Understanding Islam – REL 134

REL/134 – Understanding Islam

Islam gained influence in the Arabian Peninsula around 610 CE with the rise of Muhammad and his powerful tribe in Mecca, which was called the Quraish. Muhammad was well travelled because his occupation was to drive a caravan, and this enabled him to experience other religions along the trade routes that included Judaism and Christianity (Molloy, 2012).

This exposure to other religions and means of worship gave him insight and maybe a few ideas that were not available to the majority of people in Mecca, who still followed local traditional ways of worshiping in a polytheistic manner. Much of the population in Mecca at the time still prayed to many different gods in the hopes of protecting their wealth and ability to trade (“The Prophet Muhammad And The Origins Of Islam”, 2015).

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After marrying a wealthy widow who was fifteen years older and securing further financial support, Muhammad began hearing voices and seeing visions towards mid life around the age of 40 that he believed were the angel Gabriel (Molloy, 2012). Muslims do not dispute his self-proclaimed revelations that he experienced at Mount Hira in a cave while meditating alone.

Muslims believe that Muhammad was selected by Allah to become the next Prophet after Abraham, Jesus, Moses, and others that came before him. These previous Prophets were also successful in convincing their followers that they too had been given the answers to the unexplained.

Qur’an, Five Pillars, and Ramadan

The religious teachings, prayers, beliefs, and rituals of Islam revolve mostly around the Qur’an, the Five Pillars, and Ramadan. Muslims believe the Qur’an is a holy book that is comprised of Allah’s words that were revealed to Muhammad who jotted them down.

The Qur’an is organized by suras, which are sections that are devoted to a topic or historical figure. Before the Qur’an many of these topics and figures already existed in other religions such as Noah, Jacob, Jesus, Mary, and the story of Adam and Eve (Molloy, 2012). Muslims believe that information about these topics and figures was not gleaned during Muhammad’s many travels but were instead revealed to him by Allah.

The Five Pillars is also found in the Qur’an, and it lists five requirements for the practicing Muslim that include the profession of faith, prayer, alms, fasting, and pilgrimage. The profession of faith demands that Muslims recognize that there is one Allah and that his messenger is the one and only Muhammad.

Prayer is mandatory five times a day while facing Mecca. Charity is not done just out of kindness, but is instead mandatory in the form of alms under Islamic law (Molloy, 2012). Fasting is required during the month of Ramadan in order to remind Muslims that they will not take what Allah has given them for granted (“Islamic Holidays And Observances”, n.d.).

Muslims fast during Ramadan by eating food in the early morning before the sun rises, and again eating tons of food when the sun goes down. Muslims are also required to abstain from smoking during Ramadan, but a visit to a Country such as Afghanistan (deployment in my case) will reveal that in reality this is largely not the case.

A pilgrimage to the city of Mecca is demanded for every Muslim who is healthy and affluent enough to make the trek. Muslims are able to make the pilgrimage to Mecca as a result of Mohammad’s ability to extend his fervent religious control over the Arabian Peninsula.

After Mohammad conquered the city of Yathrib, his thirst for power had not yet been quenched. He was determined to return to Mecca where he could destroy the images in the Kabah and further spread his religious ideology.

He finally succeeded and took the city of Mecca in 624 CE after his Muslim soldiers slaughtered the local citizens who dared to defy his preaching (Molloy, 2012).

Sunni, Shiite, and Sufi

Although there have been many variations of followers throughout the history of the Islamic faith, the largest group of Muslims today are the Sunnis. The Shiite sect constitutes the remaining ten to fifteen percent of Muslims, while the Sufi sect is minuscule as a result of political and religious genocide.

The original division among the Sunni and Shiite sects largely resulted from a struggle for power. After Muhammad died the Shi’a tribe sought power by exerting that only a blood relative of Muhammad should be next in line to assume power.

The Sunnis murdered Muhammad’s grandson, so the Shiites believe the next closest relative who is named Ali should be named successor (Molloy, 2012). The Sunnis disagreed and sought to position a leader, or Caliph by a majority consensus vote, which is convenient given they outnumbered the Shi’a.

They proceed to elect three Caliphs, all of whom were eventually assassinated. When defenders of the Islamic faith attempt to characterize the religion as a peaceful religion, they must be speaking about the Sufis. The Sufis were influenced by mysticism found in other religions such as Hinduism.

They believe that even Muhammad was a mystic and that the love of Allah itself is far more vital than the traditional Islamic laws. Shi’a or Sunnis will never recognize Muslims who practice Sufism as legitimate worshipers of Islam (Molloy, 2012).


A serious person must question why Prophets were so numerous during ancient times when individuals in society still had so many questions about the physical world around them, even praying to jinni and other tribal gods and spirits that were believed to live in the trees, mountains, and deserts.

Why are there no modern versions of these Islamic Prophets? One could speculate that even if a person like Muhammad who originates from a wealthy and powerful family in society today, who claimed to begin hearing voices and to have hallucinations of angels would most likely be committed to an insane asylum, and would hardly stand a chance of convincing the people around them that they were the next messenger of God. This is of course just one possibility.


Islamic Holidays and Observances. (n.d.). Retrieved from Islam: Beliefs and Observances by Barrons Educational Series Inc

Molloy, M. (2012). Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change, 6th Edition by McGraw-Hill Education

The Prophet Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. (2015). Retrieved from Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Inner Traditions

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