Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity. Although it's becoming increasingly important in Western society, especially current affairs and world politics, the three-fourths of the world's population that don't adhere to it have some very strange ideas about what it's like. See also the article on The Qur'an, the religious text of the faith.
Let's get a few things cleared up right away:
- "Islam" اسلام is a noun referring to the religion itself. Its etymology is derived from the tri-consonant "S-L-M" from which the words peace "salam سلام", safety "salama سلم", greeting "sallama سلّم", being safe/secure "saleem سليم", greeting "sallama", and surrender "istislam" استسلام; also derive. "Muslim"note (one who submits, pronounced "moos-lim"note ) is an adjective, and the noun for an individual adherent of Islam. (An alternate spelling is "Moslem," pronounced "moss-lim.") "Islamic" is the adjective for cultural constructs relating to Muslims and Islam: Islamic civilisation, the Islamic Golden Age, etc. "Islamist," a neologism, is a noun and adjective referring to adherents of expansionist political Islam and does not necessarily represent all Muslims, or the majority, of the religion (given the definitions of the term, it's difficult to say how many Muslims it includes). Older European texts sometimes use "Mohammedan" for Muslim, but it is considered offensive by Muslims since it is by analogy with the word "Christian," implying that Muslims worship Muhammad in the same way Christians worship Christ. The term came about because the Muslims do believe in following the example set by Muhammad to the best of their ability as told in suras 60 and is said to be a sublime example of morality in sura 68; in fact, the Sira and Hadith mainly exist to give people a better understanding on who Muhammad was, since the Qur'an does not relate the life of the prophet in detail. Muslims take the term Mohammadan to imply the blasphemy that he is worshiped, so the respectful no longer call Muslimin Mohammedans.
- Islam is a monotheistic religion (tawhid) and very serious about it. The official Muslim line is that the Christian Trinity is too close to polytheism (shirk), and Muslims do not believe that God had, has, or ever will have a Son; one verse in the Qur'an sums it up as "Neither does he beget nor is he begotten".
- Muslims certainly do believe that Jesus existed, and is the one in the Bible. He was born of a virginnote , but was not the son of God or God in any waynote , was one of the great prophets who preached the word of God, was not martyred nor resurrected, but did ascend to heaven. He remains there and will return before the last day (Qiyamah) to wage war against the unbeliever, Anti-Christ, and Gog and Magog. Shi'a believe that he shares this role with the Mahdinote . Sunna, who make up 85-90% of Muslims, believe that role is fulfilled solely by Jesus, or as he is known in Islamic text, Isa (a better Arabic translation for Jesus would be Yasū يسوع from Yahushua/Yeshua ישוע (similar to Joshua before translation). Isa عيسى comes from Esau עֵשָׂו, twin brother of Jacob if taken directly from Hebrew. It could be justified by the Greek/Latin Isus/Isous, but is still a strange path to take). The Ahmadiyyah sect believes Jesus survived on the cross, was entombed alive, got out, and then went on to preach to the lost Jewish tribes, eventually dying in Kashmir (there is a tomb in Kashmir that is claimed to be his). This sect believes that Jesus came back in the form of another man named Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, who founded Ahmadiyyah.
- Muslims believe in many of the prophets, and have similar though not identical versions of Bible stories in the Qur'an. On the whole, Islam considers The Bible and the Jewish scriptures to be once true revelations that should agree with the Qur'an, but deviated from their original sources over time. So a lot of Bible stories about King Solomon, Noah, and so on are also in the Muslim tradition.
- An important one is Abraham and Ishmael. The Bible says that his son Ishmael by Hagar and Isaac by Sarah. Both were each the father of a nation, but Isaac as the favored son became the ancestor of the Hebrews while Ishmael founded the Ishmaelites whom the Arabs (and the ancient Hebrews) identified with the Arabs (or rather the so-called "Arabized Arabs," tribes from the Levant that married into the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula).
- Islam was founded in the early seventh century by Muhammad, sometimes spelled Mohammed, Muhammed, etc. Muslims usually affix his name with "peace and blessings be upon him" at the end or 'PBUH'. (It is actually a scriptural rule to do this with all prophets.) This is sometimes put only as 's' or 'saw', short for 'Sallahu alaihi wa salam', which is Arabic for 'peace and blessings be upon him'. It is also considered taboo to not say this after hearing Muhammad's name. For a long time, the standard European renditions of his name were "Mahomet," "Machomet," and "Mahound," but these are now considered inaccurate, dated, or offensive. ("Mahomet" is still used in French while "Mahound" is blatantly derogatory.) While Muslims do revere Muhammad, they do not worship him as God. They view him as a great man and the last of the prophets, but only human nevertheless.
- Muslims take the Qur'an very seriously indeed. Muhammad claimed that the tenets of Islam were revealed to him by the Archangel Jibreel (Gabriel) over a twenty-two-year period between 610 and his death in 632. Because he was illiterate, he then dictated to others. The written transcripts of these revelations are collected in the Koran (more properly called the Glorious Qur'an), the main sacred text of Islam. For Muslims, the Qur'an is, literally, word for word, comma for comma, the Word of God (as opposed to the Christian Bible and Jewish Tanakh, which are mostly comprised of prophets and apostles talking about God). Most Muslim scholars would rather learn Classical Arabic to study it rather than risk mistranslation. This makes sense if you take in mind that, because of how Arabic grammar works, misreading a word could change the meaning of the whole sentence. The word "Qur'an" itself literally means "recitation."
- Muhammad built up a sizable Muslim state in Arabia during his lifetime. This was one of the world's largest (and most sudden) empires to emerge and it was called the Caliphate, uniting all Muslims under it at the time. Many Muslims still call for restoring it. This history of military conquest has led to the claim of some critics that Islam was 'spread by the sword'. Note that the Muslim empire was only called the Caliphate after Muhammad died, as "Caliphate" (Arabic al-Khilafah) literally means "successorship". As for its supposed militarism, Saladin and Umar Ibn Al-Khattab fought only when necessary. Umar even refused to pray in a church because he feared it would be demolished.
- Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, (and "Sabians", whatever that means)note being monotheists, are considered to be in the same boat as Muslims, and have protected status in Muslim law that is, they have the option of not converting if they pay an extra "jizya" (humility) tax and thus receive Dhimmi status (protected by Muslims but with less rights in society and exempts the person from military service). "Dhimmi" (protected) treatment ranged from simply paying the jizya to being a humiliated third-class citizen with a special clothing to let everyone know who you were; it largely depended on how good the ruler was and how well the country was doing at that point in time. During some of the periods of particularly intense anti-Semitism in Christian Europe, it was actually considered preferable by Jews to live under Muslim rule, because being a lower-class citizen was better than getting lynched in a pogrom. People not considered to be following a religion "close" enough to Islam (atheists, pagans, and sometimes Hindus, depending on the ruler) fared (in bad times) even worse. At the time, the Sassanid and Eastern Roman empire had expended most of their treasuries and military fighting each other (itself an extension of the ongoing Greek Persian conflict) on top of Bubonic plague in Rome, which not only allowed the newly risen Caliphate to run over them, but also meant the Jizya was actually less than the poll tax at the current time. But taxes rose, people started to convert to Islam to get out of paying the jizyah, and this caused the collapse of the first Caliphate dynasty as they could not figure out an alternate tax structure. Note that being Muslim did not mean getting out of paying they still have to pay zakat or alms. Unlike Jizya, however, zakat is a fixed amount (2.5% of capital assets owned for over one lunar year for those who can afford to pay, as a rule of thumb, although different but still fixed! rules apply to certain types of agricultural and mineral property and spoils of war), and unlike jizya, there is a minimum threshold amount of wealth one must have before one is required to pay zakat, so if the jizya did happen to rise to more than the zakat, it would still explain why people would convert.
- Forced conversion is a point of contention in Islam; reciting the Shahada (articles of faith) must be voluntary or it's invalid. While some cite sura 9:5 as claiming Muslims are required to fight all pagans where you find them unless they convert, the verses prior (specifically verse 9:4) and the verses after (sura 9:6-7) mention that Muslims are not to attack non-believers whom they have a treaty with, and to honor agreements made with them.
- The chief holy cities of Islam are Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Mecca was Muhammad's hometown, supposedly founded by the Prophet Abraham. Medina is a city in Saudi Arabia some distance north of Mecca, where the first generation of Muslims fled after being expelled from Mecca. In the 'Night Journey', Muhammad claimed he was transported all the way from Mecca to 'the farthest mosque', usually thought to be Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, where he briefly ascended to heaven to meet God and see heaven and hell. The Dome of the Rock is built around and the rock he was supposedly standing on; unfortunately, it's also on the Jewish Temple Mount too. Many Jews consider the "Night Journey" to be a patently fabricated story used to lay claim to the Jewish holy city of Jerusalem; Muslims often point out that the Muslim Qibla (direction of prayer) had been Jerusalem for several years before the "Night Journey", indicating that a special connection to the city already existed (if you're praying in that direction, you're basically saying "that's God's capital on Earth").note
- There are five 'pillars' of Islam. The five basic acts that are considered mandatory for all Muslims. This isn't Quranic and details vary somewhat between Muslims, but the key points are:
- The Shahadah, or creed, which translates into English as "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God." In order to enter the Muslim community (one is technically already a Muslim from the instant of deciding to be one), you have to say this out loud, in Arabic, with full belief in front of two Muslim witnesses. In that matter, actually it requires two witnesses, both male Muslims ("muslimun" is the Arabic plural) or four Muslimat (the Arabic plural for female Muslims) this draws from Islamic legal practices, where the testimony of two witnesses is the minimum requirement to establish a truth in court. An imam is not really required (in Islam, imam is one who leads prayers, any sane adult Muslim can be an imam).
