"Islam is to testify that there is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God, to perform the prayers, to pay the charity, to fast in Ramadan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House if you are able to do so."--Muhammad (pbuh)
Islam is one of the "Big Three" major world religions, and currently the fastest growing. While adherents say that it began with the first man, the Biblical Adam (pbuh), it began as we know it in Saudi Arabia in 622CE, and now comprises close to 1.3 Billion believers; 22% of the World's population (roughly 1 in every 5 people), with over 7 Million adherents in North America alone. Despite the stereotype associating Islam with Arab culture, only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world, a fifth of the Muslims are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the world's largest Muslim community is in Indonesia.

'Islam' comes from the root word Salaam, which means 'peace', the soul and spirit of Islam. It's ironic that this religion of peace is percieved today in the West as the religion of war, terrorism, chaos and disorder -- while in reality Islam is not only peace in name, but peace pervades all its teachings, and works as the key to its understanding. If translated literally, the second meaning of the word Islam is 'submission' or 'surrender'. So the words 'peace' and 'submission' create a complete picture of Islam. In one single word, the entire philosophy of this religion is summed up. Adherents of Islam, Muslims, are therefore those who surrender or submit [to God].


Muslims (believers of Islam) believe in the One, Unique, Incomparable, Merciful God - The Sole Creator and Sustainer of the Universe; in the Angels created by Him; in the Prophets through whom His revelations were brought to humankind. He is also known in Arabic as "Allah." Al-Lah (The God).

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is a monotheistic (One and only One God) religion, all with the same roots. Both Judaism and Islam both claim to have descended from the prophet Abraham (pbuh), meaning they pray to the same One God. An Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent God.

Muslims believe that God sent His messengers and prophets to all people and that God's final message to humanity, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing up of all that had gone before, was revealed to the last prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel.

Muslims also believe in life after death (Heaven and Hell), Judgment Day, and the fact that every individual is responsible for their own actions. They believe that God has complete authority over destiny, be it good or bad.

Roughly paraphrased, part of the Qur'an says that God made you, so God will eventually reclaim you. Inna lillahi wa inna ilahi raji'oun: Certainly to God we belong and to Him is our return. Muslims believe in life after death, and empasize that both your good and bad deeds will have consequences in the Hereafter. Since Islam translates to both "peace" and "submission," you are submitting to God by praying regularly and keeping yourself physically and spiritually clean. Muslims believe God loves you, as well as everyone.

Qur'an ("The Recitation")

Muslims read the holy book of the Qur'an (also spelt Koran). It's similar to the Old Testament of the Bible, or the Jewish Torah, in that they all recount some of the same history; God creates the world, God creates Adam and Eve, God creates Prophets such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses so that they may guide people. The Qur'an also includes stories of Jesus, his mother Mary and her parents, and even John the Baptist.

The Qur'an is a complete record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. It's considered a "Revelation" that corrects the errors of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

The Qur'an is the principal source of every Muslim's faith and practice. It deals with all subjects that concern us as human beings - wisdom, doctrine, worship and law - but its basic theme is the relationship between God and His creatures. It is unchangeable, and there is only one version. Open any Qur'an in the world and you will find the same Arabic text, with the same number of chapters, no apocrypha or arguable additional or missing verses like other Holy Texts we see today.

At the same time, the Qur'an provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct and equitable economic principles. A Muslim should read it and study it, as it clearly describes right and wrong. It's the word of God, written in Arabic, and will never change. Reading it in any language other than Arabic isn't considered the true Qur'an and only an interpretation, as there is detail, nuance, imagery, and structure that translation can't quite convey.

The Qur'an is not the same as the Bible. It is rather like the Oral Torah first revealed to Moses that was later written down, except Muslims believe it is unchanged since the time it was revealed. Muhammad could not read or write, so he dictated the words to the crowds of people and followers. Muhammad's recitations were later written down (on palm leaves, shoulders of camels, paper substitutes) and collected after his death, but verified by hundreds of his followers and cross-checked against what they had already memorized and written to ensure there were no error. Ten copies were made and sent to the faraway cities to ensure that each had an authentic copy. Two exist today, in Turkey and Tashkent, and are word for word identical to each other and the Qur'an of today. Before his death Muhammad told them to guard the words against change or from being forgotten. He organized the Surahs(chapters) roughly from longest to shortest. The organization isn't chronological; This is God speaking, and His words are timeless.

