The neutrality of this article is disputed.

Islam (الإسلام) is a monotheistic religion that arose in the 7th century based on the religious teachings of a desert preacher named Muhammed; these teachings are contained in the Qur'an. Muslims believe that Muhammed received these teachings from Allah (the Arabic word for God), via the angel Jabril. In addition, the religious beliefs and practices of Islam are based on the Hadith literature, which Muslims believe clarify and explain the teachings of Muhammed.

Followers of Islam are known as Muslims, sometimes spelled in older English texts as "Moslems". In some older English texts they are referred to as "Muhammadans" or "Mohammadans", but these terms are not commonly used as they incorrectly imply that Muslims worship Muhammad.

Since Islam is in some ways derived from Judaism and Christianity, it is classified as an Abrahamic faith.

Table of contents
1 The meaning of the word Islam
2 Beliefs
3 Revelation of the Qur'an
4 The Five Pillars of Islam
5 The Qur'an
6 Islam in relation to Judaism and Christianity
7 Historical origin of Islam
8 Islamic laws
9 Denominations of Islam
10 Islam in the modern world
11 Islam around the world
12 Views of other religions
13 References
14 External Links

The meaning of the word Islam

Islam is an Arabic word meaning "submission (to God)" and is described as a "Deen" in Arabic, meaning "way of life" and/or "religion". It has an etymological relationship to other Arabic words, such as Salaam, meaning "peace". The Arabic word "Muslim" is related to the word Islam and means a "vassal" of God and "one who surrendered" or submits (to God). Muslims see homage to God as a sign of distinction; this term has no negative connotations. Homage means serving the will of God above and beyond one's own goals.


Islam has a number of beliefs that it teaches one must adhere to,


The cornerstone of Islamic faith is a strict belief in monotheism. God is considered one and without an equal. Every chapter of the Qur'an (except for one) begins with "In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful". God describes Himself in Surat al-Ikhlas, (chapter 112): "Say: He is God The One, God The Eternal. He never begot, nor was begotten. There is none comparable to Him." See the entry on the 99 names of Allah for Muslim views on God's attributes.


Islam teaches that God may reveal His will to mankind though an angel; such recipients of revelation as known as prophets. Islam makes a distinction between people it terms "prophets" and those it terms "messengers". Although all prophets are messengers, not all messengers are prophets.

Notable prophets include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, all belonging to a succession of men guided by God. Muhammad is viewed as the 'Last Messenger' bringing the final message of God to all mankind through the Qur'an. Messengers and prophets were sent to every nation and civilization, and every prophet was given a book for those people. These individuals were mortal humans; Islam demands that a believer accept all of the prophets, making no distinction between them. In the Qur'an, 25 specific prophets are mentioned.

Islamic law

The study of scripture is strongly emphasized. The Qur'an is the foremost source of Islamic jurisprudence, and the second is the Sunnah (Life and way of the Prophet). One cannot practice Islam without consulting both texts. From the Sunnah, related but not the same, is the Ahadith (narrations of the Prophet). A hadith is a narration about the life of the Prophet or what he approved - as opposed to his life itself, which is the Sunnah.

The Day of Judgement

Also believed is the Day of judgement, in Heaven and Hell, in the Angels, the Jinns (a species of invisible beings), in the existence of magic (strictly forbidden to practice), in the danger of evil eye (also forbidden), and in the mercy, wisdom, and almighty strength of God.

Revelation of the Qur'an

Muslims believe that the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad when Allah (God) sent an angel to dictate a series of revelations to him; Muhammad then recited this to his companions, many of whom were said to have memorized it and written it down on available material. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was illiterate; the revelations to Muhammad were later gathered by his companions and followers in book form. Muhammad is considered to be the final prophet, sent to preach the same message as the prophets of Christianity (Jesus) and Judaism (Moses) (and possibly Zoroastrianism and other ancient religions).

Islamic belief holds that all the prophets successfully taught their nation the same message of the oneness of God. In the past, however, the message of Islam became distorted by later generations and the revealed scripture corrupted, leaving reason for another messenger to be sent. As Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last of a long line of prophets, they have taken his message to be a sacred trust, and have taken great care to ensure the message was assembled and transmitted in a manner that did not betray that trust. Although Muslims make scrupulous efforts to protect and respect the Qur'an, they believe that it is not through their own endeavours, but by the mercy of God that the Qur'an is preserved intact and will never be altered.


