History: Islam is the third and final Abrahamic religion, after Judaism and Christianity. It is believed that the descendents of Islam can be attributed directly to Abraham. "Abraham married Sarah. Sarah had no son, so Abraham, wanting to continue his line, took Hagar for his second wife. She bore him a son Ishmael, whereupon Sarah conceived and likewise had a son, named Isaac. Sarah then demanded that Abraham banish Ishmael and Hagar from the tribe. This is where the first divergence arises between the biblical and Qu'ranic accounts. According to the Qu'ran , Ishmael went to the place where Mecca was to rise. His descendants became Muslims; whereas those of Isaac were Hebrews and became Jews." 6
Prior to the birth of Islam in 622 C.E. the environment in the Arabian Peninsula was characterized by warring tribes, trade routes, multiple religions (Christianity, Judaism, Mysticism, Polytheism, etc.), and a general ambiance of ambiguity. All of which the Prophet had to overcome when he established a new faith. This faith, Islam, was founded based on the revelations of God as they were revealed to Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah through the archangel Gabriel. "Through a combination of divine revelation and great personal character, Muhammad brought humanity a religion that offered alternatives not only to the idolatry and bigotry of the desert Arabs, but also to the world." 7
Before becoming the Prophet, Muhammad led a relatively modest life. He was raised in a Bedoin tribe by his grandfather after both his parents died. When his grandfatherdied, his Uncle Abu Talib became his legal guardian and protective figure in his life. Muhammad worked as both a shepherd and a caravan manager before he married the caravan owner. Khadija was fifteen years his senior but became his life partner. 8
At the age of forty during periods of retreat, Muhammad began having his first vision. This vision and the ones that followed were interpreted to be verses and the direct word of God. They werecompiled into the holy text of Islam, the Qu'ran.
Islam is defined as the "submission" to one God, and the revelations revealed to Muhammad outlined a means of praising thisone God. The visions included verses such as "the understanding that only through devotion to one and only one God and through righteous observance of the revealed law could people attain salvation in the after- life." 9 These laws included practices of regular prayer, almsgiving and charitable treatment of the poor, modesty with the opposite sex, and the rejection of idols and false Gods.
Muhammad preached his revelations to people in Mecca and gained a small group of followers, including his wife. Initially his Uncle, although not a believer himself but a prominent man in the town, was able to protect Muhammad from criticism. However, after his death, Muhammad and his followers were subjected to violent reaction toward his new faith. Huston Smith offers a number of reasons why Islam was met with this violent reaction:
Islam's "uncompromising monotheism threatened polytheistic beliefs and the considerable revenue that was coming to Mecca from pilgrimages to its 360 shrines, it's moral teachings demanded an end to the licentiousness that citizens clung to, and it's social content challenged an unjust order. In a society riven with class distinctions, the Prophet preached a message that was extremely democratic." 10 In order to protect themselves it was critical for Muhammad and his followers to flee Mecca. They were invited to practice their faith in Medina, a town 280 miles north. The migration of believers in 622 C.E. became known as the Hijra and marks the beginning of the Muslim calender. 11
In Medina, Muhammad flourished as a Prophet, and gained a mass following in and around their adopted town. Eight years after he had fled, Muhammad was welcomed back to Mecca and the cityunderwent a mass conversion to Islam. 12 Two years later in 632 C.E., Muhammad died, leaving behind the foundations for a religion that would one day parallel in power both Christianity and Judaism. Within a century of his death "his followers conquered Armenia, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, North Africa, and Spain." 13
Islam was able to successfully expand into a major religion following the death of the Prophet for a number of reasons. The first is that the record of Muhammad's visions into a sacred text provideda fundamental and eternal source of his legitimacy. Secondly, the compilation of sacred Islamic laws called the Shari'a , were established after the death of the Prophet in order for Muslims to have a guide that would dictate to them how to live theirlife according to Allah's desire as was dictated in the Qu'ran. This was also a means of unifying all the believers regardless of their background, so that they could establish a similar pattern of life that would bind them in faith. The shari'a "entails a whole mentality and way of life which, when fully adhered to permeates the minds, actions, and feelings of Muslims." 14 Finally, "as a result, the Islamic mentality is characterized by dichotomies; things either conform to Islam or they oppose it."(39) It is this last point that led Muslims to feel the need to expand their faith to those who oppose it and/or were unaware of it.
