Islam was revealed through various prophets, and came to completion in the revelation given by Allah (the word for God in Arabic) to the Prophet Muhammad, who lived from 570-632 CE (Common Era, formerly AD, from Anno Domini, or year of our Lord).
The word “Islam” comes from the Arabic word that means “surrender”—surrendering to the will of God is a main theme of the Islamic faith. People who practice Islam are called Muslims, which means “one who submits to God”.
Muhammad ibn Abdullah lived from 570-632 CE. He was born in the city of Mecca, thought to have been founded by Ishmael, Abraham’s son through Hagar. When he was in his 40s, Muhammad was called upon by God to deliver His final guidance and message, the Qur’an, to mankind. Thus he assumed the title of Prophet Muhammad, and began working to bring about the Ummah Muslimah, the community of submitters to God. He received revelation while in meditation in the cave of Hira, through the angel Gabriel.
Though Muhammad was born in Mecca, his message was not accepted by the rulers of that city. In 622 CE, he and his followers, who were mostly family, were forced to leave Mecca in what became known as the hijrah, or flight. The Muslim calendar is dated from this event, and years are followed by the initials AH (anno hijrah, year of hijrah). Muhammad fled to the city of Medina, where he was welcomed and eventually installed as ruler. He truly began bringing about the Ummah Muslimah in Medina, which became the seat of power for the Islamic empire.
Throughout history, many people have heard of Muhammad, and have decided to follow his teachings. As a result, Islam is practiced all over the world today, mainly in the Middle East, Western and Northern Africa, Turkey, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and South Asia (for example, in Indonesia, the worlds largest Muslim country).
Who Is God?
Islam is a monotheistic religion, meaning that Muslims believe in one God, who is unlimited and self-sufficient. In fact, belief in God as the only deity worthy of worship is the central teaching of Islam. God provides guidance, and shows humankind the way it should go to fulfill its role in God’s perfectly ordered creation. God is the creator, and all creation relies on God for its existence. God is the source of order in the universe, and will bring those who follow God’s will to heaven.
Where Did We Come From?
Muslims believe that God created the universe with a single command: “Be”—it was God’s will for the universe to be created, God said it, and it was done. There is perfect order to creation; everything has its own purpose, pattern, and place, given to it by God. While God is unlimited and self-sufficient, all creation has certain limits, and relies on God for its existence. The created world reflects the unity and perfection of God. Humankind is the noblest piece of creation, and the rest of creation is in the service of humankind. Adam is considered the first man.
Why Are We Here?
Everything which God created has a purpose, pattern, and place in the universe: to proclaim God’s will—that is, all things should show that there is only one, all-powerful God who created all things. Humankind’s purpose in creation is to be obedient to God’s Will, showing that Will to be perfect and worthy of obedience. Unlike the rest of creation, humankind has the choice of whether or not to obey God’s Will. Therefore, although humans are the noblest of all creation, they often obey their own will and desires rather than submitting to God’s. Throughout history, God has sent many prophets to call humankind back to its proper place and role in creation. Muslims recognize the Jewish and Christian figures of Noah, Moses, and Jesus as some of these prophets. The Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet who calls humankind to submission to God’s Will. If anyone turns away from his or her pride, asks forgiveness for disobeying God, and accepts the truth of God’s Will, he or she is immediately pardoned, and returns to the pure and perfect (sinless) state in which all people are born.
How Do We Know?
The Qur’an (also spelled Koran) is the name of Islam’s sacred text and source of all religious authority. Muslims believe that the Qur’an (which means “recitation” in Arabic) was revealed orally to the Prophet Muhammad by God, through the angel Gabriel, over a period of twenty-three years. Muhammad memorized what he heard, and publicly transmitted the Qur’an in Arabic. Muhammad was illiterate his whole life and could neither read nor write. His companions who knew how to read and write, transcribed the Qur’an onto parchment and stone tablets to preserve it in writing as well as by memory. In addition, many of the companions of Muhammad memorized the entirety of the Qur’an during the lifetime of the Prophet. For Muslims, the Qur’an is the ultimate source for truth and inspiration. The Qur’an explains God’s creation of the world, and is the source of Islamic law. It also contains vivid descriptions of heaven and hell to encourage Muslims to obey God’s Will so that they can be taken by God into heaven and not to hell. There are 114 surahs (chapters), each with the designation of Makkan or Madinan, depending on where Muhammad received the revelation (Mecca or Medina).
