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One of the important differences between the Qur'anic and biblical stories of Abraham's sacrifice of his son, for example, is that the Qur'an suggests this son is Ishmael, from whom Arabs are descended, and not Isaac, from whom the tribes of Israel are descended. A more substantial difference relates to the Islamic story of Jesus, who according to the Qur'an is a mortal, human prophet.

The Islamic faith categorically rejects the idea that God was ever born, as opposed to Christian belief that Jesus was born the son of God. Islam also rejects the idea that God shared his divinity with any other being. Another important idea elaborated in the Qur'an and later Islamic doctrine, in conscious distinction from the biblical accounts, is that although prophets are capable of human errors, God protects them from committing sins and also protects them from excruciating suffering or humiliating experiences.

God would not abandon his prophets in times of distress. Therefore, the Qur'an maintains that God interfered to save Jesus from torture and death by lifting him to heaven and replacing him on the cross with someone who looked like him. The Preservation of the Qur'an From its inception during the lifetime of Muhammad, Islamic doctrine gave priority to the preservation of the scripture.

As a result, one of the earliest expressions of religiosity focused on studying, reciting, and writing down the scripture. When Muhammad died, the preservation of the scripture was also a conscious concern among his companions and successors. Early historical sources refer to immediate efforts undertaken by successors of Muhammad to collect the chapters of the Qur'an, which were written down by his various companions. Within about two decades after the death of the Prophet, various existing copies of parts of the Qur'an were collected and collated by a committee of close companions of Muhammad who were known for their knowledge of the Qur'an.

This committee was commissioned by the third successor of Muhammad, Uthman ibn Affan, and the committee's systematic effort is the basis of the codified official text currently used by Muslims. The thematic randomness of the verses and chapters of the Qur'an in its current format clearly illustrates that the early companions who produced this official version of the Qur'an were primarily concerned with establishing the text and made no attempt to edit its contents in order to produce a coherent narrative.

Because of this, scholars agree that the Uthmanic text genuinely reflects, both in its content and form, the message that Muhammad preached. Translations of the Qur'an Despite the consensus among Muslims on the authenticity of the current format of the Qur'an, they agree that many words in the Qur'an can be interpreted in equally valid ways. The Arabic language, like other Semitic languages, has consonants and vowels, and the meanings of words are derived from both. For several centuries, the written texts of the Qur'an showed only the consonants, without indicating the vowel marks.

As a result, there are different ways in which many words can be vocalized, with different meanings; this allows for various legitimate interpretations of the Qur'an. One of the disciplines for the study of the Qur'an is exclusively dedicated to the study and documentation of acceptable and unacceptable variant readings.

According to Muslim scholars, there are some 40 possible readings of the Qur'an, of which 7 to 14 are legitimate. The legitimacy of different possible interpretations of the scripture is supported by a statement in the Qur'an that describes verses as either unambiguously clear, or as ambiguous because they carry a meaning known only to God. Therefore, with the exception of a small number of unquestionably clear injunctions, the meaning of the Qur'anic verses is not always final. The Qur'an is the primary source of authority, law and theology, and identity in Islam.

However, in many cases it is either completely silent on important Islamic beliefs and practices or it gives only general guidelines without elaboration. This is true of some of the most basic religious obligations such as prayer, which the Qur'an prescribes without details.

Details elaborating on the teachings and laws of the Qur'an are derived from the sunna , the example set by Muhammad's life, and in particular from hadith , the body of sayings and practices attributed to him. Hadith As the second source of authority in Islam, hadith complements the Qur'an and provides the most extensive source for Islamic law. The ultimate understanding of the Qur'an depends upon the context of Muhammad's life and the ways in which he demonstrated and applied its message. There is evidence that Muhammad's sayings and practices were invoked by his companions to answer questions about Islam.

Unlike the Qur'an, however, in the early periods hadith was circulated orally, and no attempts were made to establish or codify it into law until the beginnings of the second century of Islam. Due to the late beginnings of the efforts to collect and compile reports about Muhammad's traditions, Muslim scholars recognize that the authenticity of these reports cannot be taken for granted. Many spurious reports were often deliberately put into circulation to support claims of various political and sectarian groups. Other additions resulted from the natural tendency to confuse common practices that predated Islam with new Islamic laws and norms.

The fading of memory, the dispersion of the companions of the prophet over vast territories, and the passing away of the last of these companions also contributed to the problem of authenticating Muhammad's traditions. To establish the authority of hadith on firmer ground, Muslim scholars developed several disciplines dedicated to examining and verifying the relative authenticity of various reports attributed to the Prophet.

The contents of sayings, as well as the reliability of those who transmitted them, were carefully scrutinized, and the hadiths were classified into groups granted varying degrees of authenticity, ranging from the sound and reliable to the fabricated and rejected. This systematic effort culminated in the 9th century, some years after the death of Muhammad, in the compilation of several collections of sound sahih hadith.

Of six such highly reliable compilations, two in particular are considered by Muslims to be the most important sources of Islamic authority after the Qur'an.