Premodern Muslims were aware that "for a movement in Islamdom to gain popular support, it had to aspire to bring Muslims and non-muslims more fully under shar'a rule. The opportunity to further Islamic goals prompted powerful responses and inspired great political and military efforts." 15 As the Muslims invaded east and west in the name of Islam, they understood their success to be a symbol of Allah's approval of their actions. However, as Islam spread and grew as a religionit also brought fear to other established religions, especially Christianity, because it threatened their territorial power. "Unlike the Inner Asians and Vikings, who were simple tribesmen with few ambitions beyond plunder, Muslims were civilized people who brought a rival faith and an appealing culture. Europeans under Islamic rule adopted the Islamic religion, the Arabic or Turkish language, and Muslim cultural forms. More than just a military threat, Islam offered an alternate way of life." 16 This expresses the early signs of centuries of inter-faith antagonism stimulated by mutual threat. The success of Islam'sexpansion would carry through until the modern era.
Islam in the modern era (1800-1970) did not fair as well as it had under the premodern era. During the premodern era, Muslims did suffer some setbacks during their quests, especially near the end of the era when the Europeans became more technologically advanced. The Ottoman Empire, which had been a huge source of power for Islam, began to decline as the Europeans strengthened. Eventually, the Europeans became the "most civilized, the richest, and the healthiest people in the world" 17 and began reconquering their former territories and then some. Another important aspect of this era was the beginning of secularization in Europe, which led to a more democratic and effective means of governing. The Europeans became more technologically and militarily advanced and began to exert their influence in the now weakened states of the Ottoman Empire. What began in the late eighteenth centurywas an onslaught of European interest in the Middle East for trade and resources. When "the British established control over Benegal [through the East India Company] they now had enough power to confront Muslims directly." 18 By the end of World War I, due to the Ottomans loss to the allied powers, the Europeans gained control of almost all the territory of what comprised the Islamic Empire and began distributing it amongst themselves. This presented a threat to the Islamic way of life and politics. The European colonization introduced to the region Christian values and modernization.The role of the shari'a in a modern world began to be questioned by Muslims, a question that is still being debated today.
The decades following World War II found Islamic states attempting to gain their freedom back from European colonization. One method was pan-Arabism or pan-Islamic solidarity, similar ideologies but they were separated in an attempt to distinguish between religion and nationalism. This separation of religion and nationalism created an internal debate as to how to resolve a secular state but still live according to the sacred law of Islam.
Contemporary Islamic society (1970-present) is still caught between the desire to follow the sacred law of the shari'a while still being actively involved in the ever expanding globalization of society. Part of this conflict stems from Muslims "reluctance to acknowledge the West's power and cultural leadership." 19 Muslims want to modernize, but they want to do it within the context of their own abilities and beliefs. There is stilla deep sense of mistrust and threat between the Christian influence of the West on Muslim belief.
The most recent chance for Islamic societies to re-establish their clout in world politics came in the 1970s during what has been termed the "Islamic revival." The oil boom of the 1970s poured billions of dollars into Middle Eastern accounts, where Muslims were the most predominate force in society. This allowed them to have enough economic resources to modernize according to their own design. However, this wealth was not controlled by democratic governments and in most cases it only increased the chasm between the rich and the poor and did not affect religious society at all.
Contemporary Islam is characterized by a constant clash between that of traditional practice and adapting to the demands of the modern world. During the modern era, caught in Western colonialism, Islam declined as a political and spiritual force. However, once Muslim nations were once again able to establish independent nations, there emerged an Islamic Revival. "During the 1970s, fervent Muslims -- usually but not always fundamentalists -- took power in two countries, Pakistan and Iran; they won a major political role in Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Saudi Arabia; and they aquired greater weight in virtuallyall other predominantly Muslim states." 20 This revival resulted in a return for many of these states to traditional Islamic ways according to sacred law. This revival can be accounted for in two ways. First, European influence began to decline in the non-Western world, providingan opportunity for change. Secondly, there was a desire to reassert the impact of Islam in these states due to the perceived threat of Judaism in Israel. Islam was a common bond to unify these independent nations.
Another important characteristic of contemporary Islam is that the oil boom gave Islamic nations political clout throughout the world because they controlled the majority of the oil reserves. "Oil wealth gave Muslims the power to raise or lower oil prices, to buy telephone systems from this company or helicopters fromthat country, to give aid or withhold it. . .[and] the west hardly reacted at all. This passivity heightened the perception among Muslims that a momentous shift in power had occured, and they were exhilirated by it." 21 However, this success due to increased wealth could only last so long, and many Muslim states are now having to find ways to legitimize the government systems without the constant flow of economic resources. Muslim states have been hindered by their unwillingness to modernize and used their economic resources as a means of supporting traditionalist ways, but the resources are not endless. Although Islam is currently one of the fastest growing religions throughout the world, there are still some necessary obstacles that it must overcome in order to evolve as an equal counterpart in the contemporary world. Islamic nations are trying to find a common ground between their beliefs and the securalized modern world, that will allow them to reassert their influence in the world system.
