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A religion is typically a set of beliefs and practices, which involves the acknowledgment of a higher power or being by which people order the conduct of their lives both physically and in the moral sense. All people regardless of their race, nationality and gender, seek out some form of a belief system to sustain them in their daily lives. A person’s belief system gives him hope and comfort. There are five main religions in the world today. These are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Comparison of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, reveals some common traits and, differences. Both the three religions believe in one God and revere to the Old Testament prophets, “Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), Jacob (Yacub) Joseph (Yusuf), Moses (Musa), David (Dawud), and Solomon (Sulaiman)” (Hussain, 2004, 14). In addition, Muslims recognize Jesus (Isa) but only as a prophet and not as the son of God like Christians. There is a close similarity between Judaism and Islam as compare to Islam and Christianity. Judaism and Islam forbid the eating of pork, and other meat that has not been ritually killed. This meat is referred to as kosher for the Jews and halal for the Muslims. In both religions, religious statues and images are forbidden. Judaism and Islam insist on the unity of God and reject the Christians idea of the holy Trinity. Muslims, reject the Christians concept of the original sin and the idea of an intercessor between man and God. According to Islam on can achieve his or her own salvation by following the laid down law in the holy Qur’an.
History of Islam
The origin of the Islamic religion is the Middle East. The Prophet Muhammad the founder of Islam was born at around 570 A.D in Arabia. He belonged to the Quaraysh tribe whose members were the custodians of the sacred places in Mecca. While meditating in the cave Hira outside the city of Makkah, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him. Furthermore, this is the same angel who appeared to Mary the mother of Jesus. “The Angle said to Muhammad, “Recite.” Muhammad refused three times until the angel said to him, “Recite by the name of thy lord who created.” The words that were given to Muhammad declared the oneness and power of God, to whom worship should be made.” (Pollock, 2002, 78). The angel Gabriel’s revelations to Muhammad spanned over a period of twenty years and were written down resulting in the Qur’an which is the fundamental source of faith for Muslims (Paul Varo Martinson & Stefani Ormsby Cox., 1994, 23). Another source of Islamic doctrine is the Hadith, which is a biography of Muhammad made from the memories of members of his community. After the revelation, Muhammad began preaching the goodness of the creator and warning of the judgment day. He and his followers fled to Medina, away from the opposition and persecution from the Arab tribes, and even his family who worshiped various gods during that era. In Medina, Muhammad’s teachings began to be accepted, and thus the Islamic community was founded. Muhammad was successful in creating a federation of Arab tribes, and making Islam, the basis of Arab unity. The rapid expansion of Islam to Spain, Africa, China and other states was attributed to both the Muslim traders and the suppression of other religions. The Jews and the Christians were expected to pay tax in order to maintain their religious autonomy. Other religions did not have much of a choice. Either accept Islam or die (Pollock, 2002, 79).
Islam beliefs and practices
Islam is spread throughout the world. This religion consists of people from different races and nationalities. An individual who professes the Shahadah enters the fold of Islam and is thus entitled to the same rights as other Muslims. Islam is a monotheistic religion which beliefs in Allah as the only god. Every human being is supposed to serve Allah and worship him alone. The life of a Muslim is constructed around the five pillars of Islam. A Muslim should express the belief in them and uphold them in his daily life. The first pillar is the profession of faith (shahadah). It emphasizes that there is only one God and Muhammad is his prophet. The second pillar dictates that a Muslim should pray five times in a day (salat) facing Mecca. This should be before sunrise, just after noon, later in the afternoon, immediately before sunset and after dark (Martinson et al., 1994). The third pillar is giving to the poor (zakat). Every Muslim is expected to pay an obligatory tax once a year to the state government. The fourth pillar encourages self-control and discipline through fasting. Every Muslim should fast during the month of Ramadan. Fasting begins at sunrise and ends at sunset. When fasting, a Muslim is forbidden from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse. The last pillar is on the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajji). Every Muslim is encouraged to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime as long as he is physically and financially able (Pollock, 2002, 80).
Muslims are opposed to any form of representational art even images of Allah or the prophet due to the inherent danger of idolatry. Often, mosques are decorated with geometric patterns. In addition to the traditional prayers, all Muslim men are expected to attend after-midday prayers on Fridays. Mosques have areas with water supply for the devout to wash their hands, feet and face before prayers. However, if water is not available, sand can be used (Pollock, 2002, 83). The muezzin calls the people to worship. He stands on the minaret and faces each of the four sides. That is, north, south, east and west. The imam leads the community prayers, and the Khatib preaches the Friday sermon. However, the imam may perform the three functions.
