Islam (Arabic: الإسلام) is among the monotheistic and Abrahamic religions. The prophet of this religion is Muhammad (s) to whom the Qur’an was revealed. The beginning of invitation to Islam was made in 610 CE in the city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. Increasing expansion of Islam began after the emigration of the Prophet (s) to Medina. Muslims believe that the Holy Prophet (s) is the last divine prophet and Islam is the last divine religion.
The Qur’an and tradition of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) are the most essential sources to learn about Islamic beliefs and practices. Muslims believe that there is no falsehood or error in the Qur’an and it has remained unaltered since its revelation. The tradition includes the speeches and acts of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) transmitted to us in written form from one generation to another.
The most important ideological principles in Islam are monotheism, prophethood of the Prophet of Islam (s) and the resurrection. The most important practices in Islam are daily prayers, fasting, khums, zakat, hajj, and jihad. A great part of Islamic sources deal with the introduction of good and bad qualities and practical ways to acquire moral perfection. Advising about people’s rights and orders for the regulation of social and family relationships are among moral teachings of Islam. For many issues in daily life, Islam has regulations for different issues such as marriage, divorce, buying and sale, lease and judgment, the rulings for which are discussed in the books of fiqh (jurisprudence) under the title of transactions.
There are two major schools of Shi’a and Sunni in Islam, each of which has different branches. The major difference between the two is over the issue of imamate or caliphate after the Prophet (s); however, they have differences over some other ideological issues and rulings as well.
Today, Muslims live in most countries of the world. Their population is around 1.5 billion people. Majority of the Muslims live in Asia and especially in the Middle East.
The word “Islam” has been used to mean “submission, total unconditional obedience, acceptance of divine ruling and sincerity in worship.”
Among Arabs of Arabian Peninsula in pre-Islamic era, the term only had the meaning of “abandoning and giving up something” and Arabs used the verb “aslam-a” when a person gave up something very dear and precious and left it to someone else who wanted it; and if that thing is the person’s own self, which is the most precious thing human possesses; then, “Islam” means “total unconditional obedience and submission.”
According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “A Muslim is one who has chosen to submit one’s will to divine will.” According to ‘Allama Tabataba’i, the reason for naming this religion as Islam is that in this religion, the servant is submitted to the will of God, the Glorified.
The word “Islam” has been used in the Qur’an. According to some verses, no religion other than Islam is accepted, and after the Prophet (s) brought Islam, the only religion valid before God is Islam. Many hadiths have been transmitted from the Prophet (s) in which he (s) called his religion Islam and called his followers “Muslim”.
In categorization of religions, Islam is a divine, monotheistic and Abrahamic religion. Muslims believe in the One God. The Prophet of Islam (s) is Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allah (s) who was sent by God to deliver divine message (or the revelation) to people. The Qur’an contains the divine revelation sent to Prophet Muhammad (s).
See also Faith
Anyone who says the two shahadatayn phrases, “Ashhad-u an la ilah-a illa Allah” [“I give testimony that there is no god but Allah”] and “Ashhad-u ann-a Muhammad-an rasul Allah” [“I give testimony that Muhammad (s) is the Messenger of Allah”] enters the religion of Islam. Saying these sentences is in fact giving testimony to Oneness of God and the mission of the Prophet of Islam (s); without saying which, the person is outside Islam and is considered a disbeliever.
This definition of Muslim is a basic level explanation of accepting Islam. At this level, it is even possible that there would be difference between what one says and what is in one’s heart, because accepting Islam is a basic and apparent step in accepting the Prophet’s (s) religion by saying shahadatayn, but faith requires Shahadatayn as well as heartfelt and spiritual belief. Accepting Islam includes expressing submission and obedience by the tongue and also by the limbs whether it is followed by the heart or not; but faith includes submission together with heartfelt belief.
The founder of Islam was Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib (s). Based on Islamic sources, he (s) was the last messenger of God sent to humans. Muslims regard him the best of humans and the best role model for life. Many Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad (s) was infallible and had the knowledge of the unseen.
He (s) was Arab, born in 570 CE in Quraysh tribe who lived in Mecca in Arabian Peninsula. In early childhood, he (s) lost his parents and was raised under guardianship of his grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muttalib, and after his demise, under guardianship of his uncle, Abu Talib.
During his lifetime, he (s) never followed idol-worshipping which was common in Mecca. People of Mecca knew him for his trustworthiness. At the age of forty, God chose him as the Messenger (Bi’tha). The first message of God was sent to him then, by angel Gabriel in the cave of Hira in Mecca.
The holy divine book of Muslims is the Qur’an which is the major source of their beliefs and practices. According to Islamic beliefs, the text of the Qur’an is divine revelation sent from Allah by angel of revelation (Gabriel) to the Prophet (s). Muslims believe that there is no falsehood or error in the Qur’an and it has remained unaltered since its revelation (See: integrity of the Qur’an).
