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Islam (Arabic: الإسلام; al-'islām  ) is a monotheistic religion originating with the teachings of Muhammad, a 7th century Arab religious and political figure. It is the second-largest religion in the world today, with an estimated 1.4 billion adherents spread across the globe known as Muslims.[1] Linguistically, Islam means "submission", referring to the total surrender of one's self to God (Arabic: الله, Allāh), and a Muslim is "one who submits (to God)".[2]

Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad and that Muhammad is God's final prophet. The Qur'an and the traditions of Muhammad in the Sunnah are regarded as the fundamental sources of Islam.[3][4] Muslims do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Ibrahim and other prophets whose messages had become corrupted over time (or according to some authorities only misinterpreted).[5][6][7] Like Judaism, Christianity, and the Bahá'í Faith, Islam is an Abrahamic religion.[8]

Islam is not only a faith, but also a culture. Being the faith of a quarter of humanity, one can find a diversity of cultures, peoples who adhere to Islam, and the areas they inhabit, all of which make Islam a global culture.[9] Today, Muslims may be found throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East and North, West and East Africa. Some of the most populous majority-Muslim countries are in South and Southeast Asia. Other concentrations are found in Central Asia. Only about 20 percent of Muslims originate from Arab countries.[10] Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity in many European countries, such as France, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, and the United Kingdom.[11][12]

Etymology and meaning

The word "'islām" derives from the triconsonantal Arabic root sīn-lām-mīm, which carries the basic meaning of safety and peace.[13] The verbal noun "islām" is formed from the verb aslama, a derivation of this root which means to accept, surrender, or submit; thus, Islam effectively means submission to and acceptance of God. The legislative meaning is to submit to God by singling him out in all acts of worship, to yield obediently to him and to disassociate oneself from polytheism.[2]

The word 'islām takes a number of different meanings in the Qur'an. In some verses (ayat), the quality of Islam as an internal conviction is stressed, for example: "Whomsoever God desires to guide, He expands his breast to Islam".[14][2] Other verses establish the connection between islām and dīn (usually translated as "religion"), and assert that only the surrender of one's self to God can render unto Him the worship which is His due: "Today, I have perfected your religion (dīn) for you; I have completed My blessing upon you; I have approved Islam for your religion."[15] The final category of verses describe Islam as an action (of returning to God), more than simply a verbal affirmation.[16][2]


Main article: Aqidah

Muslims believe that God revealed His final message to humanity through the Islamic prophet Muhammad (c. 570 - July 6, 632) via the angel Gabriel.[17] Muhammad is considered to have been God's final prophet, the "Seal of the Prophets". The Qur'an is believed by Muslims to be the revelations Muhammad received in 23 years of his preaching.[18] Muslims hold that the message of Islam - submission to the will of the one God - is the same as the message preached by all the messengers sent by God to humanity since Adam. Muslims believe that "Islam is the eternal religion, described in the Qur'an as 'the primordial nature upon which God created mankind.'[19][20] Further the Qur'an states that the proper name Muslim was given by Abraham.[21][20] As a historical phenomenon, however, Islam was originated in Arabia in early 7th century."[20] Islamic texts depict Judaism and Christianity as prophetic successor traditions to the teachings of Abraham. The Qur'an calls Jews and Christians "People of the Book," and distinguishes them from polytheists. However, Muslims believe that the previously revealed scriptures, the Tawrat (Torah), and the Injil (Gospels), had become distorted as indicated in the Qur'an, either in interpretation, textually, or both.[22]

Islamic belief is composed of six main aspects: belief in God; His revelations; His angels; His messengers; the "Day of Judgement"; and the divine decree.[23][24]


Allah in Arabic using Arabic script and calligraphy

Main article: Allah

The fundamental concept in Islam is the Oneness of God or tawhīd: monotheism which is absolute, not relative or pluralistic. The Oneness of God is the first of Islam's five pillars, expressed by the Shahadah (testification). By declaring the Shahadah, a Muslim attests to the belief that there are no gods but God, and that Muhammad is God's messenger.

In Arabic, God is called Allāh. The most probable theory is that the word is etymologically derived from a contraction of the Arabic words al- (the) and ʾilāh

(deity, masculine form) — al-ilāh

meaning "the God". Another theory traces the etymology of the word to the Aramaic Alāhā.[25][26] According to F. E. Peters, "The Qur'an insists, Muslims believe, and historians affirm that Muhammad and his followers worship the same God as the Jews(

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). The Quran's Allah is the same Creator God who covenanted with Abraham". Peters states that the Qur'anic portrayal of God is more powerful, more remote than Yahweh. It is also depicted as a universal deity, unlike Yahweh who closely follows Israelites.[27] Allāh is also used by Arab speaking Christian and Jewish people in reference to God.[28] The usage of the definite article in Allah linguistically indicates the divine unity. Muslims reject the Christian doctrine concerning the trinity of God, seeing it as akin to polytheism.

God is described in a sura of the Qu'ran as: "...God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him."[29]


The first sura in a Qur'anic manuscript by Hattat Aziz Efendi.

Main article: Qur'an

The Qur'an is considered by Muslims to be the literal, undistorted word of God, and is the central religious text of Islam. It has also been called, in English, the Koran and, archaically, the Alcoran. The word Qur'an means "recitation".[30] Although the Qur'an is referred to as a "book", when Muslims refer in the abstract to "the Qur'an", they are usually referring to the scripture as recited in Arabic - the words themselves - rather than to the printed work or any translation of it.[31] Muslims believe that the verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Muhammad by God through the Angel Gabriel on numerous occasions between the years 610 and his death on July 6 632. Modern Western academics generally hold that the Qur'an of today is not very different from the words Muslims believe to have been revealed to Muhammad, as the search for other variants has not yielded any differences of great significance. In fact, the source of ambiguity in the quest for historical Muhammad is more the lack of knowledge about pre-Islamic Arabia.[32]The Qur'an occupies a status of primacy in Islamic jurisprudence,[33] and Muslims consider it a definitive source of guidance to live in accordance to the will of God.[30] To interpret the Qu'ran, Muslims use a form of exegesis known as tafsir.[34][33]

Most Muslims regard paper copies of the Qur'an with veneration, washing as for prayers before reading the Qur'an. Worn out Qur'ans are not discarded as wastepaper, but are typically sunk in the sea. Many Muslims memorize at least some portion of the Qur'an in the original Arabic, usually at least the verses needed to perform the prayers. Those who have memorized the entire Qur'an are known as a hafiz. Muslims believe that the Qur'an is perfect only as revealed in the original Arabic. Translations, they maintain, are the result of human effort, and are deficient because of differences in human languages, because of the human fallibility of translators, and (not least) because any translation lacks the inspired content found in the original. Translations are therefore regarded only as commentaries on the Qur'an, or "interpretations of its meaning", not as the Qur'an itself. Almost all modern, printed versions of the Qur'an are parallel text ones, with a vernacular translation facing the original Arabic text.[30]


Main article: Muhammad
See also: Historicity of Muhammad

Arabic calligraphy reading "Muhammad, Messenger of Allah".

