Straight Path Episode 1
three part series, in which Mark Little examines modern
Islam the world's fastest growing religion.
Origins of Islam
Islam emerged from the deserts of western Arabia almost
fourteen hundred years ago. Life at the time revolved around
the rivalry of scattered tribes, and the worship of many
different gods and pagan idols. In this barren environment
the seeds of a great religion and civilisation were sown
by a man called Muhammad. Even though Muhammad was born
into a well respected city family his first taste of life
was the harsh, levelling realities of the desert. Like every
great Arabian clan of the time, Muhammad's family kept a
bond with the desert by sending their newborn babies to
be weaned by the Bedoin.
spent his earliest years living the harsh life of a desert
nomad and soaked up simple values of endurance and equality.
He was barely a teenager when he joined the camel trains
that travelled the trade routes of Arabia and he spent half
his life travelling routes that stretched from Mecca and
beyond all the way north to Damascus.
things shaped Muhammad's view of the world more than the
injustice he witnessed in the big Arabian towns. Even in
Mecca the old tribal bonds were breaking down and he saw
that the poor were increasingly slaves to the wealthy and
women were treated as little more than possessions.
the age of 40 Muhammed's life was turned upside down when
he received the first revelation from God. Over the next
two decades he continued to receive the divine revelations
that would eventually become the Qur'an - the literal embodiment
Five Pillars of Islam
Islam is not just a religion, it is a code of conduct -
for Muslims one's actions are judged more important than
one's beliefs. Muslims from all backgrounds and nations
are bonded into a global community by five rituals - the
five pillars of Islam.
From a distance there is something clear and consistent
about Islam but look more closely and there is evidence
of deep divisions among Muslims. Within the global Islamic
community there is endless debate about what the words in
the Qur'an actually mean. Rival visions and ideas now travel
across the planet in an instant and so - like never before
- Muslims are caught in a global war of interpretations.
conflict is most visible to outsiders when it comes to the
concept of Jihad - what Islamic puritans sometimes call
the sixth pillar of Islam.
word Jihad doesn't mean war. It comes from the Arabic for
struggle or striving. Jihad was first revealed to the Prophet
after he and his followers were forced to flee Mecca for
the city of Medina - where they set up the first Islamic
state. Islam's early years were filled with turmoil. The
religion spread rapidly but that made it hard to say who
exactly was in charge. The
prophet was dead less than fifty years when the new Islamic
empire was rocked by civil war; a conflict that created
the lasting divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
rivarly and expansion also strengthened the hand of Islam's
militants - those who used the harsher verses in the Qur'an
to justify their violence.
Jihad is inspired as much by politics as religion so it
can be misleading to say that Islam itself is the root cause
of violence. But religion is used by many Muslims - and
not just the militants - to justify violent acts. Where
some see terrorism, others choose to see the acts of a martyr.
Travel deeper into the Muslim world and one hears about
another form of Jihad and a different vision of Islam. Some
Muslims believe that Jihad involves peace, submission and
self-control - a sharp contrast to the view that it is about
martyrs and holy war. Both views can be justified, depending
on which interpretation of the Qur'an one believes. In the
end, Jihad is what Muslims say it is, just like Islam itself
- and different Muslims are saying very different things.
is evident that there are no absolute truths about Islam
and if there were, there is no single authority that has
the credibility to enforce them. What is important here
is to come to terms with the shades of Islam, and the forces
of politics, history and geography that shape its future.
With so many influences, so many rival interpretations,
how does a good Muslim know which path to follow? And who
exactly gets to shape the next stage in Islam's evolution?
next programme looks at these questions.