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Template:Dablink Template:Islam Template:Portal Template:Audio (Arabic: الإسلام; al- islām, "the submission to God") is a monotheistic faith, one of the Abrahamic religions and the world's second-largest religion.



In Arabic, Islām derives from the three-letter root S-L-M, which means "to be in peaceful submission; to surrender; to obey; peace". Islām is a verbal abstract to this root, and literally means "submission/obedience," referring to submission to God.

Other Arabic words derived from S-L-M:

  • Salaam, meaning "peace", which is also a common salutation
  • Muslim, a follower of Islam, an agentive noun meaning "one who surrenders" or "submits" to God.


Followers of Islam, known as Muslims, believe that God (or, in Arabic, Allāh; also in Aramaic Alaha) revealed his direct word for mankind to Muhammad (c. 570632) and other prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last or the seal of the Prophets. Thus, his preachings for humankind will last until qiyamah (The Day of the Resurrection). Muslims assert that the main written record of revelation to humankind is the Qur'an (see below), which they believe to be flawless, immutable, and the final revelation of God to humanity. Muslims believe that parts of the Gospels, Torah and Jewish prophetic books (though originally divine in their nature) have been forgotten, misinterpreted, incorrectly edited by humans, or distorted by their followers and thus their original message has been corrupted over time. With that perspective, Muslims view the Qur'an as a correction of Jewish and Christian scriptures, and a final revelation.

Muslims hold that Islam is essentially the same belief as that of all the messengers sent by God to mankind since Adam, with the Qur'an (the text agreed upon by all sects of the Muslim faith) codifying the final revelation of God. Islamic texts depict Judaism and Christianity as derivations of the teachings of the prophet Abraham and thus acknowledges common Abrahamic roots. The Qur'an calls Jews and Christians (and sometimes people of other faiths) "People of the Book."

The basis of Islamic belief is found in the shahādatān ("two testimonies", Arabic: لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله ): lā ilāhā illā-llāhu; muhammadur-rasūlu-llāhi—"There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." In order to become a Muslim, one needs to recite and believe in these statements under witness. One who wishes to convert must be truly willing, and must have given thought to the meaning of the shahada before reciting the words (in Arabic) and becoming a Muslim.

File:Dome of the rock distance.jpg
A view of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site in Islam

Islām is described as a dīn, meaning "way of life" and/or "guidance".

Six articles of belief

There are six basic beliefs shared by all Muslims:

1. Belief in God, the one and only one worthy of all worship.

2. Belief in all the prophets ( nabi ) and messengers ( rasul ) sent by God. It is believed that there were around 124,000 prophets, of whom 313 are also messengers. Out of the 313 messengers, 25 are held to be of high esteem (ulul azmi) and are mentioned by name in the Quran.

The difference between prophets and messengers is that although all received revelation (wahyu) from God, the messengers are required to spread their message to their people by preaching (da'wah).

3. Belief in the books (kutub) sent by God:

The Tawrat sent to Moses
The Zabur sent to David
The Injil sent to Jesus
The Qur'an sent to Muhammad

4. Belief in the Angels (mala'ika) of whom 10 are held in high esteem and are named in the Quran and the hadith.

5. Belief in the Day of Judgement (qiyama) and in the life after death (heaven and hell).

6. Belief in Fate (predestination) (qadar)

The Muslim creed in English:

"I believe in God; and in His Angels; and in His Scriptures; and in His Messengers; and in The Final Day; and in Fate, that All things are from God, and Resurrection after death be Truth.
"I testify that there is no god but God Almighty; and I testify that Muhammad is His Messenger."

The tenets of Islam

File:Supplicating Pilgrim at Masjid Al Haram. Mecca, Saudi Arabia.jpg
The Pilgrimage (Hajj) to Kaaba, Masjid al Haram, Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam or one of the roots of religion (for the Shi'a)

The two largest subgroups of the Muslims are the Sunni and the Shi'a. Sunni Muslims make up a large percentage of the Muslim world, although one can find large majorities of Shi'a Muslims in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Iraq. However, in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, Sunni Muslims are the majority.