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Historically, the compilation of hadith went hand in hand with the elaboration of Islamic law and the parallel development of Islamic legal theory. Initially, neither the law nor its procedures were systematically elaborated, although there can be little doubt that both the Qur'an and hadith were regularly invoked and used to derive laws that governed the lives of Muslims. By the beginning of the 9th century, the use of these two sources was systematized and a complex legal theory was introduced. In its developed form, this theory maintains that there are four sources from which Islamic law is derived.

These are, in order of priority, the Qur'an, the hadith, the consensus of the community ijma , and legal analogy qiyas. Functional only when there is no explicit ruling in the Qur'an or hadith, consensus confers legitimacy retrospectively on historical practices of the Muslim community. In legal analogy, the causes for existing Islamic rulings are applied by analogy to similar cases for which there are no explicit statements in either the Qur'an or hadith.

Using these methods, a vast and diverse body of Islamic law was laid out covering various aspects of personal and public life. In addition to the laws pertaining to the five pillars, Islamic law covers areas such as dietary laws, purity laws, marriage and inheritance laws, commercial transaction laws, laws pertaining to relationships with non-Muslims, and criminal law. Jews and Christians living under Muslim rule are subject to the public laws of Islam, but they have traditionally been permitted to run their internal affairs on the basis of their own religious laws.

During Muhammad's lifetime, two attempts were made to expand northward into the Byzantine domain and its capital in Constantinople, and within ten years after Muhammad's death, Muslims had defeated the Sassanids of Persia and the Byzantines, and had conquered most of Persia , Iraq , Syria , and Egypt.

An Introduction to “Enjoining Right and Forbidding Wrong”

For the next several centuries intellectuals and cultural figures flourished in the vast, multinational Islamic world, and Islam became the most influential civilization in the world. Their rule, together with that of Muhammad, is considered by most Muslims to constitute the ideal Islamic age.

The administration of the eastern and western Islamic provinces was coordinated from these two sites. After the third caliph, Uthman, was murdered by a group of Muslim mutineers, the fourth caliph, Ali, succeeded to power and moved his capital to Kufah in Iraq. From this capital he fought the different opposition factions. Among the leaders of these factions, Mu'awiyah, governor of the rich province of Syria and a relative of Uthman, outlasted Ali. After Ali's death in , Mu'awiyah founded the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled a united Islamic empire for almost a century.

Under the Umayyads the Islamic capital was shifted to Damascus. Although they began as a political group, the Shia, or Shia Muslims , became a sect with specific theological and doctrinal positions. A key event in the history of the Shia and for all Muslims was the tragic death at Karbala of Husayn, the son of Ali, and Muhammad's daughter Fatima.

Husayn had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the rule of the Umayyad Yazid, the son of Mu'awiyah, and was on his way to rally support for his cause in Kufah. His plans were exposed before he arrived at Kufah, however, and a large Umayyad army met him and 70 members of his family at the outskirts of the city. The Umayyads offered Husayn the choice between a humiliating submission to their rule or a battle and definite death. Husayn chose to fight, and he and all the members of his family with him were massacred. The incident was of little significance from a military point of view, but it was a defining moment in the history of Shia Islam.

Although not all Muslims are Shia Muslims, all Muslims view Husayn as a martyr for living up to his principles even to death. They believe that legitimate Islamic leadership is vested in a line of descent starting with Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, through Ali's two sons, Hasan and Husayn, and then through Husayn's descendants. These were the first 12 imams, or leaders of the Shia Muslim community. The Shia Muslims believe that Muhammad designated all 12 successors by name and that they inherited a special knowledge of the true meaning of the scripture that was passed from father to son, beginning with the Prophet himself.

This family, along with its loyal followers and representatives, has political authority over the Shia Muslims. Sunni Islam Sunni Islam was defined during the early Abbasid period beginning in AD , and it included the followers of four legal schools the Malikis, Hanafis, Shafi'is, and Hanbalis.

In contrast to the Shias, the Sunnis believed that leadership was in the hands of the Muslim community at large. The consensus of historical communities, not the decisions of political authorities, led to the establishment of the four legal schools. In theory a Muslim could choose whichever school of Islamic thought he or she wished to follow and could change this choice at will. The respect and popularity that the religious scholars enjoyed made them the effective brokers of social power and pitched them against the political authorities.

After the first four caliphs, the religious and political authorities in Islam were never again united under one institution. Their usual coexistence was underscored by a mutual recognition of their separate spheres of influence and their respective duties and responsibilities. Often, however, the two powers collided, and invariably any social opposition to the elite political order had religious undertones.

Sufism An ascetic tradition called Sufism , which emphasized personal piety and mysticism and contributed to Islamic cultural diversity, further enriched the Muslim heritage. In contrast to the legal-minded approach to Islam, Sufis emphasized spirituality as a way of knowing God.

During the 9th century Sufism developed into a mystical doctrine, with direct communion or even ecstatic union with God as its ideal. One of the vehicles for this experience is the ecstatic dance of the Sufi whirling dervishes. Eventually Sufism later developed into a complex popular movement and was institutionalized in the form of collective, hierarchical Sufi orders.

The Sufi emphasis on intuitive knowledge and the love of God increased the appeal of Islam to the masses and largely made possible its extension beyond the Middle East into Africa and East Asia. Sufi brotherhoods multiplied rapidly from the Atlantic coast to Indonesia; some spanned the entire Islamic world, others were regional or local. The tremendous success of these fraternities was due primarily to the abilities and humanitarianism of their founders and leaders, who not only ministered to the spiritual needs of their followers but also helped the poor of all faiths and frequently served as intermediaries between the people and the government.