- Salah, or prayer. This is supposed to be done five times a day (at dawn, just after high noon, at the middle of the afternoon, just after sundown, and at nightfall), and periodically while reading the Quran. This is done, if possible, facing Mecca and requires ritual cleansing beforehand. This is announced by the muathin (also spelled muezzin) from the minaret of a mosque, or often by loudspeaker. The precise text varies between Sunni and Shia, but always begins with "God is Great" in Arabic. (Please note that this is only the universal, ritual prayer; Muslims are also obligated to engage in ordinary prayer at other times and there are many specific kinds for certain occasions.)
The direction of Mecca is called the Qibla, and it's marked by a niche in most Mosques. It is also considered the proper way to face a Muslim's body when he is buried. How it is calculated on the spherical Earth is a subject of controversy among Muslims. In the strictest sense, all American Muslims should be praying towards the floor, through the planet, but the most common way is by the shortest great-circle route to Mecca, meaning in some places it's north or south, over the pole. Side note: the need to find the direction of the Qibla is sometimes cited as one of many driving forces behind advances in astronomy, geography, and mathematics in the Arab world.
There have been some discussion about which direction a man in outer space would pray towards, and the usual answer is generally "if the exercise in geography is taking time away from prayer, you are doing it wrong."
- Zakat, literally "that which purifies", or Muslim-to-Muslim "alms for the poor." There is scholarly consensus (ijma`) that zakat cannot be given to non-Muslims, as mentioned by Ibn al-Mundhir, Kasani, Ibn Qudama, Buhuti, and others. This is usually done through Muslim-run social services (sometimes treated more like a social services tax in Islamic countries). This is extremely precise: a 2.5% minimum for all wealth held for one full lunar year beyond 85kg in gold or another weight if in silver. Agricultural produce is calculated depended on how it gets its water. Mineral wealth is taxed most heavily, at 20%; when people figured out that oil was actually really valuable, the monarchs holding it were mildly upset to hear that the jurists were in agreement that it fell into this category.note Incidentally, Zakat combined with the insanely complex laws of Islamic inheritance gave the Muslims the motivation to learn algebra.note Figuring how much each of various categories of heirs gets from the estate is a lot easier when you can just plug in the variables.note
- Sawm, or fasting. This is done mainly during Ramadhan (pronounced with a thick D), in which one must fast a full month. Muslims eat before dawn prayer (called Sahur, which is strongly recommended unless one wakes up late) and after dawn prayer are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke, or have sex until sunset. Putting something in one's mouth during fasting is also prohibited and even getting angry should be strongly avoided. During the month of Ramadhan, one must do as much good deeds as possible, such as reading the Quran and praying extra prayers in between daily prayers. It is believed during the month of Ramadhan, the devils are tied up, thus leaving one's heart clear to perform good deeds better. Women are exempt from fasting during menstruation, but must make up for it later; one day of fasting missed must be made up with one day outside of the month of Ramadhan. The very sick, travelling, elderly, very young, and breast-feeding and pregnant women may avoid fasting during the month of Ramadhan but must make up for it later, usually by giving food to one needy person for every day missed. For others who intentionally miss fasting, smoke, or have sex, they will have to make up for it either by fasting for sixty days straight for every single day of fasting missed or feeding the poor a certain amount for every single day missed. Affectionate hugging and kissing during Ramadhan with one's spouse is allowed, but only if one is very positive they can control their libido.
- Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. All Muslims are expected to do this at least once in their lives if they are financially and physically able. Each year, nearly two million pilgrims arrive in Mecca, and planning the entire process is a massive undertaking; an entire Saudi ministry is tasked with running the event. Have you heard the expression 'a tourist Mecca'? This is why. The Saudi government doesn't let non-Muslim tourists in Mecca, though (and most Muslim tourists decide to just do Umrah, or off-season pilgrimage that doesn't count towards the Hajj requirement, while they're in town). During the Hajj, women must have their faces unveiled and all the men wear a plain white toga-like wrap; this is done to emphasize the equality of all Muslims during the Hajj, as all markers of wealth and social standing are stripped away. The Hajj consists of a highly choreographed series of rituals; these are:
- Tawaf: Circling the Kaaba seven times counter-clockwise. The Hajji would return to the Kaaba three times over the course of the Hajj for prayers.
- Saay: Running seven times between the Hills of Safa and Marwah, in remembrance of Hajar's (Hagar) frantic search for water to save the infant Ismail (Ishmael), Allah finally directed Hajar to the well of Zamzam, which is still providing fresh water to this day.
- Wuquf (Standing before God): The pilgrims travel to the Mount Arafat, and spend a day in contemplation and prayer. This is where Muhammad delivered his final sermon. The pilgrims spend the night at Muzdalifah sleeping under the stars.
- Ramy al-Jamarat (Stoning the Devil): The pilgrims cast seven stones at a pillar that represent Satan; when Ibrahim (Abraham) was instructed by Allah to sacrifice Ismail, Satan thrice attempted to tempt him out of it, and thrice Ibrahim rebuffed him and chased him away with stones.
- The final day of the Hajj season is the festival of Eid al-Adha, on that day, all male pilgrims will shave their head, and an animal sacrifice made. Due to the sheer number of people at the Hajj, pilgrims would generally just buy a voucher to have a professional butcher slaughter the animal. The resulting meat will be distributed to the poor.
Meat is certified halal only if the animal is killed by a Muslim, who must recite the words "Bismillah, Allahu akbar," after which the animal is killed as painlessly as possible and all the blood is drained out. Halal is typically referred to as a law of cleanliness, including a set of dietary restrictions somewhat similar to kashrut rules in Judaism. For example, meat must be specially prepared, absolutely no pork may be eaten, etc. It is considered proper to slaughter an animal when it is facing the Qibla. Furthermore, like certain Protestant denominations, Islam dislikes alcohol and many Muslim states are 'dry', although this is more a legal point than an actual situation (as anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in Tehran or knows anything about Saudi princes can attest). By extension, no intoxicating or mild-altering substances like drugs are allowed either. Again, this is more of an official point; hashish smoking has been a pastime that long predated Islam and continued after its spread; it's sufficiently popular that, when a number of ulema were surveyed about the permissibility of hashish, the Egyptian ones came to the conclusion that it was makruh literally "detestable", meaning "discouraged but not forbidden" (the other ulema considered it forbidden, but the response of the Egyptian scholars shows there is room for debate). A famous sect of Ismaili Shiites known as the Hashishin gave us the word "assassinate", although the legends that its members smoked hashish (which is Arabic for "grass"... obviously, stoners everywhere make the same connections) before eliminating their target, with the promise of more hash later, are most likely the result of factional propaganda. Muslims can eat kosher food, as the Jewish dietary laws are actually stricter than the Islamic ones and it says in the Qur'an that they may eat the food of the Jews and the Christians. There is debate over how "Christian" the food most Christians eat is, though, so that part's mainly ignored.
Some current issues
- The word jihad, a variation on Jahada (to struggle), can be applied to anything from inner turmoil to international warfare. Further complicating the matter is the fact that in Arabic, the word jihad can be applied to any struggle, so you could legitimately call feminism the jihad for women's rights or talk about Mahatma Gandhi's jihad for Indian independence. However, four madhhab of Sunni jurisprudence and the Shia do agree that the jihad al-asghar or "lesser jihad" which is to say, armed jihad refers specifically to armed struggle against unbelievers. Indeed, while the Arabic word jihad itself does mean "struggle", the word jihad is used in the Qur'an in contexts explicitly referring to armed struggle (warfare), as clearly shown by the Qur'an exempting the sick, weak, children and the elderly from the jihad, and is in fact the second most common usage of the word in the Qur'an. But it is a distant second to the most common usage of the word: striving to obey the commandments of God. It bears repeating that the word is heavily context-based; in total, the word jihad has approximately 5 different meanings as used in the Qur'an. It's also important to note that the conception of jihad in the context of warfare has been neither uniform nor constant throughout history. Jurists have never been unanimous about when a war is sanctioned by Islam, and the definition has ranged from solely defensive wars to wars for expanding the Islamic empire. Which conception dominated at any given point in time largely depended upon the ambitions of the rulers at the time and how comfortable the scholars were at justifying those ambitions with religion. A close analogue would be the debate about whether there is such a thing as a "just war" in Christianity, which not-coincidentally emerged when Emperor Constantine decided he wanted to conquer other lands in the name of the cross.
- Similarly, fatwa is just a technical term for a non-binding legal ruling pertaining to religious law made by a qualified scholar or religious authority. A scholar might issue a fatwa on, for example, whether a particular food is appropriate for Muslims or whether a Muslim can do particular things during Ramadan. However, the first time many westerners heard the word is when Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's executionnote l so many people incorrectly assume the word means something like "death sentence". For the record, to "issue a fatwa against someone" has no meaning out of context; doing so can mean anything from polite disapprobation to declaring a person a non-Muslim.
