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Summary of Islam


Islam is a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion that originated with the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, both a 7th century Arab religious and political figure. The word Islam means "submission", or the total surrender of one to God (Arabic: الله‎, Allāh). Adherents of Islam are known as a Muslims, meaning "one who submits [to God]". Muslim is the participle of the same verb of which Islām is the infinitive. There are around 1 billion and 1.8 billion Muslims world-wide, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.

View the difference of the beliefs of islam to christianity by taking a Bible quiz

Muslims believe God revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad, his final prophet, through the angel Gabriel, and consider the Qur'an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam. They do not regard Muhammad to be the founder of a new religion, but the restorer of an original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Islamic tradition believes that Jews and Christians distorted the revelations God gave to these prophets by altering the text, or false interpretation, or both.

Islam Symbol

Islam includes a variety of religious practices. Followers in general are required to observe the Five Pillars of Islam; five duties that unite Muslims into a community. In addition, Islamic law (sharia) has developed the tradition of rulings that touch on virtually all aspects of life and society. It encompasses everything from practical matters like dietary laws and banking to things such as warfare and welfare. Most Muslims belong to one of two major denominations, the Sunni (85%) and Shi'a (15%). This schism developed in the late 7th century following disagreements over religious and political leadership in the Muslim community. Islam is the predominant religion in many African and the Middle Eastern countries, as well as in major parts of Asia. Large communities are also found in China, the Balkan Peninsula in Eastern Europe and even Russia. There are also large Muslim immigrant communities located in other parts of the world, such as Western Europe. Of the total Muslim population, close to 20% live in the Arab countries (where Muslims comprise majority populations, with Christian and other religious minorities of differing sizes by country), 30% in the countries of the Indian subcontinent, and 15.6% in Indonesia alone, the largest Muslim country in absolute numbers.

Articles of Faith

The Qur'an states that Muslims must believe in God, his revelations, his angels, his messengers, and in his "Day of Judgment”. Also, there are many other beliefs that differ between particular sects. The Sunni's concept of predestination is called divine decree, while the Shi'a's version is called divine justice. Unique to the Shi'a is the doctrine of Imamah, the political and spiritual leadership of the Imams.

The Qur'an states that Muslims must believe in God, his revelations, his angels, his messengers, and in his "Day of Judgment”. Also, there are many other beliefs that differ between particular sects. The Sunni's concept of predestination is called divine decree, while the Shi'a's version is called divine justice. Unique to the Shi'a is the doctrine of Imamah, the political and spiritual leadership of the Imams.

As a historical phenomenon, Islam originated in the Arabian area in the early 7th century. Islamic texts depict Judaism and Christianity as prophetic successor traditions to the teachings of Abraham. The Qur'an calls Jews and Christians the “People of the Book" (ahl al-kitāb), and distinguishes them from polytheists. Muslims believe that parts of previously revealed scriptures, the Tawrat (Torah) and the Injil (Gospels), had become distorted — by interpretation.


Islam's fundamental theological concept is tawhīd — belief in only one god. The Arabic term for God is Allāh; most scholars believe it was derived from a combination of the words al- (the) and ʾilah (deity, masculine form), meaning "the god" (al-ilāh), but others trace its origin to the Aramaic word Alāhā. The first of the Five Pillars of Islam, tawhīd is expressed in the shahadah (testification), declaring that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is God's messenger. In traditional Islamic theology, God is beyond any comprehension; Muslims are not expected to visualize God but to worship and adore him as a protector. Although Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, they reject the Christian doctrine of a Trinity, comparing it to polytheism. In Islamic theology, Jesus was just a man, not the son of God; God is described in a chapter (sura) of the Qur'an as "…God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him."


Muslims consider the Qur'an to literally be word of God; it is the central religious text of Islam. Muslims believe that all verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Muhammad by God through the angel Gabriel on many occasions between 610 and the time of his death on June 8, 632. The Qur'an was reportedly written down by companions of Muhammad (sahabah) while he was alive, although the prime method of transmission was orally. It was compiled in the time of Abu Bakr, first caliph, and was standardized under the administration of Uthman, third caliph. From textual evidence Islamic studies scholars find the Qur'an of today has not changed significantly over the years.

The Qur'an is divided into 114 different suras, or chapters, which combined, contain 6,236 āyāt, or verses. The chronologically earlier suras, revealed at Mecca, primarily are concerned with ethical and spiritual topics. The later Medinan suras mostly discuss social and moral issues that are relevant to the Muslim community. The Qur'an is more concerned with moral guidance than legal instruction, and is considered as the "sourcebook of Islamic principles and values". Muslim jurists consult the hadith, the written record of Muhammad's life, both to supplement the Qur'an and help to assist with interpretation.

