Islam (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Six centuries after Jesus Christ, the religion of Islam was born in Arabia. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Muslims, as its followers have always called themselves, number more than 1.2 billion worldwide.
According to Muslim tradition, in 611 C.E. at the age of forty, Muhammad of Mecca received a revelation from God during a spiritual retreat in a cave on Mount Hira outside the city. God's special envoy who brought the message was the archangel Gabriel. At Gabriel's instruction, the illiterate Muhammad recited five short verses that portrayed the spirit of the new religion. In this first revelation, Muhammadhus by extension all humanss called upon to know the unknown in the name of God, whose nature is to create things. Humans are then reminded of how, from their lowly animal origin, they became thinking and knowing creatures thanks to God's generous gifts of instruments of knowledge that are best symbolized by the pen. Knowledge is the supreme symbol of God's infinite bounty and the key to his treasuries. Through sacred knowledgehat is, knowledge through and for the sake of Godumans can attain salvation. In thus emphasizing the saving function of knowledge, Muhammad's maiden revelation as well as many other revelations that were to follow, clearly portrayed the new faith as a way of knowledge. As for Muhammad himself, as told by Gabriel, he had been chosen as the new messenger of God. Fourteen centuries later, Muhammad is widely regarded as one of the world's most influential persons.
Revelations came intermittently to Muhammad over a period of twenty-three years. All of these revelations were systematically compiled into a book known as the Qur'an. According to tradition, the precise arrangement of the Qur'an itself was divinely inspired. This book is central to the religion. It is the most authentic and the most important source of teachings of the religion. The Qur'an is the most influential guide to Muslim life and thought, both individual and collective, spiritual and temporal.
Submission and faith
The word Islam means "surrender or submission" to God's will. It also means "peace." In a sense, it is through submission to the divine will that a human attains inner peace. One who submits to the divine will is called Muslim. In the Qur'an, the word Muslim refers not only to humans but also to other creatures and the inanimate world. From the Qur'anic point of view, this is not surprising. The divine will manifests itself in the form of laws both in human society and in the world of nature. In Islamic terminology, for example, a bee is a Muslim precisely because it lives and dies obeying the shava¯rah that God has prescribed for the community of bees, just as a person is a Muslim by virtue of the fact that he or she submits to the revealed "shava¯rah" ordained for the religious community. In fact, the Qur'an maintains that "every animal species is a community like you," thus implying that God has promulgated a law for each species of being. From its beginning, Islam never made any distinction between what has generally been known in the Western tradition as the "laws of nature" and "the laws of God." In principle, there is harmony between the laws of natural phenomena (na¯mu¯s al-khilqah) and the laws of the prophets governing human societies (na¯wamu¯s al-anbiya¯1) since both kinds of laws come from the same source: God the Law-Giver. In asserting such a view, Islam provides an illustrative example of how it seeks to establish points of convergence in the encounter of religion and science.
Islam is noted for the simplicity of its teachings. By professing the testimony of faith "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God," one enters into the fold of Islam. The whole teachings of the religion are summarized in the six articles of faith (arka¯n al-i¯ma¯n) and the five pillars of submission (arka¯n al-isla¯m). Muslims must believe in six fundamental truths: God, angels, revealed books, divine messengers, life in the hereafter, and divine plans and decrees. Necessary beliefs go hand in hand with necessary actions, since a human is both a thinking and a believing creature and a creature who acts and does all kinds of things. There are five fundamental obligatory duties for every Muslim, male and female:
- To bear witness that "There is no god but God," and to bear witness that "Muhammad is the Messenger of God";
- To perform five daily prayers;
- To fast from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan;
- To pay personal and property tax (zaka¯t, literally meaning purification);
- To perform pilgrimage (ajj) in Mecca once in a lifetime, if possible.
The rest of the teachings of the religion are consequences and further elaborations of these pillars of the faith and devotional practices.
Allah and the Qur'an
God, or Alla¯h in Arabic, is of course the most fundamental reality on which the religion of Islam is based; God created the Muslim soul and shaped the Muslim's thoughts and consciousness. Islam has come to reaffirm the monotheisms of Adam and Abraham. God is absolutely one; the origin and the end of the universe; its creator, sustainer, and ruler. Allah has created the universe for the sake of humans, the best of all creatures. A human being's purpose of existence is in turn to know God. By knowing the universe, humans can know God. This is possible, since God has imprinted numerous signs in the universe. One can also say that God has imprinted "names" in creation, which are many. Muslim tradition speaks of ninety-nine beautiful names of God, the most mentioned in the Qur'an and the most uttered by the Muslim tongue being Al-Rahma¯n (The Most Compassionate). Muslims adore and celebrate these divine names in numerous ways. Children in kindergartens and Muslim schools called madrasahs memorize them by reciting them with melodious voices in a chorus. Artists visualize them with their beautiful Arabic calligraphies. Philosophers exert their intellects to penetrate the deeper meanings of these names through their profound conceptual analysis. Mystics or Sufis contemplate them in their spiritual retreats so that "the heart is empty of everything except God." Such is the profound impact of the divine names as conceived by Islam on the Muslim soul and intellect.