The Qur’an was written in Arabic, and Muslims believe that Arabic is the only language in which its perfection can be fully understood, although several modern Muslim leaders have authorized English translations. The translation of the text verbatim is not possible because there is not a one to one correspondence of Arabic words with English words or words in any other language. Therefore translations of the Qur’an are only translations of the meanings contained in it. Such translations exist for many languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish and many more. In most cases the Arabic text is included because Muslims, no matter where they live, aspire to learn Arabic and read the Qur’an as it was revealed to Muhammad.
What Do We Have To Do?
For Muslims, the most essential part of their faith is turning to God and submitting to God’s Will. Islam teaches people to be faithful to God through prayer, through concern and charity for others, and by living a moral life based on the teachings of the Qur’an.
A Muslim must perform five sacred duties to show his or her devotion to God—these are known as the five pillars of Islam:
2. Prayer. A Muslim must pray five times a day. Prayers are said with other believers in a mosque—the name for a house of worship in Islam, or alone wherever they may be when prayer time arrives. Once a week, on Fridays at just past noon, the prayer must be performed in congregation in the mosque. Prayers are always said facing Mecca, which is the city where the Muslims believe the first house of worship to God was built. It is in the center of this city that the building known as the Ka’ba still stands, and the focal point that all Muslims face during prayer. Muslims face that same point from all locations in the world to show unity amongst the Muslims in worshipping God alone.
3. The zakat. Meaning “purification” in Arabic, the zakat is money that a Muslim must give to the poor. It consists of 2.5% of a Muslim’s excess wealth given out once a year to the poor of one’s local community.
4. Fasting. To fast, a Muslim must go without food, drink, and marital relations intentionally from dawn to sunset in order to remember that God gives life, and that one must rely on God for all things. Muslims fast during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This month is called Ramadan, and during this month, Muslims do not eat, drink, or have marital relations while the sun is up: they may return to these normal activities only after sundown and before sunrise during the night.
5. Hajj. The Hajj, meaning “pilgrimage” in Arabic, is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Once in his or her lifetime, “provided he or she can afford it,” every Muslim is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. It was in that city that Abraham left his wife Hagar and his son Ismael. It was also the city in which they built the Ka’ba. The pilgrimage is to that city and to the surrounding areas where Abraham and his son Ismael were tested by God in the sacrifice of Ismael and tempted by Satan to disobey God’s Will. The pilgrimage signifies this sacrifice and Muslims make the pilgrimage following the footsteps of Abraham and his son Ismael performing the rites symbolizing that intended sacrifice and shunning of Satan from tempting them into disobeying God’s Will.
Everything reflects the unity and power of God—the individual, and communities. Therefore, submitting to the Will of God means a Muslim must work for the good of the community. Serving the poor and disadvantaged is central to Islamic faith, because it allows a Muslim to grow in generosity of heart, so that self-concern and vanity will not get in the way of his or her submission to God.
What’s Going On Today?
There are an estimated 1,164,622,000 Muslims in the world today (Source: The 2000 World Almanac). Although it was founded in Arabia, and is still practiced primarily in the region now known as the Middle East, Islam’s presence extends all over the world.
Islam in general has not changed in over 1400 years. However during these 1400 years political differences split the Muslims into two distinct groups, the Sunnis and the Shi’a. Sunnis meaning the followers of the Way (the way of the Prophet) and Shi’a meaning Party (of ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law). Initially the split was political in nature having to do with the succession of the Prophet Muhammad. The group that came to be known as the Sunnis argued that the best and most qualified man amongst the Muslims should be chosen through a majority vote. The group who later became known as the Shi’a argued that succession should go to ‘Ali the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, who they believe was given that right by the Prophet and should stay within the family of the Prophet. Centuries later, ideological differences started to further divide the two groups, with most still centered around the leadership of the Muslims. Today about 90% of all Muslims are Sunni with the remaining 10% being Shi’a.
How Do We Recognize It?
Although Islam has no symbol doctrinally associated with it, such as the cross in Christianity and the star of David in Judaism, the symbol of the crescent moon (hilal in Arabic) and star is now widely used to symbolize Islam. This symbol has no religious significance in Islam and Muslims do not hold the crescent and star to be in any way holy or sacred.