The word Qur'an means "recitation". When Muslims speak in the abstract about "the Qur'an", they usually mean the scripture as recited in Arabic rather than the printed work or any translation of it. To Muslims, the Qur'an is perfect only as revealed in its original Arabic; translations are necessarily deficient because of language differences, the fallibility of translators, and the impossibility of keeping the original's inspired style. Translations are therefore only regarded as commentaries on the Qur'an, or "interpretations of its meaning", not necessarily as the Qur'an itself.

The First Sura in a Qur'anic Manuscript


Belief in angels is key to the faith of Islam. The Arabic word for angel (malak) actually means "messenger", like its counterparts in Hebrew (malakh) and Greek (angelos). According to the Qur'an, angels do not possess free will, therefore worship God in perfect obedience. Angels' duties include communicating revelations from God, glorifying God, recording each person's actions, and taking one's soul at the time of death. They are also thought to intercede in behalf of man. The Qur'an describes angels as "messengers with wings — two, or three, or four (pairs): He [God] adds to Creation as He pleases…"


Muhammad (c. 570 – June 8, 632) was an Arab religious, political, and military leader who brought to pass the religion of Islam as a historical phenomenon. Muslims do not view him as the creator of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original, uncorrupted monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham and many others. In Muslim tradition, Muhammad is viewed as the last and the greatest in a series of prophets — the man closest to perfection, and the possessor of all virtues. For the last 23 years of his life, beginning at age 40, Muhammad reported to be receiving revelations from God. The content of these revelations, known as the Qur'an, was both memorized and recorded by his companions.

Mecca, Center of Islam

During this time, Muhammad would preach to the people of Mecca, asking them to abandon polytheism. Although some converted to Islam, Muhammad and his followers were heavily persecuted by the leading Meccan authorities. After 13 years of preaching, Muhammad and the Muslims performed the Hijra ("emigration") moving to the city of Medina (formerly known as Yathrib) in 622. There, with Medinan converts (Ansar) and the Meccan migrants (Muhajirun), Muhammad established political and religious authority. Within years, two battles had occured against Meccan forces: the Battle of Badr in 624, which was a Muslim victory, and the Battle of Uhud in 625, ending inconclusively. Conflict with Medinan Jewish clans who opposed the Muslims led to exile, enslavement or death, and the Jewish enclave of Khaybar was subdued. At the same time, all Meccan trade routes were cut off as Muhammad brought surrounding desert tribes under his control. By 629, Muhammad was victorious in the nearly bloodless Conquest of Mecca, and by the time of his death in 632 he hadf rule over the Arabian peninsula.

In Islam, the "normative" example of Muhammad's life lnown as the Sunnah (literally "trodden path"). This example is preserved in traditions that are known as hadith ("reports"), which recount his words, his actions, and his characteristics. The classical Muslim jurist ash-Shafi'i (d. 820) emphasized importance of the Sunnah in Islamic law, and Muslims are encouraged to emulate Muhammad's actions in their daily lives. The Sunnah is seen as crucial to guiding interpretation of the Qur'an.

Resurrection and Judgment

Belief in the "Day of Resurrection", yawm al-Qiyāmah (also known as yawm ad-dīn, "Day of Judgment" and as-sā`a, "the Last Hour") is another crucial principle for Muslims. They believe that the time of Qiyāmah was preordained by God but unknown to any man. The trials and tribulations preceding and during the Qiyāmah are described in the Qur'an and the hadith, and also in the commentaries of Islamic scholars. The Qur'an emphasizes bodily resurrection, a break from the pre-Islamic understanding of death. It states that resurrection will be followed by a gathering of mankind, culminating in their judgment by God.

The Qur'an lists several different sins that can condemn a person to hell, such as disbelief, usury and dishonesty. Muslims view paradise (jannah) as a place of joy and bliss, with Qur'anic references describing its features and the pleasures to come. There are also references to a greater joy — or acceptance by God (ridwān). Mystical traditions in Islam place these heavenly delights in context of an ecstatic awareness of God.

