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The opening words of the Qur’an are “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem,” which translates to “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.” These words are significant to Muslims because they form the beginning of Al-Fātiḥah (“The Opening”), which is the first chapter, or surah, of the Muslim holy book, the Holy Qur’an. Al-Fātiḥah is considered the essence of the Qur’an, and it is recited in every unit of the five daily prayers (Salah) performed by Muslims. This makes Al-Fātiḥah among the most recited words on earth, highlighting its importance in the Islamic faith.
The Qur’an was originally written in Arabic, which is considered the language of divine revelation in Islam. The word “Qur’an” comes from the Arabic root “qara’a,” which means “to read” or “to recite.” Therefore, the term “Qur’an” can be translated as “The Recitation.” It is believed that the Qur’an is the literal word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muslims regard the Qur’an in its original Arabic form as the ultimate source of religious guidance and consider translations as interpretations of the divine message.
As of late 2021, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, with more than 1.8 billion followers, which is about 24% of the global population. It is important to note that these numbers may have changed since then, but Islam remains one of the largest and most widespread religions.
Islam has a significant presence in various regions across the globe, including the Middle East, North Africa, West Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and parts of Europe. The largest Muslim-majority countries are Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. In addition, there are significant Muslim populations in many other countries, such as the United States, China, Russia, and various European nations. The widespread nature of Islam can be attributed to various factors, including historical trade routes, migration, and the spread of Islamic empires throughout history.
“Islam” is an Arabic word that derives from the root “s-l-m,” which is associated with concepts of peace, purity, and submission. The word “Islam” literally means “submission” or “surrender” and, in a religious context, it refers to the submission to the will of God (Allah). Followers of Islam believe in living a life according to God’s commandments and guidance, as revealed in the Qur’an and exemplified by the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
“Muslím” (or “Muslim” in English) is also an Arabic word and comes from the same root as “Islam.” A Muslim is a person who follows the religion of Islam and willingly submits to the will of God. The word “Muslim” can be translated as “one who submits” or “one who surrenders” to God’s will. Muslims believe in the core tenets of Islam, known as the Five Pillars, which include the declaration of faith (Shahada), prayer (Salah), almsgiving (Zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan (Sawm), and pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) for those who are physically and financially able.
Muslims believe that Islam is the final and complete revelation of God’s will to humanity. They consider Islam to be a continuation and culmination of the Abrahamic faith tradition, which includes Judaism and Christianity. Muslims believe in the oneness of God (Allah), who is merciful and compassionate, and that the Prophet Muhammad is the last and final messenger of God. They also believe in earlier prophets, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, whom they regard as messengers of God and not divine themselves.
- Creation: Both the Bible and the Qur’an describe the creation of the universe by God, including the creation of Adam and Eve as the first human beings.
- Prophets: Many biblical figures, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, are also mentioned in the Qur’an, often with similar narratives and teachings.
- Moral principles: Both texts emphasize the importance of worshiping one God and following moral and ethical guidelines for a righteous life, including the promotion of justice, mercy, and compassion.
- Eschatology: Both the Bible and the Qur’an discuss the end of times, including the Day of Judgment, resurrection, and life in the hereafter.
Despite these similarities, there are also significant differences between the Bible and the Qur’an in terms of theology, narratives, and religious laws. For instance, the Qur’an rejects the Christian concept of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, asserting that Jesus was a prophet and not the Son of God. Additionally, the Qur’an introduces new legal and moral guidance specific to the Islamic faith, such as the Five Pillars of Islam.
In Muhammad’s time, before the advent of Islam, the focal point of Arab worship was the Ka’bah, a cube-shaped structure located in the city of Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia). The Ka’bah was considered a sacred site and housed numerous idols representing various tribal deities and gods of the pre-Islamic Arab polytheistic religions.
According to Islamic tradition, the Ka’bah was originally built by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma’il (Ishmael) as a house of monotheistic worship dedicated to Allah. Over time, the Arab people drifted away from the monotheistic faith of Abraham and began to worship multiple deities, turning the Ka’bah into a center for polytheistic worship.
When Islam emerged, the Prophet Muhammad received revelations from Allah that re-established the monotheistic faith and rejected the worship of multiple gods. After the conquest of Mecca in 630 CE, Muhammad removed the idols from the Ka’bah and rededicated it to the worship of Allah alone. Since then, the Ka’bah has been the holiest site in Islam and the focal point of Muslim worship. Muslims around the world face the direction of the Ka’bah (called the Qibla) during their daily prayers, and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Before the advent of Islam, the religious practices in pre-Islamic Arabia, often referred to as Jahiliyyah, disturbed Muhammad. Some of the practices that he found troubling included:
Idolatry: Pre-Islamic Arab society was predominantly polytheistic, with numerous gods and goddesses represented by idols. The Ka’bah in Mecca, which later became the holiest site in Islam, housed several of these idols. Muhammad was deeply disturbed by the worship of these false deities, as he believed in the oneness of God (Allah).
