Islam in Brief

Islam (1.6 billion) – monotheistic with Allah as God, considers itself the true religion with Muhammad as its Prophet.  Muslim beliefs are in the Five Pillars – repeating the creed, reciting prayers in Arabic, giving to the poor, fasting from sunrise to sunset, and making a pilgrimage (hajj) in one’s lifetime to Mecca.

Muhammad (570–632) was born in Mecca in Western Saudi Arabia.  So Mecca is the site of the Great Mosque and in its courtyard lies the most sacred shrine called Ka’aba- a stone building that contains a Black Stone that Muslims believe was sent from Heaven, by Allah.  When Muslims pray five times a day they face the Ka’aba, and declare the “shahada,” the Islam Creed –  “I bear witness that there is no god but (the One) God (Allah), and I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s messenger.”  Muslims profess there is one transcendent, supreme being Allah.  The Qur’an Muslims’ holy book is arranged in 114 sections called “suras” which literally  means word of God.

Shia Muslims

Shia Muslims account for approximately 15 percent of the total Muslim population in the world. Shiaism has the greatest influence in the contemporary world in Iran where nearly 90 percent of Muslims are Shiite, but Shia are also the majority in Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen. The division between the Shia and Sunni is rooted in disputes over the proper succession of leadership after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E. The Shia maintain that the rightful successor of the Prophet was his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. Shia especially revere a succession of scholars (called Imams).

Sunni Muslims

The followers of Sunni Islam … make up approximately 80 percent of the Muslim population in the world. The Sunni are the majority in most Islamic countries outside of Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain. Sunna—translated variously as the “trodden path,” “the way,” “example,” or “habitual practice”—refers to the example or path of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers….The Sunni maintain that the Muslim community was to select the Prophet’s successor (caliph) to lead…Sunni are typically seen as putting more emphasis on the power of God and his determination of human fate, and are often understood to be more inclusive in their definition of what it means to be a Muslim. The Sunni tradition has placed great emphasis on the role of religion in public and political life, with great weight placed on the Shariah (Islamic law) as the standard of a broad range of social issues—marriage, divorce, inheritance, commerce, and so on.

The Islamic interpretation of the Bible overlaps in many cases with those of Judaism and Christianity, and some accounts in the Qur’an are almost similar to those  in the Bible.


Library of World Religions and Faith Traditions



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