The Qur’an

Page of a handwritten Qur'an in ArabicA copy of the Qur’an The Qur’an is the holy book for Muslims, revealed in stages to theProphet Muhammad over 23 years.

Qur’anic revelations are regarded by Muslims as the sacred word ofGod, intended to correct any errors in previous holy books such as theOld and New Testaments.


The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by God in Arabic.

Some Qur’anic fragments have been dated as far back as the eighth, and possibly even the seventh, century. The oldest existing copy of the full text is from the ninth century.

Although early variants of the Qur’an are known to have existed, Muslims believe that the text we have today was established shortly after the death of the Prophet by the Caliph Uthman.


There are 114 chapters in the Qur’an, which is written in the old Arabic dialect.

All the chapters except one begin with the sentence Bismillahir rahmanir raheem, ‘In the name of Allah the most merciful and the most kind’. This is the thought with which Muslims should start every action.

The longest chapter of the Qur’an is Surah Baqarah (The Cow) with 286 verses and the shortest is Surah Al-Kawther(abundance) which has 3 verses.

The arrangement of surahs does not correspond to the chronological order in which they were revealed.

The Qur’an is sometimes divided into 30 roughly equal parts, known as juz’. These divisions make it easier for Muslims to read the Qur’an during the course of a month and many will read one juz’ each day, particularly during the month ofRamadan.


Translations of the Qur’an exist in over 40 languages but Muslims are still taught to learn and recite it in Arabic, even if this is not their native language and they cannot converse in it.

Translations are regarded by Muslims as new versions of the holy book, rather than as translations in the conventional sense.

Page of an old Qur'anQur’an page ©

Memorising the Qur’an

At the time of the revelation of the Qur’an, books were not readily available and so it was common for people tolearn it by heart.

Committing the Qur’an to memory acted as a great aid for its preservation and any person who is able to accomplish this is known as a hafiz.


The Qur’an is treated with immense respect by Muslims because it is the sacred word of God.

While the Qur’an is recited aloud, Muslims should behave with reverence and refrain from speaking, eating or drinking, or making distracting noise.

Sunnah and Hadith

In addition to the Qur’an, the other sacred sources are theSunnah, the practise and examples of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, and the Hadith, reports of what the prophet Muhammad said or approved.

Both the Hadith and Sunnah must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures its authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria will be disregarded.

One famous example is that of the scholar of Hadith literature, Imam Bukhari, who travelled several hundred miles on horseback to acquire a Hadith. When he arrived, he saw the man that knew the Hadith deceiving his donkey into thinking there was grain in a sack in order to induce him to move forward. Imam Bukhari promptly left without approaching the man because he was not willing to allow any individual with a questionable personality to join a chain of narration or contribute knowledge that would define the practice of the religion.


Audio readings

Audio readings

Imam Misbahi reads passages from the Holy Qur’an.

English translation: This is the Book. In it is guidance sure, without doubt to those who fear Allah, who believe in the unseen, are steadfast in prayer and spend out of what we have provided for them, and who believe in the revelation sent to you, and sent before your time and in their hearts have the assurance of the hereafter. They are on true guidance from the Lord, and it is these who will prosper.

English translation: Say: “We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Ibrahim, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in the books given toMusa, Isa, and the prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will in Islam. ” If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him; and in the hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost all spiritual good.

English translation: And when they listen to the revelation received by the messenger, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognise the truth. They pray: “Our Lord! We believe; write us down among the witnesses.”

English translation: It is he who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her in love. When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about unnoticed. When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah their Lord, saying: “If you give us a goodly child, we vow we shall ever be grateful.”

English translation: Relate in the book the story of Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.

She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then we sent to her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.

English translation: These are verses of the Wise Book, a guide and a mercy to the doers of good, those who establish regular prayer, and give regular charity, and have in their hearts the assurance of the hereafter.

These are on true guidance from their Lord: and these are the ones who will prosper.

English translation: So also was Jonah among those sent by Us. When he ran away like a slave from captivity to the ship fully laden, he agreed to cast lots, and he was condemned: Then the big fish did swallow him, and he had done acts worthy of blame.

English translation: The revelation of this book is from Allah, exalted in power, full of knowledge, who forgives sin, accepts repentance, is strict in punishment, and has a long reach in all things. There is no God but he: to him is the final goal.

English translation: And before this, was the Book of Musa as a guide and a mercy: And this Book confirms it in the Arabic tongue; to admonish the unjust, and as glad tidings to those who do right.

English translation: So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. It is he who has spread out the earth for his creatures: Therein is fruit and date-palms, producing spathes (enclosing dates); also corn, with its leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet-smelling plants. Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?


The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God. Its scriptural status among a world-spanning religious community, and its major place within world literature generally, have led to a great deal of secondary literature on the Quran. Quranic chapters are called suras and verses are called ayahs


Muslims are the second-largest religious group in the world, after Catholics (Saenz 2005). The group is racially and ethnically diverse, but the Muslim identity has taken on racial connotations at various points in U.S. history, most recently after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building near Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001. Although the racialization of a religious identity is not a new phenomenon—for example, Jews experienced an identity change during and after the Holocaust—the impact of this transformation and increased“otherization” of Muslims and Muslim Americans has profound implications for a group that is seen as both a religious and a cultural threat to the mostly white, Christian U.S. population.


Currently, over a billion Muslims live in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. There are roughly forty-four Islamic countries in the world today. Although Muslims vary in their particular religious practices and cultural beliefs from region to region, the majority follow the same basic tenets of Islam (Esposito 1998).

Islam is one of three Abrahamic religions, along with Christianity and Judaism, that trace their communities back to the biblical Abraham. The basic teachings of Islam were said to have been revealed to Muhammad (c. 570–632), the final prophet, and collected and recorded in the Qur’an. Muslims rely on the Qur’an for the fundamental Islamic teachings and guidelines for their lives. Aside from the teachings in the Qur’an, Muslims also believe that Muhammad led an exemplary life that all Muslims should attempt to emulate. These examples can be found in the hadith, the documented reports of the prophet’s life, which Muslims also rely on for spiritual and practical direction.

In addition, every Muslim is required to follow the five pillars of Islam—obligatory practices outlined in the Qur’an (Nasr 2003). The first of these is the profession of faith, where a Muslim declares, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God,” emphasizing the monotheistic nature of the religion (Esposito 1998, p. 68). In making this declaration, a person becomes a Muslim. The second pillar is prayer, or salat. Muslims are instructed to pray at specific times, five times a day. Prayers begin with the azan, the call to prayer, followed by an ordered series of recitations from the Qur’an in conjunction with bowing and prostrations toward the direction of Mecca. Zakat, the third pillar of Islam, is a religious tax required of those who have enough money to give to the poor and needy. Giving of alms is not voluntary, but rather a duty defined by sharia, or Islamic law. Fasting during Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam. Every year, Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset during the Islamic month of Ramadan, based on the lunar calendar. According to John Esposito (1998), this is a time for Muslims to reflect on their spiritual beliefs and gratitude for good health and wealth, and to remember their duties toward those who are less fortunate than themselves. The final pillar of Islam is pilgrimage, or hajj. During the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims who are physically and financially able are required to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca; this needs to be done only once in a person’s lifetime. Once in Mecca, Muslims perform a series of rituals such as circling the Ka‘ba (House of God) while reciting verses from the Qur’an. According to Seyyed Nasr “hajj signifies a return both to the spatial center of the Islamic universe and to the temporal origin of the human state itself” (Nasr 2003, p. 95).


Islamic civilization grew rapidly after the death of Muhammad in 632. Over the course of the century beginning around 600 CE, an Islamic Empire spread to occupy what was once known as Arabia, Central Asia, North Africa, and parts of Europe. Throughout the next few centuries, Islamic imperialism had a profound effect on the arts, sciences, and philosophy. Many scholars note that during this time Islam advanced beyond predominantly Christian Europe in many areas, including trade and commerce, exemplified by the urban centers that popped up all across the Islamic Empire (Turner 1995; Esposito 1998; Nasr 2003). Islamic scholars greatly contributed to the progress of math and science, expanding on Greco-Roman geometry and advancing algebra and trigonometry. Universities and academies flourished in Islamic countries. Nonetheless, although Islamic contributions were significant, they are often overlooked in Western cultures. The Enlightenment brought about a positivist view of the world that refuted religious explanations, ignoring the contributions of Islamic civilizations while promoting eurocentric scientists and artists.


Islam has never been a homogenous or unified religion. During the era of Islamic imperialism there were vast differences in Islamic practices and the development of Islamic cultures. The best known sects today are Sunni Islam, Shiism, Sufism, and the Nation of Islam.

Sunni and Shiite Islam Sunni Muslims constitute the majority of the roughly one billion Muslims in the world today; Shia comprise the second-largest Islamic sect. After Muhammad’s death a schism occurred over who should be the next caliphate, or leader of the Muslims. Abu-Bakr became the first caliphate after Muhammad, followed by Umar, Uthman, and then Ali (the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad). The Shia believe that Ali should have been the first caliphate because of his blood relation to Muhammad. Sunnis practice a more decentralized version of Islam than the Shia, which does not require one religious authority, but relies instead on a community of learned religious scholars and the standard religious texts. Thus, Sunnis are more literalist than Shia when interpreting the Qur’an and hadith. Shia follow the Qur’an too, but they rely on imams, religious leaders, who they see as divinely guided by God to help them interpret the Qur’an. Thus, they follow a more authoritarian form of Islam compared to Sunnis, who are more communitarian in their practice.

Sufism Sufis follow a very different version of Islam than Sunnis and Shia. Whereas Sunnis are more literalist in their interpretation of the Qur’an, the Sufis’ interpretation is more symbolic and allegorical, and their religious practices are often described as mystic. Sufism developed out of a desire to return to a purer and more spiritual version of Islam as a reaction to the corruption that Sufis felt had became rampant during imperialist Islam. Hence, Sufis embrace an ascetic way of life and reject materialism in an attempt to return to the lifestyle of Muhammad’s time. Sufism focuses particularly on God’s love and meditation.

