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Islam is a religion with more than 1.2 billion believers world wide. It dominates in East- and North Africa, in the larger Middle East, in Central Asia and in Indonesia.
The word "Islam" is best translated with "submission", meaning submission under the will and guidance of God. But the word has a deeper meaning, understood through other words with the same Arabic root (s-l-m): "salam," peace, and "salama," safety and security. Hence, the word "Islam" itself explains much of the central core of the religion.
Islam is more than a religion. Islam is also cultures, political ideas and artistic orientations.
In Islam there is only one god, although there are other supernatural beings, like Satan and angels (see Concept of divine). The religion is defined by the Koran, believed to be the word of God, and a large collection of scriptures from the hand of humans. To the latter group belongs especially the hadiths (acts and sayings of Muhammad and other early Muslims), early theological works, law scriptures (Sharia) and commentatory scriptures which are still being produced.
Islam is often promoted as a complete religion, in which social life is part of the complete religious life of the adherents. Islam is even promoted as a political system, mainly in the form of Islamism. On the personal level, the core of Islam may understood from sura 2:172, in which righteousness is defined, righteousness being the ultimate quality of a true Muslim. It involves a complete belief in God and his prophets (note the plural) and love and caring for all believers, especially the poor and weak.
Islam is defined out of the following, known as the 5 pillars:
- Shahada, the creed stating that "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his messenger".
- Salat, the prayer which is to be performed five times a day. This prayer is performed after strict rules: bending and uttering phrases from the Koran, as well as facing the direction towards the Ka'ba in Mecca.
- Zakat, alms. This is a prescription which is practiced in very different ways in Islam today.
- Sawm, fast during the month of Ramadan.
- Hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. This an obligation for all Muslims in good health and sufficiently good economic situation.
Groups and Branches
According to the old categorization, Islam is divided into three orientations, Sunni, Shi'i and Ibadi (or Khariji). These are not good categories, although they do originate in important historical events.
This encyclopaedia is attempting at understanding Muslims according to which are their central rituals, what is the theological emphasis and to which extent is Islam considered a private religion or a political ideology. These aspects cross the traditional divisions, there are secular Muslims as well as fundamentalist Muslims in all groups. Still, the old divisions must not be forgotten, they still play an important role in many contexts.
Within mainstream Islam, there are 3 levels: Islamism, which is the absolute variant, claiming that Islam is valid to all aspects of human life, promoting this to politics and world-wide missionary activities and willingly also violence and war; Conservatism, which just like Islamism, employs Islam for all aspects of life, but commonly within the family or the local community and it usually do not involve any violent acts; Moderates which are both intellectual and sectarian Muslims as well as Muslims with little attention and intensity to their religion.
At the next level there are numerous of orientations in terms of cult and myths. The mystical and the worship of mediators are among the most common. Mystical Islam is traditionally most active within Sunni Islam, and is summed up as Sufism, but spreads also into Shi'ism. The worship of mediators involves the worship of holy men and women in Sunni Islam, and the worship of both holy men and women as well as of the imams in Shi'i Islam. The worship of mediators may take the shape of idol worshipping or even polytheism, but in the larger cults this variant of Islam is interpreted as in total correspondence with the unique and single will of God.
Certain groups that are usually defined as part of Islam are in reality not. Major orientations Alevism, Ahl e-Haqq and Isma'ilism are truly independent religions, but due to Muslim intolerance towards non-Muslims these accept to be defined as part of Islam (see Taqiyya religions). Alawism does not fit the patterns of Islamic faith and practice, but has sought and obtained official recognition as a branch of Shi'i Islam. Orientations like Druze and Baha'i are officially counted outside Islam, although the Druze claim to be the true Muslims.
The original establishment of Islam is with the emergence of the Koran, which allegedly came to Muhammad over a period of 22 years, starting in 610. Soon after Muhammad's death in 632, stories about his life were collected, investigated, organized and interpreted. This activity, resulting in hadiths became a second source for the theology and moral of Islam.
Also the stories about Muhammad and the early Muslims himself represent the dominant part of the available sources to understand the earliest stages of Islam. These are often state to be of high quality, while in reality the hadiths were systemized long first after several generations. The challenges facing the hadith scholars were large, as many false and erroneous stories circulated.
However, Islam defines itself radically different, defining Islam as beginning with Adam, the first man created and the first Muslim. According to Islam, Adam received the truth of Islam, the content would be lost or altered. Over and over again, the message was presented to new generations and peoples, but every time, the truth would be destroyed in the hands of humans. Muslims claim that the message presented to Muhammad is the last revelation; this time the message was not altered. Therefore, Islam presents the perfect truth.
Ibrahim (Judaism/Christianity: Abraham) has a central place in the history of Islam, and is the founder and builder of the Ka'ba in Mecca, which is by Islam defined as the centre of the world.
Theology and Ideology
[Index for Islam / Theology]
The teaching of Islam is that there is only one God. The original teachings of the two religions was exactly the same as what is found in Islam today, but man has altered the lore given to both groups. Nevertheless, this teaching in Islam, has made Muslims show a lot of respect for both Christians and Jews, as they are considered People of the book, ahl al-kitab.
While there is no explicit message of love in Islam in the same sense as it is found in parts of the Gospels (Christianity), Islam is still a religion that exhibits the same care for man as found in Christianity and Judaism. There are numerous passages in the Koran where God expresses his compassion for man.
The most central issue in Islam is the responsibility towards the community. The Koran and the Sunna contains many rules on how to act in life, what to do and what not to do. The core of Islam is the family, the extended family, and from this, society is understood as concentric circles. There are no obligations on the Muslims towards people who are not Muslims, Jews or Christians.
In Islam, humans are understood as secured a place in Paradise, provided they live according to the regulations of Islam. Most Muslims abstain from claiming that they are guaranteed a place in Paradise. Islam has a Day of Judgement, but this does not play a central part in neither belief nor theology. This day will be the day when all dead are reawakened, either to be condemned or let into Paradise. There are no reasons to consider the Muslim Paradise as a place where men will enter more easily than women, but when life in Paradise is described this is in most, but not all, cases described on male conditions. Most learned Muslims consider the descriptions of Paradise as symbolic, and consider Paradise as something that man on earth cannot apprehend.
Islam holds elements from religious traditions from before Islam. These vary from region to region. In modern ages, Islam is turning in a direction of becoming more and more based upon the sunna, where "popular" traditions lose their foothold.
Islamic sociology has in most societies been defined as wealth and prosperity, peace and stability being gifts granted by God to those deserving his gifts. This idea is well founded in the Koran:
Koran sura 28: The Story
82 And on the morrow those who had yearned for his place the day before said, ĎAh, ah! God extends provision to whom He pleases of His servants, or He doles it out; had not God been gracious to us, the earth would have cleft open with us! Ah, ah! the unbelievers shall not prosper!