Introductions to World Religions by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
An Overview of Islam
What Is Islam? Who Are Muslims?
Islam = the religion of Muslims; the word "Islam" literally means "submission" or "self-surrender" (to the will of God) or "the peace that comes from submission" to Allah (the Arabic word for "God")
These words are properly pronounced with a non-vocalized "ss" sound, rather than a vocalized "z" sound (Iss-lam or Muss-leem, not Izz-lam or Muzz-lim).
Although "submission" may sound passive and/or demeaning to Western ears, Muslims stress that giving oneself wholly to God and accepting God's guidance in all aspects of life is the way to true happiness; thus, Islam is not just a "religion" but a complete "way of life."
Muslim = a follower or practitioner of Islam; literally, "one who submits" to God
and acknowledges Muhammad as the last prophet of God.
A Muslim woman could also be called a Muslima, the feminine form of the same Arabic noun.
Although most Muslims worldwide practice Islam, there are some "non-religious," "non-practicing," "secular," or even "atheistic" Muslims in some regions or countries (such as Bosnia or Albania, or even in Turkey, Egypt, and the USA). This would refer to people whose ancestry is Muslim, but who do not practice Islam and/or believe in God. Thus, for example, the former Yugoslavia distinguished Muslim Bosnians from Catholic Croatians and Orthodox Serbians as ethnic/culture groups, whether or not the individuals in these groups actually practiced their respective religions.
Islamic and Muslim - these two adjectives are often (sloppily) used interchangeably, but should more properly be distinguished:
"Muslim" refers to people (Muslim men, women, children, etc.)
"Islamic" refers to things (Islamic art, culture, education, etc.)
Yet since institutions are made up of people, one can sometimes use either adjective: a "Muslim country" or an "Islamic nation"; a "Muslim Community Association" or an "Islamic Cultural Center" (with only slight differences, emphasizing the people who gather or the place where they gather, respectively).
Islamists and Islamism -
(more coming soon; see Malise Ruthven, Islam: A Very Short Introduction, Ch. 1)
The Arabic root slm means "peace" (similar to the Hebrew word Shalom or the English place-name Salem).
Muslims commonly greet each other by saying, As-salaamu alaykum ("Peace be upon you"), and responding, Wa alaykum as-salaam ("And upon you peace"); similar is the common Jewish greeting, Shalom, or the formal/liturgical Christian greeting, "The peace of the Lord be with you!"
When Muslims speak or write the names of Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, or any other prophet(s), they usually add "Peace be upon him (them)."
Most Muslims emphasize that Islam is a religion of peace that condemns all violence against innocents, terrorism, suicide, and offensive war, even though some Muslims embrace such forms of violence, sometimes even in the name of their religion.
However, just as one should not condemn all Christians for the horrific actions of the KKK, the IRA, or other terrorist groups of the past or present, so also one should not condemn all Muslims for the deeds of a violent minority who act contrary to the teachings embraced by the vast majority of Muslims.
There are a total of between 1.2 and 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide today (but population estimates vary widely):
Most Muslims live in the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and other "-stans" of the former Soviet Union), but some live in almost every other country in the world.
Although Islam's historical roots are in Arabia, only about 20% of Muslims in the world today are Arabs; most other ethnic groups now include some Muslims; moreover, about 5% of Arabs are not Muslims, but are Christians or members of other religions.
With about 7 million Muslims in the USA, Islam is the second largest and fastest growing major religion (compared to ca. 250 million Christians and 6 million Jews), the increase due to both immigration and conversions.
Lesser Feasts and Holidays (esp. for Shi'i Muslims)
Holy Cities and Sites of Islam:
Makka(also spelled Mecca in English) - an ancient trading center in Southwestern Arabia; birthplace of Muhammad; destination of the annual Hajj.
The Ka'bah - a square building, located in the center courtyard of the great Mosque in Makka.
Muslims believe it was first built by Adam, and later rebuilt by Abraham and his son Ishmael.