Sacred or Revered Texts: Qu'ran, Hadith Qu'ran:
"It is a memorandum for the faithful, a reminder for daily doings, and a repository of revealed truth. It is a manual of definitions and guarantees, and at the same time a road map for the will. Finally, it is a collection of maxims to meditate on in private, deepening endlessly one's sense of divine glory." 22
The Qu'ran is a collection of the scriptures of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel. It is considered the direct word of God and it consists of 114 chapters that are arranged in order of length and not chronologically.
This is the other major text in Islamic tradition. It is the collection of "sayings of Muhammad and his Companions passed down in the centuries following his death." 23
Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Geographic Distribution: According to a group of researchers from Morehead State University, there are "usually three process involved in creating the distribution of religion: diffusion, migration, and competition for space." 24 Islam used all three of these processes when it expanded from its core in Medina. After the death of the Prophet, Muslims conquered Iran in 641 C.E., followed a year later by the conquest of Egypt. By the 8th century, Muslims had expanded to all of North Africa, the Iberian Penninsula, India, and Indonesia. 25 As Muslims migrated to various regions, they employed two methods of establishing converts, "contagious contact and hierarchical(force)." 26 Contagious contact theory suggests that two groups of people in close contact will eventually merge or adapt to the other, through marriage or simply unification purposes. In much of the region that Islam initially expanded, the other groups were highly chaotic and/or apathetic, so Islam offered them a means of unity and organization. The other method was by force or political association. This was especially prevalent during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Islam reached the peak of its unified geographical distribution during the Ottoman Empire (1520-1564), when Islam penetrated the furthest it ever had into Western Europe, conquering Belgrade and Vienna.
Islam maintained a peculiar pattern of growth, one that expanded almost entirely around the globe, but was extremely narrow in it's latitudinal expansion. I venture to guess that the reason for this is that Islam successfully expanded into territories that were not pre-exposed to or dominated by one of the other major world religions. These regions were often less developed and could be conquered more easily. As Muslims tried to expand further north into Asia and Europe they were more often met with defeat, as was the case at the Battle of Tours in France in 732. 27 . The historical maps provided by Barbara R. von Schlegell at the University of Pennsylvania are a fantastic way to follow the rate and geographic distribution of Islamic expansion.
A modern map of Islam shows the continued growth of Islam around the world. Today it is the fastest growing religion, and aproximately 18% of the world's population is Muslim. 28 Today, Islam extends from Turkey and the western coast of Africa across southern Asia to the Phillipines and Indonesia, and north from India. There has also been a substantial expansion in the twentieth century of Muslims in North and South America, where there are aproximately 4 million followers spread throughout the region.However, Asia maintains the highest proportion of Muslims in the world.
Size of Group: According to John Esposito's recently published book, The Oxford History of Islam ,Islam has aproximately 1.2 billion followers. It is the second largest and fastest growingreligion in the world. 29
II. Beliefs and Practices of Islam "Islam is a religion based upon the surrender to God who is one. The very name of the religion, al-islam in Arabic means at once submission and peace, for it is in submitting to God's will that human beings gain peace in their lives in their world and in the hereafter. The message of Islam concerns God, who in Arabic is called Allah, and it addresses itself to humanity's most profound nature. It concerns men and women as they were created by God -- not as fallen beings. Islam therefore considers itself to be not an innovation but a re-assertion of the universal truth of all revelation which is God's oneness." 30
In order for Muslims to submit themselves to Allah and reassert their faith in Islam, there are various practices and beliefs that each Muslim should follow. Islam for Muslims isn't just a belief, it is a way of life. What they believe, dictates how they should live for Allah. The following are generally accepted practices, however each sect and subgroup may adapt them to fulfill their own beliefs.
Shari'a: This is "a sacred law to guide Muslims in all times and places. It establishes the context for Islam as a political force. Where the Qu'ran may be seen as the constitution of Islam, the Shari'a is the corpus of laws that explicates it." 31 The Shari'a is essentially what unites all the diverse communities of Islam. It is the core of how to be a Muslim regardless of your sect or subgroup. However, in the contemporary world, the Shari'a has come under much debate as to how it can and/or should be re-interpreted in order to adapt to the modern era.
