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The Religion of Islam

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Summary

In the present day, Islam has become a controversial and sensitive subject of discussion. Islam developed from both Judaic and Christian traditions. It is a monotheistic religion second to Christianity in terms of the number of followers. Islam schism led to the formation of two major factions of Islam. These are Sunni and Shia, and they are bonded by the same Quran and five principles of Islam. The key differences lie in the aspects of doctrine theology, law, ritual and religious structure. Recent conflicts in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria are linked to sectarian rifts. The brutal activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) in Iraq have reignited the Sunni-Shia conflict. One of the contemporary controversies exemplifying the sensitive nature of Islam includes comic media and comedy. For example, the “Danish Cartoons” probed the legal and ethical boundaries of comedy in respect to religion. This resulted to global uproar and a series of protest by Muslims across the globe. Tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims, subject to the extremists’ activities, are propelled by radical jihadist movements such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. The reignited conflict between Sunni and Shia also depicts the sensitive nature of Islam in the modern world. The ISIS embraces the violent jihadist ideology. In their point of view, the state and religion are inseparable. Such trend makes Christians and other ethnic minorities vulnerable to violence and oppression.

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Introduction

In the present world, Islam has become a very controversial and sensitive subject. This is worsened by the misconceptions about its beliefs and values. Islam is practiced in many countries among different races, communities and ethnic groups. A comprehensive demographic study by the Pew Research Center in over 200 countries reported 1.57 billion Muslims across the globe (Pew Research Center, 2009). Factually, 20% of the global Muslim population lives in the countries where Islam is not the main religion. China is home to more Muslims than Syria. This paper examines the teaching of Islam in various countries as well as the controversies surrounding this religion's interpretation. It explores the teachings and the interpretations of Islam within different areas including the United States, Pakistan, India, Great Britain and the Middle East. In addition, the paper explores how Islam differs from Judaism and Christianity. Finally, it outlines these conceptions' impact on the way Muslims and non-Muslims communicate or interact with each other.

Fundamental Aspects of Islam

Muslims believe that God (Allah) sent his revelation (Quran) through the Prophet (Muhammad). The Quran contains Surahs (verses) that direct Muslims to worship one God (Leaman, 2013). It also contains lessons on how Muslims should treat others. Islam is characterized by five pillars or principles practiced by observant Muslims. These are: belief in one God (Allah), fasting, charity, daily prayer and pilgrimage to Mecca. There are different communities within Islam. Central to these communities are the Sunni and Shia. These communities' appearance is a result of doctrinal and political differences. The division between Shia and Sunni is rooted in classical Islam. The Sunni compose of around 90% of all Muslims (Blanchard, 2005; Pew Research Center, 2009). The schism in Islam stemmed from argument over the successor of Prophet Muhammad as caliph (Blanchard, 2005). Sunni contend that leaders should be elected. On the other hand, Shia assert that their leaders should be from the lineage of the Prophet. This implies they do not consider the same authority as prescribed in Islam. Shia constitute roughly 10 % of all Muslims (Pew Research Center, 2009).

The Teachings and Interpretations of Islam in Various Countries

In spite of the fact that it is convenient to discuss the Islamic World in terms of generalization of Muslims, every community and geographical area was subject to Islamic influence but developed its own traditions and rituals. Muslims in the United States or Pakistan have different cultural and historical milieu from the fellows in Middle East. Arguably, the United States media portray Islam negatively. Despite this, Islam continues gaining converts from all walks. One of the motivations behind the conversion to Islam among the African Americans is the dissimilarity between their racist and inhuman enslavement under Anglo-Americans within the United States and the relative nonexistence of slavery and racism in Islam. Besides the 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, American interest in Islam as well as the tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims was further aggravated by the appalling events of September 11, 2001 (Esposito, 2004). Most Muslims in the United States are of African American origin or are immigrants from Islamic countries. Approximately 2.5 million Muslims live in the United States nowadays (Pew Research Center, 2009). Majority of American Muslims are aligning themselves with traditions and doctrines of the Sunni. This trend is also similar in Great Britain. In both America and Great Britain, most Muslims are liberal and promote the concept of secular state or separating the state and religion without neglecting the right to choose religion. British or American societal and economic life is at odds with the pillars of Islam. For example, the institutions such as military, schools, and prisons have not adapted strict Muslim practices. The immodesty in clothing as well as the alcohol and sexual orientation permit in America and Great Britain is perceived as negative influences on the Islam faith, especially among the young Muslims. However, the shariah law continues revering it as the ideal way of life. In Europe, particularly in Great Britain, Muslims have a vital role in religious discussions regarding issues in the country. Unlike the Arab world, where shariah law is strict, religion is not shareable or separable from the state. The integration of Islam with the expansive multi-religious community has made conversion to Islam a regular practice.