Tribalism and social divisions: Tribal loyalties and rivalries were prevalent in pre-Islamic Arab society, often leading to violence, warfare, and social injustice. Muhammad sought to promote unity and brotherhood among people, transcending tribal affiliations, through the message of Islam.
Social injustices: Pre-Islamic Arab society was marked by various forms of social injustice, including slavery, mistreatment of women, and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable. Muhammad was disturbed by these practices and, through the revelations he received, sought to establish a more just and equitable social order based on Islamic principles.
Infanticide: In pre-Islamic Arabia, female infanticide was sometimes practiced due to the perceived financial burden of raising a girl or the fear of shame and dishonor associated with daughters. This practice was abhorrent to Muhammad, and Islam explicitly forbids it.
Moral corruption: Pre-Islamic Arab society was characterized by various forms of moral corruption, such as excessive alcohol consumption, gambling, and adultery. Muhammad found these practices deeply troubling and worked to establish a moral and ethical framework within Islam to guide individual and societal behavior.
When Muhammad received his prophetic call and began to preach the message of Islam, he sought to address these issues and transform society based on the revelations he received from Allah. Many of the teachings and practices of Islam, such as the belief in the oneness of God, social justice, and moral guidance, can be seen as a direct response to the issues that troubled Muhammad in pre-Islamic Arabian society.
Muhammad’s call to be a prophet took place under unique circumstances when he was around 40 years old. He had developed a habit of retreating to a cave on Mount Hira, located near the city of Mecca, where he would spend time in contemplation and meditation. It was during one of these retreats, in the year 610 CE, that he had his first encounter with divine revelation.
During the month of Ramadan, while he was meditating in the cave, Muhammad experienced a visitation by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic). The angel commanded him to “Read” or “Recite” (the word “Iqra” in Arabic can mean both). Muhammad, being illiterate, replied that he could not read or recite. The angel repeated the command several times, each time pressing him harder, until finally, the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to him:
“Recite in the name of your Lord who created, Created man from a clinging substance. Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous, Who taught by the pen, Taught man that which he knew not.” (Qur’an 96:1-5)
Initially, Muhammad was overwhelmed and frightened by the experience, unsure of what had happened. He sought comfort from his wife, Khadija, who reassured him and believed in his divine mission. Khadija’s cousin, Waraka ibn Nawfal, an educated Christian, also confirmed that Muhammad had received a revelation from God, similar to the ones received by earlier prophets.
From that moment on, Muhammad continued to receive revelations throughout his life, which were later compiled into the Qur’an. He began preaching the message of Islam, which emphasized monotheism, social justice, and moral conduct. His prophetic mission faced significant challenges and opposition from the polytheistic society in Mecca, but eventually, Islam spread and became one of the world’s largest religions.
Revelation of the Qurʼān
Muhammad’s first revelation is found in the Qur’an, in chapter 96 (Surah Al-‘Alaq), verses 1-5. This revelation is believed to have been transmitted to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel while he was meditating in the cave of Hira. The verses are as follows:
- “Recite in the name of your Lord who created,
- Created man from a clinging substance.
- Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous,
- Who taught by the pen,
- Taught man that which he knew not.”
This first revelation emphasizes the importance of seeking knowledge and acknowledging the Creator, who is the source of all knowledge and wisdom.
In comparison, Revelation 22:18-19 is found in the New Testament of the Bible, as part of the Book of Revelation. The verses state:
- “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
- And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
The Qur’an was preserved through a combination of oral and written methods, ensuring the accurate transmission of the text over time.
Oral Preservation: The primary method of preserving the Qur’an in the early days of Islam was through memorization. The Arabic word “Qur’an” itself means “recitation,” emphasizing the importance of oral transmission. The Prophet Muhammad and his followers recited the revelations he received from God, and many of his companions memorized the entire text. This tradition of memorization, known as “hifz,” continues to this day, with millions of people around the world having committed the entire Qur’an to memory. The strong emphasis on memorization and oral recitation helped ensure the accuracy and consistency of the Qur’anic text throughout generations.
Written Preservation: In addition to oral transmission, the Qur’an was also written down during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Whenever a new revelation was received, Muhammad would instruct his scribes to write it down on materials such as parchment, leather, or bone. These written records, however, were not compiled into a single, cohesive text during Muhammad’s lifetime.
After the Prophet’s death, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, ordered the collection of the Qur’an into a single manuscript. This task was carried out by Zayd ibn Thabit, one of the Prophet’s scribes and companions, who carefully gathered the written records and cross-checked them with the memorized versions held by the companions who had learned the Qur’an directly from Muhammad. This manuscript, known as the “Suhuf” (pages), was kept by Abu Bakr and later passed on to the second Caliph, Umar, and then to Umar’s daughter, Hafsa.
