Brief Summary of Islam
Brief Summary of Islam
Islam began in the 6th century on the belief that Muhammad, a highly respected businessman in Mecca, had received revelations from God in both Mecca and Medina. This religion began to grow when one of the first disciples, a twenty-two year old named Zayd, collected and edited Muhammad’s writings of his revelations and published them in one book, known as the Qur’an.
The central beliefs of Islam, and the central acts of Muslim worship, can be summarized in the Five Pillars of Islam: shahada (bearing witness), which usually manifests itself in reciting “there is no god but God, and Muhammad is God’s messenger; salah (praying five times a day facing Mecca); zakah (giving to the needy); sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan); hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca at some point in one’s life). These Five Pillars provide a very helpful framework for understanding Muslim worship practices, and I will begin to expound on Muslim history and culture by examining aspects of these five beliefs. However, these Pillars are not enough (by far) to encompass all that is being a Muslim. This is especially true in the modern world.
The affirmation in the shahada that “there is no god but God”, or that God is one, was radical for his place and time. Mecca was already a major religious center in Muhammad’s time, but for the polytheistic religions of Arabia rather than any monotheistic religion. This threatened the entire religious system of Mecca. This assertion of God’s unity and oneness is overwhelmingly important to Islam, and that is the “witness” that Muslims are meant to bear.
The shahada is also crucial because of the element of recitation that it brings. Recitation is also very important to Muslims. In fact, the first word in God’s first revelation to Muhammad (seen in Sura 96) is iqraa (recite), from which the word “Qur’an” originates. The Qur’an was intended for memorization and recitation, and Muslims even now find religious fulfillment in reciting the Qur’an aloud. This religious virtue of recitation is seen even in the Qur’an itself when God holds a contest to see what being can name all of the things the that he had created. The human Adam was the only being, including all the angels, that could recite the names of everything, and this showed God that human beings could be trusted with much responsibility.
Not all aspects of Muslim life, however, are encompassed by the Five Pillars. One important aspect, for example, is family and community life. This aspect of Muslim life is partially touched on by the Pillar of zakah (giving to the needy), but its weight is not expressed fully in such a command. When Muhammad left Mecca, he began a fully Muslim community at the oasis of Yathrib, which became known as the City of the Prophet or Medina. For those who made an affirmation of faith and joined the community, loyalty to the community was considered more important than loyalty to anything else, including family. This community set the standard for Muslim communities, as Islam today could still be considered a way of life more than a religion that is separate from other aspects of life. Many communities and states who adopted Islam made it a way of life rather than just a religion, and this practice even continues today in Muslim nations.
Community is extremely important to Islam, but family is crucial as well. All life comes from God, so each child is also considered a precious gift from God. The family can express their gratitude for this gift of life by giving their child a name with religious meaning. This is why the most common name in the world is “Muhammad”. Since family values have such a high place in the teachings of Islam, most men will get married. However, polygamy is not as common as many Westerners think, even in countries that allow polygamy. Most Muslim men tend to think one wife is enough. However, of those men who choose to have more than one wife, most choose to have four wives, the maximum number allowed by the Qur’an.
It is this focus on the polygamy and the seemingly absent women’s rights in Muslim countries that provide some of the deepest differences between Muslims and Western civilization today, but there are also deep divisions within Islam itself. The fundamentalist Shi’i Muslims, want to bring their Sunni brothers away from their Western ties and get back to the basics of Islam, which surprisingly may include more women’s rights. This fundamentalist movement and dislike of Western culture is seemingly a pushback against the secular culture of the West that governments, such as Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, have embraced. This embrace of a secular community rather than a religious community runs counter to what the Shi’i Muslims believe are the foundations of Islam.
Kellogg, F. http://www.ehcweb.ehc.edu/faculty/fkellogg/211u4.htm Voll, J. O. (1998). From Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion, ed. Robert Wuthnow. 2 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1998), 383-393. http://www.cqpress.com/context/articles/epr_islam.html
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 24 December 2016
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