The Abbasid Dynasty Islamic culture started to evolve under the Umayyads, but it grew to maturity in the first century of the Abbasid dynasty. The Abbasids came to power in AD when armies originating from Khorasan, in eastern Iran, finally defeated the Umayyad armies. The Islamic capital shifted to Iraq under the Abbasids. After trying several other cities, the Abbasid rulers chose a site on the Tigris River on which the City of Peace, Baghdad, was built in Baghdad remained the political and cultural capital of the Islamic world from that time until the Mongol invasion in , and for a good part of this time it was the center of one of the great flowerings of human knowledge.

The Abbasids were Arabs descended from the Prophet's uncle, but the movement they led involved Arabs and non-Arabs, including many Persians, who had converted to Islam and who demanded the equality to which they were entitled in Islam. The Abbasids distributed power more evenly among the different ethnicities and regions than the Umayyads had, and they demonstrated the universal inclusiveness of Islamic civilization. They achieved this by incorporating the fruits of other civilizations into Islamic political and intellectual culture and by marking these external influences with a distinctly Islamic imprint.

As time passed, the central control of the Abbasids was reduced and independent local leaders and groups took over in the remote provinces. Eventually the rival Shia Fatimid caliphate was established in Egypt, and the Baghdad caliphate came under the control of expanding provincial dynasties. The office of the caliph was nonetheless maintained as a symbol of the unity of Islam, and several later Abbasid caliphs tried to revive the power of the office. In , however, a grandson of Mongol ruler Genghis Khan named Hulagu, encouraged by the kings of Europe, led his armies across the Zagros Mountains of Iran and destroyed Baghdad.

According to some estimates, about 1 million Muslims were murdered in this massacre. In and Hulagu's forces marched into Syria, but they were finally defeated by the Mamluks of Egypt, who had taken over the Nile Valley. For the next two centuries, centers of Islamic power shifted to Egypt and Syria and to a number of local dynasties. Iraq became an impoverished, depopulated province where the people took up a transitory nomadic lifestyle. Iraq did not finally experience a major cultural and political revival until the 20th century.

The Presence of Islam in the 20th Century Many of the accepted Islamic religious and cultural traditions were established between the 7th and 10th centuries, during the classical period of Islamic history. However, Islamic culture continued to develop as Islam spread into new regions and mixed with diverse cultures. The 19th-century occupation of most Muslim lands by European colonial powers was a main turning point in Muslim history. The traditional Islamic systems of governance, social organization, and education were undermined by the colonial regimes.

Nation-states with independent governments divided the Muslim community along new ethnic and political lines. Today about 1 billion Muslims are spread over 40 Muslim countries and 5 continents, and their numbers are growing at a rate unmatched by that of any other religion in the world.

Despite the political and ethnic diversity of Muslim countries, a core set of beliefs continues to provide the basis for a shared identity and affinity among Muslims. Yet the radically different political, economic, and cultural conditions under which contemporary Muslims live make it difficult to identify what constitutes standard Islamic practice in the modern world. Many contemporary Muslims draw on the historical legacy of Islam as they confront the challenges of modern life. Islam is a significant, growing, and dynamic presence in the world.

Its modern expressions are as diverse as the world in which Muslims live. The Quran on Human Embryonic Development :. The Quran on the Origin of the Universe. What Does Islam Say about Terrorism? Life after death, the Day of Judgment, Paradise, and Hellfire. What is the Purpose of Life?

Jesus in Islam. Human Rights In Islam. Following the Messenger of Allah is a must. Sunna the second book that has to follow:. Women: polygamy. Al-Islam "Our objectives are to digitise and present on the Internet quality Islamic resources, related to the history, law, practice, and society of the Islamic religion and the Muslim peoples with particular emphasis on Twelver Shia Islamic school of thought.

We would also like to invite everyone to spare a few moments of their life to read and think. Ar-Refai Islamic Website A well organized and extensive collection of general and academic resources. Darsh, chairman of the UK Shari'ah Council. Emam Reze A. The Foundation of Islam and Dialogue "Mission Statement To emphasize that Islam is based on principles such as affection, compassion, mercy, and tolerance and certainly not on violence, hostility, and terror; that all religions are based on these principles and therefore all conflicts of the past should be abandoned in order to initiate a warm dialogue and to free our world from the agony of war and conflict, carrying her into a peaceful and fortunate future.

Institute of Islamic Studies - London " It intends to facilitate academic debates and discussions on issues that are thought to be highly important to Iran, Middle East, Northern Africa, other Muslim Countries and the Muslim communities living in Europe and North America. It is rich in information, references, and bibliography. It has been reviewed and edited by many professors. It is simple to read, yet contains much scientific information. The Islam Page. Both practice and academic selections. Includes sections on Islamic movements, history, dictionaries, texts, women, Hajj, pictures, chat rooms, Islamic countries among others.

