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Shawkat M. Toorawa
Islam — in Arabic, literally, "submission" or "surrender" (to the will of God) — is a monotheistic religion professed by over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Adherents of Islam are called Muslims. South Asia (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) is home to some 480 million Muslims, and a similar number are to be found in North Africa, the Middle East, Iran, Turkey, and central Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa has some 240 million Muslims (with large populations in Nigeria and Ethiopia), and Southeast Asia has 220 million Muslims (principally in Indonesia, and also Malaysia). The remaining 600 million or so are scattered across the globe, including 16 million in Russia and 20 million in China. Though not significant in number, the Muslims of western Europe (10 million) and North America (3.5 million) wield considerable symbolic and intellectual power in contemporary discourses in and about Islam. The desire of Muslim women to wear the head covering (the hijâb) in France and Germany, for instance, has seriously tested those countries' purportedly unswerving commitment to freedom of expression and of religion. And scholars of Islam, both Muslim and non-Muslim, in the United States and England in particular, have contributed to a rethinking (some would say reformation) in their discussions about Islamic law and practice. Muslims in North America, many of whom are professionals, exert considerable influence on Muslims in other parts of the world through their wealth and resources (see "Islam in America," chapter 15). But it remains true that many of the areas where Islam has spread have inherited legacies of colonialism (e.g., most of the Middle East), state oppression (e.g., China, with anywhere from 20 million to 150 million Muslims), and economic hardship (e.g., in Africa); it is also true that the majority of Muslims are poor and have limited access to food, water, resources, health care, education, and self-determination. These severe constraints have inevitably shaped the desires and actions of many predominantly Muslim countries and some of their inhabitants.
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As in other religions, Muslims run the gamut, from extremely devout to lapsed, from extremist to ultraliberal, from converted to merely cultural, and of course everything in between. Virtually all self-identifying Muslims are bound together, however, by an acknowledgment of the existence of one God (a notion called tawhîd in Arabic) and by belief in the divine origin of the Qur'an as God's speech (see "Qur'an," chapter 2) and in the ministry of the Prophet Muhammad (see "Muhammad," chapter 3). Muhammad, son of 'Abdallah, was born in the pilgrimage and trading town of Mecca in about 570 into the influential Quraysh tribe, who were custodians of the Ka'ba, an ancient cube-shaped shrine. Muhammad's father died before he was born and his mother died when he was six years old; thereafter, the child was raised by his grandfather, and later his uncle, Abû-Tâlib. A trader known for his honesty and integrity, Muhammad accepted the proposal of marriage from his wealthy widowed employer, Khadîja, when he was twenty-five years old and she perhaps as old as forty. Their close, loving relationship during their twenty-five-year marriage and Muhammad's affection for his four daughters — no sons survived infancy — are described by many, including Western feminists, as the basis for Muhammad's egalitarian stances on gender. It is certainly the case that Islam enfranchised women by granting them rights and autonomy hitherto denied to them in any political or religious system (see "Women and Islam," chapter 12). It is also true that Muhammad's numerous marriages, after Khadîja's death, form the basis for many detractors' criticisms of Islam's patrilineal regulations and acceptance of polygamy (if under stringent conditions). It should be pointed out, however, that the patriarchal practices in many societies that embraced Islam are blamed on Islam itself: Muhammad's decision to marry an older, twice-widowed woman, for example, is nowhere emulated today, because of cultural and social values unconnected to Islam, in spite of the religious imperative to emulate Muhammad in all ways possible (see below).
Although the form of the initial revelations Muhammad received from God through the archangel Gabriel — a strongly rhythmic, rhyming prose — resembled the pronouncements of local Arabian oracles, this message was not mundane, but centered rather on belief in the One God (in Arabic, Allâh), on charitable acts, on right action, and on preparation for the Day of Judgment. One early revelation states:
In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate By Time, endless, Humanity is assuredly in a state of loss, Except for those who believe, perform righteous acts, mutually enjoin Truth and mutually enjoin Steadfastness.
These revelations — the Qur'ân, literally "Recitation" — made it clear that God wanted to impart throughMuhammad to the Arabs and to the world the same revelation God had imparted throughNoah (Nûh) to his people, through Abraham (Ibrâhîm) to the inhabitants of Ur, and through Moses (Mûsâ) and Jesus ('Îsâ) to the Jews. The Qur'an refers to the recipients of these earlier revelations as "people of the scripture" or "people of the book" (ahl al-kitâb).
