Sunday, September 02, 2007

Islam: material for multiple-choice, open notes, reading comprehension test on Thursday; 15 questions

Friday prayer
Originally uploaded by mohlat
An American reporter discovered, a year ago, that top US officials did not know the differences between Sunnis and Shi'a Muslims. Such basic knowledge is essential to understanding the dynamics and politics of SW Asia. We will begin our basic understanding of this pervasive religion with an article from World Book.

Sample reading comprehension questions for this material will be posted Tuesday in getting you ready for a quiz on Thursday.

Islam /
The symbol of Islam is a crescent and a star

Islam, «ihs LAHM or ihz LAHM», is the name given to the religion preached by the Prophet Muhammad in the A.D. 600's. Islam is an Arabic word that means surrender or submission. God is called Allah (in Arabic, pronounced ah LAH), which means The God. A person who submits to Allah and follows the teachings of Islam is called a Muslim.

Muhammad was born about A.D. 570 in the Arabian city of Mecca. Muslims believe that in about 610, he began to receive revelations from Allah that were transmitted by the angel Gabriel. These revelations took place in the cities of Mecca and Medina over about a 22-year period.

They were assembled in a book called the Qur'an «ku RAHN or ku RAN», sometimes spelled Koran. The Qur'an is the holy book of the Muslims, who believe it contains God's actual words. The Qur'an and the Sunnah «SOON uh», the example of the words and practices of Muhammad, make up the foundation of Islamic law.

Islam is the world's second largest religion behind Christianity. Over 1.3 billion people follow Islam. Today, Muslims live in every country in the world.

Although Islam began in Arabia, more than half of the world's Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. About one-fourth of all Muslims live in the Middle East. They make up the majority of the population in the European country of Albania and nearly half the population in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Muslims rank as the second largest religious group in Belgium, France, and Germany. Several million Muslims live in the United States.

The central concept of Islam is tawhid «taw HEED», the oneness of God. For Muslims, there is one God who is the lord of the universe. People owe worship and obedience to God before any other thing. God is one, the creator, the all-knowing. In relations with humanity, God is the lawgiver, judge, and restorer of life after death.

Prophets. According to the Qur'an, God has provided guidance for human beings in the teachings of prophets, who have appeared in many nations throughout history.

In Islam, prophets do not foretell the future. Instead, God selects the prophets to urge people to worship God alone and to teach them to live according to God's commandments. The Qur'an mentions 25 prophets by name. According to tradition, God chose thousands of prophets beginning with Adam, the first prophet in Islam, and ending with Muhammad, the final prophet. The Qur'an teaches that the Prophet Abraham was the first monotheist (believer in one God).

The most important type of prophet in Islam is the rasul «rah SOOL», which means messenger. A rasul is a person to whom God has revealed a book for the guidance of humanity. The messengers of God in Islam include Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad.

Muslims believe that children are born without sin and that all people can lead themselves to salvation once God has shown them the way. Believers in Islam achieve salvation by following the revealed books of God's messengers. Muslims believe in heaven and hell, where people go after death based on their actions during life.

The Sunnah of Muhammad. In Islam, Muhammad is the final messenger of God, sent to confirm the authentic teachings of previous prophets. God also sent him to correct the alterations that followers of previous religions had introduced into God's original teachings. For Muslims, Muhammad's mission includes all humanity and is not limited to a specific region, group, or community. Therefore, his life serves as a model for all men and women. The example of Muhammad's sayings and acts, the Sunnah, is presented in written collections called the Hadith «hah DEETH».

Muslims do not consider Islam to be a new religion. They believe its teachings contain the same message given to all prophets and messengers since the creation of Adam. Because they confirm all of these teachings as a whole, they do not like to be called Muhammadans.

The Five Pillars of Islam. Every action performed in obedience to God is considered an act of worship in Islam. Most devout Muslims take care in their daily lives to respect their parents and elders, to be kind to animals and human beings, and to do their daily tasks to the best of their ability. The formal acts of worship called the Five Pillars of Islam provide the framework for all aspects of a Muslim's life. The pillars consist of (1) shahadah, (2) prayer, (3) almsgiving, (4) fasting, and (5) pilgrimage.

