The Islamic tradition is rich in references to a
Divine Light. The holy book of Islam, the Qur'an, makes clear
and specific reference on the subject. By far the most numerous
references, however, are found in Sufism, the mystical tradition
of Islam. Here we find not only visions of the Light, but also
frequent descriptions of the joy and ecstasy that so often accompanies
Islam means submission, submission to the word
of God (Allah). An individual who thus submits is a Muslim. Allah
is the one and only God, the creator of the universe. He is the
same God who has revealed himself to, and is worshipped by, Jews
Muslims accept the legitimacy of the Jewish and
Christian scriptures. However, the final and inerrant sacred book
is the Qur'an. Allah let His word and will be known through a
revelation to the prophet Muhammad, who recorded, in the Qur'an,
everything that Allah had revealed to him.
The Islamic calender begins in 622 CE, when Muhammad
went on a migration, or hijra, from Mecca to Medina in
the Arabian peninsula. The prophet's message having been rejected
at first at Mecca, Muhammad found a more receptive audience at
Medina. The prophet quickly established the latter as the first
Muhammad then turned his attention to the military
conquest of Mecca, which was accomplished even though the forces
of Islam were greatly outnumbered. Several military engagements
followed, and after the prophet's death in 632 CE, the Islamic
empire expanded tremendously. Within a century, the empire extended
westward to Morocco, as far east as the Indus valley in India,
and well into Asia minor to the north. The people of these areas
remain predominantly Muslim today.
Islam has come to be broadly divided into two major
sects: the Sunni and the Shi'a. This division started over who
had the rightful claim to the caliphate, i.e., the successor to
Muhammad. The Shi'a maintain that their leader, their Imam,
has rightful succession and is divinely inspired. The Sunni, or
"orthodox," reject Shi'a claims. Today, Shi'as predominate in
Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan, whereas Sunnis predominate in the Arab
states and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
While Muslims differ on some points of belief, they
generally believe that Muhammad was the last in a line of prophets
which includes Moses and Jesus. Thus Muslims consider Jesus to
be inspired by, but not the incarnate son of, God. But then not
even Muhammad was perfect, according to Islam -- only Allah is.
Likewise, written traditions about the prophet contained in a
collection known as the Hadith, while revered, are not
beyond scrutiny by Muslims either.
Muslims are expected to adhere to the "Five Pillars"
of Islam, which involves several religious, ethical and social
duties. The first of these "pillars" is the recitation of the
creed, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His prophet."
The second includes praying 5 times daily, with a special devotional
day on Fridays. The third involves almsgiving; the fourth requires
fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan; and the fifth a pilgrimage,
or hajj, to Mecca. The hajj should be performed
by Muslims at least once in one's lifetime.
Ethically, Muslims are expected to abstain from
gambling, drinking alcoholic beverages, and eating pork. Further,
these outward conformities to the faith are to be matched by an
inner conviction. Both the letter and the spirit of the Qur'an
and God's will are to be adhered to.
Those who do follow Islam righteously will enter
a splendid paradise after death. Those who do not -- those who
follow the ways of the Devil (Iblis) -- will have to endure the
relentless fires of hell.
The mystical tradition of Islam is known as Sufism.
While it is not a major feature of Islamic scripture, as it is
in Hinduism and Buddhism, it is a significant feature of the tradition
and can be found in either of the major sects. By the 8th century
CE, we find the appearance of Sufi writings in various parts of
the Muslim world. The movement grew steadily and and found several
notable proponents in the centuries to follow. The magnificence
of Sufi poetry bears superb witness to the experience of divine
light and ecstasy.