Muhammad (570632), also Mohammed, Mohamet, and other variants was an Arab religious and political leader who propagated the religion of Islam. Muslims consider him the greatest prophet of God, and the last recipient of divine revelation. He is viewed not as the founder of a new religion, but as the last in a series of prophets, restoring the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham and others which had become corrupted.[35][7] Muhammad had maintained a reputation as an honest and trustworthy member of the community, "al-Amin". For the last 23 years of his life, beginning at age 40, Muhammad reported receiving revelations from God. The content of these revelations, known as the Qur'an, was memorized and recorded by his followers.[36] During this time, Muhammad preached to the people of Mecca, including his relatives and tribal associates, imploring them to abandon polytheism. Although some people converted to Islam, Muhammad and his followers were subsequently persecuted by the leading Meccan authorities. Muslims believe that during his stay in Mecca, he was taken at night by Gabriel to Jerusalem, where he ascended to heaven, as elucidated in the Qur'an.[37] After 13 years of preaching in Mecca, Muhammad and the Muslims performed the hijra (emigration) to the city of Medina. There, with the Medinan converts (Ansar) and the Meccan migrants (Muhajirun), Muhammad soon established political and religious authority. By 629, he was able to march unto his home town in the bloodless 'Conquest of Mecca'. And by the time of his death in 632, Muhammad had succeeded in bringing the Arabian peninsula under the banner of Islam. Despite his exalted staus in Muslim thought, Muhammad is insisted to have been no more than human.[38]


Main article: Sunnah

Sunnah literally means "trodden path" and it refers, in common usage, to the normative example of Muhammad, as preserved in traditions known as hadith ("reports") about his speech, his actions, his acquiescence to the words and actions of others, and his personal characteristics.[39] By the time of the classical Muslim jurist, ash-Shafi'i (d. 820), the Sunnah represented an important facet in Islamic law, where any action described by this term would be highly recommended for the Muslim to perform. This was a notion supported by Qur'anic verses such as: "Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct)..."[40] The Sunnah also became an key exponent in clarifying understanding of the Qur'an.[41] As such, the authentic hadiths are considered by Muslims to be an authoritative source of revelation (second only to the Qur'an) by virtue of its representing divine guidance as implemented by Muhammad.[42]


Main article: Angels in Islam

The belief in angels is central to the religion of Islam, beginning with the belief that the Qur'an was dictated to Muhammad by the chief of all angels, Gabriel. Angels are thus the ministers of God, and some are the agents of revelation in Islam. According to Islamic belief, angels were created from light. According to the Qur'an, angels do not possess free will.[43] They are completely devoted to the worship of God and carry out certain functions on His command, such as recording every human being's actions, placing a soul in a newborn child, maintaining certain environmental conditions of the planet (such as nurturing vegetation and distributing the rain) and taking the soul at the time of death. Angels are described as in the Qur'an as "messengers with wings,- two, or three, or four (pairs): He [God] adds to Creation as He pleases..."[44][45] They can assume human form, but only in appearance. As such, angels do not eat, procreate or commit sin as humans do.[46][47]

Resurrection and judgement

Main article: Qiyama

A fundamental tenet of Islam is belief in the "Day of Resurrection", yawm al-Qiyāmah (also known as yawm ad-dīn - "Day of Judgement"; as-sā`a - "the Last Hour"). The trials and tribulations preceding and during Qiyāmah are explained meticulously in both the Qur'an and the hadith, as well as in the commentaries of Islamic scholars such as al-Ghazali, Ibn Kathir, and al-Bukhari. Muslims believe that God will hold every human, Muslim and non-Muslim, accountable for his or her deeds at a preordained time unknown to man.[48] The archangel Israfil, will sound a horn sending out a "blast of truth". Traditions say Muhammad will be the first to be brought back to life.[49] Bodily resurrection is much insisted upon in the Qur'an, which challenges the pre-Islamic Arabian concept of death.[50] Resurrection is followed by the gathering of mankind, culminating in their judging by God.[51]

According to the Qur'an, sins that can consign someone to hell include lying, dishonesty, corruption, ignoring God or God's revelations, denying the resurrection, refusing to feed the poor, indulgence in opulence and ostentation, the economic exploitation of others, and social oppression.[52] The punishment is in Qur'an contrasted not with release but with mercy [53][54] Islam views paradise as a place of joy and bliss.[55] Despite the graphical descriptions of the physical pleasures, there are clear references to a greater joy that exceeds the pleasures of flesh: The acceptance from God, or good pleasure of God (ridwan).[56][57] Islam also has a strong mystical tradition which places these heavenly delights in the context of the ecstatic awareness of God.[58]

Divine decree

Main article: Qadr (doctrine)

Another fundamental tenet in Islam is the belief in divine preordainment (al-qadaa wa'l-qadr ), meaning that God has full knowledge and decree over all that occurs, as elaborated in Qur'anic verses such as "Say: 'Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our protector'...."[59] Muslims believe that nothing in the world can happen, good or evil, except that it has been preordained and permitted by God. Man possesses free will in the sense that he has the faculty to choose between right and wrong, and thus retains responsibility over his actions. Muslims also believe that although God has decreed all things, the evil and calamities that are decreed are done so as a trial, or may possess a later benefit not yet apparent due to mankind's lack of comprehension, and as such does not suggest absence of God's indignation against evil and disbelief.[60][61] According to Islamic tradition, all that has been decreed is written in "al-Lawh al-Mahfuz", the "Preserved Tablet."[60]

Five Pillars of Islam

Main article: Five Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to what are understood among many Muslims to be the five core aspects of Islam. Shi'a Muslims accept the Five Pillars, but also add several other practices to form the Practices of Religion.


File:White shahadah on black.svg

Flag of early Muslims used on the battlefield (named Al-Raya الراية), with the Shahadah in white script.

The basic creed or tenet of Islam is found in the shahādatān ("twin testimonies"): 'ašhadu 'al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa 'ašhadu 'anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh

; "I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God."[62] As the most important pillar, this testament can be considered a foundation for all other beliefs and practices in Islam. Ideally, it is the first words a new-born will hear, and children are taught to recite and understand the shahadah as soon as they are able to understand them. Muslims must repeat the shahadah in prayer, and non-Muslims must use the creed to formally convert to Islam.[63]


The second pillar of Islam is salah, the requirement to pray five times a day at fixed times.[64] Each salah is performed facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca. In the very early days of Islam, when it was based primarily in Mecca, Muslims offered salah facing towards Jerusalem, but then God revealed a verse of the Qu'ran to Muhammad, telling the Muslims to pray facing Mecca from then on.[65]

Muslims performing salah (prayer).

Salah is intended to focus the mind on God; it is a personal communication with God, expressing gratitude and worship. According to the Qur'an (

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) the benefit of prayer "restrains [one] from shameful and evil deeds".[64] Salah is compulsory but there are flexibilities under certain circumstances.[66] For example in the case of sickness or lack of space, a worshipper can offer salah while sitting, or even lying, and the prayer can be shortened when travelling.[66]

The salah must be performed in the Arabic language to the best of each worshipper's ability (although any du'a, or extra prayers said afterwards need not be in Arabic), and the lines are to be recited by heart, although beginners may use written aids. The worshipper's body and clothing, as well as the place of prayer, must be cleansed.[66] All prayers should be conducted within the prescribed time period or waqt (Arabic for 'time') and with the appropriate number of units (raka'ah). While the prayers may be made at any point within the waqt, it is considered best to begin them as soon as possible after the call to prayer is heard.[67]


Zakat, or alms-giving, is giving charity to the poor and needy by able Muslims, based on the wealth that one has accumulated. It is a personal responsibility intended to ease economic hardship for others and eliminate inequality.[68] It consists spending a fixed portion of one's wealth for the poor or needy, including people whose hearts need to be reconciled, slaves, those in debt, and travelers. A Muslim may also donate an additional amount as an act of voluntary charity, known as sadaqah, in order to achieve additional divine reward.[69]

There are two main types of zakat: zakat on traffic, which is a per head payment equivalent to cost of around 2.25 kilograms of the main food of the region paid during the month of Ramadan by the head of a family for himself and his dependents, and zakât on wealth, which covers money made in business, savings, income, crops, livestock, gold, minerals, hidden treasures unearthed, and so on. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

The payment of zakât is an obligation for all Muslims. In current usage it is interpreted as a 2.5% levy on most valuables and savings held for a full lunar year, if the total value is more than a basic minimum known as nisab (3 ounces or 87.48 g of gold). At present (as of 16 October 2006), nisab is approximately US $1,750 or an equivalent amount in any other currency.[70]


Sawm, or fasting, is an obligatory act during the month of Ramadan, as enjoined in the Qur'an:[71]

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint — Qur'an

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Muslims traditionally break their fasts in Ramadan with dates, as was the practice (Sunnah) of Muhammad.

