What is Islam? History
Islam, everyone’s talking about it. With a global community stretching from China to Timbuktu to California and everywhere between. This religion is the way of life of a quarter of humanity.
But what is Islam, what do Muslims believe, and what is Shakira’s Law. Well, let’s find out.
With about 1.8 billion followers or 24% of the Earth’s population, Islam is the second-largest religion on Earth, and therefore the universe.
Muslims make up the majority of the population in 49 countries, as diverse as Yemen, Nigeria, Albania, Kazakhstan, and Malaysia.
This 1400-year-old religion started in modern-day Saudi Arabia but today only 20% of Muslims are Arabs.
Indonesia, is the country with the most Muslims, holding about 13% of the world’s total.
Although about 30% of Muslims live in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Christianity is named after Christ.
Judaism after the tribe of Judah.
And Zoroastrianism after the 1998 swashbuckling adventure film The Mask Of Zorro starring Antonio Banderas.
But Islam is named after an action.
Islam means “submission to God” and a Muslim is a person that submits to God.
The root meaning of the word Islam means “peace, safety, and security”.
The Arabic word for peace Salam comes from this root along with the Hebrew word Shalom.
So submission to God means finding peace by following God.
Around the world regardless of language most Muslims greet each other in Arabic, saying As-salāmu ʻalaykum, peace be upon you.
Islam originated in 7th century Arabia with a guy called Muhammad.
Firstly, the Quran, Islam’s Holy Book, has no ban on drawing Muhammad…
But the big three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have rules against making images of any living thing.
This comes from the Torah. Some Muslims and Jews take this rule very seriously.
Islam kept this rule going so Muslims wouldn’t worship in front of images of Muhammad or God.
Instead, they pray directly to God. Some Muslim societies have drawn Muhammad in the past, Iranian cultures especially.
Today most Muslims are offended by disrespectful images of Muhammad. But respectful images are usually fine, especially in Shia Islam, the second-largest branch of Islam.
The majority of Muslims disagree with violence in response to depictions of Muhammad.
Muhammad was born in 570CE in the city of Mecca in Arabia. His parents died when he was young and Muhammad grew up as an orphan.
Back then the Arabs worshipped hundreds of different gods. Muhammad’s tribe the Quraysh were the guardians of this building, the Kaaba, in Mecca.
They packed the Kaaba with hundreds of idols of different gods and the Quraysh got filthy rich taxing pilgrims visiting the Kaaba.
Muhammad was deeply religious and wanted to improve his community. All around him he saw poverty, injustice, war, and widespread discrimination against women and orphans.
Muhammad saw the rich abuse the poor and religious festivals had become giant decadent parties dedicated to the worship of idols.
…this is the best religion ever———Religion party–
Instead of attending religious festivals every year, Muhammad would go pray alone in a cave.
Then in 610CE in the month of Ramadan during one of these lonely cave prayers Muhammad, now 40 years old, was visited by the angel Gabriel or Jibril in Arabic.
Jibril told Muhammad that there was one God and that he was now God’s Messenger.
Muhammad received revelations from God and recited them aloud.
His companions wrote these revelations down and they became the Quran, Islam’s Holy Book.
Muhammad’s words were radical in tribal Arabia. He was saying stuff like “Arab has no superiority over non-Arab,…. white has no superiority over black”.
He also demanded an end to the practice of killing infant girls because boys were preferred. Saying girls were equal blessings from God.
This didn’t go down well in tribal, sexist, and hierarchical Mecca. The whole one God business annoyed the Quraysh because they made money charging people to visit the Kaaba to worship idols.
The poor, slaves and others flocked to Muhammad. The Quraysh, now furious and losing money, abused the Muslims, especially vulnerable ones, like slaves, who were frequently tortured if they converted.
The Muslims didn’t fight back. Muhammad and his God outlawed violence. The Quran said “Whosoever killed a person … it shall be as if he had killed all mankind”
After a decade of persecution, the Muslims fled to the city of Medina. This move-in 622 CE marks year 1 on the Islamic calendar.
