MOST RELIGIONS, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Judaism have a geographic point or place of origin and remain largely focused upon that nexus. Some, such as Christianity and Islam, have engaged in specific efforts to proselytize and spread their faith, often as an integral part of trade. Among the significant geographic impacts of Islam are its often highly parochial nature and obsessive control and defensefrom foreigners and nonbelievers of its holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Islam spread its political, economic, and cultural dominance over North Africa and Spain, and eventually much of East Africa.
This geographic impact shifted trade routes, and thus culture and political and economic importance, away from the once dominant cities of the eastern Mediterranean (such as Ephesus, Antalya, Sidon and Tyre) to the coasts of Arabia, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), and Central Asia for control of the silk and spice trade. This meant an almost immediate decline in once prosperous cities and a growing demand by Europeans to regain some kind of control or participation in the lucrative trade. One result was the Crusades, in the end more an economic event than a religious one.
Islam’s behavioral requirements and origins in the deserts and barren mountains (Al Hijaz) of Arabia make it ideally suited to tribal societies, individuals, and environments where people are dependent upon themselves, the vagaries of nature, and a supernatural being. With its prohibition of usury (interest on loans) and the highly limited agricultural opportunities (including nomadism) in the lands of its origin, the followers of Islam were virtually forced to emphasize trade and the control of richer agricultural lands.
Thus, the geographic dispersal of Islam, from its origins and core in the Mecca and Medina area, clearly followed Arab trade routes, not those of the Greeks and Romans. It was only after Islam had control of the silk and spice trade that it began to spread into the Mediterranean, and then only where there was profitable trade. Islam’s key cities and cultural centers remained focused upon the axis from Samarqand to Baghdad. One might say you could follow the camel and dhow to define the geographic spread and influence of Islam.
A WAY OF LIFE
Islam derives its name from the Arabic words Salm or Silm. In both cases, it stands for submission, surrender, and peace. The two words derived from three Arabic radicals s-l-m, which connotes peace among other meanings. When the letters are pronounced as salima, it means “to submit” or “to obey” and may also mean “to propose peace,” as in the Muslim greetings: Assalam ‘alaykum, or “May Allah’s peace abide with you.”
Succinctly put, Islam is a way of life based on peace and submission. It is based on a peaceful relationship between human beings and their creator, Allah, on the one hand; and a peaceful relationship between fellow human beings and other creatures, on the other hand. Islam therefore claims to have precepts that give sufficient guidelines to its votaries on all aspects of lives, spiritual and ephemeral.
It is also seen as a universal way of life that has evolved since the time of Prophet Adam, and all prophets mentioned in the “revealed scriptures” are regarded as Muslims: Prophets Adam, Ibrahim (Abraham), Nuh (Noah), Musa (Moses), and even cIsa (Jesus Christ) are referred to in various passages of the Qur’an as Muslims. The Prophet Yacqub (Jacob) is reported to have inducted his children into Islam and ensured, even on his deathbed, that they were counseled to remain steadfast as Muslims.
The sources of guidance (and information) in Islam are primarily the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Other sources of secondary importance derive their authorities from the two primary sources. Ijma, for example, as a secondary source, is based on the unanimity of all the learned Muslims in a particular age who have attained the level of Ijthad. Ijthad is the capacity for individual juridical interpretation upon a certain issue after the death of Muhammad, the prophet. The authority for Ijma is based on a prophetic statement that “my Ummah [community, society] will not agree on an error,” pointing to the fact that jurists among the Muslims will not be misguided while making decisions on issues of mutual importance to the Ummah.
Muslims see the Qu’ran as the first primary source of guidance and information, as the original source from which all ordinances of Islam are drawn. The Qur’an is variously divided for easy reference. It has 114 surahs, each of which is begun with the verse “In The Name Of Allah…” except one, the 9th surah. It is also divided into 30 parts in which, each of them is referred to as a juz’, or 60 parts, each of which is called a hizb.