Muhammad initially preached his message — which he received piecemeal from God through Gabriel over the next twenty-three years — to his intimates, and soon after to those who would become his closest confidants, including 'Alî (his first cousin and future son-in-law) and Abû-Bakr (his future father-in-law). Like disciples, the men and women around Muhammad (called Sâhâba, Companions) scrupulously memorized the revelations he repeated to them (i.e., the Qur'an) and also prophetic traditions (hadiths) containing his words of advice, instruction, and admonishment. By following the prescriptions of the Qur'an and by emulating the actions and deeds of Muhammad expressed in the hadiths (which collectively came to be called the Sunna), Muslims honor the Qur'anic injunction to "obey God and His Prophet" (see "Hadith and Sunna," chapter 4). But that obedience came at a price, especially for the poor and marginalized among his followers in Mecca, who were ostracized, banished, and persecuted by the ruling non-Muslim elite. As in Christianity, Islam first appealed to the indigent and disenfranchised, and it has continued to do so throughout its history: a large number of American converts, for instance, are low on the socioeconomic ladder, and members of ethnic minorities, including prisoners — it was in prison that the Black Muslim leader Malcolm X discovered Islam.
In 615,Muhammad temporarily sent a small band of his persecuted followers to Abyssinia, where he knew they would receive fair treatment as the kingdom was ruled by the Negus, a benevolent ruler, and, as a Christian, a believer (see "Islam and Christianity," chapter 14). The Qur'an, and consequently Islam, distinguishes more between believers in God and unbelievers than it does between Muslims and non-Muslims; it also makes an important distinction between the righteous and just (e.g., the Negus) on the one hand, and the tyrant and oppressor (e.g., Pharaoh) on the other. In 622, Muhammad accepted an invitation to move to the northern oasis town of Yathrib and become its chief. The Meccan Muslims traveled there in small bands and came to be known as the "Emigrants" (Muhâjirûn); those welcoming them came to be known as the "helpers" (Ansâr), and the city came to be known as Madînat al-Nabî (City of the Prophet), or Medina for short. In Medina, Muhammad set about establishing a community proper. The Qur'anic revelations from 622 until Muhammad's death in 632 reflect his new role as leader of a body politic, the umma (community). Since Medina's population was religiously diverse, Muhammad drew up a charter to protect all parties. The Constitution of Medina guaranteed, among other things, religious freedom, the security of women, and stability between warring tribes. But internal tensions in Medina led the Jewish tribes to collaborate with the Meccans, whose conflict with Muhammad escalated from skirmishes to full-scale war. In 628, Muhammad quashed the Jewish tribes and their confederates, and signed a treaty with the Meccans (see "Islam and Judaism," chapter 13). In 630, Muhammad entered Mecca without bloodshed and proceeded immediately to the Ka'ba, whereupon he destroyed all the idols within and around it (in an echo of Abraham's similar act before leaving Ur).
Medina remained the capital of the nascent Islamic state, but the Prophet did return to his hometown to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in 631. Before or after pilgrimage, Muslims pay their respects at Muhammad's tomb in Medina by wishing upon him God's salutations and blessings; indeed, many Muslims do this every time they hear or utter his name. Although God is the sole focus of prayer, prostration, petition, and worship, Muhammad nevertheless constitutes a major locus of reverence. This is why perceived or real attacks on him, such as the cartoons commissioned by a Danish newspaper in 2005 (or Salman Rushdie's 1989 novel The Satanic Verses, which parodies Muhammad), provoke such visceral reactions among so many Muslims. At issue and at stake is not the permissibility of depicting Muhammad — a frieze of Muhammad continues, for example, to grace the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., and numerous illustrations of Muhammad accompany manuscripts, both religious and secular — but rather the perceived insult to an emissary of God.
In one hadith, Muhammad is described as responding to a request that he define "Submission" (i.e., Islam) as follows: "Submission is that you bear witness that there is no god but God and thatMuhammad is His messenger (shahâda), that you perform the (prescribed) ritual-prayers (salât), that you fast the month of Ramadan (sawm), that you pay the (prescribed) alms-tax on wealth (zakât), and that you perform the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba if you are able (hajj)." These obligations have come to be known as the five pillars of Islam, though some denominations enumerate other obligations: loving the Prophet and his family (ahl al-bayt), namely, his daughter Fâtima, her husband 'Alî, and their children Hasan and Husayn (tawallî), and having antipathy for the enemies of the Prophet and his family (tabarru'). Some also include struggling in the cause of the religion (jihâd). Jihâd has been widely used and abused, both as a term and as a course of action, by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Like the term "national security," it can be used by hawkish, militaristic, embattled interpreters to perpetrate violence, prosecute wars, and divest citizens of "God-given" rights; it can also be used by peace-loving, nonviolent, and sympathetic interpreters to defend borders, defuse conflicts, reassure citizens, and enhance personal piety and spirituality.
The testimony that there is no deity except for (the one, true) God and that Muhammad is his (final) messenger constitutes Islam's fundamental doctrinal belief, a formulation known as the shahâda. The shahâda must be uttered at least once in a Muslim's lifetime: those born Muslim do so from early childhood; converts utter it to mark their acceptance of Islam. This phrase, as well as phrases from the Qur'an, can be found adorning people's homes and also major Muslim monuments, such as the Dome of the Rock (built 691) in Jerusalem, Islam's oldest standing religious structure, and the Alhambra (built between 1338 and 1390) in Granada, though this Spanish palace's inscriptions include secular aphorisms and poetry.
