Fazlur Rahman, Ed.
Major world religion belonging to the Semitic family; it was promulgated by the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia in the 7th century AD. The Arabic term islam, literally “surrender,” illuminates the fundamental religious idea of Islam—that the believer (called a Muslim, from the active particle of islam) accepts “surrender to the will of Allah (Arabic: God).” Allah is viewed as the sole God—creator, sustainer, and restorer of the world. The will of Allah, to which man must submit, is made known through the sacred scriptures, the Qur'an (Koran), which Allah revealed to his messenger, Muhammad. In Islam Muhammad is considered the last of a series of prophets (including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others), and his message simultaneously consummates and completes the “revelations” attributed to earlier prophets.
Retaining its emphasis on an uncompromising monotheism and a strict adherence to certain essential religious practices, the religion taught by Muhammad to a small group of followers spread rapidly through the Middle East to Africa, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, the Malay Peninsula, and China. Although many sectarian movements have arisen within Islam, all Muslims are bound by a common faith and a sense of belonging to a single community.
This article deals with the fundamental beliefs and practices of Islam and with the connection of religion and society in the Islamic world. The history of the various peoples who embraced Islam is covered in the article Islamic world.
The foundations of Islam > The legacy of Muhammad
From the very beginning of Islam, Muhammad had inculcated a sense of brotherhood and a bond of faith among his followers, both of which helped to develop among them a feeling of close relationship that was accentuated by their experiences of persecution as a nascent community in Mecca. The strong attachment to the tenets of the Qur'anic revelation and the conspicuous socioeconomic content of Islamic religious practices cemented this bond of faith. In AD 622, when the Prophet migrated to Medina, his preaching was soon accepted, and the community-state of Islam emerged. During this early period, Islam acquired its characteristic ethos as a religion uniting in itself both the spiritual and temporal aspects of life and seeking to regulate not only the individual's relationship to God (through his conscience) but human relationships in a social setting as well. Thus, there is not only an Islamic religious institution but also an Islamic law, state, and other institutions governing society. Not until the 20th century were the religious (private) and the secular (public) distinguished by some Muslim thinkers and separated formally in certain places such as Turkey.
This dual religious and social character of Islam, expressing itself in one way as a religious community commissioned by God to bring its own value system to the world through the jihad (“exertion,” commonly translated as “holy war” or “holy struggle”), explains the astonishing success of the early generations of Muslims. Within a century after the Prophet's death in AD 632, they had brought a large part of the globe—from Spain across Central Asia to India—under a new Arab Muslim empire.
The period of Islamic conquests and empire building marks the first phase of the expansion of Islam as a religion. Islam's essential egalitarianism within the community of the faithful and its official discrimination against the followers of other religions won rapid converts. Jews and Christians were assigned a special status as communities possessing scriptures and were called the “people of the Book” (ahl al-kitab) and, therefore, were allowed religious autonomy. They were, however, required to pay a per capita tax called jizyah, as opposed to pagans, who were required to either accept Islam or die. The same status of the “people of the Book” was later extended to Zoroastrians and Hindus, but many “people of the Book” joined Islam in order to escape the disability of the jizyah. A much more massive expansion of Islam after the 12th century was inaugurated by the Sufis (Muslim mystics), who were mainly responsible for the spread of Islam in India, Central Asia, Turkey, and sub-Saharan Africa (see below).
Besides the jihad and Sufi missionary activity, another factor in the spread of Islam was the far-ranging influence of Muslim traders, who not only introduced Islam quite early to the Indian east coast and South India but also proved to be the main catalytic agents (besides the Sufis) in converting people to Islam in Indonesia, Malaya, and China. Islam was introduced to Indonesia in the 14th century, hardly having time to consolidate itself there politically before coming under Dutch colonial domination.
The vast variety of races and cultures embraced by Islam (estimated total 1.1 to 1.2 billion persons worldwide) has produced important internal differences. All segments of Muslim society, however, are bound by a common faith and a sense of belonging to a single community. With the loss of political power during the period of Western colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries, the concept of the Islamic community (ummah), instead of weakening, became stronger. The faith of Islam helped various Muslim peoples in their struggle to gain political freedom in the mid-20th century, and the unity of Islam contributed to later political solidarity.
