The word Islam is derived from the Arabic word ‘salam’, which interpreted, means ‘peace’ or ‘submission’. A follower of Islam is a Muslim, an Arabic word referring to one who submits to the will of God. The origins of the Islamic doctrine date back to the 7th century (610 AD) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when Muhammad (570-632 AD) claimed to have had a visitation by angel Gabriel. Muhammad dictated the Quran, the holy book of Islam, which Muslims believe to be the perfect words of Allah “the One True God”. Islam spread within a century of Muhammad’s recitation of the Qur’an in the 7th century. Caliphate, which is the leadership of the Muslim world, sprung up after Muhammad died in June 632 AD with several successive Caliphs assuming leadership of the Islamic states. These caliphs included; Abu Bakr, Usman, Ali and Umar and they are referred to as the “Rightly Guided Caliphs” or Al- Rashidun. The Al Rashidun ruled from 632 to a slightly after 660 AD (Eliade, Adams, 1987, p.9).
Although Mohammad is credited with introducing the Quran, the devout Muslim believes that the quran was given to Mohammad by Allah through the angel Gabriel and hence the holy book did not originate with Mohammad (Sura 26:192-195). Mohammed was sent into the desert to be raised by a foster family as was the norm at the time. His uncle took him on a caravan to Syria at the age of nine since Mohammed worked as a shepherd. In his youth he worked as a camel driver on then Syria -Arabia trade routes and later managed caravans for merchants. In his travels, he met people of varying religious beliefs and learned a great deal from them.
Mohammed spent more time meditating after marriage. He received angelic revelation from Gabriel in 610 AD. Being convinced that he had been ordained a prophet, he set out to convert his country men from the beliefs he viewed as ungodly. Mohammed’s teachings were met with opposition and hence in 622 AD he moved to Medina, on a trek known as the hegira. In Medina, the prophet was disappointed by the rejection he got from Jews. He became the most powerful leader in Arabia through a combination of persuasion, military activity, religious discussion and political negotiation. Islam became firmly rooted in Arabia (Robinson, 1991, p.21).
MYTHS RELATED TO ISLAM
Muhammad never sinned: the Quran contradicts this belief because it shows that Mohammad was a sinner since be was personally commanded to repent of sins. (Sura 40:55; 18:110; 48:1-2). Muhammad had more than four wives and hence he sinned against the Quran. Muhammad also pilfered other’s property for personal gain without divine direction (Nasr, 2003, p.14).
Muslims believe that Abraham built the first kabah with the assistance of his son Ishmael. Historical and archaeological evidence suggest that the kabah did not exist before 300 AD. The kabah consists of cuboid stone blocks located at the centre of the most sacred place on earth for Muslims- the Holy Mosque at Makkah. They claim that complete copies of the Quran dating from 750 AD exist. Scientific evidence proves otherwise. An ancient copy of the Quran written in Mail style was dated to 790 AD by the scholar Martin Lings who was a practicing Muslim. This is the earliest
Manuscript discovered so far. (Gregorian, 2004, p.16)
Muslims claim to be tolerant to other religious groupings. This is not true as regards the Quran’s rendering in sura 9:29 which openly calls upon Muslims to wage a war against all those who are not Muslims.
SACRED TEXTS IN ISLAM
QURAN; The primary Muslim text, it is regarded as the error-free words of god, Allah, in the original language- Arabic. Believed to have been dictated to Mohammad by angel Gabriel over a 23-year time span. Originally in both written and oral format, the text was later assembled into a single volume (Allan, 2005, p.68).
Additional revealed books include;
Suhuf-i- Ibrahim -scrolls of Ibrahim/Abraham
Tawrat/Tawrah/Taurat- The Pentateuch or the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It is believed to have been changed by ancient Hebrews.
Zabur- Psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures
Injil/Injeel –the gospels or the words of Jesus. A group of Muslims believe that it contains the entire New Testament (Christian scriptures); while others are of the view that only the four canonical gospels are included. Some Muslims also argue that the Injil is not a book, but rather a group of lost teachings written by the apostles or people associated with the apostles (Allan, 2005, p.72).
Hadith (Sunnah): Collections of Mohammed’s and later Islamic sages’ sayings which the Quran legitimizes and views as law. They are not regarded as being of the same status as the Quran. Yahya bin Sharaf Ul Deen Nanawi, the great Islamic scholar, compiled a collection of 43 of such sayings known as Al Nanawi’s Forty Hadiths. About 2500 Hadiths exist today.