Five Pillars of Islam : these are obligations of every Muslim that uphold the structure of Islam. 32
tashahhud : Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood Muhammad; salat : Five-times-daily prayers. Starting at just before sunrise, just after noon, midafternoon, just after sunset, and after nightfall; zakat : Concern for almsgiving to the needy; sawm : Self-purification through fasting. This usually done from before sunrise to sunset each day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calender; and hajj : The pilgrimage to Mecca for those who are able. Sunna : "the combination of the Hadith and the Qu'ran interpreted as the way of life of the Prophet that Muslims take as theirmodel or code of Muslim Orthodoxy." 33
Six Pillars of Faith: They are meant to be a "practice-oriented" approach. . .to be ritually affirmedat the time of conversion or whenever one's doctorinal orientation is called into question by the religious authorities of the Islamic State. 34
To believe in Allah. To believe in Allah's Angels. To believe in Allah's revealed books, the Qu'ran, the New Testament, the Psalms of David, the Torah, and the Pages of Abraham. To believe in Allah's messengers. To believe in the last day. To believe in Allah's determination of affairs, good or bad. This is a reaffirmation of the concepts of divine fore-knowledge and fate. The Last Day: Similar to Christian belief in the New Testament.The Qu'ran states that the Last Day "will occur suddenly and with great cosmic upheaval: "when the sun ceases to shine; when the stars are falling down and the mountains are blown away. . .when the seas are set alight and men's souls are reunited. . ."(Qu'ran 81,82) And at this time the Mahdi, a messianic figure will appear. 35
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III. Major Sub-Groups of Islam Given the long history and immense population of Islam, it comes as no suprise that over the centuries individuals have come to interpret their beliefs in Islam differently. Sects, factions, and subgroups have all emerged over the years, choosing to believe and focus their faith in Islam in varying ways.
The first divisions in the core of Islam date back to Muhammad's death when followers debated over who would succeed him as their spiritual leader. They initially divided into two groups, the Sunnis and the Shi'ites . Today there are many more sects branching off these groups and independently from the foundation of Islam. Here we highlight only the most prominant ones.
Sunnis: Meaning "traditionalists", Sunnis are the most dominant sect of Islam, comprising about 87% of Muslims worldwide. Sunnis are united in their belief "in the legitimacy of the first three caliphs(successors to Muhammad) Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, and their strict adherence to the Sunna . 36 Within the Sunnis, there are further divisions into the four schools of faith varying in their strictness of interpreting how the Prophet lived. These are: 37
Hanabalites : the strictest school, they are usually located in Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Malikhites : rigorous but allow supplementary laws aside from those of the prophet. They are usually found in North Africa and the Sudan. Hanafites : less rigorous and located in Turkey, India, and parts of China. Shafiites : the least rigorous of the four schools and usuall found in the southern tip of the Arabian Penninsula, Indonesia, and Egypt. Shi'ites: From the beginning, Shi'ites conflicted with the Sunni believers over who should succeed the Prophet. Literally translated, Shi'ite means "partisan" of the faith. "It is the dominant religious group in Iran, Lebanon, and Bahrain, but accounts for less than 15% of all Muslims. 38 The fundamental belief of this sect is that they "insist on the importance of descent from Muhammad's family and feel that the role of the Prophet's first successor should have gone to Ali." 39 Ali was the husband of the Prophet's only surviving daughter, Fatima. Eventually, Ali did become the fourth caliph, but was assassinated by a member of another Muslim sect the Kharijites . This sect also splits into further subgroups of religious beliefs: 40
1. Seveners - acknowledge only six of the twelve Imams of the Shi'ites, and the seventh is Ismail Ibn Jafar who is not recognized by anyother sect. They are awaiting the return of Ismail's son Muhammad whom they believe disappeared and is the next Imam. They do not believe that "Muhammad was the last prophet but was actually followed by a number of others, they are considered wildely heterodox." 41
2. Twelvers - believe in Ali and his eleven directly hereditary successors, "imputing to them doctorinal infalliablity and freedom from sin." Like the Seveners, they believe their last descendent, the twelth Imam disappeared and are awaiting his return "amid the evils of the world at the Last Day as the Mahdi." 42 Sunnis vs. Shi'ites : There are a number of similarities between these two sects, however there are two fundamental differences in their beliefs which have divided them for centuries.
1. Sunnis believe in the order of the first four caliphs. While they accept Ali, they do not place him as important as the Shi'ites do. Shi'itesadhere to the belief of Ali as the Prophet's rightly guided successor and actually prefer to call the calips, Imams.
