One of three great monotheistic religions of the world (the others being Judaism and Christianity ). It originated in seventh-century Arabia with the prophet Muhammad, who first converted the trading cities of Mecca and Medina, and then rallied the hitherto polytheistic tribal population. Within a century Islam had spread through conquest to Persia, much of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain. It is represented by a succession of great empires: Ummayad to 750, Abbasid to 1258, and Ottoman to 1918. Today it encompasses around 45 countries and one billion or so people.
Islam is based on the principle of submission to Allah or God, its holy texts are the Koran (the word of God as revealed to Muhammad by an angel), and the Hadith or sayings of the Prophet. There are five main principles or ‘pillars’ of Islam: the affirmation that there is no God but God, and that Muhammad is his prophet; prayer five times a day; zakat, the giving of alms; fasting in the month of Ramadan; and hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. Jihad, or holy war, is sometimes regarded as another obligation of Muslims, but it does not have the same status, and is often interpreted as referring to a process of spiritual improvement rather than combat with non-Muslims.
Islam differs from Christianity in having no clerical hierarchy, in enforcing a number of prohibitions to do with diet, and in paying special attention to the status and clothing of women. Since the seventh century, it has been divided into a Sunni faction and a minority Shi'ite school, the latter dominant in Iran. The interpretation of Islam in the contemporary world has ranged from those who want to harmonize it with Western economic and political values to those who seek a return to the model of the seventh century. The Islamic revolution of Iran (1979) represented an attempt to pursue the latter path.
Sociological analysis of Islam began with Max Weber who identified two principal differences with Christianity: the lack of an ethic of this-worldly asceticism, and the domination of patrimonial or prebendary relations, through which the state inhibited the growth of private property. Both served to prevent the development of capitalism. This interpretation was later challenged in several works by Maxime Rodinson, who saw Islam as continent and its failure to evolve to capitalism as due to other factors, including international pressures. Later work on Islam focused on the debate between those who identified a distinct sociology of Islam derived from the Koran and other texts, and those who stressed the variety and contingency of Islamic social and political practices. A third area of interpretation was that of the rise of Islamic political movements in the 1970s and 1980s. Some saw this as a popular mobilization, using an Islamic idiom, against foreign domination; others viewed it as a retrospective usage of Islamic symbols by certain social groups (particularly clergy, merchants, and intellectuals) threatened by the processes of secularization and modernization.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.


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