Islam and Its Influence on Political and Social Situations
Islam is arguably one of the dominant religions in the world and has significantly influenced the political and social situations in most countries either directly or indirectly. This religion started in the early 7th century CE after other major religions; Judaism and Christianity (Black 2).
It is a purely monotheistic religion which is characterized by the acceptance of the theological doctrine of total submission to God and adherence to the teachings and prophecies of Muhammad as the chief and the last prophet to be sent by God (Cohn-Sherbok 137). The people who subscribe to and practice the teachings of Islam are referred to as Muslims and the nations where Islam is practiced constitute what is generally referred to as the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East.
From a different perspective, Islam may refer to the notable civilizations brought about by the Muslim world during different times of its existence (Lapidus 3). This research paper seeks to explore the influences that Islam has on both the political and social aspects of the world community. It will adopt a chronological approach from the emergence of Islam in the seventh century to the present.
Brief History of Islam
During the sixth and the seventh centuries, the Arabs of Arabian Peninsula were mainly polytheists; those who worship many Gods. It was at the dawn of the seventh century that Muhammad, a caravan merchant from the city if Mecca, denounced such paganism as being a total perversion of the will of God.
He was 40 years of age when he claimed that the true God had revealed to him a doctrine of divine reward of obedience and consequences of failing to heed His teachings. Muhammad started preaching by emphasizing that earlier prophets like Abraham and Moses had been sent by God because humankind was lost in idolatry (Cohn-Sherbok 137). He had learnt these teachings from the Jews and Christians who lived in Mecca at the time.
He acknowledged that these two religions had received the revelation through the Torah and the Gospels. Mohammed, however, claimed that the new revelation to him by God surpassed earlier revelations and that he was the last prophet in God’s divine plan for humankind.
From the onset, Muhammad embarked on a mission to win follows especially from the Jewish community but he was faced with stiff resistance since he was not recognized as God’s prophet in the first place (Cohn-Sherbok 137).
Consequently, he denounced the Jewish people and regarded them as nonbelievers who deserved to be cursed by Allah, the one true God. Though he believed in the earlier prophecies, Muhammad was convinced that the Jews had altered God’s authentic message by scrapping the parts that had predicted that he would be the last messenger from God.
He said that Qur’an was God’s message communicated directly to him by Angel Gabriel. This firm stand by Muhammad marked the beginning of the seemingly unending conflict between Judaism and Islam. This confrontation saw the expulsion of two Jewish tribes from Medina and the extermination of another. Women and children of the exterminated tribe were enslaved instead.
Two years later, Muslims took over the Jewish oasis of Khaybar to the north and those who gave half of what they had produced as tribute to Islam were allowed to remain there (Cohn-Sherbok 137). The constitution of Medina and various treaties signed between Muslims and Jews outlined the rights of all partners aimed at enhancing coexistence. The death of Muhammad in 632 C.E. sparked internal wrangles within the Muslim world on who was to succeed the prophet and give guidance to the then rapidly growing number of followers.
By the year 644, Muslim soldiers were spread across Israel, Syria, Persia, Egypt, and Iraq. Sixteen years later and the Islam Empire had expanded to a large part of Asia aided by the Muslim armies. Islam crossed into the continent of Europe after the armies conquered the Iberian Peninsula at the start of the eighth century (Cohn-Sherbok 137).
However, Muslims were unable to conquer the entire Europe during this period and most countries were still under the rule of Christians (Cohn-Sherbok 154). Towards the end of the eighth century, widespread conversion to Islam was discouraged and the Jews were assured of their religious freedom or tolerance as long as they recognized the supremacy of the Islamic state under Muhammad.
The treaties signed at the beginning of the ninth century saw the emergence of a political and economic arrangement that resulted in the Jews moving out of their land to diaspora. The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates which had ruled during the two centuries of Islamic domination of the Jewish community had greatly influenced the political and social situations at the time (Cohn-Sherbok 138).
Theological and Social tenets of Islam
Islam as a religion has five major pillars upon which all political, religious, social, economic, and cultural concepts are hinged. There is the belief in the one true God and Muhammad, his Prophet, obligations of prayer, exercising charity, going on pilgrimage (Hajj) to the holiest city, Mecca, at least once in a lifetime, and fasting during the month of Ramadan (Lapidus 5).
The Shari’ah or Law is the essential concept in Islam which guides all Muslims on how to live a life willed by God. All Muslims are encouraged to defend Islam at all costs especially those do not believe through the holy known as Jihad. It is also important to note that after the death of Muhammad, issues have arose over who was to succeed Prophet Muhammad leading to major split.
Two separate groups were formed in mid-seventh century, the Sunni and the Shi’ites (Wouk 176). The majority are the Sunnis who constitute about 90% of the entire Muslim population. Shi’ites, on the other hand, continued to be divided into smaller sects like the Isma’ilis. These tensions and conflicts have existed to the present day.
Sufism is a mystical movement in Islam that seeks to ensure every Muslim finds a definitive knowledge by encountering God through real life experiences. This movement emerged after the death of Muhammad by some Muslims who thought that traditional Islam was spiritually oppressive (Lapidus 12).
Although Sufi adherents have always clashed with mainstream Muslims on the grounds of Islamic Law and theology, this practice has had significant influence on the religion especially through its rich literature (Wouk 201). This has great influence on social situations even in the modern Islam.
Fundamentalism is a social tenet in Islam that has inspired the Muslim world to rise against the influence of Western dominion since the start of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of the twentieth century, several secular governments in the Middle East region were shaken or even overthrown by fundamentalist movements. These movements were mainly made up of conservative Muslims who advocated for the need to embrace traditional Islamic values and the rule of law as provided for in the Sharia.
