Reflection Paper on Islam

Theology Notes on Islam

  • Islam is the youngest and fastest growing of the world’s major religions
  • 6 billion people are Muslims
  • Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims
  • Soon to be 2nd largest religion in the US
  • Islam means both submission and peace
  • The fundamental purpose of human life is to submit to the will of Allah
  • Submission to Allah means both peace here on earth and in the after life
  • The word Muslim means “one who submits.”
  • Islam is a monotheistic religion

Islam began in Arabia and was revealed to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad. Those who follow Islam are called Muslims. Muslims believe that there is only one God. The Arabic word for God is Allah.

Islam is a monotheistic religion (235)


Allah has spoken to many prophets but Allah’s most definitive revelation was given to Muhammad

Muhammad lived in Arabia in the 7th Century C.E.

Muslims have a sacred text, they believe that the words God gave to Muhammad are recorded and recited in the Holy Book, the Qur’an.

Stages of Development and Sacred Texts

Islam did not begin with Muhammad who received the word in the 7th Century

Muslims believe that Muhammad was the first prophet

Arabia in the 7TH Century

They believe in demonic spirits called jinn.

Muslims believe A large black meteorite was viewed as a spirit in an enclosure called “Kabba” (cube)

Prophet Muhammad

He was born in 570 or 571 C.E.

He was orphaned soon after birth and his uncle adopted him.

Muhammad had no formal education throughout his life.

He was known for his spirituality, generosity, sincerity, and ability to arbitrate disputes.

He always believed in the one true God unlike others in Arabia.

“Peace be upon him.” (PBUH) is said after hearing the prophet’s name or another prophet. (236)

At 25 years old, Muhammad married a 40 years old widow named Khadija.

Her wealth allowed him the ability for private spiritual discipline and reflection about the world around him.  He spent time meditating the hills around Mecca. He believed in the coming judgment and it troubled him about the fate of those who worshipped idols. Muhammad was also concerned about the poor and oppressed in society.

While Muhammad was meditating during the month of Ramadan on Mt. Hira in his 40th year, an angel, Gabriel, appeared and spoke to him. Gabriel commanded him to read or recite the name of the Lord. During the next 23 years, Muhammad received a number of revelations. Muhammad remembered what he heard. Others wrote it down. The content of these visions became the Muslim sacred text, the Qur’an.

Muhammad proclaimed the message of the absolute unity of Allah. Since the people of Mecca benefited from the pilgrimage of the people to Mecca to the shrines at the kaaba, they did not respond enthusiastically to Muhammad’s challenge to worship Allah alone.

Khadija, Muhammad’s wife was the first convert. Then his cousin, Ali (who married Fatima, a daughter of Muhammad and Khadija) and a slave that Muhammad had freed, Zayd. 236

This was an exclusive Faith in Allah. (236)

A friend and father of Muhammad’s second wife, Aisha, Abu Barkr, was the next convert.(237).

Others, mostly of the lower classes of the Meccan society joined them.

615, opposition grew, Muhammad sent some people to Ethiopia to avoid persecution and to prepare the way for him joining them later.

622, Muhammad made a journey to Medina because of the opposition, his life was in danger.

His migration from Mecca to Medina marks of the beginning of the Muslim calendar.  Dates are listed A.H. (for the year of the hijra). In Medina Muhammad established the first truly Islamic community, the model for all later Islamic societies.

A year after Muhammad’s arrival in Medina, his Meccan opposition organized an attack against him. 1) Caravan raids but later escalated into a full war.

629 the new faith became so strong that Meccans could not resist when Muhammad brought some of his followers to Mecca for a pilgrimage.

One year later, Muhammad led a force that conquered Mecca.

His forgave his former enemies but destroyed the idols in the kaaba, leaving only the black meteroric stone and its enclosure intact.

According to Muslim belief, the kaaba had been built by Prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael.

Muhammad reestablished the rite of pilgrimage to Mecca, which Muslims believe had been initiated by Abraham himself.

Then, Islam grew and Muhammad was the undisputed political as well as religious leader of Arabia.

Tribal leaders swore their allegiance to Muhammad and he invited other nations to join the new “nation of Islam.”

After the death of his wife, Khadija, Muhammad took several additional wives some for political reasons. His favorite was Aisha, she would like be instrumental in development of Islam. (237)

In 632, Muhammad died at age 63 but he left no provision for succession.

His sons had died in infancy.

Abu Bakr emerged as the first caliph (“successor.”)

Yet the question of the rightful succession to Muhammad was to be the issue that led to the major division of Islam.

The Holy Qur’an (238)

Muslims call the Holy Qur’an the “Book.”

Muslims declare “the Holy Qur’ an”  is the direct word of Allah.

