Islam: A Brief Guide
Muhammad ibn Abdullah (c. 570-632) — founder and Prophet
Allah — the one god’s name in Arabic. literally “The God” (al-Lah)
Islam — Submission, from salama, submission to achieve peace
Qur’an — “reading”, “reciting” collected about 650-651, 20 years after Muhammad’s death from secretarial jottings of scribes. Life of Muhammad not recorded in detail for about a century.
hadith — “sayings”, oral traditions compiled in 9c and 11c, including chains of transmission.
confession of full faith that “There is no god but Allah and his prophet is Muhammad”
prayer five times per day (facing Mecca)
daylight fast (food and water; sex) during holy month of Ramadan, the month of Muhammad’s revelation (begins 15 October 2004)
almsgiving (Zakat, “justice,” rather than charity; often 1/40th of net worth)
pilgrimage (hajj) to the Ka’ba in Mecca.
hijra (escape) in 622 from Mecca to Medina, beginning of Islamic year count; purely lunar calendar 11 days shorter than solar year, so it is now 1425 AH (Fall 2004).
jihad — “struggle.” Self-sacrifice in the service of Islam or community. Quran contains strict rules on practice of warfare, including avoiding harm to non-combatants and limiting legitimate warfare to state-v-state combat.
Ka’ba, in Mecca, considered holy and a place of peace by pre-Islamic Arabic culture. Purified of pagan (and Christian) images; believed to be therock given to Adam on departure from paradise. Also contains two rock pillars associated with Satan, at which the faithful throw stones during their pilgrimage.
Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (Temple Mount) established in 8th century: believed to be the site of the Binding of Ishmail.
Sunni (90% of Muslims)
Sunna — stories (including hadith) of the life of Mohammed (e.g. beard growing).
‘ulamâ – religious scholars who interpret Qur’an into systematic theology and moral law
qâdî — judges, who apply the interpretations and edicts (fatwa) of the ‘ulamâ.
Shariah — The Way or The Path. The legal code developed by the scholars and judges.
imam — prayer group leaders, slowly evolving into something like clergy.
Shi’a (almost 10% of Muslims)
Shi’a — “partisans,” “supporters” of the leadership of the descendants of Muhammad
caliphs, imam — political leaders who also share in continued direct revelation of divine truth
Ali — Cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, but passed over for leadership on Muhammad’s death.
Hussein — Ali’s second son, and founder of the Shi’a after Ali’s assassination. Defeated and killed by the Umayyads in 680
Mahdi — “The awaited one,” The twelfth and last true Imam, hidden for last millenium awaiting appropriate moment to return and lead.
Ismailism — (a.k.a. “Seveners”) offshoot of Shia, following a different Seventh Imam; philosophically influential; group which spawned the hashishiyun [assassins]
ayatollahs and mullahs — religious leaders without the direct divine inspiration of the true Imam.
Sufi (very few Muslims)
ascetic mystics responsible for much of the spread of Islam beyond Arabic world. Tradition begins roughly 750c.e.
Greater Jihad, defined by Sufi, is the struggle for self-mastery and true submission. Jihad in warfare called “Lesser Jihad” and limited to defensive circumstances.
Familiar names in Arabic: Abraham [Ibrahim], Ishmael, Joseph [Yusef], Moses [Musa], Aaron [Harun], Jesus [Isa]. Arab tradition places the Arabs as descendants of Ishmael (who was the chosen sacrifice, not Isaac).
dhimmis, protected “people of the book” (Christians and Jews, mostly) who paid the jizya tax.
madrasas — religious schools, a relatively late development in the Islamic empires.
Umayyad (661-750) — Arabic aristocracy
Abbasid (750-1258) Persian control and ethnic diversity in leadership
Turkish Islamic Empires:
Ottoman (1289-1919) — Western Mediterranean, North Africa, Southwestern Europe
Safavid (1501-1722) — Central Asia
Mughal (1526-18c) — India/Pakistan
A Few Famous Muslims (pre-1500)
al-Ghazali — Sufi mystic who argued that Allah is beyond rational understanding
Ibn Khaldun — dismissed secular learning in favor of divine revelation. Author of The Muqaddimah, a global history.
al-Kindi — neo-Platonic theologian
Ibn Rushd (Averroës) — Aristotelean influenced theologian who thought that pure rationality could encompass world including Allah
Fazari — translated Indian mathematical treatise Siddhanta into Arabic, bringing Zero from India
al-Khwarizimi — mathematician who created algebra and from whose name algorithm is derived
Razi (Rhazes) — first physician to distinguish smallpox from measles. Encyclopedic Hawi (a.k.a. Continens) a standard medical text in the West until Scientific Revolution
Ibn Sina (Avicenna) — one of the greatest Islamic physicians, whose Canon was used as medical teaching texts for centuries.
Ibn al-Haitham – physician whose book on Optics was influential into 18c, including development of telescopes in the West.
Omar Khayyám — mathematician and mystical poet (Rubiyat).
Rumi — Sufi poet
Harun al-Rashid — Abbasid Caliph (r. 789-809) One Thousand and One Arabian Nights set in capital city Baghdad during his reign.
© 2003, 2004 – Jonathan Dresner