What is Islam?

1.      Islam = “surrender” or “submission” to god.  Muslim, “one who surrenders [to God],” comes from the same root.  

a.       Relationship w/ God: name of God -- air in/air out.  Spirit comes from God and returns to God, soothing relationship

b.      Life is submission to God, even birth and death.  Muslims enjoined to make all actions acts of worship.  All people are born Muslims.  Humanity’s proper response to God is to surrender to his will, carry out God’s commands fully and faithfully.  

1.      These commands touch on nearly every aspect of life.  Islam is distinctive in that  the commands of God have been thought to extend to the political arena.  Politics, behavior, and theology intertwined.

2.      Thus, the history of Islam is entwined with the history of the Muslim empire, it’s legal system, and other matters frequently thought of as secular.  An entire civilization grounded in what it believes to be the commands of God.

c.       Define Islam as: theology, culture, law, practice

2.      Diversity of Muslims -- sects, cultures, lifestyles, lack of racial emphasis (first person to recite adhan was a black slave)

a.       Founded seventh century C.E. by Muhammad in Arabia. Over 1.2 billion adherents, more than 20% of world's population. Second largest and fastest growing religion on the planet. Over 6 million in US

b.      Largest number of Muslims in Indonesia


3.      Two foundational sets of writings in Islam: The Qur’an and the Hadiths:

a.       The Qur’an:

                                                   i.      Eternal words of Allah. Divine revelation to Muhammad.  Recorded or memorized

                                                 ii.      First complete text compiled by Abu Bakr (1st caliph),. Later (in 650) a definitive version compiled and edited, all other versions ordered to be destroyed

b.      Hadith -- “report”: narratives reporting the saying and deeds of the prophet

                                                   i.      Two components: a narrative and a list of names (chain of sources that establish authenticity)

                                                 ii.      Most of the Hadith on family and women were transmitted by women, beginning with Aisha (youngest wife, Abu Bakr’s daughter), not systematically compiled until the ninth and tenth centuries

                                                iii.      Different collections for Sunnis, three for Shi’as

Life of Muhammad (570-632 C.E.)

1.      Born into Hashim clan of Quraysh tribe (dominant and wealthy in Mecca); Father died before his birth, mother died when M was 6.  Grandfather died 2 years later, uncle Abu-Talib

a.       Married at 25 to Khadija, devoted to her

b.      Muslim biographers’ portrayal: Deeply troubled as youth.  Orphan, doesn’t fit.  Looking for values other than wealth and power, unsatisfied with Bedouin religion, trying to transcend tribal differences

c.       Began going into caves in mountainside for solitary meditation. Sat for hours

                                                   i.      40 yrs old, early revelations - ceased, self-doubt - began again

                                                 ii.      Continued for 20 yrs: uncontrolled, oblivious, left will verbal messages

                                                iii.      Angel of revelation: Gabriel (jabril)

                                               iv.      Collected in the Qur'an

2.      After much time, M told to warn people of Mecca, tell them of good news

a.       “O you wrapped in your cloak, arise and warn!"

b.      Time is running out, divine judgment about to descend upon people.

3.      M was Commanded to "arise and warn people" > preaching

a.       Undermined economic and religious power of Quraysh clan

b.      Opposition: could not assassinate; protected by his clan, Abu-Talib.  Tried to buy him off, torture slaves, commercial boycott

4.      Wife and uncle die > unprotected > alliance with people of (Yathrib) Medina.

c.       Flight to Medina (hijra, now 1st day of lunar year), 250 miles north of Mecca

d.      Growing community of Islam, based on common faith > government, economy, army

e.       Raids against Meccan caravans (623), decisive battle (624)

f.        First holy war (jihad), just war: demonstrating God's sovereignty, irresistible power > expand. Influence

                                                   i.      Definition of jihad = ‘struggle,’ such as individual’s struggle in the path of God and in the example of the prophet.  Difficulties and complexities of a good life.  Fighting injustice and oppression, spreading and defending Islam, creating a just society.

                                                 ii.      “Lesser jihad:: military conflict.  Under specific circumstances, not meant to be the aggressor, no justification of forced conversion

                                                iii.      Win Mecca by diplomacy: pilgrimage to Mecca = service to God; purge pre-Islamic, polytheistic symbols and reinterpret every aspect.


Central Teachings: Four Emphases

1.      Monotheism: the absolute unity and uniqueness of Allah

a.       Cannot be represented by any image, or likened to anything created

b.      Has no "associates," no consorts, sons, daughters. "Say, 'He is Allah, one.  Allah, the Eternal.  He has not begotten nor was he begotten, and He has no equal'" (112:1-4)

c.       Polytheists : deny the sovereignty of Allah, God's revelation via Muhammad, the Last Judgment. Also: denying one's obligation to Allah, being ungrateful.

2.      The Meaning and purpose of human existence

a.       A meaningful life is fully centered on God.  The purpose of human existence is to serve God in every sphere of life, and to do God's commands.

b.      Humans are put on earth to be Allah's representatives (khalifa): govern and enjoy the world on its creator's terms, to reflect God's commands. We’ve seen: Islam = surrender, submission, obedience to God's will.

c.       No notion of original sin.

3.      Social reform

a.       One serves God in one's relationships with other people: the Qur'an is the only reliable basis of personal and social values.

b.      Model yourself on God: compassionate, protective of the weak, just, opposed to evil in all forms.

c.       Attack on authority of old, ancestral patterns of behavior (the Bedouin sunna). De-emphasized importance of kinship,  All human beings created to serve God; all true Muslims are brothers.  Religious loyalty takes precedence over family loyalty.  Personal accountability.

4.      Day of Judgment

a.       People who pursue worldly ends act as though there is no day of reckoning.  Nothing else to hope or fear.

b.      Dead resurrected -- all of life past and present will stand before God to be judged.

c.       Unbelievers, selfish > eternal damnation in hell. Believers who respond to Allah's revelation > everlasting life in paradise.

d.      Body and soul are perishable, but will be resurrected and experience either paradise or hell.

e.       God's creation is good, but less valuable than paradise. = a testing ground for eternity.  One must be ready to sacrifice all this of this world in the promise of eternal fellowship with Allah.