|An Introduction to Islam||
The Birth of Mohammed:
Mohammed was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, c572 A.D. His father, who died two months before his birth, was a poor man but belonged to the Koreish, one of the distinguished Arabian tribes. While still a young man, Mohammed married a wealthy widow and was thereby relieved of the necessity of daily labour. Mohammed found himself with enough leisure time to indulge in religious contemplation. At that time, although Judaism and Christianity had been adopted by certain Arabian tribes, idolatrous worship had supplanted most of their ancient rites.
Mohammed would annually go to Mt. Hira to meditate and pray. One year, upon returning from the mountain, Mohammed declared himself a chosen prophet of God. Mohammed claimed that he had his first vision while in a cave on the mountain. On return to Mecca, he preached his message for nine years, and gained a number of adherents. As one might expect, this caused friction with other established beliefs. Finally, in 612 A.D. he was warned by his followers that his enemies intended to murder him and he was forced to flee. This flight marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar and is called 1A.H. (after Hejrat meaning "after the flight or migration"). His flight allowed him to gather his followers and in 630 A.D. he returned to wrest Mecca from the hands of the Koreish. He was then acknowledged "the prophet" by all Arabia.
During his lifetime (Mohammed died two years after his return to Mecca), his followers carefully transcribed his words and visions, as he himself did not know how to write. In 645 A.D. (about ten years after his death, 'Ali (Mohammed's brother in law) and other leaders collected together all these transcriptions, collated them and created the book of the Qur'an, which has 114 chapters, and 6236 verses. This became the Holy Book for the followers of Islam.
Mohammed's flight to Medina in September 622, marks the initiation of the Islamic era, and his death in June 632, succeeded in founding a state of considerable power and prestige according to Arabian standards of the time. During this short ten year period, most of the desert dwelling Bedouin tribes of Arabia had pledged their allegiance to the Prophet of Islam, who thus laid the foundation for the subsequent expansion of the new faith in Allah beyond the Arabian peninsula.
However, the death of Mohammed presented the infant Islamic community with its first major crisis. The crisis of succession marks the beginning of what was eventually to develop into a permanent Sunni Shi'a division in the Islamic community.
First Major Crisis:
Consequently, amidst much debate, one of the earliest converts to Islam and a trusted companion of Mohammed, Abu Bakr, was elected as successor. He took the title of Khalifat Rasul Allah (Successor to the Messenger of God), a title which was soon simplified to Khalifa ("Caliph" in English). Thus by electing the first successor to the Prophet, the unique Islamic institution of the caliphate was also founded. From its very inception, the caliphate came to embody both the religious and the political leadership of the community. The early Muslims recognized neither distinction between religion and state, nor between religious and secular authorities and organizations. Indeed, a strictly theocratic conception of order, in which Islam is not merely a religion but a complete system ordained by God for the socio-political as well as the moral and spiritual governance of mankind, had been an integral part of Mohammed's message and practice.
Abu Bakr's caliphate lasted just over two years, and before his death in 634, he personally selected 'Umar as his successor. 'Umar who was assassinated in 644, introduced a new procedure for the election of his successor; he had decided that a council of six of the early companions was to choose the new caliph from amongst themselves. In due time, 'Uthman b 'Affan, an member of the important Meccan clan was selected and became the third caliph.
Beginnings of Shi'a Islam:
The Shi'a believed that Mohammed did in fact appoint a successor, (or an imam as they have preferred to call the spiritual guide and leader), and that person was in fact 'Ali. As such, 'Ali and his friends became obliged to protest against the act of choosing the Prophet's successor through elective methods. It was this very protest which separated the Shi'a from the majority of the Muslims.
Despite the contention over the rightful order, the first four caliphs (known as the al-khulafa' al-rashidun or "Rightly-Guided Caliphs") were considered to be the orthodox maintainers of the all embracing regulations of the message of Islam as expressed in the revelations contained in the Qur'an. (It was this orthodoxy that became known as Sunni Islam.)
According to Shi'a doctrine the imams ('Ali and his direct descendants) were the only source of religious instruction and guidance, and the most important question regarded the elucidation of Islamic teachings and religious tenets. This was because they were aware that the teachings of the Qur'an and the sacred law of Islam (Shari'a) came from sources beyond man and therefore contained truths that could not be grasped through human reason. Therefore in order to understand the true meaning of the Islamic revelation, the Shi'a had realized the necessity for a religiously authoritative person, namely the imam.