Shahadah is the first pillar and is considered the basis of all other pillars of the faith. Shahadah «shuh HAHD uh» is an Arabic word that means an act of bearing witness. It consists of two statements: "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah," and "I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." The first statement declares that there is only one God and that God alone is worthy of worship. The second statement says that Muhammad is God's messenger. For Muslims, the second statement also includes a declaration of belief in Muhammad's interpretation of Islam, as expressed in the Sunnah.

Prayer. Muslims are required to pray five times a day—just before dawn, at midday, in midafternoon, just after sunset, and at night. Prayer, called salat «suh LAHT», is the most important demonstration of a Muslim's devotion to God. Muslims believe that prayer reinforces belief in Islam because it reduces the likelihood of disobeying God by committing sins. A prayer's timing is determined by the movement of the sun. A crier called a muezzin «moo EHZ ihn» makes the call to prayer. If the prayer is performed in a mosque (masjid in Arabic, meaning house of worship), the muezzin traditionally calls worshipers from a tower called a minaret. Before making their prayers, Muslims must wash their hands, their face, parts of their arms and head, and their feet in a ritual manner.

Part 2, geography class Trudeau:

The physical movements of the salat symbolize the believers' submission to God. When praying, Muslims stand facing the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Raising their hands to their ears, they say in Arabic "God is greatest." They then recite the opening passage of the Qur'an, known as the Fatihah «FAH tee hah», followed by another verse from the Qur'an. After reciting these verses, they again say "God is greatest" and bow from the waist, praising God. After returning to an upright position, they say "God is greatest" a third time and fall to their knees, touching the floor with their foreheads. In this facedown position, they again praise God. After sitting back on their heels and asking God for forgiveness, worshipers kneel with their faces down one more time and then stand, saying "God is greatest" before each new position.

Each cycle of the prayer is called a raka «RAHK uh», which means bowing in Arabic. One cycle includes the first Qur'an recitation, the bow, kneeling face down twice, sitting, and standing up. After the final cycle, worshipers offer a peace greeting. Depending on the time of day, the salat may have two to four cycles. On Fridays, Muslims gather at midday to pray as a group. Before the prayer, a religious leader called an imam «ih MAHM» recites two short sermons. Typically, men pray at the front of the group and women pray in a separate section behind or beside them.

Almsgiving is required as a way of assisting the poor. The Arabic term for almsgiving is zakat, which means purification. Muslims "purify" their wealth by giving a certain percentage of it to the needy and recognizing that all things ultimately belong to God. Zakat is paid once a year, in the form of a tax. Most zakat donations go to mosques, Islamic centers, or welfare organizations. Some Muslims supplement zakat with a voluntary form of giving called sadaqah «SAH dah kah», which means sincere gift in Arabic.

Fasting. Every Muslim must fast in the month of Ramadan «ram uh DAHN or rahm uh DAHN», the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is lunar, so each month follows the phases of the moon and lasts 29 or 30 days. As a result, Ramadan falls at different seasons of the year. Muslims believe that the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Muhammad during Ramadan about A.D. 610.

The Qur'an instructs Muslims to fast from dawn to sunset during Ramadan. While fasting, Muslims do not eat any food, drink any beverages, smoke, or engage in sexual relations during daylight hours. At night, they may eat, drink, and resume other normal activities. Muslims fast to practice spiritual reflection, self-restraint, concern for others, and obedience to God. Alms are normally given to the poor at the end of the fast. Because fasting can be physically demanding, some people are excused. Those excused include the sick, injured, elderly, and pregnant or nursing women. They are supposed to provide food for the poor, or if able, fast at a later time instead. See Ramadan.

Pilgrimage. The Qur'an commands Muslims to make a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to make the journey. The hajj takes place over the first several days of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.