During the caliphate of Uthman, the third Caliph, concerns arose about varying dialects and regional differences in the recitation of the Qur’an. Uthman commissioned a committee to prepare a standardized version of the Qur’an using the Suhuf kept by Hafsa as the primary source. This standardized text, known as the “Uthmanic Codex,” was copied and distributed to major Islamic provinces, and all other versions were ordered to be destroyed to prevent discrepancies and preserve the integrity of the text.
The combination of oral and written preservation methods has ensured that the Qur’an has been accurately transmitted over the centuries. While there are slight variations in readings (qira’at) of the Qur’an, the text itself has remained remarkably consistent and is considered by Muslims to be the authentic and unaltered word of God.
Islamic life is indeed governed by three main authorities: the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Shariah.
The Qur’an: The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam, believed to be the direct word of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. It serves as the primary source of Islamic teaching and guidance, covering various aspects of life, including theology, morality, and law.
The Hadith: Hadith are the collections of sayings, actions, and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad. They serve as a secondary source of guidance in Islamic teachings, providing practical examples of how the Prophet applied the principles and teachings of the Qur’an in his daily life. Hadith collections have been compiled by various scholars, with the most well-known and respected collections being those of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.
The Shariah: Shariah is the Islamic legal system, which encompasses the moral, ethical, and legal guidance derived from both the Qur’an and the Hadith. It covers various aspects of daily life, including personal conduct, family matters, business transactions, and criminal law. Shariah is interpreted and applied by Islamic scholars and jurists, who use their knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an and Hadith to provide rulings on specific situations.
Regarding the translation of the Qur’an, it is true that many Islamic scholars consider the original Arabic text to be the purest form of the revelation, as it is believed to be the language used by God in speaking through Gabriel. Surah 43:3 emphasizes the importance of Arabic in understanding the Qur’an: “We have made it a Qur’an in Arabic, that ye may be able to understand (and learn wisdom).” (AYA)
While translations of the Qur’an are available in numerous languages, they are often seen as an interpretation of the meaning of the original text rather than a direct translation. This is because the Arabic language is rich in nuance, and it can be challenging to convey the full depth and subtlety of meaning in other languages. Consequently, some Islamic scholars view translation as a dilution of the original text that involves a loss of purity. Some scholars may even refuse to translate the Qur’an due to concerns over potential inaccuracies or misinterpretations. However, translations are still widely used to help non-Arabic speakers understand the teachings and message of the Qur’an, while recognizing that the original Arabic text remains the most authentic source.
The event that marked a significant point early in Islamic history is the Hijrah (or Hegira), which refers to the migration of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to the city of Medina in 622 CE. This migration was a response to increasing persecution and hostility from the Meccan polytheists and the need for a safer place where the early Muslim community could practice and propagate their faith without fear.
The Hijrah is considered a pivotal moment in Islamic history, as it led to the establishment of the first Muslim community in Medina under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad. The city of Medina welcomed the Prophet and his followers, and this allowed Islam to grow and thrive in a more conducive environment.
The Islamic calendar, known as the Hijri calendar, starts from the year of the Hijrah. It is a lunar calendar and uses the abbreviation A.H. (Anno Hegirae or “year of the flight”) to indicate the years since the migration, as opposed to A.D. (Anno Domini, “year of the Lord”) or C.E. (Common Era) used in the Gregorian calendar.
Mecca became Islam’s principal center for pilgrimage due to its historical and religious significance in the Islamic faith. The city holds the Ka’bah, a cube-shaped structure located within the Masjid al-Haram, which is considered the holiest site in Islam. Muslims believe that the Ka’bah was originally built by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma’il (Ishmael) as a house of worship dedicated to the one true God, Allah.
During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Mecca was a center for polytheistic worship and trade, and the Ka’bah housed numerous idols of various gods. When the Prophet Muhammad began preaching the message of Islam, which emphasized the oneness of God, he faced strong opposition from the Meccan tribes who saw the new faith as a threat to their way of life and economic interests.
In 622 CE, due to increasing persecution, Muhammad and his followers migrated to Medina, marking the event known as the Hijrah. After several years of conflict and negotiation, in 630 CE, Muhammad and his followers peacefully conquered Mecca. One of the first actions taken by the Prophet was to cleanse the Ka’bah of the idols and dedicate it to the worship of Allah alone.
Following the conquest of Mecca and the reestablishment of the Ka’bah as a monotheistic center, the city became the primary destination for Islamic pilgrimage. The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which every able-bodied and financially capable Muslim is required to perform at least once in their lifetime.
Thus, Mecca’s historical and religious significance, coupled with the central role of the Ka’bah in Islamic worship, has made it Islam’s principal center for pilgrimage.
Islam spread rapidly and extensively across vast regions after its inception in the 7th century CE. The Islamic empire expanded under the rule of the four rightly-guided caliphs – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali – and later, under the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, among others. The expansion of Islam continued in various forms over the centuries, reaching different parts of the world.
Some key areas where Islam spread include:
Arabian Peninsula: Islam originated in Mecca and Medina, located in present-day Saudi Arabia. The entire Arabian Peninsula came under Islamic rule within a few decades after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
North Africa: Islam spread westward across North Africa, reaching present-day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya by the early 8th century.