2. Shi'ites prefer the practice of ijithad , which is the individual interpretation of the law by scholars. Whereas Sunnis strictlybelieve in the ijma , the consensus of Muslim scholars, in addition to the ijithad. Also, Shi'ites are less strictin their adherence to the five pillars and do not believe in the hadith. 43 Sufism: Sufism is a mystical sect of Islam. The name is derived from the word "suf" which means wool. Wool reflects the garments worn by the earliest Sufis, and was the traditional clothing of the Prophet. While sufis are often considered a heretical sect due to their mystical beliefs, some argue that they are in fact the most orthodox believers of Islam. In fact, according to Peter Occhiogrosso, during the "earliest days of Islam's expansion in the mid to late 7th century, Sufis functioned as missionaries and spiritual masters, addingimmeasurably to the richness of Islamic life." 44 What distinguishes Sufis from other orthodox Muslims is their search for spirituality within Islam in addition to following the laws of the faith. They seek "a reverence for the inner truth of Islam in addition to the formal or sacred law, by incorporating spiritual experience into every facet of daily life and breath. . .they seek a direct and complete experience with God, not merely of interaction with God but, ultimately, a divine union." 45 Sufis follow a path led by a shaykh who is the individual's spiritual guide on the journey into the soul. Where the Sufis diverge most significantly from mainstream Islam is in their belief of saints and martyrs, not unlike Christianity. Mainstream Islam rejects the idolatry because they feel that one's relationship with Godshould be direct, and not mediated by a third party. Sufism in general is one of the most controversial subgroups withing Islam because of its unique interpretation of how to practice and believe in Islam.
Islamic Fundamentalism: Islamic Fundamentalists "are Muslims who are convinced of the Shari'a's eternal validity and who attempt to live by it to the letter. For them, it is not important that the law was developed one thousand years ago: can the truth become outdated, does God change his mind?" 46 Fundamentalists believe that the law and guidance of Allah that was first revealed to the Prophet is just as relevant today as it was then, and they seek to establish the ideal society that Allah proposed.
Islamic Fundamentalists emerged as a powerful ideology in the eighteenth century." 47 They were established as a reaction to what they saw as the weakness of Muslims as a result of falling away from the ideals of the Shari'a due to increased Western Influence.In order to fulfill the Shari'a, it is necessary for Fundamentalists to be active in politics. They wanted to assert the values of Islam into every aspect of life. This included:
gauranteeing employees time off to pray, rules mandating the following of strict family laws of marriage, divorce, and inheritence, the restriction of military and political offices to Muslims, the use of Islamicate languages and Arabic script as well as financial support for mosques and Islamic schools, and pan-Islamic solidarity. Fundamentalists view the lifestlye of the West as a threat and the antithesis of what the Shari'a represents. Because Western influence on Islam has grown, particularly in the twentieth century, Fundamentalists have reactedoften violently to this intrustion. "Fundamentalist Muslims come to see Islam as almost a blueprint for a social order which could be set off against capitalism or communism as rival social systems." 48 This conflict is one of the main reasons Islam is often viewed negatively by Westerners.
Even though Fundamentalists are staunchly opposed to western values and influence, they often contradict themselves when it comes to modernization. In order to establish themselvesas a legitimate force, they need the modern technology provided by the West. "They are eager to make use of the factories, the weapons, and whatever else helps to increase their power and wealth." 49
As with every sect, there are a number of Islamic Fundamentalists groups, and not all are violent in nature, this is a common western misconception. It is just important to note that in the past century, they have become a significang influence regarding Islamic society. Two groups are listed below to reveal some aspects ofIslamic Fundamentalism.
The Wahhabi Movement: "they are considered the most reactionary of all Muslim sects and they refuse any innovation on Qu'ranic Law." 50 They want to return to the ideal "fundamental" form of Islam like that in the era of the first four calips following the prophet.
Kharijites: meaning "seceders", they are "reputedly the oldest religious sect of Islam. "They were fiercely violent and were actually responsible for the assassination of the fourth caliph Ali. They are considered strict "fundamentalist and Qu'ranic literalist. . .and felt that any true believing and righteous Muslim could be elected to the caliphate" 51 and that the succession of the Prophet was open to anyone of the true faith, and not just the Sunnis and Shi'ites.
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V. Islam and the Western World According to Huston Smith, "no part of the world is more hopelessley and systematically and stubbornlymisunderstood by us than the complex of religion, culture, and geography known as Islam." 52 Historically this has often led to a negative perspective by Westerners of Islamic regions, because of their inabilityto understand the fundamental aspect of their lifestlye that is Islam.
