Islam - Brief Overview and Documentary
Muhammad was considered a prophet. He was born in Mecca in approximately 570 C. He came from a prominent family that traced their ancestry back to Ishmael, the son of Abraham.
Muhammad was orphaned at age six, and grew up with little formal education. He worked for his Uncle, who had a caravan business and was a trader. When he became an adult, he married a rich woman who was 15 years older than him and began to run her caravan business.
When he was 40 years old, it is said he heard the voice of the Archangel Gabriel who told him to, “Recite.” Over the course of the next 22 years, he continued to receive messages from the angel and with the help of scribes, he wrote it all down. The resulting text is what we know today as the Koran.
At age 53 his wife died, and he married 10 or so wives in the years to come. He died in 632 after having established the basic tenets of Islam and securing a sense of unity among the Arab people.
Five Pillars of Islam
There are five basic tenets to the Islamic faith and they are as follows:
1. Witness (Shahadah): repeating the sentence, “There is no God but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
2. Prayer (Salat): daily prayers, recited at five specified times throughout the day: dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Fridays men gather for prayer and a sermon at noon.
3. Alms (Zakat): Habitually giving to the poor. Should be at least 1/40th of assets and income
4. Fasting (Sawm): In the month of Ramadan, a lunar month on the Muslim calendar, Muslims are to refrain eating, drinking, taking medicine, using tobacco, and having sex from sunrise to sundown daily.
5. Pilgrimage (Hajj): Once in the lifetime, provided a person is able and can afford it, a pilgrimage is to be made to Mecca in the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar.
The Hadiths are an important source of Islamic tradition. The term Hadith means narrative or report. These are sayings of Mohammed and anecdotes about his life. Included are stories such as the one about the rock at the Kabbba. They were handed down orally for about 100 yrs after his death, then written down. Shiites and Sunnis each have their own versions
The Sunnis are the larger denomination of Islam. They are more orthodox in practice. They believe that Caliphs and Imams were to be descendants of Mohammed. They also believe that Mohammed was descended from Abraham. They have their own version of the Hadiths that they believe to be accurate and correct.
The Shiites are a denomination of Islam. They hold to the Shia or are part of of the party of Ali. They believe Ali was a perfect man and was appointed to serve as leader (Caliph or Imam) after the death of Mohammed. The Shiites believe that only God can appoint leaders of Islam. They have their own version of the Hadiths.
The Kabba is the inner sanctum, if you will, of the Haram Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is a square structure and the term Kabba basically means "a cube." Prior to the rise of Islam, the Arab world used the Kabba to house statues of hundreds of their gods. One source states there may have been around 360 gods and that the system was based on the lunar year.
It houses a huge black stone said to have fallen from the heavens that the people believed was sacred. There is a legend about Muhammed and the Kabba that goes something like this:
Arab workers were arguing about who would be privileged to put the stone in place and decided to ask someone who was walking by to do the job and settle the quarrel. Mohammed, as he just happened to be passing by, was drafted. He placed the stone on his cloak and gave each of the arguing tribe leaders a corner of the cloth so they could all carry it in together and be at peace.
When Muhammed conquered Mecca, he destroyed all of the idols in the Kabba but left the black stone. Muslims the world over face Mecca and the Kabba when they pray.
Hajj is a term for the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is the fifth pillar of Islam and the sacred duty of all Muslims. If they are physically and financially able, they must take at least one pilgrimage to Mecca during the course of their lifetime.
The journey is to be taken in the 12th month of Muslim calendar. The Hajj is a demonstration of Islamic solidarity and submission to God. In one part of the experience, people walk counter-clockwise around the Kabba seven times. Thousands of people make this trip yearly.
Under Muhammed, muslims banded together on more than kinship, which previously was the only important tie they had to one another. Mohammed’s vision of submission to god included one of solidarity with all muslims, whether in the family circle or not. Jihad was Muhammed's ideal of the pursuit of spread of Islam that all Muslims were to be obligated to pursue. It is considered by those of the Islamic faith to be an impassioned religious struggle that has two forms:
- The lesser form: a holy war
- The greater form: self-control over baser human appetites.
Submission to Islam was enforced when Mohammed brought 10,000 men and conquered Mecca. The idols in the kabba were destroyed except for the black stone. Muhammed also instituted the Umma or Muslim community, and the Muslim calendar when he had completed his campaign.
Cordoba in the Middle Ages
Cordoba was a city under Muslim control in Spain in the early 700's. It was the center of the Muslim Caliphate. Cordoba was a sprawling, urban, wealthy, multicultural, thriving metropolitan city. The Muslims promoted religious tolerance, allowing people of other faiths to practice freely. The Muslims were exempt from taxes, while others had to pay them, thus people were encouraged to become Muslims. Cordoba was a center of learning and many scholars from all over the world and every religion were drawn to it. It was like a melting pot of scientists, scholars, literature experts, philosophers and such. Scholars undertook the translation of classical texts into Arabic and went all over the world seeking ancient texts to bring back, translate and study. These scholars also invented the concept of zero and came up with the Arabic numerals that we still use to this day. They also invented algebra and trigonometry. They were renowned for their advances in the field of medicine, even performing cataract surgery. Cordoba was home to the great Mosque of Cordoba which has double-tiered arches and columns with red and white stone that make it appear to go on forever inside
Paradise according to the Koran
The Koran was written by Mohammed, who said that it was dictated to him by an angel. It is the sacred text of Islam and describes paradise as follows: People will rest, be at ease and be happy. there will be a sense of recompense for the striving of life and reward for patience. There will be beautiful gardens and people will wear fine green silk robes interwoven with gold. They will also be adorned with silver bracelets. There will be raised couches for people to recline on and fruit of all types will be within easy reach. The environment will be perfect, neither too hot nor too cold. They will have vessels of told and of glass out of which they will be able to drink a fine, heavenly, ginger beverage. There will be an abundance of beautiful youths everywhere.
This is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative look at Islam. It is just a few notes about things I have learned about Islam. I am open to constructive criticism and correction. Below is a very interesting documentary on Islam and history. Thanks for reading!