Iberian Peninsula: Islamic forces crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered much of the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal), establishing the region of Al-Andalus in 711 CE. Islamic rule persisted in parts of the Iberian Peninsula until the fall of Granada in 1492.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Islam spread across the Sahara Desert through trade routes, reaching West Africa and influencing the region culturally and politically.
Levant and Mesopotamia: The Levant, which includes modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, along with Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), were conquered during the early Islamic expansion.
Persia and Central Asia: The Islamic empire also expanded eastward, conquering the Persian Sassanian Empire and extending into Central Asia, reaching the borders of present-day Afghanistan and beyond.
Indian Subcontinent: Islam made its way to the Indian subcontinent through both trade and conquest, with significant Muslim populations emerging in present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Southeast Asia: Through maritime trade routes, Islam reached Southeast Asia, where it gradually spread to regions such as present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and the southern Philippines.
Anatolia and the Balkans: After the decline of the Abbasid Caliphate, the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century led to the expansion of Islam into Anatolia (present-day Turkey) and the Balkans (parts of present-day Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania).
The spread of Islam varied in intensity and pace over time, with some regions experiencing a more gradual process of conversion and cultural exchange while others witnessed more rapid conquest and expansion. Today, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, with adherents spread across all continents and forming significant populations in many countries.
Muḥammad’s Death Leads to Division
The great problem faced by Islam upon the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE was the question of succession, as the Prophet had not explicitly designated a successor or outlined a clear method for choosing one. This issue led to a division within the Muslim community and ultimately gave rise to the Sunni-Shia split, which persists to this day.
After the death of Muhammad, the Muslim community was faced with the task of selecting a new leader, known as the Caliph, to guide them and maintain the unity of the rapidly expanding Islamic state. Two primary factions emerged with differing opinions on who should be the rightful successor:
The majority group, who would later be known as the Sunnis, believed that the new leader should be chosen from among the most qualified companions of the Prophet, without any specific preference for a family connection. They supported Abu Bakr, one of the Prophet’s closest friends and father-in-law, as the new leader. Abu Bakr was ultimately chosen as the first Caliph, and his supporters argued that the community’s consensus validated his appointment.
The minority group, who would later be called the Shia, believed that the leadership should remain within the family of the Prophet and that his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, should be his rightful successor. The Shia argued that the Prophet had implicitly appointed Ali as his successor on various occasions and that divine guidance and spiritual authority were passed down through the Prophet’s bloodline.
Despite the initial selection of Abu Bakr as the first Caliph, the question of succession remained a contentious issue throughout the rule of the first four caliphs, known as the Rashidun Caliphate. This division ultimately became more pronounced and deeply rooted over time, resulting in the Sunni-Shia split that has shaped Islamic history and continues to influence political, social, and religious dynamics within the Muslim world today.
Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, played a crucial role in early Islamic history. Despite having some supporters who believed he should have been the first caliph after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, he was not chosen as the immediate successor. Instead, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman were chosen as the first three caliphs.
Eventually, Ali was chosen as the fourth caliph in 656 CE, after the assassination of Uthman. However, his rule was marked by internal strife and conflict, as some factions within the Muslim community refused to recognize his authority and held him responsible for not bringing Uthman’s killers to justice. This dissent led to a series of civil wars, known as the First Fitna (656-661 CE).
During Ali’s caliphate, he faced opposition from several groups, most notably the forces led by Muawiyah, the governor of Syria and a relative of Uthman. The conflict between Ali and Muawiyah culminated in the Battle of Siffin in 657 CE, which ended inconclusively and led to arbitration. The arbitration process was controversial and further weakened Ali’s position.
In 661 CE, Ali was assassinated by a member of the Kharijite sect, a group that had initially supported him but later turned against him due to disagreements over the arbitration process following the Battle of Siffin. Ali’s death marked the end of the Rashidun Caliphate, and Muawiyah subsequently established the Umayyad Caliphate, with its capital in Damascus.
After Ali’s death, his supporters continued to regard his descendants as the rightful spiritual and political leaders of the Muslim community, giving rise to the Shia branch of Islam. On the other hand, the majority of Muslims, who became known as Sunnis, accepted the Umayyad rule and subsequent caliphates as legitimate. This marked the beginning of the Sunni-Shia split, which has had a lasting impact on Islamic history and the Muslim world.
Shiite Muslims, also known as Shi’a or simply Shia, hold a different perspective on the succession of Prophet Muhammad compared to Sunni Muslims. While both Sunnis and Shias believe in the importance of the caliphate as a system of governance after the death of the Prophet, they have diverging views on who the rightful successors should have been.
Shia Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, should have been his immediate and rightful successor. They maintain that the leadership of the Muslim community, referred to as the Imamate, should have stayed within the Prophet’s family, specifically through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali. The Imams, according to Shia belief, possess divine guidance and spiritual authority, which are passed down through the bloodline of the Prophet.
