Hajj Pilgrims on the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca
Islam is a monotheistic religion. A believer is a Muslim, literally, "one who submits to God." Muslims believe that Allah (Arabic for God) gave revelations through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad (Mohammed, A.D. 570-632 ), a native of the Arabian Peninsula city of Mecca. [Source: Library of Congress]

With over 1.6 million followers, Islam is the world's second largest religion after Christianity. Islam was once called Mohammedism by Europeans, because it formally began during the lifetime of Muhammad. Calling it this was misleading at best in that Muhammad saw himself as only a messenger of God and the worship of Muhammad as a religious figure is frowned upon in Islam.

The world "Islam" is derived from the same root word “salam” which means both "peace" and "submission” or more exactly “a state of peace and security formed by making an allegiance with and surrendering to God." Muslims, or Moslems, are "those who submit" or more correctly "those who have achieved peace and security by forming an allegiance with and surrendering to God." Muslims are expected to submit to Allah and the divinely-revealed laws of in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. These laws cover a wide range of activities. Islam is monotheistic religion like Judaism and Christianity. The foundation of the Islamic faith is the belief that: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet." Muslims refer to members of all three religions as “People of Book” because they revere their religious texts. Islam, Judaism and Christianity have many similarities and hold many of the same religious figures in high regarded. These three religions are historical religions, a concept quite alien to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Mecca and Medina are Islam's holy cities. They are in Saudi Arabia, which considers itself as the guardian of these cities, Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam: the first Muslims didn't pray towards Mecca, but to Jerusalem. Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo is regarded by many Muslims (especially Sunni Muslims) as the highest Islamic institution. Islamic bodies in Saudi Arabia also hold great respect and authority among Muslims.

Websites and Resources: Islam ; Islamic City ; Islam 101 ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC article ; Patheos Library – Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline ; Discover Islam ;

Qur’an (Quran, Koran) and Hadith:
Quran translation in English ; Quran in Easy English, Urdu, Arabic and 70 other languages ; ; ; Quranic Arabic Corpus, shows syntax and morphology for each word ; Word for Word English Translation – ; Digitised Qurans in the Cambridge University Digital Library ; ;
Hadith – search by keyword and by narrator


20120509-salat Sajdah_in_Marashi_library.jpg
Salat Sajdah in Marashi library
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report issued in October 2009 the global Muslim population had reached 1.57 billion, or nearly one forth of humanity. In contrast, Christianity, the largest religion on the world has approximately 2.1 billion to 2.2 billion followers (about one third of humanity). Primarily because of high birthrates in Muslim countries, Islam is the world fast growing religion in terms of total numbers.

World religions: 1) Christianity (32 percent); 2) Islam (24 percent); 3) non-religious and atheist (13 percent); 4) Hinduism (13 percent); 5) Chinese folk religions (6 percent); 6) Buddhist (6 percent); and 7) Other (6 percent). Only about 20 percent of the world’s Muslims are Arabs (who live in the Middle East and North Africa). The largest populations of Muslims are in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria. There are also large numbers in the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Central Asia.

About 40 percent of Muslim are from South and Southeast Asia. About 30 percent live in the Middle East (including Turkey and Iran), about 25 percent live in Africa (including Egypt and North Africa). About 4 percent are in Europe and the former Soviet Union, and 1 percent are in North and South America. The Muslim world has geopolitcal importance because much of the world's oil reserves lie under land in Muslim countries. In addition the mostly Muslim Middle East lies were Asia, Africa and Europe all come together.

Religion in the Arab World

Religion is arguably the most important defining force of communal identity in the Middle East, with Islam far and away being the predominate religion. In the Middle East religion has less to do with ritual than identity. If a person is born into a Muslim family they will forever be identified as a Muslim and most likely marry a Muslim regardless of how religious they are. The same is true for Christians and Jews.

Most Arabs are Muslims but most Muslims are non-Arabs. Asbout about 92 percent of Arabs are Muslim. The remainder are mostly Christians and Druze. Most Muslim Arabs are Sunni Muslim. Others are Shiites (Ithna Ashari and Ismali), Alawi, and Zaidi.

On traditional Arab daily-life-culture, the Encyclopedia of World Cultures says: “Arab villagers follow a mixture of Islamic folk beliefs and rituals. Religion provides explanations for many unknown and uncontrollable events in their lives. Gods will dictates the direction of life and provides divine authority for action. Religion confirms changes in social status, for example, at circumcisions and marriages. It provides hope for a better life after death. Religion festivals...break the monotony of village life.”

