Islam

(Arabic = “obedience”: one who is “obedient” is a Muslim). The youngest of the world's great religions, founded in Arabia by Muhammad (c.570-632). It contains material drawn from both Judaism and Christianity, but regards Muhammad as the final revealer of the unity and the will of God (Allah). The basic confession of Islam (“There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”) is simple, but the implication is total obedience, as the name Islam indicates.

Muhammad was active in two Arabian cities: Medina and Mecca, the latter of which is the holy city of Islam. It was there he received the revelation of the Qur'an (Koran), and it is to Mecca that every Muslim is expected to make a pilgrimage at least once in his life. Within a century of Muhammad's death the influence of Islam had been extended from Spain in the west to India in the east, and this process of expansion continued for several centuries. Today expansion by conquest has ceased, but Muslim missionary activity is intensive in Africa south of the Sahara, and increasingly in the West. Centers of Muslim influence are still in North Africa and the E Mediterranean, Asia Minor, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The doctrinal history of Islam is complex. The main historical division is between Sunnite (from sunna, “accepted practice”) and Shi'ite (from shi'a, “party”) groups, which disagreed over the leadership question. Sufism is the main Islamic form of mysticism. But theological distinctions are slight: accepted by all are such points of doctrine as monotheism, the prophetic office of Muhammad, and the infallibility of the Qur'an. Worship is closely regulated. Five times a day the faithful should pray-if possible in a mosque, but if not, on a prayer-mat-and always in the direction of Mecca. On Fridays special services are held, and during the month of Ramadan fasting takes place between sunrise and sunset. Islam forbids the making of images, and the ornamentation of the mosque is restricted to patterns and elaborately carved texts from the Qur'an.

Since Islam is post-Christian, maintains its own finality as a divine revelation, and holds Jesus to have been a forerunner of Muhammad, relations between Christianity and Islam have always been strained, and Islam has always been passionately resistant to the Christian message. So far there has been practically no accommodation on either side: proclamation has been met with counter-proclamation, and in Muslim countries (theocracies) the Christian Church has as a rule a minority position and little direct influence.

Encyclopaedia of Islam (1913-38; new ed. in progress); T. Andrae, Die Person Muhammeds in Lehre und Glauben seiner Gemeinde (1917); W.M. Watt, Muhammad at Mecca (1952), and Muhammad at Medina (1955); J.W. Sweetman, Islam and Christian Theology (1945-55); K. Cragg, The Call of the Minaret (1956) and Sandals at the Mosque (1959); W.C. Smith, Islam in Modern History (1957).