Muslims believe that Muhammad was a truthful man, as were all prophets, and that prophets are incapable of doing wrong actions (or even witnessing wrong actions without speaking against them) by the will of Allah.

The Six Elements of Belief

There are several beliefs shared by all Muslims:

  • God (in Arabic, Allah)
  • Angels
  • Books (sent by God)
  • Messengers (sent by God)
  • Day of Judgment
  • Both good and evil (or more precisely, what people call good and evil) come from God. (Although in terms of Evil, it is more a product of people being misguided by the Devil.)

Religious authority

There is no official authority who decides whether a person is accepted to, or dismissed from, the community of believers. Islam is open to all, regardless of race, age, gender, or previous beliefs. It is enough to believe in the central beliefs of Islam. This is formally done by reciting the shahada, the statement of belief of Islam, without which a person cannot be classed a Muslim. As no one can split open another's heart to see what's inside, it is enough to believe and say that you are a Muslim, and behave in a manner befitting a Muslim to be accepted into the community of Islam.

The Five Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam are five basic duties of muslims:

At least one group believes that Jihad, meaning inner struggle against Satan (greater jihad) or external struggle (lesser jihad), is the "sixth pillar of Islam". Other groups consider "Allegiance to the Imam" to be the so-called sixth pillar of Islam. For more information, see the article entitled Sixth pillar of Islam.

The Qur'an

The Qur'an, also spelled Quran or Koran, is the holy book of Islam. Its title means "Recitation" or "Reading". It consists of 114 chapters or Surahs laid out roughly in order of size, the largest being near the front, the smallest near the back. It describes the origins of the Universe, Man, and their relationship to each other and their Creator. It sets out laws for society, morality, economics and many other topic. It is intended for recitation and memorization. The Qur'an is primarily taught from one generation to the next this way. Muslims regard the Qur'an as sacred and inviolable.

For Muslims, the Qur'an answers questions about daily needs, both spiritual and material. It discusses God and God's Names and attributes; believers and their virtues, and the fate of non-believers (kuffar); Mary, Jesus, and all the other prophets; and even scientific subjects. Muslims do not follow the laws of the Qur'an exclusively; they also follow the examples of the prophet, which is known as the Sunnah, and the understanding of the Qur'an contained in the teachings of the prophet known as the Ahadith. Muslims are taught that God sent down other books. Besides the Qur'an, the others are the book of Ibrahim (now lost) the Law of Moses (the Taurah), the Psalms of David (the Zabûr) and the Gospel of Jesus (the Injil). The Qur'an describes Christians and Jews as "the people of the Book" (ahl al Kitâb). An article on The Bible in Islam is found here.

The teachings of Islam concern many of the same personages as those of Judaism and Christianity. However, Muslims frequently refer to them using Arabic names which can make it appear they are talking about different people: e.g. Allah for God, Iblis for Satan, Ibrahim for Abraham, etc. A belief in a day of judgment and an afterlife (Akhirah) are also part of Islamic theology.

The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God, sacred and immutable. Muslims do not touch the book unless in a state of ablution, known as "wudu." Muslims will typically keep it on a high shelf in their room, as a show of respect for the Qur'an, and some carry small versions with them for comfort or security. Only the original Arabic version of it is regarded as the Qur'an; translations are seen as poor shadows of the original's meaning. Critics and some Muslim scholars have stated that at one time there were verses in the Qur'an inspired by Satan, which Muhammad removed after the angel Jibreel revealed their source. These are referred to as The Satanic Verses, but scholars disagree as to whether they existed or if this is a mere fable.