Muslims must abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk during this month, and are to be especially mindful of other sins.[71] The fast is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to God as well as remind them of the needy. During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language, gossip, and to try to get along with each other better than normal. All obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. The fast is an exacting act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities and its purpose being to cleanse your inner soul, and free it of harm.

Fasting during Ramadan is not obligatory for several groups for whom it would be excessively problematic. Children before the onset of puberty are not required to fast, though some do. Also some small children fast for half a day instead of a whole day so they get used to fasting. However, if puberty is delayed, fasting becomes obligatory for males and females after a certain age. According to Qur'an, if fasting would be dangerous to people's health, such as to people with an illness or medical condition, or elderly people, they are excused. Diabetics and nursing or pregnant women are usually not expected to fast. According to hadith, observing the Ramadan fast is not allowed for menstruating women. Other individuals for whom it is usually considered acceptable not to fast are those in battle, and travelers who intended to spend fewer than five days away from home. If one's condition preventing fasting is only temporary, one is required to make up for the days missed after the month of Ramadan is over and before the next Ramadan arrives. If one's condition is permanent or present for an extended amount of time, one may make up for the fast by feeding a needy person for every day missed.[72]


The hajj to the Kaaba in Mecca is an important practice for Muslims to perform

The Hajj is a pilgrimage that occurs during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the city of Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime.[73] When the pilgrim is around ten kilometers from Mecca he wears ihram consisting of two white sheets.[74] Some of the ritual of Hajj are walking seven times around the Kaaba, touching the Black Stone, running seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah, visiting holy places and sacrificing an animal in commemoration of Ibrahim's sacrifice. Furthermore, it includes throwing seven stones at each of the three pillars symbolizing devil at Mina and cutting (some or all) head’s hairs.[74]

The pilgrim, or the hajji, is honored in his or her community. For some, this is an incentive to perform the Hajj. Islamic teachers say that the Hajj should be an expression of devotion to God, not a means to gain social standing. The believer should be self-aware and examine his or her intentions in performing the pilgrimage. This should lead to constant striving for self-improvement.[75]

Islamic law

Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet)

Main article: Sharia

The sharia (literally meaning: "the path leading to the watering place") is Islamic law, determined by traditional Islamic scholarship and systematized during the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the Muslim era.[76] In Islam, Shariah is viewed as the expression of the divine will, the total and unqualified submission to which is considered the fundamental tenet of Islam. It "constitutes a system of duties that are incumbent upon a Muslim by virtue of his religious belief."[76] The Qur'an and the sunnah are the basic sources of Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh. The Qur'an in 80 verses strictly deals with legal matters but it is not a comprehensive legal code.[76] The jurist Imam Shafi'i in contrast with Imam Malik and the Hanafi, put a lot of stress on sunnah causing a great activity among Muslims to collect and classify the traditions in early 8th century.[76] Qiyas (analogical reasoning) and Ijma (unanimous agreement by the qualified scholars) are generally regarded as the third and fourth sources of Sharia, but have been contested by some scholars.[76] The doctrine of Ijma had two major effects: "It served first as a permissive principle to admit the validity of variant opinions as equally probable attempts to define the Shari'ah. Second, it operated as a restrictive principle to ratify the status quo; for once the ijma' had cast an umbrella authority not only over those points that were the subject of a consensus but also over existing variant opinions, to propound any further variant was to contradict the infallible ijma' and therefore tantamount to heresy...Ijma' set the final seal of rigidity upon the doctrine, and from the 10th century onward independent juristic speculation ceased. In the Arabic expression, "the door of ijtihad was closed." Henceforth jurists were muqallids, or imitators."[76]

Shi'a jurisprudence holds that hadith is secondary to the Qur'an, disregarding without further inquiries those hadith that contradict or abrogate Qur'anic verdicts. Also, qiyas and Ijma are not used as tools, whereas logic is used as a tool. In contrast to Sunni's, Shi'a only follow the Ahl al-Bayt, or family of Muhammad with regards to fiqh, outright rejecting the views of those Muslims who fought with the Ahl al-Bayt.

Islamic law covers all aspects of life, from broad topics of governance and foreign relations all the way down to issues of daily living. Islamic laws that were covered expressly in the Qur'an were referred to as hudud laws and include specifically the five crimes of theft, highway robbery, intoxication, adultery and falsely accusing another of adultery, each of which has a prescribed "hadd" punishment that cannot be forgone or mitigated. The Qur'an also details laws of inheritance, marriage, restitution for injuries and murder, as well as rules for fasting, charity, and prayer. However, the prescriptions and prohibitions may be broad, so their application in practice varies. Islamic scholars, the ulema, have elaborated systems of law on the basis of these broad rules, supplemented by the hadith reports of how Muhammad and his companions interpreted them.

Most countries that have a majority Muslim population declare that their constitutions and laws are founded upon sharia. An exception is Turkey. Countries incorporate provisions from sharia into their constitutions and laws to varying extents and there are also differences arising from the existence of different Islamic denominations and schools of law. As Islam has spread to non Arabic speaking countries such as Iran, Indonesia, Great Britain, and the United States, not all Muslims understand the Qur'an in its original Arabic. Thus, when Muslims are divided in how to handle situations, they seek the assistance of a mufti, an Islamic judge who can offer them advice based on the sharia.



Main article: Mosque

The Masjid al-Haram in Mecca as it exists today

A mosque is a place of worship for Muslims. Muslims often refer to the mosque by its Arabic name, masjid. The word "mosque" in English refers to all types of buildings dedicated for Islamic worship, although there is a distinction in Arabic between the smaller, privately owned mosque and the larger, "collective" mosque (masjid jami), which has more community and social amenities. The primary purpose of the mosque is to serve as a place of prayer. Nevertheless, mosques are also for their importance to the Muslim community as meeting place and a place of study.[77] They have developed significantly from the open-air spaces that were the Quba Mosque and Masjid al-Nabawi in the seventh century. Today, most mosques have elaborate domes, minarets, and prayer halls, demonstrating Islamic architecture.