- "Allah" is Arabic for "The God", a contraction of Al (the) and illah (god, Al-illah).note Allah is not considered to be separate from the Jewish and Christian God (though whether Allah, the Islamic God, actually mirrors the Judeo-Christian God in character (which is an interesting point to make as Jews don't believe in the trinity, their belief is that there's one God, alone) and action (also interesting as God's actions in the Hebrew and Greek Bibles differ significantly) is definitely a point of debate, regardless of whether or not Muslims claim to worship the same God). Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians use the word "Allah" to refer to their God. Jews and Christians are considered heterodox rather than heathen and are thus (in theory, at least) supposed to be accorded a level of respect in Islamic societies; how closely this has been followed throughout history has varied. Because the three religions share a common background with intersecting prophets, in Islam the three together are referred to by the marvelously mellifluous term "Peoples of the Book." Some other religions with revealed texts and some level of monotheism are considered Peoples of the Book, but it depends on who you ask.
- "Allāhu Akbar" is a common Arabic phrase meaning "The God is greater". The Western world tends to associate it with terrorists about to blow people up, but it's said quite regularly by people without any homicidal intent whatsoever. In an appearance on Fox News, Senator John McCain memorably pointed this out.
- Variations of "Allah" appear, also meaning "God" in other Semitic (or Arabic-influenced) languages, including Aramaic (preceding both Islam and Christianity) and Maltese (the bastard child of Tunisian Arabic and Sicilian and the language of arguably the most Catholic country in the world).
- If the opening of the Shahadah (above) sounded weird to you, "There is no god but The God" is a lot nicer in Arabic, with the first "god" being ʾIlāh, the generic word for any deity, and the second being (of course) Allah, which is just a contraction of the former word with al-, the Arabic definite article that you've probably heard elsewhere. Just about every Islamic phrase or quotation sounds better in Arabic, of course. "La ilaha ila Allah, Muhammadan rasul'ullah" sounds better than "There is no god but The God and Muhammad is The God's messenger." When translating, Muslims will often either leave Allah untranslated ('There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.') or give illah an alternative translation (i.e. "There is nothing worthy of worship but Allah," etc.)
- "Madrasah" note is the generic Arabic word for "school". In Western media, it's used in the sense of "extremist training camp", which is why there was a brief hysteria about Barack Obama supposedly attending a madrasah during his childhood in Indonesia. Actually, all that means is that he went to a Muslim-majority elementary school, which, given the demographic makeup of Indonesia, pretty much just means he went to school, period. In Arabic and many languages of the Muslim world (which borrow from Arabic like European languages borrow from Latin), you went to a madrasah, unless you were homeschooled.
- Islamic Dress is another significant controversy, in both the Muslim world and the West. In the West especially Continental Europe and most especially France the various forms of women's religious dress have become frequent targets for right-wingers and feminists who charge that those who wear them are forced to do so (not always true, believe it or not, even with the full-body-tent style), and that such obviously religious dress is a disruption to [insert country here]'s culture. In the Muslim world, this controversy exists in two extremes: in some countries, like Turkey and Syria, the headscarf (although not necessarily the veil) is considered to be a mark of liberation from state-enforced secularism (i.e. saying, "screw you, government, I'll be religious if I want to be!"); in other countries, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, trying to find how much hair you can show and still be "modest" in the eyes of the religious police is a (highly dangerous) game played by women rebelling against state-enforced religiosity. This is particularly annoying to Iranian women: before the Shah was kicked out, his government enforced secularism, and occasionally sent out the police to rip scarves off the heads of women who were wearing them of their own free will. For about fifty years, the motto of the Iranian woman might as well have been: You can't win. You can't break even. And you can't even quit the game.
- Sharī`ah (or sharia) is not limited to religious law; it also covers personal and daily matters including worship and morals. It is such an intrinsic part of being a Muslim that one cannot function as a practising Muslim without sharī`ah. Worshipping God is not limited to the Five Pillars of Islam, but also covers doing what God orders in God's name. Thus, doing good deeds in God's name is worshiping God. In other words, doing good deeds is one of the many ways of practising sharī`ah. We should note here that "sharī`ah" roughly means "the Way" (it's very closely related to the word shāri`, which is the Arabic word for "street"), and essentially refers to "the way God says we should do things in all aspects of life." What the ignorant term "sharia law" is actually more properly considered a subset of fiqh. "Fiqh" refers to the body of rules and regulations that constitute the considered opinion of generations of scholars on what God thinks the sharī`ah (that is, the Way) should be; although widely accepted, it is not based solely on the Qur'an, but also incorporates a great deal of oral tradition (particularly the Hadith sayings of the Prophet and Sunnah reported acts/habits of the Prophet), some of which has been questioned by modern scholars. Only part of the fiqh deals directly with what Western societies would consider legal matters, and to the extent it does, it mostly deals with them as matters of private law that is, as disputes between individuals, rather than as any kind of official law for the state to follow. (For instance, yes, it is true that the Qur'an prescribes death as the penalty for murder but it also states that the decision to impose the death penalty lies with the family of the victim, who may and are encouraged to accept blood-money in lieu of death. In other words, the fiqh, as accepted by nearly all mainstream scholars, does not actually define murder, but rather a tort of wrongful death the state has nothing to do with it.) To the extent that fiqh prescribes any action by the state, the state is, in traditional Islamic jurisprudence, free to ignore fiqh so long as it serves the public interest; what modern legal scholars term public law is in Islamic jurisprudence called siyasah (literally "politics" or "policy"), and may under proper circumstances override official prescriptions (most famously, during one year with difficult harvests, the Caliph Umar suspended the fiqh sentence for theft cutting off of the hand because doing so would both impede the ability to harvest what grain there was and unnecessarily make unproductive citizens out of people who would not have stolen but for the exceedingly difficult year).
Don't call them Sonny and Cher
Just like Christianity, Islam is divided into denominations, the most important of which is the difference between Sunni and Shi'a. You might not have heard of the names because the vast majority of Muslims (80 to 90%) are Sunni; however, the sectarian disputes in Iraq, which is majority-Shi'a like Iran, have brought this to the news. Although they have come to differ in their interpretation of many aspects of Islam, it all started over who deserved to lead the Islamic world after Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets.
- "Sunni" derives from sunnah, which means 'example, precedent', because they believe that the Ummah or the community of Muslims correctly chose the Rashidun, the four rightly guided caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali the same Ali that the Shiites follow, it's complicated) by popular election. Sunnis believe the example of the original Muslim community and Muhammad to be the best guide. They are further divided into different madhhab, schools of law: Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi'i, and Maliki schools, each of which has specific prohibitions and allowances, but are considered equally valid by most (except when Muslims follow a different maddhab than their conqueror does). It's more like the difference between United Methodist and Wesleyan Methodist than Protestant and Catholic. Note also that the Muslim maddhahib (plural of maddhab) are schools of law: their job is interpreting the Islamic laws, or Shari'ah. In this respect, they're more like court systems. Indeed, like courts in the common-law tradition (i.e. derived from English law), they are bound by precedent and do not regard themselves as makers of new law but clarifiers of existing law, even though they do in fact make law this way. Some scholars even think the English got the idea of binding precedent (as well as trusts and some other legal concepts) from Muslims during The Crusades, but that's a rather contentious subject, to say the least.
- Most Muslims (somewhere in the range of 80%) are Sunni, so their dispersion can be listed as "everywhere, except for the Shi'a-majority ones". The maddhab followed, however, varies between regions. The breakdown is as follows:
- Hanafi: The oldest school and historically the largest, it is now followed in Central Asia, South Asia, the Balkans, Egypt (sedentary Egyptians only), Turkey (and by extension its large diaspora in Europe), Iraq, and the Levant (for the latter three, the Kurds are the exception). The founder of this school is the Persian scholar Abu Hanifa Nouman ibn Thabit. This school is generally the most analytical of the schools, favoring the use of juristic analogy and inference from the Qur'an and limiting the use of the hadith only to those of greatest authenticity.
- Maliki: Followed in most of Africa except for the sedentary Egyptians and the nomadic Bedouins, as well as the Persian Gulf states not named Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. Founded by Malik Ibn Anas, who believed that the practices and traditions of the people of Medina were the closest approximation of the actual practice of the prophet, and therefore gave them more more priority in the law.
- Shafi'i: Followed by the nomadic Bedouins of Egypt, the Kurds, the Horn of Africa states, and Southeast Asia. Founded by Malik Ibn Abas' most famous student, Abdullah Muhammad ibn Idris Shafi. Unlike his teacher, Shafi engaged in a more extensive study of hadith from outside of the Medina area, and therefore this school places a heavy emphasis on precedent, both from prophetic tradition and the opinions of the Prophet's closest companions.note Shafi's magnum opus, commonly known as Ar-Risala (literally, "the message"), is recognized as the first systematic work of Islamic jurisprudence ever written, making him the founding father of fiqh as it is currently known.
- Hanbali: Mainly followed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Founded by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, this is the most textual of all of the schools, so strongly prioritizing the usage of hadith that it even puts traditions of weak authenticity in much higher regard than analogy or custom (the classical Hanbali school didn't accept the latter two as sources of law at all). Because of its more intuitive, less intellectual approach compared to the other schools, this school has historically been extremely popular with Sufis. Those of a more fundamentalist bent tend towards this school, mostly because its evidence-based approach fits well with their conceits of restoring a "pure" Islam.
