Islam For Dummies


by Ralph R. Roberts and Chip Cummings




About the Author

Warren Malcolm Clark (who goes by the name Malcolm) is Professor of Religion Emeritus at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he taught for 30 years. A former chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, he taught courses in Biblical studies, Islam, the Qur’an, World Religions, American Religion, Women and Religion, Modern Religious Movements, and Egyptology. Prior to teaching at Butler University, he taught at Princeton Theological Seminary for six years.

Professor Clark’s undergraduate degree is in American History from Harvard University, and he holds a Master of Divinity and Ph.D. from Yale. His doctoral studies focused on Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern studies, and he did a year of post-graduate study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Professor Clark is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He began teaching courses on Islam 12 years ago and helped develop a unit on the rise of Islam that all Butler students take as part of a required World Civilizations course. He grew up in Texas, is married to Sharon Raven Clark, and has two married daughters (Sabrina and Rebekah) and two grandchildren. Retired in 2002, he and his wife will soon move to Mammoth Lakes, California.


I dedicate this book to colleagues and former students at Butler University, including those students who studied Islam with me, and especially Muslim students who helped broaden my knowledge and appreciation of Islam.

Author’s Acknowledgments

I wish to think my acquisitions editor, Pam Mourouzis, who initially contacted me and encouraged me to consider writing this book. I soon found out that writing a For Dummies book is unlike anything I’ve written before. The more I worked on the book, the more I wished I had additional time and space to explore topics in more depth. With a limited amount of time to produce my manuscript (in comparison with more open-ended deadlines in my previous academic writing), my project editor, Tere Drenth, kept me on track. She provided much help on style, content, and organization and pushed me to include materials I may have omitted.

The technical reviewer, Professor Jamsheed Choksy of Indiana University, also provided great help in refining my thoughts and avoiding errors that I would otherwise have made.

My wife, Sharon, carefully read each chapter of the book as I produced them, proclaiming herself a good substitute for a typical Dummies reader. She also went beyond anything I could reasonably ask of her by carefully rereading the entire manuscript as it went through proofing and production.

Although I was retired by the time I began work on Islam For Dummies, I must also acknowledge my students. By teaching them, I learned much more about many religion — including Islam — than what I knew when I emerged from graduate school.

Local Islamic organizations in Indianapolis have been a great resource for the teaching of Islam at Butler. I especially acknowledge the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which has its headquarters in the Indianapolis area, and two local mosques, Masjid-al-Fajr (Mosque of the Dawn) and Masjid Nur Allah (Light of God Mosque), all of which have graciously hosted visits by Butler students. Finally I wish to acknowledge Laila Ayoubi, an Afghani Muslim, and her family. I’ve had the pleasure of having two of her sons in my Islam classes, and my wife and I have both been charmed by our contacts with her and her family over the past years.



Publisher’s Acknowledgments

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About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go From Here