According to Islamic beliefs, the first mosque in the world was the Kaaba, which was built by Abraham on an order from God. When Muhammad lived in Mecca, he viewed Kaaba as his first and principal mosque and performed prayers there together with his followers. Even when the pagan Arabs performed their rituals inside the Kaaba, Muhammad held the Kaaba in very high esteem.[77] When Muhammad conquered Mecca in 630, he converted the Kaaba into a mosque, which has since become known as the Masjid al-Haram, or Sacred Mosque and destroyed all idols that were worshipped by the Pagan Arabs. The Masjid al-Haram was significantly expanded and improved in the early centuries of Islam in order to accommodate the increasing number of Muslims who either lived in the area or made the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, before it acquired its present shape in 1577 in the reign of the Ottoman sultan Selim II.[78]

The first thing Muhammad did upon arriving with his followers near Medina after the emigration from Mecca in 622 was build the Quba Mosque in a village outside Medina.[79] Today, for the majority of Muslims Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina and Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem are considered the three holiest sites in Islam.[80]


Main article: Islamic ethics

Islamic ethics, historically, took shape only gradually and was finally established in 5th/11th century.[81] It was eventually shaped as a successful amalgamation of pre-Islamic Arabian tradition, the Qur'anic teaching and non-Arabic elements (mainly of Persian and Greek origins) embedded in or integrated with a general-Islamic structure.[81] Although Muhammad's preaching produced a "radical change in moral values based on the sanctions of the new religion, and fear of God and of the Last Judgment", however the tribal practice of Arabs didn't die out. Later Muslim scholars expanded the religious ethic of the Qur'an and Hadith in immense details.[81]

Customs and behavioral laws

Main article: Adab (behavior)

Practitioners of Islam are generally taught to follow some specific customs in their daily lives. Most of these customs can be traced back to Abrahamic traditions in pre-Islamic Arabian society.[82] Due to Muhammad's sanction or tacit approval of such practices, these customs are considered to be Sunnah (practices of Muhammad as part of the religion) by the Ummah (Muslim nation). They include customs such as saying Bismillah (in the name of God) before eating and drinking and then using the right hand for the purpose, saying As-Salamu Alaykum (peace be to you) when meeting someone and answering with Wa alaykumus-Salam (and peace be to you), saying Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) when sneezing and responding with Yarhamukallah (may God have mercy on you), and similarly saying the Adhan (prayer call) in the right ear of a newborn and the Iqama in his/her left.[83][84]

In the sphere of Islamic hygiene, it includes several types of hair removal (clipping the moustache, shaving the pubic hair, removing underarm hair), cutting nails, and circumcising the male offspring; cleaning the nostrils, the mouth, and the teeth; specific ways of cleaning the body after urination and defecation, abstention from sexual relations during menstruation and the puerperal discharge, and a ceremonial bath (ghusl) after menstruation, childbirth, or sexual intercourse.[85][86][84]Islamic burial rituals include the funeral prayer of the bathed and enshrouded dead body in coffin cloth and burying it in a grave.[87][84]

Main article: Islamic dietary laws

Muslims, like Jews, are restricted in their diet. Food prohibitions include swine, blood, carrion,[88] all intoxicants including alcohol, and animals slaughtered in the name of someone other than God.[89] All meat must come from a herbivorous animal slaughtered in the name of God by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian. Food permissible for Muslims is known as halal food.

Islamic calendar

Main article: Islamic calendar

Eid prayers on the holiday of Eid al-Fitr at the Badshahi Mosque, Pakistan. The days of Eid are important occasions on the Islamic calender.

The formal beginning of the Muslim era was chosen to be the Hijra, or migration from Mecca to Medina of Muhammad and his followers because it was regarded as a turning point in the fortunes of Muhammad's movement.[90] It is reported it was caliph Umar who chose this incident to mark the year 1, AH (Anno Hegira) of the Islami calendar[91] corresponding to AD 622 or 622 CE, depending on the notation preferred (see Common Era, Anno Domini).[90] It is a lunar calendar,[90] but differs from other such calendars (e.g. the Celtic calendar) in that it omits intercalary months, being synchronized only with lunations, but not with the solar year, resulting in years of either 354 or 355 days. Therefore, Islamic dates cannot be converted to the usual CE/AD dates simply by adding 622 years. Islamic holy days fall on fixed dates of the lunar calendar, which means that they occur in different seasons in different years in the Gregorian calendar.


Main article: Eid

The most important feasts in Islam sanctioned by Sunnah are Eid Al-Fitr (عيد الفطر) on the 1st of Shawwal, marking the end of the fasting month Ramadan, and Eid Al-Adha (عيد الأضحى) on the 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah, coinciding with the pilgrimage to Mecca.[92][84] Other Islamic holidays include Muhammad's birthday (Al-Mawlid Al-Nabawwi), and the anniversary of the day Muslims believe he experienced a miraculous journey to Jerusalem and ascended to Heaven (Al-isra wa-l-miraj). Shia Muslims also celebrate the anniversary of the day they believe Muhammad declared Ali as his successor (Eid Al-ghadir).[93]


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Jihad is literally struggle in the way of God and is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, although it occupies no official status as such.[94] Within the realms of Islamic jurisprudence, jihad usually refers to military exertion against non-Muslim combatants.[95][96] In broader usage and interpretation, the term has accrued both violent and non-violent meanings. It can refer to striving to live a moral and virtuous life, to spreading and defending Islam, and to fighting injustice and oppression, among other usages.[97]

The word "jihad" is often wrongly translated as "Holy War." The primary aim of jihad is not the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam by force, but rather the expansion and defense of the Islamic state.[96][98] Muslim scholars condemned secular wars as an evil rooted in humanity's venegeful nature.[99]In the classical manuals of Islamic jurisprudence, the rules associated with armed warfare are covered at great length.[96] Such rules include not killing women, children and non-combatants, as well as not damaging cultivated or residential areas.[100] More recently, modern Muslims have tried to re-interpret the Islamic sources, stressing that Jihad is essentially defensive warfare aimed at protecting Muslims and Islam.[96] Although some Islamic scholars have differered on the implementation of Jihad, there is consensus amongst them that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.[101] Some Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad regarded the inner struggle for faith a greater Jihad than even fighting [by force] in the way of God.[102]


Main article: History of Islam
Further information: Caliph and Islamic Golden Age

Early years and the establishment of the Rashidun caliphate

Islam began in Arabia in the 7th century under the leadership of Muhammad, who united the many tribes of Arabia under Islamic law. With Muhammad's death in 632, there was a moment of confusion about who would succeed to leadership of the Muslim community. With a dispute flaring between the Medinese Ansar and the Meccan Muhajirun as to who would undertake this task, Umar ibn al-Khattab, a prominent companion of Muhammad, nominated Abu Bakr: Muhammad's intimate friend and collaborator.[103][104] Others added their support and Abu Bakr was made the first caliph, literally "successor", leader of the community of Islam.

Abu Bakr's immediate task was to avenge the recent defeat by Byzantine (also known as Eastern Roman Empire) forces, although a more potent threat soon surfaced in the form of a number of Arab tribes who were in revolt after having learned of the death of Muhammad. Some of these tribes refused to pay the Zakat tax to the new caliph, whilst other tribes touted individuals claiming to be prophets. Abu Bakr swiftly declared war upon, and subdued these tribes, in the episode known as the Ridda wars, or "Wars of Apostasy".[103]

Abu Bakr's death in 634 resulted in the succession of Umar as the caliph, and after him, Uthman ibn al-Affan, and then Ali ibn Abi Talib. These four are known as the "khulafa rashidūn" ("Rightly Guided Caliphs").[105] Under them, the territory under Muslim rule expanded greatly. The decades of warring between the neighboring Persian and Byzantine empires had rendered both sides weakened and exhausted.[2] Not only that, it had also caused them to underestimate the strength of the growing new power, and the Arabs' superior military horsemanship. This, coupled with the precipitation of internal strife within Byzantium and its exposure to a string of barbarian invasions, made conditions extremely favorable for the Muslims. Exploitation of these weaknesses enabled the Muslims to conquer the lands of Syria and Palestine (634—640), Egypt (639642); and, towards the east, the lands of Iraq (641), Armenia and Iran (642), and even as far as Transoxiana and Chinese Turkestan.[2]

