Islam Religion in the Arab World
Description of the Islamic Religion
Three Muslim Divisions
Black Muslims in the United States a. Influence of Louis Farrakhan b. Influence of Malcolm X
Islam is the name given to the religion preached by the Prophet Muhammad in the 600’s AD. This Arabic word means surrender or submission. God is known as Allah, which means The God. A person who submits to Allah and follows the teachings of Islam is called a Muslim. This paper discusses the beliefs and practices of Islam in Iraq verses the practice of Islam in the United States specifically by African-Americans and how they were influenced by Malcolm X
The word ‘Islam’ has the dual meaning of ‘peace’ and ‘submission to the will of God’. Those that follow this religion believe in only one God. It traces its lineage right hack to Prophets Abraham and Adam and describes itself as a continuation of the message of Judaism and Christianity. Both Jesus and Moses are seen as Prophets and have exalted positions in Islam. The religious texts of Islam are the Qur’an and the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (New Internationalist, 2002).
Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the Word of God and is also a commentary on the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was born about AD 570 in the Arabian city of Mecca. Muslims believe that around AD 610, he began to receive revelations from Allah that were transmitted by the angel Gabriel. The Qur’an is spread over a period of twenty-three years. It was during this period that the Prophet Muhammad received the revelation, and has to be seen in the context of those twenty-three years. These revelations lead to the writing of the religious book called the Qur’an and occurred in the cities of Mecca and Medina.
Many people compare the Qur’an with the Bible. However, the Qur’an is not like the Bible, or any other conventional book. While the Qur’an does contain some Biblical stories, like those of the Prophets Noah and Lot, they are not found in a single place. They occur in bits and are repeated throughout the entire book. So, at first sight, it looks like the Qur’an is full of repetitions.
The message of the Qur’an is to be repeated as an oral text. Muslims are to carry the Qur’an in their heart, so it is required that followers memorize and recite the verses frequently. This is easy to do, because many of the verses are repeated throughout the text. While the arrangement of the verses does not follow a chronological order, many of its verses are commenting on the action that is taking place in a particular time in the life of the Prophet Muhammad. This is why it is easy for Muslims to quote the Qur’an out of context. Roughly a third of the Qur’an is devoted to the discussion of the attributes of God.
The second third is devoted to extolling the virtues of reason, thinking, reflection, study, knowledge and wisdom. The last part is devoted to issues of law, legislation and public policy.
The teaching and practices are basically universal and with the central concept of Islam being tawhid or the oneness of God. For Muslims, there is one God who is the lord of the universe. People owe worship and obedience to God before any other thing. God is one, the creator, the all-knowing. In relations with humanity, God is the lawgiver, judge, and restorer of life after death. Muslims believe that children are born without sin and that all people can lead themselves to salvation once God has shown them the way. Believers in Islam achieve salvation by following the revealed books of God’s messengers. They also believe in heaven and hell, where people go after death based on their actions during life.
In Islam, Muhammad is the final messenger of God, sent to confirm the authentic teachings of previous prophets. God also sent him to correct the alterations that followers of previous religions had introduced into God’s original teachings. For Muslims, Muhammad’s mission includes all humanity and is not limited to a specific region, group, or community. Therefore, his life serves as a model for all men and women. The example of Muhammad’s sayings and acts, the Sunna, is presented in written collections called the Hadith.
There are five basic beliefs or pillars of the Islamic faith.
Every action performed in obedience to God is considered an act of worship in Islam. Most devout Muslims take care in their daily lives to respect their parents and elders, to be kind to animals and human beings, and to do their daily tasks to the best of their ability. The formal acts of worship called the Five Pillars of Islam provide the framework for all aspects of a Muslim’s life. The five pillars are known as shahada, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and the pilgrimage.
Shahada is the first pillar and is considered the basis of all other pillars of the faith. Shahada is an Arabic word that means an act of bearing witness. It consists of two statements: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah,” and “I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Muslims believe that prayer reinforces belief in Islam because it reduces the likelihood of disobeying God by committing sins. The movement of the sun determines a prayer’s timing. A crier called a muezzin makes the call to prayer.
Almsgiving is required as a way of assisting the poor. The Arabic term for almsgiving is zakat, which means purification. Muslims can cleanse their wealth by giving a certain percentage of it to the needy and recognizing that all things ultimately belong to God. Every Muslim must fast in the month of Ramadan the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is lunar, so each month follows the phases of the moon and lasts 29 or 30 days. As a result, Ramadan falls at different seasons of the year. Muslims believe that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad during Ramadan about AD 610. The Qur’an commands Muslims to make a hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to make the journey. The hajj takes place over the first several days of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.
Most actions in Islamic law are not obligatory. People who fail to perform acts that are recommended are hardly ever punished. Most forbidden actions that are defined within the writing of the Qur’an. They include adultery, gambling, cheating, consuming pork or alcoholic beverages, and lending money at interest. The Qur’an details severe punishments for such crimes as murder, theft, and adultery. Crimes are punished harshly because they violate not only the rights of the victim, but also the commands of God. The Qur’an seeks to lessen the severity of these punishments, however, by urging Muslims to practice mercy and not yield to revenge.
