Islam is one of the most popular religions practiced throughout the world, with adherents found in most countries. Though the religion has been surrounded by controversy for centuries, and is sometimes associated with violence, it is based on ideas of submission, peace, and worship, with the fundamentalists being responsible for much of the bad press. Islam is not quite as old as some of the other major religions, but its roots go back to the early Middle Ages, where it was discovered in the area we now call the Middle East. Even though it’s younger than its ancient counterparts, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world at the moment.
Today we will be offering up some facts about the various aspects of this ancient and solemn religion, so if you’ve ever been curious to learn a lot about Islam in one convenient place, you’re in luck. We will cover many of the basic, as well as some misrepresented, concepts found within this religion. If you’re interested in taking your life into a more spiritual direction, this course on awakening your inner divinity, and this article on guided meditation will both help you get in touch with your more contemplative side.
It would be impossible to cover all aspects and beliefs of Islam in one article, or even dozens of them, but we’ll do our best to introduce you to it, showing its history and philosophies from an objective point-of-view. If you’d like to learn more after reading this article, check out this course on Islam for busy people, which expands upon the information presented here today.
- Islam was founded in the 7th century C.E. by the prophet Muhammad in the cities of Mecca and Medina, which are located in the present country of Saudi Arabia. It is a monotheistic (belief in one God) and Abrhamic (tracing an origin or tradition back to Abraham) religion. Followers of Islam are called Muslims.
- The Qur’an is the sacred scripture of Islam, and is believed to be the word of Allah (what Muslims call God), revealed to the prophet Muhammad. It is believed to have no flaws and no contradictions, with the original Arabic scriptures having never been changed or otherwise tampered with. The Qur’an has been translated into many different languages, but only the original Arabic words are considered to be authentic. The book covers such subjects as worship, belief, just relationships, wisdom, law, and other aspects of how a life of faith should be lived. To learn more about this holy book, this course on the Qur’an and Arabic will teach you how to read it in its original language.
- The word “Islam” is translated as “to submit”, or “to obey”, and is derived from word meaning “peace”. The word “Muslim” means “submitted to”, in reference to the will of God.
- Muhammad, the founder and most important prophet of Islam, was born in 570 C.E. in Mecca. Muhammad is not viewed as divine, like Allah, but simply the last of the prophets from the Hebrew scriptures, in whom the prophetic tradition was perfected. At the age of 40, Muhammad was visited by the angel Gabriel while meditating in a cave, and over the next 23 years, the message of God was revealed to him and subsequently written down as the Qur’an. Muhammad is neither worshipped nor prayed through – only Allah receives this honor.
- It is taught in Islam that God, or Allah, is not only loving, merciful, and compassionate, but also swift to punish those deserving of it. Allah is simply the Muslim name for the same God that is worshipped by other monotheistic religions. In the Qur’an, he revealed 99 of His other names, and through these names, or attributes, can one come to know the Creator.
- Many of the important figures of Judaism and Christianity are believed to be prophets, and as a result, are very important to Muslims. Figures such as Adam, Moses, Noah, David, Jesus, and other Biblical people figure prominently into Islam, and are themselves considered to be Muslim, in that they submitted to God. Are you a Christian, and would like to become a mentor? This course on Christian coaching in your church will help you find a spiritual protege.
- There are five basic beliefs in Islam: belief in one God; belief in prophethood; belief in the justice of God; belief in the Imams, or Apostles, of God; belief in the Day of Judgement.
- In addition to the beliefs, there are five main practices in Islam, referred to as the Five Pillars. They are: Witness (Shahadah), where they declare that “there is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God”; Prayer (Salah), which is done five times throughout the day; Giving (Zakah), in which alms are given annually to the poor; Fasting (Sawm) during the month of Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset, in which no food, drink, or sexual activity are partaken; and finally, Pilgrimage (Hajj), where at least one trip must be made, by those physically and financially able to do so, to the site of God’s revelation to Muhammad, as well as Abraham’s sacrifice, in Mecca.
- A commonly misinterpreted concept found within Islam is jihad. Usually associated with violence and terrorism, this word more accurately refers more to the philosophy that a good Muslim must study, preach, and defend Islam. Translated into English as “struggle”, jihad has two facets: greater jihad, or the struggle against temptation and evil within yourself, and lesser jihad, referring to the prevention of the injustice and oppression found in society.
- The physical focal point of both the daily prayer and the hajj are the city of Mecca, more specifically, the Kaaba, which is considered to be the most holy place for Muslims.
- Islam is the second most practiced religion in the world, with more than 1.6 practitioners worldwide (23% of the world’s population). Islam falls behind only Christianity (2.1 billion people), but before Hinduism, secularism/atheism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other traditional religions found in the world. As we said before, it is also one of the fastest growing religions.
- The religion is found all over the world, but predominantly in North Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and in parts of Asia, with around 62% of the world’s Muslims calling Southeast Asia home. The breakdown of the countries that account for the largest populations of Muslims worldwide are as follows: Indonesia (home to 12.7% of the planet’s Muslims); Pakistan (11%); India (10.9%); Bangladesh (9.2%).
Denominations and Branches
- The are several denominations of Islam, but only two account for the vast majority of the population. Sunnis, from the Arabic word for “tradition”, make up the majority of Muslims today. Sunnis believe that the first four leaders, or caliphs, were the legitimate successors to Muhammad. The second largest branch of Islam, the Shiite, or Shia (Arabic for “faction”), accept that only the caliph Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was the rightful successor to The Prophet, and that any future leaders must be descended from Muhammad, through his daughter Fatima, wife to Ali.
- There are other denominations of Islam, some sects of the two already discussed. Wahabi is a sect of the Sunnis, are found in Saudi Arabia, and follow the teachings of Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulawahab. The Alawites, found mostly in Syria, is a Shiite sect whose beliefs in the Seven Pillars, as well as other Islamic traditions, differ slightly than others.
- The Nation of Islam, founded in Detroit, MI in the 1930’s, is an American Sunni offshoot, whose goal is to raise the moral, economic, and social standing of African Americans. Though righteous in their cause, the Nation of Islam has sometimes pursued radical and incendiary stances on issues, even claiming that white Americans are the personification of evil. The most famous current member of the Nation of Islam is Louis Farrakhan.
- Muslim women are not, as sometime portrayed, mistreated because of their religion. One of the teachings of Muhammad is “the best among you are those who treat their wives well.” Women in Islam were given the right to vote 1,400 years ago, among other rights in the home and society, including the rights to earn money, to be supported, to be educated, to earn an inheritance, to be treated kindly, and to worship in a mosque.
- The head covering worn by Muslim women (hijab) is done in accordance with the will of God to dress modestly. It follows the example set by other historical righteous women such as Mary, mother of Jesus, and nuns.
Hopefully we were able to dispel any misconceptions you might have had about Islam while introducing you to this ancient religion. While it sometimes gets a bad rap, and there are people who earn that reputation, most practitioners are regular people who simply want to practice their beliefs. If you would like to lead a more spiritual life, this course on how to be spiritual will help you focus on the more important things in life.