The Qur'an describes two forms of Jihad ("struggle"). One form, the "Greater Jihad", is described as a struggle with oneself for mastery of the soul, another form, the "Lesser Jihad", is described as a holy war that Muslims are obligated to wage against those who are enemies of Islam. There are differing opinions as to what forms of conflict are considered Jihad. Jihad may only be waged to defend Islam. However, some groups hold that this applies not only to the physical defense of Muslims, but to the reclamation of land once belonging to Muslims, or even the protection of Islam itself against corrupting influences. The idea of Jihad as a violent war has become more popular in the latter half of the 20th century, especially within the Wahabbi movement and in the Islamist movement. According to most forms of Islam, if a person dies in the middle of Jihad, he is sent directly to heaven without punishment for any sins.

Islam in relation to Judaism and Christianity

According to Islam, the leaders of both Judaism and Christianity deliberately altered the true word of God, and thus led all of their believers down a false path. In the Qur'an, Allah (God) charges the Jewish people with "falsehood" (Sura 3:71), distortion (4:46), and of being "corrupters of Scripture."

Some parts of the Qur'an attribute differences between Muslims and non-Muslims to tahref-ma'any, a "corruption of the meaning" of the words. In this view, the Jewish Bible and Christian New Testament are true, but the Jews and Christians misunderstood the meaning of their own Scripture, and thus need the Qur'an to clearly understand the will of God. However, other parts of the Qur'an make clear that many Jews and Christians used deliberately altered versions of their scripture, and had altered the word of God. This belief was developed further in medieval Islamic polemics, and is a mainstream part of both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam today. This is known as the doctrine of tahref-lafzy, "the corruption of the text".

Historical origin of Islam

This is discussed in the articles on the History of Islam, and the Life of Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims are of many different races and (political and ethnic) nationalities. The majority of Muslims are in the countries of South Asia, South-East Asia, Central Asia, northern Africa and the Middle East (much of northern African being thought of as being a part of the Middle East).

The growth of Islam today

Islam is the largest religion after Christianity, and currently the fastest growing. It began in Saudi Arabia in about 610, and according to it now comprises 1.3 billion believers, 23% of the world's population, with almost 2 million believers in the USA. Only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world, a fifth are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia. There are significant Islamic populations in Europe, the former Soviet Union, and South America.

Islamic laws

The Islamic law is called Shariah. Its two main sources are the Qur'an and the Hadith, but also the ijma, the consensus of the community was accepted as a minor source. Qiyas, reasoning by analogy, was used by the law scholars (Mujtahidun) to deal with situations where the sources provided no concrete rules. However, what is today known as Shariah law, has also roots in local customs (Al-urf).

The Islamic jurisprudence is called fiqh and is divided into two parts: the study of the sources and methodology (usul al-fiqh - roots of the law) and the practical rules (furu' al-fiqh - branches of the law)

Dietary laws

When eating meat, Muslims may only eat from meat that has been slaughtered in the name of God, and meets stringent dietary requirements. Such meat is called pure, or halal. Islamic law prohibits a Muslim from eating pork, monkey, dog, cat, any carnivores, and several other types of animal, as these animals are haram (forbidden). For the meat of an animal to be halal (lawful) it must be one of the declared halal animals, it must be slaughtered by a Muslim, and the animal may not be killed by any cruel or prolonged means. The animal is killed by slicing the jugular veins, and thus rendering the animal unconscious immediately, the blood then flows out from the body, and the animal dies in its sleep. Some Muslim clerics have ruled that the animal does not have to be killed by a Muslim, but may be slaughtered by a Jew as long as it meets their strict dietary laws. Thus, some observant Muslims will accept kosher meat (meat prepared in accord with Jewish law) as halal.

The role of women in Islam

Islam does not prohibit women from working, but emphasizes the importance of caring for house and family for both parents. In theory, Islamic law allows each spouse to divorce at will, by saying "I divorce you" three times in public. In practice divorce is more involved than this and there may be separate state proceedings to follow as well. This practice is valid within most of the Muslim world today. Usually, the divorced wife keeps her dowry from when she was married, if there was one, and is given child support until the age of weaning at which point the child may be returned to its father if it is deemed to be best.

Women are generally not allowed to be clergy or religious scholars. Many interpretations of Islamic law hold that women may not have prominent jobs, and thus are forbidden from working in the government. This has been a mainstream view in many Muslim nations in the last century.

