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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.