The role of the Qur'an in Muslim life is inseparable from that of Muhammad. He is seen as the perfect embodiment of the Qur'an. A husband and father, a teacher and a businessman, a leader in war and peace, and most of all a spiritual and moral guide, Muhammad is thus the role model for every Muslim of every generation. In Muhammad's own words, his community of believers will not err as long as they are guided by the Qur'an and his way of life.
See also AVERRS; AVICENNA; GOD; ISLAM, HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION; ISLAM, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION; LIFE AFTER DEATH; SOUL
Azzam, A. Rahman. The Eternal Message of Muhammad. Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society, 1993.
Bakar, Osman. Classification of Knowledge in Islam. Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society, 1997.
Bakar, Osman. The History and Philosophy of Islamic Science. Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society, 1999.
Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Gulen, M. Fethullah. The Essentials of Islamic Faith. Konak, Turkey: Kaynak, , 1997.
Hamidullah, Muhammad. Introduction to Islam. Gary, Ind.: International Islamic Federation of Students Organizations, 1970.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Ideals and Realities of Islam. Chicago: Kazi Publications, 1997.
Schuon, Fritjhof. Understanding Islam. Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom Books, 1994.
Islam (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
The fast of the month of Ramadan is one of the five major obligations of individual Muslims (the other four being the pronunciation of the confession of God's Unity, the five daily prayers, the religious tax, and the pilgrimage to Mecca). The Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, charts a middle positionThus we have made you a community of the middle path" (2:143)etween the ascetic ideal of Christian monastic practices and the more materialistic style of Jewish religion. Islamic fasting during Ramadan is quite harsh by Western standards and includes a full month of total abstinence from food and drink during the hours between dawn and sunset, although the evenings are a time of joy and celebration. The period of fasting during Ramadan is not an individual religious exercise, but part of a great social event that binds individual Muslims collectively.
The Qur'an explains the significance of this time of prayer and abstinence. During the Medina period, which marked the last ten years of the life of the prophet Muhammad (57032 C.E.), Muslims were instructed to join the Jews in prayer in the direction of Jerusalem, to the north. After the Jews of Medina refused to recognize Muhammad as a prophet and obstructed his ideal of an Islamic state, the Prophet received a revelation that his followers should turn to the Ka'aba of Mecca (to the south of Medina). The Qur'an (2:18387) prescribes fasting during the month of Ramadan, but prior to Muhammad's revelation, followers observed the fast of the day of Atonement or Ashura, as did the Jews. The institution of the Ramadan fast marked a return to an older Arab tradition that included abstaining from warfare and blood feuds. (In the same chapter of the Qur'an a third Arab institution was restored and reinterpreted: the pilgrimage to Mecca [2:19603].)
The fast of Ramadan was reinterpreted as an instrument for the forgiveness of sins. It was instituted in commemoration of the Prophet's first revelation, which occurred during that month (on the twenty-first, twenty-third, twenty-fifth, and twenty-seventh of Ramadan) and in awareness of God's decision about man's fate for the coming year. From dawnn fact, from the moment when a black thread can be distinguished from a white onentil sunset nothing may enter the body through any of its parts. Therefore, not only are eating and drinking forbidden, but also the use of fragrant perfume and even sexual intercourse. Women who menstruate during this period are not allowed to observe fasting but must make up for the days they miss by fasting later on.
In the first generations after Muhammad the basis was laid for what is known as the shari'a or Islamic law. Scholars during the first century after Muhammad developed the rules for determining the beginning and end of the month of Ramadan. It is commonly accepted that some part of the new moon must be "seen" (physically or intellectually, i.e., directly observed or by calculation), although there is a divergence of opinion among Muslim communities concerning the correct method for defining the start and finish of the month of Ramadan. Travelers and those who are sick are excused from the fast, but even these exceptions are disputed, as are the various compensations for some days of fasting or the alms given to the poor.In addition to the month of Ramadan, there are voluntary days of fasting for Muslims, such as the tenth day of Muharam (Ashura, a continuation of the Jewish day of atonement, although the Islamic lunar calendar does not
Fasting not only constitutes abstinence from food. Pious Muslim preachers stress that fasting is more an exercise of the mind than of the body. The prophet Muhammad said, "He is not a good Muslim who eats his fill and leaves his neighbor hungry" (Glassé, p. 112). The mystical theologian al-Ghazali (d. 1111) proposed a category of fasting that included "other parts of the body" (besides the mouth and the sexual organs): The eyes and the hands should be kept under control and prevented from evil. Attention must be given to the poor during the month of Ramadan, and the special "alms tax" (zakat fitra) or "gift of breaking the fast" consists of 2.5 kilograms of rice or the equivalent in money given to the poor. Slander and gossip in particular are forbidden during Ramadan, and a saying from Muhammad supports this admonition: "If one does not give up saying false words and doing false deeds in Ramadan, giving up eating and drinking means nothing to Allah" (Buitelaar, p. 22).