Moore, Robert J. “Islam” at The Geography of Religion Website,
Dian Alyan, Islamic Networks Group
Shahid Bolsen, Islamic Association of North America
Dr. Timothy Tennent, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
Aasi, Ghulam Haider. (1995). Islam: A Portrait. In Beversluis, Joel (Ed.). A Sourcebook for Earth’s Community of Religions. (pp. 52-57). Ada: CoNexus Press.
Site Designed and maintained by Michael R. Memoli Web Sites
Brief overview with hyperlinks to related subjects in the online encyclopedia.
“There are many web sites that depict the Islamic religion from a variety of perspectives, many of which are partisan or sectarian, or political. This web site is academic. Unaffiliated with any sectarian or political organization, it is a collaborative effort that unites a number of scholars from the Carolina-Duke-Emory Institute for the Study of Islam. They come from different academic disciplines, including religious studies, history, sociology, cultural studies, literature, art history, etc”.
Large collection of articles on many topics relating to Islam and day-to-day life.
“Islam 101 is an educational site on Islam, its way of life, civilization and culture. It includes an introductory course on Islam and presents Islamic views on contemporary issues. Any one seeking person-to-person conferences should visit a local Masjid (Mosque) or call toll free at 1-800-662-ISLAM (USA).”
On Line Books and Articles by Dr. Shahid Athar. “Dr. Shahid Athar is a naturalized U.S. Citizen. He is a physician in private practice of Endocrinology and on the volunteer clinical faculty of Indiana University School of Medicine. He was born in India and did his medical education in Pakistan. He was co- founder and Chairman of Islamic Society of Greater Indianapolis (ISGI) and Interfaith Alliance of Indiana (IAI). He is an author of 7 books including Reflections of an American Muslim and Healing the Wounds of September 11, 2001 and over 100 published articles on Islamic topics which can be accessed at his website www.islam-usa.com . He has spoken to many churches, civic organizations, universities and colleges on various topics including Islam, interfaith, spirituality and medical ethics. His affiliations include Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA), and Indianapolis Committee for Foreign Relations (ICFR). Among the local civic organizations, he an active member of Carmel Lions Club, St. Vincent Seton Society, Gennessaret Free Clinic and National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) of He is not affiliated with any political or religious Islamic party.”
Many links and articles to a variety of topics relevant to Islam and becoming a Muslim.
1. Islam: A Short History, by William Montgomery Watt (Oxford, England; Oneworld Publications, 2000, paperback, 160 pages, ISBN 1-8516-8205-8) ,http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1851682058. — in The Tower (Vol 4 – 2000, pp84-85) reviewer Harold E. Raser predicts: “Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world today. At its present rate of growth it will overtake and surpass Christianity sometime early in the twenty-first century.” Of all the many recent books on Islam this title and the introduction by Tayob (see below) are considered “two of the best.” Taken together they “provide an excellent overview [and] beautifully complement each other and provide a stimulating and quite thorough introduction.” This Short History “is a no-nonsense overview of the beginnings, historical development, and current state of Islam. In it [Watt] introduces readers to the basic beliefs and practices of Muslims, some of the intricacies of Islamic law and theology, and the challenges posed for Islam by the modern world.”
In a brief book note regarding Islam: A Short History, Brannon Wheeler (Religious Studies Review, 26:2 – 2000, p197) complains that ” some sections are far too brief, such as the history of the Islamic world from the thirteenth to the twentieth century in less than four pages, the three pages on the theory behind Islamic law and jurisprudence, or the one and a half pages on Islamic philosophy. … The bibliography is divided into sections but is badly out of date.”
2. Islam: A Short Introduction, by Abudulkader Tayob (Oxford, England; Oneworld Publications, 1999, paperback, 224 pages, ISBN 1-8516-8192-2) – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1851681922 — the review by Harold E. Raser in The Tower (Vol. 4 – 2000, pp84-85) finds that this introduction “digs below the surface of outward practice and essential beliefs to explore more subtle aspects of Islam. Some of the topics he addresses are Islam and art; power and authority in Islam; gender in Islam; Islam and other religions.”
