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Islam

Islam

The religion of Islam originated in 622 CE, inspired and guided by the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who lived in Mecca, Arabia, and who (in the Islamic belief tradition) received revealed truths directly from God and recorded them in the holy text called the Qur’an. As a religion, Islam has its roots in the same Middle Eastern monotheistic faith as Judaism and Christianity, and they share many of the same beliefs, practices, and sacred texts. Followers of all of these Abrahamic reli­gions believe themselves to be descended down through time from the first man (Adam) and to have been chosen as God’s special people through a covenant made between God and the Hebrew patriarch Abraham in about 1800 BCE. However, while Judaism teaches that the Messiah has not yet been born, and Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the divine Messiah, followers of Islam believe that Christ and Muhammad were both prophets of God in the tradition of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and others but were not them­selves divine.

Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last messenger or prophet sent by God to restore his people to the original, uncorrupted version of the Abrahamic faith. Muslims (“those who submit to God”) therefore seek to return to the earliest and purest forms of worshipping God through the constant practice of the five pillars of Islam: pro­fessing faith, fasting, prayer, alms giving, and making the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The word Islam means “submission,” and Muslims seek to demonstrate their obedience to God’s will in all aspects of daily living, holding the teachings of the Qur’an to be a literal and uncorrupted version of God’s laws, in contrast to the practices and texts of Judaism and Christianity, which have been dis­torted and corrupted by the long passage of time since the covenant was made between Abraham and God. In contrast to what they believe about the Qur’an, Muslims consider all earlier holy texts of the Abrahamic tradition (the Old and New Testaments) to be only partially “revealed” ver­sions of God’s will, because they were not recorded directly by the Hebrew and Christian prophets themselves but were embellished and altered by the followers and descendants of those prophets.

Time is also an important criterion in determin­ing the Sunni (the “trodden path”) practices that Muslims use to regulate religious practice and beliefs: Sunnah are defined as those religious actions and practices that Muhammad introduced during the 23 years of his ministry and that were subsequently passed down as tradition to subse­quent generations by his closest companions. Adhering to tradition, by ensuring that religious holy days are observed at the correct times and for the correct durations of time, is therefore an extremely important aspect of Islamic culture. And, the Islamic world has evolved intricate and highly formalized ways of marking the passage of time and the timing of religious observances and holy days or months through use of a lunisolar calendar.

Origins of Life

The Islamic version of the origins of life and humanity has many parallels with Judaic and Christian beliefs. For Muslims, the creation of the universe is proof of the all-encompassing and absolute power of Allah (God). Allah is the begin­ning and end of all things, and the universe itself is an expression of his will, subject to his laws. For Muslims, the creation story derives from the Qur’an, which describes the division of the heav­ens and earth by Allah (God) from one solid mass into their present states over six long stages of time (not literal days as in the Judaic or Christian ver­sions of the creation myth). Allah next created all of the living creatures and vegetation that inhabit the earth and sky, as well as the angels and heav­enly bodies. Last, Allah used clay, earth, sand, and water to make and breathe life into the first man (Adam).

By breathing his own spirit into Adam, God distinguished him from the animals and endowed him with the ability to think and freely choose to submit to Allah or not, as well as to use his intel­ligence to seek to understand the workings of God in the rest of Creation. After Allah took Adam to live with him in paradise, Allah also created the first woman (Eve, or Haw) from Adam’s side, and placed the two humans in a beautiful garden in paradise, forbidding them to eat the fruit of a cer­tain tree. Ibis, an evil jinn (a disobedient angel, or Satan), tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God and eat the fruit of that tree. When they did, God cast them out of paradise and sent them to live on earth. In Islamic belief, all human beings are descended from Adam and Eve.

End of Time

As with the other Abrahamic religions, Islam depicts the end of time as a period of great disrup­tion and trouble. This period will directly precede the Second Coming of the Messiah, who will bring an end to evil and suffering and will establish a new era of the kingdom of God. The Qur’an does not provide specific details about the end of time (Allah will not reveal these until that time arrives), but it does describe many signs that will signal its imminent arrival. The signs associated with the end of time will include such dramatic environmental events as drought, flood, the falling of the stars, and the cleaving of the heavens. As well, the earth will be purified of nonbelievers, either through mass conversion or by death. Most of humanity will have begun to worship the Dajjal or Antichrist, who opposes God’s law and is aided by two leaders (Gog and Magog) who head nations opposed to God. The Dajjal will be ultimately defeated by the Mahdi (“the guided one”), a great leader descended from Muhammad who will become the final Muslim caliph. He will unify all of the various sects within Islam and will lead Muslims to a period of great prosperity and equality.

The prophet Jesus Christ will return to earth to aid the Mahdi in establishing Islam as the one true religion and to help defeat all of the unbelievers. He will then live on for 44 years until he dies and is buried next to the prophet Muhammad. Christ’s death and burial will be followed by the resurrec­tion of all humankind in preparation for the final judgment day. The sequence of events leading up to the judgment day will include a first trumpet blast, which will crush the mountains and kill all living creatures on earth (including the angels); a second trumpet blast, which will mark the resur­rection of all humans; the descent of Allah to earth in order to pass judgment on all humans; the passing of thousands of years while humanity awaits judgment; and the final judgment or divi­sion by Allah of humankind according to whether or not their good deeds have outweighed their bad deeds during their lifetimes. Those who have sub­mitted to Allah’s will and followed his commands will enter paradise and then be placed to the right of his throne; those who rebelled against Allah by practicing evil ways will be placed to the left of his throne and condemned to live in hell for all time.

Helen Theresa Salmon

See also Adam, Creation of; Calendar, Islamic; Qur’an; Time, End of

Further Readings

Aslan, R. (2006). No God but God: The origins, evolution, and future of Islam. New York: Random House.

Denny, F. M. (2006). An introduction to Islam. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Grieve, P. (2006). A brief guide to Islam: History, faith and politics. New York: Carroll and Graf.

Neusner, J. (Ed.). (2006). Religious foundations of western civilization: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Riddell, P. G., & Cotterell, P. (2003). Islam in context: Past, present, and future. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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