What is Islam?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Islam is the fastest growing world religion, with over one billion followers worldwide. At the turn of the 21st century, it was estimated that Muslims would overtake Christians within one hundred years, if Islam continued its astounding growth rate. Despite the fact that it is one of the most popular religions globally, it is imperfectly understood by non Muslims.

A young Muslim girl reading the Qur'an.
A young Muslim girl reading the Qur'an.

The religion was founded in the 6th century by Muhammad, who is viewed as the major prophet and messenger of Islam. Muhammad was only one of a series of prophets, with this religion recognizing some of the prophets of the Christian Bible as well. Although the Qur'an is the primary holy text, the Bible is accepted as a secondary religious text in Muslim tradition. Many venerated Christian figures such as the Virgin Mary are also respected by Muslims.

It is customary for women to cover their hair in faces in some Islamic societies.
It is customary for women to cover their hair in faces in some Islamic societies.

Muhammad was born in Mecca, which is the center of Muslim worship today. As a young man, Muhammad traveled on many caravans, and was exposed to a wide variety of religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad was visited in Mecca by the angel Gabriel at the age of 40, and given a vision of a monotheistic and peaceful religion. Muhammad's teachings were not initially embraced and he went on a trek known as the hegira to Medina, where he solidified his political power and popularized Islam. Muhammad also set out a number of rules for faithful Muslims to follow, thereby demonstrating their love for and submission to God.

A map of the Middle East, the center of Islam.
A map of the Middle East, the center of Islam.

Followers of Islam are known as Muslims, while God is referred to as Allah. The religion is governed by five pillars of faith, which all Muslims are expected to follow. The pillars include faith in and submission to Allah, a practice of daily prayer, almsgiving and care for the needy, fasting, and a pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims who are able to undertake it. Most Muslim communities have at least one mosque for prayer, with a muezzin who offers the daily calls to prayer.

The Hajj is a Muslim pilgrimage that leads to the Kaaba in the Saudi city of Mecca.
The Hajj is a Muslim pilgrimage that leads to the Kaaba in the Saudi city of Mecca.

The teachings are found in the Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, and many Muslims learn the Arabic sutras, or verses, of the Qur'an for use in prayer. The Qur'an was compiled by followers of Muhammad who wished to record his revelations. The book itself is considered sacred to Muslims, who handle the Qur'an with extreme care.

Muslims face Mecca when praying.
Muslims face Mecca when praying.

Islam also has an oral tradition known as the Hadith, which deals with the life of Muhammad. The Hadith provides guidance for Muslims on issues which may not be included in the Qur'an, and is considered a source of history as well as a religious text. Muslims is governed by a code of laws called the Sharia, comparable to the Talmud in Judaism. Sharia is guided primarily by the Qur'an, but also by the Hadith, depending on the region and interpreter.

Muhammad had been a caravan leader who was based in Mecca before he became focused on his religious experiences.
Muhammad had been a caravan leader who was based in Mecca before he became focused on his religious experiences.

Like many religions, Islam has certain forbidden activities, such as the consumption of pork and alcohol. Restrictions on foods and family life are found in both Islam and Judaism. The two religions are actually remarkably similar in many ways. Islam has several sects with differing opinions on certain points of religion, including the Sunni and Shi'ite, who have differing opinions on certain aspects of the faith.

The Qur'an is the primary holy text of Islam.
The Qur'an is the primary holy text of Islam.

The name is related to the Arabic word “salaam,” meaning peace or submission. Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is at heart a peaceful religion, with teachings of religious tolerance and respect for other people and monotheistic religions included in the Qur'an. Radical elements have been more prominent in the news than peaceful Muslims.

Many Muslims adhere to various interpretations of the sharia code.
Many Muslims adhere to various interpretations of the sharia code.

Islam differs from Christianity in several key ways. To begin with, this religion does not recognize the Trinity of God, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Muslims believe that the Trinity borders on polytheism, and Muslims recognize only one God. Muslims also do not believe in original sin, rather that all individuals are responsible for their own actions. Most Muslim countries also have Muslim governments, a marked difference from Christian countries which are usually secular.

