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Islam: Basic Terms and Concepts

Islam: Basic Terms and Concepts

Islam is a major world religion based on the revelations of Muhammad (its recognized last prophet) and was first established in Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia).

1. Islam is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion that espouses that God is one and incomparable and that the purpose of man’s existence is to worship and serve God. The Arabic word for God is ‘Allah.’

2. Muhammad the prophet (570?-632) is the last prophet according to Islam, whose revelations, covering political and social as well as religious principles, became the basis of Islamic religion and civilization.

3. The Qur’an (Koran) is the holy book of Islam. Islam holds that this sacred scripture is the infallible word of Allah, as it was revealed to the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. In 114 chapters, called ‘suras,’ the Qur’an discusses a number of topics, including the life of Muhammad, the relationship between God and humans, prophets and messengers, and human responsibility and judgment.

4. Hadith, the second source of authority in Islam, complements the Qur’an and affords the most wide-ranging source for Islamic law. It is held that the ultimate understanding of the Qur’an relies on the context of Muhammad’s life and the manners in which he observed and applied its message. It is also believed that Muhammad’s sayings and practices were entreated by his companions to answer questions about Islam.
 
5. The Five Pillars of Islam, called arkan’ in Arabic, refers to the five ritual duties that mainstream Muslims consider as principal to their faith.
 
6. Known as the ‘namaz’ in Iran, India, and Turkey, the salat’refers to the five required daily prayers. These prayers are performed only “after ritual bathing and take place before sunrise, at noon, in the mid-afternoon, immediately after sunset, and before midnight.
 
7. The ‘zakat refers to alms tax levied annually on the crops, livestock, precious metals, and cash of Muslims living above subsistence and whose debts do not exceed their assets. Ideally, it is to be collected on behalf of, and then distributed to, the poor.
 
8. Allah is the Arabic name of the supreme being. The term is a contraction of the Arabic ‘al-llah,’ “the God.” Both the idea and the word existed in pre-Islamic Arabian tradition. Although the pre-Islamic Arabs recognized other, lesser gods, they recognized Allah as the supreme God.

9.  ‘Sufism’ is an ascetic tradition which underscored personal piety and mysticism. It contributed to Islamic cultural diversity and further enhanced the Muslim heritage. Sufism counters the legal-minded approach to Islam:

10. ‘Purdah’ refers to a system of seclusion of women practiced by some Muslim (and Hindu) peoples. The word ‘purdah’ also designates a curtain or screen used to keep women separate from men and strangers, used especially in India. Secluding women from men started to vanish with the adoption of Western culture, but the Muslim fundamentalism of the 1980s revived it.

Part II
1.  Around the year ad 570, Muhammad was born in Mecca, at the time the central city of the Arabian Peninsula. He belonged to the clan of Hashim, a poor but respected branch of the esteemed and prominent tribe of Quraysh.

2. ‘Purdah’ refers to a system of seclusion of women practiced by some Muslim (and Hindu) peoples. The word ‘purdah’ also designates a curtain or screen used to keep women separate from men and strangers, used especially in India.

3. Sura Al-Fatiha (also called ‘The Opening’ or ‘The Exordium’) is the first chapter (‘surah’) of the Quran. The following is an English translation of Surah Al-Fatiha:

4. Muhammad the prophet (570?-632) is the last prophet according to Islam, whose revelations, covering political and social as well as religious principles, became the basis of Islamic religion and civilization.

5. Hadith, the second source of authority in Islam, complements the Qur’an and affords the most wide-ranging source for Islamic law. It is held that the ultimate understanding of the Qur’an relies on the context of Muhammad’s life and the manners in which he observed and applied its message.

6. The Five Pillars of Islam, called ‘arkan in Arabic, refers to the five ritual duties that mainstream Muslims consider as principal to their faith

7. ‘Sufism’ is an ascetic tradition which underscored personal piety and mysticism. It contributed to Islamic cultural diversity and further enhanced the Muslim heritage. Sufism counters the legal-minded approach to Islam:

8. InAfghanistan, visiting between family, friends, and neighbors is mostly segregated by gender. Homes regularly have a special room (‘hujra’) where male guests are received by the male host. Females hang out elsewhere in the compound.

9. For non-Muslims, the terms ‘militant Islam’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ induce images of hostage crises, embassies under siege, hijackings, and suicide bombers. People also think of extremist groups like the al-Qaeda network, formed by the late Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden, that engage in a global war of terrorism.

10. Muslims declare that Islam is a faith that has always existed and that it was gradually revealed to humanity by a number of prophets. Islam avows that the final and complete revelation of the faith was made through the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE.

Part III
1-5 The Five Pillars of Islam
The ‘arkan’ (in Arabic) refers to the five ritual duties that mainstream Muslims consider as principal to their faith. These are: (1) professing the confession of faith (shahada or kalima); (2) carrying out the five daily prayers (salat); (3) fasting during the month of Ramadan (saum); (4) paying the alms tax (zakat); (5) and performing, at least once in life, the major pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). “In most places where Islam is the official religion, Muslims are not punished for failing to perform these duties. In some Islamic states, however, public denial by a Muslim of the validity, importance, or centrality of the five pillars is generally considered an act of heresy and is punishable by death” (“Five Pillars of Islam,” 2009).

6-7 The two main branches of Islam
6. Sunni Islam is one of the two main branches of Islam,

7. Shia (or Shi’ite) Islam being the other. Sunni Muslims constitute the vast majority of Islamic community in the world. The term ‘sunna’ means the ‘way’ or the ‘example’ and refers to the example of the Prophet Muhammad. Because it means the “way,” the term sunna may also be intended to distinguish mainstream Muslims from Shia Muslims, who follow a ‘side path.’ Nonetheless, all Islamic groups and sects accept the Sunna, along with the Qur'an, as binding.

8-10 Issues in Islam
8. Gender Inequality - In Islamic countries, the issue on gender inequality involves a secular, liberal feminism seeking to eradicate discrimination against women and to outlaw practices such as polygyny (multiple wives), limitation of the right of divorce to the husband, and purdah.

9. Militant Islam - The issue on ‘militant Islam’ is tied with the concept of Islamic Fundamentalism. It refers to the diverse political and social movements in Muslim countries of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia that have as their objective the creation of more Islamically oriented states and societies founded on the principles and values of Islam.

10. Migration - The issue of migration, on the other hand, is never new to Muslims. During the initial years of Muhammad’s preaching, he made just few converts among the pagan Meccans who worshiped many different gods. But over time, Muhammad’s adherents grew in number, and they began to be viewed as a threat by Mecca’s elite. Recognizing that their safety was at stake, in 622 Muhammad and his followers migrated to Yathrib (later Medina), an oasis town north of Mecca. This migration (called the ‘Hegira’) would be later used to mark the initial year of the Islamic calendar.

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