Introduction to World Religions Fall 2007 Dr. Hannah Schell
Agenda for class session
• The religions of Abraham: shared tenets
• Basic terms; global overview
• Beginning with God (Allah)
• The life of the prophet Muhammad
• A Religion of the Book: The Koran
• Islam‟s view of human life
• The Day of Judgment
Abraham and Isaac
1634 (120 Kb); Oil on canvas, 158 x 117 cm (62 x 46 in);
Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Judaism - Christianity – Islam
• Monotheistic: these traditions believe in a single divine
Being who is personal, that is, possessing mind and
will; eternal, that is, not subject to the limits of time
or change, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.
• Creation: God creates a world distinct from himself, a
world which is real, not illusory, though totally
dependent on God; a world which is good.
• Revelation: In a unique historical event, God reveals
his will, requiring obedience (disobedience being sin.
The revelation in each case is given in writing).
• Immortality and Judgment: There is a life after death; at
death, God will judge each individual, for reward or
(Adopted from Patrick Burke’s “The Religions of Semitic Origin” introduction. The Major Religions, 191.)
Judaism - Christianity – Islam
These religions emphasize the importance of:
• Persons as superior to nature
• The individual human person, who must answer for his or her
thoughts and deeds
• The moral value of justice
• History, which moves not in an everlasting cycle, but in a
straight line, from a beginning to an end.
• Worship is communal, and takes place in a space designed for
the gathering or an assembly (synagogue, church, mosque).
(Adopted from Patrick Burke’s “The Religions of Semitic Origin” introduction. The Major Religions, 192.)
Basic terms, global overview
• Islam is considered the fastest growing
religion in the world. There are
approximately 1.3 million Muslims
constituting a fifth of humanity. Most
are under 25.
• Total world population is 6.1 billion:
Christianity 2 billion; Islam 1.3 billion,
Hinduism 900 million, Buddhism 360
• Around 85 per cent of Muslims belong
to the majority Sunni sect. The
minority Shi‟ite Muslims are
concentrated in Iran and Iraq.
• Countries that are nearly 95% Muslim:
BAHRAIN, KUWAIT, MAURITANIA,
MOROCCO,OMAN, QATAR, SOMALIA, SAUDI
ARABIA, TUNISIA UNITED ARAB EMIRATES,
Basic Terms & Orientation
• Islam: the name of the monotheistic tradition that
looks to Muhammad as the final prophet. (The term
literally means “surrender” or “submission.”)
• Muslim: term used for a person who professes the
religion of Islam; those who adhere to the faith and
traditions of Islam. (Literally means “one who
• Umma: refers to the community of believers made up
of all the Muslims of the world. (Literally means
“nation” or “community”).
• Koran/Qur’an: sacred scripture for Muslims; believed
to have been revealed by God to the Prophet
Muhammad. (Literally means “recitation.”)
Muslims around the World
NOTE: Less than 20 per cent of Muslims are Arabs. Almost half of the world's
Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia.
Muslims in Indonesia
Muslims in North Africa
Mosque in Senegal
Mosque in Tunisia Praying in Nairobi, Kenya
Source of photos: http://www.islamfortoday.com/muslimstoday.htm#Africa
Muslims in “the Middle East”
In the Middle East
Mosque in Pakistan
Source of pictures:
Muslims in America
The US has
equal to its
Muslims in the United States
In Harlem At Harvard University in Boston, MA
The story of Islam begins with God
• Radical monotheism: There is no god but
• Divine unity – oneness of God
• Allah is ultimate; awesome; powerful;
compassionate and merciful
The Fatihah (Opening) of the Koran:
In the Name of God, the merciful Lord of mercy.
Praise be to God, the Lord of all being,
The merciful Lord of mercy,
Master of the Day of Judgment.
You alone we serve and to You alone we come for aid.
