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Muslims are the second largest religious community in the world after the Catholics (Saenz, 2005). Even though they are racially and ethnically diverse, they have taken on to themselves various connotations and there have been various perceptions regarding how Muslims are viewed across the world.
In the same respect, it is also evident that different Muslims in different countries behave differently depending on the cultural practices surrounding them. This therefore means that they perceive the Islamic teachings differently and that the practice is not the same all Muslims. In some countries for example, it is mandatory for women to wear a veil while in other countries, this is not compulsory (Curtis, 2006).
Going by the foregoing arguments, in spite of them being deeply rooted in their faith, Muslims from different parts of the world view Islam differently. This does not however mean that their practices are dwindling; it only illustrates that faith and religion are as good as one’s beliefs and perceptions.
As such, the essay below is an attempt to analyze the teachings of Islam and thereafter, illustrate how they are interpreted and perceived by different Muslims from different countries.
Islam: Beliefs and Practices
The Islamic religion is characterized by many beliefs and practices that have to be adhered to by members of this religious group. According to Saenz (2005), there are over one billion Muslims living in the European countries and in other continents like Asia and North Africa. In addition, there are approximately 40 Muslim dominated countries in the world (Saenz, 2005).
Even though the various practices of Islam are different from one country to another, nonetheless, we do have basic fundamental elements and teaching that they all look up to. The basic teachings of Islam revolve around Prophet Muhammad as the teachings were first revealed to him in the (Saenz, 2005).
Prophet Muhammad later collected these teachings that he had received and compiled them into the Holy Quran. In order to get guidance and teachings in their day- to- day lives, the Quran is a very important asset of the Muslim faithful since they rely on it as a basis for leading an Islamic way of life, according to the teachings of Allah, though Prophet Muhammad.
Besides being a prophet who role was to gather the materials in the Quran, Prophet Muhammad lived a life that was exemplary and that deserves to be emulated by all the Muslims.
Five Pillars of Islam
Every Muslim is required to adhere to the Islamic teachings which require that they follow the five pillars of Islam. The first of these pillars states that every Muslim has to confess his/her faith. In this case, all Muslims supposed to declare that besides Allah, there are no other gods (Esposito, 1998). This means that the Muslims are required to declare and acknowledge the monopolistic nature of the religion.
Under the teachings of Islam, Muslims have to observe the second pillar of Islam which is prayer. In this case, they are required and instructed to pray at certain times of the day and in total, ensure that they pray at least five times a day. The sequence of the prayer guideline begins with the azan prayer which is a call for all Muslims to come together and pray.
They are then required to follow an order in the recitation and proclaiming of messages in the Quran (Esposito, 1998). This entails taking successive bows while facing towards the city of Mecca, the holy land. In addition, Muslims are also to offer an amount of tax which is the equivalent of an offering that is dedicated for the poor and the needy among the Muslim members of the society.
This particular pillar is compulsory to all Muslims, as opposed to being voluntary. The fourth pillar is observing the Holy Month of Ramadan through fasting from sunrise to sunset, based on the sayings of the lunar calendar. During this period, Muslims area also required to reflect on their lives in regards to the wealth they have attained or the health that they have been endowed with.
They are then required to look out for the less fortunate in the society (Esposito, 1998). The last pillar that the Muslim faithful are supposed to observe according to their teachings is the pillar of pilgrimage where they are required to visit the holy city of Mecca in pilgrimage at least once in their entire lifetime.
Interpretations of the Islamic teachings across the world
The above teachings have however been interpreted differently by Muslims from different countries thus forming different sects in the Muslim community. This means that the practices by each sect differ vastly from those of other sects. Some of the different sects that have emerged in Islam include the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The Sunni Muslims are the majority in the Muslim world (Armstrong, 2000).
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On the other hand, the Shia are a group of Muslims who practice a more decentralized type of Islam than the Sunni.The Sunni are of the view that it is not necessary to have one authoritarian religious leader but deem it important to rely on scholars that have been widely educated and on the profound religious texts (Denny, 2006).
With regard to the interpretation of the Quran, the Sunni are more literal in comparison with the Shia. On the other hand, the Shia rely too much on their religious leaders and view them as people that have been divinely elected by God to help them in their spiritual growth especially in the analysis of the Quran. In the same regard, their views on Islamic teachings are more authoritarian than communitarian.
In countries like the United States can be categorized as being liberal not in the sense that they do not observes the Islamic teachings but due to the fact they are entirely the type that do not need guidance or constant contact with their religious leaders in order to know what is required of them (Denny, 2006).
The same applies to other developed countries like the United Kingdom, Russia and Germany. However, in countries like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Nigeria, the Muslims are more intertwined with their leaders and this is reflected even in their religious practices and in their conservative nature. They tend to keenly uphold the prayer times with constant visits to the mosques for spiritual nourishment.
Another sect that has emerged in the same aspect is the Sufi’s who are deemed to be a different group of Muslims that perceive Islamic teachings in a different manner. They interpret the Islamic teachings as symbols and allegories and thus practice very mystic religious activities as compared to the latter groups (Denny, 2006).