The Nation of Islam The Nation of Islam is a newer sect of Islam, introduced to African Americans in the 1930s through Wallace D. Fard (1891?–1934?) and then made popular in the United States by Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975). Fard took passages from both the Bible and the Qur’an and preached a religion that encouraged black liberation, using messages from Islam about brotherhood and social justice to encourage African Americans to reject the domination of their white oppressors. Elijah Muhammad took over leadership of the Nation of Islam after Fard disappeared in 1934. He claimed that Fard was Allah (the Arabic word for “God”), and that he was his messenger. It was during Muhammad’s leadership of the Nation of Islam that the sect welcomed the most conversions, due to the popularity of one of Elijah’s disciples, Malcolm Little, or Malcolm X (1925–1965), and the racially charged climate of the 1960s in the United States. As the civil rights movement gained momentum, the Nation of Islam offered an alternative to African Americans who lived in mostly poor urban areas and who felt that their immediate issues and needs were not being addressed by the leaders of the mainstream movement. The Nation of Islam lost members in 1964 after the split with Malcolm X and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and suffered a further decline in membership after the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975. Elijah Muhammad’s son Warith Deen Muhammad (b. 1933) succeeded him and converted to Sunni Islam, taking many leaders with him and leaving the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan (b. 1933).


The events of September 11, 2001, had an impact on Muslims around the world. Since then, both Afghanistan and Iraq have been invaded by the United States with the support of a number of allies. In the Euro-American media, anti-Muslim rhetoric demonstrates a simplified and reductionistic understanding of Islam and its followers rather than depicting the various political and cultural particularities of Muslims from different Muslim countries.

Moreover, Muslims are often portrayed as a homogenous group fanatical in their religious beliefs, and either participants in, or supporters of, terrorism. Muslims in the United States face increasing racism through racial profiling and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes in the media. Jack Shaheen’s Reel Bad Arabs(2001) identified roughly 900 American movies from the 1900s through the early 1990s in which Muslims and Arabs have been negatively stereotyped. Because these images are so long-standing, they s eem to Americans to be “normal,” “natural” attributes of Muslims, and this has led to public and political support for the creation and implementation of racist laws and policies such as the U.S. Patriot Act, which has curbed the civil rights of Muslims in the United States and spurred military action against Muslim-majority countries.

The United States is not the only country where Muslims face racism and persecution due to misunderstanding of their culture and religious beliefs. In France, Muslim girls are forbidden from wearing thehijab (headscarf), and in 2005 a Danish newspaper published a political cartoon that depicted Muhammad as a terrorist. Acts of violence by Muslims are stripped of their political motivations and reduced to religious fanaticism; images of Muslims as violent terrorists perpetuate an already antiMuslim ideology that Islam is a threat to both modernity and a democratic world. In truth, Islam is not a monolithic religion; Muslims vary in their cultural makeup, political views, level of religiosity, and in the type of Islam that they choose to practice.



Islam (“the act of submitting [to God]”) is the proper and most widely used term for the religion of those who believe that the Quran (Koran) is the true word of God transmitted to mankind as an ultimate revelation through the medium of his Prophet and messenger, Muhammad. Although the term was used in early periods in the more limited sense of “submission” and seems to have been generally equated with “belief” (imān), the meaning today to Muslims and non-Muslims alike is that of the definitive name of a specific religion. The practitioner of the faith is a Muslim, a term that also serves as an adjective, but the attributive adjective Islamic is preferable in social or cultural contexts, e.g., Muslim theology, but Islamic law and Islamic architecture. The terms Mohammedanand Mohammedanism are disliked by Muslims because they carry the implication of the worship of Muhammad as a more than human figure and thus contain the germs of polytheism.

The most recent of the three great monotheisms to have arisen in the Middle East and the last major universal religion to have appeared in history, Islam came into being in the early seventh century in west-central Arabia. Although a good part of the Quran records the preaching of Muhammad in Mecca in the first two decades of that century, the definitive outlines of Islam as a system of beliefs and as a political organization took shape in Medina after the emigration (hijrah) to that city of Muhammad and a band of his followers in 622. In recognition of the importance of this event, the Muslim calendar reckons events from the first lunar month of that year—July 16, 622, becoming the first day of Muharram, A.H. 1. Between that date and the death of Muhammad in 632, two years after a triumphal return to his newly converted birthplace of Mecca, the new religion established itself throughout most of the Arabian Peninsula, not only as a corpus of religious belief but equally as a political community (ummah) provided with its own laws and embryonic govern-mental and social institutions. The significance and uniqueness of this twin foundation structure is recognized in the well-known dictum, “Islam is a religion and a state,” which is interpreted, however, by Muslims in a unitary meaning rather than implying any dualism.

The century following Muhammad’s death saw a far-reaching series of conquests by the new Muslim armies. Their spectacular successes and the way in which ancient communities and seemingly powerful states succumbed with little resistance testify to underlying weaknesses in the existing order but also say something of the fresh appeal Islam had for peoples in the Middle East at a time when they were exhausted by internecine struggles and doctrinal quarrels. However, the large number of conversions to Islam at this period may be said to have stemmed more from socioeconomic causes than from religious motivation, although these in the end had repercussions on both the faith itself and the subsequent nature of the Islamic state. In the Fertile Crescent area and in Egypt the numerous Christian and Jewish communities were legally allowed to continue practicing their religion, but inequalities in taxation which favored Muslims, and the natural social desire to become full members of the body politic with all its advantages, furthered Islamization. In Iran multiple causes conditioned conversion: the desire of the bureaucracy to preserve its privileges, the reluctance of the landed nobility to pay the poll tax, and the wish on the part of the merchant class to have a full share in the material culture of the Islamic empire. In north Africa pagan or semi-Christianized Berbers were more often either genuinely influenced by the tenets of Islam or spontaneously gave their allegiance to the new religion rather than suffer the alternative, loss of life, reserved for those other than “people of the book,” i.e., monotheists who possessed scriptures.

In the centuries following its birth Islam was spread by conquest and occupation, organized and at times militant religious activism, and peaceful missionary work. The first wave of expansion was the work of Arabs, largely armies buttressed by new converts in the Middle East and north Africa. By the end of the Umayyad reign (A.D. 750), the frontiers of Islam extended to the Pyrenees in the west and the Indus River in the east. Included in Muslim domains were most of Spain, north Africa, Egypt, the Levant to the frontiers of Anatolia, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and part of Turkestan. Once this force had been spent there was relatively little fluctuation in the extent of the House of Islam (Dār ul-Isldm) until a second wave of military conquest was set under way in the fourteenth century by Turkic peoples who had migrated from central Asia to Iran and Asia Minor and been progressively Islamized over a period of several centuries. One of these groups, the Osmanli, destroyed the remnants of the Byzantine state, took Constantinople in 1453, and established Muslim rule in large areas of southeastern Europe, maintaining it until well into the nineteenth century. These two waves directed at Europe left important cultural legacies in Spain and Sicily and vestigial groups of Muslims in Yugoslavia, Albania, and Bulgaria.

The historical advance of Islam into south and southeast Asia, and later into tropical Africa, has been of another kind. The faith came to these areas at a comparatively late date and was spread more gradually, sometimes by force, but more often through the voluntary conversion of nonmonotheists. Muslim power gained sway in northwest India only after A.D. 1000, and converts in Bengal were not numerous until the sixteenth century. The force of Islam in south Asia in modern times is shown by the success of Muslim demands for the partition of British India and the establishment of Pakistan as a separate state for Muslims. In addition to some ninety million Muslims in that country, a large minority of over forty million is found in India. In south Asia as a whole, Muslims have increased their numbers at the expense of non-Muslims, not only because of the one-way nature of conversion but because of socioeconomic factors, including a greater life expectancy resulting from a higher protein diet, the urban nature of the Muslim population, which somewhat spares it from rural famines, and the fact that widows are permitted to remarry. Proselytization in southeast Asia was mainly the work of Muslim traders who established themselves in Malaya, Sumatra, and elsewhere in the fourteenth century. Gradually Islam spread inland in Sumatra and Malaya and penetrated the farther islands of Indonesia as far as the southern Philippines. Today the Malays of Malaya are overwhelmingly Muslim and the Indonesians are very heavily Muslim, while important minorities exist in Thailand, Burma, and the Philippines. The stronghold that Islam had early obtained in central Asia was the source for the considerable Islamization of Sinkiang and parts of northwestern China in later times. At present it is estimated that as much as one-tenth of the total Chinese population may be considered Muslim.

In Africa, Islam spread unevenly at different periods, but it has continued to make impressive advances in modern times. Although peoples living along the Mediterranean shores of northern Africa were converted in the first wave of Arab conquest, Islam spread more gradually up the Nile and across the trade routes of the Sahara to reach the Chad area and, eventually, in the fifteenth century, northern Nigeria. By sea it moved down around the horn of east Africa to the Somali coast and Zanzibar. An island of resistance exists in the Abyssinian highlands, but Islam is heavily predominant today in Somalia, Zanzibar, and the Sudan, while important minorities exist in coastal Kenya, Tanganyika, and Mozambique. Islamization in west Africa was furthered by brotherhood activity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Islam has a majority today in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, and probably Nigeria, large minorities in Guinea, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic, and numerous adherents in the other states of west and central Africa as far south as Zambia and Rhodesia.

In all, more than 500 million persons today, one-sixth of humanity, profess themselves to be Muslims, however nominal in practice. Of this number about 125 million are in Africa and almost 400 million in Asia, with scattered communities in Europe and the Americas. Of perhaps greater significance than its present numbers is the fact that Islam, of all the major religions, continues to show the most steady growth. Particularly noteworthy is its progress in regions previously dominated by pagan tribal cultures. Its strong appeal to under-privileged or minority groups everywhere, as has historically been evident in south Asia, is a further factor of political and social importance in this century.


The basis of Islam, and the heart of Muslim belief and thought, lie in its holy scripture, the Qur’ān, considered by Muslims to be the direct and true word of God, transmitted by the angel Gabriel to Muhammad (in Arabic) while the latter was in a state of divine inspiration akin to trance. In this state Muhammad was ordered to recite (iqrā) the word of God, whence qur’ān, a “recitation.” A supplementary source of faith began to emerge after the death of the Prophet as it became clear that the Qur’ān did not provide specific guidance for many of the questions faced by the growing community. In their search for additional guidance, Muslims turned to the life, the habits, and the dicta of Muhammad in given situations. There thus arose the practice of compiling, recording, and classifying the “tradition” (hadīth) of or relating to the Prophet. Out of this material, expressed in the form of short narratives relating specific acts and sayings of Muhammad through a chain of hearsay, grew the completed product: the customary way of doing (sunnah), which expresses the ideal of behavior for pious, orthodox Muslims, who style themselves “followers of the custom” (ahl al-sunnah)—whence the term Sunnites.

