With over one billion followers, Islam has become the second largest religion in the world. It emerged in the 7th century in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The religion was founded on the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed who is believed to have been the final messenger of Allah. Islam literally means “surrender” or “submission,” and its followers are called Muslims, which means “those who make peace.”
While there are several sects of Islam, each is based upon six main beliefs: belief in angels, belief in the holy books, belief in the prophets, belief in the day of judgment, belief in predestination, and most importantly, belief in Allah as the one and only God. Allah has no children, parents, or partners. He created everything and rules everything. He is eternal and omnipotent, he has no form or shape, and he is just. Muslims worship only Allah and daily submit to his will.
According to Islam, Muslims are obligated to practice the Five Pillars of Islam in order to live a good and responsible life. The first is reciting the Shahadah. This is simply the Muslim profession of faith. All that must be done for one to become a Muslim is to say the Shahadah three times in front of witnesses. When stated, one is proclaiming that Allah is the only God, that Mohammed is his prophet, that they personally accept this as true, and that they commit to obeying all the responsibilities of Islam in their life.
Next is Salat – the performing of ritual prayers five times each day. Each time of prayer has a specific phrase that must be spoken, and is accompanied by a series of movements. It is believed that prayer unites mind, body, and soul in worship, and because of its universal solidarity, Salat is also believed to unify Muslims all over the world. Prayers are not performed for the benefit of Allah, but rather simply because he commands it. In obeying, the benefit is actually for the Muslim.
Zakat is the obligation of setting aside a portion of one’s income to give to the poor. In completing this Third Pillar, there are many benefits for Muslims. Not only are they obeying the commands of Allah, they are also helping others acknowledge that everything comes from Him and that whether rich or poor, it is his choice. One learns self-discipline, and is freed from love of possessions, money, and oneself.
The Fourth Pillar is fasting, or Sawm. In the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims are called to fast from sunrise to sunset. This period of time is known as Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims are called to refrain from eating food and drink, smoking, and participating in sexual activity. Among the many benefits of Sawm is an increase in spiritual strength and appreciation for Allah’s gifts.
Last is the Hajj. Once a year, Muslims from all over the world come together in Mecca around the Kaaba to worship Allah. The pilgrimage symbolizes equality among Muslims and is seen as strengthening the bond of the Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood. It is required for every sane adult if they can afford it and are physically able. Because of the vast number of Muslims in the world today, Saudi Arabia allots a limited number of visas to each country for Muslims to complete the Hajj each year. Governments then distribute visas in a lottery type system.
The holy book of Islam is the Qur’an. It was revealed to Mohammed in stages over the course of 23 years. Muslims believe the Qur’an is the sacred word of Allah that is intended to correct any mistakes in previous books – such as the Old and New Testaments. Followers of Islam are encouraged to recite and memorize the Qur’an in Arabic – even if it is not their native language. In addition to the Qur’an are other sacred and approved texts. The Sunnah consists of the practices and examples of the Prophet Mohammed’s life, and the Hadith contains accounts of what Mohammed said and approved.
Today, Muslims live in almost every country – the majority inhabiting countries spanning from North Africa to South Asia. It is a widespread and increasingly growing religion. Muslims and non-Muslims often disagree when it comes to certain practices, beliefs, and ways of life. However, despite criticism and denunciation, Islam still continues to expand all over the world. At its current growth rate, it could easily become the world’s larges religion within the next decade.