Although 'Ali eventually succeeded as the fourth caliph, the Shi'a believe he was really the first true caliph, followed by a succession of 11 others. In the eyes of the Shi'a, 'Ali's unique qualifications as successor held yet another important dimension in that he was believed to have been nominated by divine command as expressed through Mohammed's testimony. This meant that 'Ali was also divinely inspired and immune from error and sin, thus making him infallible both in his knowledge and as a teaching authority after the prophet. The Shia branch broke away after the killing of 'Alis's son Husayn at the battle of Karbala in 680 AD.
Because of their beliefs, these Shi'a became known as the "twelvers" (based on the number of imams). When the twelfth imam mysteriously disappeared in 878 the Imamate came to an end and the collective body of Shi'ite religious scholars or ulema assumed his office, awaiting his return as the 'rightly guided one'. The present Ayatollahs (Signs of God) see themselves as joint caretakers of the office of the Imam, who is to return at the end of time.
However, the succession was not totally agreed upon by all Shi'a and another group broke away and became known as the "seveners" or Ismaelis, because of their contention that the rightful seventh (and last imam) was not Musa al Kazim, but his elder brother Isma'il who died as a child.
As a result of this aspect of the "division", it can generally be concluded that orthodox Sunni Islam basically believes that the Qur'an is the final authority and there is no further revelation. Shi'a Islam believes that the rightful Imam has both the divine inspiration and authority of Allah to add to the message of the Qur'an. Thus Shi'a Islam is seen as the more radical of the two main branches, and throughout the centuries many have claimed to be the next 'imam', attempting to rally Muslims to their particular cause which has unfortunately often been expressed as a Jihad (Holy war against infidels).
Abandoning the physical comforts of the world and pursuing silence prayer and meditation, their ultimate goal was to transcend worldly life and reach an eternal celestial tranquillity in union with Allah. Others claim it comes from the Arabic word suf which literally means wool, referring to the material from which the simple robes of the early Muslim mystics were made.
Despite problems with origins, the Sufis can generally be regarded as Muslim mystics, although many Sufis would argue that Sufism is in fact the real basis of orthodox Islam. The central doctrine of Sufism is wahdat al-wujud (the oneness of being), and they teach that the relative has no reality other than in the Absolute, and the finite had no reality other than in the Infinite. In Islam, man has access to the Absolute and Infinite through the Qur'an. They also hold the belief that, in addition to the guidance offered to them in the Qu'ran, they must receive instruction and help in their quest for spiritual purification from a wise and experienced "master" or guide. Calling for a life of love and pure devotion to Allah, the Sufis developed a spiritual path to Allah, consisting of various stages of piety (maqamat) and gnostic-psycholigical states (ahwal), through which each Sufi has to pass. This concept of stages of piety led to a concept of sainthood in Islam, along with the related belief that saints could perform miracles.
While strict orthodox Islam frowns on any use of music in religious rituals, Sufi orders have developed a wide variety of ritual observances involving singing, drums and other musical instruments. These rituals often include some form of dance, the best known in the West being that of the Turkish Mevlevi order, often called the "whirling dervishes".
Today there are many Sufi orders throughout the length and breadth of Islam, taking their name from both the school's teacher and its city of location. For example, you may have a Shi'a Sufi from the Oveyssi school at Karaj.
Muslims live and die without any assurance that they will be saved, and they are driven to perform good deeds in hopes of outweighing their sins. Their God - Allah is far off and uninterested in their personal well being. They know very little of forgiveness. Perhaps Romans 10:2-3a aptly describes them: "For I bear them record that they have a zeal from God, but not according to knowledge. For they be ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted.."
Major Muslim People Groups
New York. 1994 Baron's Educational Series
London. 1956 Penguin Books
New York. 1971 Hamlyn Publishing
London. 1978. Greenwood Press.
Seattle. 1993. YWAM Publishing.
|see also: Eid-al-Adha, religion, Eid-al-Fitr, Ramadan, islamic countries (Umma), summay, culture, images of mosques|
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