The rites of the hajj commemorate the trials and sacrifices of the Prophet Abraham, his wife Hagar, and their son the Prophet Ishmael. Muslims believe that Abraham and Ishmael built the Kaaba «KAH buh» as the first house of worship to God. The Kaaba is an empty cube-shaped building in the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca.

The first requirement of the hajj is that men wear two pieces of unsewn white cloth, called the ihram, which means garment of consecration. Women must wear a long white gown and headscarf. While wearing these garments, a pilgrim may not kill any animal or insect, remove any hair from his or her body, or engage in any sexual act. The second requirement is that pilgrims walk around the Kaaba seven times in a counterclockwise direction.

Most pilgrims perform three additional rites, though they are not official parts of the hajj. While walking, many pilgrims attempt to kiss or touch the Black Stone, which Abraham and Ishmael placed in one corner of the Kaaba. Pilgrims may also run seven times along a corridor of the Great Mosque to commemorate Hagar's search for water for her infant son, Ishmael. Finally, pilgrims may take water from a well called Zamzam on the grounds of the Great Mosque.

The third part of the hajj involves standing at Arafat, a plain outside Mecca, on the ninth day of the pilgrimage month. During the afternoon prayer, pilgrims listen to an imam deliver a sermon from the heights of Mount Arafat at the edge of the plain. This act commemorates the final pilgrimage of Muhammad, who delivered his farewell sermon from this site.

To finish the pilgrimage, Muslims next spend the night at Muzdalifah, an encampment near a place called Mina, on the way back to Mecca. The next day, they throw stones at the three pillars where, according to tradition, Ishmael drove away Satan's temptations. Many pilgrims also sacrifice an animal, usually a sheep or goat, at Mina. This action commemorates Abraham's vow to sacrifice his son. The hajj pilgrimage is completed after each pilgrim returns to Mecca and walks around the Kaaba seven more times. See Hajj.

Holidays and celebrations. All Muslims celebrate two major holidays, `Id al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast-Breaking) and `Id al-Ad-ha (the Feast of the Sacrifice). `Id al-Fitr is held on the day following Ramadan and marks the end of the monthlong fast. The feast is a joyous occasion in which families gather for a rich meal and children receive sweets. `Id al-Ad-ha is held on the 10th day of Dhul-Hijja, the month of the hajj. On this day, many Muslims sacrifice an animal, such as a goat or sheep. A small portion of the meat is prepared for family and friends, and the rest is given to the poor.

In some countries, Muslims celebrate the birthday of Muhammad on the 12th day of the third Islamic month. Muslims spend the day praying, reading the Qur'an, and reciting poems and stories written in honor of the Prophet. See Id al-Ad-ha; Id al-Fitr.

Muslims celebrate their New Year at the beginning of the first month of the Islamic calendar. On the 10th day of the month, members of the Shi`ah division hold a celebration called Ashura that marks the massacre in 680 of Husayn ibn Ali, a grandson of Muhammad. Muslims from Iran, Afghanistan, and central Asian countries follow an ancient solar calendar along with the Islamic lunar calendar. They often celebrate another New Year called Nawruz «naw ROOZ» on the first day of spring.

Islam's social structure

The Shari`ah. Islam has two sources of authority. The first is the word of God given in the Qur'an. The second is the Sunnah, the body of traditions that preserves the words and conduct of Muhammad. Muslim scholars use these sources to understand the principles of the Shari`ah «shah REE ah», also spelled Shari`a, an Arabic word that means the way that leads to God. It refers to the divinely revealed and inspired Islamic law that plays a central role in the lives of Muslims throughout the world. Scholars recognize four main sources for interpreting the Shari`ah and applying it to daily life. They are (1) the Qur'an, (2) the Sunnah, (3) extending the reasoning of previous laws to new situations, and (4) the views of Muslim scholars and jurists.