The foundations of Islam > Sources of Islamic doctrinal and social views
Islamic doctrine, law, and thinking in general are based upon four sources, or fundamental principles (usul): (1) the Qur'an, (2) the sunnah (“traditions”), (3) ijma' (“consensus”), and (4) ijtihad (“individual thought”).
The Qur'an (literally, “Reading” or “Recitation”) is regarded as the verbatim word, or speech, of God delivered to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. Divided into 114 surahs (chapters) of unequal length, it is the fundamental source of Islamic teaching. The surahs revealed at Mecca during the earliest part of Muhammad's career are concerned mostly with ethical and spiritual teachings and the Day of Judgment. The surahs revealed at Medina at a later period in the career of the Prophet are concerned for the most part with social legislation and the politico-moral principles for constituting and ordering the community. Sunnah (“a well-trodden path”) was used by pre-Islamic Arabs to denote their tribal or common law; in Islam it came to mean the example of the Prophet—i.e., his words and deeds as recorded in compilations known as Hadith.
Hadith (literally, “Report”; a collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet) provide the written documentation of the Prophet's words and deeds. Six of these collections, compiled in the 3rd century AH (9th century AD), came to be regarded as especially authoritative by the largest group in Islam, the Sunnites. Another large group, the Shi'ah, has its own Hadith contained in four canonical collections.
The doctrine of ijma', or consensus, was introduced in the 2nd century AH (8th century AD) in order to standardize legal theory and practice and to overcome individual and regional differences of opinion. Though conceived as a “consensus of scholars,” ijma' was in actual practice a more fundamental operative factor. From the 3rd century AH ijma' has amounted to a principle of stability in thinking; points on which consensus was reached in practice were considered closed and further substantial questioning of them prohibited. Accepted interpretations of the Qur'an and the actual content of the sunnah (i.e., Hadith and theology) all rest finally on the ijma' in the sense of the acceptance of the authority of their community.
Ijtihad, meaning “to endeavour” or “to exert effort,” was required to find the legal or doctrinal solution to a new problem. In the early period of Islam, because ijtihad took the form of individual opinion (ra'y), there was a wealth of conflicting and chaotic opinions. In the 2nd century AH ijtihad was replaced by qiyas (reasoning by strict analogy), a formal procedure of deduction based on the texts of the Qur'an and the Hadith. The transformation of ijma' into a conservative mechanism and the acceptance of a definitive body of Hadith virtually closed the “gate of ijtihad” in Sunni Islam while ijtihad continued in Shi'ism. Nevertheless, certain outstanding Muslim thinkers (e.g., al-Ghazali in the 11th–12th century) continued to claim the right of new ijtihad for themselves, and reformers in the 18th to 20th centuries, because of modern influences, have caused this principle once more to receive wider acceptance.
The Qur'an and Hadith are discussed below. The significance of ijma' and ijtihad are discussed below in the contexts of Islamic theology, philosophy, and law.
The foundations of Islam > Doctrines of the Qur'an > God
The doctrine about God in the Qur'an is rigorously monotheistic: God is one and unique; he has no partner and no equal. Trinitarianism, the Christian belief that God is three persons in one substance, is vigorously repudiated. Muslims believe that there are no intermediaries between God and the creation that he brought into being by his sheer command: “Be.” Although his presence is believed to be everywhere, he is not incarnated in anything. He is the sole creator and sustainer of the universe, wherein every creature bears witness to his unity and lordship. But he is also just and merciful: his justice ensures order in his creation, in which nothing is believed to be out of place, and his mercy is unbounded and encompasses everything. His creating and ordering the universe is viewed as the act of prime mercy for which all things sing his glories. The God of the Qur'an, described as majestic and sovereign, is also a personal God; he is viewed as being nearer to man than man's jugular vein, and, whenever a person in need or distress calls him, he responds. Above all, he is the God of guidance and shows everything, particularly man, the right way, “the straight path.”
This picture of God—wherein the attributes of power, justice, and mercy interpenetrate—is related to the Judeo-Christian tradition and also differs radically from the concepts of pagan Arabia, to which it provided an effective answer. The pagan Arabs believed in a blind and inexorable fate over which man had no control. For this powerful but insensible fate the Qur'an substituted a powerful but provident and merciful God. The Qur'an carried through its uncompromising monotheism by rejecting all forms of idolatry and eliminating all gods and divinities that the Arabs worshipped in their sanctuaries (harams), the most prominent of which was the Ka'bah sanctuary in Mecca itself.