The Islam faith teaches respect for parents, protection for orphans and widows, and charity to the poor. It also teaches many basic values. The virtues of faith in God, kindness, honesty, hard work, honor, courage, cleanliness, and generosity are continuously stressed. Heads of families must treat household members kindly and fairly. A wife has rights against her husband and may sue for divorce in cases of physical abuse, lack of financial support, or the inability to produce a child. Islam also teaches that a person must not refuse requests for help, even if they seem unnecessary.
About ninety-five percent of Iraq’s people are Muslims. There are three Muslim divisions in Islam. The great majority of Muslims belong to the Sunni division. Sunni Muslims call themselves by this name because they claim to follow the Sunna of Muhammad. They follow a traditional and widely held interpretation of Islam.
Most of the conservative Muslims that Westerners call fundamentalists are Sunnis. Like fundamentalists of other religions, these Muslims follow a strict approach to religion. They reject modern and popular interpretations of Islamic law, which they view as too permissive. They insist instead on precise adherence to the Qur’an and Hadith, as they interpret those writings.
The other Muslims belong to the Sunni division. Central and southwestern Iraq is a mixture of Sunni and Shiite Arab populations. The Kurds are part of the Sunnites religious group. This name comes from the Sunnites’ claim that they follow the Sunna example of Muhammad or the prophet of Islam. The Sunnites call themselves “the people of the established way and the community.” They claim to follow faithfully the Islamic community’s beliefs and practices and thus to represent true Islam. It is for this reason that Sunnites are sometimes called orthodox Muslims. Most high-ranking members of Iraq’s ruling Baath Party are Arab Sunni Muslims. Many Shiites resent the Sunni monopoly on governmental power.
The next largest division is the Shiah whose members are called Shiites. Shiite Muslims honor Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and Ali’s descendants, whom they believe should be the leaders of the Muslim community. Shiah comes from the Arabic phrase shiat Ali, meaning supporters of Ali. The majority of the Muslims in Iraq are members of the Shiah branch of Islam. Most Arabs living southeast of Baghdad belong to this sect of Islam. They see authority as residing in twelve imams, starting with Ali, who was born in about AD 600, and ending with Muhammad al-Mahdi, who was born in about AD 868. They believe this last imam is still alive, in a miraculous state of concealment from human view. He will return at the end of time to restore justice on earth. A small group of Shiites, known as the Ismaili Shiah, broke away from the Imamis in the AD 700’s. One group of Ismailis, which is known as the Nizaris, still follow an imam called Aga Khan IV, who lives in France.
Today, the Kharijites make up the smallest division of Islam. Their name is based on an Arabic word that means secessionists. They received this name because they were former followers of Ali who broke away in 657. Kharijites are strict Muslims whose beliefs are based on precise adherence to the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunna as their community interprets them. They are most noteworthy for their belief in equality under God. In the first centuries of their existence, they elected their leaders and proclaimed that the best Muslim should lead his fellow believers, even if he was a slave. In some Kharijite communities in Algeria, female scholars and religious leaders serve the needs of women while male scholars and religious leaders serve the needs of men.
The Sunnites and Shiites have very little difference in their basic beliefs about God, prophecy, revelation, and the Last Judgment. However, throughout Islamic history there has been hostility between the two groups that has often led to persecution and repression of one by the other. The issue that most sharply divides the Sunnites from the Shiites is the leadership of the religious community. When Muhammad died in AD 632, he named no one to succeed him and did not establish any method for choosing a new leader. The majority, which became the Sunnites, united behind Abu Bakr, one of Muhammad’s prominent disciples, and acclaimed him as caliph, the leader. A smaller group, which became the Shiites, rejected Abu Bakr and the two caliphs who succeeded him. They argued that Muhammad had designated his son-in-law, Ali, as leader, and that leadership should have remained in the family of Muhammad.
There are several million Muslims currently living in the United States and they are part of The Nation of Islam which preaches Black Nationalism. The American minister Louis Farrakhan established this sect in 1977. He based it on the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, who had led a group of the same name from 1934 to 1975. Farrakhan continued Muhammad’s teachings about the need for self-knowledge, the acceptance of black identity, and economic independence.
The members are urged to eat only one meal a day and to avoid the use of tobacco and alcohol. Women are expected to emphasize housework and child rearing, though some women serve as ministers. The key groups in the organization are the Fruit of Islam and Muslim Girls Training. Members of the Fruit of Islam provide security in mosques and public places. The original Nation of Islam or Black Muslims was founded in Detroit in 1930 by a salesman named Wallace D. Fard. Elijah Muhammad led the group from 1934 until his death in 1975. He taught that Fard was Allah and that he himself was Allah’s messenger. Muhammad also taught that white people were “devils” who sought to harm and oppress blacks who were “created from a “botched” experiment on subhuman creatures by an evil wizard named Yacub” (Myss, 2002). He said that whites would eventually be destroyed and blacks would emerge victorious.