The relationship between Islam and the West has always been precarious. Islam is such a fundamental aspect of everyday life of most Arabs, that the secular societies of the West find difficult to relate to it. There has been centuries of resentment and mistrust built up between these two seemingly conflicting ideologies. Much of it stems back centuriesover religious conflict and territorial interests, all of which are still pertinent today. And while not all Arabs are Muslim and vice versa, this section will deal mostlywith the conflict between the Arab world because it contains the largest proportion of Muslims and is where the conflict originated.
According to Edward Said, author of Orientalism , the history of anti-Arab prejudice can be traced back to when "Islam was born, when Islam was a political and economic threat to Europe." 53 However, much of the current antogonism between Islamic countriesand the West lie in the 19th and 20th century colonialism of the Middle East by the West. In 1896 Great Britain colonized Egypt and remained an influential presencethere and in the Arabian Penninsula for the next fifty years. The mistrust and duplicity that rose from this relationship laid the foundation for future generations.
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with the Germans. The British in response turned to the Arabian Pennisula in hopes of gaininga strategic ally. They appealed to Sharif Hussein, the Islamic religious leader of Mecca and a descendent of the Prophet. He agreed to attack the Ottomans with the assurance that if they wonthe UK would support his desire to establish and Independent Arab State. This became known as the Hussein- McMahon Correspondence of 1916. 54
Hussein however, was unaware of a promise the British has made to the French for the same territory in 1915. The Sykes-Picot Agreement divided up the Ottoman Empire into British and French spheres of influence at the end of World War I. In the end, France received Lebanon and northern parts of Iraq, the British held onto the southern part of the penninsula and Hussein and his sons were given Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. However, the deceit by the British forever tarnished the trust between the Arabs and the West.
This trust was severed futher when the Zionist Movement at the turn of the century further threatened Muslim and Arab Territory. Zionism was founded by Theodor Herzl who argued on behalf of European Jews that they were not safe in Europe and they deserved a national homeland of their own. It was decided that Palestine where Judaism wasfouned would be the homeland of the Jews. Intially only a small wave of Jews immigrated to Palestine, but with the rise of Hitler thousands migrated there. However, establishing themselves there conflicted with the pre- established Arab population. In 1917 in the Balfour Decleration, the British supported a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This Western support only strengthened the Arab opionion of British duplicity because they were giving away land they had already promised to the Arabs and that was not theirs to give away.
In 1948, the Independent State of Israel was declared and thousands of Arab Palestinians fled their homes. Since this time there have been countless battles and border disputes between Arab/Islamic states and the Jewish State of Israel. After the Arab states gained their indpendence in the middle of the 20th Century, British and French influence has been minimal, but it was replaced by the United States and USSR. Neither nation saw ideological interest in the Islamic or Jewish states but sought to exert their influence out of strategic importance during the Cold War. Western influence eventually became unwelcomed but still necessary and today there is a persistant internal and external conflict over the interests of the Modern west and traditional lifestyle of the Islamic Middle East.
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VI. Islam in the United States Prior to the twentieth century, Islam remained a relatively unknown and foreign religion and lifestyle to Americans. However, this changed in the twentieth century when the there was a substantial increase in Muslim migration to North American, as well as the introduction of the Black Muslim movement. I have not been able to locate any specific reason for the sudden mass immigration of muslims to the U.S. other than the general one posed byJohn Esposito that they came "in a quest for a better life, beginning in the middle 1870s with groups from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine." 55 However, Jaques Jamier agrees that Muslims began migrating from this Middle Eastern region "in the decades before the First World War. . .[but] the process of Muslim community building only reallybegan seriously during the 1920s and 30s primarily in the local level in the industrial towns." 56 Today, Islam is the second or third largest religion in the United States, and has established organizations, mosques, and communities within the western environment.
The Black Muslim movement is the other source of Islamic growth in the United States in the twentieth century. Given the wide variety of religions in the United States, it comes as no suprise that Islam has also becomepart of the culture for numerous Americans. Some choose to adopt this new way of life, others are immigrants of Islamic cultures looking to maintain their faith in a new place. Islam came to the forefront of American culture when it was adopted by African Americans during the tumultous 1960s, when Malcolm X defined Islam as the religion of his people and a means of "Black Empowerment".
Nation of Islam: founded in 1931, by Wallace Fard Muhammad, and brought to national attention by Malcolm X and later Louis Farrakan. You can use the link to find out more information on the importance of this movement to the history of the United States and African Americans.