The foundations of Islam > Doctrines of the Qur'an > The universe
In order to prove the unity of God, the Qur'an lays frequent stress on the design and order in the universe. There are no gaps or dislocations in nature. Order is explained by the fact that every created thing is endowed with a definite and defined nature whereby it falls into a pattern. This nature, though it allows every created thing to function in a whole, sets limits; and this idea of the limitedness of everything is one of the most fixed points in both the cosmology and theology of the Qur'an. The universe is viewed, therefore, as autonomous, in the sense that everything has its own inherent laws of behaviour, but not as autocratic, because the patterns of behaviour have been endowed by God and are strictly limited. “Everything has been created by us according to a measure.” Though every creature is thus limited and “measured out” and hence depends upon God, God alone, who reigns unchallenged in the heavens and the earth, is unlimited, independent, and self-sufficient.
The foundations of Islam > Doctrines of the Qur'an > Man
According to the Qur'an, God created two apparently parallel species of creatures, man and jinn, the one from clay and the other from fire. About the jinn, however, the Qur'an says little, although it is implied that the jinn are endowed with reason and responsibility but are more prone to evil than man. It is with man that the Qur'an, which describes itself as a guide for the human race, is centrally concerned. The Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Adam (the first man) is accepted, but the Qur'an states that God forgave Adam his act of disobedience, which is not viewed in the Qur'an as original sin in the Christian sense of the term.
In the story of man's creation, the angel Iblis, or Satan, who protested to God against the creation of man, who “would sow mischief on earth,” lost in the competition of knowledge against Adam. The Qur'an, therefore, declares man to be the noblest of all creation, the created being who bore the trust (of responsibility) that the rest of creation refused to accept. The Qur'an thus reiterates that all nature has been made subservient to man seen as God's vice-regent on earth: nothing in all creation has been made without a purpose, and man himself has not been created “in sport,” his purpose being service and obedience to God's will.
Despite this lofty station, however, the Qur'an describes human nature as frail and faltering. Whereas everything in the universe has a limited nature and every creature recognizes its limitation and insufficiency, man is viewed as having been given freedom and is therefore prone to rebelliousness and pride, with the tendency to arrogate to himself the attributes of self-sufficiency. Pride, thus, is viewed as the cardinal sin of man, because, by not recognizing in himself his essential creaturely limitations, he becomes guilty of ascribing to himself partnership with God (shirk: associating a creature with the Creator) and of violating the unity of God. True faith (iman), thus, consists of belief in the immaculate Divine Unity and Islam in one's submission to the Divine Will.
The foundations of Islam > Doctrines of the Qur'an > Satan, sin, and repentance
In order to communicate the truth of Divine Unity, God has sent messengers or prophets to men, whose weakness of nature makes them ever prone to forget or even willfully to reject Divine Unity under the promptings of Satan. According to the Qur'anic teaching, the being who became Satan (Shaytan or Iblis) had previously occupied a high station but fell from divine grace by his act of disobedience in refusing to honour Adam when he, along with other angels, was ordered to do so. Since then his work has been to beguile man into error and sin. Satan is, therefore, the contemporary of man, and Satan's own act of disobedience is construed by the Qur'an as the sin of pride. Satan's machinations will cease only on the Last Day.
Judging from the accounts of the Qur'an, the record of man's accepting the prophets' messages has been far from perfect. The whole universe is replete with signs of God. The human soul itself is viewed as a witness of the unity and grace of God. The messengers of God have, throughout history, been calling man back to God. Yet not all men have accepted the truth; many of them have rejected it and become disbelievers (kafir, plural kuffar: literally “concealing”—i.e., the blessings of God), and, when man becomes so obdurate, his heart is sealed by God. Nevertheless, it is always possible for a sinner to repent (tawbah) and redeem himself by a genuine conversion to the truth. There is no point of no return, and God is forever merciful and always willing and ready to pardon. Genuine repentance has the effect of removing all sins and restoring a person to the state of sinlessness with which he started his life.