Brannon Wheeler, the reviewer also noted above, is critical of Tayob’s introduction in Religious Studies Review (26:2 – 2000, p197-198). “Tayob’s references are an interesting mix of secondary and primary sources, but many of his interpretations and assertions are not referenced at all. Reliance on this text alone in introductory courses might require some adaptation, since he does not include any separate sections on the Qu’rán, the Prophet Muhammad, or other standard topics such as Islamic law, Sufism, or the Shiah.”
3. What You Need to Know About Islam and Muslims, by George W. Braswell, Jr. (Nashville, TN; Broadman, Holman Publishers, 2000, paperback, 192 pages, ISBN 0-8054-1829-6),http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805418296. Braswell is professor of missions and world religions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bassam Michael Madany tells us in this review (Reformation Revival Journal, 10:2 – 2001, pp149-154) that “Everything you need to know about Islam and Muslims is right here at your fingertips.” In his conclusion he finds that “Any serious student of Islam will be greatly enriched by owning this book.” Madany uncritically quotes a broad (to us) statement by Braswell: “Islam has a mandate to practice jihad and to bring the non-Muslim world under the rule of Allah and the injunctions of the Qu’rán.” Surely most non-conservative Muslims would hedge on the universal application of these ideas. In his similarly favorable review in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (Jul ’01, pp383-384), Robert C. Douglas also notes that Braswell is a former missionary to Iran.
4. Islam Outside the Arab World, David Westerlund and Ingvar Svanberg, eds. (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999, hardcover, 488 pages, ISBN 0-3122-2691-8), http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312226918. Reviewer Herman Beck explains (NUMEN, 48:3 – 2001, pp375-376) that “non-Arab Muslims constitute about 85 percent of the world population of Muslims. In spite of their numerical importance, good compendiums surveying the Muslim groups in the different regions outside the Arab world are still rare. The aim of this book is to supply this deficiency and to present Islam and its current renewal among non-Arab Muslims and its growth in non-Arab countries.”
5. In Search of Muhammad, by Clinton Bennett (New York, Cassell Academic, 1999, paperback, 256 pages, ISBN 0-3047-0401-6), http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0304704016. Reviewer Hugh Goddard (Theology, Sep ’99, pp305-6) finds that this book answers the common question from Muslims: “Why don’t Christians respect Muhammad?” He reports that in the first of three parts Bennett “investigates the primary (i.e., Muslim) sources available concerning the life of Muhammad.” Second is an investigation of non-Muslim biographies of Muhammad. Third is an exploration of the role of Muhammad in the life of the modern Muslim. While not uncritical in his overall work, “Bennett’s hope is that Christ and Muhammad might be viewed as somehow complementary, rather than rivals.”
6. New Trends and Developments in the World of Islam, Peter B. Clarke, ed. (London, Luzac Oriental, 1999, hardcover, 400 pages, ISBN 1-8989-4217-X), http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/189894217X. A brief book note in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Jun ’99, pp321-322) relates that the first of three main sections explores the status of Islam in contemporary Europe. The third section “is devoted to various forms of Sufism. In America, the far more common ‘perennialist’ Sufi movements, which deemphasize Islamic content and connections, have been more influential than the ‘hybrid’ ones, which identify with Islamic sources. Prominent in ‘pop-Sufism’ are the unorthodox views of Gurdjieff and especially Idries Shah, whom some view as superhuman and others as a charlatan; the popular image of Sufism that Shah and others have fostered bears no obvious relation to Islam. Likewise contributing to the New Age is the elusive, universalist Sufi Order of the West founded by Pir Valyat Inyat Khan, a Euro-American movement that we find here documented in exceptional detail. Concluding this section is a participant’s report on his own experience of Subud, a little-known western import from Indonesia.”
B. Qu’rán (Koran)
1. In a 14-item bibliographic essay written for a scholarly audience by Carol Schersten LaHurd titled “Recite in the Name of Your Lord” (Dialog, Sum ’03, pp170-172), the author recommends the English versions of the Qu’rán written by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (with significant qualification) and Muhammad M. Pickthall (said to have ” slightly less stilted English” than that of Ali). The Qur’an Translation, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Elmhurst, NY; Tahrike Tarsile, 1999, paperback, 467 pages, ISBN 1-8794-0229-7), http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1879402297. The Glorious Qu’rán, by Muhammad M. Pickthall (Elmhurst, NY; Tahrike Tarsile, 1999, paperback, paperback, 768 pages, ISBN 1-8794-0216-5), http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1879402165.
