|The word Islam has
roots in ancient words meaning peace, security, and
allegiance to God. The faith of Islam was introduced into the world by the
Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad was dissatisfied with the nature of the religions he
encountered on his travels as a young man. He spent long periods in isolation, praying and
meditating. In 610CE (Christian Era) the will of Allah (God) was revealed to him by the
angel Jibreel (Gabriel) in what is now the Holy City of Mecca. These revelations are
recorded in the verses of the Quran, or Koran. In 622CE, following increasing
persecution by unbelievers, he travelled to the Arab city of Medina. Through a combination
of negotiation and military success Muhammad became the most powerful leader in the Arab
world. Within 100 years of Muhammads death in 632CE, the message of Islam had spread
from the Atlantic coast in the west to the borders of China in the east.
There are five basic pillars of Islam:
- There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is
- Prayers must be said five times a day,
while facing towards Mecca;
- A Muslim must give generously to the needy;
- Believers must fast during Ramadan, the 9th
month of the Islamic year;
- Believers must try to make at least one
pilgrimage to Mecca.
Besides the Quran, Islamic law and
custom are contained in a body of tradition called the hadith and in the legal code
of Sharia. Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are generally regarded as earlier
prophets in a line that ends with Muhammad. Islamic law forbids gambling, alcohol, the use
of illegal substances, and eating pork and other unclean foods. Modesty in the
style of clothes, particularly for women, is also important in Islamic tradition.
There are two main branches of Islam.
Sunni Muslims make up some 90 per cent of believers. Broadly speaking, Sunni Muslims have
historically adapted to life alongside a range of other cultures, while maintaining
allegiance to the Quran and the Hadith. The second main branch consists of
Shiite Muslims. Shiites are led by clerics (religious scholars) called Imams,
who generally believe in keeping Islamic culture sealed from all outside influences and
cultures. Some Berber groups practise a form of folk Islam, involving the
worship of saint-figures.
The number of Muslims
in the world today is estimated at over one billion, making
it the second largest world religion after Christianity,
and the number of believers is growing. As with all major
religions, friction between opposing schools of thought
and political groupings can lead to violent conflict. This is the case in Algeria