Muslims are followers of Islam. One of the three major monotheistic religions in the world, Islam calls for complete acceptance of and submission to the teachings and guidance of God. Anyone may become a Muslim, regardless of gender, race, or nationality, by reciting a declaration of faith and embracing a lifestyle in accord with Islamic principles. Specific acts, including fasting, daily prayer, and the pilgrimage to Mecca, are considered the pillars of Muslim spiritual life.

There are an estimated 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. They live in every world region and belong to many different cultures and ethnic groups. The 10 countries with the largest Muslim populations, in descending order, are Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria, and China. Of these, only Egypt is an Arab country, and despite the stereotypes, only 193 million of the world’s Muslims—15 to 18 percent of the total—are Arabs.

Islam is a system of religious beliefs and an all-encompassing way of life. The word Islam comes from the word salaam, which means submission or peace. Muslims believe that God (Allah) revealed to the Prophet Prophet Mohammad the rules governing society and the proper conduct of society's members. It is incumbent on the individual therefore to live in a manner prescribed by the revealed law and on the community to build the perfect human society on earth according to holy injunctions. Islam recognizes no distinctions between church and state. The distinction between religious and secular law is a recent development that reflects the more pronounced role of the state in society, and Western economic and cultural penetration. The impact of religion on daily life in Muslim countries is far greater than that found in the West since the Middle Ages.

The duties of Muslims form the five pillars of Islam, which set forth the acts necessary to demonstrate and reinforce the faith. These are the recitation of the Shahada ("There is no God but God and Prophet Mohammad is his prophet"), daily prayer (Salat), almsgiving (Zakat), fasting (Sawm), and pilgrimage (Hajj).

The believer is to pray in a prescribed manner after purification through ritual ablutions each day at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites facing toward Mecca. Whenever possible men pray in congregation at the mosque with an imam, and on Fridays make a special effort to do so. The Friday noon prayers provide the occasion for weekly sermons by religious leaders. Women may also attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from the men, although most frequently women pray at home. A special functionary, the muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the appropriate hour. Those out of earshot determine the time by the sun. The Aazan (Arabic for announcement) is the call or summons to public prayers proclaimed by the Muezzmn (crier) from the mosque twice daily in all Muslim countries. In small mosques the Muezzin at Azan stands at the door or at the side of the building; in large ones he takes up his position in the minaret.

The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of obligatory fasting in commemoration of Prophet Mohammad's receipt of God's revelation. Throughout the month all but the sick and weak, pregnant or lactating women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual intercourse during the daylight hours. Those adults excused are obliged to endure an equivalent fast at their earliest opportunity. A festive meal breaks the daily fast and inaugurates a night of feasting and celebration. The pious well-to-do usually do little or no work during this period, and some businesses close for all or part of the day. Since the months of the lunar year revolve through the solar year, Ramadan falls at various seasons in different years. A considerable test of discipline at any time of the year, a fast that falls in summer time imposes severe hardship on those who must do physical work.

All Muslims, at least once in their lifetime, should make the hajj to Mecca to participate in special rites held there during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. Prophet Mohammad instituted this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom, to emphasize sites associated with God and Abraham (Hadrat Ibrahim), founder of monotheism and father of the Arabs through his son Hadrat Ismail.

The lesser pillars of the faith, which all Muslims share, are jihad, or the crusade to protect Islamic lands, beliefs, and institutions; and the requirement to do good works and to avoid all evil thoughts, words, and deeds. In addition, Muslims agree on certain basic principles of faith based on the teachings of the Prophet Prophet Mohammad: there is one God, who is a unitary divine being in contrast to the Trinitarian belief of Christians; Prophet Mohammad, the last of a line of prophets beginning with Abraham and including Moses (Hadrat Musa) and Jesus (Hadrat Isa), was chosen by God to present His message to humanity; and there is a general resurrection on the last or judgment day.

The Muslim year has two religious festivals--Id al Adha, a sacrificial festival on the tenth of Dhu al Hijjah, the twelfth month; and Id al Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast, which celebrates the end of Ramadan on the first of Shawwal, the tenth month. To Sunnis these are the most important festivals of the year. Each lasts three or four days, during which people put on their best clothes, visit, congratulate, and bestow gifts on each other. In addition, cemeteries are visited. Id al Fitr is celebrated more joyfully, as it marks the end of the hardships of Ramadan. Celebrations also take place, though less extensively, on the Prophet's birthday, which falls on the twelfth of Rabi al Awwal, the third month, and on the first of Muharram, the beginning of the new year.


