Essay: Islam faith

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Examining the origin of the Muslim people is impossible without examining the origin of the Islam faith. As with any major world religion there are different accounts of the origin story of this faith. We can trace the beginning of the Islam faith to 7th century Saudi Arabia. Islam is thus the youngest of the great world religions. The prophet Muhammad (circa 570-632 A.D.) (“Origin Of Islam,” n.d.) introduced Islam in 610 A.D. after experiencing what he claimed to be an angelic visitation. Muhammad dictated the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, which Muslims believe to be the preexistent, perfect words of Allah.
 
Generally the origin of Islam is accredited to the prophet Muhammad, but to the devout Muslim, Islam began long before Muhammad ever even walked the earth. Muhammad dictated the Qur’an but, according to the Qur’an, it did not originate with Muhammad. The Qur’an testifies of itself that it was given by God through the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad. “This is a revelation from the Lord of the universe. The Honest Spirit (Gabriel) came down with it, to reveal it into your heart that you may be one of the warners, in a perfect Arabic tongue” (Sura 26:192-195) (K̲h̲ān̲, n.d.). “Say, ‘Anyone who opposes Gabriel should know that he has brought down this (the Qur’an) into your heart, in accordance with God’s will, confirming previous scriptures, and providing guidance and good news for the believers'” (Sura 2:97) (K̲h̲ān̲, n.d.). The origin of Islam is controversial. The “previous scriptures” mentioned above are the Hebrew Torah, the Psalms of David, and the Gospels of Jesus Christ (Sura 4:163; 5:44-48) (K̲h̲ān̲, n.d.). The Qur’an accepts these books as divinely inspired and even encourages us to test its claims by these “previous scriptures.” “If you have any doubt regarding what is revealed to you from your Lord, then ask those who read the previous scripture” (Sura 10:94) (K̲h̲ān̲, n.d.). But this is where we run into a problem. The problem is that the Qur’an thoroughly contradicts the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels. For example, the Qur’an explicitly denies Jesus Christ’s crucifixion (Sura 4:157-158) (K̲h̲ān̲, n.d.) while all four Gospel accounts clearly portray Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected.

One contradiction in particular has caused a great deal of conflict between Muslims and ethnic Jews and is thought to have been and continues to be the cause of much bloodshed in the Middle East. According to the Hebrew Torah, God made a covenant with a man named Abraham. God promised Abraham a child through whom He would fulfill this covenant (“the child of promise,” Genesis 15) (n.d.). Abraham was at that time childless. His wife, Sarah, was barren. This of course made the promise very special to Abraham. But it would require nothing less than a miracle. Sarah, conscious of her condition and growing impatient decided to help God out. She offered her maidservant Hagar to Abraham with the hope that Hagar might conceive and bear the child of promise. Abraham agreed to take Hagar as his concubine. She conceived and bore Ishmael (Genesis 16) (n.d.). God allowed Ishmael to be born but Ishmael was not the child of promise God had in mind (Genesis 17) (n.d.). God promised a child through Sarah, not Hagar (Genesis 17-18) (n.d.), and in due time God fulfilled His promise. “And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him-whom Sarah bore to him-Isaac.” (Genesis 21:1-3) (n.d.) Isaac was the child of promise, according to Genesis. Isaac later begot Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the Messiah, Jesus Christ, eventually came into the world through the nation of Israel, fulfilling the covenant which God had made with Abraham. God also promised to give the land of Canaan (Palestine) to Isaac’s descendants, the land which Israel possesses today (Genesis 12:4-7; 13:12-18; 15:1-21; 17:1-22; 21:1-14; 25:19-26; 26:1-6; 35:9-12) (n.d.). The problem is that the Qur’an teaches that Ishmael was the child of promise, so Muslims believe that God’s covenant promises were meant for Ishmael’s descendants, not Isaac’s. Muhammad descended from Ishmael and so Muslims seek to lay claim to these covenant promises, namely the land of Palestine.

The spread of Islam can be largely accredited to the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be the last in a long line of prophets that includes Moses and Jesus. Because Muhammad was the chosen recipient and messenger of the word of God through the divine revelations, Muslims from all walks of life strive to follow his example. After the holy Qur’an, the sayings of the Prophet (hadith) and descriptions of his way of life (sunna) are the most important Muslim texts.

Muhammad was born into the most powerful tribe in Mecca, the Quraish, around 570 A.D. Mecca was home to two widely venerated polytheistic cults whose gods were thought to protect its lucrative trade. After working for several years as a merchant, Muhammad was hired by Khadija, a wealthy widow, to ensure the safe passage of her caravans to Syria. They eventually married.

When he was roughly forty, Muhammad began having visions and hearing voices. Searching for clarity, he would sometimes meditate at Mount Hira, near Mecca. On one of these occasions, the Archangel Gabriel (Jibra’il in Arabic) appeared to him and instructed him to recite “in the name of [your] lord.” This was the first of many revelations that became the basis of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. These early revelations pointed to the existence of a single God, contradicting the polytheistic beliefs of the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula.

Initially overwhelmed by the significance of what was being revealed to him, Muhammad found unwavering support in his wife and slowly began to attract followers. His strong monotheistic message angered many of the Meccan merchants. They were afraid that trade, which they believed was protected by the pagan gods, would suffer. From that point forward, Muhammad was ostracized in Mecca. For a time, the influence and status of his wife protected him from persecution. After her death found himself, and his followers, vulnerable to the opposing forces.