Origins of Islam

Old map of Mecca

Born in Mecca, in western Arabia, Muhammad (ca. 570–632), last in the line of Judeo-Christian prophets, received his first revelation in 610. Muslims believe that the word of God was revealed to him by the archangel Gabriel in Arabic, who said, "Recite in the name of thy Lord …" (Sura 96). These revelations were subsequently collected and codified as the Qur’an (literally "recitation" in Arabic), the Muslim holy book. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Islam began with the ministry of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632), who belonged to a merchant family in the trading town of Mecca in Arabia. In his middle age, Muhammad received visions in which the Archangel Gabriel revealed the word of God to him. After 620 he publicly preached the message of these visions, stressing the oneness of God (Allah), denouncing the polytheism of his fellow Arabs, and calling for moral uplift of the population. He attracted a dedicated band of followers, but there was intense opposition from the leaders of the city, who profited from pilgrimage trade to the shrine called the Kaaba. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In 622 Muhammad and his closest supporters migrated to the town of Yathrib (now renamed Medina) to the north and set up a new center of preaching and opposition to the leadership of Mecca. This move, the hijrah or hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar and the origin of the new religion of Islam. After a series of military engagements, Muhammad and his followers were able to defeat the authorities in Mecca and return to take control of the city. Before his death in 632, Muhammad was able to bring most of the tribes of Arabia into the fold of Islam. Soon after his death, the united Arabs conquered present-day Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Iran, making Islam into a world religion by the end of the seventh century. *

Islam Basics

According to orthodox practice, Islam is a strictly monotheistic religion in which God (Allah) is both a pervasive presence and a somewhat distant figure. The Prophet Muhammad is not deified but rather is regarded as a human who was selected by God to spread the word to others through the Quran, Islam’s holy book, the revealed word of God. Islam is a religion based on high moral principles, and an important part of being a Muslim is commitment to these principles. Islamic law (sharia), is based on the Quran; the sunna, which includes the hadith, the actions and sayings of Muhammad; ijma, the consensus of local Islamic jurisprudence and, sometimes, the whole Muslim community; and qiyas, or reasoning through analogy. Islam is universalist, and in theory there are no national, racial, or ethnic criteria for conversion. [Source: Library of Congress]

tawaf of the Kaaba

According to the BBC: “Islam is based on the Qur’an (a revelation from God to the prophet Muhammad) supplemented by the sunnah (a set of traditions about Muhammad's words and deeds). Muslims recognise Judaism and Christianity as revelations from God (just as Christianity recognises Judaism), but hold that the revelation made to Muhammad completes and supersedes earlier revelations. Muslims reject the Christian doctrines that Jesus was God and that God is in three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); they believe that Jesus was a prophet and that God is one. [Source: BBC |::|]

“The word Islam means 'submission to the will of God'. 1) Muslims believe that Islam was revealed over 1400 years ago in Mecca, Arabia. 2) Followers of Islam are called Muslims. 3) Muslims believe that there is only One God. 4) The Arabic word for God is Allah. 5) According to Muslims, God sent a number of prophets to mankind to teach them how to live according to His law. 6) Jesus, Moses and Abraham are respected as prophets of God. 7) They believe that the final Prophet was Muhammad. 8) Muslims believe that Islam has always existed, but for practical purposes, date their religion from the time of the migration of Muhammad. 9) Muslims base their laws on their holy book the Qur'an, and the Sunnah. 10) Muslims believe the Sunnah is the practical example of Prophet Muhammad and that there are five basic Pillars of Islam. 11) These pillars are the declaration of faith, praying five times a day, giving money to charity, fasting and a pilgrimage to Mecca (atleast once). |::|


Muhammad's efforts to convert people to monotheism disturbed the merchant elite, who feared that his preaching would adversely affect the pilgrims who regularly visited Mecca, which in the early seventh century had shrines to several gods and goddesses. Mecca's principal destination for pilgrims was the Kaaba, a shrine housing a venerated black rock which over the years had been surrounded by various idols. [Source: Library of Congress, January 1995 *]

Muhammad at the Kaaba

At this time, Mecca was a prosperous city whose wealth and influence were based on the caravan trade and on the Kaaba, a shrine and a place of pilgrimage housing the pagan deities then being worshipped by the Arabs. Muhammad's message, heralding a new socio-religious order based on allegiance to one god—Allah—was unpopular among the leaders of Mecca, and they forced Muhammad and his followers to emigrate north to the oasis town Yathrib (Medina). This occurred in 622, the year of the hijra, or "emigration," which marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar. In Medina, Muhammad continued to attract followers and, within a few years, Mecca had also largely embraced Islam. Upon his return to Mecca, one of the Prophet's first acts was to cleanse the Kacba of its idols and rededicate the shrine to Allah. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

The lack of acceptance by Meccans of Muhammad's preaching caused him and his followers in A.D. 622 to migrate to Medina in response to an invitation by that city's leaders. Muhammad's migration to Medina enabled him to organize the politico-religious community — the umma — that marked the beginning of Islam as a political movement as well as a religious faith. Thus, the date of the migration, or hicret (from the Arabic hijra ), was adopted by the Muslim community as the beginning of the Islamic era. The Islamic calendar is based on a lunar year, which averages eleven days less than a solar year. The Islamic calendar is used in Turkey for religious purposes. *

By the time of the Prophet's death ten years after his migration to Medina, most of the Arabian Peninsula, including the city of Mecca, had converted to Islam. During the last two years of his life, Muhammad led fellow Muslims on pilgrimages to Mecca, where the Kaaba was relieved of its idols and dedicated to the worship of Allah. Since then, praying at the Kaaba has been the ultimate goal of the pilgrimage, or hajj, which every able-bodied adult Muslim is expected to make at least once in his or her lifetime.*