Emergence of hereditary caliphates

Main article: Ummayad

Despite the military successes of the Muslims at this time, the political atmosphere was not without controversy. With Umar assassinated in 644, the election of Uthman as successor was met with gradually increasing opposition.[106] He was subsequently accused of nepotism, favoritism and of introducing reprehensible religious innovations, though in reality the motivations for such charges were economic.[106] Like Umar, Uthman too was then assassinated, in 656. Ali then assumed the position of caliph, although tensions soon escalated into what became the first civil war (the "First Fitna") when numerous companions of Muhammad, including Uthman's relative Muawiyah (who was assigned by Uthman as governor of Syria) and Muhammad's wife Aisha, sought to avenge the slaying of Uthman. Ali's forces defeated the latter at the Battle of the Camel, but the encounter with Muawiyah proved indecisive, with both sides agreeing to arbitration. Ali retained his position as caliph but had been unable to bring Mu'awiyah's territory under his command.[107] When Ali was fatally stabbed by a Kharijite dissenter in 661, Mu'awiyah was ordained as the caliph, marking the start of the hereditary Ummayad caliphate.[108] Under his rule, Mu'awiyah was able to conquer much of North Africa, mainly through the efforts of Muslim general Uqba ibn Nafi.[109]

The territory of the Caliphate in the year 750

There was much contention surrounding Mu'awiyah's assignment of his son Yazid as successor upon the eve of his death in 680,[110] drawing protest from Husayn bin Ali, grandson of Muhammad, and Ibn az-Zubayr, a companion of Muhammad. Both led separate and ultimately unsuccessful revolts, and Ummayad attempts to pacify them became known as the "Second Fitna". Thereafter, the Ummayad dynasty continued rulership for a further seventy years (with caliph Umar II's tenure especially notable[111]), and were able to conquer the Maghrib (699705), as well as Spain and the Narbonnese Gaul at a similar date.[2]

The gains of the Ummayad empire were consolidated upon when the Abbasid dynasty rose to power in 750, with the conquest of the Mediterranean islands including the Balearics and Sicily.[2] The new ruling party had been instated on the wave of dissatisfaction propagated against the Ummayads, cultured mainly by the Abbasid revolutionary, Abu Muslim.[112][113] Under the Abbasids, Islamic civilization flourished. Most notable was the development of Arabic prose and poetry, termed by The Cambridge History of Islam as its "golden age."[114] This was also the case for commerce, industry, the arts and sciences, which prospered especially under the rule of Abbasid caliphs al-Mansur (ruled 754775), Harun al-Rashid (ruled 786809), and al-Ma'mun (ruled 809813).[115]


Interior of the Mezquita (in Cordoba, Spain), a Roman Catholic cathedral which was formerly a mosque, the construction of which began in 784 under Abd ar-Rahman I, who fled Damascus during the Abbasid revolution.

Baghdad was made the new capital of the caliphate (moved from the previous capital, Damascus) due to the importance placed by the Abbasids upon eastern affairs in Persia and Transoxania.[115] It was at this time, however, that the caliphate showed signs of fracture and the uprising of regional dynasties. Although the Ummayad family had been killed by the revolting Abbasids, one family member, Abd ar-Rahman I, was able to flee to Spain and establish an independent caliphate there, in 756. In the Maghreb region, Harun al-Rashid appointed the Arab Aghlabids as virtually autonomous rulers, although they continued to recognise the authority of the central caliphate. Aghlabid rule was short lived, as they were deposed by the Shiite Fatimid dynasty in 909. By around 960, the Fatimids had conquered Abbasid Egypt, building a new capital there in 973 called "al-Qahirah" (meaning "the planet of victory", known today as Cairo). Similar was the case in Persia, where the Turkic Ghaznavids managed to snatch power from the Abbasids.[116][117] Whatever temporal power of the Abbasids remained had eventually been consumed by the Seljuq Turks (a Muslim Turkish clan which had migrated into mainland Persia), in 1055.[115]

During this time, expansion continued, sometimes by military warfare, sometimes by peaceful proselytism.[2] The first stage in the conquest of India began just before the year 1000. By some 200 (from 11931209) years later, the area up to the Ganges river had been conquered. In sub-Saharan West Africa, it was just after the year 1000 that Islam was established. Muslim rulers are known to have been in Kanem starting from sometime between 1081 to 1097, with reports of a Muslim prince at the head of Gao as early as 1009. The Islamic kingdoms associated with Mali reached prominence later, in the 13th century.[2]

The Crusades and the Mongol invasions

Main article: Crusades

Artistic depiction of the Battle of Hattin in 1187, where Jerusalem was recaptured by Saladin's Ayyubid forces.

Islamic conquest into Christian Europe spread as far as southern France. After the disastrous defeat of the Byzantines by the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, Christian Europe, at the behest of the Pope, launched a series of Crusades and captured Jerusalem. The Muslim general Saladin, however, regained Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, also having defeated the Shiite Fatimids earlier in 1171 upon which the Ayyubid dynasty had been conceived.[117][118]

The wave of Mongol invasions, which had initially commenced in the early 13th century under the leadership of Genghis Khan, marked a violent end to the Abbasid era. The Mongol Empire had spread rapidly throughout Central Asia and Persia: the Persian city of Isfahan had fallen to them by 1237. With the election of Khan Mongke in 1251, sights were set upon the Abbasid capital, Baghdad. Mongke's brother, Hulegu, was made the head of the Mongol army assigned with the task of subduing Baghdad. This was achieved at the Battle of Baghdad in 1258, which saw the Abbasids overrun by the superior Mongol army. The last Abbasid caliph, al-Musta'sim, was captured and killed; and Baghdad was ransacked and subsequently destroyed. The cities of Damascus and Aleppo fell shortly afterwards, in 1260. Any prospective conquest of Egypt was temporarily delayed due to the death of Mongke at around the same time.[117]

With Mongol conquest in the east, the Ayyubid dynasty ruling over Egypt had been surpassed by the slave-soldier Mamluks in 1250. This had been done through the marriage between Shajar al-Durr, the widow of Ayyubid caliph al-Salih Ayyub, with Mamluk general Aybak. Military prestige was at the center of Mamluk society, and it played a key role in the confrontations with the Mongol forces. After the assassination of Aybak, and the succession of Qutuz in 1259, the Mamluks challenged and decisively routed the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut in late 1260. This signalled an adverse shift in fortunes for the Mongols, who were again defeated by the Mamluks at the Battle of Homs a few months later, and then driven out of Syria altogether.[117] With this, the Mamluks were also able to conquer the last of the crusader territories.

Rise of the Ottomans

Main article: Ottoman Empire

Interior of the Ulu Camii, a mosque constructed under the Ottoman sultan Beyazid I in Bursa (1396), showing the multiple domes and pillars decorated with Islamic calligraphy.

The Seljuk Turks fell apart rapidly in the second half of the 13th century, especially after the Mongol invasions in Anatolia.[119] This resulted in the establishment of multiple Turkish principalities, known as beyliks. Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty, assumed leadership of one of these principalities (Söğüt) in 1281, succeeding his father Ertuğrul. Declaring an independent Ottoman emirate in 1299, Osman I led it to a series of consecutive victories over the Byzantine Empire. By 1331, the Ottomans had captured Nicea, the former Byzantine capital, under the leadership of Osman's son and successor, Orhan I.[120] Victory at the Battle of Kosovo against the Serbs in 1389 then facilitated their expansion into Europe. The Ottomans were firmly established in the Balkans and Anatolia by the time Bayezid I ascended to power in the same year, now at the helm of a swiftly growing empire.[121]

Further growth was brought to a sudden halt, as Bayezid I had been captured by Mongol warlord Timur (also known as "Tamerlane") in the Battle of Ankara in 1402, upon which a turbulent period known as the Ottoman Interregnum ensued. This episode was characterized by the division of the Ottoman territory amongst Bayezid I's sons, who submitted to Timurid authority. When a number of the territories recently conquered by the Ottomans regained independent status, potential ruin for the Ottoman Empire became apparent. However, the empire quickly recovered, as the youngest son of Bayezid I, Mehmed I, waged offensive campaigns against his other ruling brothers, thereby reuniting Asia Minor and declaring himself the new Ottoman sultan in 1413.[117]