Muslims eat only foods which are halal, or permissible, according to the Quran.
Muslims eat only foods which are halal, or permissible, according to the Quran.

Judaism and Islam share some interesting history. Many of the traditions of Judaism were integrated into the other religion, including holy texts, although Islam has different holy days. Muhammad hoped to convert the Jewish people because of the similarities in between the two religions, and was rebuffed. The two religions have had a contentious relationship ever since Muhammad attempted to win converts by force in the city of Medina. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all share traditions of prophets and peace, and emerged in the Middle East. While the religions have differences, they also share the idea of a single God, although he is given different names. In all three, God is a figure who is venerated, loved, and respected.

Although the Qur'an is the primary holy text, the Bible is accepted as a secondary religious text in Muslim tradition.
Although the Qur'an is the primary holy text, the Bible is accepted as a secondary religious text in Muslim tradition.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Do not talk ill about other religions. Respect others and get the same from them. Posting all this will do no good.

Whether Muslim or non-muslim, each and everyone has the final day of his life which the judgment day.

Your good deeds are going to be with you and mine with me.

Prepare for the afterlife. This world's life is just the test for all of us.


“The Inevitable Reality” according to Islam: Sura 69 verse 30: (It will be said): Take him and shackle him! 31: Then throw him in the blazing fire. 32: Then fasten him with a chain whereof the length is seventy cubits! 33: For he did not believe in Allah, the most great. Islam: pathetic, disgusting idiocy.


I may not be much of a Muslim, but I think I should post some of my comments, as well. Let's go back in time to the era of the third caliph, Hazrat Umar (R.A.). Many non-believers would not dare to cross any of his armies after his military campaigns on those who attacked Islamic lands physically, but when the third Caliph was martyred, and then Hazrat Ali (R.A.) became Khalifa, then it was “What the hell just happened?” Many prominent Muslims I knew and respected were starting campaigns against the Khalifa for revenge on the rebels, at a time when the Islamic empire was in chaos caused by clever insurgents.

Most Muslims started war with Muslims to punish the rebels, and to kill the man whom hazrat (S.A.W.W.) had declared his brother. They chose one man over God, at a time when the Islamic empire foundations were weakened. Then Sunnis and Shiahs rose up. (I am Sunni).

What I am trying to say to all Muslims is, for now, stop trying to convert others to Islam. First, look at yourselves. We are divided into groups, defenseless against attacks by other religions and our own country men are hardly Islamic.

The USA is a united by various Christian lands and first made its people Christians and established a hard core economy and Christian mentality. We should try to ensure our or most of our Muslims are acting according to Islamic ways and beliefs, and please under stand what the Quran, Sunnahs and Hadiths are trying to make us understand about Islamic ways. Only by giving the image of Islam in our lands and settling the Sunni and Shiah fights first can we persuade others to join us.


Islam, to me, is a very unfair and oppressive religion. Gosh! Because of their faith or beliefs, terrorism has gone wild. They want to forcibly convert people to their faith. That is hell.

And as for the women, I believe that in Islamic countries, women are treated like trash. They are murdered, mutilated, misunderstood and abused in every way. Islam itself is a manifestation of hell on earth.


This statement needs to be corrected: 'Islam and Judaism have had a contentious religion ever since Muhammad attempted to win converts by force in the city of Medina.'

Please read the following account about what really happened: The city of Medina was home to both Arab and Jewish tribes, that had lived side by side for many years and had between them alliances and mutual business interests.

The Arabs of Madinah consisted of the Aus and Khazraj tribes. The jewish inhabitants were divided into three distinct tribes.