Muslims believe that all of Allah's revelations to the Prophet are contained in the Qur’an (Koran in Arabic, Quran or Qur’an), which is composed in rhymed prose. The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters, called suras , the first of which is a short "opening" chapter. The remaining 113 segments are arranged roughly in order of decreasing length. The short suras at the end of the book are early revelations, each consisting of material revealed on the same occasion. The longer suras toward the beginning of the book are compilations of verses revealed at different times in Muhammad's life. [Source: Library of Congress *]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art : “The Qur'an is Islam's holiest book. Revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Archangel Gabriel, it is considered by Muslims to be the written record of the word of God. In the year 610 A.D., the Prophet frequently visited a mountain cave called Hira', located outside of Mecca, to meditate and pray. On one such visit, Gabriel asked him to recite the first five verses of the Qur'an. He commanded: "Read in the name of your Lord who created; Created man from an embryo; Read, for your Lord is most beneficent; Who taught by the pen; Taught man what he did not know" (Sura 96). [Source: Maryam Ekhtiar, Julia Cohen, Department of Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art \^/]

Qu'ran from the 9th century in the Reza Abbasi Museum

"The divine revelations continued over the course of the next twenty years, first in Mecca, and then in Medina following the migration (hijra) of Muhammad and his followers in 622 A.D. (equivalent to the first year of the hijri calendar). Toward the end of his life, Muhammad began to create a physical copy of the revelations, but he was unable to complete this project before his death in 632 A.D. In the following years, his most trusted companions undertook the task of collecting them from written and oral sources. The final codified consonantal form of the Qur'an is thought to have been produced during the reign of 'Uthman (r. 644–56 A.D.), the third of the four "rightly guided caliphs" (al-khulafa-yi al-rashidun). The text has remained almost unaltered to the present day. Because of its divine nature, the Qur'an has been considered by Muslims to be the "mother of all books," or the Umm al-Kitab, and its impact on the arts of the book in the Islamic world has thus been indelible.\^/

"The Qur'an is arranged in order of descending length excluding the first. Many manuscripts, however, are divided into thirty sections, or juz', of equal length (37.142). In this format, the entire Qur'an can be read over the course of a thirty-day month (usually during the month of Ramadan), with one volume being undertaken each day. Other less common units of division, the manzil and the hizb, divide the text into seven or sixty parts, respectively. The Qur’an is written in Arabic. Arabic has twenty-eight letters of only eighteen distinct forms; dotting above and below these primary forms distinguish between otherwise identical letters. Early Qur'ans often left out these markings (i'jam) as well as short vowels that appear as symbols above and below letters, assuming that the text would be used as a memory aide for recitation by readers who were already familiar with its content.\^/

"As the source of Muslim faith and practice, the Qur’an describes the relationship between an almighty and all-knowing God and his creations. The Qur’an also maintains that all individuals are responsible for their actions, for which they will be judged by God, and so it provides guidelines for proper behavior within the framework of a just and equitable society. Because it is through writing that the Qur'an is transmitted, the Arabic script was first transformed and beautified in order that it might be worthy of divine revelation. [Source: Suzan Yalman Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Based on original work by Linda Komaroff \^/]

Basic Beliefs of Islam

Islam is a system of religious beliefs and an all-encompassing way of life. Muslims believe that God (Allah) revealed to the Prophet Muhammad the rules governing society and the proper conduct of society's members. It is incumbent on the individual therefore to live in a manner prescribed by the revealed law and on the community to build the perfect human society on earth according to holy injunctions. Islam recognizes no distinctions between church and state. The distinction between religious and secular law is a recent development that reflects the more pronounced role of the state in society, and Western economic and cultural penetration. The impact of religion on daily life in Muslim countries is far greater than that found in the West since the Middle Ages. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

According to the BBC: “Muslims believe that Islam is a faith that has always existed and that it was gradually revealed to humanity by a number of prophets, but the final and complete revelation of the faith was made through the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE. [Source: BBC, July 8, 2011-07-08 |::|]

Muslims have six main beliefs. 1) Belief in Allah as the one and only God; 2) Belief in angels; 3) Belief in the holy books; 4) Belief in the Prophets...e.g. Adam, Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Isa (Jesus). Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final prophet. 5) Belief in the Day of Judgement... The day when the life of every human being will be assessed to decide whether they go to heaven or hell. 6) Belief in Predestination...That Allah has the knowlege of all that will happen. Muslims believe that this doesn't stop human beings making free choices. [Source: BBC, July 19, 2011 |::|]

“There shall be no coercion in matters of faith,” Muslims are repeatedly told in the Qur’an. Believe what you want to believe. Another popular verse says, “Unto you your faith; unto me, mine,” which is another way of saying that you should respect my belief as I yours. There can be no clearer illustrations than these verses that pluralism defines Islam.” [Source:

Pillars of Islam

“The Five Pillars of Islam are the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to Islam. The Five Pillars consist of: 1) Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith; 2) Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day; 3) Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy; 4) Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan; 5) Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca

The duties of Muslims form the five pillars of Islam, which set forth the acts necessary to demonstrate and reinforce the faith. These are the recitation of the shahada ("There is no God but God [Allah], and Muhammad is his prophet"), daily prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage (hajj). The believer is to pray in a prescribed manner after purification through ritual ablutions each day at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites facing toward Mecca. Whenever possible men pray in congregation at the mosque with an imam, and on Fridays make a special effort to do so. The Friday noon prayers provide the occasion for weekly sermons by religious leaders. Women may also attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from the men, although most frequently women pray at home. A special functionary, the muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the appropriate hour. Those out of earshot determine the time by the sun. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of obligatory fasting in commemoration of Muhammad's receipt of God's revelation. Throughout the month all but the sick and weak, pregnant or lactating women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual intercourse during the daylight hours. Those adults excused are obliged to endure an equivalent fast at their earliest opportunity. A festive meal breaks the daily fast and inaugurates a night of feasting and celebration. The pious well-to-do usually do little or no work during this period, and some businesses close for all or part of the day. Since the months of the lunar year revolve through the solar year, Ramadan falls at various seasons in different years. A considerable test of discipline at any time of the year, a fast that falls in summertime imposes severe hardship on those who must do physical work.

All Muslims, at least once in their lifetime, should make the hajj to Mecca to participate in special rites held there during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. Muhammad instituted this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom, to emphasize sites associated with God and Abraham (Ibrahim), founder of monotheism and father of the Arabs through his son Ismail.

“Why are they important? |According to the BBC: “Carrying out these obligations provides the framework of a Muslim's life, and weaves their everyday activities and their beliefs into a single cloth of religious devotion.No matter how sincerely a person may believe, Islam regards it as pointless to live life without putting that faith into action and practice. Carrying out the Five Pillars demonstrates that the Muslim is putting their faith first, and not just trying to fit it in around their secular lives. [Source: BBC, September 8, 2009]

Lesser Pillars

medieval Persian manuscript showin Muhammad leading Abraham, Moses and Jesus

The lesser pillars of the faith, which all Muslims share, are jihad, or the permanent struggle for the triumph of the word of God on earth, and the requirement to do good works and to avoid all evil thoughts, words, and deeds. In addition, Muslims agree on certain basic principles of faith based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad: there is one God, who is a unitary divine being in contrast to the trinitarian belief of Christians; Muhammad, the last of a line of prophets beginning with Abraham and including Moses and Jesus, was chosen by God to present God's message to humanity; and there is a general resurrection on the last, or judgment, day. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Persian Gulf States: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1993]

During his lifetime, Muhammad held both spiritual and temporal leadership of the Muslim community. Religious and secular law merged, and all Muslims have traditionally been subject to sharia, or religious law. A comprehensive legal system, sharia developed gradually through the first four centuries of Islam, primarily through the accretion of precedent and interpretation by various judges and scholars. During the tenth century, legal opinion began to harden into authoritative rulings, and the figurative bab al ijtihad (gate of interpretation) closed. Thereafter, rather than encouraging flexibility, Islamic law emphasized maintenance of the status quo.

Difference Between Islam and Christianity

Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute wrote: Islam is not “like other monotheistic faiths. It isn’t, in part because it doesn’t lend itself as easily to modern liberalism. The more I’ve studied my own religion — its theology, history and culture — the more I’ve come to appreciate how complicated it is and how much more complicated it must be for people who are coming at it from scratch. [Source: Shadi Hamid, Brookings Institute, September 13, 2016. Shadi Hamid is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World.”]

“Contrary to what many think, there is no Christian equivalent to Qur’anic “inerrancy,” even among far-right evangelicals. Muslims believe the Qur’an is not only God’s word, but God’s actual speech — in other words, every single letter and word in the Qur’an comes directly from God. This seemingly semantic difference has profound implications. If the Qur’an is God’s speech, and God is unchanging and perfect, then so is his speech. To question the divine origin of the Qur’an, then, is to question God himself, and God is not easily put in a box, well away from the public sphere.

Muslim painting of The Prophet Job

“Differences between Christianity and Islam also are evident in each faith’s central figure. Unlike Jesus, who was a dissident, Muhammad was both prophet and politician. The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”Mt. 21:11Prophets are inspired by the Spirit, preach repentance and describe the consequences of action or inaction. Islam is a sickness, a blight upon humanity, whereby adherents do not believe in the law of cause and effect: ipso facto they do do not believe in God…And more than just any politician, he was a state-builder as well as a head of state. Not only were the religious and political functions intertwined in the person of Muhammad, they were meant to be intertwined. To argue for the separation of religion from politics, then, is to argue against the model of the very man Muslims most admire and seek to emulate.”

“Islam seems, at least by Western standards, unusually assertive and uncompromising. Critics might see it as full-blown aggressiveness. But Muslims often point to these qualities as evidence of Islam’s vitality and relevance in a supposedly secular age. To put it a bit differently, this is why many Muslims like being Muslim. Whether consciously done or not, to be unapologetically Muslim today is to, in a way, show that other futures are possible, that the end of history may in fact have more than one destination. If Islam has been—and will continue to be—resistant to secularism, then the very existence of practicing Muslims serves as a constant reminder of this historical and religious divergence.”