In pre-Islamic times it was a polytheistic shrine, but in 630 CE Muhammad threw out the idols and rededicated it to Allah/God alone.
Madinah (also spelled Medina; called "Yathrib" in pre-Islamic times) - about 250 miles (400 km) north of Makka; the first Muslim city-state, governed by Muhammad himself from 622–632 CE.
The Mosque of the Prophet - the first Muslim mosque, going back to the days of Muhammad
It was originally his own house in Madinah, which served as the gathering place for the early Muslim community
Jerusalem - center of ancient Judaism and Christianity.
The Dome of the Rock - a Byzantine-style Muslim shrine with a large golden dome, in the middle of the "Temple Mount" in Jerusalem
Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven from the rock that is housed within this building (leaving a visible footprint in the large rock).
The rock is also believed to be the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son (Ishmael, in Muslim belief, in contrast to Isaac, in Jewish belief).
NB: Muhammad's "ascension" is believed by Muslims to have taken place in 621 CE, before Muhammad's death (cf. Qur'an 17:1), unlike the Christian belief that Jesus ascended to heaven after rising from the dead (i.e., crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, in that order).
The al-Aqsa Mosque - on the edge of the Temple Mount
thought to be the "Farthest Mosque" mentioned in Qur'an 17:1.
Several cities in modern Iraq are also considered holy by Shi'ite Muslims:
Najaf - burial site of Imam Ali, son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad; long a center of learning for Shi'ites.
Karbala - site of the martyrdom and burial of Hussayn, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Samarra - site of a "Golden Mosque" where 2 of the 12 imams revered by most Shi'ites are buried; its bombing on 2/22/06 led to greatly increased sectarian violence in Iraq
The Ka'bah, in Mecca
Mosque of the Prophet, in Medina
Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem
Muslim Leadership & Islamic Law:
Leaders - Sunni Muslims have no "clergy," properly speaking, although there are leaders with various titles, depending on their roles; in contrast, Shi'ite Muslim leaders are considered "clerics":
Sunnis believe every person approaches God directly, so there is no need for any human intermediaries (priests, ministers, "clergy").
Shi'ite clerics are those who can claim to be direct descendants of the prophet Muhammad.
Imam - the "prayer leader"; a professional position in larger mosques, but any Muslim man with adequate training can lead the daily or weekly prayers.
Muezzin or Mu'adhdhin - the person who intones or chants the "call to prayer" (the adhan) before each of the five daily prayer periods.
Ayatollah - highest level of Shi'ite clerics.
Mosque / Masjid - the building where Muslims gather for prayer
Prominent features of most mosques include a Minaret (tall spire from which the "Call to Prayer" is traditionally made) and a large gathering hall for prayer (usually carpeted, but without chairs or pews; men and women pray in separate rooms or segregated sections of the mosque); a niche in the wall indicates the direction to Makka, toward which Muslims face whenever they pray.
Muslims in the USA often call their local gathering places a Muslim Community Association (MCA) and/or a regional Islamic Center, which may include offices, schoolrooms, prayer halls, and/or other spaces for community use.
College and university campuses often have a Muslim Students Association (MSA).
Shari'a - Muslim law or jurisprudence
(more coming soon)
Other Possible Topics:
Islamic Art & Architecture -
see the following websites
Compendium of Muslim Texts - searchable Quran & Hadith; results first listed by chapter & verse; then displays texts in three translations (Ali, Pickthal, Shakir); from MSA at USC
The Holy Quran - translations of Ali, Pickthal, and Shakir readable by chapter; Ali's translation also searchable; from MSA, Univ. Alabama Huntsville
The Holy Quran - searchable version of M.H. Shakir's translation (caution: uses Arabic versions of biblical names; thus, you need to search for "Ibrahim" rather than "Abraham"; "Musa" for "Moses"; "Isa" for "Jesus"; "Muhammad" for "Mohammed"; etc.); from Univ. Michigan
An Islamic Glossary - including Arabic equivalents for names familiar from the Bible; by Prof. Felix Just, S.J.