Emigration became the only hope for Muhammad and his followers’ survival. In 622, they headed to Medina, another oasis town, where they were promised freedom to practice their religion. The move from Mecca to Medina is known as the hijra—the flight—and marks year 1 of the Islamic, or hijri, calendar.

In Medina, Muhammad continued to receive divine revelations and built an ever expanding community around the new faith. The conflict with the merchants continued, but after several years of violent clashes, Mecca surrendered. Muhammad and his followers soon returned and took over the city, destroying all its pagan idols and spreading their belief in one God, Allah.

One night, while the Prophet was sleeping, the Archangel Gabriel came and led him on a journey. Mounted on the heavenly steed Buraq, Muhammad traveled from the Ka’ba in Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque,” which Muslims believe to be the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. There he prayed with other prophets such as Moses, Abraham, and Jesus, and ascended to the skies, where he was led by Gabriel through Paradise and Hell, and finally came face to face with God. He then returned to earth to continue spreading the message of Islam. According to Islamic belief, Muhammad was the only person to see Heaven and Hell while still alive (K̲h̲ān̲, n.d.).

Islam in the United States and California

The Muslim population in the United States is demographically diverse, coming from various racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. American-Muslims are one the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States according to a 2009 Gallop poll, representing an estimated seventy-seven nations. According to the Pew Research Center 2011 Muslim American Survey, no single racial or ethnic group makes up more than 30% of the total population of the community.

The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious identification, which has resulted in a wide range of estimates for the population of Muslims in the U.S. Many institutions and organizations have given widely varying estimates of how many Muslims live in the U.S ranging from 1.8 million to 7 million. Based on data from the Pew Research Center’s 2011 survey along with U.S. Census data, Pew Research Center demographers estimate that there were roughly 2.75 million Muslims in the United States in 2011.

California is cited as having the largest Muslim community in the United States, an estimated 1% of the total population of the state. It is also estimated that a majority of the Muslim population resides in Southern California.

While there is some debate about when the first mosques were founded in the United States, the majority of early mosques were founded by immigrant populations in the early 20th century. California is cited as having more mosques than any other state in the U.S. The U.S. Religion Census, conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, estimated there are 120,868 Muslims living in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties.

According to the 2001 report from the Mosque Study Project 2000, the U.S. Muslim population tends to be dispersed with mosques located in near-equal percentages in each region of the country. A 2010 Pew report shows that the number of mosques in the United States has increased from 1,209 to 1,825 in the decade since the 2001 report.

The Five Pillars In Islam there are five ways in which a Muslim is expected to worship Allah. “Islam can be compared to a house with a sound structure. It has a firm foundation and five supporting pillars,” (In Helion, 2016.). The Five Pillars of Islam support the faith of a Muslim and are essential to spiritual development-they are actions that a Muslim must perform. The five pillars are mentioned individually throughout the Quran and they are listed together in the Hadith of Gabriel (a major source of Islamic Law). In 840 CE, the five practices were singled out to serve as anchoring points in the Muslim community and designated “pillars.” Fulfillment of the Five Pillars is believed to bring rewards both in this life and in the afterlife.These ‘Five Pillars’ are mentioned in the Hadith and consist of: Shahadah (declaration of faith), Salah (prayers five times a day), Zakah (giving to the poor), Sawm (fasting during Ramadan), Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

The Shahadah is the first of the Five Pillars and is practiced most often. It is the Muslim declaration of faith. It is the duty of a Muslim to declare the faith. Muslims must not only say the words but also believe them in their hearts and put them into action in their lives. A Muslim has to believe in the Oneness of Allah, and in the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad, a man, not a divine person, is important to Muslims. The message of Allah was not made complete until the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad. This means that there will never be a need for another prophet. Muhammad, as the final prophet, sealed Allah’s message to his people and so is called the seal of the prophets.

A Muslim repeats the words of the Shahadah many times each day. They are recited many times in the prayer ritual and they are announced five times a day from the minaret of a mosque during the Adhan (call to prayer). The first words whispered into the ears of a newborn baby by its father are those of the Shahadah. Muslims who know they are about to die will try to say the Shahadah before they die. It is the first and most important of the Five Pillars because all other Muslim beliefs follow on from the Shahadah.

Salah (prayer) takes place five times a day. The Prophet Muhammad taught the way it should be practiced. They are to be recited in the Arabic language. Muslims believe that Allah fixes the five daily times of salah. By salah, Muslims remember Allah throughout the day every day.

Zakah (giving to the poor) happens each year. This is regarded as an obligatory act of worship for Muslims, much like tithing for the Christians. This means that for Muslims sharing one’s wealth is not an option; it is mandatory and must be practiced every year. A person cannot call himself or herself a Muslim if they do not pay zakah.

The Arabic word zakah means to purify or cleanse. It is performed as part of worship and is one of the visible signs of belonging to Islam. It refers to the purification of wealth by obeying the will of Allah. Giving willingly to those in need discourages greed and selfishness, and encourages moral and spiritual growth.

Sawm (fasting) happens each year during the month of Ramadan. It entails fasting from just before dawn until sunset and requires abstinence from all food and drink (including water). Muslims cannot smoke or have sex during this time. Sawm allows Muslims to exercise self-control and put their minds in charge of their bodies. Spiritual matters are put first during Ramadan. Muslims spend time in the mosque in prayer. They are also expected to read the Qur’an. The aim of sawm is to focus attention towards obedience to Allah.

The word hajj means ‘to set out with a definite purpose’. Of the Five Pillars, hajj (pilgrimage) happens least often. Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which each Muslim must undertake at least once as long as he or she has the health and can afford to do so. Some make the pilgrimage more often, but others are never able to make the journey.

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