Shias do not accept the legitimacy of the first three caliphs – Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman – who were chosen as leaders of the Muslim community before Ali. They regard these caliphs as usurpers who took the position that rightfully belonged to Ali and his descendants.
After the assassination of Ali, the Shia Imamate continued through his descendants. Shias are further divided into different branches, depending on the number of Imams they recognize and the lineage they follow. The largest Shia branch is the Twelver Shia, who believe in a total of twelve Imams, the last of whom, Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, is believed to be in occultation (hidden from the world) and will return as the Mahdi to restore justice and fairness in the world.
In summary, the Shiite viewpoint on Muhammad’s successors is centered around the belief that the leadership of the Muslim community should have remained within the Prophet’s family, starting with Ali ibn Abi Talib, and that the first three caliphs were not the rightful leaders. The concept of the Imamate, which is unique to Shia Islam, emphasizes the spiritual and divinely guided authority of the Imams, who are direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
Shia Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the third Imam in Shia Islam, during the annual event known as Ashura. Husayn was killed along with his family members and supporters in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE, when he stood against the Umayyad caliph Yazid I to defend the principles of justice and righteousness in Islam.
Ashura is observed on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. This commemoration is an important event in Shia Islam, as it serves as a symbol of the struggle against tyranny, injustice, and oppression.
Shia Muslims observe the first ten days of Muharram as a period of mourning, which involves various rituals and practices that may vary among different Shia communities. Some of the common practices during this time include:
Majalis: These are gatherings held in mosques, community centers, or private homes where people come together to listen to sermons, recitations, and eulogies that recount the story of Husayn’s martyrdom, the events leading up to the Battle of Karbala, and the sufferings endured by his family.
Matam: This is a ritual act of mourning, which involves chest-beating, self-flagellation, or even cutting oneself with knives or chains in some communities. These acts symbolize the grief and pain experienced by the mourners over the tragedy of Karbala. However, self-harm practices are controversial and discouraged by many Shia scholars and leaders.
Processions: Mourners often participate in public processions, carrying banners, flags, and symbolic representations of Husayn’s tomb, while reciting elegies and beating their chests in mourning.
Replicas of Husayn’s tomb, called Taziya or Alam, are built and carried in processions or displayed in community centers and homes.
Acts of charity: Many Shia Muslims choose to perform acts of charity during Muharram, such as distributing food and water to the poor or organizing communal meals, in remembrance of the sufferings of Husayn and his family.
It is important to note that the practices and rituals associated with the commemoration of Husayn’s martyrdom can vary significantly across different cultures, regions, and communities within the Shia Muslim world.
In Islam—God Is Supreme, Not Jesus
Muhammad and the early Muslims viewed Judaism and Christianity with a measure of respect, as they considered them to be “People of the Book” (Ahl al-Kitab). This term refers to the followers of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths that had received divine revelations through their prophets in the form of scriptures, such as the Torah for Jews and the Bible for Christians.
The Quran, the holy book of Islam, acknowledges the revelations given to the earlier prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, and sees Islam as the continuation and final completion of the same monotheistic tradition. As a result, there are many similarities between the three Abrahamic faiths, including shared moral values, beliefs in the same God, and several common narratives.
However, the Quran also points out what Muslims believe to be deviations and corruptions that took place in Judaism and Christianity over time. For example, Muslims reject the notion of the Trinity in Christianity and emphasize that Jesus should be considered a prophet rather than the son of God. Additionally, Muslims believe that the original messages of the earlier prophets were distorted or altered, and the Quran was revealed as the final, uncorrupted message from God.
During Muhammad’s time, there were instances of both conflict and cooperation between Muslims and the People of the Book. In some cases, the Prophet Muhammad formed treaties and alliances with Jewish and Christian tribes, emphasizing mutual respect and coexistence. However, there were also instances of conflict, often due to political or tribal disputes rather than purely religious reasons.
Under Islamic rule, Jews and Christians were generally allowed to practice their faiths and maintain their religious institutions. They were considered dhimmis, non-Muslim subjects living under Muslim rule, and were granted a degree of protection and autonomy in exchange for paying a tax called jizya. While the status and treatment of the People of the Book varied across different Islamic societies and historical periods, the general attitude of early Muslims towards Judaism and Christianity was one of respect, albeit with some theological disagreements and occasional conflicts.
There are several parallel expressions and themes found in both the Quran and the Bible, as they share a common Abrahamic heritage. While the two scriptures differ in some beliefs and narratives, they also contain many similar stories, characters, and teachings. Some examples of these parallel expressions include:
- Creation: Both the Quran and the Bible describe God as the Creator of the universe and everything in it. They both mention the creation of the heavens and the earth, the creation of Adam and Eve, and their subsequent fall from grace due to disobedience.
Quran (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:30-39) and Bible (Genesis 1-3)
- Prophets: Many of the same prophets and important figures are mentioned in both scriptures, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and David. The stories of these prophets often share similar themes, such as divine guidance, tests of faith, and the importance of obedience to God.
