Islam began in the 6th century on the belief that Muhammad, a highly respected businessman in Mecca, had received revelations from God in both Mecca and Medina. This religion began to grow when one of the first disciples, a twenty-two year old named Zayd, collected and edited Muhammad’s writings of his revelations and published them in one book, known as the Qur’an.
The central beliefs of Islam, and the central acts of Muslim worship, can be summarized in the Five Pillars of Islam: shahada (bearing witness), which usually manifests itself in reciting “there is no god but God, and Muhammad is God’s messenger; salah (praying five times a day facing Mecca); zakah (giving to the needy); sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan); hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca at some point in one’s life). These Five Pillars provide a very helpful framework for understanding Muslim worship practices, and I will begin to expound on Muslim history and culture by examining aspects of these five beliefs. However, these Pillars are not enough (by far) to encompass all that is being a Muslim. This is especially true in the modern world.
The affirmation in the shahada that “there is no god but God”, or that God is one, was radical for his place and time. Mecca was already a major religious center in Muhammad’s time, but for the polytheistic religions of Arabia rather than any monotheistic religion. This threatened the entire religious system of Mecca. This assertion of God’s unity and oneness is overwhelmingly important to Islam, and that is the “witness” that Muslims are meant to bear.
The shahada is also crucial because of the element of recitation that it brings. Recitation is also very important to Muslims. In fact, the first word in God’s first revelation to Muhammad (seen in Sura 96) is iqraa (recite), from which the word “Qur’an” originates. The Qur’an was intended for memorization and recitation, and Muslims even now find religious fulfillment in reciting the Qur’an aloud. This...
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