The Qur’an is a book in 114 chapters, each of which contains some verses.
The Qur’an, the tradition of the Prophet (s) and Imams of Shi’a (a) and also the speeches and acts of the Companions of the Prophet (s) are among the sources to which Muslims refer to learn about beliefs, practical duties, history of Islam and the lives of religious dignitaries. This tradition is acquired in the form of the books of hadiths and tradition from the past generations to next generations.
In the view of Shi’a, only the conduct of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) is valid to acquire knowledge and practice. Relying on the conduct of the Companions is among characteristics of Sunni people. Shi’a regard the conduct of companions criticizable.
Most important books of hadiths for Shi’a are the Four Books: al-Kafi written by al-Kulayni, Tahdhib al-ahkam and al-Istibsar written by al-Shaykh al-Tusi and Man la yahduruh al-faqih written by al-Shaykh al-Saduq.
The most important books of hadiths for Sunni people are known as Sihah al-Sitta (the Six Correct Ones) which are: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan al-Nasa’i, Sunan Ibn Maja, Sunan Ibn Dawud, and Sahih al-Tirmidhi.
Ideological principles are a set of beliefs including Islam’s views towards the world, human being, nature, and their relations with God. The set of Islamic beliefs is contained in the three general principles of tawhid [oneness of God], nubuwwa [prophethood], and ma’ad [resurrection] which are called Usul al-Din [Principles of Religion], i.e. things which every Muslim needs to believe in. Other Islamic beliefs have roots in these three beliefs. Each of these beliefs makes Islam to be distinguished from other religions. In Shi’a school, Imamate is also considered among ideological principles. Islamic beliefs are in fact the manifestation of Islamic worldview.
In Islamic ideology, the most important belief is tawhid; i.e. believing in the One God. In Islamic beliefs, God is the Creator of all the existence and its Sustainer. Believing in Oneness of God is in three aspects of oneness in essence, oneness in attributes, and oneness in actions. These three aspects in fact form theoretical tawhid and are just present in the realm of a Muslim’s beliefs.
Practical tawhid is the result of theoretical tawhid and is manifested in branches such as tawhid in worship, tawhid in legislation, and tawhid in domination.
Muslims believe that God has chosen some people as messengers to send to humans. In Islamic literature, these people are called “nabi” [prophet] and “rasul” [messenger]. The number of divine prophets is a hundred and twenty four thousand, five of whom are Ulu l-‘Azm [literally: “Having Will”] and had certain duties. These prophets (a) brought religions and books. In the Qur’an, which is the last divine book, the names of twenty-six of the prophets (a) and the books of some of them are mentioned.
The last divine prophet is Prophet Muhammad (s) who brought the religion of Islam and no divine prophet will come after him.
Imamate means leadership of people’s affairs with regards to religion and the world in the place of the Prophet (s). In this regard, there are two major views among Muslims:
Believing in resurrection of the dead and the life after death is among the principles of beliefs among religions, especially Islam. Believing in the hereafter includes the belief in the events at the time of death and after it during the time in barzakh and also the event and situation after resurrection on the Day of Resurrection. Concepts such as resurrection, mizan, tatayur al-kutub (distributing everyone’s book [of actions]) and passing sirat bridge are among the issues Muslims believe.
Believing in angels, decree and destiny, the world of dhar, creation of Prophet Adam (a) from soil and the lineage of human from him and Eve are among the beliefs of all or most Muslims.
A great part of the teachings in Islam are about the actions of every Muslim. These duties which are called practical rulings are discussed in a science called fiqh. The original source to discover these duties is the Qur’an and tradition (speeches and acts of the Infallible Ones (a)).
In general, practical duties of every Muslim can be categorized in three fields of worship, ethics, and society (transactions).
Worship is an act to be practiced with the intention of obeying the command of God. Acts of worship are either obligatory or recommended. The most important obligatory act of worship in Islam is daily prayers. Some of the most important obligatory acts of worship are: fasting in the month of Ramadan, zakat, khums, hajj, and jihad.
There are many teachings regarding moral actions in original sources of Islam (the Qur’an and tradition of the Infallible Ones (a)). Introducing good and bad qualities and practical ways to achieve moral perfections, advising about observation of people’s rights and orders for regulation of social and family relations are among moral teachings in Islam.
In Islam, there are many rulings for many daily affairs; such as marriage, divorce, buying and selling, lease, foods and drinks, hunting, criminal issues and judgement. These rulings are discussed in the science of fiqh under the title of transactions.
Today, Muslims are in two big branches of Shi’a and Sunni; each one branching into several sects. The most important differences between Shia and Sunni is over the issue of Imamate or caliphate of the Prophet (s). This disagreement emerged among his companions during the first days after the demise of the Prophet (s).