A wonderful Resource Produced by Ibrahim Shafi. PBS Online. Islamic Studies, Arabic, and Religion Web Page An important academic site that includes language aids, maps, art, music, history, texts, a glossary, sections on Sunni Islam, Sufism, and a lot more. Bunt, Dept. Although there is a fine line between the histories of Islamic thought and Muslim civilization, it is useful to treat the study of Islam, the faith, somewhat differently than history, politics and analysis of Muslim peoples. Cole, Dept. By Dr. Alan Godlas, University of Georgia.

Understanding Islam "This site epitomizes a movement. A movement to reform intellectual stagnation. This is an attempt to go back to the original sources of Islam -- the Qur'an and the Sunnah , in a time when blind acquiescence is in vogue In our pages you will find us working towards these objectives by explaining Islam from various aspects and by responding to criticisms and queries. This in fact is an academic effort targeted towards understanding of Islam and any abusive or emotional attitude in its response will not be a deterrence.

However, it would be appropriate to mention two additional features of the site. Firstly, the inclusion of our Urdu articles under the title of 'Ishraq'. Secondly, in the near future, rendering of different issues in the form of brief audio files. The Way to Truth Understanding Islamic Religion This well designed site includes a lengthy index of categories to choose from as well as selected readings. The site is especially useful for anyone wanting a thorough introduction to Islam.

Additional Sites of Interest. Adab Islami Literature of Islamic Writers. He had a large number of followers who were devoted to his movement. He was a genius and earned many different types of degrees and broke all previous records at the Punjab University in Pakistan, and at the Oxford and Cambridge Universities of England. Among self-governing tribal peoples, the marabout acts in the manner of a mufti, serving as an arbitrator, governing by advice. The advice carries weight because of the supernatural powers attributed to him.

It is accepted because he is unarmed and therefore powerless to side with one party against another. On this basis, his authority has nevertheless developed towards the acquisition of power in two main ways. The prestige of the marabout has readily attracted disciples, clients and wealth from gifts, including land. It has happened, for example in Morocco in the 17th century AD, that the accumulation of followers and possessions, built up over several generations of marabouts within the same family, gave the holy man more than mere influence. Taking advantage of the collapse of the Sa'did dynasty, he had become in effect a sultan, a man of power, who might have established a new Moroccan dynasty.

Influence enhanced by clienteles and wealth has been equally important in the face of a foreign enemy. In The Sanusi of Cyrenaica, 2 E. Evans-Pritchard gave a classic description of the way in which, under pressure first from the Turks and then from the Italians, the marabouts of the Sanusiyya first represented the tribesmen, then led their armed resistance, until the head of the order became the Amir of Cyrenaica and finally King of Libya. Further west, the shaykh Ma' al-'Aynayn provides a similar example from the Sahara. For one type of holy man, no shift in character was required to transform him into a man of power.

Since then it has passed into. In accordance with the belief and the prediction, numerous claimants have appeared over the centuries, without anything like the success of the two great prototypes. They have nevertheless kept the belief alive, so that down to the twentieth century there has existed in the mind if not in reality a religious figure characterised by the divine right to rule.

Arranged in this order, the four types I have in mind thus illustrate four different attitudes to the taking of power by holy men, ranging from a fundamental unwillingness to an intrinsic requirement. What is interesting is that the element of reluctance has never been entirely absent. It has shown itself, for example, in a strong 'John the Baptist' tradition of preparing the way for someone else. The Mahdi himself, 'Ubayd Allah, prepared the way for his son, the Qa'im, who seems to have been regarded as the first true Imam.

At the end of the life of the dynasty in Egypt, the last Fatimid rulers no longer claimed the rank of Imam, and once again were considered to hold their power in trust for the One who had for the moment withdrawn from the world. As can be seen from this last instance, the tradition of preparation overlaps a second, closely related tradition, that of delegation, whereby the last Fatimid Imam on earth may be assumed to have committed his power to lesser agents. In the twentieth century Idris, when he succeeded to the leadership of the Sanusiyya in , much preferred his religious duties to the role of statesman which he inherited from his brother.

When in 1 events finally forced him to accept the title of Amir of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, he withdrew into exile in Cairo, leaving others to continue the war against the Italians in his name.

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Where these two traditions, of preparation and of delegation, do in fact overlap, a third theme is in evidence, that of designation. It is always difficult to tell when an event has been recounted in conformity with a theme or legend, or when it has in fact been enacted in accordance with a prescribed theme. But it may be observed that in these instances the holy man has been invested with power, or with the right to power, simply in order that he may bestow it upon another who is the chief subject of the tale.

The result is a form of myth which exploits the ambiguous relationship of the holy man to power to provide a monarch with unambiguous credentials. The holy man may therefore take power, in principle to ensure that the Muslim community is governed by the Law. At the same time it would appear that he has remained oppressed by the sense of power as a sacred trust which no mortal can properly discharge.

This element of reluctance may account for the comparative rarity of the holy man in power. Men of religion have generally been prepared to recognise the right of a ruling dynasty to the throne. Their attempts to take power have usually occurred in moments of crisis, where the state is non-existent, where it has collapsed, or where its power is so tenuous in a particular area that a rival can take root and eventually supplant the existing rulers. Many such attempts have probably been the result of sudden inspiration, perhaps in conscious or unconscious imitation of some well-known example; they have frequently lacked, or lost, credibility, and most have failed, even though the most spectacular failure, that of Abu Yazid, came well within sight of success.