Muhammad’s son Warith Deen Mohammed succeeded him. Instead of continuing his father’s teachings, Warith dismantled the Nation of Islam. He led his followers to Sunni Islam, a traditional branch of Islam practiced by many Africans. In time, his group became known as the Muslim American Society. Farrakhan and other discontented followers resurrected the Nation of Islam but rejected the name Black Muslims. Farrakhan also stopped preaching that whites would eventually be destroyed.
In 1997, Farrakhan began to move closer to traditional Sunni Islam. He adopted the orthodox Friday worship service, prayer posture, and fasting. These measures helped end twenty-five years of separation and hostilities between Farrakhan and Mohammed. The two men declared their unity at the second International Islamic Conference in Chicago in February 2000. However, they continue to lead separate movements.
Many American Muslims are African-American and were heavily influenced by Malcom X. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was a follower of Marcus Garvey, a black leader who worked to establish close political and economic ties to Africa. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was found dead after being run over by a streetcar. Malcolm believed white racists were responsible for his father’s death. When Malcolm was 12 years old, his mother was committed to a mental hospital. Malcolm spent the rest of his childhood in foster homes. He also became discouraged by racial prejudice around him.
In 1941, Malcolm moved to Boston. The youth became involved in criminal activities. In 1946, he was arrested for burglary and sent to prison. In prison, he joined the Nation of Islam, commonly called the Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam confirmed his belief that white people were devils. After Malcolm was released from prison in 1952, he adopted X as his last name. The letter stood for the unknown African name of Malcolm’s slave ancestors.
Malcolm X quickly became the Nation of Islam’s most effective minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He was a fiery orator, urging blacks to live separately from whites and to win their freedom any way that was necessary. He soon became dissatisfied with the Nation of Islam because the group would not become involved in politics.
Malcom was Intelligent and articulate. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with establishing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan and Harlem, New York. Malcolm utilized newspaper columns, radio and television to communicate the Nation of Islam’s message across the United States. His charisma, drive and conviction attracted an astounding number of new members. Malcolm was largely credited with large growth of membership within the Nation of Islam.
The crowds and controversy surrounding Malcolm made him a media magnet. He was featured in a week-long television special with Mike Wallace in 1959, “The Hate That Hate Produced.” This story explored fundamentals of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm’s emergence as one of its most important leaders. After the special, Malcolm was faced with the uncomfortable reality that his fame had eclipsed that of his mentor Elijah Muhammad.
Malcolm’s faith was dealt a crushing blow at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963. He learned that Elijah Muhammad was secretly having relations with as many as six women in the Nation of Islam, some of which had resulted in children. Since his conversion Malcolm had strictly adhered to the teachings of Muhammad, including remaining celibate until his marriage to Betty Shabazz in 1958. Malcolm refused Muhammad’s request to keep the matter quiet. He was deeply hurt by the deception of Muhammad, whom he had considered a prophet, and felt guilty about the masses he had led into what he now felt was a fraudulent organization (CMG Worldwide, 2002). In 1964, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam. Soon afterward, he traveled to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He met Muslims of many ethnic backgrounds and rejected the view that all white people are devils. Malcolm X adopted the Muslim name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz. After returning to the United States, he formed his own group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
Malcolm X rejected nonviolence as a principle, but he sought cooperation with Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights activists who favored militant nonviolent protests. He confirmed his following of King with the following statement, “Dr. King wants the same thing I want. Freedom” (Big Chalk, 2002). Malcom firm belief in freedom was reinforced with his statement, “When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won’t do to get it, or what he doesn’t believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn’t believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire… Or preserve his freedom” (Big Chalk, 2002).
In his speech, Message of the Grass Roots (1963), Malcolm said “There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.” However, many Black Muslims were condemning Malcolm X as a hypocrite and traitor because of his criticisms of the group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was fatally shot while giving a speech in New York City. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the crime. Malcolm’s views reached many people after his death through his work, Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).
While there are many followers of the various sects of the Islamic faith, it’s followers continues to teach and follow the basic concepts of the five pillars. Many people may adapt the religion to meet their own needs and wants, but the basic teachings are those of tolerance and respect. Sadly, many of these beliefs are misunderstood and modified from the original context, then misused for wrong deeds. Those who wish to be true followers of the Islam religion continue to practice the faith while providing an example to the world of the peaceful religion.
Big Chalk. “Malcom X Quotes.” 29, March 2003. http://www.cmgww.com/historic/malcolm/index.html.
Brown, Kevin. Malcolm X: His Life and Legacy. Millbrook, 1995.
CMG Worldwide. “Biography of Malcom X.” 29, March, 2003. http://www.cmgww.com/historic/malcolm/index.html.
New Internationalis. (May 2002). “Islam: The Basics.” (14) v2.
Malcom X. “Message to the Grass Roots speech.” Malcolm X Speaks. 1965.
Myss, Caroline. “Black Muslims.” 29, March, 2003. http://www.myss.com/worldreligions/Islam11.asp.
World Book. “Black Muslims.” 29, March, 2003. www2.worldbook.com/features/features.asp?feature=aajourney&page=h ml/bh084.html&direct=yes http://www2.worldbook.com/features/features.asp?feature=aajourney&page=h ml/bh084.html&direct=yes>.
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