Some preachers suggest that the daily fast should be followed by a light meal only and by many prayers. A folk custom ends a day of fasting in the manner of Muhammad: Commonly, a Muslim eats a date first, following the example of the Prophet. In countries where fresh dates are not available, they are imported from abroad to facilitate this custom of the believers. It is also quite common for Muslims to invite friends and relatives to their homes on certain days so that they might experience this rewarding moment together after a full day of fasting: breaking the fast together with a first light meal (iftar, literally meaning the breaking snack), accompanied by the pious words of a preacher.
Local kitchens serve a great variety of dishes during the evenings of Ramadan. In the Indonesian province of Aceh, known for its devout Islam, believers eat beras tape, a porridge of fermented sweet rice, as their first snack after a day of fasting. Because of the process of fermentation, this snack contains a significant amount of alcohol, but it is considered a traditional food, not a drink, and is therefore acceptable to pious Muslims. Fish is not considered a good choice for Ramadan meals because it is too light and does not provide a good base for the next day of fasting. A tomato soup (harira) that is prepared with a variety of vegetables and beef, buffalo, or lamb is much more substantial and provides longer-lasting nutrition. In countries of the Middle East it is closely identified with the celebration of Ramadan. Sometimes before dawn a heavy "breakfast" (sahur) is consumed in preparation for a full day of fasting. Buitelaar mentions (p. 47) a daily meal of rabbit that is eaten at 3:00 A.M. in Morocco.
After Ramadan, on the first day of the month of Shawwal, the so-called small festival is celebrated. A major festival also occurs on the tenth day of the month of the hajj, when the sacrifice of Abraham is recalled, but the end of Ramadan brings the greatest joy to Muslims: Relatives are visited and many types of sweets are consumed. In Turkey, this celebration is known as the sugar festival, a celebration also marked in recent decades in parts of Europe where Turkish migrants have settled.
Some mystical or local groups have developed special kinds of fasting, which are either not generally accepted or even denounced by other Muslims. In order to obtain special favors from God, Muslims in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java, practice the mutihan, or "white fasting." Muslims there only eat white rice and boiled eggs, and they drink plain ("white") water during a certain period, often to implement a vow. Members of the Khalidiyah branch of the Naqshbandiyah brotherhood practice suluk (spiritual travel) or khalwat (loneliness), a forty-day period of abstinence from meat and some other dishes; believers also refrain, as much as possible, from talking. Their opponents blame them for introducing a Christian habit (forty days of fasting, and abstinence from meat) into a well-defined Muslim regulation.
The Islamic rules on haram (forbidden) foods and drink, such as pork and wine, are not considered akin to the pious acts of fasting or abstinence, but rather are part of the regular observance of taboos and are therefore beyond the scope of this entry.
In many regions and during different periods of Muslim culture, ascetic and mystical movements have introduced elements of abstinence, some from sexual intercourse, others from various luxuries such as perfumes during certain periods. For the especially pious and for those who make special vows, milk and meat are avoided, and there are even vows of abstinence from sleep.
In modern Muslim communities, both in countries with Muslim majorities and also in the new Muslim diaspora in Western countries, the fast of Ramadan is one of the most carefully observed aspects of Islamic custom. Even among secularized Muslims, who do not say their prayers five times each day or who only very seldom join the Friday prayers, there is an attempt to keep the fast for part of the month of Ramadan, as a way of keeping in touch with their spiritual and cultural roots. As with those who are more devout, the festive moment in which the fast is broken is a central element. In 1963 Ahmad Hasan al-Zayyat, the editor of the journal of the Al-Azhar mosque and university in Cairo, commented bitterly on the way of fasting: "We do not have any more thirty days of fasting, but thirty days of breaking the fast" (Goitein, p. 108). This comment may reflect the general practice of fasting and abstinence found in Islamic culture, where a middle path has been found: between strict religious and cultural interpretation, between individual piety and communal belief. The middle path of Islamic fasting and abstinence lies between ascetism and pure materialism.
See also Christianity; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; Islam; Judaism; Middle East; Ramadan.
Buitelaar, Marjo. "Fasting and Feasting in Morocco. An Ethnographic Study of the Month of Ramadan." Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen University, 1991.
Glassé, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam. London: Stacey International, 1989.
Goitein, S. D. Studies in Islamic History and Institutions. Leiden: Brill, 1968.
Parshall, Phil. Inside the Community. Understanding Muslims through Their Traditions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994, pp. 19601.
Qardawi, Yusuf. The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. Indianapolis, Ind.: American Trust Publications, 1990.
Wagtendonk, Kees. Fasting in the Qur'an. Leiden: Brill, 1969.