At around this time the naval fleet of the Ottomans developed considerably, such that they were able to challenge Venice, traditionally a naval power. Focus was also directed towards reconquering the Balkans. By the time of Mehmed I's grandson, Mehmed II (ruled 14441446; 14511481), the Ottomans felt strong enough to lay siege to Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium. A decisive factor in this siege was the use of firearms and large cannons introduced by the Ottomans (adapted from Europe and improved upon), against which the Byzantines were unable to compete. The Byzantine fortress finally succumbed to the Ottoman invasion in 1453, 54 days into the siege. Mehmed II, entering the city victorious, renamed it to Istanbul. With its capital conceded to the Ottomans, the rest of the Byzantine Empire quickly disintegrated.[117] The future successes of the Ottomans and later empires would depend heavily upon the exploitation of gunpowder.[122]

Early modern period

Main article: Malacca Sultanate

Islam reached the islands of Southeast Asia through Indian Muslim traders near the end of the 13th century. By the mid-15th century, Islam had spread from Sumatra to the nearby island of Malacca as well as Brunei, and the conversion of the Malaccan ruler to Islam marked the start of the Malacca Sultanate. Although the sultanate managed to expand its territory somewhat, its rule remained brief. Portuguese forces captured Malacca in 1511 under the naval general Afonso de Albuquerque. With Malacca subdued, Brunei established itself as the centre of Islam in Southeast Asia, while its sultanate remains intact even to this day.[117] Throughout areas under its territorial dominance, Islam cemented itself within the cultures under the Muslim empire, resulting in the gradual conversion of the non-Muslim populations to Islam.[2] Such was not entirely the case in Spain, where a series of confrontations with the Christian kingdoms ended in the fall of Granada in 1492.[2]

Map of the dynamics in territorial possession on the Safavid frontiers during the 16th century.

In the early 16th century, the Shi'ite Safavid dynasty assumed control in Persia under the leadership of Shah Ismail I, upon the defeat of the ruling Turcoman federation Aq Qoyunlu (also called the "White Sheep Turkomans") in 1501. The Ottoman sultan Selim I quickly sought to repel Safavid expansion, challenging and defeating them at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. Selim I also deposed the ruling Mamluks in Egypt, absorbing their territories into the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Suleiman I (also known as Suleiman the Magnificent), Selim I's successor, took advantage of the diversion of Safavid focus against the Uzbeks on the eastern frontier and recaptured Baghdad, which had previously fallen under Safavid control. Despite this, Safavid power remained substantial, with their empire rivalling the Ottomans'. Suleiman I also advanced deep into Hungary following the Battle of Mohács in 1526reaching as far as the gates of Vienna thereafter, and signed a Franco-Ottoman alliance with Francis I of France against Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire 10 years later. Suleiman I's rule (15201566) signified the height of the Ottoman Empire, after which it fell into gradual decline.[117]

Meanwhile, the Delhi sultanate in the Indian subcontinent had been destroyed by the Timurid prince Babur in 1526, marking the start of the Mughal Empire — its capital in Agra. Babur's death some years later, and the indecisive rule of his son, Humayun, brought a degree of instability to Mughal rule. The resistance of the Afghani Sher Shah, through which a string of defeats had been dealt to Humayun, significantly weakened the Mughals. Just a year before his death, however, Humayun managed to recover much of the lost territories, leaving a substantial legacy for his son, the 13 year old Akbar (later known as Akbar the Great), in 1556. Under Akbar, consolidation of the Mughal Empire occurred through both expansion and administrative reforms.[117]

Formation of modern nation-states

By the end of the 19th century, all three Islamic areas of influence had declined due to internal conflict and were later destroyed by Western cultural influence and military ambitions. Following World War I, the remnants of the Ottoman Empire were parceled out as European protectorates or spheres of influence. The new states of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan were formed from these protectorates. Alongside Arab nationalism the political movement known as Islamism was established.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Oil reserves were discovered in Muslim-majority countries such as Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. After the second world war the state of Israel was established and a long conflict with Arab nations ensued. The world economy has become dependent on oil and this has enriched some Muslim-majority countries (such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States) but continuing conflict has prevented other countries from benefitting fully from this natural resource. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Islamic civilization

Art and architecture

Main article: Islamic art

Islamic calligraphy on a plaque in the Great Mosque of Xi'an, China.

The term "Islamic art and architecture" denotes the works of art and architecture produced from the 7th century onwards by people (not necessarily Muslim) who lived within the territory that was inhabited by culturally Islamic populations.[123][124] Islamic art frequently adopts the use of geometrical floral or vegetal designs in a repetition known as arabesque. Such designs are highly nonrepresentational, as Islam forbids representational depictions as found in pre-Islamic pagan religions. Despite this, there is a presence of depictional art in some Muslim societies, although this is not widespread. Another reason why Islamic art is usually abstract is to symbolize the transcendence, indivisible and infinite nature of God, an objective achieved by arabesque.[125] Arabic calligraphy is an omnipresent decoration in Islamic art, and is usually expressed in the form of Qur'anic verses. Two of the main scripts involved are the symbolic kufic and naskh scripts, which can be found adorning the walls and domes of mosques, the sides of minbars, and so on.[125]

From between the eighth and eighteenth centuries, the use of glazed ceramics was prevalent in Islamic art, usually assuming the form of elaborate pottery.[126] Tin-opacified glazing was one of the earliest new technologies developed by the Islamic potters. The first Islamic opaque glazes can be found as blue-painted ware in Basra, dating to around the 8th century. Another significant contribution was the development of stonepaste ceramics, originating from 9th century Iraq.[127] Other centers for innovative ceramic pottery in the Islamic world included Fustat (from 975 to 1075), Damascus (from 1100 to around 1600) and Tabriz (from 1470 to 1550).[128]

Interior view of the dome in the Selimiye Mosque, Edirne.

Perhaps the most important expression of Islamic art is architecture, particularly that of the mosque.[116] Through it the effect of varying cultures within Islamic civilization can be illustrated. The North African and Spanish Islamic architecture, for example, has Roman-Byzantine elements, as seen in the Alhambra palace at Granada, or in the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Persian-style mosques are characterized by their tapered brick pillars, large arcades, and arches supported each by several pillars. In South Asia, elements of Hindu architecture were employed, but were later superseded by Persian designs. The most numerous and largest of mosques exist in Turkey, which obtained influence from Byzantine, Persian and Syrian designs, although Turkish architects managed to implement their own style of cupola domes.[116]

Distinguishing motifs of Islamic architecture have always been ordered repetition, radiating structures, and rhythmic, metric patterns. In this respect, fractal geometry has been a key utility, especially for mosques and palaces. Other significant features employed as motifs include columns, piers and arches, organized and interwoven with alternating sequences of niches and colonnettes.[129] The role of domes in Islamic architecture has been considerable. Its usage spans centuries, first appearing in 691 with the construction of the Dome of the Rock mosque, and recurring even up until the 17th century with the Taj Mahal. And as late as the 19th century, Islamic domes had been incorporated into Western architecture.[130][131]

Philosophy and literature

Main article: Islamic philosophy

One of the common definitions for "Islamic philosophy" is "the style of philosophy produced within the framework of Islamic culture."[132] Islamic philosophy, in this definition is neither necessarily concerned with religious issues, nor is exclusively produced by Muslims.[132] The Persian scholar Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037) had more than 450 books attributed to him. His writings were concerned with many subjects, most notably philosophy and medicine. His medical textbook was used as the standard text in European universities for centuries. His work on Aristotle was a key step in the transmission of learning from ancient Greeks to the Islamic world and the West. He often corrected the philosopher, encouraging a lively debate in the spirit of ijtihad. His thinking and that of his follower ibn Rushd (Averroes) was incorporated into Christian philosophy during the Middle Ages, notably by Thomas Aquinas.