Quran (Surah Sad 38:43-44) and Bible (Job 42:10-17)
- Ten Commandments: The Quran and the Bible both emphasize the importance of moral and ethical guidance for humanity. The Ten Commandments in the Bible, for instance, have parallels in the Quran, such as the prohibition of murder, theft, adultery, and bearing false witness.
Quran (Surah Al-Isra 17:22-39) and Bible (Exodus 20:1-17)
- Virgin Birth of Jesus: The Quran and the Bible both affirm the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Although the Quran does not consider Jesus to be the Son of God or divine, it recognizes him as a prophet and messenger of God who was born to the Virgin Mary.
Quran (Surah Maryam 19:16-22) and Bible (Luke 1:26-38)
- The Golden Rule: Both the Quran and the Bible teach the principle of treating others as one would like to be treated. While the wording is different, the underlying message of empathy and compassion towards others is similar.
Quran (Surah An-Nisa 4:36) and Bible (Matthew 7:12)
These parallel expressions illustrate the shared Abrahamic heritage of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Despite their differences, the Quran and the Bible share many common themes and stories that reflect a mutual respect for moral values, divine guidance, and the importance of faith.
Muslims reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which asserts that God is one in three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Muslims view this doctrine as a form of polytheism or shirk, which goes against the core Islamic belief in the oneness and unity of God (tawhid).
The Quran emphasizes the concept of tawhid as the foundation of Islamic belief, stating that there is no god but God (Allah) and warning against associating any partners or intermediaries with Him. Muslims believe that the doctrine of the Trinity contradicts this principle and amounts to assigning divine attributes to human beings (Jesus and the Holy Spirit), thereby compromising the absolute transcendence and unity of God.
However, while Muslims reject the concept of the Trinity, they honor and respect Jesus as a prophet of God, born of the Virgin Mary and endowed with miraculous powers, including healing the sick and raising the dead. Muslims view Jesus as one of the most prominent prophets in Islam, along with other prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad.
In summary, Muslims reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as it conflicts with the fundamental Islamic belief in the oneness and unity of God. However, Muslims hold Jesus in high regard as a prophet of God and recognize his importance in both Islamic and Christian traditions.
Soul, Resurrection, Paradise, and Hellfire
- The soul: The Quran teaches that each human being has an individual soul (nafs) created by God. The soul is the essence of a person’s being and is responsible for their thoughts, feelings, and actions. The Quran also states that the soul is immortal and will continue to exist after death, either in a state of bliss or torment, depending on one’s deeds in life.
Quran (Surah Al-Isra 17:85) “And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about the soul. Say, “The soul is of the affair of my Lord. And mankind have not been given of knowledge except a little.”
- The resurrection: The Quran teaches that there will be a Day of Judgment when all human beings will be resurrected and held accountable for their deeds. This day will be a time of reckoning and judgment, when people will be judged according to their faith, deeds, and intentions.
Quran (Surah Al-Ma’arij 70:26-28) “Those who disbelieve in the Hereafter have prepared for them a painful punishment. And man supplicates for evil as he supplicates for good, and man is ever hasty.”
- The afterlife: The Quran describes the afterlife as consisting of two possible outcomes: paradise (Jannah) or hellfire (Jahannam). Paradise is a place of eternal bliss and reward, where believers will be reunited with loved ones and enjoy the company of God. Hellfire is a place of eternal punishment and torment, reserved for those who reject faith and engage in sinful behavior.
Quran (Surah Al-Mu’minun 23:102-103) “Then those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful. But those whose scales are light, they are the ones who have lost their souls, in Hell abiding eternally.”
In summary, the Quran teaches that the soul is a divine creation of God that is responsible for one’s thoughts and actions in life. It also teaches that there will be a Day of Judgment when all human beings will be resurrected and held accountable for their deeds, and that the afterlife consists of either paradise or hellfire.
The Quran speaks extensively about the concept of hellfire (Jahannam), which is described as a place of punishment and torment for those who reject faith and engage in sinful behavior. Here are some key points about hell as described in the Quran:
- Hellfire is real: The Quran emphasizes that hellfire is a real place, created by God as a punishment for those who disobey His commands and reject His guidance.
Quran (Surah At-Tawbah 9:81) “Those who were left behind rejoiced in their staying [at home] after [the departure of] the Messenger of Allah and disliked to strive with their wealth and their lives in the cause of Allah and said, ‘Do not go forth in the heat.’ Say, ‘The fire of Hell is more intense in heat,’ if they would but understand.”
- Hellfire is eternal: The Quran teaches that hellfire is a place of eternal punishment, where sinners will remain forever.
Quran (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:162) “But those who have earned [blame for] evil doings – the recompense of an evil deed is its equivalent, and humiliation will cover them. They will have from Allah no protector. It will be as if their faces are covered with pieces of the night – so dark [are they]. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.”