The foundations of Islam > Doctrines of the Qur'an > Prophecy
Prophets are men specially elected by God to be his messengers. Prophethood is indivisible, and the Qur'an requires recognition of all prophets as such without discrimination. Yet they are not all equal, some of them being particularly outstanding in qualities of steadfastness and patience under trial. Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Jesus were such great prophets. As vindication of the truth of their mission, God often vests them with miracles: Abraham was saved from fire, Noah from the Deluge, and Moses from the pharaoh. Not only was Jesus born from the Virgin Mary, but God also saved him from crucifixion at the hands of the Jews. The conviction that God's messengers are ultimately vindicated and saved is an integral part of the Qur'anic doctrine.
All prophets are human and never part of divinity: they are the most perfect of humans who are recipients of revelation from God. When God wishes to speak to a human, he sends an angel messenger to him or makes him hear a voice or inspires him. Muhammad is accepted as the last prophet in this series and its greatest member, for in him all the messages of earlier prophets were consummated. The angel Gabriel brought the Qur'an down to the Prophet's “heart.” Gabriel is represented by the Qur'an as a spirit whom the Prophet could sometimes see and hear. According to early traditions, the Prophet's revelations occurred in a state of trance when his normal consciousness was transformed. This state was accompanied by heavy sweating. The Qur'an itself makes it clear that the revelations brought with them a sense of extraordinary weight: “If we were to send this Qur'an down on a mountain, you would see it split asunder out of fear of God.”
This phenomenon at the same time was accompanied by an unshakable conviction that the message was from God, and the Qur'an describes itself as the transcript of a heavenly “Mother Book” written on a “Preserved Tablet.” The conviction was of such an intensity that the Qur'an categorically denies that it is from any earthly source, for in that case it would be liable to “manifold doubts and oscillations.”
The foundations of Islam > Doctrines of the Qur'an > Eschatology
In Islamic doctrine, on the Last Day, when the world will come to an end, the dead will be resurrected and a judgment will be pronounced on every person in accordance with his deeds. Although the Qur'an in the main speaks of a personal judgment, there are several verses that speak of the resurrection of distinct communities that will be judged according to “their own book.” In conformity with this, the Qur'an also speaks in several passages of the “death of communities,” each one of which has a definite term of life. The actual evaluation, however, will be for every individual, whatever the terms of reference of his performance. In order to prove that the resurrection will occur, the Qur'an uses a moral and a physical argument. Because not all requital is meted out in this life, a final judgment is necessary to bring it to completion. Physically, God, who is all-powerful, has the ability to destroy and bring back to life all creatures, who are limited and are, therefore, subject to God's limitless power.
Some Islamic schools deny the possibility of human intercession but most accept it, and in any case God himself, in his mercy, may forgive certain sinners. Those condemned will burn in hellfire, and those who are saved will enjoy the abiding joys of paradise. Hell and heaven are both spiritual and corporeal. Besides suffering in physical fire, the damned will also experience fire “in their hearts”; similarly, the blessed, besides corporeal enjoyment, will experience the greatest happiness of divine pleasure.
The foundations of Islam > Doctrines of the Qur'an > Social service
Because the purpose of the existence of man, as of every other creature, is submission to the Divine Will, God's role in relation to man is that of the commander. Whereas the rest of nature obeys God automatically, man alone possesses the choice to obey or disobey. With the deep-seated belief in Satan's existence, man's fundamental role becomes one of moral struggle, which constitutes the essence of human endeavour. Recognition of the unity of God does not simply rest in the intellect but entails consequences in terms of the moral struggle, which consists primarily in freeing oneself of narrowness of mind and smallness of heart. One must go out of oneself and expend one's possessions for the sake of others.
The doctrine of social service, in terms of alleviating suffering and helping the needy, constitutes an integral part of Islamic teaching. Praying to God and other religious acts are deemed to be incomplete in the absence of active service to the needy. In regard to this matter, the Qur'anic criticisms of human nature become very sharp: “Man is by nature timid; when evil befalls him, he panics, but when good things come to him he prevents them from reaching others.” It is Satan who whispers into man's ears that by spending for others he will become poor. God, on the contrary, promises prosperity in exchange for such expenditure, which constitutes a credit with God and grows much more than the money people invest in usury. Hoarding of wealth without recognizing the rights of the poor is threatened with the direst punishment in the hereafter and is declared to be one of the main causes of the decay of societies in this world. The practice of usury is forbidden.