- The Zahiri school is sometimes described as the fifth major madhhab, but is so rare nowadays that this classification is largely irrelevant. It was most prominent during the days of the Islamic Caliphate in Spain, but after the Reconquista, it went into sharp decline. Founded by Dawud al-Zahiri, it is a literalist school that values certainty above all other things, accepting only unambiguous readings of the Quran and only the most historically verifiable hadith as sources of law, rejecting all other sources. Ironically, the school's rigidity means that it is either the most lenient or the strictest of them all, depending upon who you ask.
- The Salafi movement is a somewhat dodgy term that refers to a tendency of antinominianism in Islam, i.e. refusal to be identified with a formal school of thought. Salafism started out as a modernist reform movement that sought to restore Islam to a purer form by rejecting the traditional interpretations of medieval scholars and focusing on independent reasoning directly from the Quran and Sunnah (salaf refers to the first generation of Muslims, emphasizing that this form of Islam is essentially getting back to the basics). Traditionally, this form of Islam was associated with anti-colonialism and Islamic modernism. Nowadays, it's associated with Islamic fundamentalism and jihadist terrorism, partly because Western commentators are notoriously terrible at using the word "Salafi" with any degree of precision, and partly because extremist fundamentalist types love to refer to themselves as Salafi (the below-mentioned Wahhabis being a prime example).
- The Wahabbi school is a (largely perjorative) term for the followers of the Hanbali jurist Muhammad ibn Wahhab. The main sticking point of this school is "purifying" the religion of un-Islamic practices, and declaring those that engage in such practices as outside of the fold of Islam (his beef was mostly with the practice of saint veneration, which is the main reason why Wahhab-inspired groups love to demolish holy sites). The movement has its origins in the Najd region of Saudi Arabia (that big desert in the center of the Arabian Peninsula housing the capital city, Riyadh), and, through complex political issues, was spread as a condition for the state to be approved by the ulemanote . This of course means that the movement is strong in Saudi Arabia, and the country being a rich oil-exporter as it is, the movement is exported through aid given by the country to more impoverished countries and in turn provide the basis for many Sunni fundamentalist groups such as Taliban and Al-Qaedanote . This sect is extremely unpopular with other Muslims, in part because of their excessively narrow definition of a "true" Muslim, and in part because of their take on "commanding the good and forbidding the wrong," which is usually interpreted as "harass and attack anyone who does not meet our standards." Ibn Wahhab was particularly fond of going out and killing people who refused to convert to his exact take on Islam, which, by the way, is expressly forbidden by God (his justification was that these people would be punished in the afterlife anyway, he was just speeding up the process).
- Most Muslims (somewhere in the range of 80%) are Sunni, so their dispersion can be listed as "everywhere, except for the Shi'a-majority ones". The maddhab followed, however, varies between regions. The breakdown is as follows:
- 'Shi'a' means 'party, following', and they are the party of Ali specifically. Unlike the Sunni, they believe Muhammad declared before his death that his son-in-law Ali, who married his daughter Fatima and was the first male convert to Islam, was invested with the ability to interpret the Quran without error. The Shi'as don't rate the early community as highly as the Sunni because they believe they mistakenly chose Abu Bakr and insists that Ali is the true first Caliph and Imam. In any case, Sunnis agree he was elected the fourth Caliph; however, he was martyred during the serious warfare of these early divisions. His sons Hassan and Hussein continued his line, and were martyred too. The Shia's then divide themselves further depending on how many legitimate successors of Muhammad and Ali they recognize; the major groups are the Twelvers, Fivers (aka Zaidis), Seveners (aka Ismailis), and Ismaili Nizaris (who believe that the legitimate line of Imams has continued to this day they are currently on the 49th Imam). Twelvers form the vast majority of Shia's and the vast majority of them live in Iran, another reason not to confuse Iranians with Arabs. However, the first great Shi'a state was the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt, which was Ismaili. That's as in Fatimah, Ali's wife. Sunnis tend to find the whole idea of a hereditary Caliphate un-Islamic, hence the bitter divide between the sects...despite the fact that many Sunni kingdoms have been hereditary as well. The Shiite version of the Shahada appends the phrase ...wa 'aliyyun waliyyu-llah (...and Ali is the Vicegerent of God) to the end.
- Shi'a Muslims are a smaller proportion of the Muslim population (about 10 to 20%), but are the majority in Iraq, Iran, and Azerbaijan, among others; they form a plurality in Lebanon (the majority of Lebanese Muslims are Shi'a, but only about 55-60% of Lebanese are Muslim, the remainder being Christian) and Yemen is split about 50-50 between Sunnis and Zaidi Shiites. Substantial minorities of Shia in a majority-Sunni country are quite common. Because of this lineage, the concept of the Imam and the guidance of clerics is much more important to Shi'as than Sunnis. The fact that Iran is what Westerners would call a theocracy is an example of this.
- Some British people remember the name 'Aga Khan' because of his role in The Raj. The vast majority of Ismailis today are Nizari, and respect him as the current Imam.
- Twelvers believe that the Twelfth Imam is the Messiah (or rather the second one, in keeping with the Sunni Muslim belief that Jesus is the Messiah predicted in The Bible); he (the Mahdi) went into hiding (or "occultation" if you want to be technical) and will return at the End of Days (hence Stephen Colbert's T-shirt that read "Welcome Jesus" on one side and "Welcome Twelfth Imam" on the other...though Twelvers actually believe the Twelfth Imam will return with Jesus).
- Incidentally, a group of Twelver Shia that you might have heard about in the news are the Alawites. A mystical sect, they believe...well, we don't know that much about them, as they are famously secretive about their faith (some main tenants of Alawism includes a trinitarian God, a vaguely Hindu belief on the reincarnation of souls, and the elevation of Ali to a quasi-divine status if you have been paying attention up to this point, it's quite clear that none of these doctrine would sit well with mainstream Muslims, Sunni or Shia). They have become important in the news because the group's most famous adherent is Bashar Al-Assad, the (current) dictator of Syria. Despite Bashar's and his father Hafez's work in bringing Alawism closer to the Islamic mainstream, many still see the Alawites as heretics. This resulted in the rather uncomfortable situation where the Syrian Alawites (who hold most of the political and military power in the country) get along better with the nation's Christians then the Sunni Muslims (which forms the overwhelming majority of the Free Syrian Army). This goes a long way to explain why the Syrian Civil War of 2011 is such as clusterf*ck.
- Then there's also the Alevism, yet another Shi'a movement which primarily concentrates itself in Turkey and mainly in the Kurd-majority southeastern region, where they originally arose. It is not the same as the Alawism in neighboring Syria, despite the similarity of the names, but most leaders of the country, who have bad relations with both the Kurds and the Assad dynasty, get the chance to lump them together and thus demonize them easily, hence why Alevism gets an extremely bad reputation among the Turks of Turkey.
- Sufism is a remarkably loaded term, used to describe an esoteric, mystical orientation of Islam. The term itself is rather controversial, as is the tendency (mostly in the West) to regard it as a separate sect of Islam.note Traditionally, Sufism (more properly called ''tasawwuf', or "purification") is a broad designation for a variety of ascetic, mystical, and initiatory practices that developed out of Islamic practice. It has roughly the same relationship to everyday Islam that Kabbalah has to everyday Judaism, and a similar tendency (again, mostly in the West) to be artificially abstracted out of its religion of origin as a seperate spiritual tradition. Practicing Sufis (that is, those formally pledged to a Sufi order) are a minority nowadays, at least compared to their historical role in the Muslim world. They are, however, extremely prevalent in multiple areas of the Muslim world and Muslim communities worldwide, and were very important in spreading Islam, particularly in India, Turkey, Africa, and Indonesia.
- Sufis are divided into many different subgroups, or Tariqa, each with their own distinct traditions, method of interpretation, saintly figures, and mythos. Some include the Mevlevi, who primarily revere (among others) the poet Rumi as a saint and are famous for their "Whirling Dervishes", a method of worship involving meditative spinning. The Naqshbandi, who revere (among other saints) the teachings of Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari and Sheikh Nazim-Haqqani and several forms of communal chanting/meditation as prayer. And then there's the Bektashi, who form a syncretic doctrine with traditional shamanism, and believe in a concept of Muhammad and Ali being "radiations" of Allah, thus forming an almost Triune aspect similar to the Alawi concept.
- Sufism has also been particularly strong in Chechnya and the neighboring regions of the northern Caucasus. It was quite convenient during the Soviet times, since Sufis do not need mosques for their practices, and going to any house of worship could get one ostracized in the USSR. However, during the wars with Russia, more radical forms of Islam, such as the aforementioned Wahhabi school, became quite widespread. Still, some sources state that about half of all Chechens belong to Sufi brotherhoods. Sufism is also somewhat more common in Turkey and the Eastern European Muslim countries (Bosnia, Albania) for similar reasons, and Sufi brotherhoods have been at the center of much political activism and controversy.
- Sufism (the Naqshbandi branch in particular) is also quite popular and the traditional orientation of Chinese Muslims as well as in the general Central Asian region.
