Religion has defined the essence of the evolution of man. Man essentially developed religion as a form of governance and to give him a sense of security in a cruel and unpredictable world. The human race has graced the world with hundreds, possibly thousands of religions, some more outstanding than the others. Amongst them is Islam, whose adherents are estimated to be a whopping 1.6 billion (accounting for 23% of the worlds population) (NPR, 2015)and still expected to grow by a further 10% in 2050. Islam is one of the oldest religions in the world and presumably one of the most misunderstood.
There have been numerous efforts to shed light on this by notable scholars in the past and present. This essay is a comprehensive analysis of one such notable scholars work, Daniel Brown. His book deeply elaborates on the misnomers and assumptions that a great majority of people associate Islam with. For instance, Islam is often married to terrorism, oppressive laws in regards to women and regressive Sharia laws that champion for deeds such stoning of adulterers. Furthermore, it aims to reinforce the widely held belief among adherents that Islam is a religion that fosters peace and goodwill of mankind.
However, events in the past have greatly tainted this view, such as the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in the United States of America in 2011 and many others in other regions of the world. It further delves into the diversity of Islam in terms of geo-politics and culture. To a large extent, a greater percentage of the Muslim population is concentrated in 8 countries namely: India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria,Iran, Turkey and Egypt (Brown, 2009). Much as adherents are concentrated in these countries, the question on non-Arab Muslims is still a glaring issue. This is brought about by a common misnomer that only or most Arabs are Muslim and vice versa. This misnomer was birthed as a result or the origins of Islam. Islam originated from Arab and a lot of the Muslim culture is greatly influenced by Arabian culture.
This presents an injustice of sorts considering that Muslims in the Middle East are a minority of the greater Muslim community in the world. Despite its monotheistic nature, Islam is an amalgamation of religiously plural and diverse societies. Arab culture managed to wield its influence on Islam in spite of the fact that most of its adherents are not of Arabian descent and many attempts have been made to incorporate other languages and cultures into the Islamic way of life. A good example is when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, endeavoured to make Turkish the official medium of communication of Islamic norms of piety but failed (Brown, 2009).
Much as Muslims all over the world are different in aspects of language, practices and location, they are unified by a number of factors. Firstly, all believe in the deity Allah as the absolute authority and maker of all things. Secondly, Quran which is the sacred scripture that was written in Arabic and hasnt been changed since the inception of Islam. Thirdly, the Adhan, which is a call to Muslims to convene for prayers and is done by the Muezzin, is a universal norm. This call encompasses the five pillars of Islam which are: Shahada, the confession that Allah is the absolute and only God, Ramadhan which is the rule of fasting, and Hajj which is the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, Salat and Zakat (giving of alms to the poor). Moreover, all religious instructions are written and orally recited in Arabic.
Like most religions in the world, Islam is not spared the phenomenon of schism. This alignment is based on differing ideologies and practices. Unique to Islam is the Sunni and Shiite factions. 80% of Muslims are Sunnis while only 18% are Shiites. This slight disparity is brought about by succession disputes and eschatology views. Sunnis believes in the institution of the caliphate, which refers to the person who succeeded Prophet Muhammad. This caliphate is chosen based on a set of criteria: he had to be male, be fit, chosen by the people and from the tribe of Quraysh. They believe that Muhammads first Caliph was his father-in-law, Abu Bakr. Shiites on the other hand believe that Muhammads caliph was Ali, his cousin and son-in-law. Despite their differences, they are unified by the universal norms of Islamic rituals and practices.
A point of interest is how Islam has been significantly influenced by other religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Persians, through the Sasarian Empire, had a profound influence on the evolution and culture of Islam, but as mentioned above, Arabian culture seemed to take centre stage. This is despite the fact that there isnt any comprehensive record of civilization in ancient Arabia. Arabia was natively inhabited by Bedouins whose livelihood was pastoralism.