- Hellfire is a place of various punishments: The Quran describes hellfire as a place of different levels and types of punishment, depending on the nature and severity of one’s sins. The punishments in hellfire include fire, boiling water, scorching winds, and other forms of torture.
Quran (Surah Al-Hajj 22:19-22) “These are two adversaries who have disputed over their Lord. But those who disbelieved will have cut out for them garments of fire. Poured upon their heads will be scalding water. By which is melted that within their bellies and [their] skins. And for [striking] them are maces of iron.”
In summary, the Quran describes hellfire as a real and eternal place of punishment for those who reject faith and engage in sinful behavior. It is a place of various types of punishment, including fire, boiling water, and other forms of torture.
According to the Quran, the righteous are promised various rewards in the afterlife, including the following:
- Paradise (Jannah): The Quran describes paradise as a place of eternal bliss and reward, reserved for those who believe in God and perform good deeds. In paradise, believers will be reunited with loved ones and enjoy the company of God.
Quran (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:82) “Those who believe and do righteous deeds – those are the companions of Paradise; they will abide therein eternally.”
- Forgiveness and Mercy: The Quran emphasizes that God is merciful and forgiving to those who repent and turn to Him in sincerity. Those who seek God’s forgiveness and strive to do good deeds will be rewarded with His mercy and grace.
Quran (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:160) “Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”
- Proximity to God: The Quran teaches that the righteous will be close to God in the afterlife, enjoying His company and basking in His glory.
Quran (Surah Al-Waqi’ah 56:88-89) “And you will be [sorted into] three categories. So those on the right – how fortunate are those on the right!”
- Immortality: The Quran teaches that the righteous will be granted eternal life in paradise, free from the pain and suffering of the earthly life.
Quran (Surah Al-Insan 76:11) “And they will be given to drink a cup [of wine] whose mixture is of ginger.”
In summary, the Quran promises the righteous various rewards in the afterlife, including paradise, forgiveness and mercy from God, proximity to Him, and immortality. These rewards are reserved for those who believe in God, perform good deeds, and strive to live a righteous life.
Monogamy or Polygamy?
The Quran permits polygamy under certain conditions, while the Bible discourages or forbids it. Here are some key points about polygamy as described in the Quran:
- Permission to marry up to four wives: The Quran permits a man to have up to four wives at the same time, provided that he can treat them fairly and justly.
Quran (Surah An-Nisa 4:3) “And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].”
- Conditions for polygamy: The Quran requires that a man who wishes to have multiple wives must be able to treat them fairly and justly, both emotionally and financially. If he cannot do so, he should marry only one wife.
Quran (Surah An-Nisa 4:129) “You will never be able to be equal between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah – then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.”
- Polygamy as an exception, not the norm: The Quran presents polygamy as a solution for certain social and familial problems, such as caring for widows and orphans, and not as a preferred or recommended lifestyle.
Quran (Surah An-Nisa 4:129) “And you will never be able to be equal between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah – then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful.”
In contrast, the Bible generally discourages or forbids polygamy among Christians. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:2 teaches that each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband, while 1 Timothy 3:2 and 12 require church leaders to be “the husband of one wife.” These verses suggest that monogamy is the preferred and expected form of marriage among Christians.
In summary, the Quran permits polygamy under certain conditions, while the Bible discourages or forbids it in favor of monogamy.
Mut’ah, also known as temporary marriage, is a controversial practice in Shia Islam where a man and a woman enter into a temporary contractual marriage for a specified period of time. The duration of the marriage and the dowry to be paid by the man are agreed upon beforehand. At the end of the specified period, the marriage is considered to be automatically dissolved without any requirement of divorce.
The practice of mut’ah is not accepted by Sunni Muslims and is considered by many to be a form of prostitution or adultery, as it involves the exchange of money for sexual services. However, Shia Muslims believe that it is a legitimate form of marriage that provides a temporary solution for certain social and personal issues, such as the inability to commit to a long-term marriage, traveling, or fulfilling sexual desires in a permissible way.
The practice of mut’ah has been a topic of controversy and debate within the Muslim community for centuries, with some scholars and religious authorities accepting it and others rejecting it as being against Islamic principles. Today, the practice is mostly confined to certain Shia communities and is not widely practiced or accepted by the majority of Muslims.
Islām and Daily Life
The Five Pillars of Islam are the basic acts of worship that are considered mandatory for all Muslims who are able to perform them. They are:
Shahada: The declaration of faith in one God and in the prophethood of Muhammad. The Shahada is considered the most important pillar of Islam and is recited during the daily prayers and on other occasions.
Salah: The performance of the five daily prayers, which are mandatory for all Muslims who have reached the age of puberty and are physically and mentally able to perform them.
Zakat: The giving of a portion of one’s wealth to the poor and needy. Zakat is considered a form of worship and purification of wealth, and is mandatory for all Muslims who possess a certain amount of wealth.
Sawm: The observance of fasting during the month of Ramadan, which involves abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs from dawn until sunset. Fasting is considered a means of spiritual purification and self-discipline.