In order to meet the qualities and characteristics that Muhammad showcased during his time, the Sufi’s have chosen to neglect their natural being by not recognizing material wealth and in order for them to be more committed on the love and meditation of God.
In a survey that was recently conducted in the Muslim community on how they view Islam and how they practice it in their lives, the results were varied especially when compared with Muslims from other countries (Saenz, 2005).
In spite of the fact that all the participants agreed on the core commitment to God, nonetheless, they differed in their level of commitment, openness to certain Islam teachings and interpretations in regards to their faith and in acceptance of the above sects as mentioned earlier. In the Middle East and the North African countries there was a very high belief in God and the prophet Muhammad followed by the Asian countries (Saenz, 2005).
Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa were ranked fourth and fifth respectively with Europe being the last of the group with 85%. Through the survey, it emerged that most of the Muslims in the countries where Islam was ranked as first and second largest religion regarded it as a very important aspect of faith and by extension, their lives.
However, in the United States, Only 69% of the Muslims regarded their faith very important to them (Saenz, 2005). Nonetheless, in some nations that have only recently emerged communism like Russia, Muslims have very little concerns as regards their teachings and what their religion requires of them.
It was noted in the survey that not more than half of the Muslims in the county quoted religion as important to their lives. The same characteristic was also predominant in the Balkans. However, 67% of the Muslims who took part in the survey in Turkey stated that to them religion was very important (Saenz, 2005).
These religious differences as highlighted above were also mainly characterized by the difference in age groups with those who are older being more deeply rooted in their religion than those that are younger. It was also noted that there was gender disparity on how the Islamic faith and teachings were perceived among the different countries.
In central and south Asia, majority of the women have been quoted to have never attended a mosque. It was also noted that in countries where there is strict compliance with the Muslim teachings and laws like in Saudi Arabia , Morocco, and majority of the countries in the Middle East and northern Africa, there have been very poor statistics of women attending prayers at the mosque(Nasr, 2003).
This is especially due to the fact that the cultural norms of the people in these countries do not permit women to be liberal in certain religious activities. However, women still actively participate in the daily rituals or prayers required of them though not in the limelight as men do.
Regarding the element of holy war as a teaching in the Islamic faith, there is a very wide disparity on the level of disagreement. While majority of the Muslims in the Middle East countries and part of northern Africa are strong believers in the holy war, their counterparts in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom seem to be against it (Nasr, 2003).
They state that in most cases the holy war end up affecting innocent civilians other than those it was aimed at fighting. As such, it is not fair and rightly targeted (Curtis, 2006).
On the other hand, Muslims from Saudi Arabia and Morocco are strong advocates for the jihad war, stating that the holy war is aimed at helping to salvage the requirements of the Islamic faith. However, it is also clearly depicted that holy war is not terrorism.To most of the Muslims however, holy war is acceptable.
In contrast, Muslims from the south and central Asian countries like India are characterized by low levels of commitment to their religion in terms of the practices that they are obligated to fulfill (Bloom & Blair, 2000). These are among others, veiling of the women and conducting prayers and rituals from time to time.
However, those in Turkey have a high level of commitment and they strive to practice their religious duties as required of them. The women are very keen on practices like veiling. In some other countries for instance, veiling is not a compulsory law and there are no clearly stipulated Islamic laws in place.
In the United States for instance, there are no laws that seem to support Islamic teachings at all.In fact Islam is viewed as a terrorist religion especially after the effects of the September 11th attacks (Armstrong, 2000).
In Germany, although Islam is viewed in an important dimension, it is not compulsory that women veil and there are no laws to reinforce the practice. In the middle eastern countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many more, women are required to strictly comply with the shariah laws and thus it is a rule that they should veil their heads at all times without any compromise.
Islam is ranked as the second largest religion in the world, after Catholicism. In addition, nearly 40 countries in the world are regarded as being predominantly Islam. Regardless of their cultural settings location, Muslims across the world are guided by the five basic beliefs and practices. For example, all Muslims recognize Prophet Muhammad as the holy messenger of Allah, and that there is no other god but Allah.
We also have five basic pillar of the Islamic faith that is common among all Muslims. However, the interpretations of the Islamic faith across the world differ, based on cultural backgrounds and religious sects. For example, whereas the Shia relies a lot on the teachings of religious leaders, on the other hand, the Sunni are a bid liberal on this issue.
Also, the older generation in Islam is very much attached to their faith, while the younger generation is not so much attached to it. The holy war is also viewed differently by Muslims from various parts of the word.
Armstrong, K. (2000). Islam: A Short History. New York: Modern Library.
Bloom, J., & Blair, S. (2000). Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power. New York: TV Books.
Curtis, E. E. (2006). Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960–1975. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Denny, F. M. (2006). An Introduction to Islam. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Esposito, J. (1998). Islam the Straight Path. 3rd ed. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
Nasr, S, H. (2003). Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
Saenz, R. (2005). The Changing Demographics of Roman Catholics. Retrieved from https://www.prb.org/thechangingdemographicsofromancatholics/