The founder of Islam ("to submit") is none other than the person of Muhammad (571-632 A.D.). He was born in Arabia, where his father was a member of the Quraysh tribe. His father died before Muhammad was born, and his mother passed away when he was only six years old. After his mother's death Muhammad was cared for by his grandfather ('Abd-al-Muttalib), and then by his uncle (Abu Talib). Muhammad would eventually meet a woman of wealth in commerce by the name of Khadija when he was 25 years-old. She was 40. From that union four daughters would be born, but only Fatima would survive him.
The religious climate in Arabia during Muhammad's day could best be described as pagan. The Quraysh tended to venerate several different deities and pagan idols, including the sun goddess (al-Lat), the goddess of fate (al-Manat), and the morning star goddess (Uzza). The men of Mecca believed that Allah was the father of the gods and goddesses. So even before Muhammad took control of Mecca, Arabia, and beyond, the belief in Allah was already in existence. Also the Arabians and Meccans believed in angelic beings called the jinn which could be either be good or evil.
Because the religious paganism disturbed Muhammad greatly, perhaps because he subscribed to the Jewish and Christians influences that were also prevalent in the area, he would frequently seek solace in private meditation beyond the city. One evening while in private prayer in a cave, outside Mecca, on Mount Hira, Muhammad was visited by an angelic being. The angel Jibril (Gabriel) imposed upon Muhammad to "Read! In the Name of your Lord Who has created (all that exist)" (Sura 96:1). Muhammad, in a state of shock, asked what he must read, only to be physically strangled by Jibril (Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, 73). Gabriel, insensed by Muhammad's question, proceeded to strangle him again, and again, each time with more force, until Muhammad finally recited what Jibril was stating, including that "[Allah] has created man from a clot (a piece of coagulated blood)."
At first Muhammad believed that he had been visited and possessed by a demon (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, 106). However, after some tender loving counsel from both Khadija, who consulted with her "Christian" cousin Waraqah, Muhammad became convinced that Jibril was God's messenger, and that he (Muhammad) was now God's prophet. For the next 23 years Muhammad would record further revelations from Allah, which when gathered after his death would become the Qur'an.
When Muhammad approached the people of Mecca, within three years of receiving his newfound revelation, he began preaching to them that they should repent of their idolatries and accept Islam. The initial reaction was met with strong resistance, with the exception of those within his immediate family. Muhammad's uncle, Abu Talib, had a "high and lofty position" among the Quraysh and managed to keep the insulted Meccans from physically attacking Muhammad. Otherwise they assured him that "we will rid you of him" (Ishaq, 119). Muhammad would not relinquish his preaching, though, and the gap widened between he and the Meccans. Finally, they approached Abu Talib a second time and warned him that, "'By God, we cannot endure that our father should be reviled, our customs mocked and our gods insulted. Until you rid us of him we will fight the pair of you until one side perishes,' or words to that effect" (Ibid, 119).
The second appeal managed to get both Abu Talib and Muhammad's attentions, but not without further consolation, as the Quraysh bribed Abu Talib to make an exchange for Muhammad so that they could put him to death. Abu Talib balked at their offer, who is then compelled to protect Muhammad from the Quraysh incitement to violence. Although subsequent appeals were made to Muhammad, finally in 622 A.D. he and his uncle Abu Talib flee to Medina, where Muhammad is welcomed in what is known as the hijra. This began what is known as the Islamic era.
From Medina Muhammad orchestrated a series of caravan raids against the Quraysh. Not only did such raids help to finance his growing power structure in Medina, it weakened the Meccan resolve. After eight years of repeated attacks and counter-attacks, Muhammad amassed an army of approximately 10,000 men and marched upon Mecca itself. His plan was to conquer Mecca by surprise, hopefully averting as much bloodshed as possible. After seeing Muhammad's army approach, all but a few of the city's inhabitants fled to their houses and living quarters. Those who did put up a fight were quickly overcome. Mecca was conquered with absolute ease and the idols were destroyed, as "Muhammad had called for during the last twenty years" (Haykal, Life of Muhammad, 409).
Within two years, however, Muhammad, while preparing for a long trip to Palestine, became seriously ill. He began complaining of a headache, yet continued to perform the prayer service at the mosque. The headaches persisted for a short period of time, and even seemed to subside to the point where everyone was convinced that the illness had finally passed. Yet, after prayer on June 8, 632, Muhammad retired to his daughter Aisha's hut where he decided to lie down. As he lay in Aisha's lap, vigorously chewing on a toothpick, he gradually passed from this world, unbeknownst to Aisha what was going on until it was too late.
For the Muslim the holy book above all other holy books is the Qur'an (sometimes spelled Koran), which means "recite." Sura 2:2 reads, "This is the Book (the Qur'an), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun [the pious believers of Islamic Monotheism who fear Allah much (abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds which He has forbidden) and love Allah much (perform all kinds of good deeds which He has ordained)]." Muslims not only believe that the Qur'an is inerrant and eternal, but also believe that it is comparable to the person of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the final revelation of God to man, as is noted in the above Qur'anic reference.
Closely associated with the Qur'an are the Hadith, or "traditions," which are records of what Muhammad said, did, and approved. There are literally thousands of Hadith sayings, with perhaps the most famous of them bound up in the efforts of Al-Bukhari. What makes the Hadith extremely important is that they help one to interpret the disjointed and anachronistic suras found in the Qur'an. In fact, one cannot properly understand the Qur'an without the Hadith.
Finally, Muslims recognize the importance of the Sunnah, which means "custom" or "well-trodden path." The Sunnah, in other words, are additional sayings and deeds of Muhammad that are also found within the Hadith. As the Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law explains,
Rather, the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is his way of acting, ordering, accepting, and rejecting, and the way of his Rightly Guided Caliphs who followed his way of acting, ordering, accepting, and rejecting. So practices that are newly begun must be examined in light of the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his way and path in acceptance or rejection (w29.2).