With this socioeconomic doctrine cementing the bond of faith, there emerges the idea of a closely knit community of the faithful who are declared to be “brothers unto each other.” Muslims are described as “the middle community bearing witness on mankind,” “the best community produced for mankind,” whose function it is “to enjoin good and forbid evil” (Qur'an). Cooperation and “good advice” within the community are emphasized, and a person who deliberately tries to harm the interests of the community is to be given exemplary punishment. Opponents from within the community are to be fought and reduced with armed force, if issues cannot be settled by persuasion and arbitration.
Because the mission of the community is to “enjoin good and forbid evil” so that “there is no mischief and corruption” on earth, the doctrine of jihad is the logical outcome. For the early community it was a basic religious concept. The lesser jihad, or holy striving, means an active struggle using armed force whenever necessary. The object of jihad is not the conversion of individuals to Islam but rather the gaining of political control over the collective affairs of societies to run them in accordance with the principles of Islam. Individual conversions occur as a by-product of this process when the power structure passes into the hands of the Muslim community. In fact, according to strict Muslim doctrine, conversions “by force” are forbidden, because after the revelation of the Qur'an “good and evil have become distinct,” so that one may follow whichever one may prefer (Qur'an), and it is also strictly prohibited to wage wars for the sake of acquiring worldly glory, power, and rule. With the establishment of the Muslim empire, however, the doctrine of the lesser jihad was modified by the leaders of the community. Their main concern had become the consolidation of the empire and its administration, and thus they interpreted the teaching in a defensive rather than in an expansive sense. The Kharijite sect, which held that “decision belongs to God alone,” insisted on continuous and relentless jihad, but its followers were virtually destroyed during the internecine wars in the 8th century.
Besides a measure of economic justice and the creation of a strong idea of community, the Prophet Muhammad effected a general reform of Arab society, in particular protecting its weaker segments—the poor, the orphans, women, and slaves. Slavery was not legally abolished, but emancipation of slaves was religiously encouraged as an act of merit. Slaves were given legal rights, including the right of acquiring their freedom in return for payment, in installments, of a sum agreed upon by the slave and his master out of his earnings. A slave woman who bore a child by her master became automatically free after her master's death. The infanticide of girls that was practiced among certain tribes in pre-Islamic Arabia—out of fear of poverty or a sense of shame—was forbidden.
Distinction and privileges based on tribal rank or race were repudiated in the Qur'an and in the celebrated “Farewell Pilgrimage Address” of the Prophet shortly before his death. All men are therein declared to be “equal children of Adam,” and the only distinction recognized in the sight of God is to be based on piety and good acts. The age-old Arab institution of intertribal revenge (called tha'r)—whereby it was not necessarily the killer who was executed but a person equal in rank to the slain person—was abolished. The pre-Islamic ethical ideal of manliness was modified and replaced by a more humane ideal of moral virtue and piety.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > The five pillars
During the earliest decades after the death of the Prophet, certain basic features of the religio-social organization of Islam were singled out to serve as anchoring points of the community's life and formulated as the “Pillars of Islam.” To these five, the Khawarij sect added a sixth pillar, the jihad, which, however, was not accepted by the general community.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > The five pillars > The shahadah, or profession of faith
The first pillar is the profession of faith: “There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God,” upon which depends membership in the community. The profession of faith must be recited at least once in one's lifetime, aloud, correctly, and purposively, with an understanding of its meaning and with an assent from the heart. From this fundamental belief are derived beliefs in (1) angels (particularly Gabriel, the Angel of Revelation), (2) the revealed Books (the Qur'an and the sacred books of Judaism and Christianity), (3) a series of prophets (among whom figures of the Judeo-Christian tradition are particularly eminent, although it is believed that God has sent messengers to every nation), and (4) the Last Day (Day of Judgment).
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > The five pillars > Prayer
The second pillar consists of five daily canonical prayers. These prayers may be offered individually if one is unable to go to the mosque. The first prayer is performed before sunrise, the second just after noon, the third in the late afternoon, the fourth immediately after sunset, and the fifth before retiring to bed.