The Qur'an also places a dress code upon its followers. For women, it emphasizes modesty without an overt call for any specific covering of any body part; men have a dress code which is more relaxed: the loins must be covered from knee to waist. The rationale given for these rules is that men and women are not to be viewed as sexual objects. In practice, men dictate what women are allowed to wear in many culturally Islamic countries. It is worth noting that in Islam all things are done by intention and a choice. Therefore if a women is forced to wear a headscarf this is not deemed to be Islamic: only the choice of the woman can be considered Islamic. Infringement of these rules in some "Muslim" nations may result in beatings. One of the garments women are eventually required to wear is the hijab (of which the headscarf is one component). The word hijab is derived from the Arabic word hijaba which means "to hide from sight or view", "to conceal". Hijab means to cover the head as well as the body. Most Muslim scholars have based the amount of covering that a female Muslim must wear in front of those that are considered non-mahram (people she can marry) men on the Qur'an and the Sunnah.


Circumcision for males involves the removal of the foreskin and is customary in most Muslim communities. It is normally performed at different ages in different cultures. Female circumcision is not part of Islam.


Friday is an important day in the life of a Muslim and it is believed that any devotional acts done on this day gain a higher reward. This day however should not be understood as a Sabbath, for Muslims reject the belief that God rested after Creation. Believers attend congregational prayer at the local mosque, perform prayer and listen to a sermon by the Imam. When the holidays occur, it is according to the lunar Islamic calendar. This calendar does not correct for the fact that the lunar year does not match the solar year. Therefore, the Islamic months precess each year; they shift relative to the Gregorian calendar.

Ramadan - month long observance of fasting during daylight hours.

Feast of Breaking the Fast (Eid-ul-Fitr), or the Little Feast (al-Eid saghir)- occurs at the conclusion of Ramadan and is held on the first four days of the month of Shawwal. After congregational prayers, Muslims immediately break the fast and exchange gifts

The Big Feast, (Eid-ul-Adha,), also "The Feast of Sacrifice" (Kurban Bayram) - two months and 10 days after the Little Feast. Animals are slaughtered to commemorate Abraham's sacrificing of a ram instead of his son Ismael. Those who are able make a pilgrimage to Mecca do so just before this date, on the Hajj.

Ashura - the 10th day of the month of Muharram. This is the day on which God saved Moses from Pharoa in Egypt as he crossed the Red Sea with the Children of Israel (the Exodus day). The prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have fasted along with the neighboring Jewish communities on this occasion, and according to narrations, Muhammad planned on preforming fast on the 9th and 10th of Ashoura.

Muslim New Year - not generally celebrated as an official Islamic holiday, although many Muslim communities have devised or revived some kind of new year ritual celebration. This holiday is prohibited by the Islamist movement (fundamentalist Islam), which is currently predominant in the Arab and Muslim world.

The Prophet's Birthday (Al-Mawlidu N-Nabawi Sh-Sharif) - Some scholars consider this holiday to be an innovation in the religion, as Muhammad himself did not celebrate it except by fasting. This holiday is prohibited by the Islamist movement (fundamentalist Islam). Some Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia forbid Muslims to celebrate this holiday.

Muslim apostates

Conversion by Muslims to other religions is forbidden and is termed apostasy. In Muslim theology, apostasy resembles the crime of treason, the betrayal of one's own country. Penalties may include ostracism or even execution if they live or lived in an "Islamic State" and are deemed enemies of the state. Presently, however, a person who lives in a Western country such as the United States (or even many Muslim countries) will suffer no significant penalty for converting to another religion.

Muslims who convert to Christianity are sometimes at risk. See any of the works of Ibn Warraq, an outspoken former Muslim. A well-known example of a Muslim "apostate" undergoing persecution is that of Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses prompted furious clerics to issue a Fatwa for his execution.

Denominations of Islam

There are a number of Islamic religious denominations, each of which has significant theological and legal differences from each other. The major branches are Shi'a and Sunni Islam.

Sunni Islam comprises somewhere around 80% of all Muslims. It is broken into four schools of thought which interpret specific pieces of Islam, such as which foods are halal (permissible) differently. They are named after their founders Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Hanbali.