The Bedouins did not have written records of their culture except for their poetry which gives a slight hint of their way of life. Islam borrowed the concept of Imams from Judaism who had scholars of the Bible, specifically the Torah. They were astounded by the Rabbis religious and dutiful study of the word of God. Secondly, it adopted the concept of Justice from the Mazdak. We realize that as much as Islam is unique, a lot of its institutions were shaped by other religions.
It is however appalling that the Bedouins were referred to as Barbarians due to the period of ignorance. Prior to Islam, they had modes of existence albeit not systematic but important all the same. Many none and civilized societies had a polytheistic view of religion and Bedouins had to abandon their beliefs with the rise and adoption of Islam.
Islamic law was greatly influenced by the Jurists of Mecca and the emergence of coffee houses in Yemen. These coffee houses provided a study ground for how Islamic scholars interpreted the law. Behaviour was measured and determined on the following scale: whether it is obligatory, recommended, neutral, discouraged or prohibited. The Sunna and Quran were and are still considered the absolute authority on habits that are prohibited or permissible. The Sunna is particularly held in high regard as it is the instructions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad verbatim. The determination of acceptable behaviours was based on two concepts, the principle of permissibility in which God is trusted to have foreseen the occurrence of these behaviours and confidence in the human ability to discern between wrong and right.
The world has evolved and so have the various religions and Islam has not been an exception. Various groups in Islam adapted to modernity in different ways. For instance, modernists and revivalists accepted the onset of modernity and took it up as a way of life while adaptationists also sought to find appropriate ways of blending into the world and the changing face of Islam. Conservatives on the other hand decided to turn a blind eye to evolution of modernism.
The onset of modernism was defined by many instances in Islamic culture, among them, the abolition of the caliphate in 1924 that had proved to beneficial to the Ottoman empire although its demise was felt as early as the 10th Century. However, the Turks revived the caliphate system to push their own political agenda. The dream of an Islamic commonwealth has not been realized due to the plurality and diversity of the Islamic community.
In past times, acquiring power as seen in Muhammads many conquests was considered an act of God. Jihad was the fight for the influence of Islam. However, as opposed to then, it has morphed into an individual rather than collective effort. This is also because modern Islamic states re no longer absolute theocracies as they have no legitimacy as during the era of Prophet Muhammad. Modernity has changed the stance of Islam on issues such as marriage. For instance the practise of Talaka been steered for many years now.
The 21st century Islam has brought with it revisionist practices and diversity. The pivotal instance in the Islamic history was the terrorist attack on United States of America. The world was made aware of the powerful nature of Islam. This gave opened the door to many more attacks which were considered acts of Jihad by Islamic extremists. This also gave rise to political instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq (US invasion). Another challenge has been the rise in liberalism in thought of many Muslims; many have also adopted science as a means to explain phenomena in the world. The twenty first century has also birthed democracy and advocacy of human rights in a lot of states that were thought to be marred my insurgency and tyranny e.g. Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein.
The Islamic community has also witnessed the rise of feminism. A lot of women, whom many are considered radicals, have come forth to challenge the patriarchy of Islam. For example, a lot of women movements are questioning and fighting for the equity of women in the Islamic community in terms of universal suffrage, education and marriage. Many women are able to voice their opinions, a gesture that was unthinkable centuries before. Human rights groups are also championing for the emancipation of the Muslim woman, emancipation from absolute submission to their husbands and the prohibition of basic luxuries such as driving in Saudi Arabia.
The influence of western culture has also seen a lot of Muslim women discard some practices such as wearing the hijab, especially in Europe. Islam like any other religion has been compelled to adapt in the face of the evolving, in the concept of pluralism. Religions have stood the tests of time and various challenges. The adaptability of the Islamic culture in the 21st remains a point of observation.
Brown, D. W. (2009). A New Introduction To Islam. West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing.
NPR. (2015, April 2). Retrieved November 4, 2015, from NPR: www.npr.org
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