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Islam is the third major world religion to rise from the patriarch Abraham; like the other Abrahamic religions, has at its center a monotheistic god, Allah. Founded in the 7th century CE, Islam is presented as the final revelation of Allah to the last prophet, Muhammad. Islam was long referred to in English as Mohammadanism or Mahometanism, but this is frowned upon by Muslims, and is now considered an insult. Mussulman is also an old word for a Muslim; again this is no longer used in English, but is still common in other European languages, such as Portuguese and French.
The holy text of Islam is the Qur'an , which is held to be the revealed word of God. Muslims believe its verses were transmitted through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, God's final prophet. The sunnah, or recorded practises of the Prophet as passed down in books of hadith (lit. "news"), clarify how Islam is supposed to be practised, and are nearly as important to the practise of the religion as the Qur'an. The Sunni hadith collections are called the Kutub al-Sittah (the six books), the Shia hadith collections are called the Kutub al-Arba'a (the four books). Ibadis have their own hadiths, in particular the Jami Sahih. Although Muslims do not believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, he is an important prophet; he is considered a precursor to Muhammad, helping prepare the world for the "final revelation". Additionally, Muslims believe that Jesus will return at the end of times.
In Arabic, "Islam" means "peace" and "submission" (root word s-l-m; cf. as-salamu alaykum, Arabic greeting) and "peace through submission" (to God, specifically) and descends etymologically from the root word Aslama, meaning "submission"; thus, a Muslim is "one who has submitted to (or made peace with) God." Whether or not violent holy warriors like Osama bin Laden are "true Muslims" is, therefore, a question for Muslim scholars. This is a common problem in many other religions which preach peace and harmony, yet frequently have violent histories. One issue Islam struggles with that other religions do not is that Islam has a policy of abrogation, wherein later revelations can supercede earlier ones. Most of Muhammad's more peaceful pronouncements came from earlier revelations, and the more warlike revelations came after, so unfortunately Salafism and other militant interpretations of the Qur'an are consistent with this policy.
An increasing number of nations use Islamic law ("Sharia") as the entire or partial basis of their legal systems; states governed by religion in this way are known as theocracies. Many Islamic theocracies, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, have been sharply criticized by human-rights advocates for their illiberal treatment of women, homosexuals, and apostates.
There are many different denominations within Islam, but the two most notable groups within modern Islam are the Sunni and the Shia. The schism between the Sunni and Shia is akin to the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches - it is interesting that both splits occurred as a result of power struggles, personality clashes and theological differences. Following the death of Muhammad, the prophet and founder of Islam, his nephew Ali was expected to be his successor in the fledgling Rashidun Caliphate. However, a rival named Muawiyah had Ali assassinated and consolidated his rule which lead to the Umayyad dynasty. Sunni Muslims hold that any member of the ummah (or community of believers) can hold the position of caliph (or ruler) and accepted Muawiyah's claim to rule; whereas Shia Muslims hold that only descendants of the prophet Muhammad can become caliph as only they have the divine right to do so, and thus rejected Muawiyah as caliph.
Within and around these groups there are other subsets of Islam. Among these is Sufism, an ascetic spiritual movement similar in philosophy to Buddhism , and fundamentalist groups such as Salafism and Wahhabism. Druze, Yazidism, and Ba'hai are offshoots of Islam, though not traditionally considered to be included within the Islamic faith but independent belief systems.
- Nondenominational Muslims are those who do not follow a particular branch and simply call themselves "Muslim".
- Shia/Shi'ites believe that the prophet Muhammad appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor. Shia prefer hadiths attributed to the Ahlul Bayt (the prophet's family) and close associates. Shias consider the city of Karbala holy. They make up roughly 10 to 20% of all Muslims.
- Sunnis consider Abu Bakr to be Muhammad's successor. There are four major schools of legal interpretation among Sunnis; Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali, and Shafi'i. They make up roughly 75% of the world's Muslims. Sunni beliefs are typically based on the Qur'an and the Kutub al-Sittah (the six books of hadith). The Kutub al-Sittah consists of Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan al-Sughra, Sunan Abu Dawood, Jami al-Tirmidhi, and Sunan ibn Majah. Sunnis are sometimes called Bukharists.
