|Introduction to Islam|
|Islam : The True Religion|
Origin of Islam:
Most religious historians view Islam as having been founded in 622 CE by Mohammed the Prophet (circa 570 to 632 CE) in Mecca, when the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) read the first revelation to Muhammad. (Muhammad and Muhammed are alternate spellings for his name.) Islam is seen as the youngest of the world's great religions.
Followers of Islam are called Muslims. "Muslim" is an Arabic word that refers to a person who submits themselves to the Will of God. "Allah" is an Arabic word which means "the One True God." .
Little is known about Muhammad's childhood. He was orphaned at the age of 6 and brought up by his uncle. As a child, he worked as a shepherd. He was taken on a caravan to Syria by his uncle at the age of 9 (or perhaps 12). Later, as a youth, he was employed as a camel driver on the trade routes between Syria and Arabia. Mohammed later managed caravans on behalf of merchants. He met people of different religious beliefs on his travels, and was able to observe and learn about Judaism, Christianity and the indigenous Pagan religions.
After marriage, he was able to spend more time in meditation. At the age of 40, (610 CE), he was visited in Mecca by the angel Gabriel. He developed the conviction that he had been ordained a Prophet and given the task of converting his countrymen from their pagan, polytheistic beliefs and what he regarded as moral decadence, idolatry, hedonism and materialism.
He met considerable opposition to his teachings. In 622 CE he moved north to Medina due to increasing persecution. The trek is known as the hegira . Here he was disappointed by the rejection of his message by the Jews. Through religious discussion, persuasion, military activity and political negotiation, Mohammed became the most powerful leader in Arabia, and Islam was firmly established throughout the area.
By 750 CE, Islam had expanded to China, India, along the Southern shore of the Mediterranean and into Spain. By 1550 they had reached Vienna. Wars resulted, expelling Muslims from Spain and Europe.
Believers are currently concentrated from the West coast of Africa to the Philippines. In Africa, in particular, they are increasing in numbers.
Estimates of the total number of Muslims in the world vary greatly:
0.700 billion or more, Barnes & Noble Encyclopedia 1993
0.817 billion, The Universal Almanac (1996)
0.951 billion, The Cambridge Factfinder (1993)
1.100 billion, The World Almanac (1997)
1.200 billion, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic relations)
At a level of 1.2 billion, they represent about 22% of the world's population. They are the second largest religion in the world; Christianity has 33%.
Islam is growing about 2.9% per year which is faster than the total world population which increases about 2.3% annually. It is thus attracting a progressively larger percentage of the world's population. The number of Muslims in North America is in dispute: estimates range from under 3 million to over 6 million.
There are two main texts consulted by Muslims:
the Qur'an are the words of God. This was originally in oral and written form; they were later assembled together into a single book, the Qur'an. Its name is often spelled "Koran" in English.
The Hadith, which are collections of the sayings of Mohammed. They are regarded as an excellent guide for living. However, the writings are not regarded as having the same status as the Holy Qur'an; the latter is considered to be God's word.
Muslim Beliefs and Practices:
Muslims follow a lunar calendar which started with the hegira, a 300 mile trek in 622 CE when Mohammed relocated from Mecca to Medina.
A Muslim's duties as described in the Five Pillars of Islam are:
to recite at least once during their lifetime the shahadah (the creed: "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet"). Most Muslims repeat it at least daily.
to perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day. This is recited while orienting one's body towards Mecca. It is done in the morning, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset and just before sleeping.
to donate regularly to charity through zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy as the individual believer feels moved.
to fast during the month of Ramadan [began 1995-FEB-2, 1995 (Year 1415); begins 1996-JAN-22 (Year 1416) and 1997-JAN-10 (Year 1417)]. This is believed to be the month that Mohammed received the first revelation of the Qur'an from God.
if economically and physically able, to make at least one hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca
Jihad (struggle) is probably the most misunderstood religious word in existence. It often mentioned on Western TV and radio during news about the Middle East, where it is implied to be a synonym of "holy war" - a call to fight against non-Muslims in the defense of Islam.
The vast majority of Muslims have an entirely different definition of Jihad. It is seen as a personal, internal struggle with one's self. The goal may be achievement in a profession, self-purification, the conquering of primitive instincts or the attainment of some other noble goal.
strict monotheism. God is the creator, is just, omnipotent and merciful
respect for earlier prophets and belief in their teachings: Abraham, Moses and Jesus
that Mohammed is the last of the prophets
belief in the existence of Satan who drives people to sin
that Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God return to a state of sinlessness
belief in Hell where unbelievers and sinners spend eternity. One translation of the Qur'an 98:1-8 states: "The unbelievers among the People of the Book and the pagans shall burn for ever in the fire of Hell. They are the vilest of all creatures." ("People of the Book" refers to Christians, Jews and Muslims
belief in Paradise, a place of physical and spiritual pleasure where the sinless go after death
abstinence from alcohol and gambling
rejection of racism
avoid the use of alcohol, other drugs, eating of pork, etc.
Schools within Islam:
There are different schools of jurisprudence within Islam. The main divisions are:
Sunni Muslims: These are followers of the Hanifa, Shafi, Hanibal and Malik schools. They constitute a 90% majority of the believers, and are considered to be main stream traditionalists. Because they are comfortable pursuing their faith within secular societies, they have been able to adapt to a variety of national cultures, while following their three sources of law: the Qur'an, Hadith and consensus of Muslims.
Shi'ite Muslims: These are followers of the Jafri school who constitute a small minority of Islam. They split from the Sunnis over a dispute about the successor to Mohammed. Their leaders promote a strict interpretation of the Qur'an and close adherents to its teachings. They believe in 12 heavenly Imams (perfect teachers) who led the Shi'ites in succession. Shi'ites believe that the 12th Imam, the Mahdi (guided one), never died but went into hiding waiting for the optimum time to reappear and guide humans towards justice and peace.
Sufism: This is a mystic tradition in which followers seek inner knowledge directly from God through meditation and ritual and dancing. They developed late in the 10th century CE as an ascetic reaction to the formalism and laws of the Qur'an. There are Sufis from both the Sunni and Shi'ite groups. However, some Sunni followers to not consider Sufiism as a valid Islamic practice. They incorporated ideas from Neoplatonism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
Deviations from Islam:
There are over 70 other groups which originated within Islam and broke away from the Sunni or Shi'ite faith communities. Some are:
Baha'i World Faith: This is an attempt to integrate all of the world religions. It was originally a break-away sect from Islam but has since grown to become a separate religion.
Ahmadis: Followers of the Ahmadiyya Movement believe that God sent Ahmad as a Messiah, "a messenger of His in this age who has claimed to have come in the spirit and power of Jesus Christ. He has come to call all people around one Faith, i.e. Islam."
The movement's founder was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). He was born in Qadian, India.
After his death, the community elected a series of Khalifas (successors). The current and "Fourth Successor (Khalifatul Masih IV), to the Promised Messiah was chosen in the person of Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad" on 1982-JUN-10.
The Ahmadiyya Community currently has more than 170 million members worldwide. They regard themselves as a reform movement within Islam. The community website www.alislam.org