- The tradition also has deep connections in African countries, which has the most murids (devotees) of Sufism than any other region in the world. Many African Muslim communities typically follow the Naqshbandi and Qadiri Tariqa. Similar to Chechnya, the region has undergone massive Wahhabi reactionary movements that seek to "cleanse Islam" of Sufism, which they find hedonistic and pagan. Some of these, like Boko Haram, go so far as to exterminate Sufi communities in Africa.
- The Ahmadiyya movement is a relatively new branch of Islam, founded in 1889 by the Muslim reformer Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Generally speaking, this branch differs little from Sunni Islam, except in three very key respects. First, it regards its founder Ahmad as the promised Mahdi, and therefore regards prophesies regarding the end of the world to be strictly allegorical of his revival of the true Islam. Second, it believes that Jesus was in fact crucified, but survived and went on to teach the "Lost Tribes of Israel," after which he died a natural death in what is now Afghanistan. Finally, it regards Ahmad as a prophet, which is sharply contradictory to the orthodox Muslim notion that there can be no prophets after Muhammad (though the Ahmadis insist that Ahmad was a different, lesser sort of prophet than Muhammad was).note These heterodoxies are enough to have the Ahmadis branded as non-Muslims in some circles, which has led to their persecution, particularly in Pakistan where the movement is based. For some time, Ahmadis were not even permitted to make Hajj, although this has started to change somewhat. The Ahmadis are particularly notable for their dedication to Islamic apologetics and missionary work, believing strongly in the "jihad of the pen." The first Muslim missionaries in America were from the Ahmadi movement, and their spread of the religion in the African American community influenced figures such as Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. The first English translations of the Qur'an written by non-Westerners also came from this movement, as was the very first Japanese translation of the Qur'an.
- The Nation of Islam is a rather...quirky religious group founded in America by the semi-mythical Wallace Fard Muhammad. Growing out of the Moorish Science Temple an In Name Only Islamic group that had more in common with New Age Occultism the Nation of Islam based its beliefs and practices both on Wallace Fard Muhammad's religio-racial theories and the studies of the Bible and Quran conducted by Wallace Fard's most prominent student: Elijah Muhammad. The NOI taught that W.F. Muhammad was Allah incarnate, that God (whose proper name was Allah) was "the Asiastic Black Man", that white people were a race of devils selectively bred by an evil scientist named Yakub, and that Elijah Muhammad was the Messenger of God meant to save Black people from the conditions imposed upon them. Their message of Black pride and self-respect gave them traction even amongst people who found their religious beliefs a little too out-there, but the group wouldn't rise to national prominence until the efforts of its most famous member, Malcolm X, pushed them into the spotlight. Its relationship to orthodox Islam has always been a bit tenuous; despite bearing little to no resemblance to classical Islam, the group was tolerated and even encouraged by other more mainstream Islamic groups to a level not enjoyed by other more marginal sects of Islam. The group was formally converted to Sunni Islam by Warith Deen Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad's seventh son, before going defunct in 2003. A spin-off group, also called The Nation of Islam, was founded by Louis Farrakhan to maintain the religious teachings of Elijah Muhammad (while still adopting some beliefs and practices of Sunni Islam).
- There is also a myriad of more minor sects, such as the Kharijite sect, which, among other things, claimed that most Muslims had become kuffar (unbelievers), and the Ibadi sect who form a majority in Oman which is essentially Kharijism-lite (although despite this, the Ibadis are surprisingly religiously tolerant, due to their fastidious belief in seperation of Church and State). Another movement very prevalent among some Modernist Muslims and several Reform advocates is Qur'anism, which rejects all or most hadith and histories, basically "extra-Qur'anic sources". On their account of them being historically biased, illegitimate, and/or questionable for a number of different reasons, it's still a minority and heavily criticized by most other Muslim groups.
- Islam explicitly rejects the Christian idea that God was incarnate in human form. Thus, the Nation of Islam, which claims that its founder was God incarnate, is widely considered to not be Muslim. The Nation of Islam's explicit racism is also in opposition to Islamic ideals, which state that all believers are equal regardless of race or ethnicity.
- Oh, one more thing. People might have heard about the Druze, who is an ethnoreligious group living in the Levant, specifically in and around the Golan Heights (a territory currently contested by Syria and Israel). The group has its origins from a Shi'a sect which developed independently, with more mythology added, to such an extent that most people, even non-Muslims, wouldn't consider them Muslims anymore. Syria doesn't consider them Muslims, but Israel does, though "specialized Muslims" might be a preferable term, since, unlike the Palestinian Arabs, the Druze are subject to the obligatory conscription as the Jews are. They are also fully committed to supporting Israel, another point of contention that the other Arabs are rather itchy about (the Bedouins also support Israel, but they are too much nomadic to be a visible component).
Historically, many Muslim dynasties were named for how they claimed to be related to Muhammad. The Abbasid Caliphate claimed descent from Abbas, his youngest uncle, the Hashemites from his great grandfather, and the Umayyad Caliphate from Hashim's brother. The Fatimid caliphate claimed Fatimah, the Prophet's daughter and Ali's wife, and their branch of Shiism was called Ismailism after Ismail ibn Jafar, a descendent of Ali. This is more than a spiritual point: these were all major political ruling dynasties.
Ironically, when the Turkish republic abolished the Ottoman throne, that ended the last Sunni authority claiming the caliphate in 1924, so the original point of contention is now moot. The Hashemites are still kings of Jordan, briefly of Iraq, and were custodians of Mecca until the 1920s. The King of Morocco, because he claims descent from the Caliphate of Cordoba, who claimed descent from an Umayyad prince who fled to Spain due to the rise of the Abbasids, still calls himself Commander of the Faithful.
Although Arabic culture is very important in Islam (since it's the liturgical language, the heartland and foundation, and Mecca and Medina are in Arabia), "Arab" and "Muslim" are by no means mutually inclusive. "Arab" is an ethnicity or group of ethnicities, largely defined by the Arabic language; thus there are Arab Jews,note Arab Christians, Arab atheists, etc. On the flipside, a great proportion of Muslims are non-Arab: the three most populous Muslim countries are in fact Indonesia, India (which isn't majority-Muslim, but has such a gigantic overall population that its Muslim portion is substantial), and Pakistan. Having said that, in 1970, East Pakistan split from West Pakistan because the former felt that the latter was discriminating against them, at least partly because East Pakistan's dominant language, Bengali, is written with a native Indian script while the languages of West Pakistan were all written in the Arabic script. Now it's Bangladesh the fourth-largest Muslim country and Pakistan respectively. Persia was also one of the most important early Muslim nations and influenced much of both Muslim and Arab culture. A semi-detailed breakdown of Muslim population by cultural grouping goes something like this:
- South Asia/Indian Subcontinent: Just under 1/3 of all Muslims.
- Arab world: Another 1/5-1/4.
- Sub-Saharan Africa: Just under 1/6.
- Persian-speaking Middle East and Central Asia: About 1/10.
- Turkic-speaking Middle East and Central Asia: About 1/10.
- Everywhere else: The rest
These proportions are likely to change slightly in the near future, as Sub-Saharan Africa still has very high population growth rates, while South Asia and the Arab world are for the most part in the midst of a demographic transition and their birthrates are getting much lower very quickly; expect African Islam to get more press in the near future.
The infamous association of Islam with female circumcision stems from the local traditions of some parts of the Muslim world, which themselves come from East African tribal tradition rather than Islam itself. It is by no means exclusive to those East African Muslims; East African Christians also practice them (to an even larger extent, in the case of Ethiopia), but it somehow manages to avoid much press...
In fact, much of the general image of Islam as misogynistic stems from such "local traditions"; scriptural and institutionally, only some of this reputation is deserved, and in practice the varied, heterogeneous Muslim world has at many points been arguably more "pro-woman" than contemporary Christians or Jews (though given the historical periods in question, you'd be forgiven for thinking that isn't saying much). Particularly, if you're not sure whether the word for dress code is hijab, burqa, or chador, that shows how much of it is down to local custom rather than scripture. Hijab is the idea of (male and female) modesty: women should cover themselves in public or at prayer, but not necessarily at home. For this, many wear a full burqa, which covers all but the eyes; some just wear a chador, a single wrapped sheet. A simple headscarf is a khimar. In Turkey, such clothing is forbidden in government/public areas like universities: one President's wife was criticised for wearing it at his swearing-in. In other countries, it's fully enforced by the police. In case you are wondering, designing modest swimsuits you can actually swim in is kind of a challenge, but they exist in real life and can be bought in stores specializing in hijab clothing. After all, a nun's habit and wimple might be important to Christian modesty, but it's not a fundamental belief. (For more, see Islamic Dress.)
On nuns, Islam dislikes the idea that holiness requires retreating from the world, so monasticism is discouraged as an institution.
Many Islamic countries do have an enforced death penalty for those who renounce Islam. Amputation of the hand for theft is in the Quran (though It Makes Sense in Context: depending on where you were, thieves often got off scot-free or paid a fine, which a poor thief could not afford and which a rich thief could laugh off; a hand was something everyone would hate to lose. Not to mention, losing a hand made it a lot harder for the thief to re-offend. There were also various rules on the seriousness of the crime, meaning that the only way you should, in theory, get this penalty is if you were rich and stole for kicks). Another thing to note is that the lines in the Quran that are talking about this can also be interpreted as cutting off the thief's support .
