Historical background of Islamic faith

Islamic faith has evolved in history from the times of Muhammad to present times. The term Islam denotes submission to God’s will. Every object must conform to the will of God/Allah or nature’s law. Reasonable creatures like a human being are free to choose whether to conform or not. The faith teaches that God’s power came to humanity through Quran to Muhammad. Muslims believe that God is all-powerful and all-knowing.

God has no equals, peers, beginning or end. The faith declares Muhammad as the only messenger of God. God uses angels to do his works on earth. Quran reveals that God used Angel Gabriel to reveal himself to Muhammad. Muhammad learnt how to pray through angels. Islamic faith notes that the Quran came through messenger or prophet, and Muhammad was the last of such messengers.

However, it recognizes other prophets like Noah, Adam, and Moses among others. Strangely, Muslim believes that Jesus was a messenger too. All prophets were equal, and none was above others, and no more prophets will come before the judgment day. The basic tenet of the Islamic faith as stressed by Muhammad is the judgment day, which no one can escape. Muslims believe that everyone will face judgment before the heavenly throne (Goldschmidt, 2002).

The principles of Quran and five pillars

Muhammad and teachings in Quran have the basic rules guiding Muslims. The religion observes right actions, rules and laws. There are five vital pillars of Islamic faith guiding believers (Goldschmidt, 2002).

The first pillar is witness (Shuhuduh). This rule stresses that there is only one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger. Believers must mean this pillar. A Muslim who denies God, or has more than one God and does not recognize Muhammad as the prophet is an apostate. Apostasy is punishable by death. The second pillar is the worship (salat) or ritual prayer.

These involve sets of motions and prostrations believers do while facing in the direction of the Kabah in Mecca with a short recitation of Quran. Salat reminds believers of their relationship to God and take off their minds from worldly affairs. Believers perform salat five times a day. They can choose any suitable place for worshipping. Before any worship occurs, Muslims perform cleanliness rituals on their faces, feet, hands and arms.

Fasting (Saturn) is the third pillar of Islamic faith done during the month of Ramadan. Devotees refrain from drinking, eating, smoking and sexual intercourse. Refraining from the above acts teaches the rich of what it means to be poor. Fasting trains Muslims to master their appetites, and create a common bond among them. Children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, elderly and chronically ill Muslims do not fast.

However, Muslims who are travelling can perform partial fasting. The fourth pillar talks about giving of tithe (zakat) or alms. Muslims may contribute a certain share of their income to help the needy. The fundamental goal of this pillar is to ensure sharing among the Muslims. Most of social amenities in Muslim communities derive their funding from awaquf (forms of endowment).

The final pillar talks about pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca. All adults should perform a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during their lives i.e. if they can afford it. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to give the faithful an opportunity to observe elaborate rites hallowed by Prophet Muhammad. The pilgrimage rites serve to bring Muslims from all over the world together, and break any barriers among them.

Other Duties and Prohibitions

The five pillars do not effectively cover all the Muslims duties. There is another pillar in regard to wars. Muslims believe that jihad is a struggle in the way of God. People misconceive jihad to means Islamic war against other religions. Muslims believe in fighting against those who do not believe in God or the judgment day.

They also fight those who forbid God or his messengers, and those who reject allegiance to the true faith until they pay tribute to the faith. This phrase has various meaning depending on situations and contexts. It can mean fighting Jews or Christians or pagans, altogether. A section of modern Muslims believes that jihad is defending Islam against attack from external aggressors, either verbal or military attack.

Muslims must first cleanse their souls of fear, pride and forgetfulness so as to protect their territory. Muslims consider each other a brother or a sister. Therefore, if any of them err or forget their duties to God or fellow Muslims, fellow Muslims must correct them like a brother and a sister.

The faith prohibits all forms intoxicating liquors, mind-influencing drugs, usury and gambling to Muslims. Muslims may also not eat the flesh of pigs or any other animal not slaughtered in the name of God. Further, Islamic faith prohibits men from wearing silk clothes or jewelry. The Quran has harsh penalties for those who commit murder, theft and other crimes. Still, Muslims who make or worship idols also have their share of punishments. However, people exempt artistic representation of living creatures.

Muslims believe that the purpose of sexual relations is to beget children. Therefore, it should never take place before or outside marriage. Parents often arranged marriages between their children. Therefore, consummate of marriage only took place, for the first time, on a wedding day. Strict rules separated sexes to avoid inappropriate affairs. The faith prohibits controversial acts of masturbation and homosexuality among its followers.

The rules excluded women from mainstream participation in politics and social life. The prohibitions further subjected women to the command of their husbands, brothers and fathers. Quran teachings require women to wear veils. Therefore, most Muslim women veil their faces in public places. However, nowadays some show less interest in wearing veils. The faith requires adults to dress modestly and avoid nudity.

Muslims must wash themselves after performing any act of nature. The use themselves when they wake up, before meals, and after handling certain objects, which are unclean to them. Total submergence into water is a must after sexual intercourse, menstruation and childbirth. Men shave or crop their heads and body hair but let their beards grow. Women shave all their body hair. Privately, Muslims may flout these rules. However, they must observe them in public places.

Religious and ethnic divisions

The religious and ethnic separations among Muslims started after the death of the Prophet, the caliphate and religious authority belonging to Ali (shi’ah-i ’Ali – the first leader of the Household of the Prophet, during the lifetime of the Prophet himself). Followers considered Ali’s position and station in regard to the Prophet, companions and relations to Muslim in general and realized there was a division among their views (Muhammad, 1975).

People identify Muslims as Sunni, Shi’i or Kharijite. These divisions emerged because of the power struggle during periods of Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. These were the four leading sects of Islam. Sunni sect acknowledged the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs as legitimate leader of the entire ummah. Sunni sect appears more political than theological.

A Shi’i Muslim is a follower of Ali as Muhammad’s true successor as the spiritual guides of ummah put it. Shi’i group rejects all other caliphs and all of Ali’s successors not conforming to the “correct line” i.e. those inherited a perfect knowledge and inner teachings of Quran from Muhammad. Muslims continued to experience divisions due to the genealogical differences. A close look at the history of Islam reveals that divisions further emerged. Some sects split and die especially in the Shi’i.

The Muslims relations with others from different Arab nations occurred in early periods of history. Revolutionary movements led to the emergence of other sects such the Qarmatians in Arabia and Bahrain, the Fatimids in Tunisia, and later the Assassins in Syria and Persia, and the Agha Khan in India. Further, contacts with others led to the rise of Turks, Crusaders, and Mongols.

The rise of the Mamluks destroyed the caliphates. Mamluks controlled Egypt by establishing centers of power, wealth, and learning for two centuries. Muslim world survived the Mongol ordeal to become a religion of today.

In short, Muslims relations to each other consist of invasions, conquests and destructions. Power house rose and fell. Some of these thrones did more harm than good to the Middle East region. Despite all these chronicles of war after another, Islam survived and grew to become among the leading world religions today.

References

Goldschmidt, A. J. (2002). A Concise History of the Middle East, 7th Edition. Colorado: Westview Press.

Muhammad, A. (1975). Shi’ite Islam. New York: State University of New York Press.