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Islam is the religion of the group of people who worship Allah (the name for God in the Arabic language) and follow the word of the prophet Muhammad, embodied in both oral and written form in the Qur'an, sometimes called al Furqān. The adherents of Islam are Muslims or (though this use is outdated) Muhammadans. There are various spellings of these words; e.g., "Moslem" and "Mohammadan" are also seen.

Teachings of Islam

The word "Islam" means "submission to God." Muslims believe in one God, the God of Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, who are all regarded as prophets or "Messengers" before Muhammad. Muslims believe that Muhammad came to bring the final message of God, the correct path and true knowledge of the afterlife to pagan polytheists and to the Christians and Jews -- monotheists who had deviated from the correct path.

For Muslims, the Qur'an answers questions about daily needs, both spiritual and material. It discusses God and God's Names and attributes; believers and their virtues, and the fate of non-believers (kāfir); Mary, Jesus, and all the other prophets; and even scientific subjects. In practice, the laws that Muslims follow are contained in the law collections known as the Hadith.

Muslims are being taught that God sent down 104 books. Besides the Qur'an, the most important of these are the Law of Moses (the Taurah), the Psalms of David (the Zabūr) and the Gospel of Jesus (the Injil). The Qur'an describes Christians as "the people of the Book" (ahl al Kitāb). A Christian is not considered to be a kāfir.

The teachings of Islam concern many of the same personages as those of Judaism and Christianity. However, Muslims frequently refer to them using Arabic names which can make it appear they are talking about different people: e.g. Allah for God, Iblis? for Satan, Ibrahim? for Abraham, etc. A belief in a day of judgment and an afterlife are pivotal to Islam.

The Five Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam are the basic elements of the faith:

Divisions of Islam

Islam is divided into three main sects: the Sunni, the Shia and the mystical sect known as Sufi Islam, or Sufism.

The division dates back to a dispute over who was to be caliph, i.e. successor of Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community (or Ummah?); though not his successor as prophet. The Sunni believed that the leader of the Muslims should be elected, so long as he came from the Quraysh? tribe, the tribe of the prophet; the Shia believed that only Muhammad's son-in-law Ali? and his descendants should be eligible for the position. The Sunni are in the majority world-wide, and are the majority in most Muslim countries, with the exception of Iran, where the majority is Shia.

There are other Muslim sects including the Ismailis, the Nizaris? (more commonly known as the Assassins), the Druze (which have developed into a separate religion), and the Ahmadiyya?, a controversial messianic sect.

The Nation of Islam is a movement in the United States for black empowerment, with one of its leaders being [Louis Farrakhan]?. The Nation of Islam claims to be Islamic, however many other Muslims reject their claim, on the grounds that their teachings differ significantly from those traditionally associated with Islam.

Practices of Islam

The vast bulk of the world's Muslims live in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the Indonesian islands, and are of many different races and (political and ethnic) nationalities.


The Muslim Sabbath is on Friday - Muslims are obliged to attend prayer in a mosque of his town and hear two sermons; these sermons form the principal part of the midday prayer. When the holidays occur is according to the Islamic calendar, meaning each year they shift relative to the Gregorian calendar.

Festivals through the year:

The Great Festival - Held on the 10th day of the 12th month. Pilgrims gather in Mecca.
(Which one of the below holidays is this? The Big Feast?)

The Small Festival - Held on the first three days of the month of Shawwal
(which one of the below holidays is this? The Little Feast?)

Ashura - the 10th day of the month of Muharram. This is the day on which Mohammed's grandson, Imam Husain, was martyred in Iraq. For Shiites this is a day of mourning. Some Sunnis connect this holiday to the deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egypt, and is a day of special prayer, rejoicing and music. This holiday is strongly discouraged by the Islamist movement (fundamentalist Islam), which is now predominant in the Arab world

Ramadan - month long observance of fasting.

Feast of Breaking the Fast (idu-l-fitr), or the Little Feast (al-idu s-saghir)- occurs at the conclusion of Ramadan.

The Big Feast, (idu-l-adha,), also "The Feast of Sacrifice" (Kurban Bayram) - two months and 10 days after the Little Feast. Animals are slaughtered to commemorate Abraham's sacrificing of a ram instead of his son Ishmael. Those who are able make a pilgrimmage to Mecca.