Those that have succeeded, on the other hand, notably the attempts of the Fatimids, the Almoravids and the Almohads, have been major historical events. In what ways can they be said to have affected the principle and the practice of the state in North Africa? The holy men in question were not revolutionary in the sense that they changed the kind of monarchy which had grown up in North Africa since the eighth century. Nor were they revolutionary in the sense that they used their power to overthrow the social order.

Their achievement was to continue an existing tradition of state-building, which they extended to include Morocco. In doing so, I suggest, they promoted rather than solved the paradox of power as an activity both sacred and profane. The typical contrast between the ideal and the actual which accounted for the ambivalence in attitude of the men of religion was still in evidence. Means and methods of the kind which filled the jurists with pious horror were used to uphold the symbols of divine justice and order.

The state became still more of a theatrical performance in which all manner of devices were employed to produce for all concerned the satisfying effect of government in accordance with the divine command. Modern governments have introduced a whole new range of techniques hitherto unknown to the Law in its traditional interpretations.

With the aid of these techniques, their authority and their activities have extended to embrace the whole of society in many new ways for equally novel purposes. These purposes have not always been inspired or justified by Islam in accordance with custom ; frequently, indeed, the intention has been anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic. The political circumstances of the holy man have consequently changed. Codification of the Law as it is applied in the courts has severely restricted the scope of the mufti. So has the extension of legislation and official regulation to every aspect of life.

By the same token, the means of taking power have greatly changed. The last of the great marabouts bloomed artificially in the exceptional conditions of the Protectorate in Morocco; there is now little scope for a holy man of this type to make himself independent in his own locality. Political activity must now be co-operative, constitutional, conspiratorial or revolutionary. Islam itself is obliged to contend with rival philosophies. There are, on the other hand, new possibilities. The greater capacity of modern government to plan and organise makes possible a new conception of the Islamic state and of its role in society far wider than before.

The colonial regime in the Maghrib, which established modern government in the region, required the men of religion to make an important choice. The situation was peculiarly relevant, since the regime was constitutionally predicated upon the separation of the various Muslim communities from the immigrant Europeans, and upon the subjection of these communities to European rule.

The men of religion were obliged either to accept or reject a state of affairs in which the natural order was overturned, and Muslims were ruled by non-Muslims. In the choice that they made, on the other hand, traditional attitudes of the kind described in the first part of the paper can still be detected. In accordance with the long habit of obedience to the sultan, however obnoxious, the great majority chose to accept, 7 on condition that some part at least of the domain traditionally reserved to the Holy Law was left intact.

In Morocco, Lyautey was able to win support by the ostentatious respect which he showed to the cult and its practitioners; in Tunisia the so-called Vieux Turbans protested against the disregard of the Law by the authorities in the affair of the Djellaz cemetery and the matter of the private habous. By and large, however, the mufti gave a favourable opinion ; the marabout complied.


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Those who were more actively opposed to the whole principle of the colonial regime were more modern in their approach. They were led by adherents of the Salafiyya, the movement for Islamic reform, which was equally critical of traditional Muslim attitudes.

If the pilgrimage rituals are performed at any time of the year other than the designated time for hajj, the ritual is called umra.


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  • Although umra is considered a virtuous act, it does not absolve the person from the obligation of hajj. Most pilgrims perform one or more umras before or after the hajj proper. Many Muslims pilgrims also travel to Jerusalem, which is the third sacred city for Islam. Muslims believe Muhammad was carried to Jerusalem in a vision. The Dome of the Rock houses the stone from which Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven and Allah in a night journey. Some Muslims perform pilgrimages to the Dome of the Rock and to other shrines where revered religious figures are buried.

    Some of these shrines are important primarily to the local populations, whereas others draw Muslims from distant regions. There are no standard prescribed rituals for these pilgrimages nor are they treated as obligatory acts of worship. Jihad Many polemical descriptions of Islam have focused critically on the Islamic concept of jihad. Jihad, considered the sixth pillar of Islam by some Muslims, has been understood to mean holy war in these descriptions. However, the word in Arabic means "to struggle" or "to exhaust one's effort," in order to please God.

    Within the faith of Islam, this effort can be individual or collective, and it can apply to leading a virtuous life; helping other Muslims through charity, education, or other means; preaching Islam; and fighting to defend Muslims. Western media of the 20th century continue to focus on the militant interpretations of the concept of jihad, whereas most Muslims do not. The Mosque Of all Muslim institutions, the mosque is the most important place for the public expression of Islamic religiosity and communal identity. A mosque is a physical manifestation of the public presence of Muslims and serves as a point of convergence for Islamic social and intellectual activity.

    The Arabic word for mosque is masjid , which means a "place of prostration" before God. Mosques are mentioned in the Qur'an, and the earliest model for a mosque was the residence that the prophet Muhammad built when he moved to Medina. This first mosque was an enclosure marked as a special place of worship. A small part of the mosque was sectioned off to house the Prophet and his family, and the remaining space was left open as a place for Muslims to pray.

    Although later mosques developed into complex architectural structures built in diverse styles, the one requirement of all mosques continues to be based on the earliest model: a designation of space for the purpose of prayer. The early mosque served an equally important function that thousands of mosques continue to serve today: The mosque is a place where Muslims foster a collective identity through prayer and attend to their common concerns.