Sunni Islam's fundamental tenets are referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam2, while Shia Islam has a slightly different terminology, encompassing five core beliefs, the Roots of Religion and ten core practices, the Branches of Religion. All Muslims agree on the following five basic obligations of believers, which Sunnis term the Five Pillars of Islam, and which Shia would consider to be elements of the Roots of Religion and the Branches of Religion.

  • Shahadah: Testifying that there is none worthy of worship except God (Tawheed) and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger (Nubuwwah).
  • Salah: Performing the five daily prayers (salah).
  • Zakat: Giving Zakaah (charity)
  • Sawm: Fasting from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan.
  • Hajj: The Pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca during the month of Dhul Hijjah, which is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it.

Shi'a and Sunni also agree on the following beliefs, although they classify them differently:

Distinctive Shi'a beliefs, not held by the Sunni, include:

  • Imamah: Leadership. The belief in the divinely appointed and guided imamate of Ali and some of his descendants.
  • Tawalla: To love the Ahl al-Bayt and their followers.
  • Tabarra: To disassociate from the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt
  • Khums: Paying the tax on profit.


Main articles: Allah / God

The fundamental concept in Islam is the oneness of God (tawhid). This monotheism is absolute, not relative or pluralistic in any sense of the word. God is described in Sura al-Ikhlas, (chapter 112) as follows:

Say "He is God, the one and only. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute the Self-Sufficient master. He begetteth not, nor is he begotten. And there is none like unto Him." (Yusuf A. Ali).

In Arabic, God is called Allāh. The word is etymologically connected to ʾilāh "deity", ultimately from Proto-Semitic *ʾilâh-, and indirectly related to Hebrew Ēl. Allāh is also the word used by Christian and Jewish Arabs, translating ho theos of the New Testament and Septuagint; it predates Muhammad and in its origin does not specify a "God" different from the one worshipped by Judaism and Christianity, the monotheistic religions to which Muhammad's teaching stood in contrast.

The name "Allah" shows no plural or gender, unlike the word "God" that may take plural sense "Gods" and feminine form "Goddesses". In Islam "Allah" Almighty as the Qur’an says:

"(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves, and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things)" (42:11).

The implicit usage of the definite article in Allah linguistically indicates the divine unity. Muslims believe that the God they worship is the same as the Judeo-Christian God, i.e. the God of Abraham. However, Muslims reject the Christian theology concerning the trinity of God (the doctrine of the Trinity which regards Jesus as the eternal Son of God), seeing it as akin to polytheism. Quoting from the Qur'an, sura An-Nisa 171:

"O People of the Scripture! Do not transgress the limits of your religion, and do not say about God except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was only a messenger of God, and His word that He had sent to Mary, and a revelation from Him. Therefore, you shall believe in GOD and His messengers. You shall not say, "Trinity". You shall refrain from this for your own good. God is only one god. Be He glorified; He is much too glorious to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God suffices as Lord and Master."

No Muslim visual images or depictions of God exist because such artistic depictions may lead to idolatry and are thus prohibited. A similar position in Christian theology is termed iconoclasm. Moreover, most Muslims believe that God is incorporeal, making any two- or three- dimensional depictions impossible. Instead, Muslims describe God by the many divine attributes mentioned in the Qur'an. All but one Sura (chapter) of the Qur'an begins with the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful". These are regarded as the most important divine attributes, at least in the sense that Muslims repeat them most frequently during their ritual prayers (Salah).

The Qur'an

The first surah in a handwritten copy of the Qur'an.
Main article: Qur'an

The Qur'an is the sacred book of Islam. It has also been called, in English, "the Koran" or (archaically) "the Alcoran". Qur'an is the currently preferred English transliteration of the Arabic original (قرآن); it means “recitation”. Although the Qur'an is referred to as a "book", when a Muslim refers to the Qur'an, they are referring to the actual text, the words, rather than the printed work itself.

Muslims believe that the Qur'an was revealed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad by God through the Angel Gabriel on numerous occasions between the years 610 and up till his death in 632. In addition to memorizing his revelations, his followers are said to have written them down on parchments, stones, and leaves.

Muslims hold that the Qur'an available today is the same as that revealed to Prophet Muhammad and by him to his followers, who memorized his words. Scholars generally accept that the version of the Qur'an used today was first compiled in writing by the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, sometime between 650 and 656. He sent copies of his version to the various provinces of the new Muslim empire, and directed that all variant copies be destroyed. However, some skeptics doubt the recorded oral traditions (hadith) on which this account is based, and will concede only that the Qur'an must have been compiled before 750.