Current Events: Rival U.S. Black Muslim Groups Reconcile 57 February 25,2000: Louis Farrakhan and Wallace Dean Mohammed, leaders of the Nation of Islam and Muslim American Society respectively, reconciled their rivalry after 25years. Islam in the United States: This is a link for Islams in the United States, addressing currentevents, local practices and laws pertaining to their rights and beliefs.
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IV. Women in Islam One of the most controversial aspects of Islam from the perspective of the Western World is its treatment of women. From the Western perspective, Islamic women are seen as oppressed, unequal, and denied the same rights as Islamic men and their Western "sisters". Westerners see women in the traditional hijab . The hijab is the required dress of Muslim women according to the Qu'ran, in its simplist form it requires women to wear headscarves. Westerners view Muslim women who wear the hijab as being subjected to submission by men in their society, and denied the same rights. Given the impact of the feminist revolution in the West, the restrictive role of women in Islamic societyis seen as a violation of their basic human rights.
The Qu'ran states that women should be modest, "they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof." (24:31) There is no mention of women wearing the hijab but it is believed that Fatima, the prophet's daughter, the most highly acclaimed Muslim woman, wore one. She is believed to embody the Islamic ideals of womanhood. 58
What is important to keep in mind, and westerners often forget, is that for Muslims, Islam is not just a belief and religion, but a lifestyle. How women live in Islamic societies(though not all) is an act of obedience to God(Allah), not men. Ziba Mir- Hossein, a Muslim woman from Iran writes in her book, Islam and Gender , that Islam "is too hard to address from the outside, there is almost no point because Islam is a way of life, not just a belief so you cannnot understandroles and rights unless you understand the belief. Western values are meaningless." 59 As a Muslim woman, she states that within Islam there are two views heldby women. One is "shari'a based", Islamic women who defend their way of life against Western criticism, especially Western feminist. The second view is "feminist-based", a more complicatedgroup of women of Islamic backgrounds, some of whom "clearly locate their feminism in Islam, and others who make a point of distancing themselves from any Islamic association." 60
In severe cases of obvious repression, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan , where women are clearly subjected by society and not God to an inferior position, there is cause for worldwide concern. However, in other cases, Islamic women, even those outside of predominantly Islamic societies, prefer to wear the hijab or headscarves and follow traditional roles. Sultana Yusufali , a 17 year old girl, who lives in Toronto, Canada defends wearing the hijab because she feels it gives her more freedom than other Western girls her age who are constantly judged by their looks. She says that "my body is my own business. Nobody can tell how I should look or whether or not I am beautiful.I know that there is more to me than that. I am also able to say no comfortably when people ask me if I feel as though my sexuality is being repressed. I have taken control of my sexuality." 61
According to the Qu'ran, men and women are looked upong equally by God, "be you male or female, you are members of one another." (3:195) 62 And unlike Judeo-Christian religions, the Qu'ran places blame on both Adam and Eve for original sin. In the Islamic faith women and men are considered complimentary halves of the same soul, equal but different. Therefore, according to Dr. Lois Lamya 'al Faruqi, "if Muslim women experience discrimmination in any place or time, they do notand should not blame Islam, but on the un-Islamic nature of their societies and the failure of Muslims to fulfill its directions." 63
In today's modern world, the practices and treatment of Muslim women vary widely. In countries like Afghanistan, Muslim women are outrightly oppressed by society and this is justified in their belief through Islam. In othercountries women choose to express their faith through traditional dress and practices, while others are adopting Western appearances and interpreting their faith and adapting the Qu'ran more liberally.
The following are some excellent resources on the web concerning women in Islam. Articles written byMuslims and non-Muslims.
Islam and Women : A number of articles in this site address feminism in Islam, and defining and defending the role of the hijab.
The Muslim Women's Homepage : This site lists over a hundred different articles for women addressing their rights, their roles in society, marriage, and attempting to dispelthe widespread stereotyping of Islamic Women.
