Islam, meaning "submission," is one of the three major monotheistic religions, along with Christianity and Judaism. Its worshipers are called Muslims and although the religion originated in the Middle East, Islam is practiced throughout the world.
The Prophet Muhammad and History
Islam started with the Prophet Muhammad, who lived during the seventh century. According to Islamic tradition, God chose Muhammad as his prophet and explained the Quran, the Islamic holy book, to him. Islam is a very traditional and ritualistic religion, which helps its followers maintain a sense of community all over the globe. Islamic adherents follow the Five Pillars of Islam, which are guidelines for the religion.
The Quran is the Islamic holy book and is believed to be the word of God, as explained through the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran has 114 chapters, each with a different subject matter. Muslims consult the Quran and recite verses during prayer and worship.
Five Pillars of Islam
The Five Pillars of Islam are guidelines for Muslims to lead a fulfilling life. Shahadah, the profession of faith, is the first pillar. Muslims abide by the profession, "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger." Praying ritualistically five times a day, or salat, is the second pillar of faith. Muslims perform their prayers facing the Islamic holy city of Mecca. Zakat, or almsgiving, is the third pillar; Muslims must donate a percentage of their earnings to help the poor. The fourth pillar of Islam is fasting during the month of Ramadan, or Sawm. During this time, Muslims are forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, or engage in sexual relations between sunrise and sunset; the month of Ramadan varies yearly, as it is based on the lunar calendar. The fifth and final pillar is the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, which Muslims must take once during their lifetime.
Sunni and Shia
There are two sects of Islam: Sunni and Shia. Sunni Muslims make up approximately 85 percent of the total Muslim population, and Shia Muslims comprise 15 percent of the population. The division between Sunni and Shia Muslims occurred after the Prophet Muhammad's death late in the seventh century, when contentions over political and religious leaders emerged. Sunnis believe Muhammad appointed his close friend Abu Bakr as the leader upon the Prophet's death, whereas Shiites maintain Muhammad wanted his son-in-law Ali to succeed him. Both groups have credible foundations for their beliefs, and the division and argument has been waged for centuries.
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