“Islam’s outsized role in public life leads, circuitously” often ends up in a discussion about women’s headwear and clothes. “If you’re a Muslim woman who wears the hijab — covering the hair and most of the body — you can’t wear just any swimsuit. Some women, of course, are pressured or even legally mandated to wear the hijab (as in Saudi Arabia and Iran), but most choose to do so; it’s about their personal relationship with God. Regardless of whether we like it, the predominant scholarly opinion today is that wearing hijab is fard, or obligatory. Although Western feminists may argue that covering up is sexist — it can encourage the idea that women are primarily sexual objects — asking Muslim women to take off the hijab is akin to asking them to violate their connection with the creator.

“There are dress codes in Judaism too, of course, but it is only a relatively small number of ultraorthodox women who observe them. The hijab, by contrast, is ubiquitous in Muslim communities, and in some Muslim countries, such as Egypt and Jordan, the majority of Muslim women cover their hair. Again, this is often a conscious choice: Many Muslims take their religion so seriously that they want to observe seemingly restrictive and pre-modern dress codes. This is the case even in Turkey, where millions of women cover their hair despite decades of secular government and forced unveiling in state institutions.

“This fact gets at something deeper, which often goes unsaid because it suggests there is — or at least there may be — a clash of cultures. Islam seems, at least by Western standards, unusually assertive and uncompromising. Critics might see it as full-blown aggressiveness. But Muslims often point to these qualities as evidence of Islam’s vitality and relevance in a supposedly secular age. To put it a bit differently, this is why many Muslims like being Muslim.

“Whether consciously done or not, to be unapologetically Muslim today is to, in a way, show that other futures are possible, that the end of history may in fact have more than one destination. If Islam has been — and will continue to be — resistant to secularism, then the very existence of practicing Muslims serves as a constant reminder of this historical and religious divergence.

Crescent Moon and Muslim Symbols and Colors

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Shahada on Royal flag of Saudi Arabia
The “bilal” , or crescent moon, is the primary symbol of Islam. It signifies the importance of the lunar calendar in organizing the religious life of Muslims. The moon has ancient connections with royalty in the Middle East. The crescent moon is seen on the flags of many Muslim flags and it used as a symbol for the Muslim version of the red cross: the red crescent. As early as the thirteenth century it was the religious and military symbol of the Ottoman Turks.

Many Muslims carry “misbaha” or “subha “ beads (sometimes called "worry beads"), which are used to like Christian rosaries and Buddhist perater beads to count the number or prayers that have been recited. They also give away the mood of the their owners. They way the beads are carried, fingered and moved around can convey nervousness, boredom and anger. Endangered black coral is prized for making prayer beads.

A hand symbolizes the five pillars of Islam. Women wear head scarves and on holy days they stain their fingernails red. Men wear red skull caps. If the broad band is white it means he is a teacher. If it is gold it means he has been to Mecca for the Haj.

Green is he sacred color of the Muslims and color of hope. The Muslim equivalent to the Red Cross is the Green Crescent. Green flags and green turbans often brought on the Hajj. It is on many Muslim country flags and on the Green crescent. Some brides even wear green dresses.

Muslim Identity

  Many Muslims view themselves as Muslims first and citizens of a nation second. They are more likely to see themselves as a religious group divided by nations rather than a citizen of a nation comprised of different groups. One reason for this is that nations are relatively new creations for Muslims largely imposed on them by European colonial powers.

The words that Arabs used to describe many countries in the Middle East are different from those used in the West partly because Arabs do no link ethnicity and territorial identity the same way that Westerners do. The Caliph Omar, the second successor to Muhammad, reportedly said: “Learn your genealogy, and do not be like the local peasants who, when they are asked reply: “I am from such-and-such places.”

In the early years of Islam, Muslims were unified in a single state under one leader. Even after regional and religious communities broke up, Muslims continued to honor one leader, the caliph, and shared the belief that Muslims would be united once again. Throughout their history, Muslims have tended to identify themselves as Muslims first as Arabs, Persians, Turks and other ethnic groups second. Some ethnic groups’such as Bedouins and other nomads — were not necessarily associated with a particular geographical area. Non-Muslims were often called kafirs (infidels).

There is great diversity within the Muslim community. Muslims speak hundreds of different languages and have a wide range of customs. These days Muslim identity means something different than it sued. When they identify themselves as Muslims, many go to great lengths to point out they are moderate Muslims and that they do not support or sympathize with terrorists, Islamists or Muslim extremists.

Arab World and Muslim World

The Arab world describes the countries in the Middle East and North Africa where the majority people speak Arabic and belong to the Arab ethnic group. It excludes Israel, Turkey and Iran, which are dominated, respectively, by Jews, Turks and Persians, but includes the Maghreb countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, which are sometimes not regarded as part of the Middle East.

The Arab world is made up of nineteen countries: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Chad, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Yemen, Oman and Iraq. There are also significant Arab populations in Iran, Turkey, East Africa, South America, Europe, North America, Southeast Asia and Australia.