There are numerous traditions, and many conflicting academic theories, as to the provenance of the Qur'anic verses that were eventually assembled into a single volume. (This is covered in greater detail in Qur'an). Most Muslims accept the account recorded in several hadith, which state that Abu Bakr, the first caliph, ordered his personal secretary Zayd ibn Thabit to collect and record all the authentic verses of the Qur'an, as preserved in written form or oral tradition. Zayd's written collection, privately treasured by Muhammad's widow Hafsa bint Umar, was, according to Muslim sources, later used by Uthman and is thus the basis of today's Qur'an. Muslims believe that Muhammad recited the entire Qur'an, in its present order, shortly before his death.

Uthman's version, whatever its origin, organized the suras roughly in order of length (excepting the brief opening surah Al-Fatiha), with the longest suras at the start of the Qur'an and the shortest ones at the end. More conservative views state that the order of most suras was divinely set. Later scholars have struggled to put the suras in chronological order, and among Muslim commentators, at least, there is a rough consensus as to which suras were revealed in Mecca and which at Medina, with distinctive characteristics observed within these two subgroups. Some suras (e.g. surat Iqra) are thought to have been revealed in parts at separate times.

To understand the notion of "variants" within the received Qur'anic text, one must understand that Arabic had not yet fully developed as a written language. The Qur'an was first recorded in written form (date uncertain) in the Hijazi, Mashq, Ma'il, and Kufic scripts; these scripts write consonants only and do not supply vowels. (Imagine an English text that wrote the word 'bed' as "BD," and required the reader to infer, from context, that the reference was to "bed" -- and not to 'bad" or "bide.") Because there were differing oral traditions of recitation as non-native Arabic speakers converted to Islam, there was some disagreement as to the exact reading of many (vowel-free) verses. Eventually, scripts were developed that used diacritical markings (known as points) to indicate the vowels. For hundreds of years after Uthman's recension, Muslim scholars argued as to the correct pointing and reading of Uthman's (unpointed) official text. Eventually, most commentators accepted seven variant readings (qira'at) of the Qur'an as canonical, while agreeing that the differences among the seven are minor and do not affect the meaning of the text.

The form of the Qur'an most used today is the Al-Azhar text of 1923, prepared by a committee at the prestigious Cairo university of Al-Azhar.

The Qur'an early became a focus of Muslim devotion and eventually a subject of theological controversy among skeptics. In the 8th century, the Mu'tazilis claimed that the Qur'an was created in time and was not eternal. Their opponents, of various schools, claimed that the Qur'an was eternal and perfect, existing in heaven before it was revealed to Muhammad. The Ashari theology (which ultimately became predominant) held that the Qur'an was uncreated.

Most Muslims regard paper copies of the Qur'an with extreme veneration, wrapping them in a clean cloth, keeping them on a high shelf, and washing as for prayers before reading the Qur'an. Old Qur'ans are not destroyed as wastepaper, but burned or deposited in Qur'an graveyards.

Most Muslims memorize at least some portion of the Qur'an in the original language. Those who have memorized the entire Qur'an are known as hafiz. This is not a rare achievement; it is believed that there are millions of hafiz alive today.

From the beginning of the faith, most Muslims believed that the Qur'an was perfect only as revealed in Arabic. Translations were the result of human effort and human fallibility, as well as lacking the inspired poetry believers find in the Qur'an. Translations are therefore only commentaries on the Qur'an, or "translations of its meaning", not the Qur'an itself. Many modern, printed versions of the Qur'an feature the Arabic text on one page, and a vernacular translation on the facing page.

Islamic eschatology

Main article: Islamic eschatology

Islamic eschatology is concerned with the Qiyamah (end of the world) and the final judgment of humanity. Like Christianity and some sects of modern Judaism, Islam teaches the bodily resurrection of the dead, the fulfilment of a divine plan for creation, and the immortality of the human soul. In Islamic belief, the righteous are rewarded with the pleasures of Jannah (Paradise), while the unrighteous are punished in Jahannam (a fiery Hell, from the Hebrew ge-hinnom or "valley of Hinnom"; usually rendered in English as Gehenna). A significant portion of the Qur'an deals with these beliefs, with many hadith elaborating on the themes and details.