Right now, January 2021CE is 1442 on the Muslim calendar.
Even in Medina the Quraysh kept attacking the Muslims.
So God told Muhammad the Muslims could fight back.
But God laid down some ground rules for fighting:
● Do not target public places
● Do not destroy farms or herds
● Do not harm women, children, the elderly, or disabled
● Do not harm animals, trees, or plants
● Be kind to prisoners and do not forcefully convert anyone
These strict rules of war were laid down to stop civilians from getting hurt.
Muhammad said “If someone shows no compassion, God will show no compassion to him.” (Muslim 30:5737)
By 630, Muhammad marched on Mecca with an army of 10,000. The city submitted without a battle. Muhammad went straight to the Kaaba and destroyed the hundreds of idols and dedicated it only to God.
Two years later most of Arabia had converted to Islam and was united under Muhammad. Then on June 8, 632, Muhammad died.
What is Islam?
Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father in law was elected as the first khalīfah or successor.
This election is the cause of the divide between Islam’s two major branches Sunni and Shia.
To oversimplify, Sunni believes Abu Bakr was rightly elected. Shia believes Muhammad chose his son-in-law Ali as his successor.
Today Sunnis make up between 80-90% of all Muslims while Shia makes up around 13%.
Over the next 1400 years, Islam has spread through empires and trade across Middle-East, Africa, Central and South Asia, and China.
It spread to Europe, especially the Balkans and Spain, merchants brought it to South East Asia, and slaves brought it with them to the Americas.
So that’s Muhammad’s story but what exactly was the preaching. Islam might seem complicated at first but we can break it down into some core beliefs.
1 Belief In One God
Muslims, Christians, and Jews worship the same God. Muslims just call that God, Allah because that’s the Arabic word for God. Arab Christians also refer to God as Allah.
Muslims believe God is the uncreated, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, loving, and genderless creator of the universe.
Islam accepts that there is only one God and that believing in other gods or worshipping anything else be it idols, money, or power like it’s God is a great sin. Islam also
has no priests as Muslims are supposed to have a direct personal connection with God.
In Islam, God created the world in 6 days.
After creating the world and everything in it God created Adam and Eve together from the same clay. The Quran states God “created humanity from a single soul”.
2 Belief in the Divine Books and Prophets
Muhammad said he wasn’t preaching anything new. He said Islam was the original religion of humanity.
He was just a Prophet tasked with reminding people of the One God and bringing them back on the correct path. Muhammad is not the only Prophet in Islam.
The Prophets of Judaism and Christianity are accepted by Muslims too.
Dozens of Prophets are named in the Quran alongside Muhammad like Abraham, Moses, Noah, and Jesus. Moses, Jesus, and Jesus’ mother Mary get a lot of mention in the Quran.
In Islam Muhammad and all Prophets are just humans, but they carry a message.
All Prophets brought the same message. A call for peace, a return to worshipping only God, and a warning of the Day of Judgement.
Muslims also recognize the Jewish Torah and Christian Gospel as Divine Books sent down by God.
So Muslims refer to themselves along with Jews, Christians, and some others as People Of The Book.
The big difference is that Muslims believe Muhammad is the final prophet and the Quran the last Divine Book.
3 Belief in the Day of Judgment
God created the universe with an expiration date. At some point in the future, the Day Of Judgement will come.
The world will end and everyone that has ever lived will be resurrected and their actions in life will be judged and they will be held accountable for how they behaved.
After the resurrection, everyone will move across a bridge that goes over the fire of hell and leads to the entrance to heaven.
For those whose good deeds outweigh their bad, the bridge is flat and broad and the crossing is easy. For sinners, the bridge becomes as sharp as a razor and they fall into hell.
Hell is a place of fire, everyone is tortured, miserable, thirsty, baby shark plays all day long.
It’s awful. Stuff like murder, theft, and cheating will get you sent there.
Whereas heaven is a beautiful garden filled with rivers of milk and honey where everyone is young, healthy, reunited with family.
