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Western Civilization-An Open Source Book, 1st ed.

by Ryan P. Johnson.

Chapter 8: Islam  

Today the Islamic faith has over a billion adherents, making it the world’s second most popular religion. The central text of Islam, the Qur’an, or Koran, is said to be a golden book on which the words of the Islamic god Allah are inscribed. According to tradition the prophet Muhammad was the first person to have this new faith revealed to him. Muhammad was a caravan merchant who traveled the Arabian Peninsula when he suddenly began experiencing visions of the Qur’an, visions he came to believe were given to him directly by Allah. Muhammad’s visions and his retelling of them did not receive a warm welcome, especially because Muhammad’s family were caretakers of the Ka’ba, a shrine to the pagan gods the Bedouin tribes in the area worshipped. Muhammad was exiled from his home city of Mecca but found sanctuary in the city of Medina where he began converting people to the new faith. An important lesson for the newly converted was the Five Pillars-five foundational beliefs and actions that all Muslims, the name for adherents to Islam, must follow. Additionally, Muhammad was revered as the liaison between Allah and man, so his words and actions were passed down from generation to generation and would become important teachings for future converts and those raised in the faith. In the year 630 Muhammad returned to Mecca and conquered it, rededicating the Ka’ba as a monument to Allah and beginning what would be an extraordinary period of growth for Islam. After Muhammad’s death his followers established a theocracy, a government and political culture based on religious belief, and began conquering territory in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. By 750 all of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain had fallen to the Muslim armies. At that time a new dynasty, the Abbasid, rose to power and changed the nature of Islamic civilization by moving away from militancy and toward learning and art. A new capital city, Baghdad, became a hub for economics and culture. Focus was put more on scholars than warriors, and under the Abbasids the texts of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds were translated and studied. Medical tracts, political works, and philosophical books were all translated, and anything the Muslims could absorb into their culture they did. Huge libraries, like the ones in Cordoba, Spain, contained as many as 400,000 texts. The Abbasid Dynasty, however, would crumble under the weight of its own corruption, leading parts of the Islamic empire such as Spain and Egypt to break off and form their own governments by the tenth century.

There are three documents contained in this chapter. The first document contains two surahs, or chapters, from the Qur’an. These surahs give us insight into the nature and characteristics of Islam’s god, Allah. The second document is known as the Sunnah, which refers to the sayings and deeds of the prophet Muhammad that were passed down orally for generations before being codified. Though not as authoritative as the Qur’an, the Sunnah is nonetheless a vital document for Muslims, as it contains examples of behavior and wisdom from Islam’s founding figure that should be imitated by believers. The Sunnah excerpts in this chapter deal with topics such as women, prayer, charity, and government. Last up is a modern document, an article written by a Muslim who has committed the entire Qur’an to memory. Dr. Azeem’s article specifically discusses the contrast between what the Qur’an says about the role and responsibilities of women in society and what other religious texts such as the Old and New Testaments say on the same subject. 


1. Qur’an-Surahs 1 and 47

The Qu’ran is the central text of the Islamic faith. It is believed by Muslims that the text was given to the prophet Muhammad by Allah, the god of Islam. The book is divided into chapters, called surahs, and each surah is further divided into verses. The selection below contains two surahs that give the reader a sense of the characteristics of Allah. As you read the surahs keep in mind how this portrayal of Allah is similar to portrayals of God in Christianity.

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2. The Sunnah

The Sunnah is a compilation of traditions and customs of Islamic culture. Composed of sayings and actions attributed to the prophet Muhammad and his followers that were originally transmitted verbally, the Sunnah is an important foundation of Islamic law. The excerpt below contains passages on women, prayer, government, labor, charity, and other concepts. As you read this compare and contrast the principles of Islamic faith with those of Christianity.

When God created the creation he wrote a book, which is near him upon the sovereign throne; and what is written in it is this: “Verily my compassion overcometh my wrath.”

Say not, if people do good to us, we will do good to them, and if people oppress us, we will oppress them: but resolve that if people do good to you, you will do good to them, and if they oppress you, oppress them not again.