Other beliefs

Other beliefs include the existence of Angels, the Jinns (a species of beings not composed of solid matter, but "fire") and the existence of magic or sihr (the practice of which is strictly forbidden).


Religious authority

There is no official authority who decides whether a person is accepted into, or dismissed from, the community of believers, known as the Ummah ("family" or "nation"). Islam is open to all, regardless of race, age, gender, or previous beliefs. It is enough to believe in the central beliefs of Islam. This is formally done by reciting the shahada, which should be made sincerely from the heart, the statement of belief of Islam, without which a person cannot be classed a Muslim. It is enough to believe and say that one is a Muslim, and behave in a manner befitting a Muslim to be accepted into the community of Islam.

Islamic law

Main article: Sharia

The Sharia is Islamic law, as elaborated by Islamic scholarship. The Qur'an is the foremost source of Islamic jurisprudence. The second is the Sunnah (the practices of Muhammad and the early Muslim community). The Sunnah is not itself a text like the Qur'an, but is extracted by analysis of the hadith (Arabic for "report"), or recorded oral traditions, which contain narrations of the Muhammad's sayings, deeds, and actions.

Islamic law covers all aspects of life, from the broad topics of governance and foreign relations all the way down to issues of daily living. Islamic laws which were covered expressly in the Quran were referred to as hudud laws. This covered the prohibition of murder, extra-marital sex, drinking of alcohol and gambling. The Quran also details laws of inheritance, marriage, restitution for injuries and murder, as wells as rules for fasting, charity, and prayer. However, the prescriptions and prohibitions may be broad, so how they are applied in practice varies. Islamic scholars, the ulema, have elaborated systems of law on the basis of these broad rules, supplemented by the hadith reports of how Muhammad and his companions interpreted them.

Other legal aspects were presided by judges (takzir) who are given power to make sentencing decisions and were supposed to closely adhere to the principles of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Islamic law at the level of governance and social justice only applies where the government is Islamic.

According to Islam, the Sharia is divinely revealed. It is understood as protecting five things: faith, life, knowledge, lineage, and wealth. However, it is by no means a rigid system of laws as there are different schools of thoughts and movements within Islam that allow for flexibility. Moreover, Islam is a diverse religion as many cultures have embraced it so interpretation varies.

Apostasy and blasphemy

Main article: Apostasy in Islam

Orthodox Islamic communities, like other religious communities, often exclude those they regard as apostates and blasphemers from their community of believers. In a few Muslim-majority states, apostasy and blasphemy are considered crimes against the state and punished as such.

Islamic calendar

Main article: Islamic calendar

Islam dates from the Hijra, or migration from Mecca to Medina. This is year 1, AH (Anno Hegira)—which corresponds to AD 622 or 622 CE, depending on the notation preferred (see Common era). It is a lunar calendar, but differs from other such calendars (e.g. the Celtic calendar) in that it omits intercalary months, being synchronized only with lunation s, but not with the solar year, resulting in years of either 354 or 355 days. This omission was introduced by Muhammad because the right to announce intercalary months had led to political power struggles. Therefore, Islamic dates cannot be converted to the usual CE/AD dates simply by adding 622 years. Islamic holy days fall on fixed dates of the lunar calendar, which means that they occur in different seasons in different years in the Gregorian calendar.

Schools (denominations)

There are a number of Islamic religious denominations, each of which has significant theological and legal differences from each other but possess identical essential belief. The major schools of thought are Sunni and Shi'a, with Sufism considered as a mystical inflection of Islam.

The Sunni are the largest group in Islam (80%– 85% of all Muslims are Sunni). In Arabic, as-Sunnah literally means principle or path, while in terminology, Sunnah is the set of sayings or practice by Prophet Muhammad.

