Developing A Universal Religion/Present Day Religions/Islam< Developing A Universal Religion | Present Day Religions
Founded in Arabia by Muhammad early in the seventh century, Islam spread rapidly following Muhammad’s death in 632. During the Dark Ages, Islamic scientists, philosophers and physicians formed the intellectual centre of the world. Islam’s growth and dominance declined following the First Crusade (called by Pope Urban II), when a rabble of mostly Western European Christian armies took Jerusalem in 1099. (Jerusalem was regained for Islam in 1187 by the Muslim prince Saladin.)
Islam is practised today by approximately one-fifth of the world’s population. Muslims state that Muhammad was the last and greatest of many thousands of prophets. Muslims believe that all prophets were human and all were passing Allah’s words to humankind, that all prophets are therefore Muslim, and that only Islam is acceptable to Allah.
Muslims believe that the Koran (or Qur’an) contains Allah’s revelations to Muhammad and is therefore infallible. Because the sections of the Koran were memorized and written down by many followers and recorded in full shortly after Muhammad’s death it has retained its integrity over the years. The Koran teaches forgiveness, but allows punishment of wrongdoers. Martyrs who die in a jihad, or holy war, are assured a place in paradise.
A second significant source of Islamic doctrine is the Hadith literature, which describes what Muhammad did or said in particular circumstances. This text is not deemed to be infallible; it teaches that individuals should live to benefit humanity, and not live to seek immediate or future pleasure.
According to Islam, Allah created and sustains the universe and all within. Nature is subservient to, and may be exploited by, mankind. Mankind is in the service of Allah, must worship Him, and must construct a social order that is ethical and free from corruption. As in Christianity, Muslims believe that there will be a Day of Judgement, when all humanity will be judged, with some going to the Garden or heaven, and others going to hell. In the meantime, “virtuous” nations are granted license to judge and punish “corrupt” nations.
Muslims are forbidden to eat the flesh of swine or to drink alcohol, and must adhere to the "five pillars." They must publicly profess their faith at least once in their life. They must pray five times each day, give alms or charity, fast from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan, and, if physically and economically able, make at least one pilgrimage to the Kaaba at Mecca. Men should cover their midsection and are forbidden to wear silk or gold jewellery. Women should cover their whole body, except for hands, feet and face. Men may have up to four wives but each must be treated equitably and justly. Women can initiate divorce. Possessions pass equally to all children. Racial equality is stressed, and the practice of different religions is allowed.
Islam is a way of life that covers all aspects of living. Its principles govern personal, social, political and economic thought and action with no aspect neglected. Consequently Islamic law contains and defines both legal and moral obligations, and several Islamic nations do not separate church from state. This practice has fostered the growth of Islamism (whose slogan is, “Islam is religion and State”). Islamists, a minority group of avid fundamentalists, particularly oppose “Western morality,” and believe that modernization has resulted in the breakdown of traditional family, societal, and religious values. They strive for a global theocracy and are not above using terrorism to achieve their ends. Moderate Muslims seem powerless to counter this activity from within Islam and any attempt to do so from without is regarded as an attack upon the Islamic faith. Perhaps for this reason outsiders often see Islam as an aggressive and ruthless religion.
- A total of 124,000 prophets, starting with Adam, see The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Religions, 154.
- Ibid. 151.