God saith: Whoso does one good act, for him are ten rewards, and I also give more to whomsoever I will; and whoso does ill, its retaliation is equal to it, or else I forgive him; and he who seeketh to approach me one cubit, I will seek to approach him two fathoms; and he who walketh toward me, I will run toward him; and he who cometh before me with the earth full of sins, but joins no partner to me, I will come before him with an equal front of forgiveness.

There are seven people whom God will draw under his own shadow, on that day when there will be no other shadow: one a just king; another, who hath employed himself in devotion from his youth; the third, who fixes his heart on the mosque ’till he return to it; the fourth, two men whose friendship is to please God, whether together or separate; the fifth, a man who remembereth God when he is alone, and weeps; the sixth, a man who is tempted by a rich and beautiful woman, and saith, Verily I fear God; the seventh, a man who hath given alms and concealed it, so that his left hand knoweth not what his right hand doeth.

The most excellent of all actions is to befriend anyone on God’s account, and to be at enmity with whosoever is the enemy of God.

Verily ye are in an age in which if ye abandon one-tenth of what is ordered, ye will be ruined. After this a time will come when he who shall observe one-tenth of what is now ordered will be redeemed.

Concerning Prayer

Angels come among you both night and day; then those of the night ascend to heaven, and God asks them how they left his creatures: they say, We left them at prayer, and we found them at prayer.

The rewards for the prayers which are performed by people assembled together are double of those which are said at home.

Ye must not say your prayers at the rising or the setting of the sun: so when a limb of the sun appeareth, leave your prayers until her whole orb is up: and when the sun begins to set, quit your prayers until the whole orb hath disappeared; for, verily she riseth between the two horns of the devil.

No neglect of duty is imputable during sleep; for neglect can only take place when one is awake: therefore, when any of you forget your prayers, say them when ye recollect.

When any one of you goeth to sleep, the devil ties three knots upon his neck; and saith over every knot, “The night is long, sleep.” Therefore, if a servant awake and remember God, it openeth one knot; and if he perform the ablution, it openeth another; and if he say prayers, it openeth the other; and he riseth in the morning in gladness and purity: otherwise he riseth in a lethargic state.

When a Muslim performs the ablution, it washes from his face those faults which he may have cast his eyes upon; and when he washes his hands, it removes the faults they may have committed, and when he washes his feet, it dispels the faults toward which they may have carried him: so that he will rise up in purity from the place of ablution.

Of Charity

When God created the earth it began to shake and tremble; then God created mountains, and put them upon the earth, and the land became firm and fixed; and the angels were astonished at the hardness of the hills, and said, “O God, is there anything of thy creation harder than hills?” and God said, “Yes, water is harder than the hills, because it breaketh them.” Then the angel said, “O Lord, is there anything of thy creation harder than water?” He said, “Yes, wind overcometh water: it does agitate it and put it in motion.” They said, “O our Lord! is there anything of thy creation harder than wind?” He said, “Yes, the children of Adam giving alms: those who give with their right hand, and conceal from their left, overcome all.”

The liberal man is near the pleasure of God and is near paradise, which he shall enter into, and is near the hearts of men as a friend, and he is distant from hell; but the niggard is far from God’s pleasure and from paradise, and far from the hearts of men, and near the fire; and verily a liberal ignorant man is more beloved by God than a niggardly worshiper.

A man’s giving in alms one piece of silver in his lifetime is better for him than giving one hundred when about to die.

Think not that any good act is contemptible, though it be but your brother’s coming to you with an open countenance and good humor.

There is alms for a man’s every joint, every day in which the sun riseth; doing justice between two people is alms; and assisting a man upon his beast, and with his baggage, is alms; and pure words, for which are rewards; and answering a questioner with mildness is alms, and every step which is made toward prayer is alms, and removing that which is an inconvenience to man, such as stones and thorns, is alms.

The people of the Prophet’s house killed a goat, and the Prophet said, “What remaineth of it?” They said, “Nothing but the shoulder; for they have sent the whole to the poor and neighbors, except a shoulder which remaineth.” The Prophet said, “Nay, it is the whole goat that remaineth except its shoulder: that remaineth which they have given away, the rewards of which will be eternal, and what remaineth in the house is fleeting.”

Feed the hungry, visit the sick, and free the captive if he be unjustly bound.

Of Labor and Profit

Verily the best things which ye eat are those which ye earn yourselves or which your children earn.