Sunnis believe that Muhammad was as a prophet, a perfect human being, and that they must imitate the words and acts of Muhammad as accurately as possible. In fact, the Quran states that the character of the Prophet Muhammad was a good example to follow. Because of this reason, the Hadith in which those words and acts are described are the main pillar of Sunni doctrine. There is debate about Sunni belief regarding ijtihad. Older scholars like Schacht believed that interpretation of Qur'an and Hadith had been closed for 800 years while on the other hand Wael Hallaq takes the view that "the gate of ijtihad" is an overly simplistic view.Template:Fact Sunnis recognize four legal traditions (madhhabs): Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Hanbali. All four accept the validity of the others and Muslims choose any one that he/she finds agreeable to his/her ideas. There are also several orthodox theological or philosophical traditions (kalam).

Shi'a Muslims, the second-largest sect, differ from the Sunni in rejecting the authority of the first three caliphs. They honor different traditions (hadith) and have their own legal traditions. Shi'a scholars have a larger authority than Sunni scholars and have room for ijtihad or interpretation. The Imams play a central role in Shi'a doctrine. The Shi'a consist of one major school of thought known as the Ithna Ashariyya or the "Twelvers", and a few minor schools of thought, as the "Seveners" or the "Fivers" referring to the number of infallible leaders they recognize after the death of Muhammad. The term Shi'a is usually taken to be synonymous with the Ithna Ashariyya/Twelvers. Most Shi'a live in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. A minority group (about 15 million) of Shi'a known as Ismaili. The Shia Ismaili sect is subdivided into Nizari Ismaili and Mustaali Bohra subsects. The Nizari Ismaili or Khoja are led by the Aga Khan and are found mainly in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, India, United Kingdom, Canada and United States. The Mustaali Bohra sect is furthur subdivded into Dawoodi and Sulaimanis subsects.

Wahhabis, as they are known by non-Wahhabis, are a smaller, more recent Sunni group. They prefer to be called Salafis. Wahhabism is a movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab in the 18th century in what is present-day Saudi Arabia. They classify themselves as Sunni and some claim to follow the Hanbali legal tradition. The major trend, however, is the abolition of these "schools of thoughts" (legal traditions), and the following of a more literalist interpretation. Some even regard other Sunni as heretics. Wahabbism is recognized as the official religion of Saudi Arabia and they have had a great deal of influence on the Islamic world because of Saudi control of Mecca and Medina, the Islamic holy places, and because of Saudi funding for mosques and schools in other countries.

Sunni and Shi'a have often clashed. Some Sunni believe that Shi'a are heretics while other Sunni recognize Shi'a as fellow Muslims. According to Shaikh Mahmood Shaltoot, head of the al-Azhar University in the middle part of the 20th century, "the Ja'fari school of thought, which is also known as "al-Shi'a al- Imamiyyah al-Ithna Ashariyyah" (i.e. The Twelver Imami Shi'ites) is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought". Al-Azhar later distanced itself from this position.

Another sect which dates back to the early days of Islam is that of the Kharijites. The only surviving branch of the Kharijites are the Ibadhi Muslims. Ibadhism, like the extinct Mu'tazila school of thought, emphasizes rationality and tolerance. Ibadi's are the least sectarian of all Muslims. Most Ibadhi Muslims live in Oman.

Another trend in modern Islam is that which is sometimes called progressive. Followers may be called Ijtihadists. They may be either Sunni or Shi'ite, and generally favor the development of personal interpretations of Qur'an and Hadith. See: Liberal Islam

One very small Muslim group, based primarily in the United States, follows the teachings of Rashad Khalifa and calls itself the "Submitters". They reject hadith and fiqh, and say that they follow the Qur'an alone. An even smaller group of Qur’an- alone Muslims has split from the Submitters, claiming to represent the authentic teachings of Rashad Khalifa. Most Muslims of both the Sunni and the Shia sects consider this group to be heretical.

Sufism is a spiritual practice followed by both Sunni and Shi'a. Sufis generally feel that following Islamic law or jurisprudence (or fiqh) is only the first step on the path to perfect submission; they focus on the internal or more spiritual aspects of Islam, such as perfecting one's faith and fighting one's own ego (nafs). Most Sufi orders, or tariqa, can be classified as either Sunni or Shi'a. However, there are some that are not easily categorized as either Sunni or Shi'a, such as the Bektashi. Sufis are found throughout the Islamic world, from Senegal to Indonesia.