Guide us in the straight path,
From the 99 Names of Allah
• The Guide
• The Avenger
• The Creator of Death
• The Responsive
• The Trustee •The Loving
• The Protecting Friend •The All-Forgiving
•The Giver of Life
• The First
• The Manifest
• The Creator
• The Beneficent •The Evolver
The birth story
“When God willed the appearance of His truth, the lore of
Muhammad, and its manifestation in a body and in a soul, in a
form and in a content, He transferred it to its fixed abode… And
He… selected her to be the mother of the Purified One. And it
was proclaimed in the Heavens and on Earth that she, Amina,
had become pregnant of one of the Lights of the Essence. And
every zephyr blew gently to make a soft breeze freshly fanning
the earth which was dressed, after her long period of barrenness,
with vegetation with green silken robes. The fruits began to
ripen, and the trees approaches the picker that he might pick the
ripe fruits. And every domestic animal of the Quraysh spoke of
his being expected with eloquence in the Arabic tongue.
The thrones of royalty were overturned and the idols of
heathendom fell on their faces. The wild animals of East and
West prophesied the good tidings, as well as the creatures of the
sea. The worlds drank joy from the cup of juvenile strength. The
spirits received the glad tiding of the imminence of his time….”
(From: Mawlid Al-Barzanji; in Textual Sources for the Study of Islam, 66).
The Life of the Prophet Muhammad
The Life of the Prophet Muhammad
• Muhammad (570 – 632 CE): “highly
• Born in Mecca (Saudi Arabia); in the
powerful tribe of the Qur‟ash (Koreish).
• A human prophet
• Poet, soothsayer, judge; also political,
military and religious leader.
The birth of the future prophet
One legend has
it that the
heard a voice
when she was
“You are pregnant with the Lord of this people and when he is born
say, „I put him in the care of the One from the evil of every envier;
then call him Muhammad‟ [meaning „laudable‟.”
Muhammad as a young man
• Gained a reputation as being honest and reliable – nicknamed
al- Amin, “the trustworthy.”
• Worked as a shepherd, then as in trade
• Began to work for the wealthy widow Khadija; they married (she
was 40 and he was 25).
•Began to contemplate the low level of
moral and social life in Mecca; felt great
sympathy for orphans, widows, outcasts
and the poor; critical especially of the
practice of burying infant daughters
•Became a highly disciplined spiritual
Mt. Hira – north of Mecca
seeker (Denny, 51).
The calling of the prophet
• Commission occurred in 610 C.E.:
The Night of Power
• Angel Gabriel appeared and
commanded Muhammad to
• Khadija became his first convert.
“Proclaim in the name of your Lord who created!
Created man from a clot of blood.
Proclaim: Your Lord is the Most Generous
Who teaches by the pen;
Teaches man what he knew not.” Koran 96: 1-3 (quoted by Smith, 226).
The Night Journey & Ascent to Heaven
• Angel appeared to the sleeping prophet,
split open his chest and belly and drew
out Muhammad‟s heart and bowels;
washed in a golden basin filled with
faith and replaced.
• Traveled through the sky to Jerusalem
on Buraq, a small steed, and then to the
seven heavens into the very presence of
• Spiritual, dreamlike experience or
The Migration from Mecca to Medina
• First Muslims – Khadijah; Ali (Muhammad‟s cousin
and son-in-law - married to Fatima); other family
members; members from humble classes.
• Suffered persecution – ex. Bilal, a black slave –
exposed to the hottest part of the day with a heavy
rock on his chest (later became prominent as the one
who calls the for prayer).
• 622: migration of Muslims from Mecca to Medina (city
of the prophet) – known as the Hijra.
• Period of struggle between the Meccans and the
Medinans; eventually Muhammad rededicated the
temple (the Ka‟ba) in Mecca; mass conversion of the
city to Islam (Smith 230).
• Muhammad died in 632, the head of an empire.
• Koran names 25 prophets,
including Noah, Abraham,
Moses Jesus and Muhammad.