Predestination and Free Will

In accordance with the Sunni Islamic belief of predestination, or divine preordainment (al-qadā wa'l-qadar), God has full a knowledge and total control over all that occurs. This is defined in Qur'anic verses such as "Say: 'Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our protector'…" For Muslims, everything in this world that occurs, good or evil, has been preordained, and nothing can happen unless it is permitted by God. In Islamic theology, divine preordainment does not suggest the absence of God's indignation against evil, because any evils that occur are thought to result in future benefits men may not yet be able to see. According to Muslim theologians, although events are pre-ordained, man possesses his own free will in that he has the faculty to choose between right and wrong, and is thus responsible for his actions. According to Islamic tradition, all decrees of God are written in al-Lawh al-Mahfūz, the "Preserved Tablet".

The Shi'a understanding regarding free will is called "divine justice" (Adalah). This doctrine stresses the importance of man's responsibility for his own actions. In contrast, the Sunni deemphasize the role of individual free will in context of God's creation and foreknowledge of all things.

Duties and Practices

Five Pillars

The Five Pillars of Islam (Arabic: أركان الإسلام) are five practices that are essential to Sunni Islam. Shi'a Muslims subscribe to different sets of pillars that substantially overlap with the Five Pillars. They are:

Muslims Performing Salah, a Ritual Prayer

  • The shahadah, which is the basic creed or tenet of Islam: "'ašhadu 'al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa 'ašhadu 'anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh", or "I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God." This testament is a foundation for all other beliefs and practices in Islam. Muslims must repeat the shahadah in prayer, and non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam are required to recite the creed.
  • Salah, or ritual prayer, which must be performed five times a day. Each salah is done facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca. Salah is intended to focus the mind on God, and is seen as a personal communication with him that expresses gratitude and worship. Salah is compulsory but flexibility in the specifics is allowed depending on circumstances. In many Muslim countries, reminders called Adhan (call to prayer) are broadcast publicly from local mosques at the appropriate times. The prayers are recited in the Arabic language, and consist of verses from the Qur'an.
  • Zakat, or alms-giving. This is the practice of giving based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all Muslims who can afford it. A fixed portion is spent to help the poor or needy, and also to assist the spread of Islam. The zakat is considered a religious obligation (as opposed to voluntary charity) that the well-off owe to the needy because their wealth is seen as a "trust from God's bounty". The Qur'an and the hadith also suggest a Muslim give even more as an act of voluntary alms-giving (sadaqah).
  • Sawm, or fasting during the month of Ramadan. Muslims must not eat or drink (among other things) from dawn to dusk during this month, and must be mindful of other sins. The fast is to encourage a feeling of nearness to God, and during it Muslims should express their gratitude for and dependence on him, atone for their past sins, and think of the needy. Sawm is not obligatory for several groups for whom it would constitute an undue burden. For others, flexibility is allowed depending on circumstances, but missed fasts usually must be made up quickly. Some Muslim groups do not fast during Ramadan, and instead have fasts different times of the year.
  • The Hajj, which is the pilgrimage during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the city of Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime. When the pilgrim is about ten kilometers from Mecca, he must dress in Ihram clothing, which consists of two white seamless sheets. Rituals of the Hajj include walking seven times around the Kaaba, touching the Black Stone, running seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah, and symbolically stoning the Devil in Mina. The pilgrim, or the hajji, is honored in his or her community, although Islamic teachers say that the Hajj should be an expression of devotion to God instead of a means to gain social standing.
The Kaab in Mecca, the Center of Islamr


The Sharia (literally: "the path leading to the watering place") is law formed by traditional Islamic scholarship, which most Muslim groups adhere to. In Islam, Sharia is expression of the divine will, and "constitutes a system of duties that are incumbent upon a Muslim by virtue of his religious belief".

Islamic law covers all different aspects of life, from matters of state, like governance and foreign relations, to the issues of daily living. The Qur'an defines hudud as punishments for five specific crimes: unlawful intercourse, false accusation of unlawful intercourse, consumption of alcohol, theft, and highway robbery. The Qur'an and Sunnah also different laws of inheritance, marriage, and restitution for injuries and murder, as well as the rules for fasting, charity, and prayer. However, these prescriptions and prohibitions may often be broad, so their application in practice varies. Islamic scholars (known as ulema) have elaborated systems of law based on these rules and their interpretations.

Fiqh, or "jurisprudence", is defined as knowledge of the practical rules of the religion. The method that Islamic jurists use to derive rulings is known as usul al-fiqh ("legal theory", or "principles of jurisprudence"). According to Islamic legal theory, each law has four fundamental roots, which are given precedence in this order: the Qur'an, the Sunnah (actions and sayings of Muhammad), the consensus of the Muslim jurists (ijma), then analogical reasoning (qiyas). For early Islamic jurists, theory was less important than pragmatic application of the law. In the 9th century, the jurist ash-Shafi'i provided a theoretical basis for the Islamic law by codifying principles of jurisprudence (including the four fundamental roots) in his book called ar-Risālah.