    A Muslim city typically has numerous mosques but only a few congregational or Friday mosques where the obligatory Friday noon prayers are performed. As Islam spread outside Arabia, Islamic architecture was influenced by the various architectural styles of the conquered lands, and both simple and monumental mosques of striking beauty were built in cities of the Islamic world. Despite the borrowings from diverse civilizations, certain common features became characteristic of most mosques and thus serve to distinguish them from the sacred spaces of other religions and cultures.

    The most important characteristic of a mosque is that it should be oriented toward Mecca. One or more niches mihrab on one of the walls of the mosque often serve as indicators of this direction, called qibla. When the imam leads the prayers he usually faces one of these niches. Next to the mihrab, a pulpit minbar is often provided for the delivery of sermons khutba.

    Many mosques also have separate areas for performing ritual ablution, and separate sections for women. In many mosques, several rows of columns are used to mark the way for worshipers to line up behind the imam during prayer. Mosques usually have one or more minarets, or towers, from which the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer five times a day. In addition to their functional use, these minarets have become distinguishing elements of mosque architecture.

    In large mosques in particular, minarets have the effect of tempering the enormity and magnificence of the domed structure by conveying to the viewer the elevation of divinity above the pretensions of human grandeur. Most mosques also have a dome, and the line connecting the center of the dome to the niche is supposed to point toward Mecca. Throughout the world there are many mosques that are not actually directed toward Mecca, but such misalignment is due to inaccurate methods for determining the direction of Mecca and does not imply a disregard for this requirement.

    The mosque is not a self-contained unit, nor is it a symbolic microcosm of the universe, as are some places of worship in other religions. Rather, the mosque is always built as a connection with Mecca, the ultimate home of Muslim worship that metaphorically forms the center of all mosques. The God of Islam Islamic doctrine emphasizes the oneness, uniqueness, transcendence, and utter otherness of God. As such, God is different from anything that the human senses can perceive or that the human mind can imagine.

    The God of Islam encompasses all creation, but no mind can fully encompass or grasp him. God, however, is manifest through his creation, and through reflection humankind can easily discern the wisdom and power behind the creation of the world. Because of God's oneness and his transcendence of human experience and knowledge, Islamic law forbids representations of God, the prophets, and among some Muslims, human beings in general.

    As a result of this belief, Islamic art came to excel in a variety of decorative patterns including leaf shapes later stylized as arabesques, and Arabic script. In modern times the restrictions on creating images of people have been considerably relaxed, but any attitude of worship toward images and icons is strictly forbidden in Islam.

    Islamic Monotheism Before Islam, many Arabs believed in a supreme, all-powerful God responsible for creation; however, they also believed in lesser gods. With the coming of Islam, the Arab concept of God was purged of elements of polytheism and turned into a qualitatively different concept of uncompromising belief in one God, or monotheism. The status of the Arabs before Islam is considered to be one of ignorance of God, or jahiliyya , and Islamic sources insist that Islam brought about a complete break from Arab concepts of God and a radical transformation in Arab belief about God.

    Islamic doctrine maintains that Islam's monotheism continues that of Judaism and Christianity. However, the Qur'an and Islamic traditions stress the distinctions between Islam and later forms of the two other monotheistic religions. According to Islamic belief, both Moses and Jesus, like others before them, were prophets commissioned by God to preach the essential and eternal message of Islam. The legal codes introduced by these two prophets, the Ten Commandments and the Christian Gospels, took different forms than the Qur'an, but according to Islamic understanding, at the level of doctrine they are the same teaching.

    The recipients of scriptures are called the people of the book or the "scriptured" people. Like the Jews and the Christians before them, the Muslims became scriptured when God revealed his word to them through a prophet: God revealed the Qur'an to the prophet Muhammad, commanding him to preach it to his people and later to all humanity.

    Although Muslims believe that the original messages of Judaism and Christianity were given by God, they also believe that Jews and Christians eventually distorted them. The self-perceived mission of Islam, therefore, has been to restore what Muslims believe is the original monotheistic teaching and to supplant the older legal codes of the Hebrew and Christian traditions with a newer Islamic code of law that corresponds to the evolving conditions of human societies.

    Thus, for example, Islamic traditions maintain that Jesus was a prophet whose revealed book was the Christian New Testament, and that later Christians distorted the original scripture and inserted into it the claim that Jesus was the son of God. Or to take another example, Muslims maintain that the strict laws communicated by Moses in the Hebrew Bible were appropriate for their time. Later, however, Jesus introduced a code of behavior that stressed spirituality rather than ritual and law. According to Muslim belief, God sent Muhammad with the last and perfect legal code that balances the spiritual teachings with the law, and thus supplants the Jewish and Christian codes.

    According to the teachings of Islam, the Islamic code, called Sharia , is the final code, one that will continue to address the needs of humanity in its most developed stages, for all time. The Qur'an mentions 28 pre-Islamic prophets and messengers, and Islamic traditions maintain that God has sent tens of thousands of prophets to various peoples since the beginning of creation.