The Muslim world refers to the countries whose populations are made up predominately of Muslims. These include the countries of the Middle East, the Maghreb countries plus non-Arab countries with majority Muslim populations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Djibouti, Somalia, Niger, Senegal. Some Sub-Saharan African counties, particularly in West Africa and to a lesser extent East Africa, have large numbers of Muslims.

Arab was originally used to describe the desert people of the Arabian peninsula. When they spread out during the Muslim conquest, the term began to describe a larger group of people.

20120509-life hajj Christian_Bypass.jpg
Christian Bypass near Mecca

Islam and History

Salman Rushdie wrote in the Times of London: “It should be a matter of intense interest to all Muslims that Islam is the only religion whose birth was recorded historically, its origins uniquely grounded not in legend but in fact. The Qur’an was revealed at a time of great change in the Arab world, the 7th-century shift from a matriarchal nomadic culture to an urban patriarchal system. Muhammad, as an orphan personally suffered the difficulties of this transformation, and it is possible to read the Qur’an as a plea for the old matriarchal values in the new patriarchal world, a conservative pleas that became revolutionary because of its appeal to all those whom he new system disenfranchised, the poor, the powerless, and, yes, the orphans.”

Rushdie wrote: “The insistence within Islam that the Qur’an is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytic scholarly discourse all but impossible. Why would God be influenced by the socio-economics of 7th-century Arabis after all? Why would the Messenger’s personal circumstances have anything to do with the Message?...The traditionalists refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamofascists allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainty and unchanging absolutes. If, however, the Qur’an were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the 7th century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st. Great Muslim scholars and thinkers include al-Farabi (10th century), Avicenna (11th century), Averroes (12th century), al-Ghazali (12th century) and Ash-Shatibi (13th century).

Averroes’ “On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy”

Averroës (Ibn Rushd, Averroës, 1126-1198) was born in Córdoba, Spain and died in Marrakech, Morocco. He was an influential Islamic religious philosopher who integrated Islamic traditions and Greek thought. At the request of the caliph Ibn at-Tufayl he produced a series of summaries and commentaries on most of Aristotle's works (1162-95) and on Plato's Republic, which exerted considerable influence for centuries. He wrote the Decisive Treatise on the Agreement Between Religious Law and Philosophy (Fasl), Examination of the Methods of Proof Concerning the Doctrines of Religion (Manahij), and The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut) at-tahafut, all in defense of the philosophical study of religion against the theologians (1179-80). [Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica]

Age of the Caliphs

Averroes wrote in “On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy” (Arabic Kitab fasl al-maqal, 1190):“We maintain that the business of philosophy is nothing other than to look into creation and to ponder over it in order to be guided to the Creator — in other words, to look into the meaning of existence. For the knowledge of creation leads to the cognizance of the Creator, through the knowledge of the created. The more perfect becomes the knowledge of creation, the more perfect becomes the knowledge of the Creator. The Law encourages and exhorts us to observe creation. Thus, it is clear that this is to be taken either as a religious injunction or as something approved by the Law. But the Law urges us to observe creation by means of reason and demands the knowledge thereof through reason. This is evident from different verses of the Qur'an. For example, the Qur'an says: "Wherefore take example from them, you who have eyes" [Qur'an 49.2]. That is a clear indication of the necessity of using the reasoning faculty, or rather both reason and religion, in the interpretation of things. Again it says: "Or do they not contemplate the kingdom of heaven and earth and the things which God has created" [Qur'an 7.184]. This is in plain exhortation to encourage the use of observation of creation. And remember that one whom God especially distinguishes in this respect, Abraham, the prophet. For He says: "And this did we show unto Abraham: the kingdom of heaven and earth" [Qur'an 6.75]. Further, He says: "Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; and the heaven, how it is raised" [Qur'an 88.17]. Or, still again: "And (who) meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying, O Lord you have not created this in vain" [Qur'an 3.176]. There are many other verses on this subject: too numerous to be enumerated. [Source: “Ibn Rushd: On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy, in Arabic Kitab fasl al-maqal, with its appendix (Damina). Appended is an extract from Kitab al-kashf'an manahij al-adilla, published and translated as: “Averröes, The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, trans. Muhammad Jamil-al-Rahman (Baroda: A. G. Widgery, 1921), pp. 14-19, 122-131, 204-229, 242-249, 260-283, 300-308. A more recent edition is edited by George Hourani, (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1959).]

“Now, it being established that the Law makes the observation and consideration of creation by reason obligatory — and consideration is nothing but to make explicit the implicit — this can only be done through reason. Thus we must look into creation with the reason. Moreover, it is obvious that the observation which the Law approves and encourages must be of the most perfect type, performed with the most perfect kind of reasoning. As the Law emphasizes the knowledge of God and His creation by inference, it is incumbent on any who wish to know God and His whole creation by inference, to learn the kinds of inference, their conditions and that which distinguishes philosophy from dialectic and exhortation from syllogism. This is impossible unless one possesses knowledge beforehand of the various kinds of reasoning and learns to distinguish between reasoning and what is not reasoning. This cannot be done except one knows its different parts, that is, the different kinds of premises.