Part I : Understanding the Basics

Chapter 1: Approaching Islam

Getting an Overview of Islamic Origins

Summarizing Islamic Beliefs

Dividing into Branches

Counting the Numbers

Locating Islam on the World Map

Chapter 2: Tracing the Path of Islamic History

The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs

The Golden Age

Bridging the Gap

Three Great Later Empires

Chapter 3: Submitting to God

Affirming the Unity of God: Tawhid

Clarifying the Terminology: Allah Equals God

Testifying to God’s Supremacy

Defining the Attributes of God

Loving and Knowing God

Invoking the 99 Names of God

Chapter 4: What Muslims Believe

Stating the Five Essential Beliefs of Islam

Explaining the Faith to Non-Muslims

Expounding the Faith: Dealing with Difficult Faith Issues

Naming some theological issues

Rejecting Formal Creeds

Chapter 5: Standing Before God: Heaven and Hell

Understanding Other Beings beyond God and Humans

Going to Heaven or Hell: From Life to Death to Resurrection

Envisioning Heaven and Hell

Part II : Muhammad: The Man, the Book, and Rules of Law

Chapter 6: The Prophet: Muhammad

Setting the Stage: Arabia before Muhammad

Telling the Story of Muhammad

Thinking about Muhammad Theologically

Relating Personally to Muhammad

Searching for the Historical Muhammad

Chapter 7: The Book: The Qur’an

Introducing the Qur’an

Hearing the Qur’an

Treating the Qur’an with Respect

Gathering and Organizing the Qur’an

The Style of the Qur’an

Interpreting the Qur’an

Using the Qur’an in Daily Life

Opening the Qur’an: The Fatiha

Chapter 8: Islamic Tradition and Law

Imitating Muhammad

Understanding God’s Law

Part III : Becoming Familiar with Muslim Daily Life

Chapter 9: The Five Pillars of Worship: Foundations of Islam

Purification: Getting Ready for Worship

The Shahada (First Pillar): Testifying

Salat (Second Pillar): Praying

Zakat (Third Pillar): Helping the Needy

Saum (Fourth Pillar): Reflecting and Fasting

Hajj (Fifth Pillar): Making the Pilgrimage to Mecca

Chapter 10: Observing Other Religious Rituals and Customs

Rituals Linked to the Yearly Calendar

Marking Life’s Transitions

Observing Everyday Customs

Looking at Women’s Rituals

Chapter 11: Muslim Ethics: Living the Good Life

Reviewing the Starting Points for Islamic Ethics

Applying Ethics to Practical Issues

Understanding Sexual Ethics

Outlining Ethics Regarding Marriage and Family

Part IV : Recognizing That All Muslims Aren’t the Same

Chapter 12: Shi`ites

Locating and Counting Shi`ite Muslims

Keeping the Faith in the Family

Reviewing Two Foundational Events of Shi`ism

Following the Line of the 12 Imams

Worshipping in Twelver Shi`ite Fashion

Thinking like Shi`ites

Interacting: Shi`ites, Sufis, and Sunnis

Chapter 13: Sufis

Searching for God

Believing in the Sufi Manner

Making a Contribution: Outstanding Individual Sufis

Organizing the Sufi Community

Acting in the Sufi Manner

Putting Faith into Verse: Sufi Literature

Establishing the Sufi Brotherhoods

Rejecting Sufism

Chapter 14: Exploring Lesser-Known Sects Linked to Islam

`Ibadis (the early Kharijites)

Zaydis (or Fiver Shi`ites)

Isma`ili (or Sevener Shi`ite) Groups

On the Fringes of Islam and Beyond

Chapter 15: Islam in America

Getting an Overview

Organizing the Muslim Community

Reestablishing a Black Muslim Community

Shi`ites in America

Sufis in America

Facing the Future as Muslim Americans

Part V : Considering Islam’s Concept of Abrahamic Religions

Chapter 16: Seeking Common Roots: Abrahamic Religion and Beyond

Belonging to the Same Family

Reading the Bible in the Qur’an

Muslims Facing Other Religions

Moving Toward Religious Dialogue

Chapter 17: Seeking Common Ground

Ascertaining Muslims’ Concerns

Hearing American Concerns Regarding Muslims

Facing the Major Issues

Knowing What’s Needed from the Muslim Side

Knowing What’s Needed from the Western Side

Chapter 18: Meeting the Challenge of Modernity

Considering Islamic Democracy

Reclaiming Identity as an Islamic State

Forming a Shi`ite Islamic Republic

Reviewing the Globalization of Islamic Radicalism: bin Laden and Afghanistan

Part VI : The Part of Tens

Chapter 19: Ten Muslim Contributions to World Civilization

Transmission of Greek Writings

Algebra and Mathematics

Arabic Numbers


Engineering and Technology



Physics, Specifically Optics


Chapter 20: Ten Noteworthy Muslims, Past and Present

Taking a Long Trip: Ibn Battuta

Gathering it All Together: al-Tabari

Wielding the Sword of Saladin

Glorifying the King: Akbar

Thinking Deep Thoughts: Ibn Rushd

Creating the First Philosophy of History: Ibn Khaldun

Becoming a Hero of the Revolution: Ali Shariati

Building Great Mosques: Sinan

Winning the Nobel Prize: Naguib Mahfouz

Listening to Umm Kulthum

Chapter 21: Ten Islamic Regions in the News Today


South Asia

Southeast Asia and the Pacific

The Balkan States



Palestine and Israel

The Former Soviet Union



Part VII : Appendixes

Appendix A: Counting the Years: The Muslim Calendar

Appendix B: Glossary

Appendix C: Resources: Digging Deeper

Academic Resources

The Qur’an

Video Resources

Computer Software

Islam on the Web

And Finally . . .


W elcome to Islam For Dummies, the book that keeps you from mixing up Muhammad, Mecca, and Medina. These pages divulge what you want to know about the beliefs, practices, and origins of Islam, as well as current developments in the Islamic world.

About This Book

Shocked and grieved by the events of September 11, 2001, people around the world are coming to understand that they have questions, misconceptions, and perhaps even fear about Islam, and this book is here to help. From giving information about the 1,000-year-old wound left on Islam by the Christian Crusades to understanding the Five Pillars of Faith, this book helps you put today’s conflicts into perspective.

In addition, if you live or work among Muslims or have seen a new mosque near your church or synagogue, this book can help you understand and relate to the Muslims in your midst. Muslims are poised to become the second largest religious group in the United States. With this book, you can understand the appeal of this faith without ever having to step foot in a mosque or pray toward Mecca.