It is the final definitive revelation to humanity.  Although Muslims do recognize legitimacy of scripture of Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians (although they feel they were corrupted during transmission), it corrects the revelations given to earlier prophets of the other traditions.

Muslims believe that the Qur’ an  is the unadulterated record of God directly speaking to all humanity.

The collected revelations are for Muslims a guide to the individual and collective life and thought.

Muslims believe that the Qur’ an is eternal and irrevocable.

It cannot be translated for it is God’s own speech. In other words, translation would distort its meaning.

Therefore, Muslims try to memorize the Qur’an in Arabic.

Many commit all 114 surahs (Chapters) of the Qur’an (about the length of the NT) to memory.

Those who do are called “the guardians of the Book in the heart.”

The first words of a baby born in a Muslim home hears are verses from the Qur’ an and the last for a dying Muslim.

The Qur’ an is also used to teach children Arabic.

The chapters of the Qur’an after the first are organized in terms of length, the longest to the shortest. Each chapter has a name like the Night, the Cow and Unity.

The content of the Qur’an includes

  • Hymns in praise of Allah
  • Signs of Allah
  • Warnings about the coming Day of Judgment
  • Exhortations about pious living, reminders of God’s involvement with people in the past through a series of prophets and guidelines for personal and social morality are found

When Muslims pray, the recite verses from the Qur’an. It is sung, chanted and meditated on.

To touch “the Book” one must be ritually pure.

The Qur’an is the principal foundation for all aspects of Muslim life

Its language sets the standard for determining grammatical rules in Arabic

It provides guidelines for the laws in Muslim societies

Artists paint its verses on buildings

Ordinary people pattern their speech and behavior after it

The Spread of Islam and the Rise of Islamic Civilization (238)


Within year of succeeding Muhammad, Abu Bakr, the first caliph, died.

634-644 The second caliph, ‘Umar, remained in power

635 Damascus fell to Muslim forces

637 Muslims armies overthrew the Sassanid Empire (Iran)

638 Jerusalem and all of Palenstine under Arab control

They did not destroy Jerusalem. They were given “protected” status and allowed a certain amount of self-governance

640 Muslims took over Egypt

644, ‘Umar was assassinated by a Persian slave

644-656 ‘Uthman succeeded him

(640-649) Persia fell to Muslims (239)

661 The next Caliph was Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin ‘Ali. He was forced to flee Iraq and

‘Ali was murdered.

771 Ummayad dynasty began after the death of Ali. They established their capital in Damascus. (from southern France to China) In 771 they entered Spain (initiating the Moorish culture(dominated Spain for nearly 800 years)

732 The Muslims were defeated in the Battle of Tours in 732

750-1258 the ‘Abbasid dynasty replaced the Ummayad dynasty except in Spain-moved the center of Islamic rule to Baghad, Iraq (apparently cooperation between the Jews and Muslims)-they spread Islam into India and China

Early 800s, Muslim Empire begin to split

Cordoba in Spain became great cultural center

Egypt, Syria and Palestine-Shi’ite Muslims

Seljuk Turks gained power in Middle East

Christian Crusaders entered the region

1187, Muslim leader, Salah-al-Din, led the resistance to Crusaders recapturing Jerusalem

Spread of Islam to Africa (Sudan and Somalia)

Then into West Africa

1300s Indonesia became Muslim region

Muslim growth in Africa and the Pacific region

Genghis Khan held power in Ira and Persia for 100 years

1300s Mongols from central Asia invaded the Middle East-many of the Mongols converted to Islam-Moghul Empire in India and Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor

Islamic civilizations brought advances in medicine, mathematics, physics, astronomy, geography, architecture, are, literature and history

700s, Muslim armies reached India

1300s peaceful migration of Muslims into India

1526 Most of India under Muslim control

1856 British rose to power

1453 Ottoman Empire (Nomadic Turkish tribes) seized Constantinople

1500s and 1600s Ottoman Empire (Muslim Empire) the most powerful in the world

1922, Ottoman empire came to an end

Then Colonial rule (Great Britain, France and Holland)

Many believe that decline of Islamic civilization occurred because of external European domination but also because of weakening faith among Muslims

Breaking down conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites

The Branches of Islam

Sunni and Shi’ite-question of proper succession to Prophet Muhammad

Sunni: The way of Tradition

Sunni is the largest 85% of Muslims identify as Sunni

Sunni (meaning “way’ or “manner of acting” (241)

Shi’ite The Party of ‘Ali (243)

Sufi: The Mystical Movement (243)

The sacred text is the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam

Hadith is the second authority-record of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad revealed and received as a source of religious law and moral guidance

Sharia is Islamic law based on the teachings of the Qur’an and the prophet

The Revival of Islam (245)

Conservative (Islamist) movements have tried to purify Muslims invaded by Western and secular culture