Etiquette and Diet

Many different practices fall in the category of adab, Islamic etiquette. This includes greeting Adab (behavior) others with "as-salamu `alaykum" ("peace be unto you"), and saying bismillah ("in the name of God") before meals, and using only the right hand for eating and drinking. Islamic hygienic practices mainly fall into the category of personal cleanliness and health, like the circumcision of male offspring. Islamic burial rituals include the saying of the Salat al-Janazah ("funeral prayer") over the bathed and enshrouded dead body, and burying it in a grave. Muslims, as with Jews, have a restricted in diet. Prohibited foods include any pork products, blood, carrion, and alcohol. All meat must come from herbivorous animal slaughtered in the name of God by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian, with the exception of game which one has hunted or fished for oneself. Food that is permissible for Muslims is known as halal food.


Jihad means "to strive or struggle" (in the way of God) and is occasionally considered the "Sixth Pillar of Islam" by a minority of Sunni Muslim authorities. Jihad, in its broadest sense, is defined as "exerting one's utmost power, efforts, endeavors, and ability in contending with an object of disapprobation." Depending on the object being a visible enemy, the devil, or aspects of one's own self, different categories of Jihad are defined. Jihad, when used without a qualifier, is understood in its military aspect. Jihad also refers to the striving to attain religious and moral perfection. Some Muslim authorities, especially among the Shi'a and Sufis, distinguish between the "greater jihad", which more pertains to spiritual self-perfection, and the "lesser jihad", defined as warfare.

Within Islamic jurisprudence, jihad is generally taken to mean military exertion against non-Muslim combatants in defense or expansion of the Islamic state, the ultimate purpose of which is universalization of Islam. Jihad, the only form of warfare permissible in slamic law, may be declared against only apostates, rebels, highway robbers, violent groups, or un-Islamic leaders or states which refuse to submit to the authority of Islam. Most Muslims today interpret Jihad as just a defensive form of warfare: the external Jihad includes the struggle to make the Islamic societies conform to Islamic norms of justice.

Under most circumstances for Muslims, jihad is a collective duty (fard kifaya): its performance by some individuals exempts the others. Only for those vested with authority, especially the sovereign (imam), does jihad become individual duty. For the rest of the populace, this happens only in cases of a general mobilization. For most Shias, offensive jihad can only be declared by divinely appointed leaders of the Muslim community, and as such is suspended since Muhammad al-Mahdi's occultation occuring in 868 AD.


Mosques are the places of worship for Muslims, who tend to refer to it by its Arabic name, masjid. The word mosque in English refers to all types of buildings that are dedicated to Islamic worship, although there is a distinction in Arabic between the smaller, privately owned mosque and the larger, "collective" mosque (masjid jāmi`). Although the primary purpose of mosques is to serve as places of prayer, it is also important to the Muslim community as a place to meet and to study. Modern mosques have evolved significantly from the early designs of the 7th century, and contain a variety of architectural elements such as minarets.

Islam Mosque

Family Life

The basic unit of Islamic society is the family, and it defines the obligations and legal rights of family members. The father is seen as the one financially responsible for his family, and is obliged to cater their well-being. The division of inheritance is specified in the Qur'an, statong that most of it is to pass to the immediate family, while a portion is set aside for debt payments of and the making of bequests. The woman's share of inheritance is generally half of that of a man with same rights of succession. Marriage in Islam is a civil contract which consists of the offer and acceptance between two qualified parties in the presence of two witnesses. The groom is required to pay a bridal gift (mahr) to the bride, which is stipulated in the contract.

A man may have up to four wives if he believes that he can treat them equally, while women may have only one husband. In most Muslim countries, the process of divorce in Islam is called talaq, which the husband initiates by pronouncing the word "divorce". Scholars disagree whether Islamic holy texts justify traditional the Islamic practices such as veiling and seclusion (purdah). Starting in the 20th century, Muslim social reformers argued against these and other practices, with varying success. At the same time, many Muslim women have attempted to reconcile tradition with their modernity by combining an active life with outward modesty. Certain Islamist groups like the Taliban have sought to keep traditional law as applied to women.

Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (the Mosque of the Prophet), Medina; Muhammad's Tomb

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