Islam and Women's Rights : A comprehensive link of women's rights in Islam, a compartive look at Islamic and Judeo-Christian Women, and addressing women's roles according to the Qu'ran.
| Profile | Beliefs | Major Subgroups | Women | Glossary 1 | Links | Bibliography |
VII. Links to Islam Web Sites About.com This link is a great introduction to Islam for non-believers. It provides netlinks to detailed aspects of Islam such as the Islamic Calender, family life, the Five Pillars, history, women,and more. In addition it offers a link to the basic introduction of Islam for those entirely new to the religion. http://www.islam.about.com
Introduction to Islam This site provides a similar introduction to the basics of Islam, however it also provides interesting linksto articles on comparative religions, pespectives of Islam by non-muslims, and current events. http://www.crusades.org/dawah/islam_intro0.html>
Islamic Studies, Islam, Arabic, and Religion This site is unique in that it provides links to different aspects of Islam such as the division between Sunni Islam and Shi'ism, Philosophy, and Political Thought, Islam and the Modern World, and a link to great maps of predominantly Muslim countries. http://www.arches.uga.edu/~godlas/
Islam 101 This site is essentially an on-line course of Islam. It is an overview for those just learning about Islam. There are on-line tests and a guideline to help you learn. In addition to history there is information on Islamic art/architecture, science, the social sciences, and current events. There is also a link to comparing Islam with other major world religions. http://islam101.com/
IslamWorld This is a great site that addresses just about every aspect of Islam. It is easy to accessand there are countless links and articles to all the major concepts of Islam such as Prayer, Muslim character, Islamic countries, Fundamental Beliefs, the Hadith and Sunna, and The Holy Quran. There is also a very helpful section for non-muslims. http://www.islamworld.net/
IslamiCity This is a great interactive sight to gain an better understanding of Islamic life and practicethrough mulitmedia techniques. There is access to radio, TV, and links to Islamic newspapers and magazines. There is also a fantastic link to personal stories of believers and why they chose to convert to Islam. http://islamicity.org
Al-Tawhid This is a very informative and up to date Quarterly Journal of Islamic Thought and Culture. http://www.al-islam.org/al-tawhid/
Virtually Islamic.com A find selection of links to Islamic sites compiled by Gary Bunt. His book (see bibliographybelow) is highly recommended to those who wish to explore the different ways in which Muslimsare making use of the Internet. http://www.lamp.ac.uk/cis/liminal/virtuallyislamic/surfingislam.html
Web Pages on Islam A link that provides access to a collection of over a hundred sites on Islam. Some are informational, some are personal homepages for thoseinterested in further dissecting aspects of Islam on a more personal levels. http://www.islamworld.net//cgi-bin/htmlscript?category.hts+showcat+web
| Profile | Beliefs | Major Subgroups | Women | Glossary | Links | Bibliography |
Armstrong, Karen. 2000 Islam: A Short History. New York: Modern Library. Reviewed in New York Times. Sept 2, 2000. Also read first chapter.
Barnett, Michael N. 1998. Dialogues in Arab Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.
Bassioni, M. Cherif. 1985. Introduction to Islam. Washington D.C. : American-Arab Affairs Council.
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Bondarevsky, Grigori. 1985. Muslims and the West. New Dehli, India: Sterling Publishers Private Limited.
Bunt, Gary. 2000. Virtually Islamic. Cardiff: University of Wales.
Elias, Jamal J. 1999. Islam. London; New York : Routledge.
Esposito, John L. 1991. Islam and Politics. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. (3rd ed.)
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Esposito, John L. 1999. The Oxford History of Islam . Oxford University Press: Oxford, England.
Denny, Frederick Mathewson. 1985. An Introduction to Islam. Macmillam Publishing Company: New York.
Fry, George C. and James R.King. 1990 Islam, A Survey of the Muslim Faith. Baker Bookhouse Co: Michigan.
Hourani, Albert. 1990. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, Mass.:Harvard University Press.
Lester, Toby. 1999. "What is the Koran?" The Atlantic Monthly. January. 43-46; 48-54; 54-56.
Jomier, Jacques. 1989. How to Understand Islam. Crossroad Publishing CO: New York.
Lawrence, Bruce B. 1989. Defenders of God. San Francisco: Harper and Row.
Lewis, Bernard. 1988. The Political Language of Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lewis, Bernard. 1966(originally published in 1950). The Arabs in History. San Fancisco: Harper and Row.
Markam, Ian S., editor. 1996. A World Religion Reader. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. p.356-357
Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. 1999. Islam and Gender. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Pres.
Mortimer, Edward. 1982. Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam. New York: Vintage Books.
Norcliffe, David. 1999. Islam: Faith and Practice . Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press.
Pipes, Daniel. 1983. In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power. New York: Basic Books.
Sivan, Emmanuel. 1985. Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Wright, Robin. 1989. In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade. New York: Touchstone.
Wright, Robin. 1985. Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam. New York: Touchstone.
Occhiogrosso, Peter. 1996. The Joy of Sects. New York: Image Books. pp.395-468.
Smith, Houston. 1991. The World's Religions. San Fracisco: Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 221-271. (Originally published in 1958 as The Religious of Man )
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