    Some of the Qur'anic prophets are familiar from the Hebrew Bible, but others are not mentioned in the Bible and seem to be prophetic figures from pre-Islamic Arabia. For the Muslim then, Islamic history unfolds a divine scheme from the beginning of creation to the end of time. Creation itself is the realization of God's will in history. Humans are created to worship God, and human history is punctuated with prophets who guarantee that the world is never devoid of knowledge and proper worship of God.

    The sending of prophets is itself understood within Islam as an act of mercy. God, the creator and sustainer, never abandons his creations, always providing human beings with the guidance they need for their salvation in this world and a world to come after this one. God is just, and his justice requires informing people, through prophets, of how to act and what to believe before he holds them accountable for their actions and beliefs.

    However, once people receive the teachings of prophets and messengers, God's justice also means that he will punish those who do wrong or do not believe and will reward those who do right and do believe. Despite the primacy of justice as an essential attribute of God, Muslims believe that God's most fundamental attribute is mercy. Humanity's Relationship to God According to Islamic belief, in addition to sending prophets, God manifests his mercy in the dedication of all creation to the service of humankind. Islamic traditions maintain that God brought the world into being for the benefit of his creatures.

    His mercy toward humanity is further manifested in the privileged status God gave to humans. According to the Qur'an and later traditions, God appointed humankind as his vice regents caliphs on earth, thus entrusting them with the grave responsibility of fulfilling his scheme for creation. The Islamic concept of a privileged position for humanity departs from the early Jewish and Christian interpretations of the fall from Paradise that underlie the Christian doctrine of original sin.

    In the biblical account, Adam and Eve fall from Paradise as a result of disobeying God's prohibition, and all of humanity is cast out of Paradise as punishment. Christian theologians developed the doctrine that humankind is born with this sin of their first parents still on their souls, based upon this reading of the story. Christians believe that Jesus Christ came to redeem humans from this original sin so that humankind can return to God at the end of time. In contrast, the Qur'an maintains that after their initial disobedience, Adam and Eve repented and were forgiven by God.

    Consequently Muslims believe that the descent by Adam and Eve to earth from Paradise was not a fall, but an honor bestowed on them by God. Adam and his progeny were appointed as God's messengers and vice regents, and were entrusted by God with the guardianship of the earth. Angels The nature of humankind's relationship to God can also be seen clearly by comparing it with that of angels.

    According to Islamic tradition, angels were created from light. An angel is an immortal being that commits no sins and serves as a guardian, a recorder of deeds, and a link between God and humanity. The angel Gabriel , for example, communicated God's message to the prophet Muhammad. In contrast to humans, angels are incapable of unbelief and, with the exception of Satan , always obey God.

    Despite these traits, Islamic doctrine holds that humans are superior to angels. According to Islamic traditions, God entrusted humans and not angels with the guardianship of the earth and commanded the angels to prostrate themselves to Adam. Satan, together with the other angels, questioned God's appointment of fallible humans to the honorable position of viceregency. Being an ardent monotheist, Satan disobeyed God and refused to prostrate himself before anyone but God. For this sin, Satan was doomed to lead human beings astray until the end of the world. According to the Qur'an, God informed the angels that he had endowed humans with a knowledge angels could not acquire.

    Islamic Theology For centuries Muslim theologians have debated the subjects of justice and mercy as well as God's other attributes. Initially, Islamic theology developed in the context of controversial debates with Christians and Jews. As their articulations of the basic doctrines of Islam became more complex, Muslim theologians soon turned to debating different interpretations of the Qur'an among themselves, developing the foundations of Islamic theology. Recurring debates among Islamic scholars over the nature of God have continued to refine the Islamic concepts of God's otherness and Islamic monotheism.

    For example, some theologians interpreted Qur'anic attributions of traits such as hearing and seeing to God metaphorically to avoid comparing God to created beings. Another controversial theological debate focused on the question of free will and predestination. One group of Muslim theologians maintained that because God is just, he creates only good, and therefore only humans can create evil. Otherwise, this group argued, God's punishment of humans would be unjust because he himself created their evil deeds. This particular view was rejected by other Muslim theologians on the grounds that it limits the scope of God's creation, when the Qur'an clearly states that God is the sole creator of everything that exists in the world.

    Another controversial issue was the question of whether the Qur'an was eternal or created in time. Theologians who were devoted to the concept of God's oneness maintained that the Qur'an must have been created in time, or else there would be something as eternal as God. This view was rejected by others because the Qur'an, the ultimate authority in Islam, states in many places and in unambiguous terms that it is the eternal word of God.

    Many other theological controversies occupied Muslim thinkers for the first few centuries of Islam, but by the 10th century the views of Islamic theologian al-Ashari and his followers, known as Asharites, prevailed and were adopted by most Muslims. The way this school resolved the question of free will was to argue that no human act could occur if God does not will it, and that God's knowledge encompasses all that was, is, or will be.

    This view also maintains that it is God's will to create the power in humans to make free choices. God is therefore just to hold humans accountable for their actions.

    Adam - The Forbidden Tree

    The views of al-Ashari and his school gradually became dominant in Sunni, or orthodox, Islam, and they still prevail among most Muslims. The tendency of the Sunnis , however, has been to tolerate and accommodate minor differences of opinion and to emphasize the consensus of the community in matters of doctrine.