Eventually, most people who go to hell will move up into heaven. Because God wants most people in heaven.
4. The Quran
The Quran is the Holy Book of Islam. The word Quran simply means to recite or say out loud.
Muslims consider it to be the word of God spoken through the mouth of Muhammad in Arabic.
The Quran is about 600 pages long and is divided into 114 Surahs or chapters.
Each Surah is divided into numbered verses or āyāt.
So you can find any quote from the Quran using the number of the Surah and Ayat.
What is Islam?
Let’s just pick a random number. 31:19 which is “Lo! the harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass.”.
The Quran has no narrative structure. It’s organized by length, the longest verses at the beginning and shortest near the end. So the topic and narrative of the Quran jumps around a lot.
One reason for this is because the Quran is supposed to be read aloud.
Many Muslims even memorise the whole Quran.
The Hadith are the second most important literature in Islam after the Quran. The Hadith are the sayings of or actions of Muhammad not God that his companions heard and wrote down.
Hadith fill in information that’s not in the Quran on how to be a good Muslim.
Hadith were passed down orally before being written down.
So not all Hadith are equal. Hadith are ranked from Strong down to Weak, depending on how trustworthy the chain of transmitters from Muhammad is.
For example the Hadith that reports Muhammd saying “Forgive him who wrongs you” is considered strong because the chain of transmitters is trustworthy. The Hadith that talks about 72 virgins in Heaven is weak and so most Muslim don’t believe it.
Sunni and Shia Muslims use different Hadith and some Muslims don’t follow the Hadith at all.
5. The Five Pillars Of Islam
This core belief is split into 5…. well Pillars. These act as the blueprint for how Muslims behave.
First you have
The Shahada is simply a statement.
“There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God “ This is the shortest possible explanation of what Muslims believe, saying it once honestly makes a person a Muslim.
Salat means prayer. Practicing Muslims pray five times a day.
Before Salat Muslims must perform wudu, or ritual washing of the face, arms, head, and feet. Each salat begins with saying “God is most great” (“Allahu Akbar”) followed by prayers in Arabic along with movements like standing, bowing, and kneeling. Muslim prayer looks like a proper workout.
Because a Muslim stops whatever they are doing to pray five times a day, they’re reminded of God and the values of the Quran.
When praying Muslims face Mecca. The direction toward Mecca is called the qibla.
Muslim places of worships, Mosques, are planned so that one wall, the qibla wall, always faces Mecca.
Even though Mosques look different depending on where they are in the world they all have a qibla wall.
Zakāt is a charitable tax on wealth that all Muslims pay annually. The basic rate is 2.5 percent of your current wealth.
The Quran says “Give money, cheerfully, to the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the traveling alien, the beggars, and to free the slaves”
Travelling alien probably means something else in that context then how I’m imagining it….or does it?
Today, every year, somewhere between $200 billion and $1 trillion is given to charity by Muslims across the globe.
Muhammad preached that accumulating wealth was greedy. To stop the rich profiting off poverty the Quran outlaws interest-bearing loans known as usury or riba.
Money can never be traded for money. Wealth can only come from actual labour or fair trade.
What is Islam?
Sawm is fasting.
During the holy month of Ramadan Muslims fast from Dawn to Sunset. Fasting includes:
No eating. No drinking. And No smoking Pregnant women, the sick, and the disabled do not have to fast if it puts stress on their bodies. Women on their period can also delay their fast.
Through fasting, a person experiences how the poor suffer. Fasting breaks up life’s regular routine, and invites introspection and meditation on God.
Ramadan ends with the feast of Eid. During this holiday Muslims give extra zakat to the poor, share food, visit their mosque, and eat with friends and family.
The Hajj is the pilgrimage to the Kaaba at Mecca. The holiest place in Islam.
Every Muslim must make the pilgrimage once in their life, if able to do so. For over 1,000 years Muslims from all over the world have flocked to Mecca. On Hajj there is no distinction between rich and poor or nationality and race. Today more than two million people make hajj each year.
