Definition of Muslim
A Muslim is someone who identifies as a follower of the Islamic religion. Muslims believe that their sacred text, the Quran, is the absolute word of God as it was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. In the Arabic language Muslim means, “one who submits to God (or faith)”. Muslims believe in the existence of one God, whom they refer to as Allah. This all powerful-deity is believed to have communicated through a number of Earthly prophets, including Jesus Christ.
Beliefs and Sacred Texts
The Five Pillars of Islam make up the main tenants of the Muslim religion. The basis of this belief system is rooted in the daily practice of prayers, strict observance of Ramadan, alms giving, as well as the obligation of visiting the holy site of Mecca, Saudi Arabia at least once in one’s lifetime. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is referred to as being "the Seal of the Prophets". Members of the Muslim faith strive to live a life that's pleasing to God so as to earn a place in Paradise after death. Sacred texts of the Muslim faith include the Qur’an, which is considered to be God’s final testament, as well as the Hadith which documents the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad.
History of Islam
It’s been widely accepted that the Islamic religion began during the first part of the seventh century in the geographical areas of Mecca and Medina. The Islamic prophet Muhammad is thought to have been born around the year 570 and Muslims believe that he began receiving revelations from God (Allah) at the age of 40. After fleeing Mecca and entering Yathrib (later called Medina) Muhammad was joined by a group of followers in what Muslims refer to as the hijra which is regarded as being the beginning of the Islamic faith.
Geographic Dispersion of Muslims Today
At the present time there are over a billion Muslims living around the world thus making it the second largest religion. Because it began in the Middle East Islam is the dominant faith in this geographical area as well as in parts of Africa. Islam is the primary religion in countries such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, and Jordan. Significant Muslim populations can also be found in India, Russia, China, as well as parts of western Europe and North America. Islam continues to be one of the fastest growing religions in the world.
Ongoing Growth of the Faith
According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, in the next 20 years or so the number of Muslims is predicted to increase by 35%. This is faster than the expected growth rate for other world religions such as Christianity and Judaism. In Europe alone it’s been estimated that within a relatively short period of time Muslims will make up 10% of the total population. Part of the reason for the growth of the Islamic faith is the high fertility rates of its followers as well as the relatively young median age of present day Muslims.
Important Prophets and Religious Leaders
Aside from Muhammad important Islamic prophets include figures such as Ibrahim or Abraham whose willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael plays a part in the Islamic Eid-al adha festival. Muslim believers cite Isa or Jesus as being one of the most significant prophets of the faith. Isa is thought to have been given the gospel by Allah (God). The long history of Islam also includes a large array of influential leaders such as Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989), and Nobel Peace Prize winner Anwar Sadat (1918-1971).
Islamic Sects and Schools of Teaching
The Islamic faith is made up of various distinct sects each with their own set of beliefs and practices. Branches of the religion include Sunni, Sh’ite, Sufi, and Ahmadiyyas. The majority of modern Muslims identify themselves as being Sunnis while Sh’ites can be further subdivided into Twelvers, Seveners, and Fivers. The Sufi sect is considered to adhere to a more mystical belief system while the relatively new Ahmadiyyas are derived from the traditional Sunni and Sh’ite branches of Islam.
Relationship to Christianity and Judaism
Both Islam and Christians are monotheistic faiths which share a number of historical similarities. Both Muslims and Christians acknowledge Jesus Christ to be a key figure in their respective traditions but while Christians believe that Christ was the Son of God, Muslims view his role as that of an important prophet. Like Islam and Christianity, Judaism can also trace its roots back to the Middle East region. Tensions between Muslims and Jews is often in the news due to the ongoing Arab/ Israeli conflict being waged over disputed land claims. Despite efforts for a peaceful resolution violence continues to plague this area of the Middle East and it seems as if no resolution is on the immediate horizon.
Challenges and Controversies
The Islamic religion currently faces many significant challenges both internally as well as in terms of its status and perception throughout the world. Perhaps the greatest problem facing modern Muslims involves the growing phenomenon of "Islamophobia". This fear or hatred of those of the Muslim faith appear to stem from the Muslim extremists' roles being played within a number of international terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and Boko Haram. In the Western world, Muslims continue to face an increasing degree of prejudice and racist bigotry based on misinformation and widespread misconceptions regarding their traditions and belief system. In many countries, the rights of Islamic women have also been the subject of controversy, particularly in terms of the issue of Muslim women wearing the hijab or burqa.
Rights of Muslim Minorities In Non-Muslim Countries
As the number of Muslims continues to increase, a variety of traditionally non-Muslim countries have seen the Islamic population in their home countries rise significantly. Because of this growth, a great deal of attention has recently been placed on the rights of minorities, as well as issues relating to religious accommodation. In Western countries such as the US and Canada, Islam-related issues such as adequate prayer space and women’s rights and freedoms have had to be addressed not only by the respective governments, but also in relation to society at large. Another significant problem involves the ages-old Islamic system of Sharia law, and ancient practices such as honor killing and female genital mutilation. The latter is a harsh system more cultural than religious in nature, being carried out by many peoples before the introduction of Islam, an is illegal across the majority of the world.
Historical Significance and Legacy
It’s believed that before the rise of Islam most Middle Eastern residents subscribed to a set of religions based on the existence of a variety of gods. The most powerful of all these deities was Allah, who was to become the central figure in the Muslim faith. Because of its long and storied history, as well as its origins in the Arabian Peninsula, Islam has played a major role in shaping the cultural landscape, politics, and way of life of those living in the Middle East. Due to the strong traditions and beliefs of its followers, Muslim immigrants who’ve relocated into other areas of the world continue to place a great deal of importance on maintaining their faith and raising their children according to the tenets of their religion, even while living in largely non-Muslim environments.