Islam is an incredibly complex religion, where religious practices often differ depending on the cultural context of the region in which it is practices in.
Basic Teachings of Islam
History of Islam
Five Pillars: Prayer and Practices
How it is Practiced in the United States and Great Britain
Influx in Muslims
Facing Adversity and Stereotypes
Muslims as a Minority
Spread of Islam into India
Other Asian Nations
Islam as Reacting Against a Growing Western Presence
The Middle East
Islamic Law as National Law
C. Gender Issues
The Teachings of Islam Around the World
No two Muslims are alike, just as any two persons of any other religion. Here in the West, we tend to lump categories of Muslims together, without understanding the regional and cultural differences that make the practice of Islam so varied across the globe. Overall, Islam is an incredibly complex religion, where religious practices often differ depending on the cultural context of the region in which it is practices in.
History of Islam
Islam is one of the neighboring monotheistic religions that developed alongside Christianity and Judaism as one of the world's largest religions. In the 6th Century, AD, God, or Allah, revealed himself to the prophet Muhammad. The month of Ramadan is said to give praise for these revelations to Muhammad (Raatma, 2009). Islam aims to answer basic theological questions, and presents a series of prophets, Muhammad being the most important, who claim to reveal the word of God. Known as Allah, the Islamic God is very much similar to the deity's Judeo-Christian counterpart. In fact, other major figures that appear in the Bible are seen in the Quran as other prophets, including figures like Abraham, Adam, Noah, Moses, and even Jesus. Muhammad is the last and most important of these prophets were sent by God to spread His word. Like Christians, Muslims believe in a Heaven and in a Hell, with the soul traveling to one or the other after death based on the quality of that individual's life and the level of sins committed.
Basic Teachings of Islam
Mohammad's teachings and other revelations from God were written down in the Quran, which is the spiritual cannon of Islamic religious doctrine, much like the Bible is to Christianity and Judaism. It is a combination of the hadith, which chronicle's Muhammad's life and teachings combined with the Medinan which is more of the abstract spiritual guidelines and moral teachings (Raatma, 2009). Overall, the Quran is like a moral guide, helping provide God's guidance to those devoted followers who want to live a moral and righteous life under Allah. From the pages of the Quran come the main principles of Islam as a whole, which are used from all Muslims from more progressive Muslims living in the West to fundamentalists living in hostile Pakistan. Within the Quran is the chronicling both of the suffering of Muhammad, as well as his major moral gains as he tries to live a pious life under Allah. These very obvious periods help "provide occasions for the display of both kinds of moral qualities, viz., those which can be demonstrated in time of suffering and those which cannot be put into practice except in triumph and prosperity," (Ahmad, 2003, p 167). As such, the Quran witnesses thirteen years of Muhammad teaching in Mecca, where he suffered the most. Even during the worst of times, Mohammad spread the word of God as it had been revealed to him, devotedly living a moral life under the new guidelines of Islam. Yet, throughout his suffering and success, Mohammad always kept his faith in Allah. Thus, "his complete trust in God, his patient acceptance of every form of trial and adversity, his calm and serenity, his noble and dignified manner, his unbroken activity and zeal in the performance of his duties laid upon him, his perseverance, his fearless courage" all impressed those around him and helped set up a structure for Mohammad to spread the word of Allah (Ahmed, 2003, p 167). Within the Quran are these moral teachings, but also a more specified set of guidelines for living the life of a devoted Muslim. These were later established as Islamic law, which are followed in various degrees by Muslim's around the world. It even includes laws regarding diets and daily behaviors, as well as larger, more abstract moral teachings.
Five Pillars: Prayer and Practices
One of the most widely understood and recognized set of laws within Islam are the Five Pillars, which help guide the lifestyle, prayer, and practices of Muslims around the world. The first pillar is known as Testimony, or Shahadah, which is the profession of the follower that Allah alone is the only God. It is a written creed that all Muslims must state, pledging their allegiance to one God, Allah (Raatma, 2009). Then there is the pillar of Prayer. These are specific prayers that are supposed to take place five times a day, known as Salah. Individuals in prayer meet in mosques, or pray from wherever they are, allowing for a flexible daily communication with God. Muslims take this time to connect with Allah on an extremely personal level, where they give thanks and praise to Allah. The third pillar is Zakat, or the giving back of charity back into the community. Zakat allows some of the more affluent members of the community to give fixed donations to help those in need in the community. It expresses the moral value of charity and good deeds, and is considered part of a Muslim's religious obligations in their connection with Allah through Islam. The Fourth Pillar is Sawm, or the fasting that takes place during some of the religion's highest holidays. During the entire month of Ramadahn, Muslims fast by refraining from food and drink during the days, and then eat again at night. These fasts are meant to help further connect the individual to God by their understanding of how blessed they are with His gifts of food and sustenance. Finally, there is the Hajj, or the sacred pilgrimage that every Muslim must take. Mecca is one of the holiest sites in all of Islam, and the pilgrimage is demanded of every Muslim at least once in his or her life time. Travelers come from far and wide to walk seven times around the Kaaba and visit some of the holiest sites where Muhammad preached throughout his lifetime.
Throughout the Muslim world, there are various denominations that differ in their practice and conceptions of Islamic rules and traditions. Several major denominations include Sunnis, Shiates, and Sufi. Sunni Islam is the denomination which is followed the most by the majority of Muslims around the world. They place a special importance on the hadiths, or the accounts of Muhammad and his life, as they try to live by the more traditional path of the holy prophet. The main difference of their belief structure within Islamic traditions is the notion of who can be seen as a major authority figure within the religion itself. According to Sunnis, the caliph, or successor of Muhammad, was directly from descendents of the prophet. After Muhammad's death in 632 CE, God chose no other prophets, which the Sunni's interpret as a clear sign Allah wants the members of the religion to choose their own leadership (Raatma, 2009). As such, any religious and pious man can be a caliph and help lead communities following the Islamic path. On the other hand, Shia Islam sees a much different concept in regards to the choosing of its leadership. Shia Islam is the second largest branch. The major difference here is that there is a much more structured hierarchy in regards to who is the leadership within Muslim communities. Shiates believe that Muhammad did pick someone to replace him before his death, his son-in-law named Ali ibn Abi Talib. Caliphs in Shia Islam have to be from that blood line to become major leaders. The final denomination is also the smallest, and is Sufism. It is a much more abstract and mystical interpretation of the Quran and its teachings. Thus, it is a more flexible interpretation that focuses on spirituality built through individual emotional charges and connections, which is often criticized by the two other denominations in Islam (Raatma, 2009). Together, all three denominations have their own unique customs and practices that helps differentiate how Islam is practiced around the world.
How it is Practiced in the West: United States and Great Britain
In the Western nations, like the United States and Great Britain, there is an interesting relationship between the religion of Islam and the society at large. On the one hand, there are more Muslims living in the West now than ever before. According to the research, "in the 20th century we have observed a different kind of Islamic…