The central importance of Muhammad in Islam is thus evident. His position as the sole communicant of God’s word to man is attested in the basic Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet.” This credo, although it does not occur in a single phrase in the Qur’ān itself, has become the foundation of Muslim self-identification. It differentiates the believer from the nonbeliever and Islam from other religions by emphasizing that Muhammad is not one prophet among many but the seal of the prophets and that the revelation given to him was the ultimate and unchangeable exposition of divine will. The function of the hadīth reinforced this position, as may well have been one of its main purposes, by preserving for later generations a portrait of the personality of Muhammad in warm and simple details which link the believer to him in an atmosphere of pious affection that has grown through the centuries. Through the device of the hadīth, which contrasts strongly with the formalism and transcendentalism of the Qur’ān, Muhammad is kept from becoming a dim historical figure; he emerges as a venerable, just, but understandable human leader of his flock. In this way Islam maintains the principle of the strictest monotheism, while tempering it with a human touch which, to judge by the historical experience, has fulfilled the needs of ordinary Muslims in all ages. It is true that this devotion has sometimes seemed to approach adulation or even outright worship, particularly in the past century, when a new consciousness of Christianity led some Muslim biographers of Muhammad to present his life in ways that clearly reveal the influence of the story of Jesus. However, both orthodox Muslim thought and the practice of the masses have kept the fine distinction between ceremonial veneration and anthropolatry.

The Qur’ān is divided into 114 chapters, arranged in decreasing order of length. The generally earlier Meccan chapters are distinguishable by their apocalyptic style, their use of a strongly fashioned rhymed prose, their relatively simple subject matter, and their poetic expression of religious symbolism. In their imaginative grasp and their masterly use of Arabic they reveal a genuine prophetic genius. In comparison, the later Medinan chapters, which include moral maxims, legal proscriptions, and historical narratives that are sometimes taken from Christian and Jewish sources, suffer from a dilution of this vigorous style.

The essential dogma of the Qur’ān is that of the unity of God: “Say God is one, God the eternal. He hath not begotten nor was he begotten, and there is none equal to him.” The believer is enjoined to accept the envoys of God and the scriptures they have revealed, beginning with Adam and continuing with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, to the final revelation of Muhammad. Running through the entire work are two motifs: one envisions an impersonal, remote, and majestic deity, who evokes in the believer a sense of awe and humility; the other conceptualizes the Divine Spirit in terms of hope and mercy. Among the most numerous epithets for God in the Qur’ān are those describing him as compassionate and merciful, and while a theme of fiery destruction for the sinful is preached in some Meccan verses, others rank among the purest expressions of trust in divine love.

It has long been clear to non-Muslim scholars that to some degree Christian beliefs, Judaism, and the pre-Islamic tradition in Arabia all had a part in shaping Qur’ānic dogma. Contacts with Christian communities in western Asia and Abyssinia were numerous, and Jewish colonies were found throughout the peninsula; in the Yemen, Judaistic movements had held power shortly before Muhammad’s lifetime. Textual criticism of the Qur’ān reveals such borrowings in, for example, the doctrine of the Last Judgment, where not only the concept but the technical terminology is taken from Syriac Christian writings, and in Muhammad’s gradual incorporation into his revelation of Old Testament stories that would validate his teaching. In Medina, Muhammad found a large Jewish community, with which a dispute ultimately arose, the source of much of the anti-Judaist polemic in the Qur’ān. Early in the Medina period, however, Muhammad had incorporated several Jewish practices into Islam, notably ‘Āshūrā’, the holy day that corresponds to the Day of Atonement, and the direction of prayer toward Jerusalem. The Qur’ān stresses the alleged falsification of the Scriptures by both Jews and Christians but in a way that usually indicates a derivative or insufficient understanding of the original ideas or facts. Among these are the Incarnation, which is categorically rejected, and the Crucifixion, said to be a Jewish distortion of the true event. According to Islamic dogma, an-other figure was crucified in the place of Jesus, who was himself taken to heaven.

Of prime importance in the formation of Muhammad’s doctrines, however, was the existence of two intertwined strands of tradition in pre-Islamic Arab life. One was the animistic beliefs of tribal society, which ascribed powers to inanimate objects, stones, trees, etc., as well as to certain human categories (soothsayers, sorcerers) and to nonhuman elements (jinn). Entangled with this Arab paganism, however, there was an ill-defined monotheism, which may have owed something to Jewish and Christian influences. This was exemplified by prophets (singular, hanīf) who opposed a nativistic monotheism to the pagan polydemonism, which no longer satisfied the Arabs’ desire for a broader religious experience. The hanīf’s, despite their monotheism, were unwilling to accept Judaism or Christianity as such. The Qur’ān describes Abraham as a hanīf, and thus asserts itself as a restoration of the true, indigenous Abrahamic monotheism, which had been corrupted by Jewish and Christian beliefs.

The supreme accomplishment of Muhammad in the Qur’ān was to make use of these two elements but to disentangle them at the same time, thus opening the religious imagination of the Arabs to new horizons without too abruptly cutting away their old cultural and emotional roots. This delicate operation involved simultaneously banning most animistic associations but amalgamating others with the new religion by reinterpreting them in a monotheistic way. This restructuring of pagan practice and terminology can be seen most successfully in the incorporation of the earlier religious pilgrimage to the sacred region of Mecca and the circumambulation of the Black Stone, in the adoption of the ritual sacrifice of sheep, and in the new application of terms that formerly referred to pagan customs but that are clothed in richer and broader monotheistic meaning in the Qur’ān. In this reconstruction, by lifting Arab spiritual values out of the incoherence in which they were enmeshed and by focusing them on the concept of a supreme God who encompassed and stood above all previous formulations, Muhammad created a distinctive religious edifice. Although it contains elements of earlier faiths, it can be understood only as a unique, new entity possessing its own structure and dynamics.


The practice of Islam consists essentially of a small number of ritual obligations called the “pillars of the faith.” These include giving witness, ritual prayer, legal almsgiving, fasting, and the pilgrimage. To profess faith with intention is to become a Muslim and be admitted to all the duties and privileges of the community. While good works are considered to be as commendable as faith itself, orthodox opinion has generally held that testimony alone without any other deed during the lifetime of a believer is sufficient for ultimate salvation. Ritual prayer is formal worship, whose ceremony, postures, gestures, and verbal formulas are strictly laid down by law; it is designed to express adoration of God rather than personal communion with him or petition. It may be noted, however, that the period of meditation following upon the prostrations allows the worshiper an opportunity to enter into a relationship of communion with a spirit of humility. Ritual cleanliness is mandatory and is minutely regulated according to the circumstances. Although the Qur’ān is silent on the subject, five daily prayers have been standard since the earliest period of Islam. Their times vary somewhat but usually come before dawn, just after midday, in midafternoon, after sunset, and at night, usually in the first minutes of darkness—hours seemingly calculated to avoid any hint of sun worship. There is no requirement that ordinary prayer be carried out in the mosque, although it is recommended because ritual purity is better guaranteed within its precincts. The Friday midday prayer, however, should be kept in the mosque; it usually contains several sections and a sermon. Legal almsgiving is today in most Muslim countries an institution of only historical interest, having been superseded almost everywhere by modern legislation. Originally it was a religious tax levied on property according to a detailed formula and payable in kind. These three pillars of the faith (giving witness, ritual prayer, and almsgiving) have somewhat less influence on Muslim life than might be supposed. Witness is automatic and often unspoken throughout the lifetime of those who are born to the faith and can conceive of no other. Almsgiving is obsolete, and ritual prayer is to a growing degree slighted or ignored by many modern Muslims, especially in urban areas. This is not true, however, of the remaining two pillars: the fast and the pilgrimage.

Early in the Medinan period Muhammad instituted a fast on ’Āshūrā’, but later he abrogated this and instead ordained abstinence during the entire ninth month of the lunar calendar, Ramadan. During this month, from sunrise to sunset, the faithful must completely abstain from food, drink, tobacco, and sexual intercourse. The fast is compulsory only for adults in good health; pregnant women, children of prepuberty age, the aged and the sick, and bona fide travelers are specifically exempt, although the last must make up the broken fast days. Today the Ramadan fast is without doubt the one ceremony most strictly held to by believers, and it is a basic component of the social cement that holds the community together. While violations are found both among bedouin and rural elements, on the one hand, and in secret in a few modernist and intellectual circles, on the other, townsmen in most Muslim countries tend to keep the fast unanimously. Public opinion strongly reproves individuals who try to avoid the obligation in private and has, even recently, reacted violently to public disregard of it. There appears also to be a discernible connection between rigorous observance and modern nationalism in some countries where Islam was used as a rallying point in the struggle against foreign colonialism, and some states (e.g., Morocco) have inserted penalties for transgressing it in their modern penal codes. In a few Muslim states, however (e.g., Turkey and Tunisia), where the holy law (sharī’ah) has been abolished, the secularist orientation of their nationalism has led the governments to encourage fastbreaking in the interest of national economic imperatives or to consider it a matter of personal conscience.

The pilgrimage to Mecca incorporates in Muslim practice two pagan rites celebrated by the Arabs, one connected with the circumambulation of the Black Stone of the Ka’bah in Mecca, and the other the pilgrimage to the hill of ‘Arafāt outside the town. The rites are performed in the twelfth lunar month and now usually include a visit to nearby Medina. The pilgrimage may be described as a conditional obligation; it is incumbent only on Muslims with the necessary means and the physical ability to reach Mecca. Nevertheless, it has remained a vital element in Muslim life throughout the centuries and, even in the most difficult periods of history, attracted numerous pilgrims. Today, with improved communications, increased travel within the Muslim world, and security in the pilgrimage area, it has taken on new dimensions of cultural and even political significance. Mecca has become a meeting place for Muslims from the entire world, and a deep impression is made on many pilgrims by the reaffirmation of their faith in company with cobelievers of every color and nationality. The annual re-enactment of the ceremonies, with the pilgrims as active participants and not simple onlookers, gives them an especially moving character. The returning pilgrim, who is entitled to add the title hājj to his name, is the object of admiration and congratulations, but more important perhaps is the feeling on the part of those who have remained at home that he brings with him an atmosphere of holiness which is shared by all. At all times the social function of the pilgrimage to the sacred sites has been to serve as a journey to a common hearth fire from which the pilgrims could carry back the renewed and restored flame of faith to their own communities. In this sense, the pilgrimage may be looked on as the counterpart of the fast, for while the fast solidifies the bonds that hold together each community by a common sacrifice, the pilgrimage allows the members of the elites of widely different regions and groups to engage in a spiritual intercourse which strengthens the ties between the various communities of Islam.