Before a prayer, ablutions, including the washing of hands, face, and feet, are performed. The muezzin (one who gives the call for prayer) chants aloud from a raised place (such as a tower) in the mosque. When prayer starts, the imam, or leader (of the prayer), stands in the front facing in the direction of Mecca, and the congregation stands behind him in rows, following him in various postures. Each prayer consists of two to four genuflection units (rak'ah); each unit consists of a standing posture (during which verses from the Qur'an are recited—in certain prayers aloud, in others silently), as well as a genuflection and two prostrations. At every change in posture, “God is great” is recited. Tradition has fixed the materials to be recited in each posture.
Special congregational prayers are offered on Friday instead of the prayer just after noon. The Friday service consists of a sermon (khutbah), which partly consists of preaching in the local language and partly of recitation of certain formulas in Arabic. In the sermon, the preacher usually recites one or several verses of the Qur'an and builds his address on it, which can have a moral, social, or political content. Friday sermons usually have considerable impact on public opinion regarding both moral and sociopolitical questions.
Although not ordained as an obligatory duty, nocturnal prayers (called tahajjud) are encouraged, particularly during the latter half of the night. During the month of Ramadan (see below Fasting), lengthy prayers, called tarawih, are offered congregationally before retiring.
In strict doctrine, the five daily prayers cannot be waived even for the sick, who may pray in bed and, if necessary, lying down. When on a journey, the two afternoon prayers may be followed one by the other; the sunset and late evening prayers may be combined as well. In practice, however, much laxity has occurred, particularly among the modernized classes, although Friday prayers are still very well attended.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > The five pillars > The zakat
The third pillar is the obligatory tax called zakat (“purification,” indicating that such a payment makes the rest of one's wealth religiously and legally pure). This is the only permanent tax levied by the Qur'an and is payable annually on food grains, cattle, and cash after one year's possession. The amount varies for different categories. Thus, on grains and fruits it is 10 percent if land is watered by rain, 5 percent if land is watered artificially. On cash and precious metals it is 2 1/2 percent. Zakat is collectable by the state and is to be used primarily for the poor, but the Qur'an mentions other purposes: ransoming Muslim war captives, redeeming chronic debts, paying tax collectors' fees, jihad (and by extension, according to Qur'an commentators, education and health), and creating facilities for travellers.
After the breakup of Muslim religio-political power, payment of zakat became a matter of voluntary charity dependent on individual conscience. In the modern Muslim world it has been left up to the individual, except in some countries (such as Saudi Arabia) where the Shari'ah (Islamic law) is strictly maintained.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > The five pillars > Fasting
Fasting during the month of Ramadan (ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar), laid down in the Qur'an (2:183–185), is the fourth pillar of the faith. Fasting begins at daybreak and ends at sunset, and during the day eating, drinking, and smoking are forbidden. The Qur'an (2:185) states that it was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur'an was revealed. Another verse of the Qur'an (97:1) states that it was revealed “on the Night of Power,” which Muslims generally observe on the night of 26–27 Ramadan. For a person who is sick or on a journey, fasting may be postponed until “another equal number of days.” The elderly and the incurably sick are exempted through the daily feeding of one poor person if they have the means.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > The five pillars > The hajj
The fifth pillar is the annual pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca prescribed for every Muslim once in a lifetime—“provided one can afford it” and provided a person has enough provisions to leave for his family in his absence. A special service is held in the Sacred Mosque on the 7th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah (last in the Muslim year). Pilgrimage activities begin by the 8th and conclude on the 12th or 13th. All worshippers enter the state of ihram; they wear two seamless garments and avoid sexual intercourse, the cutting of hair and nails, and certain other activities. Pilgrims from outside Mecca assume ihram at specified points en route to the city. The principal activities consist of walking seven times around the Ka'bah, a shrine within the mosque; the kissing and touching of the Black Stone (Hajar al-Aswad); and the ascent of and running between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah (which are now, however, mere elevations) seven times. At the second stage of the ritual, the pilgrim proceeds from Mecca to Mina, a few miles away; from there he goes to 'Arafat, where it is essential to hear a sermon and to spend one afternoon. The last rites consist of spending the night at Muzdalifah (between 'Arafat and Mina) and offering sacrifice on the last day of ihram, which is the 'id (“festival”) of sacrifice.