When The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) arrived in Madinah with the immigrants from Makkah, the people of the Aus and Khazraj tribes accepted Islam and joined together to become the Ansaar. The Prophet also wrote a constitution of sorts, delineating each group's rights and duties. And included within it, were the articles that related to the Jewish inhabitants of Madeenah, for the Prophet had concluded an agreement with them to this effect: That they (the Jews) were to safely and peacefully live under the banner of the newly-formed Muslim country if they promised to protect and defend the Muslims from external threats; and similar, if the Jews were to be attacked by a third party, it would be the duty of the Muslims to protect and defend them. This agreement is referred to as 'The Constitution', and in older references, it is called 'The Scroll' or 'The Book'.

Although the Jews were of a different religion, it was not a reason to prevent one from becoming a citizen. Another article in the constitution clearly stated: "To Muslims is their religion, and to Jews is their religion."

The Jews however, harbored a great deal of rancor against the Muslims and tried to sow dissension among the united Muslims in Madinah.

Previously, the two Arab tribes Aus and Khazraj had been bitter enemies, but after the advent of Islam they joined together with mutual love and compassion and became the Ansaar. The Jews realized this and wanted to kindle feeling of the past, that of hatred and enmity, by relating to them tales of their previous battles, and reminding them of the wrongs each tribe had done to the other.

The Ansaars became so furious and threatened to renew the war that had once waged between the Aus and Khazraj tribes and agreed to meet on a rocky land with their swords. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) learned of this and came to remind them of their religion and brotherhood. The Ansaars realized that it was nothing more than a cunning plot of the enemy, and began to embrace one another, and returned to Madinah as brothers. Thus the flames of enmity were extinguished.

The Jews didn't stop at this. They insulted, mocked and cursed because they were jealous of the Prophet's achievements and leadership. As a result of their constant plotting, the economic situation of Madinah Jews worsened making them even more resentful. They made an alliance with the hypocrites and strove day and night to undermine the peace among the Muslims in Madinah.

According to the constitution, the Jews enjoyed freedom of worship and safety, for if anyone attacked them, Muslims were morally and legally bound to defend them. But none of this consoled or pleased the Jews.

They did not live up to the terms of the agreement, at first showing england minor rebelliousness and finally attempting to kill the Prophet and support invading armies their Muslim neighbours. They were therefore punished for their betrayal.


Peace be upon you. Islam is a religion of peace and over the years, people have become misguided and have developed wrong conclusions. Islam does not ask anyone for forceful conversion, neither does it ask to attack non-Muslims. Jihad is only for defense and for nothing else and it was Islam which brought the first rights for women. I am quoting some some of the sentence from Prophet Muhammad's last sermon.

"Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you." "O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers."

"All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action."

Furthermore, God states in the Qur’an, "Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance." [16:125]

The Qur’an clearly states "There is no compulsion in religion, the path of guidance stands out clear from error" [2:256] and [60:8]

I hope I have cleared up some things that are of issue.

Peace be to all.


I myself am a Christian (methodist, to be exact), and while I have grown up with my faith, and am growing to understand more and more, I have to say I have great respect for anyone who follows any religion, be it Islam, Judaism, or Christianity.

In particular, I have a great deal of respect for Muslim women who wear the veil (I know there are various types, so forgive me for using this generic term). As I understand it, Muslim women wear it to protect themselves from the lustful eyes of men, which can allow a Muslim woman to go about their daily lives without worry or feeling victimized. However, I'm not naive. I know that one of the greatest problems with Islam is the way that women can be (and are) treated by men. But don't be fooled: this isn't new or exclusive to Islam.

Christianity (as I know for certain) has had the same problem, and still does to an extent, as the church (I'm not capitalizing for a reason, because the Church lies with the people, and the church is just that) would teach men that it was good for a woman to be subservient to their husband, and submit to them wholly. This then carried over into British society, what with the UK being a Christian country back in the day, and so every woman had to submit, and the country became a patriarchy.

Even today, remnants of this still exist, and women with careers will still tend to earn less than their male counterparts, and there is still a glass-ceiling for them in terms of goals and salary and such.