Law and institutions

It is not certain whether the Qur’ān was written down during the lifetime of the Prophet. The tradition indicates that scraps of it were preserved, and an authoritative text was prepared by a com-mission appointed by the third caliph, ’Uthmān, and copies of this circulated throughout the empire. However, difficulties in reading the imperfectly developed Arabic script and hesitancies in interpretation caused a reform in writing and the adjustment to a standard pronunciation, as well as the recognition of a certain number of reciters whose readings were by compromise accepted as orthodox. Toward the end of the first century A.H. the text as now used was standardized in most details.

During this formative period the administration of justice was carried out somewhat haphazardly by Qur’ānic precepts as they were customarily interpreted by the Arabs, and with the incorporation of some elements of Roman and pre-Islamic law, administrative procedures were modified and more fully incorporated in the embryonic body of legal practice. Toward the end of the Umayyad period, between about A.D. 725 and 750, the Qur’ān and the sunnah had become established as the principal sources of Muslim jurisprudence, but there had also grown up a body of jurists and men interested in legal problems who in their experience were finding it necessary to go beyond these sources to devise laws for the community.

Up to this time law and religion were inextricably interconnected and rested upon the infallible revelation of the Qur’ān and its presumably infallible verification in detail by the tradition. The infallibility of these two sources, however, was not of the same order; in fact, the proliferation of narratives in the tradition was such that scholars were aware that many of them were spurious. In order to establish the veracity of the tradition beyond any doubt and reinforce its position as an anchor of the legal system, a science of hadīth criticism was introduced in the second and third centuries A.H. This placed stress on the reliability of each member of the chain of authorities cited. Biographies of transmitters were compiled and their subjects carefully investigated, after which each narrative (hadīth) was classified for legal purposes as sound, good, or weak. Many traditions that modern Western scholarship considers highly dubious were classified as sound in this process, for many theologians were at bottom less interested in the historical objectivities of a given tradition than in the practical consequences of its acceptance and application to community life. Later, in the ninth century A.D., hadīth study developed into a full-fledged scholastic enterprise; the great compilations of al-Bukhāri (d. 870) and Muslim (d. 875) have enjoyed almost universal authority in Islam.

The Qur’ān and the expurgated tradition, however, for all their infallibility, did not supply a definitive body of legal precepts for general use. The jurists of the so-called ancient schools in Iraq, Syria, and Medina devoted themselves to finding a way to generalize the specificity of the original sources, and in so doing they established the foundations of the four great legal schools of orthodox Islam and, more importantly, laid down the framework of Islamic law for all time. The concept of opinion, or common sense, had been applied for some time but was thought to contain the dangers of human irresponsibility. It was favored by the school of Iraq, however, while Medinan jurists, among them Malik Ibn Anas (d. 795), developed the doctrine of the “suitability” of one decision to a fixed point of reference and that of the “association” of one with an anterior case. The problem was resolved by al-Shafī‘i (d. 820), who completed the system by extending the use of the Prophetic tradition, as opposed to the narrower Medinan tradition, and introduced the more precise concept of analogical reasoning (qiyās), by which the principles that had governed decisions in previous cases could be applied to new situations. The actual difference between the schools was not overly great, but the reasoning of al-Shafī‘i established his work as the third source of Muslim holy law.

The construction of the Muslim legal edifice was completed by the introduction of the principle of consensus (ijmdā‘) as the guarantor of legal theory and beyond that of the integrity of the entire frame-work of Muslim religious thought. The doctrine of ijmā‘ has been subsumed in a tradition that relates the saying of Muhammad, “My community will not agree in error.” During the second century A.H. it had been established that the consensus of the community, which meant that of the jurists and scholars dealing with religious and legal matters, was binding. The extension of this concept by these very jurists, to stamp with approval the legal systems they had elaborated, removed the possibility of a revision of their work by later generations and gave final validity to the entire structure. Ijmā‘ verifies the authenticity and the proper interpretation of the Qur’ān; it guarantees the correct transmission of the sunnah tradition and the proper use of qiyās. It covers all aspects of the holy law and admits the validity of distinctions between the orthodox legal schools. Of the highest importance, however, is the fact that consensus itself becomes, as Gibb has noted, “a third channel of revelation” (1949) and is elevated to infallibility itself alongside the Qur’ān and the sunnah, which it sanctions. While it is often suggested that the principle of consensus was adopted as a device of convenience by the legal scholars, a broader view leads to the conclusion that the Muslim community’s sense of its own divinely instituted and rightly guided nature has always been so highly developed that it produced an unwavering belief in its own charisma and infallibility. The ideal of Islamic law taken as a whole is absolutist and charismatic at its roots and may be considered a reflection of the Islam which Muslims have brought into being, either, as they would believe, through their unerring understanding of God’s word or, as Western scholars believe, through their own will and actions.

Islam prides itself on the absence of clergy who might interpose themselves between God and man. While this is true in a formal sense, nonetheless from the earliest periods there have been, as seen, a large body of men dealing with religious problems and their interpretation. In time this turned into an identifiable body of theologians (’ulamā’) and jurists. The growth of this group is intimately connected with the development of the holy law and the appearance of the orthodox legal schools in the eighth and ninth centuries. At first they were individual members of the still informal religious institution of Islam, but as this solidified they tended to come together as the formal representatives of the community in questions of faith and, in so doing, often found themselves in positions of opposition to the state. From Abbasid times on, however (after A.D. 750), the political authorities attached theologians to themselves and gave many of them official positions, so that overt opposition by members of the religious establishment tended to be muted. With the establishment of religious colleges (singular, madrasah) in the eleventh century A.D., in which courses were given and degrees granted, there was a further formalization of the structure, which reached its height in the complex government-supported theological institutions of the Ottoman Empire. Such developments tended inevitably to limit the independence of the religious establishment with respect to the authorities, and there are manifold examples of subservience and abasement. Nevertheless, throughout Islamic history there runs the principle, however often violated, that the religious institution exists apart from and as a check on the ruling institution. The theologian and the jurist were in the end the guardians of the law for the state, although they were independent of it and at times in opposition to it. The most notable limitation on the power of the state at all times has been the theoretical inviolability of official members of the religious institution and of their property. A large quantity of mortmain property lay, and still lies, in their hands, and by these means mosques, schools, hospitals, and the like were supported, and to a certain extent the independence of the judge protected.

Unity and diversity

Almost from its inception Islam encountered difficulties in adapting the message of Muhammad to the changed historical circumstances in which the Muslim empire was developing and in formulating a theological statement that would satisfy the diverse elements that were becoming part of the community. The relationship between religion and politics has always been unusually intimate in the Middle East, and this was particularly true in the case of Islam. It is therefore often difficult to separate political from theological questions, and important to understand that the Muslims of the early periods did not consciously do so themselves. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that with rare exceptions conflicts in the formative first decades primarily reflected political and social considerations and the influence of the differing local environments in western Asia to which the faith had spread, rather than theological considerations. It was only later, toward the beginning of the Umayyad period, that religious factors first intervened significantly, and the practice of transferring sociopolitical grievances to the level of theological disputes and challenging the powers that be on those grounds—a practice which was to become a central theme of Islamic history—was initiated.

The first major example of this was the separation of the Kharijites, whose activities were closely linked with what later turned into the principal schismatic movement in Islam, the Shi’ite deviation from orthodoxy. Both groups were found as extremist elements among the fractious nomadic tribesmen who had been settled in garrison towns in Iraq and who made up the troops of ‘Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad, during his campaign to claim supreme authority after the murder of the third caliph, ’Uthmān, in 656. The Kharijites represented discontented tribesmen whose anarchic spirit resisted being forced into an urban mold and to whom the end of the conquests in their immediate area meant a diminution of booty and of the satis-faction of raiding. The Shi‘ah, or “partisans” of ‘Ali, on the other hand, were composed of men from Kufa in Iraq who felt alienated from the caliphal establishment, which was the center of power in the Hejaz, and its emanations in Syria.

The quarrel of the Kharijites with the rest of the community lay in the domain of religious practice. They insisted that evildoers within Islam must be rigorously punished and that those Muslims who temporized on the extirpation of evil were themselves guilty of apostasy. This radical point of view led them to withdraw from the armies of ‘Ali and eventually, after a series of unsuccessful minor uprisings, to divorce themselves from the community, in which they had no further direct influence. Today they survive in isolated communities in Algeria, Oman, and Zanzibar, without political influence.

The Shi‘ite movement was more complex and permanent. Its psychological foundations seem to have been laid first in the personal devotion ac-corded to ‘Ali by his followers and, second, in the sense of rejection and bitterness which accompanied his defeat and death in 661 and the martyrdom of his son Husain in 680. At the same time, the political bases of the movement were strengthened by the opposition of the Arabs of Iraq to rule from Syria. The movement attracted many recent non-Arab converts, or clients, to Islam, who were seeking equality and fuller integration within the community and who came principally from among Persian and Aramaean elements in Iraq and Iran. From this period begins a cross-linkage of the political and social grievances of non-Arab Muslims with Shi‘ism, which culminates in the sixteenth century in the Shi‘ite nationalism of the Safavid state in Iran.

The earliest Shi‘ism had no distinctive doctrine, and in questions of theology and law individual Shi‘ites were indistinguishable from others in the community, with whom they lived, on the whole, harmoniously. However, the political insistence on the legitimacy of ‘Ali called into being a doctrine that refused recognition to the first three caliphs who followed Muhammad and thus challenged orthodox belief. Moreover, the elevation of ‘Ali to the position of an infallible and charismatic leader (imām) brought Shi‘ism, in later centuries, into sharper conflict with the Sunnite concept of consensus of the community. Gradually a polarization occurred in which Hellenistic remnants in formerly Byzantine areas attached themselves to and influenced the development of orthodox theology, while a variety of sects and ideas from the pre-Islamic Oriental substrata in Iraq, Iran, and later India were grafted onto Shi‘ism. Moreover, Shi‘ism served as a banner to cover social revolt against the orthodox establishment on more than one occasion.

