What Is ISLAM?
Islam means “surrender to the will of God.” One of the three major monotheistic faiths, Islam was founded in Arabia by Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century. Now it is the principal religion of the Middle East, Asia, and the northern half of Africa. There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
Muhammad was born in 571 at Mecca and belonged to the Quraysh tribe, which was active in the caravan trade. He joined the trade from Mecca to Syria in the employment of a rich widow, Khadija, whom he later married. Critical of the lax moral standards and polytheistic practices of the inhabitants of Mecca, he began to lead a contemplative life. In a dramatic religious vision in 610, Muslims believe, the angel Gabriel announced to Muhammad that he was to be a prophet. He devoted himself to the reform of religion and society. Polytheism was to be abandoned. But leaders of the Quraysh generally rejected his teaching, and Muhammad gained only a small following and suffered persecution. He eventually fled Mecca. The Hegira (Hijra, meaning “emigration”) of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, where he was well received, occurred in 622 and marks the beginning of the Muslim era. After a number of military conflicts with Mecca, in 630 he marched on Mecca and conquered it in a bloodless victory. Muhammad died at Medina in 632.
Muslims revered Muhammad as the prophet of God (Allah) and consider him to be the last in the line of prophets that included Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Sources of the Islamic faith are the Qur'an (Koran), regarded as the eternal Word of God, and tradition (hadith) regarding sayings and deeds of the prophet.
The Five Pillars, or primary duties, of Islam are profession of faith; prayer, to be performed five times a day; almsgiving to the poor; fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; and pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj) at least once in a Muslim's lifetime, if it is physically and financially possible. The pilgrimage includes homage to the ancient shrine of the Ka'aba, the most sacred site in Islam.
Islam succeeded in uniting an Arab world of separate tribes, but disagreements concerning the succession of the prophet caused a division in Islam between two groups, Sunnis and Shi'ites. The Shi'ites rejected the first three successors to Muhammad (Abu Bakr, Omar, and Uthman) as usurpers, claiming the fourth, Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, as the rightful leader. The Sunnis (from the word "tradition"), the largest division of Islam (today more than 80%), believe in the legitimacy of the first three successors.
Another development within Islam, beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries, was Sufism, a form of mysticism. This movement was influential for many centuries and was instrumental in the spread of Islam in Asia and Africa.
When Muhammad died, the authority of his little state did not extend over more than one-third of the Arabian peninsula. A hundred years later half of the civilized world was under Muslim domination. The Islamic empire extended from the borders of India to the Strait of Gibraltar and the Pyrenees Mountains.
Contrary to common belief, it was not the result primarily of religious ardor. The Muslims were not engaged in a great crusade to impose their beliefs upon the rest of the world. Naturally there were outbreaks of fanaticism from time to time, but as a general rule the Muslims did not really care whether the nations they conquered accepted their religion or not. Subject peoples were usually quite leniently treated. They were permitted to retain their own beliefs and customs.
Jews and Christians lived unmolested in the Muslim empires for centuries, and some of them rose to positions of prominence in political and intellectual circles. In many ways the Islamic civilization was one of the most important in the Western world—mainly because its impact upon Christian Europe was responsible for social and intellectual changes.
There are about 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, fewer than one fifth of whom are Arab. Islam is the principal religion of much of Asia, including Indonesia (which has the world's largest Muslim population), Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula states, and Turkey. India also has one of the world's largest Muslim populations, although Islam is not the principal religion there.
In Africa, Islam is the principal religion in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan, with sizable populations also in Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania (where the island of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim), and Nigeria.
In Europe, Albania is predominantly Muslim. Bulgaria, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Georgia have Muslim populations. Elsewhere in Europe, significant immigrant communities of Muslims from North Africa, Turkey, and Asia exist in France, Germany, Great Britain, and other nations.
In the Americas the Islamic population has substantially increased in recent years, both from conversions and the immigration of adherents from other parts of the world. In the United States, the number of Muslims has been variably estimated at 6 million; 20% of the population of Suriname is Muslim.***
ISLAM IN AMERICA:
MUSLIMS MOVE TO THE MAINSTREAM
by David Johnson
During December 2000 a crescent symbolizing Islam stood along with the Christmas tree and the Hanukkah candelabra on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. In 2001 the postal service issued a stamp for the Muslim feast of Eid-al-Fitr at the request of thousands of Muslim school children. According to the Washington Times, the stamp is one indication that the more than six million American Muslims have arrived as a political and social force.