I’m not Muslim, so this book isn’t written to either defend or attack Islam. Without getting hung up on points of tension between Muslims and non-Muslims, I don’t pretend that valid reasons for such differences don’t exist. This book is also not a textbook. You find some references to other works but no footnotes detailing the support for each point that’s made in the text. A number of good, short introductions to Islam exist, but their brevity means that their treatment of issues is highly selective. Islam For Dummies is longer than the typical 100- to 150-page introduction and, thus, more comprehensive.

Conventions Used in This Book

Keep the following conventions in mind as you read this book:

bullet Muslim refers to the people who practice Islam; islam is Arabic for submission to God; Islam refers to the name of the Muslim religion and to all the areas of the world that practice that religion; an Islamist is someone who supports Islamic political rule.

bullet Normal dating of years in the West uses B.C.(before Christ) and A.D. (after the birth of Christ—literally “in the year of our Lord”) dates. A.D. and B.C.are Christian terms because the very abbreviations affirm Jesus as Christ or as Lord. Today many — certainly not all — books aimed at a general audience that includes non-Christians use the designations B.C.E. and C.E., where B.C.E. stands for before common era and C.E. for common era. In terms of actual year, a B.C.E. date is the same as a B.C. date, and a C.E. date is the same as an A.D. date. That’s why many books, especially those talking about religion and aimed at a general audience, today use the equivalent, more neutral abbreviations of B.C.E. and C.E., as I do in this book. And often, if the context of a sentence makes clear that I’m talking about the common era, I list only the year and not C.E.

bullet I refer to the Qur’an in this manner: Sura 93:6–10. The Qur’an isn’t a collection of books like the Bible, so Sura doesn’t refer to different books of the Qur’an. Instead, sura is similar to the chapter designation of many books. Scholars have hypotheses but don’t even agree on the origin and original meaning of the word sura.


The most helpful comparison I have seen is to the Biblical book of Psalms: You don’t refer to Chapter 1 of the book of Psalms but to Psalm 1. Similarly, you refer not to Chapter 1 of the Qur’an but to Sura 1. The numbers after the colon are the verses in each sura. Just as Genesis 12:1–3 is a way of referring to the first three verses of Chapter 12 of the book of Genesis, Sura 12:1–3 refers to the first three verses of Sura 12 of the Qur’an. (Islam uses the term aya [sign] for these verses.) Versions of the Qur’an differ slightly in how they number verses (see Chapter 7), so if you look up a verse mentioned in this book and it doesn’t seem relevant, read the seven preceding and following verses, and you should find the cited verse in your translation.

bullet An essential assertion of the Qur’an is that it’s the word of God in the Arabic language. A translation of the Qur’an into another language is regarded as a paraphrase or interpretation of the Qur’an, distinct from the Arabic original. Islam has always required Muslim converts to acquire at least a minimal knowledge of the Qur’an in Arabic. Therefore, in discussing Islam and the Qur’an, one can’t avoid Arabic terms, which I use throughout this book. The words that you encounter in this book, often in parentheses, are transliterations of the essential Arabic terms. A transliteration is different from a translation. A translation gives the meaning of one word in another language, while a transliteration represents the writing or pronunciation of a word in one language (in this case, Arabic) in another language (in this case, English).

• The Arabic language uses different letters and words than does English, but I try to simplify as much as possible. For example, the Arabic language has several different “t” letters, and each is a little different from the others because of markings above and below the letters. In this book, I simply write, “t.”

• Similarly, Arabic, like other Semitic languages, has two essential consonants not represented in Western languages. These are referred to as `aliph (from which eventually comes English “A”) and `ayin (a guttural sound in the back of the throat). While sounding strange and hard to pronounce to Westerners, these are distinctly different letters, which I represent in this book with ‘ and `. Some other books, for simplicity, may ignore these letters, and while that’s acceptable, it can lead to confusion of two words identical except for whether they are spelled with ‘ or `.

• Because Arabic belongs to an entirely different language family than English, different possibilities exist for how to represent an Arabic term in English. If, when reading about Islam, you see two similar words spelled slightly differently, they probably both represent the same Arabic word. Don’t be concerned about which spelling is correct. For example, `id and Eid are two different English translations for the same Arabic word, which designates the two basic sacrifices of Islamic ritual. Where English has accepted normal usage that may not be technically correct, I use the common term with which you are familiar. For example, I refer to Islam’s holy city as Mecca, even through Makka is a more accurate representation of the Arabic name of the most holy city of Islam.

• Complete Arabic names can be very long, so I commonly use a shortened version. For example, I refer to the founder of the Hanifite legal school as Abu Hanifa rather than using his complete name: Abu Hanifa al-Nu`man ibn Thabit ibn Zuta.