The further development of Shi‘ism may be traced from its character as a volatile opposition movement dependent on strong personal leadership, which contained within itself the seeds of further splitting. Secrecy, concealment of one’s true beliefs, the possession of esoteric knowledge by the infallible imām, and a doctrine of messianic return and salvation became the hallmarks of the various Shi‘ite subsects. Of these there are three principal groups, each of which has erected the concept of divinely inspired leadership, or “imamism,” into basic doctrine, although with differences of interpretation. The Zaidi branch, which is prominent in the Yemen, attributes no superhuman qualities to its imām’s and is closest to Sunnite Islam. The majority Imami branch is the state religion of Iran and has many adherents in Iraq and India among other countries. The extreme Isma‘ili branch has contributed some of the most extraordinary episodes to Islamic history, among them the odyssey of the Fatimid caliphate in north Africa and Egypt, the activities of the sect of the Assassins (hashshashiri),and several revolutionary uprisings in the Middle Ages. The distinctive features of Isma‘ilism, which today has a following primarily in India and east Africa, consist of graded instruction in religious mysteries, a distinction between external and internal meaning in all their aspects, and the practice of dissimulation. Several offshoots of Isma‘ilism, such as the Druze, the Nusairi, and the Yazidi sects in the Levant, display such extreme syncretism that it is doubtful whether they should be considered fully Muslim.

Counterbalancing the tendencies toward sectarianism in Islam at all times, however, has been a broad current of tolerance which has permitted the main orthodox corpus of the faith to entertain, modify, and assimilate a variety of ideas and, having done so, to allow a wide latitude of diversity to flourish among the individuals and bodies that constitute the community. Historically it has been only those sects which have voluntarily excluded themselves from the orthodox community, like the Kharijites, that are considered heretical. Today, the position of the Shi‘ites, the only important heterodox body in Islam, is in general viewed with less rigor than previously. Conversely, Islamic history demonstrates the absorptive and integrationist character of the religion in many instances, the most outstanding of which is the Mu‘tazilite movement of the eighth and ninth centuries.

The Mu‘tazilah came to prominence about a century after Muhammad’s death in reaction against both the extremism of the Kharijites and the corresponding indifference to religious questions on the part of their opposites, the Murjri‘ites. Mu‘tazilism was an intellectual movement whose activity was stimulated by the translations of Greek thought then appearing and by the generally felt need to express and defend Muslim belief in rational terms, especially vis-à-vis recently converted scholars familiar with the canons of Greek logic and philosophy. The Mu’tazilah were the first to try to provide a sound philosophical basis for Islam through forthright discussions of the nature of God, of the Qur’ān, and of man’s relationship to God. While maintaining the purest monotheism and chastising any semblance of anthropomorphism, they held two tenets that ran directly counter to orthodox dogma. One was that the Qur’ān was created in time rather than being the uncreated word of God which had been in existence forever. The other, of more general philosophical importance, was a doctrine of free will, which held that it was inconceivable that God should decree the actions of man, induce him into error, and then punish him for it, as the orthodox doctrine of predestination and the unqualified omnipotence of God asserted. The dispute came to a head in the ninth century, when Mu‘tazilite influence held sway briefly. In the end the movement came to grief because of its own rigidity in the face of counterargument and its persistent attempt to force Muslim thought into Greek forms, an effort that was not only opposed by the orthodox theologians but that met with no response from the mass of believers.

The reaction to Mu‘tazilism led by al-Ashe‘ri (d. 935) consolidated the orthodox position and produced a new orthodox scholasticism, which has remained definitive until today. While setting a lasting dogmatic stamp on Islam, the reaction reconciled some Mu‘tazilite concepts with orthodox belief and thus strengthened and enlarged the area of consensus. Predestination was maintained, but a doctrine of “acquisition,” under which man has contingent responsibility for his deeds, was introduced. The dogma of the absolute omnipotence of God and the orthodox position that right is what God decrees it to be in the Qur’ān—rather than something independently ascertainable by man—were affirmed, but their rigor softened by stressing the intercession of Muhammad in favor of man, something which the Mu‘tazilah had rejected. Finally, the relationship of cause and effect propounded by the Mu’tazilah, which in orthodox eyes limited the power of God, was disavowed by means of an atomistic theory according to which all events and substances exist transitorily in time and space only through the inscrutable will of God and not through any inherent connection among themselves.

The intellectual consequences to Islam of the orthodox reformulation begun by al-Ash‘ari and completed two centuries later (by al-Ghazāli) were of the greatest importance. Ash‘arism marks a rejection of Hellenism and the victory of intuitive faith over rationalism in the struggle to shape Islam. The contribution of the Mu‘tazilah in raising the level of intellectual activity in Islam was important, however, as was the work of al-Ash‘ari, in finding a way to incorporate many of the basic elements of Greek thought introduced by the Mu‘tazilah without undermining the basic dogmas of orthodox Islam.

The will to catholicity in Islam was shown two centuries later in the synthesis achieved by alGhazāli (d. 1111) between philosophy and orthodox theology. In the intervening period, largely as another by-product of the importation of Greek thought, Islamic philosophy had come into flower and made a remarkable contribution to the growth of medieval sciences in Europe as well as in the Middle East. Beginning with al-Kindi (d. 873) and continuing through Avicenna (d. 1037) in the east and Averroës (d. 1198) in the west, Muslim philosophers evolved a philosophical interpretation of Islam within a Neoplatonic framework, which they seem to have felt existed outside the sphere of Islamic doctrine rather than in contradiction with it. There is no hint of a conflict in Avicenna, and one of Averroës’ most important works is the Faşl al-Maqāl(“Decisive Treatise [on the Harmony Between Religion and Philosophy]”), in which he states that philosophy is the companion and foster sister of the sharī‘ah. His answer to al-Ghazāli, Tahāfut al-Tahāfut(“Inconsistency of the Inconsistency”), reveals his conviction that although reason cannot attain a complete understanding of eternal truths, man has a duty to seek a rational explanation by demonstrative argument. Similarly, the work of Averroës’ contemporary Ibn Tufail (d. 1185), Hayy Ibn Yaqzān (“The Living Son of the Vigilant”), demonstrates that reason and revelation independently lead to the same belief.

Views of this kind were considered dangerously close to heresy by many, and by the eleventh century there was strong hostility on the part of theologians toward such philosophical constructions. The accomplishment of al-Ghazāli was essentially to dam this second tide of Hellenism by reconciling the positions of philosophy and theology, much as al-Ash‘ari had stemmed the first by synthesizing orthodox and Mu‘tazilite ideas. Moreover, just as al-Ash‘ari had defended Sunnite dogma by the use of intellectually superior Mu‘tazilite methods of logic, al-Ghazāli upheld it in his major argument against philosophy, Tahāfut al Falāsifa (“The Inconsistency of the Philosophers”), with Neoplatonic ideas taken from Avicenna and other followers of Greek thought.

Al-Ghazāli was important also as a living example of synthesis between theology and the mystic (sūfi)movement in Islam. Sufism had been, more than any of the other movements of diversity, an intuitive way of practicing Islam through the cultivation of personal religious experience, and Sufi mystics and ascetics are found from very early times. Some of them were considered orthodox, but others, like al-Hallāj (d. 922), were persecuted or even executed. For many, however, the personal communion which lay at the heart of the Sufi movement was felt as complementary to normal orthodox devotion and not contrary to it. Al-Ghazāli turned to Sufism in his later years and in some of his works illuminated the inner meaning of the obligation of Muslim faith. On the basis of personal experience he propounded the necessity of founding belief on the strict observance of these obligations before turning to seek the inner awakening for which Sufism characteristically strove.

The growth of Sufism had been accentuated in the period after al-Ash‘ari, in good part as a reaction to the austereness of orthodox Sunnism. Al-Ghazāli’s efforts were temporarily successful, but in the long run they had effects that were unexpected and unwelcome to the orthodox establishment. While orthodoxy was at first given fresh vigor by the new infusion, the acceptance of Sufism within its realm eventually produced a lowering of intellectual standards dealing with the purity of the doctrine. This led in time to a capitulation before the power of popular religion, on the part of both the ‘ulamā’ and many temporal rulers, unwilling to offend popular religious susceptibilities. The result was a final de facto separation of the two briefly joined streams of Muslim faith. The theologians retreated to the sanctuary of the mosque and the madrasah, where they perfected a pedantic system of rote education and intellectual sterility, divorced from the living forces of religion; in con-sequence, the energies that had been unleashed were left without the guidance provided by rigorous intellectual discipline and soon gave themselves over to excesses of mysticism, saint worship tantamount to pantheism, and cultism often having more to do with pre-Islamic animism than with Islam. In particular, the social evolution of Sufism was marked by the appearance of brotherhoods, associations of mendicants, dervish orders, and mystic fraternities, which since the thirteenth century have significantly changed the nature of Islam as popularly practiced. The subsequent development of Sufism influenced the Islamic world in other ways also. As a result of the devastation accompanying the Mongol conquest and occupation of most of western Asia in the fourteenth century, the orthodox establishment was disrupted and discredited. In these circumstances, in countries as different and distant as Persia and Morocco, it was the popular Sufi movement that upheld the unity of the community and resisted the invader. In so doing, the movement utilized efficiently the personal links cultivated by early Sufi circles, but at the same time it began to take on a more formal organization. Colleges were founded by Sufi sheikhs, and these in turn gave rise to a regular network of affiliated institutions, each called a tarīqah, or “path.” Many of these were regional in their influence, but others spread throughout the Muslim states and were a principal means of cultural interchange in the succeeding centuries. Finally, Sufism took root in the sociopolitical debris left in areas such as Asia Minor and Persia as Mongol rule waned. In the two great empires which from that period until the twentieth century dominated the heartland of the Muslim world Sufism played a significant role. In Anatolia Sufi sheikhs were politically active in the ghāzi states, which were organized in corporations often affiliated with a tarīqah, and it was out of one such ghāzi state that the Ottoman Empire grew. In Iran, Sufism along with Shi‘ism contributed to the Iranian national revival from the fourteenth century on, and the Safavid state was founded by Sufi sheikhs attached to the Suhrawardi tarīqah.

Islam and polity

The character of the political institutions of Islam was essentially determined during the lifetime of Muhammad by the simultaneous emergence of Islam as a faith and as an autonomous political community. In classical Islamic thought, government exists for no other purpose than that of up-holding the faith and guaranteeing service to God on earth, and political institutions are designed to safeguard the community in the widest sense from all the perils, spiritual and material, of this existence.

