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What is Islam

What is Islam

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Published by BarnabasFund
This booklet provides an introduction to the basics of Islam. Topics covered are: the meaning of “Islam”, Muhammad and the origins of Islam, the Islamic sources (Qur’an, hadith and sharia), the six articles of faith and the five pillars of Islam, the main Islamic festivals, and the different kinds of Islam.
This booklet provides an introduction to the basics of Islam. Topics covered are: the meaning of “Islam”, Muhammad and the origins of Islam, the Islamic sources (Qur’an, hadith and sharia), the six articles of faith and the five pillars of Islam, the main Islamic festivals, and the different kinds of Islam.

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Published by: BarnabasFund on Apr 01, 2011
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12/24/2012

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 WHAT IS
ISLAM?
 
1
What does “Islam” mean?
The Arabic word
Islam
means“submission” in the sense of  submitting to the will of God (“Allah” in Arabic) i.e. his will as definedby Islam.
Muhammad and the origins of Islam
The standard Muslim teaching on theorigin of Islam is as follows. It is basedon Islamic sources only, without externalcorroboration. Islam was founded inthe early seventh century in Arabia by Muhammad, a merchant born in thecity of Mecca. According to the sources(which are all Muslim) Muhammad wasborn in 570 or 571. He was employedby a wealthy widow called Khadija tomanage her caravan trade, work thatinvolved travelling and gave him theopportunity to meet with Jews andChristians. When he was 25 Muhammadmarried Khadija, who was then aged 40.They had seven children, all of whomdied young except for a daughter calledFatima. After 25 years of marriageKhadija died, and Muhammad went onto marry a further twelve wives.Marriage to Khadija made Muhammada man of some importance andenabled him to find time to meditateon religious matters. By the time he was about 40, he had become very concerned about the pagan beliefs of hisfellow Arabs. He began to spend timemeditating in a cave on a mountaina few miles from Mecca. He believedthat during these periods of meditationhe had a vision of a heavenly being(later identified as the angel Gabriel) who gave him messages to preach tothe world. Some of these supposed“revelations” were written down by Muhammad himself, while others were memorised or noted down by hisfollowers. They were gathered togethersome years after Muhammad’s deathand became the Qur’an. Although most of the people of Meccarejected Muhammad’s preaching, hegradually gathered a small band of followers, some of whom were hisrelatives. By 613 there were probably about 50 Muslims.The hostility of the Meccans eventually led Muhammad to send his followersto seek asylum elsewhere. In 615,some went to the Christian kingdom of  Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia), and later
 A cave near Mecca, which Muslims believeto be the site of some of Muhammad’s“revelations”
 
23
others went to a city about 250 milesnorth of Mecca, which became knownas Medina. Muhammad himself wasamongst those who went to Medina.He was warmly welcomed by thecitizens, who were longing for a strongleader to unite them.The year of Muhammad’s migration(
hijra
) from Mecca to Medina was 622.The
hijra
was such a turning point inMuhammad’s career that it waschosen to mark the beginning of theIslamic calendar (see page 6). Many Muslims view the
hijra
as the first of a series of clearly defined stages intheir political quest to establish anIslamic state modelled on the exampleof Muhammad’s; for such Muslims,migration can be the first part of theprocess of Islamisation.Muhammad soon became the supremeruler of Medina – effectively statesman,legislator and judge. In 623 he begansending his followers out to raid thetrading caravans from Mecca, and withina few months he was leading theseraids himself. Many tribes convertedto Islam to avoid being attacked by theMuslim armies. The military powerof the Muslim community in Medinaincreased. The Meccans surrendered tothem and Muhammad entered Mecca victoriously, destroyed the pagan idolsin its sanctuary (the
ka‘ba
) and turned itinto a centre of Islam.By the time Muhammad died in 632 theMuslim armies had conquered virtually the whole of the Arabian Peninsula,although the degree of Islamic control varied from place to place. After hisdeath, his successors continued hisprogramme of military expansion.
How the faith developed
Muhammad continued to receive“revelations” after he moved toMedina. However the content of these“revelations” and of his preaching wassomewhat different from what he hadpreached in Mecca.For example, in Mecca Muhammadhad preached that Muslims should befriendly towards Jews and Christians,even recognising the validity of theirfaiths. He had told Muslims to faceJerusalem when they prayed. InMedina he became increasingly hostiletowards Jews and Christians and toldhis followers that they should now faceMecca when they prayed.It was during his time in Medina thatMuhammad established Friday as theday for corporate worship and introducedthe annual month of fasting. He alsotaught that the Qur’an was God’s finalrevelation to humankind, and superior toall previous revelations.
Islamic scriptures
Qur’an
The most important Islamic scriptureis the Qur’an, a compilation of the“revelations” received by Muhammadover a period of 23 years. Muslimsbelieve that the words of the Qur’an areengraved in Arabic on a stone tablet inheaven and that therefore there can beonly one version of the Qur’an. Modernscholarship has shown that there werein fact many different versions of theQur’an in circulation in the first 20 years after Muhammad’s death. CaliphUthman (died 656) decided to suppressall but one version, but variantssurvived into the twentieth century incertain parts of the world.The Qur’an is roughly the same lengthas the New Testament. It consists of 114
 suras
(chapters). The first
 sura
 is a short prayer addressed to God, which Muslims recite daily. The restare messages from God to his peopleand are arranged in descending orderof length, with
 sura
2 being thelongest. The
 suras
have names as wellas numbers, for example, the Moon,Noah, and the Elephant. The Qur’anhas many references to Jews andChristians and also to Bible charactersincluding Christ himself. Most of thefeatured Bible stories are repeated ina distorted form, however, and Christ’sdeity, Sonship and crucifixion areexplicitly denied in the Qur’an.Because the
 suras
are arranged by length(not by date or by content) the Qur’ancannot be understood by simply readingit from beginning to end. There arealso other reasons why the meaning of the book is hard to discover. The oldestmanuscripts were written in a Kuficscript that showed only the consonants.The result was as ambiguous as if all the vowels and punctuation were removedfrom an English text. Furthermore theQur’an is very contradictory because of the way in which Muhammad’s attitudeand teaching changed after he emigratedfrom Mecca to Medina. Muslim scholarsgenerally teach that, in cases of conflict,a later verse abrogates (cancels out) anearlier verse. But the scholars do notagree on the chronological order of allthe verses. For many Muslims it is therecitation of the words in Arabic thatmatters; understanding the meaning of the words recited is not considered vital.There are many different Englishtranslations of the Qur’an, some of  which arrange the
 suras
in a differentorder from the Arabic. Another sourceof confusion is that the way the
 suras
 are broken down into numbered versesis not the same in every translation. So when looking up a reference, it may benecessary to check a few verses beforeor a few verses after the verse number
 An early Kufic script of the Qur’an

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