Like the Bible, the Qur'an asserts its own divine authority, but while Jews and Christians regard the Biblical text as the works of "divinely inspired authors," Muslims regard the Qur'an as the eternal words of Allah Himself. Thus, Muhammad is just the conduit for His words, not the composer.

In Gospel terminology, the Qur'an corresponds to Christ himself, as the logos, or eternal word of God. In short, if Christ is the Word of God made into flesh, the Qur'an is the word made into book.

Apart from the Qur'an, Muslims also refer to the life of the prophet Muhammad, written in the Hadith, as a secondary source of guidance. Belief in the sunnah, the practice and example of the Prophet, is an integral part of the Islamic faith.

There are no pictures or illustrations contained in it, not even of Muhammad, as it may encourage Idolatry (shirk), the worst sin, as God has no partners or incarnations. The Qur'an was revealed through the Prophet's ears, not his eyes. It's said that hearing the words recited lets the person experience the presence of God, in a way like the Christian Communion.

Five Pillars

Similar to Christian Sacraments, these are the foundation of a Muslim's life, one should perform all of these, if possible, as to show his or her faith.

Shahadah - The Declaration of Faith. Catholics profess their faith with the Creed at every Mass. Faithful Muslims pronounce the following during every prayer:"There is nothing worthy of worship but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God." The significance of this declaration is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God, and this is achieved through understanding the teachings and practices of the last prophet, Muhammad.

Salat or Prayer. Prayers are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between you the worshipper and God. Prayer is reccomended in a building of worship known as a mosque, though almost anywhere is permissible. (The whole earth is considered a mosque.) These five prayers contain verses from the Qur'an and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation. Personal supplications (humble requests to God) can be in one's own language and at any time. Prayer is on hands and knees, because you're praying to someone higher than any king, but rather the Being who made you. It is always facing the holy city of Mecca, so Muslims everywhere are unified by praying in the same language and the same direction. Prayer is considered the best form of dhikr, and frequent prayer to God and good deeds are said to prove your faith.

Zakah or Almsgiving. An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God; He made it, and wealth is therefore held by humans in trust. Don't forget, God allowed you to get that high-paying job, He kept you from getting a debilitating injury, He helped you earn that money. The word zakah means both "purification" and "growth." Setting aside a proportion for those in need purifies our possessions, and like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. It isn't much; Muslims in America contribute 2.5% of their income, much lower than the Christian tithe or Mormons donating close to 10%.

Sawm or Fasting. Every day in the month of Ramadan, all able and healthy Muslims fast from dawn until sundown - abstaining from food, drink, and sex. It's self-purification and self-restraint. Like the Christian time of Lent, it's a time to give something up for God, a personal sacrifice. By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a person fasting focuses on life by being constantly aware of God's presence. It also gives people a chance to experience hunger, and realize that some of their bretheren experience this constantly. Muslims fast at other times during the year also, but it is not obligatory although it is encouraged. (Think of it as extra credit)

Hajj or Pilgrimmage. The pilgrimage to Mecca is an obligation for those physically and financially able to make it once in their lifetime. Nevertheless, over two million people every year go to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, considered by some Muslims to be the first city on Earth, in Western Saudi Arabia. It is the the birthplace of Muhammad, and the site of the Ka'aba, a cubed black building built by Abraham and Ishmael, peace be upon them both. The annual hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar year. Pilgrims wear simple white garments to strip away class and culture; all stand equal before God. The crowd of nearly 4 million people pray together, men next to women, black next to white, Egyptian next to Canadian, American next to Iraqi. It's a life-changing and faith-affirming experience. Many people come back changed and uplifted, the most-read story of the experience is likely that of Malcolm X, who in his autobiography stated he gave up his blanket hatred of white people when he met white Muslims who treated him as a brother, and prayed equally with all races in the Holy city free from discrimination.

Family and Social Life

The family is the foundation for Islamic Society. A stable family offers peace and security, and is greatly valued in the religion, essential for spiritual growth. A harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended families, children are treasured and usually don't leave home until they marry.

Parents are greatly respected in the Islamic tradition and caring for one's elderly parents is considered an honor and a blessing. Mothers are particularly honored: the Qur'an teaches that since mothers endure so much during pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing, they deserve a special consideration and kindness.