The principal institution by which this design has been carried out is the caliphate, which was instituted when the followers of Muhammad upon his death selected one of his companions as the rightful successor to the mantle of the Prophet. Since the divine will had been made clear to men in the Qur’ān and expatiated on in the sunnah and inasmuch as the correct path for the community is subsumed in the sharā’ah, the caliphate has ideally been an executive stewardship bereft of legislative prerogatives. In practice, however, especially in later times, both the use of administrative decrees and the doctrine of consensus became loop-holes permitting considerable legislative initiative.

In the first Islamic decades under the leadership of the “rightly guided” caliphs Muslims did not distinguish between the moral authority of the caliphate and the actual power it wielded in its own right. Beginning with the successional quarrel after the death of ‘Uthmān in 656, however, a train of events was let loose that greatly influenced Muslim political theory as well as practice. The disaffection of the Kharijites and the Shi‘ites called into question the legitimacy of the occupant of the office, and Shi‘ite insistence that only a descendant of the Prophet could be caliph was instrumental in forcing Sunnite theologians to work out theories of the caliphate that would withstand such attacks. By the early ninth century, moreover, the increasing fragmentation of the Muslim empire and the seizure of power by regional commanders and adventurers, first in distant provinces and finally in the capital itself, underlined the split between a limited caliphal authority and the new self-assertive power, which continued in varied forms and disguises from then until modern times. In succeeding centuries some of the greatest legal minds of Islam attempted to explain this divergence in terms consonant with the theological bases of Islam, and their reasoning had crucial consequences for Islamic political history.

The classical exposition of the Sunnite position was made by al-Māwardi (d. 1031), who formalized the legal fictions (hiyāl) of the Ash‘arites by admitting in cases of necessity the principle that the caliph, whose authority was of divine origin, might delegate this to temporary power holders. By so doing, al-Māwardi took the first step along a dangerous path which led to the collapse of the entire system. Later, al-Ghazāli moved further along it by legitimizing power holders who paid symbolic allegiance to the caliph in ritual prayer, coinage, etc. He tried to forge a synthesis between power and authority by making obedience to any but a manifestly anti-Islamic ruler a virtue because proper leadership was essential to the functioning of the community. The final step was taken after the destruction of the ‘Abbasid caliphate in 1258 with the legitimation of power in itself, on the grounds that all power comes ultimately from God and derives authority from that fact. In this way the difference between good and bad government was reduced through expediency to religious criteria alone; if the ruler protected the faith and carried out his executive responsibilities with respect to the holy law, he should then be obeyed. Such a justification of force offered great incentives to schemers, freebooters, and disgruntled military leaders, for the only criterion of a rightful revolution became its success. But for the mass of the community it eliminated, by its limited definition of injustice, the right to revolt and even the ability to protest effectively against harsh rule.

Having thus completely divorced the power of the emirate from the caliphate, Sunnite jurists were forced into further legal fictions, the most important of which was the doctrine, previously repudiated by the Ash‘arites, that the true caliphate had only lasted thirty years, after which there had existed a self-constituted imamate to which caliphal titles were given as pure form. The caliphate came to be viewed, then, like the sharī‘ah, as an ideal formulation to be constantly aspired to but seldom attained. Sunnite juristic theory was encapsuled by Ibn Khaldūn in the late fourteenth century and a century later by Jalāl ud-Din Dawwāni. They distinguished between secular kingship and the caliphate and insisted that only the righteous ruler who governs according to the sharāah is entitled to style himself caliph.

The caliphate instituted by the Ottoman Empire is thus in strict terms the equivalent of an imamate only, and its resuscitation in the late eighteenth century, after more than two centuries of Ottoman indifference to the title, occurred at a time of declining Ottoman power when the Porte was concerned with reinforcing its symbols of authority. With European encroachments on Muslim lands and the rise of Pan-Islamist sentiment in the nineteenth century, the position of the Ottoman sultan-caliph at the head of the only Muslim state possessing a semblance of power in world politics was reinforced, but its nature was changed. Islamic solidarity grew temporarily on political grounds rather than as the expression of any true revival of the community, and as a political force it had to contend, in the end unsuccessfully, with local or more secular nationalisms among the Turks, the Arabs, the Persians, and other Muslim peoples. Ottoman efforts to rally Islamic solidarity behind the nominal caliph during World War I were fruitless, and the formal abolition of the caliphate by the Turkish Republic in 1924 came during an era of nascent nationalism in many parts of the Muslim world and created little stir except among PanIslamists or politicians trying to capitalize on religious issues. A congress of unofficial delegations from many Muslim countries met in Cairo in 1926 but could not agree on the qualifications of a new caliph or the bases for the restoration of the institution.

Islam and society

The divine commands laid down in the Qur’ān and the sunnah not only concern God and man but also order the social relationships among men and are especially explicit about matters pertaining to the family, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The Muslim family is the re-creation of the Arab family within the ethical confines of Islam. Thus it is authoritarian, patriarchal, polygamous, patrilineal, and largely patrilocal, with vestigial survivals of what appears to be an earlier matrilineal kinship system reflected in the prominent position of the maternal uncle. The role of women has on the whole, despite Muslim apologetics, been subordinate to that of men; this is attested by the Qur’ān, which ranks men above women and allows only half value to the testimony of the latter. The inheritance shares of female heirs are half those allotted to males. However, the counsel of moderation in the treatment of spouses which runs through the Qur’ān gives some weight to those who claim that Muhammad did in effect lighten the burden women bore in pre-Islamic times. In practice today many elder women exercise great authority over members of their household, and particularly in urban areas, working women of the lower and lower-middle classes have a considerable degree of autonomy. Nevertheless, in almost every Muslim country, the legal position of the wife is inferior to that of the husband and in many cases is precarious.

Traditional marriage is a contract arranged between heads of households. The consent of the groom is necessary if he is of age (formerly puberty, but now fixed almost everywhere by statute), but not that of the bride, except through her tutor for marriage. The right of compulsory marriage of a daughter by a male parent, formerly common, has been sharply restricted in most countries. Although Muslim law specifies degrees of kinship forbidden for marriage, the union of first cousins is sanctioned and often favored. Muslim males may marry non-Muslim women, but except in those countries where the holy law no longer exists (Turkey and Tunisia) Muslim women may not marry outside their faith.

Polygamy is expressly sanctioned by the Qur’ān, which allows the Muslim to take four wives, and has been widely practiced throughout Islam at all times, but with regional variations and under some social and ethical restrictions. Economic factors alone have always limited the number of polygamous families, most of which are found among the urban well-to-do. Peasants tend, through economic necessity, to be monogamous or to limit themselves to the taking of a second wife, often later in life. Under the influence of Western mores in this century plural marriages have come to be regarded by many Muslims as a sign of backwardness. Many Muslim reformers now claim that the Qur’ānic purpose was to limit the uncontrolled polygamy of pre-Islamic Arabia by imposing a limitation reasonable to the age. Today codes of personal status in countries like Syria and Egypt, which combine features of the holy law with European legislation, have made plural marriage increasingly difficult, although they have hesitated to outlaw it completely, as in Turkey and Tunisia.

Probably a greater impediment to family stability than polygamy has been the classical mode of divorce through repudiation. Traditionally, the husband may repudiate his wife in unilateral fashion by simple pronouncement and repayment of the balance of the dowry. The sharā’ah mitigates this somewhat by applying numerous conditions, but, in effect, the wife is subject to being divorced, with all the consequent stigma, without any effective legal recourse except under extraordinary circumstances. Successive repudiations are often equivalent to serial polygamy, and they have been and still are widespread in parts of Muslim society, particularly among the poor, where the dowry is inconsequential or nonexistent. In this domain, too, the law is gradually changing; in recent years Egypt, Morocco, and several other countries have made repudiation more difficult, while the more secularly oriented states have outlawed the practice.

Marriage is encouraged in the Qur’ān, and the Christian concept of celibate purity has always been combated; to Muhammad is attributed the phrase, “No monkery in Islam.” Procreation is held up as desirable, and children, especially boys, are welcomed. The male child is closely dependent on his mother and the women of the household. They take care of him until about the age of seven, when he begins his life as a young man, a step traditionally signaled either by his taking up work with his father or an uncle or by his starting religious instruction at school. Circumcision is normally carried out at this time, although in some areas it is practiced shortly after birth. It is not mentioned in the Qur’ān but has become a strictly observed rite throughout Islam, and the festivities surrounding circumcision make it a rite of passage equivalent only to marriage in popular Muslim custom. The traditional religious instruction of the mosque-school, usually limited to rote Qur’ānic studies and the rudiments of mathematics and civics, has been supplemented or replaced now almost everywhere by modern educational facilities, which attract a majority of the children of school age in many Muslim countries. These uniformly supply religious instruction, however, and thus young men even today, in contrast with modern Westerners, possess a detailed knowledge of their scripture, which serves as a further channel for maintaining Islamic solidarity. The education of girls, previously much neglected, has made great strides in recent decades. Nevertheless, many fewer girls than boys attend school, and even fewer go on to higher education. In some countries women are entering the professions in small numbers and working in salaried positions for the first time, but marriage and housekeeping are still considered their proper occupations.

The social ethic of Islam is founded upon a real sense of solidarity and brotherhood. The teachings of the Qur’ān have shaped an ideal Muslim civism rooted in humility before God, piety, frugality, charity toward the less fortunate, and an equality of believers in the face of the majesty of an all-powerful Deity. The transformation from the pre-Islamic Arab character, which laid emphasis on the blood tie, vengeance, and manliness, is complete, although much of the bedouin background persists under the Islamic mantle. A summary list of grave sins reveals the influence of both strains. Ancient tribal feelings about ritual cleanliness, the eating of carrion and forbidden food, sorcery and usury, unlawful sexual relations, and the blood price coexist with unbelief, refusal to pay legal alms, apostasy, telling falsehoods about the Prophet and his companions, striking a fellow Muslim without cause, not fasting during Ramadan, and the like. Throughout Muslim teaching and writing runs the thread of moderation in all things. The sharā’ah is, literally, the “straight path” not only in the sense of righteousness opposed to deviation but also as a golden mean. Moderation and abstinence are often recommended in the Qur’ān, even for acts that are permissible, and the balance they create is disturbed by the sins of greed and pride. Prodigality and lavishness of hospitality are tenacious pre-Islamic survivals in much of the Muslim East today, but they are not encouraged by the tradition. Finally, the doctrine of equality of all believers and frequent intermarriage with slaves and concubines have led to the relative absence of a color bar in Islam, a fact which today has great sociopolitical significance as well as ethical meaning.

