`Islam is a religion that has significantly influenced the history of the world and in the future, its impact will not decline. Thus, it might be necessary to discuss the historical background of this religion and its major tenets. Moreover, this paper is aimed at examining the divisions within Islam, in particular, Shia and Sunni Muslims.
On the whole, the analysis of these questions can help us better understand contemporary Islam and its interactions with other religions of the world. This understanding can be important for modern globalized societies in which people representing different religious beliefs live together.
Historical background of Islam
The origins of Islamic Faith can be traced back to 610 when Muhammad received his first revelation from an angel. Some scholars believe that this date is the beginning of this religion (Senturk, 2005, p. 5). However, at that time, Muhammad did not tell many people about these revelations. Only in 613 he entered Mecca as a prophet and began his preaching, but his preaching did not appeal to many people.
In fact, local authorities were opposed to it (Senturk, 2005, p. 5). In order to avoid possible threats to his life, Muhammad went to Medina where he gathered many of his followers. Yet, at that point, Islam as a religion was not represented by any institutions. These ideas were mostly spread by Muhammad and his pupils.
The position of Islam became much stronger in when the Caliphate was formed. It was a theocratic state in which religious leaders played a key role (Senturk, 2005, p. 5). It should be noted that Muhammad strived to reconcile the tensions existing between various Arabic tribes. By avoiding these blood feuds, Muslim leaders were able to solidify various tribes and establish a state.
Therefore, during the time of Muhammad, Islam was one of the factors that contributed to the growth of the state. Since that time, Islam began to spread to Africa, South-East Asia, and Europe, in particular the Iberian Peninsula. Certainly, this history of Islam is much richer, but the described events significantly shaped the development of this religion.
The principles of Islam, the duties of Muslims, and prohibitions
The Five Pillars
At this point, it is vital to discuss the core tenets of this religion. The Five Pillars can be regarded as the cornerstone of Islam since they include the main ideas and rules that every Muslim has to accept and follow. The first and probably most important pillar is called Shahadah.
It means declaration of ones faith in omnipotent and omniscient God or Allah that can control the existence of every living being. Furthermore, Shahadah implies the belief in angels, the sanctity of religious texts, and the righteousness of prophets. Finally, according to this principle, Muslims must acknowledge Muhammad as the greatest profit of Allah (Anderson, 2007, p. 24). Thus, Shahadah is the key element of this religion.
Every rule or prohibition that exists in Islam stems from this principle. The second element is Salat. The word can be translated as a prayer. In this case, it denotes a set of prayers that a Muslim has to say every day (Anderson, 2007, p. 24). The third element is referred to as Zakat.
This tenet obliges every Muslim to help people who can suffer from poverty. It should be noted that alms-giving is one of the responsibilities for every believer. The fourth component of Islamic Faith is Sawn. The word denotes fasting during Ramadan (Anderson, 2007, p. 24). Finally, one has to mention the firth pillar which is Haji. It implies that every Muslim has to take make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime (Anderson, 2007, p. 24).
Thus, one can say that the Five Pillars of Islamic Faith refer to both ideological and ritualistic aspects of this religion. They explain what kinds of beliefs are obligatory for every Muslim and how this person should confirm his/her faith. This is one of the first issues that people should learn about Islam or the behavior of Muslims.
Additionally, one can mention some of those religious principles that may distinguish Islam from other religions of the world. For instance, unlike Christians, Muslims regard Jesus only as one of the greatest prophets, but not as the Son of God (Anderson, 2007, p. 65).
This idea is incompatible with the premise that God is indivisible and monotheistic. It should be noted that Muslims do not agree with Jews who do not see Jesus or Muhammad as prophets or religious leaders. Thus, Islam may take its origins in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but in several ways, it differs from this tradition. Non-Muslim people should take into account these distinctions in order to communicate with Muslims without any conflicts.
Duties and prohibitions
Islam imposes several duties upon a practicing Muslim. As it has been said before, this person has to care about impoverished and homeless people. Secondly, this individual must take care of orphans or those women who cannot support themselves. Furthermore, Muslims must respect every form of life and find peaceful ways of resolving any conflicts or disagreements. These are some of the main obligations that Muslims have to fulfill. Therefore, these people have to reach high moral standards.
