Islam is a monotheistic religious that follows the Qur’an, which is a text considered by its adherents to be the word of Allah (God). It is the second-largest religion in the world. In addition to the religion itself, the word Islam translates into “submission to god.” Followers of Islam are called Muslims.
Muslims are divided between the Sunni and Shia. Both Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs. The primary differences between the two stemmed not from spiritual differences but political ones.
Division between the Sunni and Shia dates back to the prophet Muhammad, and the question of who should take over the leadership of the Muslim nation after the prophet died. Sunni Muslims believe that the position should be taken over by the Prophet’s companions, and that the new leader should be elected from those capable. The Shia Muslims believed that the leadership should stay within the Prophet’s family, and should be passed directly to his cousin. Most followers of Islam are Sunni Muslims.
Muslims believe that Islam is the faith that was revealed in the past through prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. They consider the Qur’an to be the final revelation from God, the Final Testament.
There are Five Pillars of Islam that are considered obligatory for all Muslims. The Qur’an presents them as a sign of devotion to the faith. These pillars are the Shahadah (the basic creed of Islam), daily prayers (Salat), almsgiving (Zakah), fasting during Ramadan (Sawm), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) at least once in a lifetime.
- The Shahadah is the basic creed of Islam and must be recited as follows: “ašhadu ‘al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa ‘ašhadu ‘anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh.” This translates into “I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This verse is the foundation for all other practices in Islam and Muslims must repeat the Shahdah during prayer.
- Muslims must perform prayer 5 times per day. This is called Salat. Prayer in Islam is a link between the worshiper and God that expresses gratitude and worship. There are no intermediaries between the two. Prayers in Islam are recited in the Arabic language and consist of verses from the Qur’an. Muslims must also face Mecca when offering prayers.
- Every year during the month of Ramadan, all Muslims must fast from dawn until sundown. They cannot eat food or have any sexual relations. This is to express gratitude to God and to think of the needy [by sympathizing with them].
- Giving Zakat is to give a percentage of accumulated wealth to help the needy and poor. The word Zakat means both purification and growth. Possessions are purified when setting aside a portion for those in need.
- The pilgrimage to Mecca is called the Hajj. Every Muslim who can afford it and are healthy must make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. Hajj is performed on the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. Rituals under the Hajj include walking seven times around the Kaaba, touching the black stone (Muslim relic), and walking seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah.
Besides the Five Pillars of Faith, Muslims follow specific Etiquette and Diet. Islamic etiquette includes greeting others with “alaykum” which translates into “peace be unto you” and saying “bismillah” (“in the name of God”) before meals. Moreover, Muslims only use the right hand for eating and drinking. Muslims are restricted in their diet and are prohibited from eating pork, blood, carrion, and alcohol. Foods that Muslims can eat are referred to as “halal.”