Shia Islam comprises most of the Muslims that are not counted among the Sunni. The Shia consist of one major school of thought known as the Jafaryia (refering to the founder) or the "Twelvers", and a few minor schools of thought, as the "Seveners" or the "Fivers" refering to the number of infallible leaders they recognise after the death of Muhammad. The term Shia is usually taken to be synonymous with the Jafaryia/Twelvers.

While some consider the Islamic mysticism called Sufism to constitute a separate branch, there are some Sufis who can easily be considered Sunni, most notable among them the great medieval theologian Al-Ghazali, and practising within the traditional schools of thought. Other people may call themselves Sufis who have in reality left Islam (or never known Islam).

There are also some very large groups or sects that are not easily categorised as either Sunni or Shiah, such as the Bektashi

See also: Imam -- Islamic philosophy

Religions based on Islam

The following groups call themselves Muslims, but are not considered Islamic by most Muslims:

The following religions evolved from Islam, but consider themselves independent religions with distinct laws and institution:

Islam in the modern world

Although the dominant movement in Islam in recent times has been religious fundamentalism, there are a number of liberal movements within Islam which seek alternative ways to reconcile the Islamic faith with the modern world.

Islamic traditions have several sources: the Qur'an, the hadiths, and interpretations of both by scholars. Over the centuries, there has been a tendency towards fundamentalism, with interpretations being regarded as immutable, even those that consist of folk religion not directly traceable to the prophet Muhammad.

Early shariah had a much more flexible character than is currently associated with Islamic jurisprudence, and many modern Muslim scholars believe that it should be renewed, and the classical jurists should lose their special status. This would require formulating a new fiqh suitable for the modern world, e.g. as proposed by advocates of the Islamization of knowledge, and would deal with the modern context.

This movement does not aim to challenge the fundamentals of Islam; rather, it seeks to clear away misinterpretations and to free the way for the renewal of the previous status of the Islamic world as a center of modern thought and freedom. See Modern Islamic philosophy for more on this subject.

The claim that only liberalisation of the Islamic Shariah law can lead to distinguishing between tradition and Islam is countered by many Muslims by saying that 'fundamentalism' rejects the cultral inventions e.g. they will accept that men and women have God given rights and duties that no human can infringe on but it rejects riba (interest). Fundamentalism as referred to often means traditionalism which is a separate issue. A good example of a fundamentalist organisation is Hizb ut-Tahir.

Islam around the world

Views of other religions

Islam assigns Jews and Christians (and certain other, smaller, religions) the status of 'People of the Book' on the basis of their monotheism, and their beliefs about God and the world. This status is based on several passages from the Qur'an that say how Christians, Jews, and Muslims share common scripture, morals, and prophets. Muslims believe that the 'People of the Book,' if they submit to being second class citizens, should be allowed to love in peace.

In one verse of the Qur'an, it says "God forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for [your] faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them; for God loveth those who are just." (Qur'an, 60:8) which is interpreted as a clear admonition not to be disrespectful or unkind to non-Muslims. According to a hadith, Muhammad said to his people "The one who murders a dhimmi(non-Muslim under protection of the state) will not smell the fragrance of Paradise, even if its smell was forty years travelling distance" [Sahih Ahmed]. Where 'People of the Book' live in an Islamic nation under Sharia law, they become dhimmis. If they agree to paying a special tax called jizyah, they are given a number of rights, such as the right to freely practice their faith, be fully protected by government, and other necessities and luxuries. In an Islamic state, the giving of charity is mandatory by law for Muslims. The jizyah tax money goes to charity, as well as the construction of churches and synagogues for non-Muslims living in the state. As a benefit, non-Muslims are exempted from any draft for the state.

There are separate articles on the relationship between Islam and Judaism and the Judeo-Islamic tradition. A separate article, The Bible in Islam discusses the way that Muslims have traditionally understood the Bible. There are articles on Islam and anti-Semitism and Projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs.

See also: History of Islam -- List of Islamic terms in Arabic -- -- Shariah -- Tawhid -- Qibla al-Qudsiyya -- Jihad -- Wahhabism -- Islamic rituals (births, weddings, burials...) -- Munkar and Nakir -- List of famous Muslims -- Life of Prophet Muhammad -- Islamic architecture -- Islamic art


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