Islam — The Arabic word Islam literally means both “surrender” and “peace”. Surrender to the will of God and the peace that is entailed in that surrender.
Islam is a monotheistic religion and believe that to search for God through images is a sin. Muslim teachings correspond closely with the Old Testament of Bible, and Moses and Jesus are both accepted as Muslim prophets, although Jesus is not believed to be the son of God. Islam is a major world religion, the second largest (after Christianity). Its approximately one billion adherents, called Muslims (or Moslems), comprise about one-fifth of the Earth’s population. The Muslim world extends from the Philippines in the east to Morocco in the west, and from Central Asia in the north to sub-Saharan Africa in the south. The country with the largest Muslim population today is Indonesia, and the most populous Islamic cultural zone is South Asia, comprising India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The followers of Islamic religion, Muslims constitutes India’s largest religious minority. They number about 105 million, almost 10% of the countries population. This makes India one of the largest Islamic nations in the world. India has had two Muslim Presidents and several cabinet and state chief ministers since Independence.
Muslims are divided into different schools of thought, some of which are distinctive enough to be called sects. The most fundamental division is between the Sunnites and the Shiites. The Sunnites (or Sunnis) are by far the largest group, constituting about 90% of all Muslims. Shiites, however, have played an important role in Islamic history. Most Shiites live in the heartland of the Middle East: in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf states. Sizable Shiite minorities also live in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Tajikistan. Shiite Islam is itself divided into different sects, the most important of which are the Twelvers (or Imamis) and the Ismailis.
The sources of the Islamic faith are the Koran, or Qur’an (“the reading”), which is the holy book of Islam, and the Prophetic Traditions (the sunna). According to Muslim belief, the Koran is the word of God that was revealed to Muhammad (born in 570 AD at Mecca, he’s the founder of the religion) by the Archangel Gabriel and was recorded by the companions of the Prophet. Muhammad was illiterate, incapable of achieving the Koran’s sophisticated prose and literary style. The Koran is therefore the miracle of Muhammad, whose illiteracy serves the same function in Islam as the virginity of Mary does in Christianity.The Koran consists of 114 chapters (suras) that were revealed to the Prophet over a period of time. They cover a variety of issues, including ethics, history, theology, and religious obligations. The Koran contains the fundamental teachings of the faith, and is the foundation of all other expressions of Islam in both the temporal and spiritual realms. Muslims hold it in the highest esteem. Not only are its contents of central concern to their piety, but reading the Koran is itself an act of religious significance.
After the Koran, the Prophetic Traditions are the most important foundation of Islam. For Muslims, Muhammad is the messenger of God. He is also the most perfect of God’s creatures, best suited to carry his message to humankind. Love for the Prophet lies at the heart of the Islamic faith, inseparable from the word of God that constitutes the essence of Islam. The example of the Prophet has thus conditioned the practice of the faith.
Muhammad was a member of the powerful Quraysh tribe of Mecca at a time when the city was the center of trade in the Arabian peninsula and of the idolatrous religion of the Arabian tribes. He lost both of his parents while very young, and was raised by an uncle. In his youth he worked as a trader, traveling with caravans to Syria. At the age of 25 he married a wealthy widow, Kadijah, who was 15 years older than he was. This marriage produced the Prophet’s only child, his daughter Fatima. Muhammad was held in great respect by his compatriots; known as al-Amin (the trustworthy), he often arbitrated quarrels between individuals and tribes. When he was 40 the angel Gabriel appeared to him in a cave outside Mecca, beginning the revelation of the Koran. Muhammad’s prophetic mission initially attracted only a small group of dedicated followers. The Meccan elite were alarmed by his monotheism and his call for the destruction of all idols. They opposed him, harassed his followers, and plotted to kill him. In 622 he was invited by the people of Yathrib (later renamed Medina) to move to that city and settle the disputes that had paralyzed it. With this move, called the Hegira, the Muslim calendar begins.
In Yathrib the Muslim community was formed and grew in strength. Islam became the religion of Yathrib, and the city’s religious, social, economic, and political life was organized according to Islamic teachings. At the same time Muhammad continued to receive revelation, much of it now concerning the social life of the community. From Yathrib, Islam began to spread and soon came into conflict with Mecca. The Meccans were defeated in a series of battles, and the city surrendered to Muhammad in 630. From then on Islam spread rapidly throughout Arabia. Tribes were converted, and military campaigns and marriage pacts forged a united Islamic society. Muhammad died in 632 and was buried in Medina.
From the time of Muhammad’s arrival in Yathrib he was both a prophet and the religious and political leader of his community. Their mediator with God, he was also a temporal ruler, the executor of the law, and a military commander. As a result, the spiritual function of prophecy in Islam is closely linked to its sociopolitical dimension. Muhammad has been not only a model for Muslim piety, but also for social and political action. His example therefore informs every aspect of Muslim life, and conversely, every aspect of human life must live up to the standards set by him.
In Islam, man is the servant of God (al-abd). By surrendering (Islam) to the will of God he finds salvation and worldly peace. Man is also the most important of God’s creatures, his viceregent (kalifah) on Earth. As God’s viceregent man has great responsibilities to fulfill. Men and women stand above the other creatures of God in that they alone can choose to surrender to God’s will. The choice is a facet of man’s fall from heaven. Viceregency means that human beings possess the primordial nature that predated their expulsion from paradise, but their salvation lies in following the path set before them by God.But despite its long period of control, Islam never managed to make great inroads into Hindu Society and religion. Converts were principally from low castes, with the result that at partition Pakistan found itself shortage of educated clerical workers and government officials with which India is so liberally endowed. However, the effects of Muslim influence in India are particularly visible in its architecture, art and food.