“Hence, for a believer in the Law and a follower of it, it is necessary to know these things before he begins to look into creation, for they are like instruments for observation. For, just as a student discovers by the study of the law, the necessity of knowledge of legal reasoning with all its kinds and distinctions, a student will find out by observing the creation the necessity of metaphysical reasoning. Indeed, he has a greater claim on it than the jurist. For if a jurist argues the necessity of legal reasoning from the saying of God: "Wherefore take example from them O you who have eyes" [Qur'an 59.2], a student of divinity has a better right to establish the same from it on behalf of metaphysical reasoning.

Averroes in Rafael's School of Athens

“One cannot maintain that this kind of reasoning is an innovation in religion because it did not exist in the early days of Islam. For legal reasoning and its kinds are things which were invented also in later ages, and no one thinks they are innovations. Such should also be our attitude towards philosophical reasoning. There is another reason why it should be so, but this is not the proper place to mention it. A large number of the followers of this religion confirm philosophical reasoning, all except a small worthless minority, who argue from religious ordinances. Now, as it is established that the Law makes the consideration of philosophical reasoning and its kinds as necessary as legal reasoning, if none of our predecessors has made an effort to enquire into it, we should begin to do it, and so help them, until the knowledge is complete. For if it is difficult or rather impossible for one person to acquaint himself single-handed with all things which it is necessary to know in legal matters, it is still more difficult in the case of philosophical reasoning. And, if before us, somebody has enquired into it, we should derive help from what he has said. It is quite immaterial whether that man is our co-religionist or not; for the instrument by which purification is perfected is not made uncertain in its usefulness by its being in the hands of one of our own party, or of a foreigner, if it possesses the attributes of truth. By these latter we mean those Ancients who investigated these things before the advent of Islam.

“Now, such is the case. All that is wanted in an enquiry into philosophical reasoning has already been perfectly examined by the Ancients. All that is required of us is that we should go back to their books and see what they have said in this connection. If all that they say be true, we should accept it and if there be something wrong, we should be warned by it. Thus, when we have finished this kind of research we shall have acquired instruments by which we can observe the universe, and consider its general character. For so long as one does not know its general character one cannot know the created, and so long as he does not know the created, he cannot know its nature.

“All things have been made and created. This is quite clear in itself, in the case of animals and plants, as God has said "Verily the idols which you invoke, beside God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for that purpose" [Qur'an 22.72]. We see an inorganic substance and then there is life in it. So we know for certain that there is an inventor and bestower of life, and He is God. Of the heavens we know by their movements, which never become slackened, that they work for our benefit by divine solicitude, and are subordinate to our welfare. Such an appointed and subordinate object is always created for some purpose. The second principle is that for every created thing there is a creator. So it is right to say from the two foregoing principles that for every existent thing there is an inventor. There are many arguments, according to the number of the created things, which can be advanced to prove this premise. Thus, it is necessary for one who wants to know God as He ought to be known to acquaint himself with the essence of things, so that he may get information about the creation of all things. For who cannot understand the real substance and purpose of a thing, cannot understand the minor meaning of its creation. It is to this that God refers in the following verse "Or do they not contemplate the heaven and the earth, and the things which God has created?" [Qur'an 7.184]. And so a man who would follow the purpose of philosophy in investigating the existence of things, that is, would try to know the cause which led to its creation, and the purpose of it would know the argument of kindness most perfectly. These two arguments are those adopted by Law.

Averroes and Aristotle

“The verses of the Qur'an leading to a knowledge of the existence of God are dependent only on the two foregoing arguments. It will be quite clear to anyone who will examine closely the verses, which occur in the Divine Book in this connection. These, when investigated, will be found to be of three kinds: either they are verses showing the "arguments of kindness," or those mentioning the "arguments of creation, “or those which include both the kinds of arguments. The following verses may be taken as illustrating the argument of kindness. "Have we not made the earth for a bed, and the mountains for stakes to find the same? And have we not created you of two sexes; and appointed your sleep for rest; and made the night a garment to cover you; and destined the day to the gaining of your livelihood and built over you seven solid heavens; and placed therein a burning lamp? And do we not send down from the clouds pressing forth rain, water pouring down in abundance, that we may thereby produce corn, and herbs, and gardens planted thick with trees?" [Qur'an 77.6-16] and, "Blessed be He Who has placed the twelve signs in the heavens; has placed therein a lamp by day, and the moon which shines by night" [Qur'an 25.62] and again, "Let man consider his food" [Qur'an 80.24].