The Prophet's birthday (al-mawlidu n-nabawi sh-sharif) - This holiday is prohibited by the Islamist movement (fundamentalist Islam), which is now predominant in the Arab world. Entire Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, now forbid Muslims to celebrate this holiday.

Muslim New Year - not generally celebrated as an official Muslim holiday, although many Arab communities have some kind of celebrations. This holiday is prohibited by the Islamist movement (fundamentalist Islam), which is now predominant in the Arab world.

Dietary laws

When eating meat, Muslims may only eat from meat that has been slaughtered in the name of Allah. Such meat is called halal. Most Islamic religious clerics allow for a Jew or a Christian to do such slaughtering; as such Muslims may eat kosher meat (meat which has been slaughtered by a Jewish person in accordance with Jewish law.) Islamic laws prohibits a Muslim from eating pork, monkey, dog or cat, as these animals are haram (unlawful). For an animal to be halal (lawful) it must be slaughtered, and not boiled or electrocuted.

The role of women in Islam

Islam does not prohibit women from working, yet emphasizes the importance of caring for her house and family and not neglecting their needs.
practice of religion

Circumcision for boys is highly recommended in Islam; many Islamic clerics say that it is not strictly mandatory. Various types of female circumcision are practiced in some African Muslim communities, despite the fact that it has no basis in the Quran. Many Arab Muslims teach that female circumcision is not proper.

Islam since The Enlightenment

Not all Muslims follow sharia, Islamic law. In the past century many Muslim have moved to many European and North and South American countries; these nations underwent great changes as a result of The Enlightenment in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Perhaps the most significant change was total or effective separation of Church and State, thus state ending encouragement, and even enforcement, of religious observance. The effect that this massive social change had on Christians and Jews is now having a similar effect on Muslims. Many secularized Muslims, have stopped participating in religious duties; many of them are so-called second-generation Muslims in western countries, the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants, who live in-between two cultures and have developed ambivalent feelings towards their religious duties. On the one hand they tend to cling to their traditions for identity reasons, on the other hand the influence of western mentality, daily life and peer-pressure tears them away from muslim culture. Plus, a complicating factor for observing Ramadan and the five prayers is the fact that western society is not designed for such radical habits.

This phenomenon is not as noticeable in the middle-east, because to a large degree the enlightenment never occured in the Arab nations. Many nations still have islam as their official language, and the practice of other faiths is often strictly controlled, or even forbidden. In some nations asking people to join an non-Muslim faith is a crime punishable by imprisonment or death. It is only in the last 50 years that enlightenment values have begun to seriously penetrate Arab and Muslim nations.

Islamism - Islam and Contemporary Political Movements

The Islamist movement (as distinct from Islamic), and pan-Arabism in the past century - Just as has happened in Christianity and Judaism, the political, social and theological beliefs of many Muslims today is not identical to the beliefs of many Muslims of a century ago.

Due to the predominance of the Islamist movement in the 20th century, Islam has in the last century become increasingly intolerant of any disagreement or criticism. A recent feature of worldwide Islam is the tendency to issue public death threats against Muslims who disagree with the religion, ask to modernize the Quran, or write a book about leaving Islam. The death threats are not the province of a small number of fanatic clerics; in most of the cases cited below there have been public demonstrations by thousands of people in many nations, even in Arabs in Western nations such as England, burning the "heretics" in effigy and calling for their death. Moderates in the Arab community are not empowered to overturn the fatwas (religious edicts) calling for such death sentences. For examples of some of these death sentences, see Fatwa.

More topics to expound upon:

Wahhabism? -- Ahmadis? -- Shariah? -- Four Schools of Madhhab -- Shaafi'i? -- Hanafi? -- Maliki? -- Hanbali? -- Imam -- Mujtahid? -- Tawhid? -- jihad -- [Islamic views of homosexuality]? -- [Syncretism in Islam]? -- Marabout? -- [Islamic rituals]? (births, weddings, burials...) -- djinn?

see Mosque

History of Islam

External links on Islam:

Further reading "Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews" Khalid Duran with Abdelwahab Hechiche, The American Jewish Committee and Ktav, 2001

"The Islamism Debate" Martin Kramer, University Press, 1997

"Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook" Charles Kurzman, Oxford Universoty Press, 1998

"The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder" Bassam Tibi, Univ. of California Press, 1998


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Last edited November 28, 2001 4:03 pm by 213.131.76.xxx (diff)