Islam has in certain respects stamped its own image on economic institutions or at least emphasized certain characteristics of economic life to the extent that a distinctive coloration was given to them in the classical period within the limits of the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Classical Islamic society is one of merchants and trade. The socioeconomic causes lying behind the origins of Islam itself concern the conflict of economic interests in Mecca and the question of the trade routes in western Arabia. The social background of Muhammad and the predominance of the Quraish clan in early Islam insured a continuing emphasis on mercantilism which has never been lost. The sūq, properly an assemblage of shops and ateliers and workshops in which the commercial life of the town is grouped, has Greco–Roman antecedents but has evolved in special ways. The economic geography of the city is arranged from the center out in a descending order of virtue: the cathedral mosque surrounded by those trades catering to it, such as candlestick makers, incense shops, booksellers, etc.; followed by the sūq, of luxury goods, imported wares, and silks; and ending at the gates of the city with the tanneries, slaughterhouses, etc. Extreme specialization and geographical grouping by occupation and organization into guilds or corporations are constants of a pattern that still exists in many areas. The guilds often have ties with Sufi religious orders, and it is common for each to have a patron saint for whom an appropriate annual festival is held. The social function of the guilds counterbalances and complements for the individual that of the extended family and, sometimes but not always, that of the brotherhood or religious order to which he may belong.

As might be expected, Muslim law regulates commercial transactions in detail. It puts its greatest emphasis on the immediacy of transaction, the lawfulness of the thing exchanged, and the good faith of the parties involved. It thus forbids lending for interest and in theory permits only the exchange of quantities and articles of equal value. In due course of economic life, as in other areas, Islam has had recourse to legal fictions in order to avoid the paralyzing effect of the more rigorous Qur’ānic prohibitions. As international trade became important from the ninth century on, double sales, deposit contracts, promissory notes, temporary transfer of property to avoid taxes, and other devices formerly condemned by the tradition were and are widely practiced. Many such commercial customs and banking procedures in fact became models for European financial practices in the Middle Ages.

Islam today

Since the late eighteenth century Islamic society, in common with other non-Western societies, has been undergoing an onslaught from Western civilization which is reflected in every aspect of its social, economic, political, and religious life. At the time the Western assault began in earnest, this society in its core area of western Asia and the Mediterranean was showing every sign of material and spiritual enervation. The internal and external tribulations of the Ottoman state were symptoms of a deeper illness reflected in the divorce between the medieval tradition and the most rampant elements of Sufism, the intellectual stagnation of the more rational forces within Islam, and an extreme subjectivism of the intuitive elements that had temporarily triumphed and threatened at times to lead Islam into a totally mystic pantheism.

In reaction both to these inner dangers and to the Western menace, Islam appears to have embarked upon a path of revival and restoration. This revival has developed over the past two centuries, hesitantly at first but with a growing sense of concern and self-awareness, accompanied by a still unformed and unformulated effort to search for solutions that will enable Islam to meet the challenges of the present age. The first such manifestation came in the fundamentalist Neo-Hanbalite Wahhabi movement of central Arabia, which arose in protest against the laxness and heresies of Sufi versions of the faith in the mid-eighteenth century and which flourished until it was defeated by Ottoman arms in the early nineteenth century. Its influence survived, however, and not only became the basis of the Sa‘ūdi state but has had profound repercussions among revivalist, purifying movements in India and Africa. Although Sufi orders continued to expand in some areas, such as India, Africa, and fringe Muslim territory, in the nineteenth century, the puritan streak embodied in Wahhābism has in the twentieth century taken strong hold in the more purely Arab countries, where in almost all instances the orthodox version of the faith has been reinforced with the encouragement of and sometimes pressure from the authorities.

The confusion of religious and political factors in the Islamic crisis of the nineteenth century gave birth to a revived form of Pan-Islamism, which reflected in part the influence of similar political movements in Europe among the Slavs and Germans. Its message was preached by Jamāl al-Din al-Afghāni (d. 1897) from Egypt but eventually had little impact. One of his pupils, Muhammad ‘Abduh (d. 1905), took that part of it which emphasized the need for a thoroughgoing reform of Islamic thought and intellectual standards and attempted a reformulation of basic orthodox beliefs in order to show that they were compatible with modern life. Although it is too early to assess the ultimate importance of ‘Abduh, he remains at this juncture the outstanding reformist theologian of modern times within Islam. One of his disciples, Muhammad Rashīd Ridā (d. 1935), continued his work but moved from rationalism to a more conservative literalism, while calling for a revived caliphate under Arab, and more specifically, Quraish, guidance. Within the past generation the reaction against Westernization has, if anything, grown stronger, and there has been a proliferation of apologetics among Muslim intellectuals and writers. Much of this has been directed at Christianity, which is seen in a dual light: as a rival faith and as the indirect promoter of Western socio-political infiltration into the Muslim world. A conscious sense of competition, as opposed to the medieval Muslim assumption that Islam was infallible and had no rivals, can be discerned today for the first time in Islamic history. Among its manifestations are defenses against alleged attacks on Islam, an extreme defensiveness with respect to social issues on which Islam takes stands different from Western norms—or about which it is felt, however unconsciously, to be backward—and attempts at emulation and justification, represented notably by the biographical literature centering on Muhammad and the historical literature emphasizing the past glories of Islam and the superiority of medieval Islamic civilization to that of Europe in the Middle Ages. Such attitudes, however, permitted the Indian Muslim reformer Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) to expound the idea that Muslims were entitled to take the fruits of Western civilization because they originally grew out of Islamic soil. His writings and activities were instrumental in helping to create the state of Pakistan in 1947.

Although it is manifestly impossible to summarize the various trends in modern Islam in well over a score of countries, it might be said that the overriding problem is that of the confrontation of the faith with a secular nationalism which demands that the highest loyalties be given to the state. In its concept and function as a supranational solidarity ethos and as the bearer of an ultimate message to mankind, Islam has so far found it impossible to come to terms with secularist nationalism as it is found in many Muslim countries, just as it has with scientific materialism, whose tenets have made inroads throughout the Muslim world. Several solutions have been tried. The idea of an Islamic state was promulgated in Pakistan but subsequently abandoned. The creation of a secular state in Turkey after World War I was followed a generation later by concessions to religious sentiment of a kind that makes it impossible to consider Turkey fully secular today. And in modern Egypt there is a complex relationship between the religious institution and the state in which traditional religious education has been modernized and laicized while the orthodox institution has been incorporated into the state and made subservient to it for manifestly political ends. In all these endeavors Muslims are being forced to think in terms of an uncompromising dualism for which their previous theological constructions provide no adequate model. Inherent also in these efforts is the clear desire of modern Muslims, at almost any cost, to put a greater social content into their religious formulations. The outstanding examples of this trend may be the efforts being made in Egypt, Indonesia, Syria, Algeria, and other countries to reconcile various forms of socialism with Islam.

people praying



Endangered Species


Endangered Species

what dose Endangered  mean?

  1. Endangered means that the  animal is in jeopardy  of dying  out as a species.
  2. when a species of animal completely dies out, they become extinct, never to live again.

3.being Endangered  means that more and more  animals are dying and less and less are being born.

How dose a species become Endangered?  

✴habitats changes

✴people moving in to animals habitats

✴land being taken over for farming

✴land and habitats are changed from pollution

✴climate altered by release of greenhouse gases



Snow Petrels – Pagadroma nivea

Snow petrels are pure white birds with jet black beaks and eyes. They are the size of a pigeon and arguably the most beautiful of all the Antarctic birds.


Snow petrel

Weight: 240 to 460g, it is a characteristic of snow petrels that there can be a large range of sizes amongst individuals.

Length: 30 – 40 cm, wingspan: 75 – 95 cm

Breeding Season: Nests are made and eggs laid from October to November, the chicks fledge and leave the nest 41 – 45 days later, snow petrels can live for up to 20 years.

Estimated world population: – More than 4,000,000 individuals.

Feeding: A varied seafood diet of krill, fish and squid that are usually taken very close to the surface, though shallow dives are also undertaken. They will also feed on carrion where it is available.

Conservation status: Least concern.

: Circumpolar, usually found near to pack ice and even continuous ice as long as there are open water leads to feed at. Breeds mainly on the Antarctic continent and surrounding islands, it is the most southerly breeding bird species, breeding even further south than the Emperor penguin. Snow petrel have even been seen at the south pole.

Predators: Antarctic (south polar) skuas, though weather conditions especially snow blocking nesting sites cause much greater loss of eggs and chicks.

  What are snow petrels like?

Snow petrel

In their appearance and behaviour snow petrels symbolize the very essence of the deep south. They are the purest of white and despite their diminutive size are as tough as animal needs to be to survive and even thrive in low temperatures and with a frequently high wind chill. They are frequently encountered in their hundreds, rarely in thousands, they tend to be spread out over a wide nesting area rather than being close together in large discrete colonies as are other Antarctic species.

They feed largely on krill and must always be near to the sea in order to feed.They are found therefore particularly along coasts and along the Antarctic peninsula.

The flying pair of birds in the picture are are a courting couple. In the Antarctic spring the males go looking for mates, and the females put them through their paces to assess their suitability and tenacity.

The courtship ritual consists initially of a male snow petrel following a female as she flies around the nesting area which is frequently a rocky outcrop or cliff with suitable ledges or nest holes. The female then leads him around the cliffs in a high speed aerial ballet, climbing and diving, flying almost into the cliff face at full speed before changing direction with an imperceptible twist of the wing at the last moment.

Snow petrelThe poor beleaguered male not only has to match this aeronautical master class, but he has to do it as close as possible to the female and without a script, gauging her every move while proving himself her equal at rapid flying. Many would be suitors seem to give up and get left behind, certainly in the early days. In this picture the male is calling to the female during a relatively relaxed moment.

Photographing flying snow petrels requires a lens on fixed focus, bright light, fast shutter, small aperture, and much cursing. Even then, it all happens so quickly that you don’t really know what you’ve got until you can look at the picture on a bigger screen.

  Why are these snow petrels hiding down a hole?

Snow petrelUnusually for Antarctic birds, snow petrels seem to apply some thought to the practicalities of a nest site. This pair are at the entrance to their nest which has been made in a natural crevice amongst some large broken-up rocks. This is a frequent choice for a nest site though not always available or in plentiful supply as snow petrels nest very far south and such crevices are frequently snowed or iced up.