Foolish Assumptions

As I’ve written this book, I’ve had a picture of you in my mind — your background, your experiences, and your needs for this book. The following are the assumptions I’ve made about you:

bullet You don’t need to know anything about Islam or any organized religion prior to reading this book. However, when studying one religion, you often want to contrast and compare key concepts and terms with those in another religion. In this book, I introduce such terms from Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, but feel free to skip over these references to other religions, if you wish. In any book on Islam, you find more comparisons to Christianity and Judaism than to Far Eastern and South Asian religions. This is because Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are related religions of the same Abrahamic “family” (see Part V). Of course, in today’s global society, the more you know about all religions and cultures, the better prepared you are to understand any one.

bullet You don’t have to be Muslim in order to understand Islam. Believers and non-believers have complementary insights into Islam.

bullet My experiences haven’t included all parts of the Muslim world. When I explain a particular belief or practice in Islam, don’t assume that what I say is the only way to understand that particular belief or practice.


All Muslims won’t agree with everything in this book.

bullet This book isn’t proposing new interpretations of Islam. Instead, it conveys consensus thinking among scholars and theologians.

How This Book is Organized

While writing this book, I’ve had to be selective about which information to include about a religion that’s over 1,400 years old, has over a billion members, and spans the globe. In this book, you won’t find answers to every question you may have, but in each of the seven parts of the book, I’ve attempted to deal with topics that are related to one another. If the Table of Contents doesn’t lead you to what most interests you, try consulting the Index at the back of the book.

Part I: Understanding the Basics

This chapter helps you understand what Muslims believe, shares a bit of Muslim history, and gives general information about the number of Muslims in the world and which countries are predominantly Muslim.

Part II: Muhammad: The Man, the Book, and Rules of Law

This part introduces you to Muhammad, the Qur’an, and legal and ethical teachings of Islam.

Part III: Becoming Familiar with Muslim Daily Life

In this part, I tell you about Muslim worship and about rituals surrounding birth, marriage, and death. I also discuss some Muslims customs.

Part IV: Recognizing That All Muslims Aren’t the Same

Islam has different group of believers and here are some — Shi`ites, Sunnis, Sufis, Druze, and others. This part also discusses Muslims in America.

Part V: Considering Islam’s Concept of Abrahamic Religions

In this part, I explore how the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) relate to one another historically and today, and how Islam has adapted to modernization and globalization over the past 100 years including its contact with other, non-Abrahamic religions.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Muslims have made outstanding contributions to civilization. This part provides summaries of some of these contributions and the Muslims who have made them. Also, I discuss Islam in a number of specific countries today. If, at some point, you find the details of Islamic belief or practice hard going, take a break and turn to one of the quick chapters in the Parts of Ten.

Part VII: Appendixes

This part tells how to convert dates between the Muslim and the Western calendar, provides a glossary to jog your memory, and has suggestions about resources available for finding out more about Islam.

Icons Used in This Book

To call attention to useful information, I’ve put the following graphic images (icons) beside some paragraphs in this book:


This icon indicates passages from the Qur’an and other Islamic texts.


This icon spotlights important or useful information about Islam.


I put this icon beside information that will come in handy in understanding other things about Islam.


This icon clues you into an area of controversy or misunderstanding.


This icon is beside information that goes into far more detail than you probably want, but is still important for understanding Islam. If you just want the basics, skip these sections.

Where to Go From Here

This book is planned so that you can go directly to whatever interests you most about Islam. It’s not a novel that requires you to begin with Chapter 1 and end with the last chapter. You may want to begin with Chapter 1, which provides a quick overview of Islamic origins and beliefs. After that, check out the following common areas of interest:

bullet If you’re interested in Islamic beliefs, go to Chapters 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 11.

bullet For Muslim rituals and worship, go to Part III.

bullet If you’re more interested in Islamic history, turn to Chapters 2, 5, and 15.

bullet If you’re primarily interested in the modern world, read Chapters 17, 18, and 21.

bullet To read about Islam in America and the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, skip to Chapters 15, 16, and 17.

Or plan your own itinerary!

Part I

Understanding the Basics

In this part . . .

Although you can begin reading this book anywhere, this part begins by providing an overview of Islamic origins and beliefs. You find out about the main branches of Islam, the number of Muslims in the world, and the countries that have the largest Muslim populations. You may also want to read Chapter 2 to get an overview of Islamic history: Some of the references you come across in other chapters of this book are easier to understand if you have this historical background.

The real meat of this part deals with Islamic beliefs, including how God is understood in Islam. This part examines the key attribute of God in Islam — his oneness — as well as his other attributes, his names, and the signs that testify to God. In addition, this part considers key theological issues in early Islam, such as the relationships between faith and works and between theology and philosophy. I conclude this part by looking at Islamic beliefs concerning the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and the ultimate destination of heaven or hell.