• Muhammad is the “seal”
(khatam) of the prophets – the
last, the one that validates
• Came to “transmit the old
was the “Seal message anew and established
of the through it a universal
community […] the umma”
Prophets” (Denny, Intro to Islam, 69).
• Organized into 114 chapters,
• Written in Arabic; recited in
• Meccan suras and Medinan
• Text is understood as offering
The sacred “guidance for the world” or “a
clear sign for those who can
text of Islam: understand.”
• Recitation, or revelation, of
The Koran what God plans to reveal to
Source of image: http://www.indiana.edu/~rcapub/v21n1/p15.html
“The Qur‟an [is]… simultaneously a source of prayer and a prayer in its own
right, a guidebook for action as well as a ritual object” (Islam, 21).
God revealed through scripture
“We have revealed the Torah, in which there is guidance
and light. By it the prophets who surrendered
themselves judged the Jews.. According to God‟s Book
which had been committed to their keeping and to
which they themselves were witnesses.
… After them We sent forth Jesus, the son of Mary,
confirming the Torah already revealed, and gave him
the Gospel, in which there is guidance and light,
corroborating what was revealed before it in the
Torah, a guide and an admonition to the righteous…
… And to you [Muslims] We have revealed the Book with
the truth. It confirms the Scriptures which came
before it and stands as a guardian over them.”
- From the Koran, quoted in The World’s Wisdom, 291.
“The word qur’an means „recitation.‟ It
was not designed for private perusal,
but like most scriptures, it was meant to
be read aloud, and the sound was an
essential part of the sense… The Qur‟an
was deliberatively repetitive; its ideas,
images, and stories were bound together
by these internal echoes [themes,
words, phrases, and sound patterns],
which reinforced its central teaching
with instructive shifts of emphasis”
(Armstrong, Muhammad, 58-59).
• Based on idea of remembering the beloved in
classical Arabic odes
• The Qur‟an itself is a reminder to humankind
• “According to the Qur‟an the human being is not
born sinful, but forgetful, caught up in cycles of
acquisition and competition that obscure matters of
ultimate concern, matters represented and condenses
in an ultimate way in the day of reckoning or
moment of truth” (Michael Sells, 40).
The call to prayer
• Begins with “Allahu Akbar”
(God is most great)
• Related to the shahadah (the
testimony of faith)
• Last line is drawn out –
captures a sadness regarding
the separation of humans from
their source; “reminder of the
separation is also a call to turn
back to home” (151).
The Call to Prayer (Sunni version)
God is most great [4 times]
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa llah
I testify that there is no god but God [2 times]
Ashhadu anna muhammadan rasulu llah
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God [2 times]
Hayy ala s-sala
Come (alive) to the prayer [2 times]
Hayy ala l-falah
Come (alive) to flourishing [2 times]
God is most great [2 times]
La ilaha illa llah
(there is) no god but God [once]
Mustafa Ozcan Gunesdogdu – represents the Turkish tradition of Qur‟an recitation; has
received international recognition and prizes. (Sunni Adhan)
View of human life
View of human life
• “We have created humanity of the best
• Positive view of human nature
• Islam lacks concept of human sin
• Instead, focuses on the idea that
humans forget (shirk) – “People… forget
their divine origin” (Smith, 158).
View of human life
Gratitude – for life
Surrender – to Allah
– individual & unique
– free & responsible
The Day of Judgment
Surah 101 The Calamity
• Qari’a: the calamity, striking or smiting (the
day of reckoning)
• “Evokes the scales of justice in which human
deeds are weighed” (113).
• Includes the strange term of hawiya – can
mean “abyss” or “woman bereft of her child”
• Meaning, and sound, are mysterious, sad.
In the Name of God the Compassionate the Caring
What is the qari’a
What can tell you of the qari’a
A day humankind are like moths scattered
And mountains are like fluffs of wool
Whoever‟s scales weigh heavy
His is a life that is pleasing
Whoever‟s scales weigh light
His mother is hawiya
What can tell you what she is
Muhammad Khalil al-Husari – master of murattal style of recitation.