Science and technology

Illustration of medieval Muslim surgical instruments from physician Abu'l Qasim al-Zahrawi's 11th century medical encyclopedia: Kitab al-Tasrif.

Main article: Islamic science

Muslim scientists made significant advances in mathematics and astronomy. They spread the concept of zero, known in ancient Indian mathematics. The mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, from whose name the word algorithm derives, contributed significantly to algebra (which is named after his book, kitab al-jabr).[133] Recent studies at Harvard University sponsored in part by the Harvard's Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture have noted a similarity between intricate decorative tilework in the architecture of 2 medieval mosques and decagonal quasicrystal geometry and have suggested a possible use of geometry in the design process.[134] The astrolabe and planisphere develloped by the Greeks were used in the Islamic world and subsequently brought to Europe via Islamic Spain.[135][136]In technology, the Muslim world adopted papermaking from China many centuries before it was known in the West.[137][138] Iron was a vital industry in Muslim lands and was given an important place in the Qur'an

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. The industry was subsequently brought to Europe probably from Muslim lands, Hobson states.[139] The knowledge of gunpowder was also transmitted from China to Islamic countries via which it was later passed to Europe.[140] Knowledge of chemical processes (alchemy) and distilling (alcohol) spread to Europe from the Muslim world. Numerous contributions were made in laboratory practices such as "refined techniques of distillation, the preparation of medicines, and the production of salts."[141] Advances were made in irrigation and farming, using technology such as the windmill. Crops such as almonds and citrus fruit were brought to Europe through al-Andalus, and sugar cultivation was gradually adopted by the Europeans.[142]

Muslim physicians contributed significantly to the field of medicine, including the subjects of anatomy and physiology: such as in the 15th century Persian work by Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn al-Faqih Ilyas entitled Tashrih al-badan ("Anatomy of the body") which contained comprehensive diagrams of the body's structural, nervous and circulatory systems; or in the work of the Egyptian physician Ibn al-Nafis, who proposed the theory of pulmonary circulation. Abu'l Qasim al-Zahrawi (also known as Abulcasis) contributed to the discipline of medical surgery with his Kitab al-Tasrif ("Book of Concessions"), a medical encyclopedia which was later translated to Latin and used in European and Muslim medical schools for centuries. Other medical advancements came in the fields of pharmacology and pharmacy.[143]

Contemporary Islam


Distribution of Islam per country. Green represents a Sunni majority and blue represents a Shia majority.

See also: Islam by country and Demographics of Islam

Commonly cited estimates of the Muslim population today range between 900 million and 1.5 billion people.[144] Only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world; 20% are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, about 30% in the South Asian region of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and the world's largest single Muslim community (within the bounds of one nation) is in Indonesia. There are also significant Muslim populations in China, Europe, Central Asia, and Russia.

In Eastern Europe, Muslims form a majority in Albania: about 70% of the population, while in Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Yugoslavia and elsewhere there are a significant numbers.[145][146] In Turkey, Muslims form 99% of the population.[147] Notable Muslim minorities are present in Western Europe, such as in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom.[145][148]

Modern interpretations

The neutrality of this section is disputed.

The term Islamism describes a set of political ideologies derived from Islamic fundamentalism.[149] "What distinguishes fundamentalism from traditional Islam is the fact that the state, and state power, are fundamental to its vision and represent a paramount fact of its consciousness. Thus, from a total, integrative, theocentric worldview and a God-centered way of life and thought, Islam is transformed into a totalitarian, theocratic world order that submits every human situation to arbitrary edicts of the state." [150] Islamist terrorism refers to acts of terrorism claimed by its supporters and practitioners to be in furtherance of the goals of Islam. Its prevalence has heavily increased in recent years, and it has become a contentious political issue in many nations. The validity of an Islamic justification for these acts is contested by some Muslims.[151][152]

According to Ziauddin Sardar in Encyclopedia of the Future, although Islamic fundamentalism is the most "talked-about" and politicized aspect of contemporary Islam, though will be active for at least one more decade, but it doesn't have any long-term future for several reasons, "largely because as a modern, concocted political dogma, it goes against the history and tradition of Islam."[150]


Main article: Divisions of Islam

There are a number of Islamic religious denominations, each of which has significant theological and legal differences from each other but possesses similar essential beliefs. The major schools of thought are Sunni and Shi'a; Sufism is generally considered to be a mystical inflection of Islam rather than a distinct school. According to most sources, present estimates indicate that approximately 85% of the world's Muslims are Sunni and approximately 15% are Shi'a.[153][154] There are a number of other Islamic sects not mentioned here which constitute a minority of Muslims today.


The Sunni are the largest group in Islam.[155] In Arabic, as-Sunnah literally means "principle" or "path." The sunnah, or exemplary behavior of Muhammad is described as a main pillar of Sunni doctrine, with the place of hadith having been argued by scholars as part of the sunnah.[How to reference and link to summary or text] They believe that the first four caliphs (leaders) of the Muslim community were the rightful successors to Muhammad.[156] Sunnis hold that God has not specified the leaders of the Muslim community after Muhammad, and that the leader has to be elected.[155] Sunnis recognize four major legal traditions (madhhabs): Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Hanbali.[157] All four accept the validity of the others and a Muslim might choose any one that he/she finds agreeable to his/her ideas, but other Islamic sects are believed to have departed from the majority by introducing innovations (bidah).[156] There are also several orthodox theological or philosophical traditions. The more recent Salafi movement among Sunnis, adherents of which often refuse to categorize themselves under any single legal tradition, sees itself as restorationist and claims to derive its teachings from the original sources of Islam.[158]


Shi'a Muslims, the second-largest branch of Islam, differ from the Sunni in rejecting the authority of the first three caliphs as some of them believe that the Muslims had no right to elect the leader of the Khilafah.[159] They honor sometimes different accounts of Muhammad (hadith) and have their own legal tradition which is called Ja'fari jurisprudence.[160] The concept of Imamah, or leadership, plays a central role in Shi'a doctrine.[161] Shi'a Muslims view the Muslim community as primarily a spiritual community. They preferred to use the word "Imam" rather than "Caliph" believing that the leader of the Muslim community should be a spiritual leader and then a governer.[162] They hold that leadership should not be passed down through elections in a caliphate, but rather, divinely appointed infallible descendants of Muhammad through Ali and his progeny should be given this right as Imams or Caliphs. They believe that thier first Imam, Ali ibn Abu Talib, was explicitly appointed by Muhammad by divine command.[163]

See also: Historic background of the Sunni-Shi'a split


Sufism is a mystical form of Islam followed by some Muslims within both the Sunni and Shi'a sects.[164][165] Sufis generally believe that following Islamic law is only the first step on the path to perfect submission[How to reference and link to summary or text]; they focus on the internal or more spiritual aspects of Islam, such as perfecting one's faith and subduing one's own ego.[166] Ghazali remarked that the Sufi life "cannot be learned but only achieved by direct experience, ecstasy, and inward transformation."[167] Most Sufi orders, or tariqas, can be classified as either Sunni or Shi'a.[165] However, there are some that are not easily categorized as either Sunni or Shi'a, such as the Bektashi. Sufis are found throughout the Islamic world, from Senegal to Indonesia.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Sufism has come under criticism by some Muslims for what they see as Suffi's apathy and passivity by focusing on the after-life, and introduction of innovative beliefs and actions against the letter of Islamic law.[168]