- Sufism is a mystical denomination, which is often subject to persecution among other Muslims. Often-misguided variants of Sufism are sold to western New Agers.
- Ahmadiyya is a reformist denomination founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, who is considered to be the Mahdi. Their motto is "love for all; hatred for none."
- Ahle Quran, also known as Quraniyoon, is an Islamic denomination that generally rejects the authoritative nature of hadith collections, and considers the Qur'an to be the only dependable religious text.
- Ibadi is a branch of Islam that came out of the Kharijites. Its adherents are particularly found in Oman and Algeria.
- 5-percenters self-identify as Muslims and follow the Five-Percent Nation.
- Alawites are an off-shoot of the Shia movement. Notable Alawites include the ruling Assad dynasty of Syria.
- The Nation of Islam is a US based organization which blends elements of Islamic teaching with elements of liberation theology and black nationalism. Originally, the movement held it's founder, Wallace D. Fard, as the Mahdi, though since the late 1970s it has largely reintegrated with mainstream Sunni Islam. Louis Farrakhan, a prominent minister within the movement, rejected this reintegration and led a schism of the organization, retaining the Nation of Islam name.
 The Five Pillars of Islam
Islam has five core pillars, which are considered to be the most important part of Islam. All Muslims are expected to follow them.
- The Shahadah, an oath of faith which states "There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." One who voluntarily takes the oath is considered to be a Muslim. However the phrase is often spoken into the ear of newborn babies as both a proxy oath for the child, and a blessing. Once a convert has taken the oath, they cannot change their mind without being considered an apostate by the Muslim community. Many Muslim scholars consider that the punishment for apostasy should be death, and such death penalties are imposed in a number of Islamic countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
- Salah, or prayer. Prayer must be made five times per day, though this can be suspended depending on illness or travel. Prayer is made facing the Kaaba, a shrine in Mecca held to have been constructed by Abraham. Prior to praying, a Muslim is required to perform a ritual cleansing, or ablution called Wudu. Each prayer consists of a series of prostrations and is divided into a number of sections called Raka'ah. Each Raka'ah includes recitations from the Qur'an including Al-Fatihah, the first Sura. Prayers are made during the dawn, early afternoon, late afternoon, evening, and night-time and are of prescribed lengths. The dawn prayer is 2 Raka'ah, the early afternoon and late afternoon prayers are 4 Raka'ah, the evening prayer is 3 Raka'ah, and the night-time prayer is 4 Raka'ah.
- Zakat, which is a ritual giving of alms by all who can afford it. Typically, a Muslim gives 2.5% of their accumulated wealth (or savings) to charities, often organized through local mosques.
- Fasting during the month of Ramadan. During this month, which rotates throughout the year due to the fact that the Islamic calendar is lunar, Muslims must abstain from food, drink (including water), smoking, and sexual intercourse from sunrise (specifically when a thread of light can be discerned from the darkness) to sunset. The goal of the fast, as with most ascetic pursuits, is to rid oneself of material concerns and to bring oneself closer to God. Women who are pregnant or menstruating, those that are ill or elderly, and pre-pubescent children are exempt from the need to fast.
- The Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina during the month of Dhul-Hijah. Muslims are required to circumambulate the Kaaba, walk seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwah (where Hagar searched for water for her baby Ishmael), travel to Mt. Arafat (where Muhammad delivered his Farewell Sermon), and symbolically stone the devil.
 Other codes of conduct
Muslims also adhere to a number of dietary and behavioral rules, including prohibitions on eating pork and consuming alcohol, and maintaining certain standards of cleanliness.
Sharia is Islamic law, based on the teachings of the Qu'ran and other texts regarded as sacred, such as the hadith. Most Sharia deals with aspects of the social contract, though treatment of crime and punishment is also covered. Interpretations of Sharia vary widely, and some of the stricter variants, enforced in the fundamentalist Islamic states of the Middle East can involve brutal punishments for crimes such as sodomy (homosexuality), adultery and fornication (premarital sex). In some countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, victims of rape have been punished as adulterers or fornicators when they have been unable to prove rape charges.