Hajj: The pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime, for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. The Hajj is considered a major religious obligation and a means of spiritual renewal and unity among Muslims.
In addition to the Five Pillars of Islam, there are also Six Articles of Faith that summarize the beliefs of Muslims:
Belief in God (Allah) as the one and only God and in His absolute unity and sovereignty.
Belief in the angels, who are created beings that serve God and carry out His commands.
Belief in the prophets and messengers, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, who were sent by God to guide humanity and convey His message.
Belief in the holy books, including the Quran, Torah, Psalms, and Gospel, which are considered as revelations from God to His messengers.
Belief in the Day of Judgment, when all human beings will be held accountable for their deeds and rewarded or punished accordingly.
Belief in predestination, that all things are ultimately determined by God’s will and that human beings have free will within the limits set by God.
These articles of faith are considered essential components of Islamic belief and form the basis of Muslim theology.
A mosque is a place of worship and community gathering for Muslims. It is a place where Muslims come together to pray, study, and participate in community events. The Arabic word for mosque is “masjid.”
Mosques are usually designed to be simple and functional, with an emphasis on cleanliness and purity. They typically include a large open space for prayer, known as the prayer hall or musalla, as well as other areas for ablutions (washing before prayer), studying, and socializing. In some mosques, there may be separate areas for men and women.
The most important feature of the mosque is the mihrab, a niche in the wall that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, toward which Muslims face during prayer. The pulpit, or minbar, is another important feature, from which the imam (prayer leader) delivers the Friday sermon.
Muslims typically gather in the mosque five times a day for the mandatory prayers, although additional prayers may also be offered. The mosque may also be used for other religious activities, such as the recitation of the Quran, religious classes, and Islamic festivals.
In addition to its religious function, the mosque also serves as a center of community life. It is a place where Muslims can meet and socialize, exchange news and information, and participate in community events and charitable activities. The mosque may also provide services such as counseling, education, and outreach to the wider community.
Conflict With and Within Christendom
In the past, the relationship between Islam and Catholicism has been complex and varied. At times, there were peaceful exchanges and cooperation, while at other times, there were conflicts and tensions. Here are a few examples:
Early Contacts: In the early days of Islam, there were peaceful interactions between Muslims and Christians, and even some Christian communities welcomed Muslim rule as a relief from the oppression of their previous rulers. Some early Muslim scholars were influenced by Christian theology and thought, and Islamic art and architecture were influenced by Christian styles.
The Crusades: The Crusades, which were a series of military campaigns launched by Catholic Europe against Muslim rule in the Holy Land, resulted in significant conflicts between Islam and Catholicism. While the Crusades were ultimately unsuccessful in achieving their objectives, they left a lasting legacy of distrust and hostility between Muslims and Christians.
Spanish Inquisition: In the late 15th century, the Catholic monarchs of Spain initiated the Spanish Inquisition, which was aimed at purging the country of Muslim and Jewish influence. This led to the forced conversion or expulsion of Muslims and Jews, and marked a low point in the relationship between Islam and Catholicism.
Ottoman Empire: During the Ottoman Empire, which was a Muslim state that existed from the late 13th century until the early 20th century, there were generally peaceful relations between Muslims and Catholics. The Ottomans granted religious tolerance to Christians and Jews, and the empire was home to many Catholic communities.
Today, while there are still some tensions between Islam and Catholicism, there are also efforts towards dialogue and cooperation between the two religions. In recent years, Pope Francis has made efforts to reach out to the Muslim community, emphasizing the need for mutual respect and understanding.
During the expansion of Islam, the Catholic Church was going through a period of significant change and development. Some of the key developments during this time include:
The Rise of the Papacy: In the early centuries of Christianity, the church was governed by a council of bishops, but over time the bishop of Rome, or the Pope, began to assert more authority and control over the church. By the 6th century, the Pope had become the recognized head of the Catholic Church, and his authority continued to grow over the centuries.
The Great Schism: In 1054, the Catholic Church split into two major branches, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. This split was the result of theological and cultural differences between the Western and Eastern parts of the church, as well as political tensions between Rome and Constantinople.
The Crusades: In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Catholic Church launched a series of military campaigns known as the Crusades, aimed at retaking the Holy Land from Muslim control. The Crusades had a significant impact on European society and culture, and led to increased interaction and conflict between Christianity and Islam.
The Renaissance: In the 14th and 15th centuries, Europe experienced a period of cultural and intellectual revival known as the Renaissance. This period saw a renewed interest in classical learning and humanism, and had a significant impact on the arts, sciences, and politics.
The Reformation: In the 16th century, the Catholic Church faced a major challenge to its authority and unity in the form of the Protestant Reformation. Led by figures such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, the Reformation rejected many of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church and led to the formation of numerous Protestant denominations.
Overall, the period of Islamic expansion coincided with a time of significant change and development in the Catholic Church, as it grappled with issues of authority, theology, and cultural change.