Muslims have several festivals in a year. Muhammad-Maulid al-Nabi celebrates the birth of Prophet Muhammad. It is observed on the twelfth day of the third month. The second festival is Ramadan which is celebrated on the ninth month of the year. It is a period of fasting although children under puppetry are exempted. Lailat ul-Qadr festival is considered as one of the last ten nights of Ramadan. Muslims spend the three days and nights in the mosque praying to Allah on the destiny of individuals and the world. Eid ul-Filtr is celebrated at the end of Ramadan and lasts for three days. During this celebration, particular foods are prepared, and gifts exchanged. Eid ul-Adha celebrates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God asked him to do so. The sacrifice of the lamb is a significant part of the festival. Al-Isra Wal Miraj celebrates the ascension of Muhammad to heaven. It is celebrated on the twenty-seventh day of the seventh month.
Islam Influences on the Society
The Islamic Sharia law is based on the Qur’an and Hadith. The Sharia law is directly related to the demographics of the countries where Islam is practiced. For example, “the Qur’an forbids usury and the charging of interests, but it approves making of a fair profit” (Pollock, 20002, 88). This is difficult to implement in a world market. The Qur’an describes business dealings as seeking God’s bounty and forbids gambling. This has necessitated the establishment of non-interest bearing banks to serve the Muslim communities. In trade and commerce, Islamic religious laws are keenly observed. “Muslims are forbidden to eat Pork and non-halal meats, and meat that is exported to Muslim countries must come from animals slaughtered according to the Islamic laws” (Husain, 2004, 9). Alcohol of any form is prohibited in Islam and therefore, though Australian wines are famous, promoting their sale in Muslim countries does not make sense from a business point of view. Casinos are few and off the limit to the locals in Muslim states. Islam prohibits gambling.
Jihad, a doctrine calling for the devotion of Muslim believers to combat the enemies of their religion has been misinterpreted and misused. The media reports stories in a superficial way without an in-depth understanding of the Islam culture and in some cases the law behind certain events. This has led to a wrong perception about Muslims. They are equated with terrorism and religious fundamentalism. In the United States, there is a climate of fear and hatred towards Islam and Muslims (Hussain, 2004, 1). You find that mostly in Hollywood Movies; Islamic terrorists are presented as the enemies. In following the zakat Muslims make charitable contributions from their income and thus ensuring social responsibility for one another. This is particularly important as it helps in catering for the needs of the poor. In addition, Muhammad emphasizes that family member s should care for one another. Moreover, animals should be respected and treated in ways that do not violate their lives.
In Muslin countries, the relationship between different genders and age groups is handled with considerable caution among Muslims. The youths express their respect toward elders by brushing the outstretched hand of the elder with their lips and forehand. Personal visits and invitations to dinner also have clear guidelines. For example, when entering a Muslim home, people take their shoes off and the host offers them slippers. After the meal, women and men converse separately. Every Muslim is expected to get married. Parents are responsible for finding marriage partners for their children. However, the Qur’an insists that a girl should not be forced into marriage, but she must give her consent. Though marriage does not have to be performed in the mosque, it must be conducted according to the Islamic law and witnesses by two Muslim males. Islam allows divorce and polygamy. The prophet Muhammad advises that a man can have more than one wife if he can treat all wives equally. Any injustice in this regard is strictly prohibited by Allah.
Young women are strictly chaperoned, and sexual relationships before marriage are prohibited. Girls are not permitted to participate in physical activates like swimming that may expose their body parts. In addition, girls from Muslim families are not expected to go to parties that include boys. The Islamic law prescribes strict penalties for those who indulging in sex outside marriage (Hussain, 2004, 4). The mode of dressing is also considerably emphasized. Muslim women are expected to cover themselves from head to toe. Muslim customs and traditions play a role in how they perceive others. For example, based on what they see on television, they have an impression that Americans are sexually promiscuous. The Islamic law is based on the Islam religion contrary to the common civil law system which is secular and insists on the separation of the church from the state. When a family matter is brought before the court, the civil law system may fail to understand the different cultural backgrounds of the spouses. For example, a marriage issue between an American woman and a Muslim man will bring complications while administering justice. As per the civil law, the woman is supposed to have custody for the children. On the contrary, the Kadi’s court will grant the man the children custody. A case of this nature may worsen relationships between countries practicing different laws. To avoid conflicts, it is necessary to understand how varying beliefs and value systems affect the legal system.