Marriage is greatly encouraged in Islam; the Prophet Muhammad once called it "half the faith." It is both a sacred act and a legal agreement, in which either partner is free to include legitimate conditions in a sort of contract. As a result, divorce, although uncommon, is permitted only as a last resort. There are various stages, the first is no longer sleeping in the same bed, the second is a period of separation, and the third is complete divorce. A couple can go through with one stage and then make up, or all three at once, but it's a process designed with cool-down periods of separation, and then divorce only at the end when other options fail. The entire process can take as little as 3 months to divorce. Marriage customs vary widely from country to country.

Islam and Equality

The Qur'an prescribes freedom of conscience:
"There is no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from falsehood: whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the strongest rope that never breaks. And God is All-Hearing and All-Knowing." (Qur'an 2:256)
According to the above verse, forced or pressured conversion to Islam is forbidden. Islam is not "spread by the sword." The country with the highest population of Muslims is Indonesia, yet Muslim armies never got that far to spread the religion. Instead, Islam spread through peaceful means, like missionaries.

The life, honor, and property of all citizens in a Muslim society are considered sacred whether the person is Muslim or not. They say that once you're their guest, even if you are their biggest enemy, you will be treated with utmost respect. Even if they are fasting, they will serve you a delicious meal.

For centuries Muslims have gotten along with non-Muslim neighbors. When the caliph Omar entered Jerusalem in the year 634CE, Islam granted freedom of worship to all religious communities in the city. The Moors ruled Spain for nearly 700 years, and gave, as Islamic law dictates, equal protection for Christians and Jews under the law on par with the Muslims. The time was known as the "Golden Age of Judaism" since tolerance was better at that time and place than it would be for centuries. Muslims had once controlled India for centuries, but 85% of the population is still Hindu, because Muslims believe in freedom of religion.

Racism, sexism, and bigotry are incomprehensible to Muslims, for the Qur'an speaks of human equality in the following terms:

"O mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware." -Qur'an 49:13
Muslims will graciously accept any visitors to their Mosque. They will gladly answer any questions you have about Islam, and even give you a copy of the Qur'an. They don't try to force you to join, nor foist any Dogma upon you. Hopefully once you read the Qur'an and understand the morals, you'll have some respect for Islam, and see the truth on your own, of your own free will of course. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions partly because of this.

The Quran 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. (Quran, 60:8) Muslims are commanded to be fair and kind to others, and in this case, non-Muslims included.

Islam and War

Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock.

As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause. One reads in the Qur'an:

"Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors." (Qur'an 2:190)

"If they seek peace, then you seek peace. And trust in God for He is the One that hears and knows all things." (Qur'an 8:61)

War is therefore the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law.

The often misunderstood and overused term Jihad literally means "struggle" and not "Holy war" (a term not found anywhere in the Qur'an). Jihad, as an Islamic concept, can be on a personal level- inner struggle against evil within oneself; struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; and struggle on the battlefield, if and when necessary.

Islam and Women

According to the Qur'an, men and woman are equal before God. Unlike Judaism and Christianity, women are not blamed for violating the "forbidden tree," nor is their suffering in pregnancy and childbirth a punishment for that act.

Islam sees a woman, whether single or married, as an individual in her own right, with the right to own and dispose of her property and earnings. Women have the right to choose whoever she wants to marry. A marital gift known as a dowry is given by the groom to the bride for her own personal use. She is allowed to ask for whatever gift she wants from the groom, which is usually monetary, and in the event of a divorce it is still hers to keep and use. Also, she may keep her own family name rather than adopting her husband's.

Roles of men and women are complementary and collaborative. Rights and responsibilities of both sexes are equitable and balanced in their totality. Both men and women are expected to dress in a way that is simple, modest, and dignified. Specific traditions of dress found in some Muslim countries are often the expression of local customs rather than religious principle.

Unfortunately, treatment of women in some areas of the Muslim world sometimes reflects cultural practices which may be inconsistent, if not contrary, to authentic Islamic teachings.

Prophet Muhammad said "The most perfect in faith, amongst believers, is he who is best in manner and kindest to his wife." There is no Islamic basis for domestic violence, and the Qur'an says that only in cases where all other options have first been tried and failed is a husband permitted to slap his wife.