Attempting to approach a nest (as I did on many occasions when helping in a long term programme on nesting success) brings out the worst in snow petrels. A well aimed stream of foul smelling, bright pink, oily, semi-digested krill mixed with oily stomach secretions would come in your direction as their (admirably unpleasant) defence mechanism. As small birds, nesting in crevices gets them out of the wind so reducing their risk of chilling in the wind and also protects them from nest raiding birds such as skuas. Antarctic has no land based nest raiding mammals such as cats or rats.

Snow petrels have been known to nest far inland on the Antarctic continent, 325 km. from the nearest sea that they must travel to in order to feed. They must nest on rock and in these cases choose “nunataks” isolated outcrops of tall rock ridges and mountains that protrude above the surrounding ice from the bed rock.

  Isn’t it cold and windy sitting out on the sea ice?

Snow petrelSnow petrels are birds of the Antarctic, they don’t migrate as such but move further north in winter as the cold weather sets in. Research in recent years has shown that the Antarctic ocean beneath the winter ice is surprisingly rich in life – a fact that it seems these birds have known about for some time.

They frequently arrive surprisingly far south in the winter in ridiculously low temperatures and high winds for such small creatures and rest overnight on totally exposed sea-ice, as here. Any spring and summer shelter is blocked up by now by blown snow. The reason they venture south in such adverse conditions would seem to be in order to take advantage of the abundance beneath the ice and the relative rarity of summer competitors.

  Why are these snow petrels hanging around the edge of this tide crack?

That these birds are prepared to undergo so much to find their food is testament to the nutritional value of that food – krill. Here snow petrels (and in the first photograph a crabeater seal too) are taking advantage of a tide crack to fish through in the case of the birds and to breathe at in the case of the seal who will be busy fishing for krill under the ice. A tide crack is a long narrow open lead of water that stretches between two points such as nearby islands or exposed rocks. It arises when the tide rises and falls, when the tide rises the crack opens when it falls, the crack closes. Such tide cracks can easily stretch for several kilometres, but never being more than about 50cm wide. 

The snow petrels space themselves out along the tide crack and sit patiently waiting for a krill to swim by at which point they jump out and hover just above the surface to take the tasty morsel.

Snow petrel
Snow petrel


Arctic Animals: 37 Photos of Snow-White wildlife

Arctic Animals:37 Photos of snow-white wildlife

Dramatic curving horns are the most notable feature of Dall sheep, a species native to northwestern North America that are almost entirely white in color. They’re primarily found in the subarctic mountain ranges of Alaska, the Yukon territory, the MacKenzie Mountains and the Northwest Territories.

Many of them are sheltered within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Year-round residents of the Refuge, Dall sheep live high on ridges and steep mountain slopes, using the rugged terrain to escape predators like wolves, golden eagles, bears and humans. These herbivores have adapted to the scarce food availability their frigid environment by maturing slowly, with low reproductive rates, to save their energy.

According to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, “Dall sheep walk a survival tightrope, although they do it rather effectively. They have lived since the Pleistocene in places such as the Arctic Refuge.”

Arctic Tern

With an annual migration covering 44,300 miles – the longest regular migration of any known animal on earth – the Arctic Tern certainly gets around. It goes from the Arctic circle as far south as Massachusetts over the course of the year. Mostly gray and white with black crowns and red beaks, Arctic Terns are medium-sized birds with wingspans of about 30 inches. Many of them can live up to thirty years.

Each individual tern has its own special social call that is distinguishable to the other terns, allowing them to identify individuals. They mate for life in most cases and will defend their nests fiercely against predators, even attacking humans by striking the top or back of the head with their beaks.

Arctic Gyrfalcon

The Gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcon species, and breeds all over the Arctic coasts of North America, Greenland and Northern Europe. Its plumage varies greatly from dark brown and black to almost solid white. White form Gyrfalcons are the only predominately white falcons in existence, and tend to be located in Greenland.

Gyrfalcons breed fuzzy white nestlings on bare cliffs, often in the abandoned nests of other birds like ravens and golden eagles. They’re very aggressive toward any creatures that come too near their nests, dive-bombing brown bears. Their primary threat is humans, mostly in the form of either car collisions and hunting. They can live to be up to 20 years old. While the species was considered ‘near-threatened’ from the mid-20th century to 1994 due to poisoning from pesticides, they have since made a comeback, and are no longer considered rare.


navigation bar Polar bears

Polar bears are found around the polar region; spends time along the southern edge of the arctic pack ice. Their habitats are on pack ice, open water and on land. Male polar bear weigh 400-450kg and female polar bear weigh 300-350kg. Their diet includes seals, birds from sea and icy land. Their body contains blubber. This insulate them from the cold climate. Their lifespan is up to 25 years. The population of polar bear is around 40,000. Polar bear`s future depends on the protection of Arctic environments (windy, ice, snowy lands) from pollution.

navigation bar Penguins

There are no penguins in the northern hemisphere. They are found in the southern hemisphere. Penguins live from the sea ice along the edges of antarctica, up to thr equator. Penguins are birds that do not fly and swims well. Some penguins lives in very cold ice and snowy places. They finds their food mostly from the sea, such as fish. Some penguins spend most time of their lives in the water. And some spends most o their time on the snowy land. They lay their eggs on the land. To survive in this cold snowy climate, they have a thick layer of fat below their skin for insulation.

navigation bar Arctic fox

Arctic fox are found in the fur north areas of North America, Iceland, Greenland. The colour of the animal is gray or white. They are carnivores, eats eggs, birds, fish, small mammals. They have thick insulating fur. They protect themselves by hiding in the snow. Their lifespan is between 3-10 years. They are adapted to live in the cold climate. Arctic foxes metabolic rate starts to increase at minus 50 degree celcius. Therefore they can tolerate snowy climate.

navigation bar Musk ox

Musk ox are found on the tundra of Canada, Alaska, Greenland and some Arctic islands. Their diet includes grasses, willow leaves, lichens. They are 4-5 ft tall and weighs 230 – 360 kg. The fur of the musk ox is 3-4 inches thick. The muskox fur coat and hooves acts as insulation in the cold weather. They have long outer hair. Under this hair, they have wooly qiviut. It is naturally occurs fibre at up to 10 times warmer than sheep wool. Their lifespan is just over 20 years.

navigation bar    Wolverine


Wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family. Wolverine is found in the Northern United States, Alasa, Canada. Their diet includes, eggs, small mammals, rats, birds. The male wolverine weigh 36 pounds and female weight 25 pounds. Their thick fur insulates them in the cold climate. Their lifespan is up to 22 years in captivity.



Image Map used on Bear's face

Snow and Animals

Snow and Animals

It can be difficult for animals to live in places that receive large amounts of snow, such as in the high latitudes and at high elevations. Snowy places tend to receive less sunlight, which decreases temperatures and makes it hard for animals to stay warm. Deep snow can also be difficult to move around in; animals must spend more time and energy walking through it or finding food beneath it.


Some animals have adapted to co-exist with the cold. Deer, elk, bison, and other grazing animals use their hooves and muzzles to clear snow away from plants they need to eat to survive. To help retain warmth throughout the winter, they also grow thicker, shaggier coats, which they shed in the spring when the weather becomes warm again.

Other animals, like the snowshoe hare, develop ways to travel on top of deep snow. Snowshoe hares have large hind feet, and they can spread their toes to act like snowshoes, which helps them walk on the surface of deep snow without falling through. Similarly, the ptarmigan, a bird common to the Rocky Mountains, saves energy by walking on top of the snow with its feather-covered feet.

The pika, another Rocky Mountain native, dries little bundles of hay in the fall, then brings this food under the snow to spend the winter. The Arctic fox, which must deal with the cold, snowy conditions of the Arctic all year, grows thick fur all the way down to the bottoms of its paws. It has a stocky body, short legs, and small ears, all of which conserve body heat.

During cold periods, frogs, snakes, and other amphibians and reptiles slow their body processes almost to a stop, using up their energy very slowly. Some insects have adapted a lifecycle that follows the seasons. They grow and reproduce during the summer months, then die in the fall, leaving their offspring in protective cocoons that will open the following spring.



Deep snow can prevent some animals from finding food, but it also acts like a blanket, keeping the ground beneath it warmer than the surrounding air temperature. Some animals take advantage of snow’s insulation, and cope with the cold season by building in a protective den or burrow and going into a deep, long sleep, a process called hibernation. Bears and groundhogs, for instance, build up fat reserves in the fall so they can survive hibernating through the snowy winter months, usually not waking again until spring.


Some animals simply leave snowy, cold regions during the toughest seasons. Arctic terns, for example, spend the No

rthern Hemisphere summer in the Arctic, and then migrate to Antarctica for the Southern Hemisphere summer, traveling about 39,000 kilometers (24,000 miles) round-trip each year. Migration can also happen over shorter distances: Deer and elk in the Rocky Mountains of the United States tend to migrate down into valleys during the winter.

The timing of spring snowmelt and autumn snowfall also affects migration. Many migratory water birds take advantage of the 24-hour sunlight and extensive food supplies available during the Arctic summertime. But the timing of birds’ breeding and nesting depends on when particular regions in the Arctic become snow-free each spring. Some populations nest in Greenland, where snow melts later in the spring season, and there is a smaller window of opportunity for the species migrating there. Arctic areas of Europe, Asia, and Alaska, however, have recently experienced earlier springtime thawing, resulting in more snow-free patches and longer summer seasons for migrating birds.

A herd of caribou walking single-file through the snow

During winter, animals often must contend with deep snow, which makes movement difficult. These caribou are walking in single file; a lead animal will break a trail through the snow, and the rest of the herd follows in its tracks.
An elk digs through the snow to graze

Elk and other grazing animals often have to dig through snow to graze during winter.
Willow ptarmigan in the snow

The ptarmigan’s feathered feet act as snowshoes, distributing its weight and preventing it from sinking into the snow.


from satarra

The Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl

Description:   They are called snowy owls because their colouring is almost pure white when they are full grown. The feet of snowy owls are covered with feathers and have extra thick pads.

Vision:   Snowy owls have incredible vision. They can see from high up in the sky and swoop down silently to capture their prey. Like all owls they have good night vision.

Diet:  They stay in the Arctic during the winter unless their food sources are scarce. If they leave the arctic in the winter they overwinter in northern Greenland, the Canadian islands, or North America.

Newborn winter owl