Islam was taught to the people of Arabia by Muhammad (born at ca. 570 CE). What is Islam? This will be answered in the following compacted information concerning Islamic beliefs, which includes:
- What Is Islam?
- Who is Allah?
- History of Islam
- The Main Teachings of Islam
- The Sacred Text of Islam
WHAT IS ISLAM?
Islam is a monotheistic religion centered around the belief in the one God. The people who believe in Islam are called Muslims. Islam is one of the three major Abrahamic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam). The Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and the Old Testament (part of the Christian Bible) state that Abraham’s sons: Isaac and Ishmael were the ancestors of the Israelites and the Arabs, respectively. This is believed by Muslims too. Muslims also believe in many of the prominent figures mentioned both in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles (i.e.: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Jesus, etc).
However, in Judeo-Christians teachings, there are different titles given to these major prominent figures, such as “patriarchs” (i.e. Abraham, Jacob), “leaders” (i.e. Moses, Joshua), “prophets”(i.e. Ezekiel, Jonah),”judges” (i.e. Elijah, Elisha),”kings” (i.e. David, Solomon), and “son of God” (i.e. Jesus).
In Islam all the above prominent figures are given the main title of “prophets” (although they could be kings too, such as David and Solomon). The last prophet in Islamic beliefs is Muhammad.
WHO IS ALLAH?
Allah is an Arabic word, meaning God or “the God” to be more precise. The word “Allah” is a contraction of the word “al-ilah”: where “al” means “the”, and “ilah” means “god”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allah)
The word Allah has the same Semitic root referring to “the Divine” of Ilu in Mesopotamian, El in Canaanite, El or Eloah or Elohim in Hebrew and Elaha or Alaha in Aramaic (a language that some biblical scholars believe to be the mother tongue of Jesus). Although in Hebrew both El and Elohim might mean “god”, “gods” or “the One God”; the word Allah only means “the God”. The Arabic word for a “god” is Ilah. Allah for God has always been used before (and after) Islam by the Arabic-speaking Jews, Christians and others when they speak about God. Allah is not only the One God of the Muslims nor is Allah the One God of Arabs. In Maltese the word for God that is worshipped since 52 CE (before the advance of Islam) to the present is “Alla”. In the Indonesian Christian Bible the word for God is “Tuhan Allah”.
So, Allah is the same universal One God worshipped by people of all religions. Muslims prefer to use the word Allah, amongst other because the word is neither masculine nor feminine and there is no plural for the word “Allah”.
HISTORY OF ISLAM ACCORDING TO ISLAMIC TRADITIONS
In ca. 570 CE, Muhammad was born in the Arabian city of Mecca. He was born into the Quraysh tribe – a powerful merchant tribe descended from Ishmael that controlled Mecca.
Muhammad was orphaned at an early age, he was raised by his grandfather, then after his grandfather died he was raised by his uncle. After he became an adult, Muhammad primarily worked as a merchant. During that time, the people around him had forgotten the teaching to worship the One God (that was taught by their ancestors: Abraham and Ishmael and instead worshipped many gods and became a superstitious folk.
Muhammad was unhappy about that, so he occasionally retreated to a cave in the mountains to pray. In this cave, when he was 40 years old he was visited by the angel Gabriel and received the first revelation from God. Then he started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that “God is One” and he taught the people to “submit/surrender” (in Arabic the word is “Islam”) to the way of live acceptable by God.
Muhammad gained a few followers at first but then met hostilities from his own tribe, who disagree with his teaching of the One God and also the teaching of equality between all mankind. For that the early Muslims were persecuted by the pagans.
To escape persecution, Muhammad sent some of his early followers to a Christian land, i.e. Abyssinia (today Ethiopia) and after that he and his followers migrated to Medina (also a city in Saudi Arabia). At first the early Muslims were passive, until they finally given the permission by God (via Muhammad) to fight back.
Thus, battles took place between the leaders of the Meccan tribes against the Muslims, and after 8 years of fighting, Muhammad and an army of 10,000 Muslim converts marched back to the city of Mecca and took over the city with little bloodshed.
Muhammad died in 632 CE, before he died he united Arabia into a single Muslim religious nation. After his departure, the Muslims entered an era of the Four Caliphs (Arabic: “khalifah”, meaning leader). These leaders were chosen through a process of community consultation (an early form of Islamic democracy).
Islam spread quickly throughout Arabia and its surrounding. By the time of the leadership of the third Caliph (ca. 20 years after Muhammad’s departure) named Khalifah Usman (644 CE – 656 CE), the Muslim territory expanded almost to the entire Middle East, some parts of north Africa up to southern Europe (Spain). (See the pale purple color in the image).
In 656 CE, Caliph Uthman was assassinated by Egyptian rebels and was replaced by Caliph Ali. The assassination of Caliph Uthman resulted in the first Muslim civil war (i.e. the First Fitnah). The war split the Muslims into 2 major divisions: Sunni and Shia. The original split itself actually occurred soon after the death of Muhammad, mainly because Shia believed the leadership should stay with the family of the prophet.
Today Islam is split further into many smaller groups/schools/branches such as Sufi, Ahmadiyyah, Kharijiyah, etc and many more sub-branches. The total number of Muslims in 2012 according to Wikipedia is ca. 1.8 billion or 23.2% o f the world population.
THE MAIN TEACHINGS OF ISLAM
The main teachings of Islam can be simplified in a term called the Six Pillars of Faith, that is the commandment to belief in:
- The books of God (not only the Qur’an but also the Torah, the Psalm and the Gospel)
- The messengers of God
- The last day (i.e. Judgment Day)
- Predestination (that everything happens by God’s will, and God already knows them all)
The same basic teachings/rulings that are commanded by God via Moses (i.e. the Ten Commandments) also can be found in the Qur’an (i.e. do not lie, do not murder, do not steal, etc) although with slight variation. The teachings and the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth too are mentioned in the Qur’an, also with slight variation (more about this on my other posts).
THE SACRED TEXT OF ISLAM
The sacred text of Islam is the Qur’an or Koran (Arabic meaning “the recitation”). It contains the revelation from God in the Arabic language to Muhammad during his 23 years of mission. It contains 114 chapters (surahs) and has only ca. 1/10th the thickness of the Christians Bible (Old and New Testaments).
Apart from the Qur’an many Muslims also believe in the Hadith books. The Hadith are various oral traditions that are then written down in specific books, believed by the majority of Muslims to be the words and deeds of Muhammad to be followed.
The two major Islamic groups, Sunni and Shia have two separate sets of Hadith books, which one group over the other claim that their own set of Hadith books is the authentic one.
The Hadith contains many stories, they are not necessarily the same as the stories told in the Qur’an. The complete story of the Islamic traditions (Hadith) in comparison to the Biblical stories is written in this book.
For a complete religious comparison studies between the five major religions in the world, world mythologies/legends, forbidden archaeology, ancient alien theories and their relations with modern scientific data to retrace the true pre-history of humanity, read: MythoReligio Series books.