And those are the Five Pillars Of Islam.
Next let’s look at some topics you hear a lot about when it comes to Islam.
Islam and women is a pretty topical issue.
So how does Islam address women and what is the deal with the veil?
First of all let’s explain the different veils.
This is a hijab, This is a niqab, This is a chador, and this is a burqa.
The Hijab is by far the most popular veil you’ll see. The Burqa and Niqab are only found in deeply conservative communities or Afghanistan. And the chador is mostly found in Iran.
Not all Muslim women wear veils and some Muslim majority nations have banned all headscarves while others pressure women to wear them. It’s a controversial issue within Islam.
But why do some Muslim women wear these veils? One culture, the veil is part of many people’s cultural identity. Another reason is that Islam preaches modesty.
Muslims should be modest in their words, actions, tempers, desires, appetite, everything really. Men and Women are instructed to wear loose fitting clothing that should cover most of the body.
There isn’t a difference made in the Quran between how men and women should dress, and it never states that women need to cover their faces. Veils in general seem to have entered early
Muslim culture from their Roman neighbours. The only reference to women covering their faces is about Muhammad’s wives. Most Muslims consider it to only apply to Muhammad’s wives.
Throughout the Quran God attacks those that say women are inferior to men (16:57-59) and repeatedly demands that women be treated equally (2:228, 231; 4:19).
Muhammad supported women’s education, saying “If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire” (Abdullah ibn Mas’ud).
The Quran also guarantees a woman’s right to work, divorce, and own property.
What is Islam?
Halal is simply the Arabic word for permissible. If something is Halal then Muslims can do it without worrying it’s a sin.
Most foods are Halal except:
Pork, donkey, predators like lions, wolves, cats, and dogs, birds with talons, eels, and lizards, mice, rats, and monkeys.
Blood is also banned. Don’t drink blood!
Alcohol is not halal because alcohol has negative effects on health and society.
Although funnily enough Alcohol is an Arabic word.
In order for meat to be Halal the animal must not suffer. It’s neck must be quickly cut at the throat while saying God’s name, to give it a quick and painless death. The animal should also not see or hear the previous slaughter and must not see the blade beforehand, so it doesn’t become afraid.
Animal cruelty is outlawed in the Quran. Muhammad said “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.”.
Sharia Law is talked about everywhere these days. The 3 times it’s mentioned in the Quran, Sharia normally refers to the Capital W Way.
The Way a Muslim should live to most please God, to bring order to society, and to get into heaven.
The literal meaning of Sharia is, “path to a water hole” which to a desert people was a literal path to life.
Thinking of Sharia as only Law tends to cause confusion. Sharia mostly covers personal matters and contracts between people. How to pray or fast, how to treat neighbours, not lying, how to marry and divorce.
This stuff is the main focus of Sharia, and how to pray isn’t something that is enforced by law.
The Quran doesn’t have much Law in it. But Muslims societies wanted to have laws influenced by Sharia.
So looking at the message of the Quran Muslim scholars decided that the goals of legal Sharia were the protection of life, property, family, faith, and intellect.
Over centuries scholars made claims about the Sharia and then backed up their claims using the Quran, Hadith, and reasoning.
The body of legal rulings that came from their interpretation of Sharia was Islamic law, or “fiqh” in Arabic.
But Fiqh is the result of human opinion and so can be wrong and is changeable. Fiqh can try to capture the Sharia, but probably never will. So fiqh evolved constantly.
Sharia is aspirational, it was never written down in a big ancient book of unchanging rules.
Different Muslims around the world have different interpretations of what Sharia is. And made fiqh based on those interpretations.
You might see Saudi Arabia, Daesh, or Boko Haram cry Sharia as they abuse and torture people.
Most Muslims do not consider what those groups do as Sharia. But headlines tend to focus on these groups anyway.
Sharia can and has been used to champion justice and equality. For example Musawah, is an organisation which uses Shariah to promote gender equality.
That’s the fascinating thing about Sharia. It’s an argument, a process. A way to learn, grow, and adapt.