What is Islam?
Islam is a world religion based on the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Muhammad lived about 1300 hundred years ago, around 700 CE.
What is a Muslim?
A Muslim is a person who follows the teaching of Islam, just as a Christian is a person who follows the teaching of Christianity.
What is Islamic Culture?
Islamic culture has to do with behavior. It is a way of behaving so that you are a good Muslim, one who follows the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. If you follow these teachings, this ensures you will make it to heaven one day.
There are many teachings. This is one of them. Muhammad said: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim that belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. Remember one day you will meet Allah (God) and answer your deeds. So beware: Do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.”
Rise of Islam
Many traders who traveled across the Sahara Desert in camel trains were Muslims. They brought gorgeous silk and spices and iron tools to trade for gold. They also brought their religion with them and their Islamic culture.
The Muslin traders introduced a written language. They introduced new ideas of law and a system of government and a system of formal education. Some of their ideas were treated with warmth by the king at the time. But the idea grew in strength among the African people as time went by.
Three different empires rose in strength, one after the other, in ancient Africa on the west coast.
The first was Ghana. The king did not want his people to know the Muslim traders. He built the traders their own city so his people would be protected from the Muslim traders and from their ideas.
The second was Mali. Unlike Ghana, the king of Mali found the religion of Islam to be most interesting. Mali had religious freedom. Some people converted to Islam, some continued to worship many gods, and some did both.
The third was Songhay. By the time Mali had mostly disappeared and Songhay had taken over as the leader on the west coast of Africa, Islam had many followers. Some West African people still believed in the old gods, but many had converted to Islam.
The Islamic culture suited many West Africans. Islam stated that all people were brothers. Africans had always worked together for the common good. Islam did not tolerate thieves. Neither did the West Africans. Many of the teachings of Islam fit their lifestyle. These were teachings they believed in already. The religion of Islam gave them a structure. It also gave them a written language and a respect for formal education. They loved the colorful festivals and holidays. Islam suited them far more than Christianity or Buddhism.