1. The New Encyclopedia of Islam, by Cyril Glasse (New York, Altamira Press, revised ed., 2003, paperback, 582 pages, ISBN 0-7591-0190-6), http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0759101906. Reviewer Wolfgang Lepke says that while many people in the Western world want to know more about Islam, “there is currently no better book for this purpose than Glasse’s New Encyclopedia of Islam. It is a practical, one-volume comprehensive resource that encompasses the beliefs, practices, history, and culture of the Islamic world and is written by a western scholar who is a believing Muslim. Because the author does not want to be at variance with orthodox Islamic beliefs in his presentations and interpretations, the reader can naturally detect a certain bias. While this has the negative effect of precluding interpretation, on the positive side it provides for a perspective that can counter many popular misconceptions of Islam. Thus, this encyclopedia is useful for building a base of understanding to enhance Christian-Muslim relations, making informed dialogue and meaningful communication possible.”
D. Islam in America
1. American Muslims: The New Generation, by Asma Gull Hasan (New York, Continuum, 2000, hardcover, 180 pages, ISBN 0-8264-1279-3), http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0826412793. The unnamed reviewer of American Muslims in Publishers Weekly (Nov 27 ’00, p74) finds that “Hasan argues that American Islam, which lacks the cultural baggage of Islam in other countries, is actually more religiously pure than anywhere else in the world.” While not without criticism, the brief book note concludes that Hasan’s “insistence upon Islam’s fundamental compatibility with American values is well taken, and she provides memorable personal examples throughout.” Also related to this, in “U.S. Freedoms Give American Muslims Influence Beyond Their Numbers,” (Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2000, n.p.) Teresa Watanabe reports that ” Of the roughly 1 billion Muslims worldwide, those in the United States are only a tiny fraction, numbering somewhere between 3 million and 10 million. “But a confluence of forces that has made those Americans among the freest, most educated, affluent, and diverse Muslims in the world has given them an impact greater than their numbers. Helped by the growing use of English as a language of Islamic discourse and by the ever-spreading world of the Internet, they are self-consciously seeking to influence their religious brethren worldwide.”
Calvin Theological Journal (37:1 – 2002, pp179-182) reviewer Bassam Michael Madany asks regarding American Muslims: “How successful is Asma Hasan in her effort to educate the general American public about Islam and American Muslims? While in some instances she has succeeded to educate and enlighten, her book still suffers from a lack of objectivity as well as historical accuracy. In some places, it verges on propaganda.
“The strong points of the book consist in the extremely frank manner in which the author describes American Muslims. I am not aware of any other book on this subject that gives us such a vivid description of the life of American-born Muslim men and women. This book is therefore an invaluable tool in helping Americans to become acquainted with their new neighbors whose religious and cultural backgrounds are quite different, if not unique. On this point, I give the author a very high score. Unfortunately, the book has several weaknesses that may be classified as one-sided descriptions of the history of Islam, its spread in the world, and its treatment of minorities.” Madany explains all of this.
“One of the most important passages in the book deals with the problems young American Muslims are facing.
“Asma G. Hasan rightly describes the lack of ‘the cultural support system’ that most Muslims have, but the problem is not so much the absence of this specific support system, important as it is. The real problem is that in the lands of Daru’l Islam (the Household of Islam), it is primarily the state that has always played the crucial role in seeing to it that the faith is practiced.”
Madany also observes that “the author overemphasizes the right of private interpretation in Islam…I doubt very much if the leaders of the Islamic communities living in the West would accept our author’s claim that Muslims have the right to a private interpretation of the Qu’rán.”
Prepared by Rich Poll, Editor, Apologia Report.
F. Rahman, Islam (1966)
M. Jameelah, Islam and Modernism (1968)
P. K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (10th ed. 1970)
P. M. Holt, ed., Cambridge History of Islam (2 vol., 1970)
M. G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam (3 vol., 1974)
C. Glassé, Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (1991)
J. L. Esposito, Islam (rev. ed. 1992) and The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (2003)
A. Schimmel, Islam (1992)
D. Waines, An Introduction to Islam (1995)
J. I. Smith, Islam in America (1999).