Muslims also follow rulings from various schools of Islamic jurisprudence called fatwas. Though the term fatwa has come to be synonymous with declarations of war by some extremists within Islam (leading to a certain amount of envy from fundamentalist Christians who wish they could pronounce death sentences on anyone they dislike), a fatwa can be issued by Islamic scholars on issues as simple as questions regarding conduct in daily life.
Another commonly misunderstood term is "Jihad" which has come to be synonymous with the concept of war waged by Muslims against the West. Historically, Jihad has had two meanings. The greater Jihad is the struggle to improve one's self and one's society and to be a better Muslim. The lesser Jihad is the struggle to defend Islam and one's home against aggression.
A related concept is Taqiyya, an allowance for Muslims to conceal their religious beliefs during times of persecution, such as the Spanish Inquisition, though it has also been practiced by Shia facing persecution at the hands of Sunni Muslims.
The free practice of religion in Muslim countries is a source of controversy. The Qur'an guarantees the free practice of religion for Jews and Christians (although adherents to these religions are expected to pay tribute and to acknowledge Muslim rule). Regardless the reality is sometimes quite the opposite. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, other religions are banned from open practice and apostasy can be a capital offence. Other states, such as Iran, nominally allow other religions to exist, though those religions (including the Ba'hai and Zoroastrian faiths) are typically persecuted. Some states including Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan have significant non-Muslim minorities which are treated with varying degrees of persecution, though the rise of fundamentalism in these countries has led to an increase in outbreaks of violence.
Making images depicting God's creations is seen as a form of idolatry and as such is strictly forbidden by the Qu'ran, as well as the Ten Commandments. Hence traditional Islamic art very rarely depicts people, and seldom animals, but focuses instead on geometric patterns, calligraphy and non-pictorial decoration. Exceptions to this exist since, as with the other tenets of Islam, or of any other religion, interpretation has varied widely throughout the history of different cultures. Devout Muslims hold images of the prophet Muhammad to be particularly blasphemous.
 Islam, politics and Arab identity
The fact that Islam arose in the Arabian peninsula and that translations of the Qu'ran are considered to be less faithful than the original Arabic text means that Islam has become largely associated with Arabic culture. This association can lead to nationalistic tendencies within the Arab world being blended with, and indeed disguised as, expressions of Islamic faith; believers are duped, with the promise of a glorious martyrdom, into serving nationalist causes, often violently. This is consistently demonstrated by Al Qaeda and other militant groups; a fundamental reason for their existence is to protest perceived imperialism and aggression by Western governments in the Middle East. Seen as particularly offensive is Western support for the nation of Israel, and to a lesser degree, other non-democratic, secular, corrupt, and oppressive regimes in oil-rich nations, especially pre-revolutionary Iran. Al Qaeda made no objection to the non-democratic and oppressive, but Sharia-based regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
This philosophy has translated even to non-Arab Muslim extremists, such as those active in Kashmir, southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Almost invariably, statements from "Islamic militants" are in Arabic, regardless of their background. Perhaps because of this, being "Muslim" is often viewed as no different from being "Arab" in the mindsets of many people throughout the world despite the fact that the largest Muslim populations in the world are not ethnically Arabs. Interestingly, Heinrich Himmler of the Nazi SS was a supporter of Islam, particularly extreme Islam as he thought it engendered a warrior spirit and he recruited Bosnian Muslims, Arabs, and Indians into the supposedly 'racially pure' SS.
 Critics and criticism
 Violence and human rights violations issues
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim and prominent feminist and critic of Islam. Until her mid-teens, she obeyed the stricter codes of Islam before gradually adopting more liberal positions. She supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie during her fundamentalist years, but as she studied the Western philosophers of the Enlightenment upon her escape to Holland, her stance became more open-minded, to the point where she is now a staunch supporter of everyone's right to freedom of expression. In 2004, she wrote the screenplay for the short film Submission, a film examining the treatment of women in Islam. On November 2, Theo Van Gogh, the director of the film, was murdered by Muslim extremist Mohammed Bouyer. A dagger stabbed into Van Gogh pinned a note to the body attributing the assassination to the film. Ali was forced into hiding, and to this day is not able to appear in public without armed guards.
- Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses provoked outrage among many Muslims. The book was banned in India and protests in which the book was burned were held in London, England. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then-Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against Rushdie, calling on all good Muslims everywhere to do their best to kill him. Guess what? He had to go into hiding too. Even worse, governments that should know better, like the UK and the US shunned him instead of coming to his aid and defending his right to free speech.
- This event inspired noted journalist Christopher Hitchens to examine closely the Western Left's lackadaisical attitude towards Islamic extremism. The sympathy which he perceived among his colleagues for Islamic extremism caused him to adopt a firmer stance against what he calls "Islamofascism", or "Fascism with an Islamic face".
- Homosexuals are severely punished in Islamic states such as Iran or Saudi Arabia (except that Iran doesn't have any). Punishments can include flogging, beatings, mutilation of the genitals, and in some cases, execution.
- The most famous recent case of free expression vs. religious values is that of the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammed as a terrorist. The cartoons caused an uproar among Muslims who, obviously, lack a sense of humor, and provoked a seemingly endless and quite unnecessary series of debates across the Western world. Should we allow this? Well, we allow jokes about Christians and Jews? Why not? Should we exercise restraint when using our right to freedom of speech? Are we refusing to show the cartoons on national news because we don't want to offend Muslims, or because we're scared of offending Muslims? The answer to those questions, in order, is: Yes, Yes, and the news networks were scared of being blown up or something equally horrid. In our eyes, the cartoons' only real crime were being unfunny. And no violence is needed to make that point. Yet the extremist Muslim position survives and thrives in the latest South Park episode which parent companies Comedy Central and Viacom heavily censored in order not to offend the already infantilized sensibilities of many Muslims.
Islamophobia is a form of bigotry defined as "an irrational fear of Islam or Muslims." The term is controversial, with some arguing that it is a label used to delegitimize and silence criticism of the religion or of governments in the Middle East, and others saying it describes the pattern of fear-mongering and ignorance that leads to hate crimes against minorities and the restriction of their rights.
 Islam and science
In modern times, anti-science attitudes are a serious problem in some Islamic states; although creationism is more usually associated with fundamentalist Christianity, there are also Muslim creationists such as Harun Yahya. By contrast, medieval Islam was actively pro-science, with early scientists such as Ibn al-Haytham and Avicenna[wp] significantly advancing their fields and paving the way for similar movements in Europe in the centuries to follow.
 See also
- Gospel of Barnabas
- Al Jazeera
- East London Mosque
- Religion of Peace
- Muslim Patrol
- Qur'anic scientific foreknowledge
- Academic resources
- Patheos Library – Islam
- University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts
- Encyclopedia of Islam (Overview of World Religions)
- Ethical Democracy Journal views on Islam, other ethical systems and democracy
- Online resources
- Islam, article at Enyclopaedia Britannica Online
- Islam, article at Friesian.com
- Asabiyya: Re-Interpreting Value Change in Globalized Societies, article at Repec/Ideas, University of Connecticut and IZA, Bonn, on Islam and global value change
- WikiIslam (a wiki very critical of Islam)
- The Myths of Islam
- ↑ Islam's god is the same Abrahamic god as the one in Judaism and Christianity; Allah is merely the Arabic word for 'God'. It should be noted that it is considered blasphemy for Allah to be placed in a human or animal sexual gender category. Qur'an 112:3–4
- ↑ http://www.hadith-studies.com/Burton-Theories-Abrogation.pdf
- ↑ http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23436203-sharia-law-row-archbishop-is-in-shock-as-he-faces-demands-to-quit-and-criticism-from-lord-carey.do;jsessionid=D056B7CA7A4D7468D59A34DF1042318A
- ↑ religions retrieved 7 June 2013
- ↑ world factbook; religions
- ↑ This is the shortest version of the Shahadah and is translated from the Arabic phrase لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا الله مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ الله
- ↑ Death to the apostate!
- ↑ Pakistan death penalty law
- ↑ Apostasy killing in Saudi Arabia
- ↑ A. Ben Shemesh, Taxation in Islam Volume II, Qudama b. Ja'far's Kitab Al-Kharaj. Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1965, p. 14
- ↑ K.S. Lal, Theory and Practice of Muslim State in India, Delhi, 1999, pp. 139-140.
- ↑ Science and Islam, three-part BBC documentary