Islam, another monotheistic religion, is the second most popular religion in the world with over a billion followers. A Muslim is a follower of Islam. The Arabic word 'Islam' means submission. This religion began about 600 years after Christianity. A man named Muhammad, born in 570 CE, believed he was visited by the Archangel Gabriel (believed in Christianity to have told Mary that Jesus was the son of God). Gabriel told Muhammad the final message of God, which was written down in a book called the Koran (also spelled Qur’an). The Koran is the Islamic holy book. Muslims call God “Allah”--the Arabic word for god.
The prophet Muhammad is the founder of Islam, and Muslims believe he was the last prophet of Allah—it is believed the first prophet was Adam (Adam and Eve). A prophet is someone who is believed to have spoken to a God and then repeats God’s message. There were many prophets before Muhammad including: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Job, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus. Islam began in modern-day Saudi Arabia in a town called Mecca where Muhammad was born. Muslims do not think of Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but as the restorer of the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. Muslims believe that Jews and Christians have distorted the original message of God.
The Muslim place of worship is called a mosque (mosk). Very often mosques have a domed roof and at least one tall tower called a minaret. Muslims are called to prayer from the minaret. There is also very little furniture inside a mosque because Muslims use “prayer mats” to kneel on when they pray. When people go into the mosque they take off their shoes. This is to keep it clean for prayer. Women do not usually pray in the same place as men.
Jerusalem is the 3rd holiest city of Islam. Mecca is the most holy city and also contains the most holy mosque. In the center of the mosque is a cube-shaped building called the Kaaba (Ka'bah). All Muslims face the direction of the Kaaba during prayer. Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times every day. The times of prayer are closely related to the phases of the sun such as sun-up and sun-down. Muslims do not have priests; they don’t believe they need a “middleman” between themselves and Allah (God). An Imam (i-mom) leads local prayer and takes care of the mosque. Similar to Christians, Muslims believe in Heaven and Hell.
There are 2 major denominations in Islam—Sunni (soon-ee) and Shi’a (she-ah). Almost 90% of Muslims are Sunnis. The Shi’a split from the Sunnis in 632 CE when Muhammad died. They disagree about who should lead Islam and how they should be chosen. However, all Muslims agree on several things. The month of Ramadan is the most important holiday for all Muslims; it is a time of sacrifice in an attempt to connect with Allah (God). Another very important part of Islam is the 5 Pillars of Islam—similar to the 10 Commandments of Judaism and Christianity. These are 5 things required of all believers of Islam. They are:
1. Shahadah--is a statement of belief in monotheism and accepting Muhammad as God's messenger.
2. Salah--the requirement to pray 5 times a day at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night.
3. Zakat--is the practice of giving to charity; about 3 percent of your individual wealth.
4. Sawm--Muslims must abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan
5. Hajj--expectation to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it.
Click here to watch a film about Islamic women and also how Muslims feel about the "West" (Europe and American way of life).