage goes through Ishmael. Muhammad heavily influenced by Judaism and Christianity and he believes that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were prophets and Islam respects Judaism and Christianity as ‘people of the book’. As an adult, Muhammad was a merchant and arbitrator in Mecca. He married at the age of 25 to a wealthy widow merchant aged 40.

 

In 605CE Mecca was a pilgrimage site for pre-Islamic Gods mostly derived from the Mesopotamian pantheon of Gods. People would have a pilgrimage to the Kaaba and during renovations to the Kaaba they took out the sacred Black Stone and could not agree who should put it back again so Muhammad was called upon to arbitrate.

 

610CE: the first of many visions in the Hira Cave where Muhammad was praying, visited by the angel Gabriel who is a central figure in Islam as the intermediary between man and God. Muhammad to become the great prophet to speak to man as the instrument of God to teach people to submit to the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-merciful Allah. Muhammad was seen by the people of Mecca to be an obstacle to the lucrative pilgrimage trade of polytheists to Mecca and as a false prophet of monotheism.

 

622CE: Muhammad was driven out of Mecca to Medina. This is the Hijrah or Exodus from Mecca to Medina where he is welcomed as a uniter. This Exodus is so important that it is marked as the beginning of the Islamic calendar and all Muslims started the practice of praying towards Mecca instead of Jerusalem. Muslims at this time had their first city in Medina.

 

In 630CE Muhammad leads 10,000 followers back to Mecca and lays siege to the city which is successful and he walks into the city as its new leader. This is tremendously important for the future of Islam as it can be seen that politics, the military and religion have never been separated in Islam as they have been in Christianity and Judaism. In Mecca Muhammad destroys all pagan images and statues in the Kaaba which now becomes the exclusively holy place of the Muslims.

 

632CE June 8th : Muhammad dies aged 62 years in Medina. In the following years, under the first four Caliphs, or rulers of Islam the Muslim empire grows rapidly with extensive military campaigns against the Christian Byzantine and Sassaneid Empires saw an incredibly rapid expansion of the empire and millions brought to the new religion by the power of the sword, convinced by heavy taxation on idols, or impressed by the power of Islam over local deities. Following these conquests Muslim culture flowered with centres of learning, academic research, and the preservation of knowledge from many parts of the world which later paved the way for the Renaissance in Europe.

 

Like members of other faith communities, Muslims in the 21st century face the challenge of defining the role, meaning, and relevance of Islam in both public and private life. Often, we focus on radicalism and extremism, but a deeper and more pervasive struggle exists between the conservatives and reformers, mainstream Muslims and extremists. Its major issues include the relationship of state to society, the role of Islamic law, the status of women and non-Muslims, the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and relations with the West.