Secular movements have tried to incorporate the concept of separation of church and state

Modernists have attempted to reform Muslim societies through reaffirming basic Muslim values and letting go of perceived unnecessary customs

Conservative Movements

The Wahhabi Movement (245)

The first modern movement to attempt to purify Islam was the Sunni Wahhabi movement of Arabia

-Hanbalite view that the true way is found in rigid adherence to the Qur’an and ways of Muhammad expressed in the hadith

all forms of shirk (Idolatry) should be rooted out and crushed

a strict simple lifestyle committed to following Sharia as seen as the proper way to live

Saudi Arabia

Beheading for adultery on violaters

Men and women are kept strictly separate in public places

Women are allowed to hold professional and other high positions (In keeping with the Qur’an that women should have equal opportunity

The Wahhabi movement has spread internationally through schools, mosques and other institutions

The Muslim Brotherhood (246)

Founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna

Educational and political movement with goal of raising awareness in the Muslim World of the need to purge negative and secular influences from Islamic societies

It also attempts to purge leadership in Muslim countries affected by the Western powers with truly Islamic rulers

Hasan  al-Banna taught that Muslims are caught in a struggle (jihad) between forces of Allah and Satan, good and evil, ignorance and truth.

life would be guided by Sharia law

In 1949 Hasan-al Banna was murdered by police a year after a Brotherhood member had assassinated the Egyptian prime minister

Sayyid Qutb rejected the nonviolent movement of Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and issued a call to arms

He is regarded as the godfather to Muslim extremist movements around the globe

He urged others to engage in an armed struggle against pagan forces and ignorance, the secular, materialistic West and corrupt Muslim leadership influenced by the West

Qutb was executed in 1966.

He had a impact on Osama bin Laden and others

Hamas (247) Members of the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the group’s nonviolent strategies and formed Hamas, a movement committed to the armed liberation of Palestine

Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement in Palestine)

It seeks to create a Palestinian Islamic state to replace the Jewish state of Israel

Attacks began in 1989 with kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldiers, civilians and tourists

In 1992 Hamas initiated car bombings

In 1994 suicide bombings

Hamas is the largest among Muslims groups committed to using violent tactics to liberate Palestine. Hamas also has a political wing.

In 2006 Hamas won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territory and took control of the Gaza strip

Militants within Hamas used their sanctuary in Gaza to launch rockets against towns in southern Israel

Israeli government responded with retaliatory strikes against Hamas strongholds

Israel and the U.S. have refused to enter into negotiations with Hamas until

-the movement renounces use of terroristic violence

-recognizes the right of Israel to exist

-accepts a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Taliban (247)

In 1996 following the expulsion of the Soviet army, the Taliban (students) movement seized power in Afghanistan

The Taliban imposed their revolutionary, puritanical version of Islam

Women were prohibited from leaving their homes to go to work and girls were not allowed to attend school

In public, women had to cover their entire body

Note: Men were forced to wear beards, music and TV were banned.

Muslims internationally condemned the Taliban as distorters of Islam (only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab emirates recognized the Taliban)

Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda

The Taliban gave refuge to Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi, proponent of a worldwide revolution against the West (248)

In Afghanistan Bin Laden viewed US as the principal source of evil threatening Islam

He established the al-Qaeda (“the base”), a network of those who embraced his militant revolutionary ideology

Bin laden was linked to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center

In 1994 Saudi Arabian government rejected Bin Laden for his extremism and rejected his citizenship

In 2000, bin Laden issued a religious edict calling for Muslims to kill US citizens

9/11/2001, 19 hijackers flew commercial airlines into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

By 2002 bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan were destroyed, the Taliban was removed from power

In April 2011, bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by US Navy Seal special forces

US invaded Iraq in 2003, US left in 2011

Yet attacks by Al-Quaeda-affiliated continued

The Islamic Republic of Iran (249)

Shi’ite efforts to purify Islam

In 1979 Khomeini came to power, he was exiled by the Shaw but returned and Islamic Republic was formed

Intent was to create a purified Islamic nation

Khomeini became the guiding legal expert

Khomeini died in 1989

Note: The book says that a very small minority of conservative Muslims support the violence

Other Movements

Secular Movements (249)

The secular movement has sought the Western separation of religion from civil affairs

It happened in Turkey

Modernist (Progressive) Movements (250)

Rose in 19th Century Egypt and India have taken a middle ground between extreme Islamic conservatism and secularism

Urge return to basic values of Islam, not advocates of segregation of men and women

They believe the Qur’an speaks to recognizing gender justice

Embracing pluralism, a basic Muslim value, extending respect for and acceptance of all humanity with openness to what may be learned from the religion of others

Realizing that are fanatics who should be confronted and rejected

They rejected extremists like Osama bin Laden