Islam

Islam means “submission” in Arabic and a Muslim is one who submits to the will of God, or Allah. The religion of Islam emerged in Arabia during the early seventh century, as the last major monotheistic faith, through the leadership of a merchant in Mecca named Muhammad ibn Abdullah (571-632.)

Muhammad, known as the profit and messenger of God, preached the oneness of God, the coming divine judgment, and the existence of hell and paradise. He believed he had received the final and complete revelation from God. While still only a man, he saw himself in a long line of prophets including Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

By 622 Muhammad and his converts left an unwelcoming Mecca and migrated more than 200 miles to Medina. This breaking of traditional tribal bonds (called hijra) and joining the Islamic community of faith (called umma) marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. While in Medina, Muhammad spent seven years spreading the faith and by 630 he was able to return to Mecca in conquering triumph with a reputed 10,000 adherents. By his death in 632 he had united most of the Arabian tribes under his leadership as prophet, statesman and warrior.

Fundamental Beliefs of Islam

Islam does not have any Gospels in the Christian sense since Muhammad was regarded as only a man. Muslims do believe, however, that the Quran (recitations) contains everything that was revealed to Muhammad (ironically written after his death) – the inerrant word of God. There is also the Hadith which is a varied collection of stories and sayings that capture traditions and models for Islamic behavior. These shape God’s holy law known as Sharia, and note that in the Islamic ideal there is no church and state distinction.

The core beliefs of Islam are best captured in the Five Pillars:

  1. Testimony of faith in oneness of God (shahadah)
  2. Observing five daily prayers (salat)
  3. Giving alms to the poor (zakat)
  4. Fasting in the month of Ramadan (al-Sawm)
  5. Making pilgrimage to Mecca (al-Hajj)

Shia and Sunni Muslims

After Muhammad’s death in 632 leadership passed to a deputy (caliph) named Abu Bakr who maintained a unified Islamic community for many years. When the third caliph was murdered in 656 many of his followers did not recognize the installment of Ali, cousin and son-in-law to Muhammad, as fourth caliph. This led to civil war, more murder, and the eventual split between the party of Ali known as Shias and the original followers known as Sunnis. The essential political split was between those with the belief that only a relative of Muhammad should be caliph and those that felt any worthy person could be elected.

Since then many traditions and differences have developed. They revere the same Quran and basic beliefs, but differ on their collections of Hadith. Shias rejects the consensus of the majority Sunni population and rely on their religious teachers, or imams, for guidance. Sunnis make up approximately 85% of the Muslim world and the Shias are located largely in Iraq and Iran.

Is Islam True?

Admitting that there are some Muslims who do not respond well to people criticizing their beliefs, I’ll be brief and clear in my treatment here. No. Islam has no greater claim to truth than any other religion. Since Islam is a continuation of the major monotheistic tradition it suffers from the same fallacies of heaven and hell and divine judgment. There is no evidence that Muhammad interacted with a deity and the Quran was not written until after his death. Further, the divinity of the text is easily questionable as it contains internal contradictions, external errors of science and history, and contradictions with earlier affirmed revelations.

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

This question is often raised in public discussion about tolerance and “Islamophobia.” While there are millions of peaceful Muslims, Islam itself certainly contains elements that, when exploited, do not align very well with the conclusion that Islam itself is peaceful. It is clear that the low number of violent Buddhist or Amish extremists demonstrates a clear overall distinction between those faiths and Islam. Please visit:  http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/ and make your own conclusions.

It is also important to remember though that the veracity of adherence to certain troublesome elements of a religion can and does change over time.

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