Verily it is better for one of you to take a rope and bring a bundle of wood upon his back and sell it, in which case God guards his honor, than to beg of people, whether they give him or not; if they do not give him, his reputation suffers and he returns disappointed; and if they give him, it is worse than that, for it layeth him under obligations.

A man came to the Prophet, begging of him something, and the Prophet said, “Have you nothing at home?” He said, “Yes, there is a large carpet, with one part of which I cover myself, and spread the other, and there is a wooden cup in which I drink water.” Then the Prophet said, “Bring me the carpet and the cup.” And the man brought them, and the Prophet took them in his hand, and said, “Who will buy them?” A man said, “I will take them at one silver piece.” He said, “Who will give more?” This he repeated twice or thrice. Another man said, “I will take them for two pieces of silver.” Then the Prophet gave the carpet and cup to that man, and took the two pieces of silver, and gave them to the helper, and said, “Buy food with one of these pieces, and give it to your family, that they may make it their sustenance for a few days; and buy a hatchet with the other piece and bring it to me.” And the man brought it; and the Prophet put a handle to it with his own hands, and then said, “Go, cut wood, and sell it, and let me not see you for fifteen days.” Then the man went cutting wood, and selling it; and he came to the Prophet, when verily he had got ten pieces of silver, and he bought a garment with part of it, and food with part. Then the Prophet said, “This cutting and selling of wood, and making your livelihood by it, is better for you than coming on the day of resurrection with black marks on your face.”

Acts of begging are scratches and wounds by which a man wounds his own face; then he who wishes to guard his face from scratches and wounds must not beg, unless that a man asks from his prince, or in an affair in which there is no remedy.

The Prophet hath cursed ten persons on account of wine: one, the first extractor of the juice of the grape for others; the second, for himself; the third, the drinker of it; the fourth, the bearer of it; the fifth, the person to whom it is brought; the sixth, the waiter; the seventh, the seller of it; the eighth, the eater of its price; the ninth, the buyer of it; the tenth, that person who hath purchased it for another.

Merchants shall be raised up liars on the day of resurrection, except he who abstains from that which is unlawful, and does not swear falsely, but speaketh true in the price of his goods.

The taker of interest and the giver of it, and the writer of its papers and the witness to it, are equal in crime.

The holder of a monopoly is a sinner and offender.

The bringers of grain to the city to sell at a cheap rate gain immense advantage by it, and he who keepeth back grain in order to sell at a high rate is cursed.

He who desireth that God should redeem him from the sorrows and difficulties of the day of resurrection must delay in calling on poor debtors, or forgive the debt in part or whole.

A martyr shall be pardoned every fault but debt.

Whosoever has a thing with which to discharge a debt, and refuseth to do it, it is right to dishonor and punish him.

A bier was brought to the Prophet, to say prayers over it. He said, “Hath he left any debts?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “Hath he left anything to discharge them?” They said, “No.” The Prophet said, “Say ye prayers over him; I shall not.”

Give the laborer his wage before his perspiration be dry.

Of Judgments

The first judgment that God will pass on man at the day of resurrection will be for murder.

Whosoever throws himself from the top of a mountain and killeth himself is in hell fire forever; and whosoever killeth himself with iron, his iron shall be in his hand, and he will stab his belly with it in hell fire everlastingly.

No judge must decide between two persons whilst he is angry.

There is no judge who hath decided between men, whether just or unjust, but will come to God’s court on the day of resurrection held by the neck by an angel; and the angel will raise his head toward the heavens and wait for God’s orders; and if God orders to throw him into hell, the angel will do it from a height of forty years’ journey.

Verily there will come on a just judge at the day of resurrection such fear and horror, that he will wish, Would to God that I had not decided between two persons in a trial for a single date.

Of Women and Slaves

The world and all things in it are valuable, but the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman.

I have not left any calamity more hurtful to man than woman.

A Muslim can not obtain (after righteousness) anything better than a well-disposed, beautiful wife: such a wife as, when ordered by her husband to do anything, obeys; and if her husband look at her, is happy; and if her husband swear by her to do a thing, she does it to make his oath true; and if he be absent from her, she wishes him well in her own person by guarding herself from inchastity, and taketh care of his property.

Verily the best of women are those who are content with little.

