Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world today. An understanding of its beliefs and practices has become essential knowledge not only for religious and political leaders but also for ordinary citizens who increasingly interact with Muslims as neighbors, coworkers, and schoolmates.
This book is designed to offer the general public a concise overview of the origins, basic beliefs, and common practices of Islam, as well as the reasons for its dramatic resurgence in recent times. Emory Bogle details the life mission of the prophet Muhammad and describes the spread of Islam after his death. He accounts for the rise and contemporary influence of Shi'i Islam, a topic of particular interest to Western readers. Bogle also explains the basic beliefs ("The Five Pillars") of Islam, as well as the role played by the Qur'an (Islam's scriptures), the hadith (the words and behavior of Muhammad), and the shari'a (Islamic law).
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Several million of the world's more than one billion Muslims are at prayer during any half-hour period of any day. Islam, thus, constantly calls God's attention to its believers. This fastest growing religion in the world, which encompasses some unusually dynamic individuals and groups, also attracts increased earthly attention. While the Middle East, where it originated, continues to provide the impetus to Islam, more than half of the world's Muslims reside outside of that region. And although Islam's association with Arabs is well founded, it is in fact misleading in modern times. For instance, almost as many Muslims live in Indonesia as in all the Arabic-speaking countries combined. More Muslims live in Iran and Pakistan than in all of the adjacent Arabic-speaking countries. The dynamics of Islam's growth and invigorating experimental ideologies qualify it as one of the most influential forces in contemporary times.
This short introduction to Islam can best serve as an overview of the religion's history and major beliefs. It has, however, the advantage of being able to help the contemporary reader understand the development of aspects of Islam which most obviously influence contemporary affairs. Compared with similar works, this treatment places a far greater emphasis upon Shi'ism. The prominence of Shi'i influence on modern Islamic affairs and the popular perception of the role of Shi'ism justifies, or even compels, such an emphasis. The mere frequency of references in the public media and elsewhere to Shi'i or Shiite Islam is an indication of the increased popular awareness of the general topic of Islam. Most people who use the term cannot define it, but they know it is a form of Islam. "Militant" Islam and "Militant Shi'i" Islam have become virtually synonymous in popular parlance. This prevailing limited exposure to Shi'i activism has created the perception that Shi'i are by nature, if not by definition, the "radically militant" Muslims. This book's modest presentation should help the reader understand that some of modern Shi'i activism might well result from centuries of passivity. It should also make readers aware that Islam, in general, has only recently regained a central role in many societies, after a prolonged period of marginality.
Some might also believe that too much valuable space for such a short treatment discusses conflicts between extremely small forces in the early years of Islam. But anything less is unconvincing. It almost defies credibility that the modest, almost inconsequential forces and resources available to Muhammad obtained control of the Arabian peninsula. This account attempts to explain how the efficient use of limited resources against the somewhat more plentiful resources of the opposition was sufficient for victory. Otherwise, an account of an orphan obtaining a message from God to revise and reform Judaism and Christianity by going to a strange city two hundred miles north of Mecca and fighting three major battles explains very little. Also, the roles of individuals in this entire series of events are critical; it is impossible to understand subsequent conflicts over attitudes and actions of individuals without knowing what they did or did not do in the earlier years.
Emory C. Bogle, Professor of History at the University of Richmond, has traveled in and studied the Middle East for nearly thirty years. His close association with Islamic leaders and adherents of all sects of Islam well qualifies him to define its essence for non-Muslims.
"This book will be extremely useful to general readers who are interested in Islam. It should draw an audience from nonspecialists such as church groups, business organizations, and employees of American corporations that work in or otherwise have an interest in the Islamic world."
—Hafez Farmayan, Professor of History, University of Texasat Austin