Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Religion Survey: Islam

Last week I discussed presenting a brief review of world religions, in order to foster respect for the diversity that religious pluralism in the U.S. brings. This is the third article in the series. For an overview of Christianity, please see yesterday’s post. For an overview of Judaism, please see Monday’s post.

It is not possible to convey the depth of a religious belief system in 500 words or less. These posts are intended to be a high-level introduction to the origin, founder (if any), holy book(s), principles, and major holy days or celebrations of each of these faiths. I will also attempt to provide references for deeper study.

Religion: Islam
Note: Islam is the name of the religion, Muslims are the people who practice Islam.

Islam was founded about 610 CE. Muslims believe that when Muhammed was 40, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and commanded him to Recite. His recitations were written down, and became the Quran. (The basic facts were known from the classes and books listed below. Details like dates and ages added from this source.)

Muhammed is considered the Prophet of Islam.  He was born in 570 CE. (The basic facts were known from the classes and books listed below. Details like dates and ages added from this source.)

Holy Book(s):
  • The primary holy book is the Quran, or Koran. While translations can be found, practitioners are asked to study it in the original Arabic.
  • The sayings of Muhammed are written down in the sunnah [source]
  • Islam recognizes Jews and Christians as "People of the Book."  The Quran acknowledges Jesus as a prophet, recognizes Mary his mother, and traces the Arab peoples back to Abraham through his son Ishmael.

There are five pillars of Islam:
  1. The Testament of faith in one God and in Muhummed as God's prophet (precise wording here).
  2. Pray 5 times a day.
  3. Give to the needy.
  4. Fast during the month of Ramadan, from sun-up to sundown.
  5. Make a pilgrimage (Hajj) to Makka during one's lifetime.
Each of these pillars have specific practices, that may depend on the branch of Islam. The "precise wording here" link includes some details.

Major Holy Days / Celebrations:

Note: Similar to the Jewish calendar, the Islamic calendar is lunar. However, unlike the lunar-solar Jewish calendar, the Islamic Lunar calendar is not adjusted to stay in sync with the solar year. Therefore, the Islamic months move in relation to the commonly accepted Civil Calendar.
  • Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a month of fasting and atonement.
  • The Hajj is performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.
(Islamic months from this source.)

Major groupings / divisions of the religion:
After Muhammed's death, Islam was led by Caliphs. Differences in the succession has led to two major branches of Islam (for details):
  • Shiites
  • Sunni 
Islam is a universal religion, open to anyone. Conversion is as simple as declaring the Testament of faith. While simple to do, one should take it seriously.

To learn more (Muslim-centered):
These are some resources that Google pulled up. Feel free to add your own in the comments:
In addition to online resources:
  • Call or visit your local Islamic Center
    • My Religions of the West class made a field trip to the Islamic Center on campus for Friday prayer one week. It was an intriguing experience. I have since learned that different mosques and centers may be designed and operate differently from what I experienced.
    • There may be special events that the public is invited to. Watch for those in your local news, or ask the center when you call.
For a Christian-centered perspective:
I am an American, and most of my readers are based in the United States. I have seen many concerns from Christians that learning even the rudiments of other religions might threaten their faith… and that is one of the reasons I’m even attempting this series.

For those who are not ready to look at things from an Islamic-centered perspective, these two books are Christian-centered overviews:
For a Historical perspective:
These were some of my textbooks from both undergraduate and graduate coursework in history of the Ancient (Western, <sigh>) World.
They are academic books, and not Islam-centered, so they don't generally include the era that Muhammed lived. That said, they provide additional background to the stories in the Bible which may apply to the Quran versions.
From the Religious Studies perspective:
These were textbooks in my undergraduate Religious Studies coursework: