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Islam (Arabic: Loudspeaker.png الإسلام (info • help)[note 1]) is an Abrahamic religion and monotheistic religion whose holy book is called the Qur’an. The religion was founded in the Arabian Peninsula and people who follow Islam are called Muslims. Muslims believe that there is only one God, who is called Allah (الله, al-lāh) in the Arabic language. Allah means God in "Arabic".

Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of many prophets from God. They believe that the Qur'an is the exact word of God, as revealed to Muhammad. Muslims also call Muhammad a "messenger of God". The two largest branches are the Sunnis and the Shi'ites. Other groups are the Quranic movement, Sufis, Ahmadis, Ibadis and Ghair Muqallids.

During his lifetime and after his death, Muslims collected what he had said and done. Muslims call these accounts Hadith. Muslim scholars collected these Hadith and discussed which Hadith were most likely to be true records of the Sunnah, that is, the words and actions of Muhammad. Muslims see the Sunnah as an important source of guidance, along with the Qur'an. Islam has rules based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah. These laws are called "Sharia". Muslim lawyers have studied Sharia and written down their ideas about how to judge different cases. These ideas about Sharia are called Fiqh.

Meaning of the word "Islam"

The word Islam is derived from the term "al-silm" and the root verb "istaslama" (استسلاما) and literally translates in English to "surrender" or "submission (to Allah)". As well as that islam is also taken from the word "al-salam" and translates in English to "peace"

Beliefs and practices

Men praying in a mosque.
The Kabaa at night.

The Five Pillars of Islam

According to Islamic Tradition, there are five basic things that Muslims should do. They are called "The Five Pillars of Islam":

  1. Faith: The Testimony (shahadah in Arabic) is the Muslim belief that there is no god but God himself, and that Muhammad is his messenger.
  2. Prayer: Muslims pray five times at special times of the day. This is facing the holy city Mecca. Prayer is called salat in Arabic and namaz in Persian, Turkish and Urdu. Shias can pray the afternoon and evening prayers in succession.[1]
  3. Charity: Muslims who have money must give alms (zakah in Arabic) to help those less fortunate in the world.
  4. Fasting: Muslims fast (sawm in Arabic) during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. They do not eat or drink from dawn till sunset for one lunar month. After Ramadan, there is a holiday called Eid al-Fitr (English: Festival of end-fast). Muslims usually have a party with families and friends and go to the mosque in the morning for a special service.
  5. Pilgrimage (Hajj in Arabic): During the pilgrimage season, many Muslims go to Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, which is in Saudi Arabia. Muslims must make the hajj at least once in their life if they can afford to do so. There is no need if a Muslim does not have the money or health to make the Hajj.


The Qur'an is the holy book of Islam. Muslims believe the Qur'an is the sayings of God.

Islam teaches that the Qur'an was revealed by God to Muhammad with the help of an angel called Jibreel. The Qur'an teaches the Muslims to follow the right path by only doing good to please God. Muslims believe God alone decides who goes to Jannah (Heaven) and that doing good in this lifetime will bring them closer to God. The Qur'an has a total of 30 chapters. In each chapter there are many verses. Many Muslims try to memorize the entire Qur'an and ones who do are called a Hafiz or Hafez.

Other important books are the Sunnah, or biographies of Muhammad and Hadith compilations, which are collections of sayings attributed to Muhammad.

Place of worship

Muslims pray in a masjid, like this one in Jerusalem.

Muslims pray in a place of worship called the mosque. The Muslims place of worship is properly known as a masjid in Arabic. Most masjids have at least one dome, and some have one or more towers. But a masjid does not need to have a dome or tower. Muslims take their shoes off before entering the masjid to pray. Prayer is one of the most important things that a Muslim does.

Call to prayer <Adhaan>

File:Adhan wiki.oga The Muslim is called to prayer five times a day. This call to prayer is called Adhan. The muezzin, a man appointed to call to prayer, uses a loudspeaker which carries the voice for the people nearby. This is often done out loud publicly in Muslim countries. Most people are called to prayer in Islamic countries as a daily part of life.

Prayer mat

A prayer mat

Sometimes, Muslims pray on a mat, which is called prayer mat, or prayer rug in English. Common Arabic names include sajjāda and namazlık. At the times of prayer, they will determine the direction of Qibla (the ka'bah), roll out their prayer mat, and say their prayers to God.

Islam in the world

Countries where more than half the people are Muslims

In 2009, a study was done in 232 countries and territories.[2] This study found that 23% of the global population or 1.57 billion people are Muslims. Of those, between 75% and 90% are Sunni[3][4] and between ten and twenty five percent are Shi'a.[2][3][5] A small part belong to other Islamic sects. In about fifty countries, more than half of the people are Muslims.[6] Arabs account for around twenty percent of all Muslims worldwide.

Most Muslims live in Asia and Africa.[7] Around 62% of the world's Muslims live in Asia, with over 683 million followers in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.[8][9] In the Middle East, non-Arab countries such as Turkey and Iran are the largest Muslim-majority countries; in Africa, Egypt and Nigeria have the biggest Muslim communities.[10]

Most estimates indicate that the People's Republic of China has about 20 to 30 million Muslims (1.5% to 2% of the population).[11][12][13][14] However, data provided by the San Diego State University's International Population Center to U.S. News & World Report suggests that China has 65.3 million Muslims.[15] Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity in many European countries,[16] and is slowly catching up to that status in the Americas.

Different denominations

Like with other religions, over time different movements have developed in Islam. These movements are based on different interpretations of the scriptures. The following sections list the most common movements.

  • Nondenominational Muslims are Muslims who don't follow any branch and simply call themselves Muslim. They are also called Ghair Muqallids.
  • The Shia believe that just as only God can appoint a prophet, he can appoint a second leader after the prophet. Shi'a Muslims believe that God chose Ali as the leader after Prophet Muhammad. They say that before he died, Muhammad chose Ali as his replacement. About 10-20% of Muslims in the world are Shi'a which means that there are about 120 million world wide. Shi'a Muslims form the majority of Muslims in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon. The largest adhab in Yemen is Zaydi Shia. Shias commonly gather for ashura in Karbala. They accept four hadiths.
  • Sunni Islam considers Abu Bakr to be the successor of Muhammad. There are four sub-groups within Sunni Islam; Malikis, Hanafis, Hanbalis and Shafi'is. Sunnis make up roughly 75% of Muslims.[4][17] Sunnis believe that leaders of Islam should be chosen by the people of the Muslim world. After Abu Bakr died, Omar took his place, then Uthman, and then Ali. All of them were companions of the Prophet Muhammad and lived in Medina. Sunni beliefs are typically based on the Qur'an and the Kutub al-Sittah (six hadiths). Sunnis are sometimes called Bukharists.
Sufi whirling dervishes in Turkey
  • The Sufi are a branch in Islam that focuses more on the spiritual and mystic elements of Islam. Sufis usually conclude their prayers with dhikr recitations.
  • The Quraniyoon generally reject the authority of the hadiths. Such Muslims, also known as Quranists and Ahle Quran, believe that the Quran is the sole source of guidance. They do not necessarily reject the authenticity of hadiths, but claim that such religious literature is not endorsed by the Quran, with some claiming that text collections are an innovative bid'ah.
  • Ibadis are Muslims who originated from the Kharijites. Ibadis today have reformed beliefs from original Kharijites.
  • Ahmadiyyas are Muslims who follow Mirza Ghulam Ahmed who they consider to be the mahdi. They are divided into two subgroups; the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement.[18]
  • The Nation of Islam is a denomination in Islam primarily geared towards African Americans.
  • The Five-Percent Nation, a denomination predominantly consisting of African-American, also known as Nation of Gods and Earths.


Some of the first people who criticised Islam in writing were Christians, like John of Damascus (born about 676).[19] In the medieval period, some Arab philosophers like the poet Al-Ma'arri also criticised Islam.[20] The Jewish philosopher Maimonides compared Islamic views of morality to the Jewish approach that he himself believed in. He believed that Islam was a copy of the Jewish and Christian religions with a few minor changes. He thought these changes were made to suit Muhammad's desire for fame and his quest to start a new religion. He thought Muhammad wanted to be seen as equal to the likes of Moses and Jesus.[21][22] Medieval Christian writers thought that Islamic beliefs were not valid. They tried to show Muhammad was possessed by Satan.[23] In the 19th century, the Orientalist (eastern countries and beliefs) scholar William Muir wrote harshly about the Qur'an.[24]