Religions based on Islam

The following groups consider themselves Muslims, but are not considered Islamic by the majority of Muslims or Muslim authorities:

The following consider themselves Muslims but acceptance by the larger Muslim community varies:

The following religions are said by some to have evolved or borrowed from Islam, in almost all cases influenced by traditional beliefs in the regions where they emerged, but consider themselves independent religions with distinct laws and institutions:

The claim of the adherents of the Bahá'í Faith that it represents an independent religion was upheld by the Muslim ecclesiastical courts in Egypt during the 1920s. As of January 1926, their final ruling on the matter of the origins of the Bahá'í Faith and its relationship to Islam was that the Bahá'í Faith was neither a sect of Islam, nor a religion based on Islam, but a clearly defined, independently founded faith. This was seen as a considerate act on the part of the ecclesiastical court and in favor of followers of Bahá'í Faith since the majority of Muslims regard a religion based on Islam as a heresy.

Some see Sikhism as a syncretic mix of Islam and Hinduism, although it is often considered a Dharmic faith than an Islamic or Abrahamic one. It arose in the context of the interaction between Hindu and Muslim communities in North India.

The following religions might have been said to have evolved from Islam, but are not considered part of Islam, and no longer exist:

Islam and other religions

Main article: Islam and other religions

The Qur'an contains both injunctions to respect other religions, and to fight and subdue unbelievers. Muslims do not agree on how to interpret and apply these injunctions. Some Muslims have respected Jews and Christians as fellow "peoples of the book" (monotheists following Abrahamic religions), while others have reviled them as having abandoned monotheism and corrupted their scriptures. At different times and places, Islamic communities have been both intolerant and tolerant.

The classical Islamic solution was a limited tolerance — Jews and Christians were to be allowed to privately practice their faith and follow their own family law. They were called Dhimmis, and they had fewer legal rights and obligations than Muslims.

The classic Islamic state was often more tolerant than many other states of the time, which insisted on complete conformity to a state religion. The record of contemporary Muslim-majority states is mixed. Some are generally regarded as tolerant, while others have been accused of intolerance and human rights violations. See the main article, Islam and other religions, for further discussion.


Main article: History of Islam

Islamic history begins in Arabia in the 7th century with the emergence of the prophet Muhammad. Within a century of his death, an Islamic state stretched from the Atlantic ocean in the west to central Asia in the east, which, however, was soon torn by civil wars (fitnas). After this, there would always be rival dynasties claiming the caliphate, or leadership of the Muslim world, and many Islamic states or empires offering only token obedience to an increasingly powerless caliph.

Nonetheless, the later empires of the Abbasid caliphs and the Seljuk Turk were among the largest and most powerful in the world. After the disastrous defeat of the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, Christian Europe launched a series of Crusades and for a time captured Jerusalem. Saladin, however, restored unity and defeated the Shiite Fatimids.

From the 14th to the 17th centuries, one of the most important Muslim territories was the Mali Empire, whose capital was Timbuktu.

In the 18th century, there were three great Muslim empires: the Ottoman in Turkey, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean; the Safavid in Iran; and the Mogul in India. By the 19th century, these realms had fallen under the sway of European political and economic power. Following WWI, the remnants of the Ottoman empire were parceled out as European protectorates or spheres of influence. Islam and Islamic political power have revived in the 20th century. However, the relationship between the West and the Islamic world remains uneasy.

Contemporary Islam

File:Islam by country.png
Countries with Muslim populations over 10% of total (source - CIA World Factbook, 2004). The darker green represents a Sunni majority and the light green represents a Shia majority.

Although the most prominent movement in Islam in recent times has been fundamentalist Islamism, there are a number of liberal movements within Islam, which seek alternative ways to align the Islamic faith with contemporary questions.

Early Sharia had a much more flexible character than is currently associated with Islamic jurisprudence, and many modern Muslim scholars believe that it should be renewed, and the classical jurists should lose their special status. This would require formulating a new fiqh suitable for the modern world, e.g. as proposed by advocates of the Islamization of knowledge, and would deal with the modern context. One vehicle proposed for such a change has been the revival of the principle of ijtihad, or independent reasoning by a qualified Islamic scholar, which has lain dormant for centuries.

This movement does not aim to challenge the fundamentals of Islam; rather, it seeks to clear away misinterpretations and to free the way for the renewal of the previous status of the Islamic world as a centre of modern thought and freedom. (See Modern Islamic philosophy for more on this subject.)