There are more elaborate creeds, such as the important "Detailed Articles of Belief," which states: "I believe in God, in His angels, in His scriptures, in His messengers, in the Last Day, in destiny, both good and bad, and in resurrection after death." This creed reveals that Islam sees itself as part of a continuous process of revelation on God's part of His will to humanity, through angels and prophets and scriptures. Thus, for Islam, Moses received the Tawrât (Torah, the Hebrew Bible), David (Dâwûd) the Zabûr (Psalms), and Jesus the Injîl (the Evangel, or Gospel) from God. They were prophets, as were Adam (with Eve, half of the first human couple), Noah, Abraham, Solomon (Sulaymân), and John the Baptist (Yahyâ), to name only a handful of the 126,000 messengers Islamic tradition says God sent to humankind. Other prominent characters include Satan — not a fallen angel but a disobedient jinn (origin of the English "genie"), another kind of creation that inhabits the earth and to whom the Qur'an is also addressed; Mary (Maryam), the mother of Jesus; the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus; and some nonbiblical individuals, such as Khidr, the long-living tutor to the prophets, and Dhul-Qarnayn, an Alexander figure. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Qur'an accepts, co-opts, and, in its own view, corrects the narratives to be found in earlier monotheistic scriptures. From the very beginning, then, Muhammad preached Islam as part of a larger grace from God to humankind. This helps to explain why Muhammad was regarded as a renegade by some Christians in the Middle Ages, or as the founder of a Jewish, Christian, or Judeo-Christian heresy in some modern Western scholarship. It is clear that the message Muhammad preached had a profound effect on his listeners, both in form and content.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was, while still alive, transported into the presence of God; during this Night Journey and Ascension, God prescribed the five daily ritual-prayers (salât, namâz), known by the times they are to be performed: predawn (fajr), early afternoon (zuhr), midafternoon ('asr), sunset (maghrib), and nighttime ('ishâ'). All observant Muslims perform these ritual-prayers, either alone or, if possible, in congregation (which is preferable). The Friday congregational prayer (Jum'a) — which always includes a sermon, one often used for propaganda, not just exhortation — is also an obligation. It must be performed in a designated place of congregation. Typically that place is a congregational mosque (jâmi'), but a campus hall or any clean open space may also be used—Muhammad emphasized that a distinguishing feature of Islam is the possibility of performing one's ritual-prayers anywhere, that is, without needing a sacred or sanctified place, though simple ritual washing (wudû', ablutions, or tayammum, if earth is used instead of water) is a prerequisite to ritual practices (see "Mosque," chapter 10). Because the Qur'an asks believers to abandon work and hasten to the Friday services, Jum'a is therefore not unlike the Jewish Sabbath service or the Sunday Mass, and consequently countries with large Muslim populations declare Friday a holiday and make Friday-Saturday the weekend.
The prescribed alms, or zakât, are repeatedly enjoined in the Qur'an, as is the need for performing regular charity in general. What distinguishes zakât is that it is not voluntary, but a required 2½ percent tax specifically on accumulated wealth and goods (not income), which must be paid out by those who have such wealth to those who do not. In some countries, ministries or departments collect zakât from Muslim citizens and distribute it to the needy, and in others, benevolent organizations do so. Zakât's literal meaning is "purification," which suggests that the redistribution of wealth it entails, besides being an important communal and fiscal act, cleanses the believer.
"Fasting is prescribed for you just as it was prescribed to those who came before you," says the Qur'an, implying Jews on Yom Kippur or Christians in Lent. Besides voluntary fasting on almost any day of the year, the obligatory fast (sawm, siyâm, roza) lasts the whole of Ramadan, the ninth lunar month, and entails abstaining from all food, drink, and sex from before first light until sunset. Although it is one of the five pillars, the obligation is relaxed for anyone who is unable to fast, such as the very young, the very old, the infirm, those who fall sick doing so, and the like. Ultimately, like all the obligations (except the pilgrimage), it is up to the Muslim herself to regulate observance. According to the Prophet Muhammad, virtue (ihsân) "is that you worship God as if you see Him, for even though you do not, He sees you," underscoring the importance placed in Islam on personal responsibility and on the personal and unmediated relationship between the believer and God. All Muslims may cultivate this relationship through pious devotion and righteous acts, but it is especially the focus of many sûfî practices (see "Sufism," chapter 7). For Sufis (loosely, mystics), the ultimate aim is proximity (even "union") with the divine. To achieve this, they engage in active remembrance of God, by intoning pious phrases, by reciting Qur'anic verses, and by engaging in other practices that induce a heightened state of awareness, such as chanting or, in one celebrated case, whirling. These practices have been frowned upon by more austere Muslims, who believe that one is saved from hellfire and guaranteed paradise by doing what is prescribed and permitted, and avoiding — and punishing those who engage in — what is forbidden, a category interpreted narrowly. Given that most areas of Muslim concentration outside the Arabian Peninsula adopted Islam because of the appeal of the more populist practices of the Sufis, this hard-line position is difficult to maintain (and may even be disingenuous).
Excerpted from ISLAM Copyright © 2011 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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