Within Islam are five obligatory religious observances that all Muslims must fulfill either daily or at least once during their lifetimes. Those observances are the Shahada (the creed), Salat (prayer), Zakat (almsgiving), Saum (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage). Failing to observe these essential aspects of Muslim life is ultimately to fail in one's recognition and worship of Allah.
Known in the vernacular as "The Creed," in order for a person to rightfully claim to be a Muslim, that person must acknowledge or profess la ilaha illa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah or "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah." The importance of this confession cannot be underestimated. No one, nor anything, is comparable to Allah, whether it be "an angel, apostle, prophet, Jesus, son of Mary, Ezra and Muhammad, saint, idol, the sun, the moon and all other kinds of false things and deities (Khan, The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari, 1:xliii). This leads to the second part of the confession, and that is that Muhammad is Allah's supreme prophet or "apostle." As Al-Bukhari points out, "that means that no one has the right to be followed after Allah, but the Prophet Muhammad as he is, the last of His Apostles" (Ibid., 1:xliv). The Shahada exemplifies what it means to be a Muslim, and without complete adherence to it, one cannot be a Muslim.
Muslims are obligated to praying at least five times a day during regularly scheduled times. There are no exceptions. The Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur'an reports Muhammad as saying, "Order your children to perform Salat (prayers) at the age of seven and beat them (about it) at the age of ten" (Sura 2:3). It continues by asserting that "One must offer the Salat (prayers) as the Prophet used to offer them with all their rules and regulations, i.e., standing, bowing, prostrating, sitting as he has said: 'Offer your Salat (prayers) the way you see me performing them" (Ibid.). Friday is a special day of prayer for all Muslims, as well as is Ramadan. According to Muslim convert Suzanne Haneef, "The practice of regular salah is the most fundamental requirement in Islam, without which a Muslim is not fulfilling even his most basic obligation to God and may well have lost the most important and precious thing in his life, his perspective and sense of relatedness to his Creator" (Haneef, What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims, 139).
Zakat represents the almsgiving that all Muslims are to participate in. "In Sacred Law it is the name for a particular amount of property that must be payed to certain kinds of recipients under certain conditions mentioned below" (Reliance of the Traveller, h1.0), namely the poor, those short of money, zakat workers, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, those purchasing their freedom (slaves), those in debt, those fighting for Allah, and travellers needing money. Moreover, zakat is obligatory for every free Muslim "who has possessed a zakat-payable amount…for one lunar year" (Ibid., h1.1).
Obligatory to all Muslims who have past the age of puberty (with some health exceptions), Saum, or fasting during the month of Ramadan, is intended help its practitioners learn "discipline, self-restraint, and flexibility on the material level" (Haneef, 145). Of course not all Muslim fasting occurs during Ramadan, but the same guidelines apply regardless. What is important are the intent of the person and refraining from things which would break the fast (like eating, "inserting a finger or something else into the anus or vagina further than the area disclosed when squatting," or "swallowing saliva that has left the mouth" after moistening and remoistening thread for a needle (Reliance of the Traveller, i1.19). Other things that would invalidate a fast are momentary insanity, being unconscious all day, and the appearance of menstrual or post-natal flow (ibid., i1.23). For those who miss fast-days an obligatory offering of one meal per day is to be offered to the poor during the year of Ramadan. Those waiting until the next period of Ramadan to make-up their offerings are obliged to pay double that amount.
The Hajj is the pilgrimage that all Muslims are obigated to make to Mecca at least once in their lifetimes. According to the Qur'an, "And Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka'bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one's conveyance, provision and residence" (3:97). The 'Umra, which is a lesser pilgrimage to Mecca as well, may be performed, except at the Muslim's convenience, with the exception that a Muslim must go on the Hajj first before proceeding with the 'Umra later. Yet, in neither instance must a Muslim make more than one pilgrimage in a lifetime to Mecca. The whole idea behind the Hajj is that it is seen as the ultimate form of worship, obedience and sacrifice. The Hajj, according to the Hadith, is also seen as kind of Jihad, "since one endures many difficulties and has to control one's desires and spend money on performing Hajj" (2.26.3.n1).
1. Strict monotheism. Allah is God and there are no others.
2. Muhammad is God's final prophet to mankind, and he supercedes all previous prophets and their pronouncements.
3. The Qur'an is God's holy book and final revelation to mankind. It supercedes all other holy books, including the Bible.
4. Jesus was not God's son, for God cannot have a son. Jesus also did not die on a cross, but was substituted for by someone else, while Jesus was transported to heaven.
5. Original sin is denied, while individual free will is promoted.
6. The only absolute assurance of salvation unto a heavenly paradise is through martyrdom. Aside from martydom salvation is based strictly upon the works of the Muslim.
7. There will be a resurrection for all human beings. Heaven is depicted as a beautiful garden, and hell is a firey place of torment.
Sunnis are the traditionalists in Islam. Their membership extends back to the original Quraysh tribe of which Muhammad was associated. Today they comprise about 85% of all Muslims worldwide.
Shiites, which means "faction," is the second largest groups of Muslims, who view their ancestry extending back to Ali, which was Muhammad's nephew. Most Shiites are found in the country of Iran where the Ayatollahs are the chief interpreters of Shari'a law.
Sufis, which means "mystic," are the third faction within Islam, and are known for their mystical experiences with Allah. Their formation was a reaction to the more worldly expressions of Islam, with a recitation of Allah's names (there are 99 in all) from the Qur'an seen as particularly devotional forms of worship.