SYMBOLISM IN ISLAMIC TEXTS AND PRACTICES
Islamic seven; the number seven is regarded as a perfect one implying completeness and goodness. The prophet Mohammad ascended into the seven heavens in 632 CE and accessed divine contact while in Jerusalem. Also during circumambulation in Mecca, Muslims walk seven times round the kaba.
Green color; It is alleged that green was Mohammad’s favorite color and that he wore a green cloak and turban. Sura 18:31 sys that inhabitants of paradise will wear green garments of fine silk (Kataregga, Shenk, 1996, p.45).
The word ‘Allah’ represents Islam
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM
I. Muslims reject the idea and see no reason for Jesus dying on a cross. (Sura 53:38) They claim that God took him to Himself and spared Christ of such a death. Christians’ only hope of being reconciled with a Holy God is by the shedding of Christ’s precious blood. (Hebrews 9:22)
II. Islam preaches that Jesus was only a prophet of similar rank as Moses, Adam and Noah. Mohammad is the supreme prophet who supersedes all other earlier prophets. (Sura 5:114; 4:171) Christians, on the other hand, believe that Jesus is the Son of God
III. The truth originates from the Quran according to Islam. The original New Testament, Injil, is the true revelation handed to Jesus from Allah (Eliade, Adams, 1987, p.17). Christians are of the view that the Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments, is the unchangeable word of God. The Bible is the only source of instruction and truth according to Christianity. (2 Peter 1:21)
IV. Muslims don’t believe it was justifiable for Jesus to die for humanity’s sins. They hold that every one has the responsibility over his errors. Christians believe that it was imperative that Jesus atone for mankind’s sins because man was hopelessly lost. (Ephesians 2:18)
V. The Quran states that the universe resulted from a ‘big bang’ occasioned by some gas. (Sura 41:11) The Bible teaches that God created the universe through a word of mouth (Genesis 1:20-21, 24).
VI. Islam allows one to marry up to four wives and condones sexual intercourse with ones slaves (Sura 4:3). In Christianity, it is morally wrong and very sinful to marry more than one wife and to engage in adultery and fornication (Deuteronomy 22:22-24)
VII. Islam advocates for mandatory prayers for all believers at specific times in definite wording while assuming specific postures (Sura 2:150). Christianity promotes for the saying of prayers at any time and with no definite wording.
VIII. Muslims worship a monotheistic God, Allah since they have oneness of their god. Christians believe in the trinity, that is, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (Nasr, 23, p.51).
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY
Both religions advocate for moral living and doing good to others.
Both Islam and Christianity teach of a pleasant afterlife for believers. For Christians, rewards will be eternal bliss in heaven while Muslims faithfuls will enjoy life in paradise (sura 9:111).
Nonbelievers will face eternal torment in hell for both Christians and Muslims (sura 14:17)
Both religions claim that their holy books, the Bible (Isaiah 34:16; 55:10-11) for Christianity, and the Quran (sura 4:82) for Islam are without error.
According to the Islamic Holy Book, the book itself is eternal and will not perish (Sura 15:19). Christianity also has similar teachings (Psalms: 119:89).
Islam (Sura 5:90-91) as well as Christianity prohibits drunkenness and gambling.
Both Islam and Christianity emphasize the submission to God.
Both religions have prophets including Moses Isaiah and Noah.
THE IMPACT OF ISLAM ON THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
Owing to the universal belief that Islam is basically violence –tolerant religion, the presence of large numbers of Muslims in mostly non Muslim countries is seen as a security threat. This is more so after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Introduction of repressive anti-immigrant laws among other deterrent techniques is one option for security forces (Gregorian, 2004, p.34).
Islam has also led to the resistance by African Americans to racial prejudice in the US. Organized resistance against racial discrimination has been possible due to the efforts of the Muslim population who comprised 80% of the black salves. Islam has offered citizens in Muslim states a sense of identity. A perfect example is Malaysia whereby almost every conversation centers on Islamic beliefs and practices. This has been occasioned by the extreme pressure exerted on the inhabitants to identify with and practice Islam (Robinson, 1991, p.29).
Allan G., (2005). Islam, Islamic Studies and Religion. New York: University of Georgia, pp.68
Eliade Mircea & Adams Charles (1987) The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Macmillan, 9, 51
Gregorian Vartan (2004) Islamic: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith. London: Routledge, pp.16, 34
Kataregga, B. & Shenk, D. (1996) Islam and Christianity. New York: Uzima Publishing House, pp.45
Nasr Seyyed (2003). Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization. London: Routledge, pp.14, 51
Robinson Neal (1991) Christ in Islam and Christianity. London: Routledge, pp.21, 29