Basics of Islam

What is Islam?
A religion? The hadith of Gabriel (Murata and Chittick xxvff) calls it din
The goal: Tawhid ("asserting God's unity")
Three main dimensions:
Islam (submission): a duty
Shahadah: a confession of faith that invokes the sharia (Law)
salat: recited prayers, after Muhammad's example, in a state of purity (tahara)
zakat: almsgiving
fasting during Ramadan
Hajj: pilgrimmage to Mecca (if possible)
jihad: military and ascetic struggle
Iman (faith): a worldview
Ihsan (virtue): a character
M&C are not describing Muslim history, civilization, and culture as Westerners would, but the classical (premodern) Muslim din
This is embodied differently in different competing communities:
"learned Islam": ulama
"mystical Islam": sufis, walis
"folk Islam": families, merchants
"liberal Islam": Westernized intellectuals
"political Islam": Islamist reformers (Wahhabis, Deobands)
"ideal Islam": apologists and dreamers
(the Sunni/Shi'i split crosses over all these)

What is happening in Islam today?

The Muslim world "is in the process of major transformation" (Voll 3)
Voll describes contemporary Islamic history and civilization through a modern, less theological, chronological and geographic description more Muslims are coming to appreciate
Three main dimensions of his analysis (Voll 4-5):
Local contexts and personalities
General history and dynamics of the modern world
The continuous character of Islam itself
Eighteenth century themes (Voll 25-31):
political decentralization (weakened Ottoman control)
Sufi transformation from mysticism/syncretism to activism/reform (the Naqshbandiyyah tariqah)
social reconstruction under scholarly revivalists (Wahhabism)
 
Other key terms (see glossaries in both texts)
Authoritative traditions:
Qur'an: Prophetic Scripture, the basis of Muslim truth and life, divided into Surah ("chapter") and Aya ("verse")
Sunna: the sayings and stories of the Prophet, recorded in hadith literature
Authorities:
'Ilm: Interpretation of texts, by an 'alim (jurist) among the 'ulama
Madhhab: A school of fiqh (legal interpretation)
Sufi: Muslim mystic
Wali: One especially close to God, a "saint" whose life should be respected and imitated
Politics:
Mecca: the first Quranic context, where Muhammad struggles for acceptance
Medina: the second Quranic context, where the Muslim community first rules
Caliph: the leader of the Umma, or Muslim community (after Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Uthman, Umar, Ali...)
Umayyads and Abbasids: Empires ruled by Muslim dynasties
Factions:
Shi'i: Follower of Ali, who forms a splinter group (like Temple scribes?) which vests authority in imams (teachers) with the light of Muhammad
Kharijite: Purist (like Zealots?) who terrorized Shi'a and Sunni compromisers
Sunni: The Muslim majority, which lives with political realism and consensus (like Sadducees and later Pharisees?)
 
Proceed with caution
Four warnings for Christians studying Islam:
Don't impose a Christian-style "orthodoxy" on Muslim convictions
Don't impose one camp's understanding on the whole
Don't assume that Muslim distinctives parallel Christian distinctives
Don't take one era's issues as definitive for all eras, even the first
Be good guests in someone else's mansion
Our tour: Practices, texts, history, encounters
What are our biases?