In modern times, critics also say that Islam does not tolerate the view that parts of Islamic law may be too harsh. Other critics see Muhammad's personal life negatively.[25] Still others question how authentic the Qur'an is and if it can impose moral guidelines.[26] These reports also say that women and animals may be treated badly by Islamic law and practice.[27]

Some people are anti-Muslim because of attacks by Muslim extremists

Some people have responded to these forms of criticism. Montgomery Watt and Norman Daniel say that some of the criticisms are the product of old myths and prejudice,.[28][29] Carl Ernst writes that Islamophobia has played a part in establishing what he calls "myths".[30]

Muslim scholars like Muhammad Mohar Ali argue against claims of discrepancies in the Qur'an and allegations that Muhammad was unduly influenced by Judeo-Christian tradition.[31]

Related pages


  • Ernst, Carl (2004). Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-5577-4
  • Novak, David (February 1999). "The Mind of Maimonides". First Things.
  • Sahas, Daniel J. (1997). John of Damascus on Islam: The Heresy of the Ishmaelites. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-03495-2
  • Seibert, Robert F. (1994). "Review: Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Norman Daniel)". Review of Religious Research 36 (1).
  • Warraq, Ibn (2000). The Quest for Historical Muhammad. Prometheus. ISBN 978-1-57392-787-1
  • Warraq, Ibn (2003). Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out. Prometheus. ISBN 1-59102-068-9
  • Watt, W. Montgomery (1974). Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (New ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-881078-4


  1. The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims: A Short Introduction - Page 28, Jimmy R. Davis - 2007
  2. 2.0 2.1 Miller (2009), pp.4,11
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population: Main Page, Pew Research Center,
  4. 4.0 4.1 Encyclopædia Britannica, Sunnite
  6. Miller (2009), p.11
  7. "Islam: An Overview in Oxford Islamic Studies Online". 2008-05-06. Retrieved 2010-05-16.
  8. Secrets of IslamU.S. News & World Report. Information provided by the International Population Center, Department of Geography, San Diego State University (2005).
  9. Miller (2009), pp.15,17
  10. "Number of Muslim by country". Retrieved 2007-05-30.
  11. "CIA – The World Factbook – China". Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  12. "China (includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)". Retrieved 2009-06-15.
  13. "NW China region eyes global Muslim market". China Daily. 2008-07-09. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  14. "Muslim Media Network". Muslim Media Network. 2008-03-24. Retrieved 2009-07-14.
  15. Secrets of Islam, U.S. News & World Report. Information provided by the International Population Center, Department of Geography, San Diego State University.
  16. See:
    • Esposito (2004) pp.2,43
    • "Islamic World". Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved on 2 May 2007. 
    "Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents". Retrieved 2007-01-09.
  17. From the article on Sunni Islam in Oxford Islamic Studies Online
  18. Historical Dictionary of Islamic Fundamentalism - Page 22, Mathieu Guidère - 2012
  19. Sahas (1997), pp.76-80
  20. Warraq (2003), p.67
  21. Bostom, Andrew (July 21, 2003). "Islamic Apostates' Tales - A Review of Leaving Islam by Ibn Warraq". FrontPageMag.
  22. Novak (February 1999)
  23. "Mohammed and Mohammedanism", Catholic Encyclopedia
  24. Toby Lester (January 1999). "What Is the Koran?". The Atlantic Monthly.
  25. Warraq (2000), p. 103
  26. Ibn Warraq (2002-01-12). "Virgins? What virgins?". Special Report: Religion in the UK (The Guardian).,3605,631332,00.html.
  27. Timothy Garton Ash (10-05-2006). "Islam in Europe". The New York Review of Books.
  28. Watt (1974), p.231
  29. Seibert (1994), pp.88-89
  30. Ernst (2004), p.11
  31. Muhammad Mohar Ali. "The Biography of the Prophet and the Orientalists".
  1. There are ten pronunciations of Islam in English. Pronunciations is different in whether the first or second syllable has the stress, if the s is how to say: /z/ or /s/, and if the a is pronounced /ɑː/ as in father, /æ/ as in cat, or (when the stress is on the i) /ə/ as in the a of sofa (Merriam Webster). The most common are how to say: /ˈɪzləm, ˈɪsləm, ɪzˈlɑːm, ɪsˈlɑːm/ (Oxford English Dictionary, Random House) and how to say: /ˈɪzlɑːm, ˈɪslɑːm/ (American Heritage Dictionary).

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