Islam

Doctrines 'Islam' is an Arabic word which means 'peace' and the act of resignation to God. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of a line of prophets which began with Adam. Each prophet was sent to remind people of the will of God. Islam holds that the messages of all prophets had but one essence and a core composed of two elements. First is tawhid, the acknowledgement that there is only one God and that all worship, service and obedience are due to Him alone. The second is morality, which the Qur'an defines as service to God, doing good and avoiding evil. Muslims attribute particular importance to social service, alleviating other people's suffering and helping the needy.
Unlike Christianity, which assumes all people to be born with original sin, Islam assumes that all people are born innocent and capable through their reason and conscience of discerning good and evil. Adam's disobedience was his own personal error for which he was forgiven by God when he repented. Since Muslims do not believe in original sin they do not believe in the need to be saved from sin. Salvation is acquired through performing good deeds, not through the mediation of a saviour.
Another feature of Islam is the absence of clergy. The preacher does not have a different sacramental status from the laity. Jews, Christians and Sabaeans are referred to as 'People of the Book'; this meant that they are tolerated and protected when under Islamic jurisdiction.
Islamic eschatology believes in a Last Day when the world will come to an end, the dead will be resurrected and everyone judged according to their deeds. According to the Qur'an there is no intercession, although God, in his mercy, may forgive sinners. Those who are condemned will go to hell fire; those who are saved will enjoy the pleasures of paradise.
Islamic practice is based on what are called the five pillars of faith. The first is the shahadah (the confession of faith): "there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger".
The second is salat (the performance of five daily prayers). These prayers occur before sunrise, between mid-day and mid-afternoon, between mid-afternoon and sunset, immediately after sunset and between twilight and dawn. Before worshipping it is necessary to wash the hands, mouth and teeth, arms, face, nose and feet. When Muslims pray they always face the Ka'ba in Mecca. Congregational prayers are held on Friday; otherwise, Muslims can pray on their own or with others.
Zakat, the third pillar, is the payment of 2.5% of one's total income to the state for distribution to the poor and less fortunate. The term zakat literally means "purification", suggesting that wealth is defiling unless shared with others.
Sawm, the fourth pillar, is the practice of fasting. During the month of Ramadan Muslims are required to totally abstain from food, drink and sex each day from dawn to sunset. (Children, the sick and those journeying are exempt from the requirement to fast.) The purpose of the fast is to cultivate spiritual, moral and physical self-discipline. The end of Ramadan is marked by a festival called Eid al-Fitr, which Muslims celebrate with congregational prayer the first morning after Ramadan with gif ts and visits to relatives and friends.
The fifth pillar is the Hadj, a pilgrimage to the shrine called the Ka'ba in Mecca which is incumbent once in the life of all Muslims whose health and financial resources enable them to make the journey. Muslims believe that the Ka'ba was the first house of God on earth built by the prophet Ibrahim, and this is commemorated by the Hadj.
Another event that is commemorated by Muslims is Muhammad's ascent into heaven from Jerusalem. The mosque, known as the Dome on the Rock, in Jerusalem is believed to have been built on the spot where Muhammad ascended into heaven.

History The rise of Islam begins with the Prophet Muhammad who was born in the city of Mecca in about 570 CE and orphaned at the age of six. In the year 610 Muhammad received the first of a series of revelations from Allah. These occurred over a period of twenty-three years, and were memorized and dictated by Muhammad to his companions. These revelations are known as the Qur'an (which means 'reading'), the sacred book of Islam.
Muhammad's message was not favourably accepted by all the people of Mecca. Subjected to economic social and economic boycott by the powerful merchants of Mecca, Muhammad, his family and followers emigrated to the town of Yathrib (which later acquired the name Medina, 'the city of the prophet') in the year 622. This event (known as the Hijra, 'emigration') is regarded by Muslims as the starting point of Islamic history. From this point Muhammad gradually consolidated his power in the region. After repelling a Meccan attack on Medina in 627, he was able to take control of Mecca itself in 629. By the time of his death in 632 all but a few isolated pockets of Arabia were under Muhammad's control.
