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Founded by the Prophet Muhammad. Founded in the 7th cent., Islam is the youngest of the three monotheistic world religions (with Judaism and Christianity). An adherent to Islam is a Muslim.


Mohammed was an Arab born in the city of Mecca. He believed he had been sent to warn and guide people, to call them to worship God. He taught that there is only one God and that He, Mohammed, was only a messenger. Those who believe in one God and accept Mohammed as His messenger are called Muslims. The Largest Muslim communities exist in the Middle East, North Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Central Asia. In Europe, Islam is the principle religion in Turkey and Albania.


Mohammed's preachings angered and frightened the Meccans and some even plotted to kill Mohammed. He and his followers fled to the city of Madina in 622. By 630, they returned to Mecca, victorious. The Muslims destroyed all the idols in the sacred shrine of Mecca known as Kaaba and the area around it became the most sacred Mosque. The Meccans then accepted Islam and acknowledged Mohammed as Prophet. Mecca and Madina are sacred cities of Islam. Mohammed's death in 632 brought a leadership crisis. Some elected his friend Abu Bakr as the first Caliph (successor). They became the majority - Sunni branch of Islam. Others supported Mohammed's son - in - law. These groups formed Shia or Shiite branch.


The revealed word of Islam, the Qur'an, in a formal Arabic which became more archaic with time, required explication. A complement to the Qur'an is the Sunna, the spoken and acted example of the Prophet, collected as hadith . The Sunna is almost as important to Islam as the Qur'an, for in it lie the elaborations of Qur'anic teaching essential to the firm establishment of a world religion. There are serious disagreements in the hadith, and interpretations of the Qur'an and the Sunna have varied so much as to be contradictory. These situations are resolved by reference to one of the most important of the sayings attributed to the Prophet, “My community will never agree in an error.” This leeway also allowed Islam to expand by incorporating social, tribal, and ethnic traditions. For example, with the exception of inheritance and witness laws, Islamic rights and obligations apply equally to men and women. The actual situation of women is more a function of particular social traditions predating Islam than of theoretical positions.


At the core of Islam is the Qur'an , believed to be the final revelation by a transcendent Allah, to Muhammad , the Prophet of Islam; since the Divine Word was revealed in Arabic, this language is used in Islamic religious practice worldwide. Muslims believe in final reward and punishment, and the unity of the umma, the “nation” of Islam. Muslims submit to Allah through arkan ad-din, the five basic requirements or “pillars” : shahadah, the affirmation that “there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God” ; salah, the five daily ritual prayers; zakat , the giving of alms, also known as a religious tax; Sawm, the dawn-to-sunset fast during the lunar month of Ramadan; and hajj , the pilgrimage to Mecca. The importance of the hajj can hardly be overestimated: this great annual pilgrimage unites Islam and its believers from around the world.

The ethos of Islam is in its attitude toward Allah: to His will Muslims submit; Him they praise and glorify; and in Him alone they hope. However, in popular or folk forms of Islam, Muslims ask intercession of the saints, prophets, and angels, while preserving the distinction between Creator and creature. Islam views the Message of Muhammad as the continuation and the fulfillment of a lineage of Prophecy that includes figures from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, notably Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Islamic law reserves a communal entity status for the ahl al-kitab, People of the Book, i.e., those with revealed religions, including Jews and Christians. Islam also recognizes a number of extra-biblical prophets, such as Hud , Salih , Shuayb , and others of more obscure origin. The chief angels are Gabriel and Michael; devils are the evil jinn.

Other Islamic obligations include the duty to “commend good and reprimand evil,” injunctions against usury and gambling, and prohibitions of alcohol and pork. Meat is permitted if the animal was ritually slaughtered; it is then called halal. Jihad, the exertion of efforts for the cause of God, is a duty satisfied at the communal and the individual level. At the individual level, it denotes the personal struggle to be righteous and follow the path ordained by God.

In Islam, religion and social membership are inseparable: the ruler of the community (caliph) has both a religious and a political status. The unitary nature of Islam, as a system governing relations between a person and God, and a person and society, helped the spread of Islam so that, within a century of the Prophet's death, Islam extended from Spain to India.

The evolution of Islamic mysticism into organizational structures in the form of Sufi orders was also, from the 13th cent. onwards, one of the driving forces in the spread of Islam. Sufi orders were instrumental in expanding the realm of Islam to trans-Saharan Africa, stabilizing its commercial and cultural links with the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and to SE Asia.


There are more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide, fewer than one fifth of whom are Arab. Islam is the principal religion of much of Asia, including Indonesia (which has the world's largest Muslim population), Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, the Arabian Peninsula states, and Turkey. India also has one of the world's largest Muslim populations, although Islam is not the principal religion there. In Africa, Islam is the principal religion in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan, with sizable populations also in Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania (where the island of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim), and Nigeria.

Islam In Europe, Albania is predominantly Muslim, and, historically, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Georgia have had Muslim populations. Elsewhere in Europe, immigrant communities of Muslims from N Africa, Turkey, and Asia exist in France, Germany, and Great Britain. In the Americas the Islamic population has substantially increased in recent years, both from conversions and the immigration of adherents from other parts of the world. In the United States, the number of Muslims has been variably estimated at 2-6 million; 20% of the population of Suriname is Muslim.

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