Islam has a complex relationship with homosexuality. Many Muslim-majority countries, accordingly, have laws against homosexuality. In most extreme cases, it is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Sudan, and Iran. Muslim majority countries that have no laws against homosexuality include Turkey and Indonesianote , but it bears mentioning that these are both secular states. However, there are long-standing traditions of relationships between adult men and young boys in many Muslim areas, though the buggery has to stop before the boy is old enough to start enjoying it (because he'll get addicted). In Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, homosexuals acts will get you labeled as mentally handicapped, which has wide-ranging effects on your legal status in society. In Iraq, it's mandated by law that homosexual men get sex change operations.
Similarly, polygamy is a world custom that the Qur'an permits but does not endorse. It instructs a man who becomes the guardian of fatherless children, to marry the widow if he can. This is in the Old Testament too, by the way. In any case the maximum is said to be four, and equal treatment of them is required, as well as the wife's consent. Naturally, this allowance was abused to allow the extensive harems of sultans. Actually, the word harem should just mean 'where female relatives live together': Islam discourages unrelated men and women mixing in some Muslim countries, adultery is a criminal offence. It is said if two unmarried people are alone together, Satan is the third person there. Again, It Makes Sense in Context: The endorsement only came after Islam's first engagements in warfare, with the result of many dead men; the idea was to pick up the slack and not leave a town full of widows.
Relating to "no nuns" and "four wives" above, Islam makes it serious that, as soon as you can support yourself (as in, having your own source of income), you should get married. While casual dating is discouraged, Arranged Marriage is discouraged even more (of the non-consenting kind). Another point is that, like the other Abrahamic religions, chastity (but, as in the nun issue above, not celibacy) is important. However, as soon as you're married, you are allowed, nay, obliged to have sex with your wife, not only for procreation, but (especially) for pleasure as well. And no being a selfish ass, either: strong authority states that God disapproves of a man who pleases himself before his wife. A narration from Prophet Muhammad PBUH even says that "All games man plays are futile except archery, horse-riding, and playing with one's wife."
- Note, however, one should be careful not to become obsessed with sex, and it should be seen as something to relax the soul rather than something that is necessary like food and drink.
In addition to the Quran, Islam has various hadiths. A hadith is a body of text concerning the life of Muhammad — sayings attributed to him, things that he may or may not have done at some point, things of that nature. Much of the hadiths are similar in structure to the parables of Jesus, although their status in worship is significantly less exalted, with differences of opinion on which are required, which are merely recommended, and which can be ignored altogether. The hadith have a bit of an authenticity problem; they are words and acts attributed to the prophet after his death by later narrators, and their authority depends heavily on how strongly they can be traced back to the prophet himself. Each hadith comes with an isnad (chain), detailing the path of transmission of that particular saying (i.e. Muhammad told A, who told B, who told C, who wrote it down in this book). Generally, the fewer steps in the chain and the more credible each step is (for example, the accounts of Muhammad's wives, children, and close companions are generally considered the most trusted), the more credible the hadith (the most credible and accepted set of hadiths are labelled as sahih or authentic). Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, working 200 years after the death of Muhammad, collected over 300,000 hadiths, but only classed 2605 of them as sahih in other news, the compilation of these hadiths, Sahih al-Bukhari is often referred to as the second holy book of Islam. While generally considered an important guide for Muslims, it absolutely is not seen as on par with the Quran, because no text can be. In 2008, reform Muslim scholars in Turkey (a predominantly Muslim yet very secular nation) considered reviewing the hadith for modern times, trying to figure out how many hadiths that had been considered good (sahih) actually stood up to the scrutiny of modern textual analysis. This has not gone over very well with many people.
About the hadiths, there's one in which the Seal of the Prophets seems to ban any and all images of living things, which is why the Taliban went to so much trouble to keep television out of Afghanistan. note Most Muslims don't quite subscribe to this, but most dislike the practice of depicting Muhammad himself, which was famously part of the whole Danish cartoons affair (those opposed to the cartoons claim that the real issue was the marginalization of Danish Muslims, while those supporting them claim that the central issue is Muslims trying to use violence to force their norms on everyone else). Actually, most Muslims dislike the idea of having to depict any religious figures at all, hence why there is no such thing as icons or paintings of Quranic scenes, for example. The idea behind this is that there is a fear that those very same figures would eventually be venerated or worse, worshiped thus making the believers forget about what the religion is about: worshiping God.
One more not-particularly-Islamic thing: the keffiyeh, a scarf worn around the head and/or shoulders throughout the Middle East, has for most of its history been a purely utilitarian bit of clothing, and has only recently gained political i.e. not religious significance as a badge of solidarity with the Palestinian people (generally, only a particular white-and-black cloth pattern has this significance, which Yasser Arafat was always seen with during his later years. It's still popularly worn by many non-Muslims, both for political reasons and simply as clothing. It evolved into a trend, and some media figures were seen wearing it (Vanessa Carlton, Hayley Williams, the Olsen twins, Kristen Dunst, David Beckham, Justin Timberlake, Lupe Fiasco, etc).
- Children Are Innocent: There are three types of people for whom "the pen has been lifted" (i.e. not held accountable to Allah for their actions). One of these three, and the first one mentioned, are children who have not yet reached maturity.
- Spell My Name with a "The": as mentioned in the "Shahadah" bit, Allah is this. Al+lah.
- I Have Many Names: There are 99 Names of Allah. Certain Muslims, like Suleiman the Magnificent (slave of god, powerful with the power of God, deputy of God on earth ...) or Muammar Gaddafi emulate this. There was even a Mullah Nasruddin (better known as Juha in the Arab world) joke about Tamerlane wanting a name of the sort. Nasruddin called him A'awdu Billah (I take refuge in Allah's protection [from you!]). Although a little unlike the examples, the names are more of attributes, from the most commonly heard (The All-Forgiving), to scary-sounding (The Bringer of Death), to something nice (The Guardian), and at least one has been translated into The Evolver. Take that of what you will. Of course, two of the names are The First and The Last, pretty much like the Alpha and Omega.
- "Abdul" is a common Arabic name in poorly-researched fiction. It's not a complete name. "Abd" means "servant" and as a name, it must precede "God" or one of the names of God. "Abdullah" is Servant of God. One of the most common is Abdurrahman (Servant of the Compassionate).
- Also: Abu/Abul = Father of, Ibn = Son of; requiring a second name. These second names are not like the western first name/last (family) name; instead, both are required for the identification.
- Insanity Defense: There are three types of people for whom "the pen has been lifted" (i.e. not held accountable to Allah for their actions). One of these are people who are insane (see also Children Are Innocent above).
- Islamic art tends to use symbolism a lot more than representational figures, hence the Islamic world's reputation for elaborate calligraphy and architecture (which gave rise to the term "arabesque").
- The flag of Iraq, for example, features "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greater) on the flag (supposedly in Saddam Hussein's handwriting, which is why it's been changed to a more typographical font now). The flag of Iran has the same written 22 times. Ottoman sultans gave the the best autographs of anyone.
- Geometry and tessellation. A visit to the Alhambra palace, which is covered with this kind of artwork, in Spain inspired Escher's most famous artworks.note Some tiles display non-periodic tessellation sets five centuries before Western mathematicians fully discovered the concept.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: As mentioned above, if Muhammad is not The Ghost, then he is at least The Faceless. If Muhammad must be drawn, he is depicted with a veil over his face. (As a result, the 1976 film The Message, about the life of Muhammad, avoids portraying him by filming everything from his perspective). In Civilization 3, the Arabs are led by Abu Bakr, the first Caliph following Muhammed, because the game makes a point of having a huge picture of the leader used during diplomacy. The reason for this is that it was feared Muhammad would be idolized if his face was portrayed note . It's worth noting that this hasn't always been the case, and that there are many very old paintings by the devout of the Prophet, to the point where the early Islamic state had pictures of Muhammad on its currency.
- In the rare instances where the Prophet's facial features have been described, he sounds like... any other random Arab dude. Come to think of it, there are more descriptions of his actual behavior rather than his physical features. This makes perfect sense since Muslims are supposed to emulate his actions, not copy his looks.
- Calligraphy is fun, too it's a good substitute on its own and sometimes it lets you bend the rules about drawing living creatures like tigers◊.
- Rebel angel stories don't work. Iblis and his djinn of smokeless fire (whence genies) refused to bow down to Allah's new-created Adam, but the angels of light obeyed, no question. As the Satan figure, he's more of a tempter figure. Notably, he was a devout worshiper of God, and that's why he was asked to bow with the angels.
- Even The Prophecy film doesn't work. Angels don't have free will, so they just couldn't.
- Some narration do imply that they are intelligent and can actually question the orders from God Himself; they just can't do jack about it once the order's given. For example, before the creation of Adam, the angels actually ask about why would God create a being that will cause havoc and destruction upon Earth.
- Narrations of Angels are few and far in between, but true to the trope entry, while angels can shapeshift to whatever form they choose (by the permission of God), most of their true forms have been described as something so horrendous even Cthulhu would look cute by comparison. Actually, it is why they shapeshift into something much less strenuous in the eyes, like being a Bishōnen, for example. Gabriel is described as having 600 wings, each wing filling the space between the east and the west. Muhammed was frightened when he first saw him.