In theory, all Islamic law is divine in origin. In practice, however, most sources of Muslim law are found in the Sunnah rather than the Qur'an, particularly in the part of the Hadith that reflects Muhammad's interpretation of the Qur'an's rulings. The practice of deriving present-day laws from the sources of the Shari`ah is called fiqh «fihk». There are several schools of fiqh, each named after the founder of a method of interpretation. Although most Muslims agree about the major points of Islam, differences do exist, based on the opinions of the different schools of fiqh. See Shari`ah.

Ethics and morals. Actions in Islamic law are judged on five values: (1) obligatory (required), (2) recommended, (3) neutral, (4) disapproved, and (5) forbidden. Most religious duties, such as the Five Pillars, are obligatory. Anyone who fails to perform them may be punished by God or the Islamic state. For example, in many Muslim countries, refusal to fast during Ramadan may result in fines or imprisonment. In some Muslim countries, special organizations ensure that people make their five daily prayers at the proper time and follow accepted standards of dress and behavior.

Most actions in Islamic law are not obligatory. People who fail to perform acts that are recommended or neutral are seldom punished. Most acts that are clearly forbidden are mentioned in the Qur'an. They include adultery, gambling, cheating, consuming pork or alcoholic beverages, and lending money at interest. The Qur'an details severe punishments for such crimes as murder, theft, and adultery. Crimes are punished harshly because they violate not only the rights of the victim, but also the commands of God. The Qur'an seeks to lessen the severity of these punishments, however, by urging Muslims to practice mercy and not yield to revenge.

Islamic virtues. Islam teaches respect for parents, protection for orphans and widows, and charity to the poor. It also teaches the virtues of faith in God, kindness, honesty, hard work, honor, courage, cleanliness, and generosity. Heads of families must treat household members kindly and fairly. A wife has rights against her husband and may sue for divorce in cases of physical abuse, lack of financial support, or the inability to produce a child. Islam also teaches that a person must not refuse requests for help, even if they seem unnecessary.

Divisions of Islam. There are three historic divisions in Islam. The great majority of Muslims belong to the Sunni «SOON ee» division. Sunni Muslims call themselves by this name because they claim to follow the Sunnah of Muhammad. They follow a traditional and widely held interpretation of Islam.

Most of the conservative Muslims that Westerners call fundamentalists are Sunnis. Like fundamentalists of other religions, these Muslims follow a strict approach to religion. They reject modern and popular interpretations of Islamic law, which they view as too permissive. They insist instead on precise adherence to the Qur'an and Hadith, as they interpret those writings. Many Muslims dislike the name fundamentalists, however. See Sunnis.

The next largest division is the Shi`ah «SHEE ah», whose members are called Shiites. Shiite Muslims honor Ali ibn Abi Talib, a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and Ali's descendants, whom they believe should be the leaders of the Muslim community. Shi`ah comes from the Arabic phrase shi`at Ali, meaning supporters of Ali.

The largest group of Shiites are the Imami «ee MAHM ee» Shi`ah. They are also known as the Ithna Ashari, or Twelvers. They see authority as residing in 12 imams, starting with Ali, who was born in about 600. The 12th and last imam, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan (also called Muhammad al-Mahdi), was born in about 868. They believe this last imam is still alive, in a miraculous state of concealment from human view. He will return at the end of time to restore justice on earth. A small group of Shiites, known as the Isma`ili «ihs may EE lee» Shi`ah, broke away from the Imamis in the 700's. One group of Isma`ilis, known as the Nizaris, still follow an imam called Aga Khan IV, who lives in France. See Shiites.

Today, the Kharijites make up the smallest division of Islam. Their name is based on an Arabic word that means secessionists. They received this name because they were former followers of Ali who broke away in 657. Kharijites are strict Muslims whose beliefs are based on precise adherence to the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah as their community interprets them. They are most noteworthy for their belief in equality under God. In the first centuries of their existence, they elected their leaders and proclaimed that the best Muslim should lead his fellow believers, even if he was a slave. In some Kharijite communities in Algeria, female scholars and religious leaders serve the needs of women while male scholars and religious leaders serve the needs of men.

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