However, for Islam to be one of the fastest growing religions in the world, I suppose it must be doing something right, right? According to a survey, 80 percent of Muslims in Britain approx go to the Mosque every week, and can honestly say that they are not lax in following their faith, however, less than 20 percent of Christians (more close to less than 10) do go to church every week and can say they are faithful to the faith's practices, or even know 'the reason for the season'. While this is partly due to the fact that atheists and agnostics will put themselves down as 'Church of England' when at a loss of what to register as on surveys, this is also due to a widespread secularism in Britain, where many Christians are losing the faith, and following the non-Christian oriented activities of their friends and neighbours.

In my opinion, more effort should be made to bring lost sheep back, as I find great solace and love in my faith, and I want others who have no faith, or who have forgotten their faith to have that too. I'm probably saying this also because I can honestly say that I am one of the minority in the Christian community who do go to church, who knows the reason for all the seasons, and who would wear a crucifix with pride if I owned one (and not because they tend to look nice with any outfit). However, I'm not about shoving my faith down people's throats all the time. I'd recommend it if I thought it would help, if I knew that it could honestly help, but I wouldn't go out on street corners with those miserable placards like others do.

No, in my opinion, just having faith is good. That's what matters. If you have faith, love your faith, find solace and peace with it, that's enough. Just as long as you are comfortable with following its doctrines and practices at the end of the day (I can't stand hypocrites). The Abrahamic religions in particular - any path to God is a good one, as long as you love Him truly, would admit it to all your friends and loved ones. God is after all the only One to boast in. Pride may be a sin, but to feel pride that you have a God who loves you and that you love back is the best pride indeed, right?

If I've offended anyone with this, just say. I don't mind being corrected, because I do believe in tolerance, in peace. Heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, that counts too. If one has deep committed love to their partner of choice beyond (often) mindless sex, then that is fine. God loves you the same, whether you love a man, a woman, or a male-to-female/female-to-male transexual, just as long as you care for your partner as you should.

Well, that's what I think. As I was saying, if you are offended, then just say so and deal with it. I'd prefer to be told then for anyone to create a huge feud over it. While I have cited my religion, don't hold this as the opinion or belief of everyone of my faith - I'm aware that not everyone shares my opinion, and I am not a credible source.

While you're at it, don't do the same to anyone else. While media has held the beliefs of an Islamic minority to be that of all members, let's not do the same. Thanks.


OK I'm going to talk like I'm talking to my own sisters (I'm a girl) That's how sincere i want to be to convey my point of view clearly.

First to the one who said something about praying five times a day: why so lazy? muslim kids when they are first taught asala, some of them also say the same thing but believe me, once you get used to it, you will never miss not even one prayer and you know what? You will start praying on your own other prayers than the five prayers, which is encouraged. don't you love your god? Pray is "asala" in arabic and came from the verb "sil," which means to connect, so asala is the way to connect to god. i love god so much I'm eager to connect with him and show him my respect and in asala you know you can talk to god about your problems in life and ask him for help and guidance and this relationship would blossom and get tighter and stronger as you get older.

you see kids pray to allah and ask him for candy and new clothes or gifts or to win the race they are participating in and when older those same kids will ask god for their relationship with their partners to get better and their financial problems to be solved.

It has been proved scientifically that prayer is good and healthy for your psychological being, thank god.

Why is it just islam that is accused of terrorism? This just happened in the last 10 years. Before that, no one did and islam has been around for about 1400 years. i wonder what are they thinking? It's all because of the american media and government about 9\11. Oh, why did they do so? I'm guessing to blame someone about their mistake if they didn't make the mistake themselves. *sigh.*

When the european christians invaded north america and killed the natives, not one muslim said that christianity is terrorism and blah, blah. We know better than this, that the acts of people who belong to a certain religion don't always reflect the true self of that religion or organization or company or country. i have a lot to say.

And one more thing I admire about islam is that I've read about many other religions in this world, old and new, and i have friends from different religions but i never found a religion that cared about hygiene more than islam does, whether it's personal or general and public hygiene. For example, ablution and many, many other guidelines for the art of health. Peace.


i am not islamic but it seems that the religion is pretty strict to have to pray five times a day!