Mosques Dot the Country
Once confined to the nation's biggest cities, mosques are rapidly becoming a familiar site on main streets across the country. There are some 3,000 mosques in the U.S. Fueled by immigration and conversions, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. (It is also the fastest growing faith in the world.) It is on the verge of surpassing Jews as the largest non-Christian faith in the country.
Many People Confuse Terms
Many people mistakenly assume 'Muslim' and 'Arab' are interchangeable. In fact, there are two million Christian Arabs—mainly Lebanese and Palestinian—living in the U.S.
The majority of Muslims in the world are not Arab. In fact, Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world. Millions of Muslims live in such non-Arab areas as India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.
The American Muslim Council (AMC) in Washington, DC states that American Muslims have the following origins: Middle Eastern Arabs, 26.2%; South Asian (countries from Iran to Bangladesh), 24.7%; American blacks, 23.8%; White American converts and Europeans, 11.6%; non-Arabs from the Middle East (mostly Turkish), 10.3%; East Asia (Malay, Chinese, etc.), 6.4%.
More Muslims Favored Bush
According to Neveen Salem, director of communications and media at the AMC, 70% of all U.S. Muslims voted for George W. Bush in Election 2004. The remainder of the vote was split between Al Gore and Ralph Nader, who is of Lebanese Christian heritage. However, 46% of American Muslims are registered Democrats, 15.8% are Republicans, and 26.4% are independents.***
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Dr.John L.Esposito, editor buku The Oxford History of Islam (Oxford University Press, London, 1999), dalam Bab “Introduction”, mengatakan: Although Islam is the youngest of the major world religion, Islam is the second largest and fastest-growing religion in the world. To speak of the world of Islam today is to refer not only to countries that stretch from North Africa to Southeast Asia but also to Muslim communities that exist across the globe (“Meskipun Islam termuda di antara agama besar dunia, Islam merupakan agama terbesar kedua dan paling cepat pertumbuhannya di dunia. Pembicaraan tentang Dunia Islam hari ini merujuk bukan hanya kepada negeri-negeri yang membentang dari Afrika Utara ke Asia Tenggara tetapi juga kepada komunitas-komunitas Muslim yang ada di seluruh penjuru bumi”).
Majalah National Geographic bulan Januari 2002, dalam artikel “The World of Islam”, mengemukakan: Some 1.3 billion human beings, a fifth of mankind, embracing Islam that make it the fastest growing on Earth, with 80 percent of believers now outside the Arab world (“Sebanyak 1,3 miliar jiwa, seperlima umat manusia, memeluk Islam yang menjadikannya agama yang paling cepat pertumbuhannya di Bumi, dengan 80 persen orang-orang beriman sekarang berada di luar dunia Arab”).
Dalam majalah The Economist, edisi 13 September 2003, terdapat hasil survei “Islam and the West” yang menyatakan bahwa umat Islam di muka bumi berjumlah 1,5 miliar jiwa. Around one in four of the people in the world are Muslims. It is indeed the world’s fastest-growing religion (“Sekitar satu dari empat penduduk bumi adalah Muslim. Islam betul-betul agama yang paling cepat pertumbuhannya di dunia”), demikian komentar The Economist.
Majalah Time edisi 23 Mei 1988, dengan artikel berjudul “American Facing Toward Mecca”, mencatat jumlah 4.644.000 umat Islam pada saat itu serta lebih dari 600 buah Islamic Center di seluruh Amerika Serikat. Lalu majalah terkemuka itu memperkirakan: US Muslim are expected to surpass Jews in number and, in less than 30 years, become the country’s second largest religious community after Christians (“Muslim Amerika Serikat diperkirakan akan melampaui umat Yahudi dalam jumlah dan, dalam waktu kurang dari 30 tahun, menjadi komunitas agama terbesar kedua di negeri ini sesudah umat Nasrani”).
Perkiraan majalah Time di atas kini makin mendekati kenyataan. Hal ini diakui oleh majalah Nasrani terbesar di Amerika Serikat, Christianity Today, edisi bulan Maret 2005: Words unfamiliar to most Americans are now heard daily on the evening news: jihad, Islam, Allah, Quran, fatwa, imam, ummah, Ramadan. Today, there are approximately seven million Muslims and more than 13000 mosques in North America. Now the Muslims are our neighbors (“Kata-kata yang asing bagi kebanyakan orang Amerika kini terdengar sehari-hari pada berita petang: jihad, Islam, Allah, Qur’an, fatwa, imam, ummah, Ramadhan. Hari ini, terdapat sekitar tujuh juta Muslim dan lebih dari 13000 masjid di Amerika Utara. Sekarang orang-orang Muslim merupakan para tetangga kita”).***