A view of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site in Islam

Another sect which dates back to the early days of Islam is that of the Kharijites. The only surviving branch of the Kharijites, which itself divided into numerous sects, is the Ibadi sect. Ibadism is distinguished from Shiism by its belief that the leader should be chosen solely on the basis of his faith, not on the basis of descent, and from Sunnism in its rejection of Uthman and Ali and strong emphasis on the need to depose unjust rulers. Ibadi Islam is noted for its strictness, but, unlike the Kharijites proper, Ibadis do not regard major sins as automatically making a Muslim an unbeliever. Most Ibadi Muslims live in Oman.[169][170]

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, or Ahmadis, are another group of related Islamic movements, which consider themselves to be a restoration of original Islam. The Ahmadis originated in the 19th century in Punjab, and are concentrated in Pakistan. The founder of the movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, claimed that he was the long-waited mahdi, though not a prophet as many of his critics say. Sunni Muslims do not accept the Ahmadis as genuinely Islamic because of the claims of its founder regarding his status and also the claim that Jesus was not taken up to heaven at crucifixion but rather survived it and continued his work on earth ending up dying in Kashmir, India.[171]

Islam and other religions

Main article: Islam and other religions

The Qur'an contains both injunctions to respect other religions, and to fight and subdue unbelievers during war. The Qur'an claims that "it was restoring the pure monotheism of Abraham which had been corrupted in various, not clearly specified, ways by Jews and Christians."[172] (The charge of altering the scripture may mean no more than giving false interpretations to some passages, though in later Islam it was taken to mean that parts of the Bible are corrupt.)[173]

Until modern times, tolerance in the treatment of non-believers was not valued by either Muslims or Christians.[174] The usual definition of tolerance in pre-modern times was that: "I am in charge. I will allow you some though not all of the rights and privileges that I enjoy, provided that you behave yourself according to rules that I will lay down and enforce."[175] Traditionally Jews and Christians living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis were allowed to "practice their religion, subject to certain conditions, and to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy" and guaranteed their personal safety and security of property, in return for paying the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult males) to Muslims.[176] They had several social and legal disabilities. Many of the disabilities were highly symbolic. The most degrading one was the requirement of distinctive clothing, not found in the Qur'an or hadith but invented in early medieval Baghdad; its enforcement was highly erratic.[177] Persecution in the form of violent and active repression was rare and atypical.[178] While recognizing the inferior status of dhimmis under Islamic rule, Bernard Lewis compares it favorably to that of non-Christians or even of heretical Christians in medieval Europe.[179] Dhimmis rarely faced martyrdom or exile, or forced compulsion to change their religion, and they were mostly free in their choice of residence and profession.[180] Most conversions were voluntary and happened for various reasons. However, there were some forced conversions in the 12th century under the Almohad dynasty of North Africa and al-Andalus as well as in Persia.[181]

Related faiths

The Yazidi, Druze, Bábí, Bahá'í, Berghouata and Ha-Mim religions either emerged out of an Islamic milieu or have certain beliefs in common with Islam. Nearly always those religions were also influenced by traditional beliefs in the regions where they emerged, but consider themselves independent religions with distinct laws and institutions. The last two religions no longer have any followers. Sikhism's holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains some writings by Muslim figures, as well as by Sikh and Hindu saints.[182]

Criticism of Islam

Main article: Criticism of Islam
See also: Criticism of Muhammad

The neutrality of this section is disputed.

The earliest surviving written criticisms of Islam are to be found in the writings of Christians who came under the early dominion of the Islamic empire. One such Christian was John of Damascus (born c. 676), who was familiar with both Islam and Arabic. John claimed an Arian monk influenced Muhammad, and lays forth a number of arguments against Islam on scriptural and other grounds.[183]

Some medieval ecclesiastical writers portrayed Muhammad as possessed by Satan, a "precursor of the Antichrist" or the Antichrist himself.[184] Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical arbiters and philosophers in Jewish history, saw the relation of Islam to Judaism as primarily theoretical. Maimonides has no quarrel with the strict monotheism of Islam, but finds fault with the practical politics of Muslim regimes. Maimonides criticised what he perceived as the lack of virtue in the way Muslims rule their societies and relate to one another.[185]

In recent years, Islam has been the subject of criticism and controversy, and is often viewed with considerable negativity in the West.[186] Islam, the Qur'an, and Muhammad, have all been subject to both criticism and vilification. Carl Ernst has dismissed some of this as a product of Islamophobia.[187] and Bernard Lewis[188] and Edward Said[189] criticized their western ethnocenterism.

Notable modern critics include Robert Spencer, who has published many best-selling books critical of the religion (such The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades), and Daniel Pipes, Orianna Fallaci, and Bat Ye'or.[190] American Evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson have also spoken out against Islam.[191][192] Some critics argue that in Islam women have fewer rights than men and that non-Muslims under the dhimmi system have fewer rights than Muslims.[193] Both of these groups may also find their most basic human rights denied due to severe interpretations of Islamic law.[194] According to Freedom House, Saudi Arabia relegates women to second-class citizenship. "Women are not treated as equal members of society. They may not legally drive cars, and their use of public facilities is restricted when men are present. ...Laws discriminate against women in a range of matters including family law, and a woman's testimony is treated as inferior to a man's in court."[195]

There is a body of modern Western scholarship about the origins of the Qur'an which uses different methods from traditional Islamic exegesis and which is perceived by some to be critical of Islam. This includes the work of such scholars as John Wansbrough, Dan Thoelting, Patricia Crone and Christoph Luxenberg. Luxenberg's conclusions have been cited by Ibn Warraq who is prominent as a general critic of Islam.[196]

Muhammad Mohar Ali says that the Qur'an records the earliest criticisms (and responses), examples of which are Muhammad being called a madman (e.g. 15:6), a poet (21:5), a kahin soothsayer (69:42), and so on. He claims that nothing of importance has been added by later critics.[197]

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  • Encyclopedia of Christianity (1st). (2005). Ed. John Bowden. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-522393-4. 

Further reading

  • Arberry, A. J. (1996). The Koran Interpreted: A Translation, 1st, Touchstone. ISBN 978-0684825076.
  • Esposito, John (2005). Islam: The Straight Path, 3rd, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-511233-4.
  • Hawting, Gerald R. (2000). The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyard Caliphate AD 661-750, Routledge. ISBN 0415240727.
  • Khan, Muhammad Muhsin; Al-Hilali Khan, Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din (1999). Noble Quran, 1st, Dar-us-Salam Publications. ISBN 978-9960740799.
  • Kramer (ed.), Martin (1999). The Jewish Discovery of Islam: Studies in Honor of Bernard Lewis, Syracuse University. ISBN 978-9652240408.
  • Kuban, Dogan (1974). Muslim Religious Architecture, Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 9004038132.
  • Lewis, Bernard (1996). Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195102833.
  • Lewis, Bernard (1994). Islam and the West, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195090611.
  • Lewis, Bernard (1993). Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East, Open Court. ISBN 978-0812692174.
  • Mubarkpuri, Saifur-Rahman (2002). The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Prophet, Dar-us-Salam Publications. ISBN 978-1591440710.
  • Najeebabadi, Akbar Shah (2001). History of Islam, Dar-us-Salam Publications. ISBN 978-1591440345.
  • Nigosian, S. A. (2004). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices, New Edition, Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253216274.
  • Rahman, Fazlur (1979). Islam, 2nd, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-70281-2.
  • Walker, Benjamin (1998). Foundations of Islam: The Making of a World Faith, Peter Owen Publishers. ISBN 978-0720610383.

External links

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