“The following verses refer to the argument of invention, "Let man consider, therefore of what he is created. He is created of the seed poured forth, issuing from the loins, and the breast bones" [Qur'an 86.6]; and, "Do they not consider the camels, how they are created; the heaven, how it is raised; the mountains, how they are fixed; the earth how it is extended" [Qur'an 88.17]; and again "O man, a parable is propounded unto you; wherefore hearken unto it. Verily the idols which they invoke, besides God, can never create a single fly, though they may all assemble for the purpose" [Qur'an 22.72]. Then we may point to the story of Abraham, referred to in the following verse, "I direct my face unto Him Who has created heaven and earth; I am orthodox, and not of the idolaters" [Qur'an 6.79]. There may be quoted many verses referring to this argument. The verses comprising both the arguments are also many, for instance, "O men, of Mecca, serve your Lord, Who has created you, and those who have been before you: peradventure you will fear Him; Who has spread the earth as a bed for you, and the heaven as a covering, and has caused water to descend from heaven, and thereby produced fruits for your sustenance. Set not up, therefore, any equals unto God, against your own knowledge [Qur'an 2.19]. His words, "Who has created you, and those who have been before you," lead us to the argument of creation; while the words, "who has spread the earth" refer to the argument of divine solicitude for man. Of this kind also are the following verses of the Qur'an, "One sign of the resurrection unto them is the dead earth; We quicken the same by rain, and produce therefrom various sorts of grain, of which they eat" [Qur'an 36.32]; and, "Now in the creation of heaven and earth, and the vicissitudes of night and day are signs unto those who are endowed with understanding, who remember God standing, and sitting, and lying on their sides; and meditate on the creation of heaven and earth, saying O Lord, far be it from You, therefore deliver us from the torment of hellfire" [Qur'an 3.188]. Many verses of this kind comprise both the kinds of arguments.

“This method is the right path by which God has invited men to a knowledge of His existence, and informed them of it through the intelligence which He has implanted in their nature. The following verse refers to this fixed and innate nature of man, "And when the Lord drew forth their posterity from the loins of the sons of Adam, and took them witness against themselves, Am I not your Lord? They answered, Yes, we do bear witness" [Qur'an 7.171]. So it is incumbent for one who intends to obey God, and follow the injunction of His Prophet, that he should adopt this method, thus making himself one of those learned men who bear witness to the divinity of God, with His own witness, and that of His angels, as He says, "God has borne witness, that there is no God but He, and the angels, and those who are endowed with wisdom profess the same; who execute righteousness; there is no God but He; the Mighty, the Wise" [Qur'an 3.16]. Among the arguments for both of themselves is the praise which God refers to in the following verse, "Neither is there anything which does not celebrate his praise; but you understand not their celebration thereof" [Qur'an 17.46].

"Victory of Thomas Aquinas Over Averroes"

“It is evident from the above arguments for the existence of God that they are dependent upon two categories of reasoning. It is also clear that both of these methods are meant for particular people; that is, the learned. Now as to the method for the masses. The difference between the two lies only in details. The masses cannot understand the two above-mentioned arguments but only what they can grasp by their senses; while the learned men can go further and learn by reasoning also, besides learning by sense. They have gone so far that a learned man has said, that the benefits the learned men derive from the knowledge of the members of human and animal body are a thousand and one. If this be so, then this is the method which is taught both by Law and by Nature. It is the method which was preached by the Prophet and the divine books. The learned men do not mention these two lines of reasoning to the masses, not because of their number, but because of a want of depth of learning on their part about the knowledge of a single thing only. The example of the common people, considering and pondering over the universe, is like a man who looks into a thing, the manufacture of which he does not know. For all that such a man can know about it is that it has been made, and that there must be a maker of it. But, on the other hand, the learned look into the universe, just as a man knowing the art would do; try to understand the real purpose of it. So it is quite clear that their knowledge about the Maker, as the maker of the universe, would be far better than that of the man who only knows it as made. The atheists, who deny the Creator altogether, are like men who can see and feel the created things, but would not acknowledge any Creator for them, but would attribute all to chance alone, and that they come into being by themselves.

“Now, then, if this is the method adopted by the Law, it may be asked: What is the way of proving the unity of God by means of the Law; that is, the knowledge of the religious formula that "there is no god, but God. “The negation contained in it is an addition to the affirmative, which the formula contains, while the affirmative has already been proved. What is the purpose of this negation? We would say that the method, adopted by the Law, of denying divinity to all but God is according to the ordinance of God in the Qur'an. . .

“If you look a little intently it will become clear to you, that in spite of the fact that the Law has not given illustration of those things for the common people, beyond which their imagination cannot go, it has also informed the learned men of the underlying meanings of those illustrations. So it is necessary to bear in mind the limits which the Law has set about the instruction of every class of men, and not to mix them together. For in this manner the purpose of the Law is multiplied. Hence it is that the Prophet has said, "We, the prophets, have been commanded to adapt ourselves to the conditions of the people, and address them according to their intelligence." He who tries to instruct all the people in the matter of religion, in one and the same way, is like a man who wants to make them alike in actions too, which is quite against apparent laws and reason.

“From the foregoing it must have become clear to you that the divine vision has an esoteric meaning in which there is no doubt, if we take the words of the Qur'an about God as they stand, that is, without proving or disproving the anthropomorphic attribute of God. Now since the first part of the Law has been made quite clear as to God's purity, and the quantity of the teaching fit for the common people; it is time to begin the discussion about the actions of God, after which our purpose in writing this treatise will be over.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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