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Islam and the Sacred

Sacred Texts, Places, and Times Sacred to Muslims

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Every religion seems to have some sense of the "sacred" - including sacred texts, sacred times, and sacred places. Islam is certainly not unusual in that regard. That which is sacred is considered special, holy, sanctified - understanding what a religion regards as sacred (and, in contrast, as profane) can go a long way in helping one understand more about the religion itself and the manner in which it deals with outsiders.

For example, in a number of areas burning a Qur'an is a crime punishable by death - and if the political authorities don't execute you, you can be sure that a local mob will do the job itself, sometimes even before a trial. No similar reaction can be found in Christian regions - why? Because Muslims don't treat the Qur'an exactly the same as Christians treat the Bible.

For Muslims, the Qur'an comes directly and literally from God. It wasn't simply written down by inspired human authors, as is the case with the letters of Paul. No, the material in the Qur'an consists of the direct words of God. In a sense, the Qur'an is like an incarnation of God and is in some ways more akin to Jesus than the Bible. The material here will help you gain a better understanding of what Muslims regard as sacred, why it is sacred, and what that means for Islam.

Islam: Sacred Texts, Places, Times

What is the Qur'an?
The Qur'an is the collection of holy scriptures of Islam. It is divided into 114 Suras (chapters) of unequal length. The earliest Meccan suras are shorter, and they grow longer as time goes on. The earliest are also more similar to the Jewish style of admonishing people to reform and warning them of coming judgment. All suras are supposed to represent material dictated to Muhammad from God through the angel Gabriel. The Qur'an is thus believed to be the direct Word of God and must be obeyed without question.

What is the Hadith?
Hadith literally means "tradition," and it constitutes for most Muslims the second set of religious scriptures - almost, but not quite as important as the Qur'an. Collected into authoritative books, these represent reports about the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate followers while he was alive.

What are the Muslim holy days?
Central to just about every religion, including Islam, are important holy days, commemorating important events or doctrines. To understand Muslim holidays, it is helpful to understand their calendar system. The Islamic calendar started in the Western year 622 A.D. Its starting point was the date on which Muhammad and his closest companions moved from Mecca to Medina, known as the Hijra.

What are the Muslim holy sites?
There are several cities and sites which are sacred to Muslims - what are they, and why are they holy? Read about Mecca, Medina, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Hebron, Mashhad, and Qom.

Further Reading

Recent Books on Islam
What is Islam? Is Islam opposed to democracy and human rights? Are there good reasons to reject Islam and its theological claims? To what extent have politics and economics influenced the development of Islam in the Middle East? The books here answer those questions and more, presenting a critical and scholarly perspective.

Recent Books on Palestine & Israel
Few people are unaware of the violence which keeps occurring between Israelis and Palestinians. Why is this happening - what are the causes, and are there any solutions? Everything comes back to religion: the disagreement and violence between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Understanding the role of religion in these disagreements is necessary to understanding the violence itself.

Recent Books on Religion, Violence, and Terrorism
Religious leaders normally argue that religion is a force for good and love in the world. Yet, at the same time, we see religion regularly used for war, mass murder, terrorism, and even genocide. Why does this difference exist - how can religion be claimed as a basis for peace while so many use it as a basis for terrorism?

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