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Islam is a monotheistic religion originating from the Abrahamic tradition. The word Islam means submission, specifically to the will of God (Allah) which is a central element of faith. Its adherents are called Muslims. While there are several Muslim sects, all of them share the central belief that Prophet Muhammad is God's messenger and that God's words are collected in the holy book, the Qur'an."Muslim" is an Arabic word that reflects the religion’s central tenet and refers to a person who submits to the will of Allah. "Allah" is an Arabic word which means "the One True God."

 History and Development

The religion of Islam was founded in 622 CE by Mohammed.  Muslims believe that Mohammed was last in a line of prophets including Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and was the chosen messenger by God to reveal the truth of God’s will to mankind. Muhammad's (pbuh) role as the last of the Prophets was to formalize and clarify the faith and to purify it by removing foreign ideas that had been added in error.

According to Muslim belief, the angel appeared to Muhammad in a mountain cave and delivered a message from the one true God. The Prophet Muhammad dedicated the remainder of his life to spreading a message of monotheism in a polytheistic world. His life's work is recorded in the Qur'an, the sacred text of Islam.

Through military activity and political negotiation, Mohammed (pbuh) became the most powerful leader in Arabia, and Islam was firmly established in the area. By 750 CE, Islam had expanded to China, India, along the Southern shore of the Mediterranean and into Spain. The sacred text of Islam, the Qur'an, was written in Arabic within 30 years of Muhammad's death. Muslims believe it contains the literal word of God as gradually revealed to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel over the course of 20 years. Also important is the tradition of the sayings and actions of the Prophet and his Companions, collected in the hadith.

Doctrine

The core of all Islamic doctrine is the fundamental belief that there is only one God, Allah, who is eternal, omnipotent and omniscient and not incarnated.  For Muslims faith alone is not enough; they must put their spiritual devotion into practice by performing the The Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah (the statement of faith), Salah (obligatory prayers), Zakah (compulsory alms giving), Sawn (fasting) and Hajj (pilgrimage). Since the practice of faith in everyday life is fundamental to Muslim teaching, the Sharia governs every aspect of a Muslim’s life in order to ensure all tenets of faith are put into practice.

Sharia

Sharia is a now a familiar term to Muslims and non-Muslims. It can often be heard in news stories about politics, crime, feminism, terrorism and civilisation.Sharia law comes from a combination of sources including the Qur'an (the Muslim holy book), the Hadith (sayings and conduct of the prophet Mohammed) and fatwas - the rulings of Islamic scholars.Many people, including Muslims, misunderstand Sharia. It's often associated with the amputation of limbs, death by stoning, lashes and other medieval punishments. Because of this, it is sometimes thought of as draconian. Some people in the West view Sharia as an archaic and unfair set of social ideas that are imposed upon people who live in Sharia-controlled countries.

Many Muslims however hold a different view. In the Islamic tradition Sharia is seen as something that nurtures humanity. They see the Sharia not in the light of something primitive but as something divinely revealed. In a society where social problems are endemic, many Muslims believe that Sharia frees humanity to realise its individual potential. It covers all crimes and brings forbidden acts such as adultery, sex before marriage and drinking alcohol into the legal framework.

Jihad

The literal meaning of Jihad is struggle or effort, and it means much more than holy war. Muslims use the word Jihad to describe three different kinds of struggle:

  • A believer's internal struggle to live out the Muslim faith as well as possible.
  • The struggle to build a good Muslim society.
  • Holy war: the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary.
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