The differences between the two schools of thought are not limited to Imamate, as they also have differences in beliefs and practical rulings. Other differences of views between the two schools are their views toward the justice of the Companions of the Prophet (s), infallibility of Prophets (a), determination and free will, some rulings of wudu, daily prayers, and hajj and different views about temporary marriage.
Shi’a is one of the two major schools in Islam which has several branches. The common factor among all these sects is the belief in the Imamate and caliphate of Imam Ali (a) and his two sons, Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a) after the Prophet (s).
Shi’a live in most Islamic countries, but most of their population is in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Lebanon.
Regarding population, Sunnis are more than Shi’a. Followers of this school have different branches as well; the divisions of which are based on two issues of fiqh and beliefs. Their differences in beliefs led to three schools of Mu’tazila, Ash’ari, and Maturidi; and their differences in rulings and secondary principles of religion led to formation of four schools of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali in fiqh.
The first divergence among Muslims that led to the formation of a faction was the divergence of Khawarij from the army of Imam Ali (a) in the Battle of Siffin. They had special ideas about the government and also those who had committed grave sins.
Later, they were divided to several branches themselves and now live in countries such as Oman.
Islam began in the city of Mecca in Arabian Peninsula in 610 CE, 40 years after the Year of Elephant when Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allah (s) was chosen as the prophet of Islam (s).
The first period of Islam was the thirteen years of the Prophet’s (s) life and preaching in Mecca. In this period, the Prophet (s) secretly invited people for three years. After three years, God commanded him to invite his close relatives to Islam. (See: Yawm al-Dar) In that period, few people accepted Islam. In years 12 and 13 after the beginning of his mission, the Prophet (s) provided the grounds for emigration to Yathrib by making two treaties of Bay’at al-‘Aqaba.
In Rabi’ al-Awwal, year 13 after the beginning of the mission, the Prophet (s) emigrated to Medina and with the people of Medina, established the first Islamic government. Companions of the Prophet (s) in Medina were in two big groups of Muhajirin [Emigrants] and Ansar [the Helpers]. Majority of the Helpers were from the two big tribes of Aws and Khazraj.
In this period, the Prophet (s) was drawn to several battles which are recorded as Ghazwas and Sariyyas in the history. The most important Ghazwas of the Prophet (s) were the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq and the Conquest of Mecca. After the Conquest of Mecca, almost all Arabian Peninsula became Muslim.
In this period, the Prophet (s) wrote letters to the leaders of different countries and invited them to Islam. This period lasted ten years and Islam entered a new era after the demise of the Prophet (s).
After the demise of the Prophet (s) in 11/632 in Medina, disregarding his will about the caliphate of Ali b. Abi Talib (a), some of his Companions chose Abu Bakr b. Abi Quhafa as the caliph. After Abu Bakr, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab and then ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan became caliph.
During the caliphate of the First Caliph, some clashes with disbelievers and some battles with false prophets have been reported. During the caliphate of the Second Caliph which lasted about ten years, Islamic territory was expanded and Muslims took over Iran, Syria, Egypt, and other places. During the caliphate of the Third Caliph, Islamic territory continued to expand. The most important event of that period was the civil revolts which led to the murder of the Third Caliph and the election of Ali b. Abi Talib (a) as the Fourth Caliph.
The period of Imam Ali‘s (a) government (37/658 – 40) lasted less than five years. Three internal battles of Jamal, Siffin, and Nahrawan were among the most important events of this period. Imam Ali (a) was assassinated by one of Khawarij in the mosque of Kufa and people gave allegiance to his elder son, Imam al-Hasan (a).
The caliphate of Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba (a) lasted less than six months, most of which passed in the battle of Imam’s (a) army with the army of Syria led by Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufyan. The battle ended by signing a peace treaty and leaving the caliphate to Mu’awiya. (See: peace treaty of Imam al-Hasan (a))
According to verses of the Qur’an and Islamic tradition, Muslims recognized the existence of some other religions inside the Islamic government, although they considered their beliefs to be wrong.
Sabaeans, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians are mentioned in the Qur’an. Since Muslims believed that these religions were based on divine books, their followers are called People of the Book. Based on Islamic rulings, these religious minorities need to pay a tax called jizya if they want to live in the Islamic society. In religious texts, these minorities are also called dhimmi disbelievers or people of dhimma.
Today, Muslims live in most countries of the world. The population of Muslims in the world is around 1.5 billion people, most of them living in Asia and especially in the Middle East.
The most populated Muslim country is Indonesia. Because of the two cities of Mecca and Medina and also holding the annual hajj ceremony, Arabia is considered among important Muslim countries. Iraq is also one of the important Muslim countries and the graves of six Imams are placed in this country. One of the biggest and oldest seminaries of Shi’a is in the city of Najaf in Iraq.