The Qur’an is seen as the compendium of all divine revelations issued to prophets before Muhammad, including 10 of such scriptures sent to Adam, 50 to Prophet Shith, while Prophet Idris received 30. Zabur, Tawrah, Injil, and Qur’an were revealed to Prophets Daud, Musa, cIsa, and Muhammad. The Qur’an, from the perspective of Islam is the last divine revelation in form of a scripture, which was revealed at a time when human intellectual development attained the level of proper comprehension of the divine message. It thus contains guidance that will be useful for the human race till the end of time.
Islam sees every aspect of life as being noticed by Allah, be it mundane or spiritual, and for each of these aspects, commensurate recompense will be given for every action carried out. In order to prepare its adherents for a purposeful interpersonal relationship, it seeks to train them for this through the fundamental rituals and spiritual activities, which include As-Salat (canonical/contact prayer); Az-Zakat (compulsory alms); Sawm (compulsory fast during the holy month of Ramadan); and hajj (holy pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina).
POLITICS AND ECONOMICS OF ISLAM
The Islamic provisions on most of the concepts of life adopt the medium position in all cases. This is why the Qur’an refers to a nation built on Islamic principles as a justly balanced nation. The political concept of Islam is such that it can operate under various systems if they are inherent with the Islamic polity. This includes the principle of Tawhid, in which sovereignty is for Allah and not the state; the principle of Khilafah, which states clearly that those in authority are only ruling in trust as vicegerents of Allah the Supreme; and the principle of Shurrah, which depicts that in all affairs of the state, the citizenry must be consulted and that the government should be constituted by the majority of the people.
The principle of Akhirah promotes accountability, a situation whereby those in authority are made to be conscious of the fact that accountability is twofold. With these principles in place in a federal, unitary, monarchical type of government, such government will be viewed as Islamically compliant.
The economic system in Islam is built on zero interest. Islam thus encourages charity and trade. In fact it incorporates the five pillars of the religion (Zakaat) in its economic system. It allows making profits through trade but frowns at multiplying wealth through usury or any form of exploitive tendencies. Instead of encouraging the rich to be idle and multiply their wealth through multiple interest accruing from loans given to the less fortunate, it encourages them to join them as partners in business, sharing both profits and losses. The Islamic work ethic stipulates that an adherent should strive to earn his means of livelihood or any form of labor embarked upon and it is viewed as honorable even if a man performs menial tasks. Islam frowns at any form of begging, yet it does not close its doors to charity. Whenever the need arises, it urges its votaries to aid those who genuinely need assistance.
The socio-moral teaching in Islam is based on the abilities of the votaries to avoid shameful acts, openly or secretly, and to endeavor to abide by the standard of ethical norms given by the faith. Islam further presses its insistence that adherents should live by the fundamental principles. For examples, the Holy Prophet Muhammad was reported to have said in regard to As-Salat (contact prayer) and As-Sawm (compulsory fast) that whoever these would not inhibit from lewdness and indecent acts had no reason to embark on any of the principles at all.
ABUSE OF ISLAM
Moreover, on the social level, Islam encourages its votaries to relate to others in the best of manners, irrespective of their creed or color. The Prophet was reported to have vowed that he would stand against an oppressive Muslim and in defense of a dhimmi (a non- Muslim under the protection of an Islamic state) on the day of judgment. He also counseled that honoring one’s neighbor or guest, irrespective of his or her religious affiliation constitutes an act of faith in Allah and the last day. If all these are part of the basis of Islamic social teachings, then it cannot support aggression or terrorism. Some Muslims, such as Osama bin Ladin and his terrorist organization, have abused Islamic teachings for their own purposes.
In history, Muslims were known to have ruled large parts of the world and their political impact ceased with the abolition of the caliphate in Turkey in 1927, during the reign of Kemal Atatürk. In the contemporary world, a few countries are still referred to as Islamic states using different versions of the interpretation of Islamic principles of government to administer their respective states. IRAN, LIBYA, and SAUDI ARABIA are good examples of these states.