The second period of Islamic history is that of the first four caliphs (632-661). The first of these was Abu Bakr who reigned from 632-634. The second caliph, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab reigned for ten years (634-644), during which period the Islamic empire captured Syria, Jerusalem, Persia, and Egypt. Under the reign of the third caliph, 'Uthman ibn Affan (644-656) Islam extended further eastwards and in the west for a while reached as far as Tunisia. During the period of the fourth caliph, Ali ibn A bi Talib (656-61), who was also the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the Islamic community succumbed to serious internal divisions which eventually led to the assassination of Ali. The caliphate was then taken over by Mu'awiya, Ali's rival and the gove rnor of Syria.
The third period was that of the Ummayad caliphs of Damascus (651-750). Mu'awiya's reign changed the character of the caliphate in that, unlike the first four caliphs who were chosen by the community, Mu'awiya and his successors inherited the title. The caliphate became the property of the Ummayad family. the Ummayad period saw the further expansion of the Islamic empire eastwards into Transoxania, Western China and North India, and in the west into North Africa and Spain.
In spite of the growing success of Islam internal discontent was rising. Non-Arab Muslims increasingly resented the fact that power was being held entirely in the hands of the Arabs. Supported by non-Arab Muslims the 'Abbassid clan (whose name derives from al-'Abbas, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad) overthrew the Ummayads in 750. The 'Abbassids built the city of Baghdad as the political centre of the Muslim empire. The period when the 'Abbassids controlled the Islamic empire from Baghadad (750 - 1258) is the fourth period of Islamic history. Islam continued its global expansion during these five centuries. In 751 the Chinese army was defeated in Transoxania, leaving Central Asia open to the influence of Islam. At the beginning of the 10th cen tury Islam spread into Russia. And in the 11th century the first Islamic communities were established in Indonesia and Islam began to acquire a position of domination in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent.
However, this period also saw the disintegration of the Islamic empire into independent provinces. In 756 Abdu-Ahman, the one surviving member of the Ummayad clan, established an Ummayad dynasty in Spain. Egypt became independent in 868 before coming under the of the Shi'ite Fatimid caliphs, who ruled from 869 to 1171. And in 988 the regions of Afghanistan and the Punjab, on the eastern fringes of the Islamic empire, declared themselves independent from the 'Abbassids.
The rule of the 'Abbassads of Baghdad came to an end as a result of the westward spread of the Mongol empire and the capture of Baghdad in 1258.
Following the Mongol sacking of Baghdad, the Islamic empire diverged into three main parts: Central Asia which was dominated by the Mongols who had converted to Islam, North Africa which came increasingly under Arabic influence, and the Western half of the empire under the Seljuk and Mamluke Turks. The first of these under the Mongol Khan Tamerlaine stretched from Kiev in Russia to Western China. From the beginning of the 13th century onwards a series of sultanates of Turko-Afghan origins ruled India. The last of these, the Lodhis, was defeated in 1525 by Babur who established the foundation of the Mogal empire. Apart from a short period when Babur's son was displaced by the Afghan ruler Sher Shah, the Mogal's ruled the Indian subcontinent until the eighteenth century when it disintegrated into a number of smaller states. Although the structure of the Mogal empire remained its weakness made it the puppet of the British colonialists. Finally, in 1857 following an uprising against the British in India, the last Mogal emperor was deposed and exiled to Rangoon.
In North Africa the 'Abbassid family established a new dynasty with its capital in Cairo. In 1261 the uncle of the last of the 'Abbassid rulers of Baghdad was carried off to Cairo by Baybars, the Sultan of Egypt, where he and his descendants held the title of caliph until the Ottoman conquest of 1517.
In the west Islam experienced mixed fortunes. The end of the Ummayad rule in Spain had led to civil war (1008-1028) and the dissolution of the region into smaller warring states. This provided Christian Europe with the incentive to recapture Spain. One by one the various states fell and in 1492 Granada, the last Muslim kingdom in Spain, succumbed to the forces of Queen Isabella.
In south-eastern Europe Islam continued to grow through the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman dynasty expanded from central Turkey westwards capturing much of Asia Minor from the Byzantine empire during the 14th century and Constantinople in 1453. From Constantinople the Ottomans moved westwards to capture the southern Balkans (Greece, Serbia and Bosnia) and eventually reached as far as Poland. The defeat at the battle of sea battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the failed siege of Vienna in 1638 marked the beginning of the decline of Ottoman power. Gradually they were driven from Poland (in the 17th century) and then the Balkans and Greece (in the 19th century). The defeat of the Ottomans, who were allied with the Central European powers in the first world war, led to the break up of the Ottoman empire. In 1924 Turkey was made a secular state under its new leader Kemal Ataturk; many religious orders were disbanded and the caliphate brought to an end.
