The word Islam means submission and is the name given to a religion practiced by more than 1.5 billion people worldwide.

Islam is a monotheistic religion that dates back to seventh century Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Those who adhere to it are called Muslims and they follow the teachings of the Qur’an, which they believe to be the word of God, received in a series of revelations by Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 AD and is the founder of the Islamic faith. Muslims believe he was the final prophet of God.

The Qur’an is written in classical Arabic and is divided into 114 chapters or suras of varying length. In addition to the Qur’an there are the hadiths, which are collections of sayings by Muhammad. Muslims also revere the Injil (Gospel) and Tawrat (Torah) and hold many biblical figures as prophets, including Adam, Moses and Jesus. However, they believe that the Injil was corrupted so they do not follow its teachings.

Like many religions, Islam has its own denominations and sects. Sunni and Shia are the biggest and best known. There’s also Sufism, which is a more spiritual and mystical form of Islam.

In Islam, God is said to have created the universe but he is incomprehensible and unknowable. Man was created to worship him, as a slave honours his master. Sunni Muslims (the majority) do this by practising the five ‘Pillars’ of Islam. These are shahada, salat, zakat, sawm and hajj.

  • Shahada means creed. Translated from Arabic it states: ‘There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God.’
  • Salat (prayer) is performed five times a day at set times, facing Mecca. It involves the repetition of set prayers in a number of different positions, from standing upright to prostrating.
  • Zakat means giving. Muslims give away a fixed portion of their wealth but are encouraged to add to this voluntarily.
  • Sawm (fasting) takes place during the month of Ramadan. During this period Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations during the daylight hours.
  • The hajj is a pilgrimage that takes place annually in Mecca. Every Muslim is expected to complete it at least once during their lifetime.

Muslims worship at a mosque, a building which often has a domed roof and a minaret from which the call to prayer is issued at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening and night. Inside it is carpeted with separate sections for men and women. Before entering a mosque for prayer, a Muslim must perform a cleansing ritual and remove his or her shoes. An imam will lead the time of prayer.

Friday is the holy day of the week for Muslims. On this day, they often go to the mosque for an extended time of prayer at midday. Often there will be some teaching at this time.

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