Even though Islam is the second-largest religion in the world -- more than 1 billion people practice it -- many kids do not know much about the religion. A lesson about the religion may begin with the fact that Muslims, or people who follow the Islamic religion, live in countries all over the globe. While Islam shares many similarities with Judaism and Christianity, other beliefs and practices are very different.
Muslims believe in many of the same prophets, or messengers of God, that Jews and Christians believe in. However, the last and most important prophet for Islam is the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in about 570 B.C. Muslims believe that Muhammad was praying in a cave one day and an angel named Jibril came to visit him. Muslims say Muhammad then received special messages from God, whom they call Allah, and he wrote these down. He continued to receive messages from Allah during the next 23 years and wrote all of these messages in a book called the Quran.
Muslims believe in only one god, and that no other ones have ever existed. They also believe that angels exist, that the Quran is the most important sacred book, and that Allah used prophets to deliver his messages. Muslims believe that everyone will face Allah on the day of judgment; on this day, Allah will decide whether or not each person has led a good and moral life and followed the Quran. Finally, Muslims believe in what is called predestination, which means Allah knows everything that is going to happen before it actually happens.
Muslims around the world follow the Five Pillars of Islam, or important beliefs and practices. The first is an incantation, or saying, that reads, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Reciting this is called Shahadah. The second pillar -- called Salat -- requires that Muslims pray five times every day in a specific way. They have to face the holy city of Mecca, and wash themselves in a special way before they pray. The third pillar, called Zakah, requires that Muslims donate 2.5 percent of their wealth to the needy. The fourth pillar -- called Sawm -- requires Muslims to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims do not eat or drink anything from sunrise to sundown. The fifth pillar, or Hajj, requires Muslims to make a pilgrimage, or special trip, to the city of Mecca at least once in their life.
Holy Days and Celebrations
Ramadan is the most sacred month in Islam, and the Quran commands Muslims to fast during the month. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic -- or lunar -- calendar, and occurs at different times throughout the year. Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with a feast called Id ul-Fitr, or the festival of fast breaking. They go to the mosque and pray, then celebrate with family and friends at a feast with foods and desserts. A more somber celebration is Id ul-Adha. When Muslims complete their fifth pillar -- a pilgrimage to Mecca -- they hold a celebration at which they sacrifice either a goat or a sheep.
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