Two-thirds of the global Muslim population reside in 10 countries. Six of these countries are Asian (Turkey, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Iran). The others are: Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria. Pakistan and India are also subject to this study in the sense that respectively 96.3% and 13.4% of their population are Muslims (Pew Research Center, 2009). This is about 11.1% and 10.3% of the global Muslim population. However, the Indian and Pakistani cultures have strong influence on them. Like in the rest of the world, India and Pakistan are characterized by tension between the Shia and Sunni. Each sect has established there schools in different locations. Majority of the Indian and Pakistani clerics assert that the radical elucidation of the Quran by Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) violates the traditional Islamic teachings. The clerics contend against Islam's condonation of the innocent civilians killing and destruction of their properties.

For Islamic states that follow strict religious laws (Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan), the concept of secular or territorial state is relatively unconventional (Friedland, 2014; Wictorowicz, 2005). Muslims in such countries such as Iran, Iraq and Syria believe in the ideal of ummah (Esposito, 2004). According to Esposito (2004), the ummah ideal corresponds to the idea of universal Islamic community ruled by the Caliph (Islamic government). This idea is based on shariah. To Shia in the countries mentioned above, modernization and a secular state is perceived as an attack on the Islam practices. Radical fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda and the ISIS in Iraq and Syria constitute a global jihad movement. Fundamentally, Islam must be purified by following the Quran and Sunna. In spite of the fact that Muslims, precisely Salafis, have a harmony at this aspect of Islam, there is a distinction in jihad. The radicals believe that violence is justified in establishing Islamic states and fighting non-Muslims including Western democracies and their allies. Conversely, conservatives and non-violent Muslims, mostly in Europe and the US, reject the violence.

To recap, Muslims in Europe and the Western democracies agree that modern governments should operate independently from religion. That is to say, they agree with the idea that government should be secular as it protects the right to choose another religion. The concept of separating religion from government contradicts the traditional tenet that Islam religion and government are inseparable. This tenet is affirmed in the Arabic world and Arabic countries such as Somalia, Egypt and Turkey. The idea of separating the state and religion produces tension among Christians and Muslims, as well as, between the West and the ummah ideal. Turkey exemplifies the tension between proponents of a secular state and the advocates of an Islamic state. In Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser surfaced as a liberal leader who called for a reformed version of Islam and permitted secularization of the Egypt. Despite having gained popularity in Egypt, he was criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist group.

Contrast between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity

Akin to Protestants and Catholics, Shia and Sunni have different customs, shrines, and religious holidays. Christians number years in relation to the year Jesus was born, whereas Muslims count years from the year Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina (Peters, 2010). Judaism recognizes Abraham as the first Jew. Judaism and Christianity venerate Abraham as the first prophet. This fact explains why the three faiths are also referred to as Abrahamic religions (Peters, 2010). Islam and Judaism are strict monotheistic religions. In contrast, Christianity is a Trinitarian monotheistic religion. Islam suggests prophets and imams as revered humans. Judaism honors prophets, whereas Christianity reveres saints, fathers and priests. Christianity and Islam affirm that messiah will come again. In terms of followers' number, Islam is second to Christianity. As noted by Peters (2010), Islam perceives Christianity and Judaism as earlier versions of Islam. In other words, Muslims recognize Judaism and Christianity as revelations that were given by God, but misunderstood by the Jewish and Christians. To Muslims, Islam is the final and truthful revelation out of three main religions (Lammens, 2013). Notably, Islam venerates some of the Christian and Jewish prophets including Moses and Jesus. However Jesus is not considered as the son of God in Islam. One of the notable misconceptions among non-Muslims is that prophet Muhammad is the equivalent of Jesus. Unlike Jesus, who is divine in Christianity, Islam presents Muhammad as a prophet chosen by Allah to deliver his message. Prophet Muhammad also serves an example of piety to be emulated. Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion; it emerged in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Impact of Controversies Surrounding Islam on the Way both Muslims and Non-Muslims Interact or Communicate
The Quran protects Christians and Jews. In fact, as it stands in the Quran, the spiritual connection of Christians and Jews is reinforced by the virtue that they share revelation from God. The legal Islamic tradition upholds Christians and Jews by ensuring their right to maintain their practices and beliefs within their communities. Generally, traditional Islam upholds the policy of tolerance (Lammens, 2013; Peters, 2010). In spite of the fact that Christianity is anchored by Judaic texts, the Jewish laws are not followed by Christians. Christianity has a complicated relationship to Islam in the sense that Muhammad is not accepted as a prophet by Christians. The right to choose and express one's religious affiliation can be viewed as preconditions for a successful multiculturalism and as a potential igniter in multicultural societies as illustrated by the controversial ‘Danish Cartoons.’ The portrayal of prophet Muhammad in a mocking cartoon as published in the Danish Newspapers raised a local and global uproar. The satirical cartoon depicted prophet Muhammad wearing a turban with a bomb-shaped and a lighted fuse. Codina & Rodríguez-Virgili (2007) contended that the art was meant not to awake non-violent Muslims in Europe, but to voice economic and social implications of some Islamist doctrines. Unpredictably, the cartoon outraged many Muslims across the globe. Consequently, transnational demonstrations and riots have occurred. The situation was aggravated when danish prime minister, Anders Rasmussen, absconded from the crisis meeting that involved ambassadors representing the annoyed Islamic states. The danish embassies in Beirut and Damascus were torched. In the worst case scenario, 130 linked to the incidence deaths were documented (Kunelius, Eide, Hahn, & Schroeder, 2007). From one perspective, misconceptions and insensitivity to Islam sparks rift between Muslims and non-Muslims. The freedom of expression serves as the key ingredient of a just society and has to be defended against violation emerging from self-censorship in response to the fear of retaliation from excessively sensitive religion like Islam (Farrar, Robinson, Valli, & Wetherly, 2012.). According to Farrar, Robinson, Valli, and Wetherly (2012), the overly sensitive nature of Islam induces self-censorship among non-Muslims to avoid persecution or confrontation. In other words, in countries where Islam is strict, non-Muslims tend to control what they say or do to avoid offending or annoying Muslims. This control is induced subconsciously because most people are not told formally that such a measure in necessary.

