Islam means resignation, submission (to Allah – God). Those who obey Allah, considering him the only and true God, accepting the faith of Islam , are called Muslims, Islamists or Mohammedans.
The holy book of Muslims is the Koran or Koran, written in Arabic, between the years 610 and 632. It contains the collection of everything that was revealed by Allah to Muhammad.
Islam emerged in the early seventh century and quickly spread among the Arab tribes, uniting them around the same faith.
Today, the Muslim religion is the fastest growing in the world and has around 1.3 billion adherents.
Islamic civilization had its origin in the Arabian peninsula. Inhabited by different Semitic peoples ( Arab , Hebrew , Assyrian , Phoenician and Aramaic), organized into tribes, Arabia had no political unity, being divided into family clans.
The city of Mecca is the most important Muslim religious center and it houses the CAABA (House of God), which houses the Pedra Negra, a piece of meteorite, brought from heaven by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Abraham.
The Arab peoples were the great disseminators of the Islamic religion. The Arab-Muslim expansion ended up by Islamizing a number of non-Arab peoples, such as Turks and Persians.
Thus, although Muslims make up the majority of the population in Arab countries, the four countries with the largest Muslim population are not Arabs: Indonesia (160 million), Pakistan (100 million), India (90 million) and Bangladesh (85 million).
The death of the prophet Muhammad, who lived from AD 570 to AD 632, caused his followers to be divided into two major groups: the Shias and the Sunnis, which are still prevalent today.
The Sunnis followed the teachings of Muhammad contained in a set of texts that was called SUNA. For Sunnis, SUNA is an important source of truth alongside the Qur’an.
Shiites and Sunnis
Shiites believe that the religious and political leader must be a descendant of Muhammad, in addition to only admitting the Koran as a sacred source. Shiites are opposed to Westernization and are uncompromising defenders of the foundations of the Islamic faith. Sunnis account for 85% of the Muslim world and Shias for the remaining 15%.
Shiites are a majority in a few countries like Iran, Iraq and Bahrain.
In the Muslim world, there can and should be no conflict between politics and the spiritual world. The political world must submit to the spiritual and must adapt to it.
“The Islamic world is made up of one nation,” said the Prophet.
Islam is monotheistic and the faithful Muslim has four basic duties to perform:
- say prayers five times a day, facing MECA.
- fasting, not drinking or smoking, sexual abstinence, especially in the holy month of Muslims (Ramadan).
- give alms that are proportionate to your income.
- go to Mecca at least once in your life, on a religious pilgrimage.
Situation of the Arab Muslim population
“In an initiative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), a group of scholars studied the current state of the Arab world in search of a diagnosis of its problems. The conclusions are disheartening. The study covers the 22 nations that make up the Arab League – excluding, therefore, non-Arab Muslim states, such as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia. The Arab countries, united by the same language, add up to 280 million inhabitants, slightly more than the United States. The GDP of all of them together is US $ 531 billion, less than that of Spain, with a population of 40 million. Arab economic stagnation is second only to that of Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest region in the world. In the past 20 years, Arab countries have grown at an annual average of 0.5%.
The wealth generated by oil brought few benefits, as it is applied in the markets of Europe, the United States and Japan. For Arab countries, with the youngest population in the world – an effect of the very high birth rates -, this delay is synonymous unemployment, about 15% on average for the region.
For UN researchers, there are three major deficits that keep the Arab world below its economic and human potential: freedom, equality for women and knowledge. No Arab country is a true democracy.
The utilization of women’s capabilities in the Arab world is also the lowest in the world, according to the UNDP. “The whole society suffers when half of its productive potential is asphyxiated”, says the study. Women, kept at a distance from political participation and with less access to education, have little chance of changing the situation. About 50% of the Arab female population is illiterate, twice as high as among men. Another serious obstacle to development is the lack of investment in research and restricted access to information technology.