    As is the case with any religious group, ordinary Muslims have not always been concerned with detailed theological controversies. For ordinary Muslims the central belief of Islam is in the oneness of God and in his prophets and messengers, culminating in Muhammad. Thus Muslims believe in the scriptures that God sent through these messengers, particularly the truth and content of the Qur'an. Whatever their specific religious practices, most Muslims believe in angels, the Day of Judgment, heaven, paradise, and hell.

    Muhammad was born around the year and was orphaned at an early age. He was eventually raised by his uncle, who had religious prominence within the main Quraysh tribe of Mecca but was of modest financial means. At age 25, Muhammad married Khadija, a well-to-do, year-old woman. At age 40, during a retreat in the hills outside Mecca, Muhammad had his first experience of Islam.

    The angel Gabriel appeared to a fearful Muhammad and informed him that he was God's chosen messenger. Gabriel also communicated to Muhammad the first revelation from God. Terrified and shaken, Muhammad went to his home. His wife became the first person to accept his message and convert to Islam. After receiving a series of additional revelations, Muhammad started preaching the new religion, initially to a small circle of relatives and friends, and then to the general public. The Meccans first ignored Muhammad, then ridiculed him.

    As more people accepted Muhammad's call, the Meccans became more aggressive. After failing to sway Muhammad away from the new religion they started to persecute his less prominent followers. When this approach did not work, the opposing Meccans decided to persecute Muhammad himself. By this time, two main tribes from the city of Yathrib, about km mi north of Mecca, had invited Muhammad to live there. The clan leaders invited Muhammad to Yathrib as an impartial religious authority to arbitrate disputes. In return, the leaders pledged to accept Muhammad as a prophet and thus support the new religion of Islam.

    Hegira In the year , Muhammad immigrated to Yathrib, and the name of the city was changed to Medina, meaning city of the Prophet. Only two years after Muhammad's arrival in Medina, the core community of Muslims started to expand. At Medina, in addition to preaching the religious and moral message of Islam, Muhammad organized an Islamic society and served as head of state, diplomat, military leader, and chief legislator for the growing Muslim community. Hostilities soon broke out between the Muslims in Medina and the powerful Meccans. In , after a series of military confrontations and diplomatic maneuvers, the Muslims in Medina extended their authority over Mecca, the most important city of Arabia at the time.

    Before Muhammad died in , the whole Arabian Peninsula was united for the first time in its history, under the banner of Islam. Muhammad's Humanity Early accounts of Muhammad contain some stories that describe supernatural events such as his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his subsequent ascent to heaven on the back of a supernatural winged horse.

    Despite such stories, the primary focus of the biographies, as well as Islamic doctrine in general, is on the humanity of Muhammad. Like all prophets before him, Muhammad was a mortal man, commissioned by God to deliver a message to his people and to humanity. Like other prophets, Muhammad was distinguished from ordinary people by certain powers and faculties. For example, Muslims believe that the distinction of being sinless was granted to Muhammad by God to support his career as a prophet. Thus Muhammad is portrayed in the Qur'an as a person who makes mistakes but who does not sin against God.

    However, God corrected Muhammad's mistakes or errors in judgment, so that his life serves as an example for future Muslims to follow. This emphasis on Muhammad's humanity serves as a reminder that other humans can reasonably aspire to lead a good life as he did. The Qur'an As with other prophets and messengers, God supported Muhammad by allowing him to work miracles and thus prove that he was a genuine prophet. The singular miracle of Muhammad and the ultimate proof of the truthfulness of Islam is the Qur'an.

    Unlike earlier religions, the miracle of Islam is a literary miracle, and Muhammad's other supernatural acts are subordinate to it. This belief in the unique nature of the Qur'an has led Muslims to devote great intellectual energies to the study of its contents and form. In addition to interpreting the scripture and deriving doctrines and laws from it, many disciplines within Qur'anic studies seek to understand its linguistic and literary qualities as an expression of its divine origins. The Format of the Holy Book The Qur'an is made up of chapters, called suras, which are roughly organized, from the second chapter onward, in order of length, beginning with the longest and ending with the shortest chapters.

    With few exceptions the verses are randomly organized without a coherent narrative thread. A typical chapter of the Qur'an may address any combination of the following themes: God and creation, prophets and messengers from Adam to Jesus, Muhammad as a preacher and as a ruler, Islam as a faith and as a code of life, disbelief, human responsibility and judgment, and society and law. Later Muslim scholars have argued that the text's timelessness and universality explain the lack of narrative coherence and the randomness of the topics.

    In other words, the multiple meanings of the Qur'an transcend linear narrative as they transcend any particular historical moment. The Qur'an and the Bible Islam recognizes the divine origins of the earlier Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and represents itself as both a restoration and a continuation of their traditions. Because of this, the Qur'an draws on biblical stories and repeats many biblical themes.

    In particular, the stories of several biblical prophets appear in the Qur'an, some in a condensed form; other stories, such as those of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, are given in elaborate detail and even with subtle revisions of the biblical accounts. One of the important differences between the Qur'anic and biblical stories of Abraham's sacrifice of his son, for example, is that the Qur'an suggests this son is Ishmael, from whom Arabs are descended, and not Isaac, from whom the tribes of Israel are descended.

    A more substantial difference relates to the Islamic story of Jesus, who according to the Qur'an is a mortal, human prophet.