The twentieth century has seen the division of the Islamic world into a sizeable number of politically autonomous states. As the European powers relinquished their colonial responsibilities new states with Muslim majorities emerged: Egypt (1928), Saudi Arabia (1932) Iraq (1932), Afghanistan (1933), North and South Yemen (1937), Indonesia (1945), Syria (1946), Transjordan (1946), Pakistan (1947), Libya (1951), Sudan (1956), Tunisia (1956), Morocco (1956), Guinea (1958), Chad (1960), Senegal (1960), Somalia (1960), Mali (1960), Niger (1960), Kuwait (1961), Malaysia (1963), and Bangladesh (1972). More recently independent states with Muslim majorities have emerged in Central Asia following the break up of the former Soviet Union: Azerbaijian, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Turkmenia, Tadjikistan, Kirzhigia. In China the western province of Hsinjiang remains a part of the People's Republic of China.
Today relations between some Muslim states and the west remain strained, not least on account of the existence of the state of Israel which was established in 1948 and the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973 between Israel and its Arab neighbours. The Camp David agreement of 1977 in which Egypt and Israel signed a treaty of mutual recognition provides a basis for hope in a highly volatile part of the world. In other parts of the world states with large Muslim populations have incorporated certain forms of thinking or ideology which are not traditionally Islamic. Indonesia, while having the largest Muslim population in the world, defines itself as a pluralist society. Other states identify themselves as socialist or Marxist. And Turkey has since 1923 been a secular state. At the same time attempts have been made to unite different Islamic countries. In 1969 King Faisal of Saudi Arabia established the Organization of Islamic Conference whose purpose is to promote co-operation among the Islamic states.
Today Islam is confronted with many challenges posed by the growth of secularism, but with a nearly a fifth of the world's population remains a potent force in world affairs.

Symbols Islam is considered to be an iconoclastic religion and strictly speaking does not possess symbols. Certain hadiths (traditions attributed to the Prophet) prohibit the representation of living things. This derives from the strict monotheistic belief within Islam that there is no creator but God. Muslims believe that the pictorial representation of anything that could be understood to represent divine power is an arrogation of the divine creative power by humans. Thus it is forbidden to pr oduce an image of any kind of the Prophet or his family. Similarly, sculpture is regarded with suspicion because it might lead to idolatry, and this is why Islam has developed very little sculptural art.
Consequently, the kind of artistic expression characteristic of Islam tends to take the form of abstract geometrical designs.[Expand]
Calligraphy holds a central place in Islamic art. Manuscripts of the Qur'an and hadiths never contain illustrations but are written in a style that makes them works of art. In Turkish mosques the walls are decorated with tiles on which are written the names of God, Muhammad and his four successors, and quotations from the Qur'an. [Muslim architecture]
The Ka'ba, a cube-like structure built over a highly sacred Black Stone, the centre of Muslim pilgrimage, is a fundamentally important visible expression of the Islamic faith.
Finally, the crescent has come to be regarded by many as the principal symbol of Islam, although it has no specifically religious connotations. It was the Ottoman Turks who first used the crescent on their flag, and other Muslim countries followed their example. Today the crescent is generally seen as the Islamic equivalent of the Christian cross, even though the crescent does not represent any theological principle.

Adherents According to United Nation's statistics the population of the Muslim world in 1990 was 1.212 billion, a figure that represents about a fifth of the world's population. Today Arabs only account for 15% of the Muslim population. Now there are fifty independent Muslim countries, and many other countries have large Muslim populations.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 The political centre of the Islamic world has shifted according to which dynasty has been in power. Under the Ummayads the political centre of Islam was Damascus; under the 'Abbassids it was Baghdad; and under the Ottomans it was Istanbul. Since the abolition of the caliphate and the establishment of many different Muslim states there has not been a political centre of Islam as such. Both Mecca and Jerusalem occupy a central place in the spiritual life of the Islamic world.