Admonish your wives with kindness; for women were created out of a crooked rib of Adam, therefore if ye wish to straighten it, ye will break it; and if ye let it alone, it will be always crooked.

Every woman who dieth, and her husband is pleased with her, shall enter into paradise.

That which is lawful but disliked by God is divorce.

A woman may be married by four qualifications: one, on account of her money; another, on account of the nobility of her pedigree; another, on account of her beauty; a fourth, on account of her faith; therefore look out for religious women, but if ye do it from any other consideration, may your hands be rubbed in dirt.

A widow shall not be married until she be consulted; nor shall a virgin be married until her consent be asked, whose consent is by her silence.

When the Prophet was informed that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Chosroes their queen, he said The tribe that constitutes a woman its ruler will not find redemption.

Do not prevent your women from coming to the mosque; but their homes are better for them.

O assembly of women, give alms, although it be of your gold and silver ornaments; for verily ye are mostly of hell on the day of resurrection.

When ye return from a journey and enter your town at night, go not to your houses, so that your wives may have time to comb their disheveled hair.

God has ordained that your brothers should be your slaves: therefore him whom God hath ordained to be the slave of his brother, his brother must give him of the food which he eateth himself, and of the clothes wherewith he clothes himself and not order him to do anything beyond his power, and if he does order such a work, he must himself assist him in doing it.

He who beats his slave without fault, or slaps him in the face, his atonement for this is freeing him.

A man who behaves ill to his slave will not enter into paradise.

Forgive thy servant seventy times a day.

Of Government

Government is a trust from God, and verily government will be at the day of resurrection a cause of inquiry, unless he who hath taken it be worthy of it and have acted justly and done good.

Verily a king is God’s shadow upon the earth; and every one oppressed turneth to him: then when the king doeth justice, for him are rewards and gratitude from his subjects: but, if the king oppresses, on him is his sin, and for the oppressed resignation.

That is the best of men who dislikes power. Beware! ye are all guardians; and ye will be asked about your subjects: then the leader is the guardian of the subject, and he will be asked respecting the subject; and a man is a shepherd to his own family, and will be asked how they behaved, and his conduct to them; and a wife is guardian to her husband’s house and children, and will be interrogated about them; and a slave is a shepherd to his master’s property, and will be asked about it, whether he took good care of it or not.

There is no prince who oppresses the subject and dieth, but God forbids paradise to him.

If a negro slave is appointed to rule over you, hear him, and obey him, though his head should be like a dried grape.

There is no obedience due to sinful commands, nor to any other than what is lawful.

O Prophet of God, if we have princes over us, wanting our rights, and withholding our rights from us, then what do you order us? He said, “Ye must hear them and obey their orders: it is on them to be just and good, and on you to be obedient and submissive.”

He is not strong or powerful who throws people down, but he is strong who withholds himself from anger.

When one of you getteth angry, he must sit down, and if his anger goeth away from sitting, so much the better; if not, let him lie down.

Of the State after Death

To whomsoever God giveth wealth, and he does not perform the charity due from it, his wealth will be made into the shape of a serpent on the day of resurrection, which shall not have any hair upon its head, and this is a sign of its poison and long life, and it hath two black spots upon its eyes, and it will be twisted round his neck like a chain on the day of resurrection; then the serpent will seize the man’s jaw-bones, and will say, “I am thy wealth, the charity for which thou didst not give, and I am thy treasure, from which thou didst not separate any alms.”