Many countries have imposed restrictions on the number of outgoing pilgrims because of foreign-exchange difficulties. Because of the improvement of communications, however, the total number of visitors has greatly increased in recent years. By the early 1990s the number of visitors was estimated to be about two million, approximately half of them from non-Arab countries. All Muslim countries send official delegations on the occasion, which is being increasingly used for religio-political congresses. At other times in the year, it is considered meritorious to perform the lesser pilgrimage ('umrah), which is not, however, a substitute for the hajj pilgrimage.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > Sacred places and days
The most sacred place for Muslims is the Ka'bah sanctuary at Mecca, the object of the annual pilgrimage. It is much more than a mosque; it is believed to be the place where the heavenly bliss and power touches the earth directly. According to Muslim tradition, the Ka'bah was built by Abraham. The Prophet's mosque in Medina is the next in sanctity. Jerusalem follows in third place in sanctity as the first qiblah (i.e., direction in which the Muslims offered prayers at first, before the qiblah was changed to the Ka'bah) and as the place from where Muhammad, according to tradition, made his ascent (mi'raj) to heaven. For the Shi'ah, Karbala' in Iraq (the place of martyrdom of 'Ali's son, Husayn) and Meshed in Iran (where Imam 'Ali ar-Rida is buried) constitute places of special veneration where the Shi'ah make pilgrimages.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > Sacred places and days > Shrines of Sufi saints
For the Muslim masses in general, shrines of Sufi saints are particular objects of reverence and even veneration. In Baghdad the tomb of the greatest saint of all, 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, is visited every year by large numbers of pilgrims from all over the Muslim world.
By the late 20th century, the Sufi shrines, which were managed privately in earlier periods, were almost entirely owned by governments and were managed by departments of awqaf (plural of waqf, a religious endowment). The official appointed to care for a shrine is usually called a mutawalli. In Turkey, where such endowments formerly constituted a very considerable portion of the national wealth, all endowments were confiscated by the regime of Atatürk (president 1928–38).
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > Sacred places and days > The mosque
The general religious life of Muslims is centred around the mosque. In the days of the Prophet and early caliphs, the mosque was the centre of all community life, and it remains so in many parts of the Islamic world to this day. Small mosques are usually supervised by the imam (one who administers the prayer service) himself, although sometimes also a muezzin is appointed. In larger mosques, where Friday prayers are offered, a khatib (one who gives the khutbah, or sermon) is appointed for Friday service. Many large mosques also function as religious schools and colleges. In the early 21st century, mosque officials were appointed by the government in most countries. In some countries—e.g., Pakistan—most mosques are private and are run by the local community, although increasingly some of the larger ones have been taken over by the government departments of awqaf.
The foundations of Islam > Fundamental practices and institutions of Islam > Sacred places and days > Holy days
The Muslim calendar (based on the lunar year) dates from the emigration (hijrah) of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. The two festive days in the year are the 'ids, 'Id al-Fitr celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan and 'Id al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice) marking the end of the pilgrimage. Because of the crowds, 'id prayers are offered either in very large mosques or on specially consecrated grounds. Other sacred times include the “Night of Power” (believed to be the night in which God makes decisions about the destiny of individuals and the world as a whole) and the night of the ascension of the Prophet to heaven. The Shi'ah celebrate the 10th of Muharram (the first month of the Muslim year) to mark the day of the martyrdom of Husayn. The Muslim masses also celebrate the death anniversaries of various saints in a ceremony called 'urs (literally, “nuptial ceremony”). The saints, far from dying, are believed to reach the zenith of their spiritual life on this occasion.
Fazlur Rahman, Ed.
In Islam, the central doctrine that calls on believers to combat the enemies of their religion.
According to the Qur'an and the Hadith, jihad is a duty that may be fulfilled in four ways: by the heart, the tongue, the hand, or the sword. The first way (known in Sufism as the “greater jihad”) involves struggling against evil desires. The ways of the tongue and hand call for verbal defense and right actions. The jihad of the sword involves waging war against enemies of Islam. Believers contend that those who die in combat become martyrs and are guaranteed a place in paradise. In the 20th and 21st centuries the concept of jihad has sometimes been used as an ideological weapon in the effort to combat Western influences and secular governments and to establish an ideal Islamic society.