- Or the one that carrying God's throne, the distance between its ear lobe and its shoulder is equal with 500 years of journey with the fastest horses.
- Note that angels are part of the 'Ghaib', what cannot be seen by human eyes. One may only see an angel with the will of Allah and when the angel takes the shape of something worldly, with the exception of Muhammad because he was special.
- Even The Prophecy film doesn't work. Angels don't have free will, so they just couldn't.
- A related example is literally, Our Genies Are Different. The Arabic jinn (which are mentioned in the Qur'an) exist in an alternate plane of existence, more like an Energy Being, and are capable of both good and evil. As such, Muslim jinns are not unheard of (even if theorized, since, well, confirming their existence is kinda difficult). Most quotes from the Qur'an and the Prophet makes it clear that, while they do exist, they are to be left alone, since, while some may have a Weaksauce Weakness, they are generally more powerful than an ordinary human.
- A fun fact is that the word "jinn" means "the unseen". Basically, it means while you can't see them, they can see you. Ceilingcat is mild compared to this when you start thinking about it, which is why most scriptures basically said "they exist, they live, now please go on living your life and don't worry too much."
- Also note that though there are Muslim jinn, it has been stated 'the best of jinn are like the worst of humans.' This means that though they may be Muslim, they still have bad habits, etc.
- Motifs: As mandated by the "no idolatry" hadiths, none of these are official symbols of Islam; they're just widely used.
- The crescent moon (seen on many flags) and the star (which, combined with the moon, symbolizes miracles, as no star can appear inside the shaded part of the moon in Real Life under normal circumstances). There's also a lunar calendar, see below.
- It should be noted that the Crescent moon isn't actually a traditional symbol of Islam; rather, it was established as the Symbol for the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, due to a dream that the sultan Osman I had involved the crescent stretching from one side of the earth to the other. It was later established as an Islamic symbol in the 50's and 60's.
- Green, just as ubiquitous. Iranian politician Mousavi made it his campaign color.
- 5 - There are five pillars, the day of prayer is Friday, the fifth day of the week, and similarly the hand. Especially the hand of Fatimah (to Shi'a Muslims).
- Odd numbers in general are considered to be holier or more auspicious than even ones, and odd primes even more so.note
- Remember in The Simpsons when Ned Flanders said he didn't have home insurance because he considered it a form of gambling? This idea comes up in Islam, and although many Muslims circumvent the rule, they're not happy that the West often requires insurance to buy a house or a car. No gambling at any rate. Usury (lending money for interest) is also forbidden and called ribba. (Note that the Catholic Church also forbade this for a long time. The stereotype of the money-hungry Jewish lender came about because only Jews could legally be bankers.) Instead, an Islamic bank will buy partial ownership of a business and the owner will slowly buy the bank back out (with mortgage interest being redefined as a preset "service fee"), and interest on money stored in a savings account the usury law works both ways is defined as a "voluntary" periodic gift from the bank (practically, Islamic banking is the same as its Western counterpart, just with vocabulary swapped). The British government has recently (and controversially) began to offer government securities with a similar structure. The Zakat tax also taxes savings very heavily.
- Remember the bit about the Sunni madhahib being schools of law? Like Judaism, Islam is a religion for lawyers: the statute (the Qur'an) prohibits loans as such, but finding the institution of a loan with collateral useful, the ulema (judges) found this alternate arrangement, which gets around the law (because the statute does not prohibit one to sell something back to its original owner at a profit) but otherwise serves as a perfect substitute. The Qur'anic proscription also prohibits unsecured loans, which, given how some people use credit cards, might just be very far-sighted indeed. (One might indeed argue that the point was not to prohibit loans as such but rather prohibit unsecured loans, with God understanding that His faithful judges would notice the loophole.)
- Remember when Salman Rushdie went into hiding from an Iranian fatwa (technically, it just means any 'judicial opinion', not only a death sentence) for writing The Satanic Verses? It referred to an old Muslim legend that Muhammad claimed there were three daughters of God before retracting the error, and in Rushdie's story, just as the original legend, the Qur'an still survives and the error is retracted, but this still got him in serious trouble. No one seems to have warned the many people who've made attempts on Rushdie's life since the beginning of the fatwa, forcing him to live under constant fear of death and strict surveillance. Or the Iranian government, who once put a bounty on his life. Ayaan Hirsi Ali too.
- There aren't nearly so many names in The Quran as there are in The Bible, and Muhammad is by far the most prominent religious figure, so Muhammad is the single most common name among males in the Islamic world. Almost half of all Muslim men have this name slipped in somewhere. It's supposedly the most common male given name in the world, including all transliteration variations thereof. Other names given to Islamic children tend to be localized Arabic names, even when the parents don't speak Arabic, for much the same reasons that modified Semitic names from the Bible are used in any Christian-dominated culture regardless of language.
- Naming teddy bears Muhammad, however, tends not to go down so well. Naturally, the woman claimed she asked her children in the class to name the teddy, and they chose Muhammad, because of course a boy in their class was called that, and it's a really generic name if you have to come up with one.
- Many Muslims names become much more familiar if you realize this. For example, Sulaiman means Solomon.
- On which note, common Arabic names besides Muhammad are Mahmoud, Ahmed, Hamid, and Hameed. All are from the same Arabic root (H-M-D), which means "to praise."
- Some Muslim equivalents of common Western (i.e. Hebrew/Aramaic) names:
- John=Yahya. John the Baptist is considered a prophet in Islam, as Yahya ibn Zakariyya i.e. John, son of Zachariah.
- Isaac=Ishaq (=Yitzhak, as in Rabin)
- Abraham=Ibrahim (or Brahim if you're Moroccan)
- Zachariah/Zachary=Zakariyya (so yes, there are in fact Muslims you could call "Zack")
- Sarah=Zara (also Sarah)
- And most conveniently, Adam=Adam
- As in Christianity, the permanence of hell depends on the sect. The Qu'ran does state that people in hell stay there as long as Allah wills, which means it may be temporary for some, whilst permanent for others, such as Abu Lahab, the uncle of of Muhammed who mocked him and egged another infidel to throw a camel's placenta (and the rest of the gooey stuff that comes out after she gives birth to a calf), and accordingly was damned by Allah.
- Also, different people may go to Hell and Heaven for different reasons. For example, there was a man who had killed a hundred people. He attempted to get to a village to find help to repent and convert to Islam, but he died on the way. It is said that Allah will allow him to Heaven because he was looking for God. In another less famous story, a man of a different religion was devout to his own religion, but he heard often of Muhammad and was very fond of him and thus, he too will go to Heaven. There is another story of a man who gave everything to Allah, but Allah knew he only did it to show off so he will not go to Heaven... It's very complicated but basically, if you follow the five pillars of Islam and the six pillars of Iman (faith) note are kind and aren't a tyrant, you'll get by.
- Still another tradition, based on a verse in the Qur'an saying that anyone who has an atom's faith (with 'in Allah' being implied, so not atheism), does not add partners to Him (polytheism), or outright disagree with Him will eventually end up in Heaven. There are other traditions that add that one must also say the Shahada at least once.
- Cultural Translation: Viewing culture through an Islamic filter, certain words and phrases have very different implications. Normally martyr means someone who was willing to lay down their life for the sake of their beliefs, at most stretching it to a clueless assassination victim targeted for their belief. Bystanders who happened to stumble into a conflict or soldiers on the offensive are not normally thought of as martyrs, but any Muslim who dies in a cause for the religion's interests is considered a Martyr, even those accidentally killed in friendly fire by other Muslims.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Because Ali and both his sons were martyred, this motif is very important to Shi'as, as are the shrines where they arguably died (in Iraq).
- In the autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis (but not the movie, where it makes a token cameo), the author recalls how this trope was turned Up to Eleven in Shi'a Iran during the person-intensive Iranian strategy for the Iran-Iraq war. She won a design competition by plagiarising Michelangelo's ''Pieta'' and converting it to a dead Iranian soldier with his mother in a chador and red tulips, the flower of martyrs.
- Phrase-Catcher: Really, we should write P.B.U.H or 'peace be upon him' every time we mention Muhammad (the prophet).
- Or salallahu alaihi wassallahm (s.a.w), which probably means the same thing. You should also say alaihissalam (a.s.) to other prophets and subhanahu wata'ala (s.w.t) to Allah.
- Keyboards sold to Islamic countries have a special key (ﷺ) just for that.
- Mr. Fanservice: According to the Qur'an, Joseph (Yusuf) is more beautiful than any man on Earth. So much so that a group of women cut their fingers while peeling a fruit because they were so awestruck by his handsomeness. Another tale recounts a wife of Joseph's master being so smitten that she tried to force herself on him. In an Above the Influence moment, Joseph resists her.
- Pose of Supplication: How Muslims pray.
- Alternative Calendar: The Muslim (or Hijri) calendar has 12 lunar months in a year of about 354 days. Because this lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year, Islamic holy days, although celebrated on fixed dates in their own calendar, usually shift 11 days earlier each successive solar year, such as a year of the Gregorian calendar. Islamic years are also called Hijra years because the first year was the year 622 during which the Hijra occurred Islamic prophet Muhammad's emigration from Mecca to Medina. Thus, each numbered year is designated either H or AH, the latter being the initials of the Latin anno Hegirae (in the year of the Hijra). The current Islamic Year is 1434 AH (for 2012/2013), with 1435 AH to begin in early November 2013.