The Prophet asked us, “Did any one of you dream?” We said, “No.” He said, “But I did. Two men came to me and took hold of my hands, and carried me to a pure land: and behold, there was a man sitting and another standing: the first had an iron hook in his hand, and was hooking the other in the lip, and split it to the back of the neck, and then did the same with the other lip. While this was doing the first healed, and the man kept on from one lip to the other. I said, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘Move on,’ and we did so ’till we reached a man sleeping on his back, and another standing at his head with a stone in his hand, with which he was breaking the other’s head, and afterward rolled the stone about and then followed it, and had not yet returned, when the man’s head was healed and well. Then he broke it again, and I said, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘Walk on’; and we walked, ’till we came to a hole like an oven, with its top narrow and its bottom wide, and fire was burning under it, and there were naked men and women in it; and when the fire burned high the people mounted also, and when the fire subsided they subsided also. Then I said, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘Move on’; and we went on ’till we came to a river of blood, with a man standing in the middle of it, and another man on the bank, with stones in his hands: and when the man in the river attempted to come out, the other threw stones in his face, and made him return. And I said, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘Advance’; and we moved forward, ’till we arrived at a green garden, in which was a large tree, and an old man and children sitting on the roots of it, and near it was a man lighting a fire. Then I was carried upon the tree, and put into a house which was in the middle of it—a better house I have never seen: and there were old men, young men, women, and children. After that they brought me out of the house and carried me to the top of the tree, and put me into a better house, where were old men and young men. And I said to my two conductors, ‘Verily ye have shown me a great many things tonight, then inform me of what I have seen.’ They said, ‘Yes: as to the man whom you saw with split lips, he was a liar, and will be treated in that way ’till the day of resurrection; and the person you saw getting his head broken is a man whom God taught the Qur’an, and he did not repeat it in the night, nor practice what is in it by day, and he will be treated as you saw ’till the day of resurrection; and the people you saw in the oven are adulterers; and those you saw in the river are receivers of usury; and the old man you saw under the tree is Abraham; and the children around them are the children of men: and the person who was lighting the fire was Malik, the keeper of hell; and the first house you entered was for the common believers; and as to the second house, it is for the martyrs: and we who conducted you are one of us Gabriel, and the other Michael; then raise up your head’; and I did so, and saw above it as it were a cloud: and they said, ‘That is your dwelling.’ I said, ‘Call it here, that I may enter it’; and they said, ‘Verily your life remaineth, but when you have completed it, you will come into your house.=”

When God created paradise, he said to Gabriel, “Go and look at it”; then Gabriel went and looked at it and at the things which God had prepared for the people of it. After that Gabriel came and said, “O my Lord! I swear by thy glory no one will hear a description of paradise but will be ambitious of entering it.” After that God surrounded paradise with distress and troubles, and said, “O Gabriel, go and look at paradise.” And he went and looked, and then returned and said, “O my Lord, I fear that verily no one will enter it.” And when God created hell fire he said to Gabriel, “Go and take a look at it.” And he went and looked at it, and returned and said, “O my Lord, I swear by thy glory that no one who shall hear a description of hell fire will wish to enter it.” Then God surrounded it with sins, desires, and vices; after that he said to Gabriel, “Go and look at hell fire,” and he went and looked at it, and said, “O my Lord, I swear by thy glory I am afraid that every one will enter hell, because sins are so sweet that there is none but will incline to them.”

If ye knew what I know of the condition of the resurrection and futurity, verily ye would weep much and laugh little.

Then I said, “O messenger of God! shall we perish while the virtuous are among us?” He said, Yes, when the wickedness shall be excessive, verily there will be tribes of my sects that will consider the wearing of silks and drinking liquor lawful, and will listen to the lute: and there will be men with magnificent houses, and their milch-animals will come to them in the evening, full of milk, and a man will come begging a little and they will say, Come to-morrow. Then God will quickly send a punishment upon them, and will change others into the shape of monkeys and swine, unto the day of resurrection.

Verily among the signs of the resurrection will be the taking away of knowledge from among men; and their being in great ignorance and much wickedness and much drinking of liquor, and diminution of men, and there being many women; to such a degree that there will be fifty women to one man, and he will work for a livelihood for the women.

How can I be happy, when Israel hath put the trumpet to his mouth to blow it, leaning his ear toward the true God for orders, and hath already knit his brow, waiting in expectation of orders to blow it?

Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, vol. 6 (New York: Parke, Austin, and Lipscomb, 1917), 14-17, 18-19, 20-22, 23-24, 27-30. Located on the Internet Archive:

3. Dr. Sherif Abdel-Azeem-Women in Islam versus Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition 

The link below will take you to an article written by Dr. Sherif Abdel-Azeem Mohamed, an electrical engineering professor at Cairo University in Egypt. Dr. Azeem is known as a Hafiz, the name given to Muslims who have committed the entire Qu’ran to memory. Please read the following sections from the webpage: the Introduction, the Veil, and the Epilogue.

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Western Civilization-An Open Source Book by Ryan P. Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.