I'm sorry and don't mean to offend anyone but what about the women being killed and abused in the middle east? is that part of their religion or are women just born without any rights or people who care about them? Islam says it is against their religion but they do it anyway. Wow, i guess they're real committed to their religion!

peace in the middle east! peace for my dad and all the soldiers in afghanistan! Daddy, I love you.


I like islam and i so thankfully I am muslim. I don't care what other people say about islam, because I know islam is true.


As a Muslim I should clarify some errors in this article:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not force anyone to convert to islam because it is against the islamic rule which is any action done under force has no consideration.

The Prophet (peace be upon him)traveled on caravans two times only (once as a child and the second one as a youth), therefore he had little or no exposure to other religions.

God in Islam and Judaism is Allah and in Aramaic (the language of Jesus (peace be upon him)) is Allah.

the Quran was written in the life of the prophet (peace be upon him) and was compiled in one peace in the era of his successor whose role was 2.5 years only).

The Judiasm holy text is not included in any aspect of islam.

Islam considers Jesus (peace be upon him) as one of the top five prophets of Allah and is considered to be the Masala.

P.S. For ex-muslim, you seem know nothing about islam. There is no 20 percent of your income to give to clerks. That is only in shia which does not represent islam.

We believe that we are on the correct way and if we did sincere good deeds and died in islam (I ask Allah to end my life in islam which no one can guarantee this) we will enter Paradise by the favor of Allah.


This article is lacking an important point. Although you kind of alluded to the fact, it is important to mention that Islam, like Christianity and Judaism is an Abrahamic faith. Additionally, Muslims view Islam as a correction of Christianity and Judaism.


I am a 27 year ex-muslim, and I will tell you: islam is a violent, self-righteous religion. That's all it is folks, a "religion". It teaches young muslims, like the 13 year old who posted here, that all non-muslims are going to hell. It teaches muslims to hate people of other religions. It teaches muslims to think they are superior in every way to christians, jews, sikhs, buddhists.

It teaches children, when they are young and innocent, that they will burn in hell if they don't fast for a month straight or if they don't pray five times a day, or if they don't pay 20 percent of their earnings to clerics who claim they spend the money to help the poor. It's disgusting, and every parent who teaches their children this evil crap is worthless and heartless. All religions are violent and teach people to hate.

And for all the little 13 year old brain washed muslims who will start ranting about what they learned last week in islamic class, look at your own religion. You shias hate sunnis, and you sunnis hate shias. You guys can't even get along within your own religion. And all for something that might have happened 1600 years ago. Incredibly immature.

Same goes for catholics, protestants, episcopalian, blah blah blah.


yep! Islam has 5 major pillars! I am a 13 year old muslim and i know a lot about Islam if you ever need help on something. look at 9/11. The government did that evil act. Not us muslims!

The peeps who they said had killed themselves on the plane when they smashed into the world trade center are still alive and they actually made a video or something saying,

"Hey! We are still alive! We didn't do it because if we did we would be dead!" The government did the act on 9/11 and then blamed it on innocent peeps!


Mohammad did not attempt to "win converts by force" in Medina, he simply retaliated when they betrayed him to the Mekkans after signing an agreement to cooperate.


Did Muhammad advocate the killing of non muslims?

If not who are the prime movers of terrorism?

If Muhammad did not advocate killing of non muslims then are those that do heretics?


"Islam and Judaism have had a contentious religion ever since Muhammad attempted to win converts by force in the city of Medina." this is incorrect. fact is the jews living in medina were not asked to convert at all. they were merely asked, as part of the community, to sign an agreement between all parties of the community that if attacked they would all defend from an invasion. they agreed and signed it. unfortunately they betrayed their own oaths and went to inform the enemy and invite them to attack.


The first pillar of Islam is "There is no God byt Allah (SWA) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is his messenger." The second pillar is the practice of the 5 daily prayers.

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