Islam's relation to Christianity and Judaism

Muslims, Christians, and Jews all trace their origins to the Prophet and Patriarch Abraham (peace be upon him), and their three prophets are all direct descendants from Abraham's sons - Muhammad from the eldest son, Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from Isaac.

Muslims believe that God spread his word before, revealing parts of his heavenly text to previous Biblical Prophets and Messengers. But in every case those who received his revelations, particularly the Jews and Christians, either consciously or inadvertently corrupted the text, or seriously misinterpreted it. If you learn about the Bible, you'll see that most scholars accept the idea that stories and parables were added to and changed over time. The book of Genesis is said to have multiple authors, as the creation story is repeated with differences. Also, there were some serious difficulties in which books were real and which were Apocryphal, only a papal decree settled the issue.

Muslims believe that Islam is the finished product, the culmination of the major religions of the books of God that came before it. Just as Christians believe the New Testament (Gospel) supplants the Old Testament(Torah), Muslims believe the Qur'an supplants them both, as a "Final Testament."

Islam and Jesus

Muslims particularly respect and revere Jesus. They consider him one of the greatest of God's prophets and messengers. A Muslim never refers to him simply as "Jesus" but always adds "peace be upon him." The Qur'an confirms that he was born of the Virgin Mary by God's will, and a special chapter of the Qur'an is entitled Mary in honor of the mother of Jesus.

Jesus was born miraculously through the same power that brought Adam into being without a father:

"Truly the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam. He created him of dust and then said to him, 'Be!' and he was." (Qur'an 3:59)
During his prophetic mission, Jesus performed many miracles. He was the last prophet before Muhammad. He wasn't the son of God, but he was the Messiah. The Qur'an tells us he said:
"I have come to you with a sign from your Lord: I make for you out of a clay figure of a bird, and breathe into it and it becomes a bird by God's leave. And I heal the blind, and the lepers, and I raise the dead by God's leave." (Qur'an 3:49)
Muslims don't believe Jesus was crucified, and he didn't die. Instead, God brought him up into heaven still alive, and made the illusion that he died on the cross to fool his enemies. He will be back soon, where he will fight the Anti-Christ.

Neither Muhammad nor Jesus came to change the basic doctrine of the belief in One God, brought by earlier prophets, but to confirm and renew it.

Why is Islam often misunderstood?

Islam is frequently misunderstood and may even seem exotic in some parts of today's world. This is due to a number of reasons. Maybe it's because religion doesn't seem to dominate everyday life in Western Society, whereas for Muslims, Islam is life. Muslims make no artificial division between the secular and the sacred. It used to be considered only an Eastern religion, but now it's far more global.

Unfortunately, today Islam has been maligned both by those who claim to profess it and those who don't. Despite this, Islam is still the fastest growing religion in the world today, which should tell you something. People who convert don't do it because they see it as a religion of violence; because in reality it is peace. For each and every Muslim that is on the news because of terrorism, there are thousands of others worldwide who are not terrorists. My reccomendation is instead of relying on others, I encourage you to learn and understand more about this faith yourself. Go and visit a local mosque, read the Qur'an. Find out and make your own informed decision about Islam, it is not as mysterious or different as you may think.

All of this information is from speaking with Muslims (who will gladly explain any of it to you, they are open to guests), reading the leaflets, Newsweek (February 11, 2002 cover story), and reading Comparative religion books from the Library.

Any Muslim will gladly show you their Mosque and answer any questions they have on the religion. They are renowned for their Hospitality, and extremely warm towards guests.

Webster_1913's writeup is outdated, and incorrect.

Many Westerners called Islam "Mohammadism" because Mohammed was its founder, just as Christianity holds sacred the name of its founder, Christ. Muslims do not want to be called Mohammedans, as this is against the teachings of Mohammed. Calling them that implies that they worship him, which is untrue. Mohammad said he was not divine. He was a man chosen by Allah to bring Islam to the world.

For a great introduction to Islam, I'd suggest reading Islam, by I.G. Edwards, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam, What Islam is All About, both by Yahya Emerick, or any number of books on the subject at your local library.

I also reccomend:

  • http://www.studyislam.com
  • http://www.islam.org
  • http://www.islamonline.net

There's also a great 5-page introduction of the religion (from where I shamelessly copied the second paragraph) at http://www.alislam.org/books/study-of-islam/index.html