The discussion of Islamic Faith should include the prohibitions that this religion imposes on the believers. First of all, one should mention complete unacceptability of idolatry or worshipping other gods because such behavior contradicts the very principle of monotheism (Anderson, 2007, p. 24).
Furthermore, according to the rules of this religion, a Muslim man is not allowed to marry a woman who does not belong to the Judeo-Christian tradition. In other words, she must practice either Judaism or Christianity (Anderson, 2007, p. 84). In turn, a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry non-Muslims. Secondly, these prohibitions extend to eating habits, for instance, a Muslim is not allowed to eat pork or drink alcoholic beverages.
Additionally, the use of drugs is strongly condemned in Islam (De Piano, 2002, p. 348). Overall, Islam favors moderation in every form of behavior, and every violation of this principle is prohibited. Additionally, the rules of Islam affect sexual relations. In particular, they forbid premarital sex. Finally, Islam influences economic life of those states in which the majority of the population are Muslims.
For examples, in these countries the banks are not allowed to lend money with interest since policy is considered to be unethical. This issue should be kept in mind by people who do business in Muslim countries. These examples indicate that Islam really permeate personal, social, and even economic life. These prohibitions cannot be reduced only to some ritualistic aspects of this religion, since they can profoundly influence both individuals and societies.
Divisions within Islam
As a religion, Islam is not homogeneous; it has several internal divisions or denominations. In this case, one can speak about Shia and Sunni Islam (Akhter, 2009, p. 171). This division emerged in 632 mostly due to a political dispute. After the death of Muhammad, some Muslims believed the leadership should be passed to the members of his family and Imams who were allegedly chosen by God.
This view was advocated by Shia Muslims. In contrast, their opponents argued that religious and political authority should be acquired by one of those people who followed Muhammad and supported his ideas (Akhter, 2009, p. 171).
These people were called Sunni. In their opinion, Muhammad’s successor did not have to be his relative. The failure to resolve this dispute resulted in the first civil war in the Caliphate (Akhter, 2009, p. 172). Later this political schism affected the religious practices of Shia and Sunni Islam. For instance, in Shia Islam Imams usually play a very important role.
They are believed to be community leaders who set an example of faith and pious behavior to every other person. They act as important public figures. In turn, Sunni Muslims believe that Imams should be regarded only as religious scholars who interpret of the meaning of the Quran. Yet, they should not significantly affect public life of the state.
Furthermore, one should mention that these religious groups have different attitudes toward hadiths. These are the collection of sayings or ideas that are normally ascribed to Muhammad. This is why some Shias can disagree with hadiths if they were recorded only by Sunni scholars.
The division between Shia and Sunni Muslims can be illustrated demographically. For example, Shia Islam is mostly practiced in such countries as Iraq, Bahrain, or Iran. In turn, Sunni Islam is widespread in African countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the UAE. Overall, Sunni Muslims constitute the majority of those people who practice Islam (Akhter, 2009, p. 173).
Although, this schism took place many years ago, it still affects the life of many countries, especially at the time when military conflicts break out in the Muslim states. Thus, this religious division is still relevant to theologians, researchers, and even policy-makers. At first, it is vital to understand the under-lying causes of this division in order to avert possible conflicts.
In popular opinion, Muslims are mostly associated with the Arab world, for instance, such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the United Arab Emirates. Nevertheless, Muslims also live in those countries where Islam is not the dominant religion.
In this regard, one can refer to Russia, India, France, Israel, and so forth. This is why one should not assume that Islam can be reduced only to the Arab world. Muslims are a vibrant and expanding religious community can play an important role in every society. This issue is particularly important in the modern age of globalization when national borders begin to disappear.
This discussion has several important implications. First of all, it shows that Islam is a complex and dynamic religion that can play different roles in different societies. Although, it was influenced Judeo-Christian tradition, it has a unique set of beliefs, principles, and traditions. It began to evolve in the Middle Ages, when the majority of states were only in the stage of formation. Nowadays, this religion can influence political, social, and cultural life of a society.
Akhter, S. (2009). Faith & Philosophy of Islam. Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.
Anderson, K. (2007). Islam. New York: Harvest House Publishers.
De Piano, F. (2002). Religious Theories of Personality and Psychotherapy: East Meets West. London: Routledge.
Senturk, R. (2005). Narrative Social Structure: Anatomy of the Hadith Transmission Network, 610-1505. San Diego: Stanford University Press.