Islam is an Abrahamic religion followed predominantly by those living in the Middle East and northern parts of Africa. The Arabic word “islam”, or “surrender” in English, encompasses what all Muslims are expected to do–surrender to Allah and his will. The teachings of Allah through Muhammad are known as the Qur’an. To Muslims, these teachings are a way of life that reaches past being a moral code for the individual and into the social aspects of their society.
The Five Pillars of Islam is the basis of every Muslim’s life. The Five Pillars is a set of five practices that every Muslim takes a part in. The first is recognizing that there is no god but Allah. Muslims are also expected to give 2.5% of their total wealth annually to those in need. Another Pillar is daily prayer or salat. Muslims pray to Allah five times daily facing Mecca, which is considered to be the holiest place in the Islamic world.
Fasting from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan is included in the Five Pillars of Islam as well. The final Pillar is pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj. On this hajj, a Muslim, who is now called a hajii, performs several acts that are symbolic to acts performed by Abraham. This pilgrimage is to be made at least once in a Muslim’s life as long as they are physically and financially able to do so.
One of the primary social issues of Islam regards gender. In Islam, men have authority over women simply because Allah created it that way. In return for being the superior gender, males are expected to support women financially. Although the male is considered to be above the female, both genders are seen as equal in the eyes of Allah. The Qur’an gave women many rights that they did not have in the time period that it was written. The Qur’an outlawed female infanticide, allowed for female inheritance, and gave women divorce rights. Along with gender roles come marriage expectations.
A woman is to be obedient to her husband; those who are disobedient are to be punished. Muslim males are allowed to marry any Muslim woman except their mothers, their daughters, their sisters, their maternal and paternal aunts, the daughters of their brothers and sisters, their foster mothers, their foster sisters, the mother of their wives, their step daughters (unless the marriage with their mother has not yet been consummated), and the wives of their own sons.
Being married to two sisters at one time is also forbidden. Polygamy is permitted in Islam so long as the male is fair and treats each of his wives equally. The Qur’an condemns adultery because it is foul and indecent. The punishment for adultery is one hundred lashes which should be witnessed by multiple believers. An adulterer may only marry an adulteress or idolater, and vice versa.
Modesty, or hijab, is another major social issue addressed by the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, women should dress modestly in the presence of men who are not their family members. The views of modesty fluctuate throughout the Muslim world, but the more traditional Muslims believe that women should cover everything on a her body except the hands and face. A garment worn as a sign of modesty is the burqa, which covers every part of the body, including the face and occasionally even the eyes. Although men do not dress as strictly modest as women do, they are still expected to dress modestly.
The way a Muslim dresses is not the only role that they play in hijab. Their actions are also expected to be modest. Fornication is prohibited by the Qur’an. If four witnesses testify to the guilt of a woman committing fornication, they are to be confined to their houses until death or until Allah finds another way for them. A male is to turn his eyes away from temptation and lower his eyes when a woman passes to control his desires.
Defending and upholding Allah and Islam is required by Muslims. This is known as jihad, or “struggle”. Within this concept is the greater jihad and the lesser jihad. The lesser jihad is the struggle with external forces. Many times, the lesser jihad is used to justify “holy wars”. In the case that the lesser jihad leads to holy wars, those who parish are guaranteed a place in Paradise. Although violence is common within the lesser jihad, nonviolence can also be used in the struggle against discrimination and injustice. The greater jihad is the struggle within oneself. This inner jihad is striving to live as Allah has commanded.
Islam reaches into the economics of a Muslim society. According to the Qur’an, all property belongs to Allah, and human beings are trusted by Allah to protect His property. Muslims are to be just and not take another’s property by unfair means. The Qur’an clearly prohibit the charging of interest or usury: “Believers, do not live on usury, doubling your wealth many times over.” Muslims are also commanded to not interfere with the property of orphans, unless it is with good intentions and until they reach a mature age.
Human beings are created by Allah and are to be treated as such by other human beings. Murder is forbidden, except for just causes. This includes infanticide. Muslims are not to kill their children because they are gifts from Allah. Suicide is also forbidden. The Qur’an states that those who commit suicide will be punished by Allah.
Along with these commandments, the Qur’an also prohibits actions such as homosexuality and theft. Anyone who takes part in these is to be punished accordingly. If they repent from their ways, they are to be left alone for Allah is forgiving and merciful.
Islam is one of the largest and fastest growing religions on the planet. Even if one is not a Muslim, learning about Islam is necessary to understand a culture that greatly affects Americans every day. The social teachings of the Qur’an are an essential part of the Islamic faith. These teachings not only affect individual Muslims, but Muslim societies as a whole. It is important for one to understand these teachings to further understand the Muslim culture.
Novak, Phillip. The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions. [San Francisco, Calif.]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Print