- Iran and Afghanistan use the "Solar Hijri" calendar, which also dates to the Hijra but operates on a 365-day solar year, with a fairly complicated leap year system (leap year cycles are normally four years, but every seventh is a five year cycle instead).
- He's Just Hiding!: Ismaili Shiah says a certain man was not dead but in 'minor occultation'. Shiah who don't say Muhammad the Mahdi supposedly went into 'Greater Occultation' in the late 9th century and is still out there today.
- Magic Meteor: The Black Stone inside the Kaaba of Mecca is presumed to be a meteorite that fell from heaven, and forms an important part in the pilgrimage ritual.
- Messianic Archetype: The Last Imam, The Imam of Time, Muhammad the Mahdi, the twelfth Imam according to Twelver Shiah, will return in the second coming along with Jesus to restore the rule of the righteous on earth for a certain number of years before The Day of Judgment and the Resurrection (of the dead, not Jesus). This is more important to Shiahs, although many Sunni believe the general idea, the only difference being that they believe Jesus would come, not the Mahdi. By contrast, the Book of Revelations is dubious in Christianity too it's not Gospel and Martin Luther didn't trust it.
- Word of Dante: Sunni theologians question the existence of the Mahdi, since he's not mentioned in the Qur'an or the hadith. There is indication in the hadith that a Mahdi will exist, but Sunni interpretation is that it describes merely a future leader (possibly but not necessarily a caliph) rather than a messiah, and he hasn't been born yet. The latter is also believed by some minority Shiah sects.
- One Steve Limit: Not to be confused with Muhammad the Mahdi, third Abbasid caliph or Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, the leader of the Sudanese Mahdist rebellion.
- Never Live It Down: Islam's reputation among non-Muslims (and even Muslims) worldwide is being tainted due to the very prominent Islamic terrorist groups that commit suicide bombings or devastating acts of terrorism (9/11, London subway bombings). As such, there's now the stereotype that all Muslims either are terrorists or prospective terrorists. It's gotten so bad that there are growing movements calling for the total genocide of Muslims and the utter eradication of Islam.
- Which completely ignores the fact that most of the terrorist actions actually claim the lives of fellow Muslims. Being Muslim today = Damned if you did, damned if you didn't.
- Standard Snippet: The call to prayer for the Middle East in fiction, when it's not that belly-dancing song.
- Subbing VS Dubbing: Not exactly, but the closest trope we have. Many, many, many Muslims insist that the Holy Quran can only be read properly in Arabic and that any translation takes the poetry and the hidden double meanings out of the book, and that learning Arabic is crucial to truly appreciating the text.
- This is also the source of a great deal of the confusion over passages in the Qu'ran. A simple translation may not give the correct meaning or may be taken out of context. Unlike many other languages (mostly European), Arabic cannot be translated perfectly into English. So, the meaning of a passage in Arabic will be very difficult to convey correctly in English. And that's assuming the person doing the translating even wants to convey the correct meaning.
- Double Standard: While the Qur'an permits a man to have up to four wives, it does not allow a woman to have more than one husband. There is a reason for this, though: men were more likely to be killed in battle or otherwise die young in those days than (unmarried) women,note and the permission of polygamy allowed early Muslim society to absorb that blow. Most Muslims today are monogamists and are rather appalled by polygamy; men pursuing second (or third or fourth) marriages are often seen as sexually incontinent, and women agreeing to them are often viewed as either desperate (e.g. being unmarried at, say, 30-35, a big embarrassment for the family in most any traditional society) or shameless Gold Diggers. Also considered appalling is the Loophole Abuse used by (again) some wealthy tourists from the Gulf, who get temporary marriage contracts for purposes of prostitution sometimes underage prostitution in Muslim countries, where the locals (Muslim and otherwise) understandably do not approve. Muhammad himself was strictly monogamist while his first wife Khadijah was still alive, and he never had children with any of his subsequent wives (while he did have sex with them, those marriages were primarily political). Furthermore, the consensus among scholars is that while Muslim men are permitted to have sex with their female slaves, it is forbidden for a Muslim woman to have sex with any of her male slaves.
- One of his marriages, that to Aisha bint Abu Bakr, is particularly controversial, due to the fact that he was legally wed to her when she was six. The Sahih Bukhari, considered the most authoritative text on the matter, indicates that he later consummated his marriage with her when she was nine. However, to what extent that hadith is authentic can be debated, and other sources of varying repute indicate that she was ten or twelvenote at the time of the consummation.
- Back then, before the days of DNA tests and the like, if a woman had multiple husbands, there was no way of knowing who the father was and it was considered wrong to deprive the child of the right to know who their parents were, which would cause no end of grief when the subject of inheritance inevitably rolls around.
- They can sometimes be comparatively lax on divorce, though.
- Parts of the Sira, particularly the highly renowned History of al-Tabari, expresses much racial superiority of the "Arab race" on the grounds they were the first to accept the prophet (peace be upon him). A few Hadiths, Ishaq's in particular, are also very unkind to black people, particularly labeling those South of the Sahara as subhumans. Luckily, his Hadith is not as respected because it is believed Ishaq did not show enough respect to the prophet.
- It should be noted while his hadith collection is mostly hasan (good) as opposed to sahih (highest authenticity), his work on the Sirat is most respected and is the basis of one of the three Islamic holy texts by itself.
- Fair for Its Day: Islam's positions on women were remarkably progressive, in their original form, compared to the views of surrounding societies. Women can own and inherit property and are allowed to initiate divorce proceedings, among other things. Much of this was diluted by local cultures (meaning that many parts of the Muslim world are actually less progressive toward women's rights today than they were a thousand years ago), and to this day, women are not allowed to lead men in prayer (although men are allowed to lead women), but it's still rather remarkable.
- The permitted number of wives itself is this because before this law was declared, some number of men had more than four wives; a man in hadith claims to have 12 wives and intends to divorce 8 of them to follow the law rather than protest it.
- On the "woman-can't-lead-the-men-at-prayer" thing, one of the most logical reasons is the "when men are seeing women from the back, they can have inappropriate thoughts while they are supposed to think only of Allah" logic. So that's also the reason why the praying lines/places for men and women are divided.
- Another one for female spiritual leaders is an imam (spiritual leader) is expected to leads the shalat most of the time and women are forbidden to pray when they are on periods, so they can't. They can deliver sermons, but not pray themselves.
- Human Sacrifice: The story of Ibrahim (a.s.) sacrificing his son Ismail/Ishmael. The story goes that after Ibrahim was reunited with his son Ismail, who was left abandoned in a desert place with his mother Hajjar (long story, and It Makes Sense in Context), Ibrahim got a dream that God wanted him to sacrifice his son. In a Tear Jerker moment when Ibrahim asked Ismail about what he thinks, he replied "If it's God's will, then do it. Do not despair father, I will be fine." After enduring a journey to the place, (and in Islamic traditions, throwing stones to three places where Satan tempted him, which become the rite in Hajj called The Stoning or Jumra), he arrived and prepared to sacrifice his son. In a complete subversion to the trope, God declared that Ibrahim and Ismail's purity of intention sufficed and sent Gabriel with a lamb to substitute Ismail. Thus the ritual Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha was commemorated every year.
- Marty Stu: What Muhammad is supposed to be. Men repected him, women loved him, sheep walked alongside him... Justified, as this guy (according to Muslims, at least) is meant to be the greatest guy who ever lived on Earth, to whom the faithful ought to look up. Only Jesus (who, you will remember, is a Messianic Archetype of the Bible in Islam) compares to him.
- Music Is Politics: And you better believe this creed in its strictest form takes this trope seriously. The fundamentalist and strictest possible form of adherence and interpretation of the Sharia, that is included in some iterations of the Hadith, Sira definitely and maybe the fiqh too, would ban all musical instruments except for the Persian daf as well as any singing or dancing to any musical instruments that are not the daf. Furthermore, strict interpretations of Sharia suggest all permissible songs be in support of the faith with no "lewd" lyrics. Fundamentalist or rigidly Orthodox Scholars following a strict adherence to the law would suggest reading the Muslim texts or playing sports to fill any void you feel the expulsion of non political music and dance creates. Naturally, people who strictly adhere to the law are viewed by most Muslims as pious... perhaps too pious (there's a stereotype across the Middle East about the judgmental, large-bearded taxi driver who listens to nothing but Qur'anic recordings...). Similar to the Christian "Bible Thumper" stereotype.
- Poirot Speak: Extremely common among Muslims. Expect fully to hear a bare minimum of 30% of our words in the languages of Muslim countries to be from Arabic (when discussing religion, that is).
- Justified in that a lot of the religious technical terms have no good and accurate translation. Rather than use a complex description, it is easier to use the term itself. One might note that this article, which is in English and aimed at English speakers, uses a fair amount of Arabic itself.
- Though that doesn't mean every Muslim is an Arabic conversational speaker, no, not at all. In fact, a quite widespread joke is about foreign pilgrims who come to Mecca only to get lost along the way, and, not knowing conversational Arabic in the slightest, begin speaking random Quranic phrases in a desperate attempt to get directions from locals. Hilarity Ensues.