Many Muslims counter the claim that only "liberalization" of the Islamic Sharia law can lead to distinguishing between tradition and true Islam by saying that meaningful "fundamentalism", by definition, will eject non-Islamic cultural inventions — for instance, acknowledging and implementing Muhammad's insistence that women have God-given rights that no human being may legally infringe upon. Proponents of modern Islamic philosophy sometimes respond to this by arguing that, as a practical matter, "fundamentalism" in popular discourse about Islam may actually refer, not to core precepts of the faith, but to various systems of cultural traditionalism.

The demographics of Islam today

Main articles: Islam by country & Demographics of Islam

Based on the percentages published in the 2005 CIA World Factbook ("World"), Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. According to the World Network of Religious Futurists, the U.S. Center for World Mission, and the Samuel Huntington, Islam is growing faster numerically than any of the other major world religions. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance estimates that it is growing at about 2.9% annually, as opposed to 2.3% per year global population growth. This is attributed either to the higher birth rates in many Islamic countries (six out of the top-ten countries in the world with the highest birth rates have a Muslim majority [1]) and/or high rates of conversion to Islam.

Commonly cited estimates of the Muslim population today range between 900 million and 1.4 billion people (cf.; estimates of Islam by country based on U.S. State Department figures yield a total of 1.48 billion, while the Muslim delegation at the United Nations quoted 1.2 billion as the global Muslim population in Sept 2005.

Only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world; 20% are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, about 30% in the South Asian region of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and the world's largest single Muslim community (within the bounds of one nation) is in Indonesia. There are also significant Muslim populations in China, Europe, Central Asia, and Russia.

Austria was the first European country to recognize Islam as an official religion, while France has the highest Muslim population of any nation in Western Europe, with up to 6 million Muslims (10% of the population [2]). Albania is said to have the highest proportion of Muslims as part of its population in Europe (70%), although this figure is only an estimate (see Islam in Albania). The number of Muslims in North America is variously estimated as anywhere from 1.8 to 7 million.

Symbols of Islam

Main article: Islamic symbols
File:Green Shahada crescent.png
This green star and crescent are composed of Arabic calligraphy representing the Basmala, the first verse of the Qur'an, and the Shahādah, the Muslim confession of faith.

Muslims do not accept any icon, or color as sacred to Islam, as worshipping symbolic or material things is against the spirit of monotheism. Many people assume that the star and crescent symbolize Islam, but these were actually the insignia of the Ottoman Empire, not of Islam as a whole. The color green is often associated with Islam as well; this is mere custom and not anything prescribed by religious scholars. However, Muslims will often use elaborately calligraphed verses from the Qur'an as decorations in mosque, home, and public places. The Quranic verses are believed to be sacred.

See also

List of Islamic and Muslim-related topics


  1. Shi'a Muslims do not believe in absolute predestination (Qadar), since they consider it incompatible with Divine Justice. Neither do they believe in absolute free will since that contradicts God's Omniscience and Omnipotence. Rather they believe in "a way between the two ways" (amr bayn al‑'amrayn) believing in free will, but within the boundaries set for it by God and exercised with His permission.
  2. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad group claims, as did a few long- extinct early medieval Kharijite sects, that Jihad is the "sixth pillar of Islam". Some Ismaili groups consider "Allegiance to the Imam" to be the so-called sixth pillar of Islam. For more information, see the article entitled Sixth pillar of Islam.


  • Encyclopedia of Islam
  • Arberry, A. J. The Koran Interpreted: a translation by A. J. Arberry. Touchstone, ISBN 0684825074
  • Kramer, Martin. The Islamism Debate. University Press, (1997) ISBN 9652240249
  • Kurzman, Charles. Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook. Oxford University Press, (1998) ISBN 0195116224
  • Rahman, Fazlur. Islam. University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition, (1979) ISBN 0226702812
  • Safi, Omid. Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism. Oneworld Publications, (2003) ISBN 1-85168-316-X
  • Tibi, Bassam. The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder. Univ. of California Press, (1998) ISBN 0520088689
  • Winter, T.J. and Williams, J.A. Understanding Islam and the Muslims Fons Vitae Books

External links


Islam and the arts, sciences, & philosophy

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