The misconception and tension between Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as the tension between Muslim sects has been augmented by the development of jihadist movements, which are characterized by the misinterpretation of the critical constraints used to refrain from violence and war in classical Islam. Most Islamic scholars have defined apostates as people who leave the Islam by declaring to be non-Muslims or publicly rejecting fundamental pillars of Islam (Lammens, 2013; Wictorowicz, 2005). On the contrary, extremists argue that any leader or individual, who does not follow or implement sharia law as per their interpretation, is an apostate. While most Islamic leaders and scholars reject violent revolution in order to oust leaders so long as they do not interfere with Islam, extremists believe that they have a divine duty to initiate jihad against rulers and civilians who oppose the radical interpretation of the Islamic law. This was exemplified in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and by the Arab uprising in Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia (Friedland, 2014). In spite of the fact that there is a general recognition in the Islamic history that civilians should not be at any point war targets, jihadist in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and other countries have coined the term 'civilian' to cover every person from the Western democracies subject to organized violence and war. Additionally, even the ethnic minorities, non-violent Salafist, and Shiite Muslims within the areas occupied by jihadists have become victims (Blanchard, 2005; Friedland, 2014). They have reinforced this thought by the doctrine of proportional retribution calling Muslims to kill their opponents. Despite the fact that jihadists encourage suicide bombing, they have expanded their confrontation to attack ordinary civilians in Islamic world and Western democracies rather than just political and military targets. These trends suggest that the radicals will attack not only non-Muslims but also fellow Muslims. This has already been documented with the reference to the Shiite community in Iraq, Syria Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The ISIS and other radicals have time so they again declared killing Shia. More violence is projected in the Sunnite communities targeting government personnel and state officials.

One dimension of the anti-Islamic trends is linked to the thin line between terrorism and extremist Muslims. Most of the documented incidents of slavery in the Muslim world were strategies of managing prisoners of war because they were later ransomed back by their fellows. Contrarily, there has been incidents where prisoners and other victims of war are persecuted if the natives fails to meet the demand of the kidnappers (Friedland, 2014). In the most recent news headlines, ISIS has been reported to be kidnapping, killing, and threatening ethnic and religious minorities. The armed Sunnite extremists have forced Christians within their jurisdictions to pay unwarranted taxes and to convert to Islam. Unfortunately, in the course of these events, some of them have been killed. ISIS also tortures some of its detainees. Such practice strongly contradicts the teachings of Islam. ISIS is not only terrorist group, but also a political organization that clings on extremist interpretation of Islamic teachings in its political ideology (Friedland, 2014). ISIS seeks to impose its perspective through military action on both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Following ISIS expulsion from Al-Qaeda, the organization struggles for being the legitimate overseer of all Sunnite Muslims. As noted by Friedland (2014), ISIS advances a number of unfounded theological perspectives to support its quest. Its followers suggest that they are practicing true Islam and pronounce their opponents takfir or call them heretics (Wictorowicz, 2005). This label is used to justify the kidnappings, tortures, and murders of those who oppose their plan. Friedland (2014) noted that their decision and policies were based on a strict interpretation of Islamic laws. These laws are enforced brutally in jurisdictions controlled by ISIS. For Christians and Jews, the tension between the ummah and these faiths is more critical than between governments and ummah. To Christians, the Christianity is a universal community that gives its allegiance to Jesus regardless of race, culture and nationality. Unlike Islamic ummah ideal, Christians do not enforce their beliefs and traditions as a divine political order.

Conclusion

Islam, Christianity and Judaism are three major Abrahamic religions. In terms of popularity or the number of followers, Christianity takes precedence followed by Islam and Judaism. The contradictions and misconceptions surrounding Islam, Judaism and Christianity are analogous to a tree with many branches, where the branches correspond to the point of deviation from the root traditions. Finally, the radical interpretation of Islam and Islamic laws, complemented by brutal enforcement of radical ideologies, will increase tension between Muslims and non-Muslims. Further, tension and violence might increase among the Sunni and Shia. In reference to the jihadi doctrine about proportional retribution and plans to acquire weapons of mass destruction, organized attacks and war may become deadlier like never before. Ultimately, increased violence may erode the existing support for Islam extremists. Despite the problematic relationship among Christians, Muslims and Jews, it is harmless to conclude and with few exceptions, people of all religions, races and ethnicities can interact for mutual esteem and peace through decent conduct and enlightened behavior.

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