Islam | Meaning, History & Beliefs

Islam | Meaning, History & Beliefs

Islam means peace and submission to the will of Almighty Allah. Islam started in Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia, during the time of the prophet Muhammad's PBUH life.

Although its roots go back further, scholars typically date the creation of Islam to the 7th century, making it the youngest of the major world religions.

Beliefs: Islam

Muslims have six main beliefs.

  • Belief in Allah as the one and only God.
  • Belief in angels.
  • Belief in the holy books.
  • Belief in the Prophets... e.g. Adam, Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Dawud (David), Isa (Jesus).
  • Belief in the Day of Judgement.
  • Belief in Predestination.

According to a 2010 study and released January 2011, Islam has 1.5 billion adherents, making up over 22% of the world population. According to the Pew Research Center in 2015 there were 50 Muslim-majority countries. Despite concerns about the reliability of early sources, most historians believe that Islam originated in Mecca and Medina at the start of the 7th century, approximately 600 years after the founding of Christianity.

Around 62% of the world's Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region (from Turkey to Indonesia), with over 1 billion adherents. The largest Muslim population in a country is in Indonesia, a nation home to 12.7% of the world's Muslims, followed by Pakistan (11.0%), and India (10.9%).

The star and crescent symbol was the emblem of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, and gradually became associated with Islam in late 19th-century Orientalism.

Muslims believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed many times before through prophets including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Muslims consider the Quran to be the unaltered and final revelation of God.

Islam after 7th Century

In the 7th century Arabia becomes the cradle of the world's third great monotheistic religion. All three have begun within a small area of southwest Asia. Each of the later arrivals in this close family of religions claims to build upon the message of its predecessors, bringing a better and more up-to-date version of the truth about the one God - in this case as revealed to the Messenger of God, Muhammad. Islam means 'surrender' (to God), and from the same root anyone who follows Islam is a Muslim. The people of Yathrib, a prosperous oasis, welcome Muhammad and his followers. As a result, the move from Mecca in 622 comes to seem the beginning of Islam. The Muslim era dates from the Hegira - Arabic for 'emigration', meaning Muhammad's departure from Mecca. In the Muslim calendar this event marks the beginning of year 1. Yathrib is renamed Madinat al Nabi, the 'city of the prophet', and thus becomes known as Medina. Here Muhammad steadily acquires a stronger following. He is now essentially a religious, political and even military leader rather than a merchant (Khadija has died in 619).Relations with Mecca deteriorate to the point of pitched battles between the two sides, with Muhammad leading his troops in the field. But in the end it is his diplomacy which wins the day. He persuades the Meccans to allow his followers back into the city, in 629, to make a pilgrimage to the Ka'ba and the Black Stone.

On this first Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Muhammad's followers impress the local citizens both by their show of strength and by their self-control, departing peacefully after the agreed three days. But the following year the Meccans break a truce, provoking the Muslims to march on the city.Raised to the position of caliph by rebels, Ali spends most of his reign in conflict with other Muslims. He wins the first battle, near Basra in 656, against an army fighting in support of Muhammad's widow, A'isha. She is herself in the fray, riding a camel, with the result that the event is remembered as the 'battle of the camel'. But it is Ali's last success. The governor of Syria, Mu'awiya, wages a prolonged campaign against him to avenge the murder of the caliph Othman, his kinsman. Other opponents succeed in assassinating Ali, in 661, outside the mosque in Kufa - a Muslim garrison town to which he has moved the capital from Medina. Mu'awiya, the leader of the struggle against Ali and his supporters, establishes himself after Ali's death in 661 as the undisputed caliph. His power base has been Syria. Damascus now becomes the capital of the first Muslim dynasty and the centre of the new Arab empire. Mu'awiya is a member of one of the most prominent families of Mecca, the Umayya. Against considerable opposition he establishes a new principle - that the role of caliph shall be hereditary rather than elected. For the next century and more it is passed on within his family. The Umayyad dynasty will rule from Damascus until 750 and then will establish another kingdom at Cordoba, in Spain.After the death of Ali, opponents of the new Umayyad dynasty promote the claims of Ali's two sons, Hasan and Husayn (grandsons of Muhammad). Their party becomes known as Shi'at Ali (the 'party of Ali'). The political cause crumbles after the death of the brothers (Hasan dies in about 669 and Husayn, subsequently the most holy of Shi'ite martyrs, is killed in the battle of Karbala in 680). But their faction has from now on a lasting religious disagreement with the Islam of the caliphs.

Islam in 8th Century

As early as the 8th century, a reaction sets in against the worldly interests resulting from the rapid rise of the caliphate to the status of a great temporal power. Devout Muslims struggle to retain the purity and mystical fervor of the early years of their religion. Insisting on a simple life, like the desert fathers of early Christianity, they are recognizable by their choice of plain woolen garments. The Arabic for someone wearing wool is sufi. This name becomes attached, in later centuries, to any Muslim inclined to the mysticism which has always been part of Islam. During the explosive first century of Arab expansion, the relationship subtly changes between two concepts - Arab and Muslim. At first they are inseparable. The Muslim armies are made up entirely of Arab tribesmen, and it is taken for granted that only Arabs can be Muslims. Between campaigns the Arab armies stay together in winter camps or garrison towns. They are an occupying force, having little link with the inhabitants of the conquered territories. But by the early 8th century, when the Muslim expansion has reached something approaching its peak, there are not enough Arabs to provide the troops. In their new city of Baghdad the Abbasid caliphs adopt the administrative system of the long-established Persian empire. Persian Muslims are as much involved in the life of this thriving place as Arab Muslims. Here Islam outgrows its Arab roots and becomes an international religion. Here the Arabic and early Persian languages coalesce to become, from the 10th century, what is now known as Persian - combining words from both sources and using the Arabic script. Here Mesopotamia briefly recovers its ancient status at the centre of one of the world's largest empires. Africa is the first region into which Islam is carried by merchants rather than armies. It spreads down the well-established trade routes of the east coast, in which the coastal towns of the Red Sea (the very heart of Islam) play a major part.

Islam after 8th Century

There is archaeological evidence from the 8th century of a tiny wooden mosque, with space enough for about ten worshippers, as far south as modern Kenya - on Shanga, one of the islands offshore from Lamu. Shanga's international links at the time are further demonstrated by surviving fragments of Persian pottery and Chinese stoneware.From the 8th century Islam spreads gradually south in the oases of the Sahara trade routes. By the 10th century many of the merchants at the southern end of the trade routes are Muslims. In the 11th century the rulers begin to be converted. The first Muslim ruler in the region is the king of Gao, from about the year 1000. The ruling classes of other communities follow suit. The king of Ghana, the most powerful realm, is one of the last to accept Islam - probably in the 1070s.By the mid-16th century the broad sweep of the Muslim world, from the Atlantic coast of north Africa all the way to India, has settled down as three powerful neighbouring empires. In the west, occupying roughly the extent of the Byzantine territory before the Arab conquests of the 7th century, is the Ottoman empire with its capital in Istanbul. In the centre is the Safavid dynasty of Persia, passionately committed to the doctrines of The Shi'as in opposition to the Sunni orthodoxy of the Ottoman Turks. In the east is the Moghul empire, covering the greater part of India. It differs from the others in that its Muslim ruling class is a minority in an infidel population.