What Is Islam?
Islam is the world's second most widely practiced religion. It is also one of the fastest growing religions and today, has approximately 1.7 billion followers. This religion is based on the Quran, a religious text that followers of Islam believe is the direct word of God. Under Islam, Muhammad is considered the last Prophet of God and the majority of believers adhere to his teachings. Followers of Islam are called Muslims.
Origin Of Islam
Historians believe that the practice of Islam originated in Mecca and Medina of Saudi Arabia during the early 7th century AD. Around this time, Muhammad began to share messages from the Archangel Gabriel, who had been sent by God. Muhammad preached and spread the message from God with people in and around Mecca. He gained a large following, and some of his followers wrote down the revelations in what today is known as the Quran.
Political authorities of the area persecuted Muhammad and his followers. They were afraid that Muhammad’s ideas about racial equality and a world with one God would cause instability among the lower class and slave populations. This persecution forced the new Muslims to migrate to Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea).
After several years of being persecuted, Muhammad, his family, and the religious converts migrated to Medina in present-day Saudi Arabia. Once in Medina, Muhammad established a political state that adhered to the teachings of Islam. People from several religions came together in this community, called an Ummah.
After Muhammad’s death, the religion split concerning disagreements over the proper successors and Islam gradually began to spread.
Major Muslim Kingdoms
As Islam expanded, caliphates emerged to take control over large geographic tracts of land. Missionaries took the word of Muhammad further and further from Medina. The caliphates controlled trading with the Mediterranean region, Southeast Asia, and other areas in the Middle East. This expansion soon led to the creation of kingdoms.
The first big Islamic empire was the Abbasids, who ruled between 750 and 1258. This kingdom spread and converted people throughout Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile River Valley, and East Africa (including the island of Zanzibar). During this time, other empires were formed as well, including the Fatimid Caliphate, the Ayyubid Dynasty, and the Mamluk Caliphate.
The Abbasids Caliphate gave way to the Ottoman Empire, however, by 1299. This empire is sometimes referred to as the Turkish Empire. It was founded in present-day Anatolia and gradually took over lands across Asia and into Europe, conquering first the Balkans and then ending the Byzantine Empire. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire had control over most of Northern Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Caucasus, Western Asia, and Southeastern Europe. Beginning in the mid-1800’s, the laws of this empire became less religiously strict and more secular. This was the beginning of its decline. Weakened by World War I and the Arab Revolt, the occupation of Constantinople eventually won the Turkish War of Independence. By 1924, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved.
Spread Of Muslims Around The World
Despite the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the practice of Islam has continued to grow, and Muslims have migrated around the world. When the British and French colonies throughout the Muslim World gained their independence, more Muslims began arriving in Europe under guest worker visa programs, particularly during the 1960’s.
In this same era, Communism began growing in Asia and Europe. With it came the persecution of Muslims. In China, mosques and Islamic books were destroyed. The Communist government of Albania prohibited all religions. Muslims were seen as enemies of Communism. In Cambodia, the government killed around 500,000 Muslims because of their religious beliefs. The government of Turkey, once Islamist, was overthrown. A mosque was burned in Jerusalem. The religion was also under attack in Tunisia, where women were prohibited from wearing head coverings in government buildings.
This persecution gave rise to an Islamic revival movement during the 1970’s. Groups of Muslims joined to form the Muslim Brotherhood and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Some of these Islamist groups believed Islam could solve the problems of Westernized governments. With increased revenues from oil sales, Muslims were able to print more scholarly books and build more mosques. The Iranian Revolution took place, overthrowing a secular government with an Islamic regime. Many other governments declared Islam as the state religion. This movement has also led to an increasing number of radio and television programs that preach fundamentalist views. The preference among Muslims to follow Sharia law has also grown. The pilgrimage to Mecca is more common. The use of headscarves among women has increased.
Today, Muslims living in non-Muslim countries are able to stay connected because of advanced communications technology. This allows them to feel that they belong to a wider Islamic identity found throughout the Muslim World.
Countries With Highest Muslim Populations
Today, Muslims can be found in nearly every country on Earth. Some of these countries, however, have a larger population than others. The top ten largest Muslim populations can be found in: Indonesia (204,847,000), Pakistan (178,000,000), India (172,000,000), Bangladesh (145,607,000), Nigeria (93,839,000), Iran (74,819,000), Turkey (74,660,000), Egypt (73,800,000), Algeria (34,780,000), and Morocco (32,381,000).
Of this list, there are only 2 countries in which Muslims do not make up the majority of the population: India (14.6%) and Nigeria (47.9%).
An Islamic state is a country that uses Sharia law as the framework for designing and implementing government, laws, and social norms. This idea comes from the previously mentioned caliphates, which were areas ruled by religious leaders believed to be successors of Muhammad. Today, an Islamic state may include modern political practices and many include both a parliament and a President. Even the Constitution in these countries is based on Islamic law. The major Islamic states are Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, and Yemen.
For example, in Iran, every function of the government must follow Sharia law. Religious courts are established to ensure this adherence. In fact, the country has a Supreme Leader, is an Islamic law scholar. The Supreme Leader has more political power than the President.
Muslim immigrants also have large communities within other non-Muslim areas, like in the US, Canada, and European countries. Unfortunately, with the rise of the Islamic revival movement came a rise in Islamic extremism. With these extreme views of the Islamic religion and extreme opposition to Westernization, the number of terrorist attacks against militaries, governments, and civilians has risen. Because of the fear that these acts bring, many people erroneously associate all Muslim immigrants with terrorism.