Islam and Its History

Living reference work entry

Abstract

Today there are over one and a half billion Muslims worldwide, making it, after Christianity, the second largest religion on the planet. The story of how a world view developed by desert nomads on the Arabian Peninsula in the sixth century CE went on to become such a major international religion is a complicated story. The present chapter seeks to tell this story with an eye to understanding the great diversity that today exists in the Muslim world. This diversity is the direct result of Muhammad’s original message as subsequently developed and expanded by later generations in response to various social, legal, religious, intellectual, and cultural needs. As Islam spread into new areas, the combination of received or inherited religious teachings and the various cultural expressions found in those areas created new and diverse Islamic expressions. While not wanting to draw a strict separation between Islam, the religion, and the cultures in which it may be found, it is important to acknowledge that, wishes of some conservative groups to the contrary, there is no one way to understand Islam or even fixed normativity. If this is true even today, it was even more the case in the early period as the immediate generations following Muhammad struggled to understand and codify his teachings. There existed – and continue to exist – many types of Muslim groups and communities, all of whom have constructed identities for themselves based on their particular understanding of the tradition. All of these diverse identities, however, legitimate and authenticate themselves based on their self-proclaimed ability to channel what their followers believe to be the originary message of the Prophet Muhammad. Because of this, any attempt to understand Islam must involve an appreciation of both its religious teachings and an awareness of its diverse cultural forms. Islam today exists not just on the Arabian Peninsula but in Africa, South Asia, Europe, the Americas, and beyond. How Islam arrived in all these diverse places is a historical question, whereas how Islam is understood and practices in these diverse locales is primarily a cultural one.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Religion and ClassicsUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA

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