Fundamentalist values are totally against Western modernization which is depicted and believed to be corrupt and meant for nonbelievers. These strong Islamic believes have shaped perceptions that the West have towards the Middle East. They regard them as terrorists yet very few of them are actually terrorists, and all terrorists in the region are not fundamentalists (Lapidus 24).
It is evident that this kind of Islamic movement has had significant influence on the political and social situations in most Middle East countries. In 1979, there was a revolution in Iran which has ever since led to the establishment of a purely fundamentalist state (Kertzer 113).
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has been struggling to ensure that the country remains a fundamentalist one. This element has gone a long way in influencing the politics of affected countries. These movements have also penetrated to some parts of North Africa, the Islamic states in South East Asia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh though they remain a minority (Lapidus 17).
The extremists in Islam have not only raised anger from non-Muslims but also among the Muslims themselves because they abuse religion and its teachings. Since the start of the year 2011, several national revolutions have been witnessed in the Muslim world; Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and other countries in the Middle Eastern region. These uprisings have been associated with Islam in one way or another especially some of its oppressive leadership.
Islam’s teachings on the concept of Jihad have influenced political and social relations with other states. The Qur’an teaches that for one to a Muslim, he or she must struggle or strive in the fight of a holly war, a spiritual warfare (Black 26). This is with an aim of living a good life as required of any Muslim.
However, this teaching has been interpreted differently by the radical Muslims especially during the second half of the 20th century and the dawn of the twenty first century. They believe that the Qur’an calls for a real warfare against the atheists, especially those from the Western world who have been fighting against the establishment of Islamic states in the oil-rich region.
The radical Muslims will go to any length to defend what they believe in even if it means dying for the sake of faith. Individuals strap explosives to their chests and blow themselves up, together with their supposed targets as well as innocent ones and they regarded as heroes, especially in the territories of Palestine that has witnessed one of the longest conflicts. The increased cases of suicide bombers and related heinous acts of terrorism can be attributed to such believes and teachings (Black 19).
The consequences have been far-reaching, most especially in the West and other countries that demonstrate cooperation with Western and European agenda. The worst tragedy linked directly to radical Islamism was witnessed in September 11, 2001 in America, a bloody attack masterminded by the former leader of Al Qaeda, the late Osama Bin Laden.
The adherents of radical Islam are not the majority but the impacts of their actions are enormous. In pluralistic societies where Muslims are the minority, political and social relations have been strained because the dominant groups view them from a general perspective as terrorists. This has resulted in some forms of discrimination when it comes to basic human rights; freedom of speech, association, right to hold public office, among others (Black 25).
Islam in the Western World
Currently, Islam is regarded as one of the fastest growing religions in the world. In the United States, Muslims are estimated to be six million and are spread across the states (Black 7). About 2000 Islamic institutions existed in North America by the year 1992 (Smith 12).
These include community centers, media houses, schools, publishing houses, and mosques. This notable growth is attributed to the conferences organized by Muslims shortly after the end of World War II. Most successful conferences were organized by Muslim students in American universities in 1963.
By 1993, the Muslim community was represented in the U.S. armed forces by the first ever Muslim chaplain (Melton 253). By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the number has grown to thousands. This systematic infiltration of Islam into the developed democracies of the West has significantly changed the general political orientation and social situations (Haddad 24).
Most of these influences have been facilitated by constitutional provisions which seek to uphold the respect for all mankind. Some researchers predicted that by 2015, the size of the Muslim community in America will be the largest religion, overtaking other non-Christian religions (Melton 273).
It is not surprising that political/presidential candidates in the U.S. have to choose their words properly so as not to be seen as being anti-Islam and at the same time they are expected to assure the citizens that they will be secure. Clearly, Islam has by large influenced politics and social situations in both developed as well as developing democracies.
The research paper has broadly discussed the topic of Islam and how it has influenced political and social situations over the past centuries to the present. In the introduction, an attempt has been made to explain what Islam is since it is a term that is used repeatedly throughout the paper. In the next section, the history of Islam and its notable influences since it came into existence in 613 C.E has been briefly covered.
It is crucial to note that Islam was started by Muhammad after claiming that the one and true God had revealed to him important information which he was to communicate to the entire humankind. This, according to Muhammad, was after the people refused to take heed of God’s will revealed through earlier prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jesus, among others. That he was going to be the last prophet to be send by God.
The political aspect of Islam, as brought out in the discussion, was started by Muhammad himself after he became the ruler of Medina. Here, he developed the first ever written law that governed all within the territories of Medina. Since then, Islam has influenced Jewish, Christian, and other religions as well as atheists alike. As a religion, Islam rests on five pillars; belief in God and Muhammad, his last messenger, charity/almsgiving, prayer, pilgrimage (Hajj), and fasting.
The paper has elaborated on these pillars and other social tenets that are believed to have influenced politics and social situations in different parts of the world. The research paper also focuses on the growth of Islam especially in the Western world. It has emerged that Islam is rapidly spreading and leaving a trail of notable influences on its path.
Black, Andrew . The history of Islamic political thought: from the prophet to the present. New York: Routledge, 2001, pp. 23-47
Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. Judaism: history, belief, and practice. New York: Routledge Press, 2003, pp. 137- 139, 154
Haddad, Yvonne, and John, Esposito (eds). Muslims on the Americanization Path? Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998, 9-75
Kertzer, Morris M. What is Jew? New York: Touchstone, 1993, pp. 113-134
Lapidus, Innocent M. State and religion in Islamic societies. Past and Present, 151, 1996:3-27.
Melton, J. Gordon. Encyclopedia of American Religions (6th ed.). Detroit, Michigan: Gale, 1999, 227-275
Smith, Jane I. Islam in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, 1-25
Wouk, Herman. This is my God. New York: Back Bay/ Little, Brown & Co., 1992, pp. 176-221