During his lifetime, Prophet Mohammad held both spiritual and temporal leadership of the Muslim community. Religious and secular law merged, and all Muslims have traditionally been subject to sharia, or religious law. A comprehensive legal system, sharia developed gradually through the first four centuries of Islam, primarily through the accretion of precedent and interpretation by various judges and scholars. During the tenth century, legal opinion began to harden into authoritative rulings, and the figurative bab al ijtihad (gate of interpretation) closed. Thereafter, rather than encouraging flexibility, Islamic law emphasized maintenance of the status quo.

The word “Islam” means “submission.” A “Muslim,” therefore, is one who submits to the will of God. Shariah, frequently translated as “Islamic law,” is neither a document nor a code in the strict sense, but rather an amalgamation of scriptural (Quranic) injunctions, sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, juridical rulings, and legal commentaries dealing with all aspects of social, economic and political life, similar to Jewish Halakhic law.

Islam, like Judaism, is a religion of laws – it is the legal code, not a theology, which establishes the criteria of right and wrong, proper and improper behavior. Like Halakhah, Shari’a is believed to be ordained by God and its scope to be total, ranging from the loftiest ideals to the minutiae of daily life. Even the words Halakhah and Shariah, have similar meanings and may be translated as the “path” or “road” to righteousness.

In its ideal form, Shariah ensures the rights of all in an Islamic state. Fiqh is Islamic jurisprudence; it forms the basis of Shariah and is a process of ongoing interpretation. Thus it is neither static nor monolithic, and may take different forms in different countries or from one period of history to another. A classic text on Shariah, by the fourteenth-century scholar, Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, deals with a wide range of subjects, including purity of heart, fasting, divorce, backbiting, crimes, and rules of warfare.

The hudud can be characterized as the Islamic “penal code” prescribed by Shariah. The rules of hudud identify punishable crimes, the types of witnesses needed to convict someone of a crime, and the punishments for various crimes.

Islam has no basic concept of inalienable rights and does not permit the individual to enjoy the freedoms of action and association characteristic of a democracy. In Islamic states, where there is no formally recognized separation between religion and law, mosque and state, Shari‘a is enshrined and presented (if not always consistently implemented) as the final and ultimate formulation of the law of God, not to be revised or reformulated by mere mortal and fallible human beings. In Egypt, Algeria, and Palestine, the Shari‘a is virtually ignored as a guide to specific legislation or government policy on many vital issues. The remaining Muslim countries, which adopted Western-style legal and political systems under colonial tutelage, enshrine Islamic law in their codes and constitutions to various degrees. These nations range from Pakistan, with its intense political agitation over the interpretation and implementation of Shari‘a, to Indonesia, a self-proclaimed secular nation that is the home to more than 180 million Muslims.

Takfir -- the condemnation of a Muslim by another Muslim as a kafir (i.e., disbelievers outside the pale of Islam) -- is strictly prohibited in the Quran, the Hadith, and the writings of many eminent Muslim authorities. But fatwas of apostasy and heresy as well as kufr within the Muslim ummah are neither few nor far in between.

After Prophet Mohammad's death the leaders of the Muslim community consensually chose Hadrat Abu Bakr, the Prophet's father-in-law and one of his earliest followers, to succeed him. At that time some persons favored Hadrat Ali, Prophet Mohammad's cousin and the husband of his daughter Fatima, but Ali and his supporters (the Shia Ali, or Party of Ali) eventually recognized the community's choice. The next two caliphs (successors)--Hadrat Umar, who succeeded in A.D.634, and Hadrat Usman, who took power in A.D.644--enjoyed the recognition of the entire community. When Ali finally succeeded to the caliphate in A.D.656, Muawiyah, governor of Syria, rebelled in the name of his murdered kinsman Uthman. After the ensuing civil war, Ali moved his capital to Iraq, where he was murdered shortly there after.

Hadrat Ali's death ended the last of the so-called four orthodox caliphates and the period in which the entire community of Islam recognized a single caliph. Muawiyah proclaimed himself caliph from Damascus. The Shia Ali refused to recognize him or his line, the Umayyad caliphs, and withdrew in the first great schism to establish the dissident sect, known as the Shias, supporting the claims of Ali's line to the caliphate based on descent from the Prophet. The larger faction, the Sunnis, adhered to the position that the caliph must be elected, and over the centuries they have represented themselves as the orthodox branch.

There Ghulat or extremist are those who went to extremes in exalting a person or persons to the extent of raising him or them above the ranks of ordinary human beings. These ghlat sect are mostly extremeist Shia Ismaili sects. While Bahai and Ahmadi have left Islam as they follow latter day religious leaders.



  Page last updated: Friday, July 11, 2008 16:40:13 -0400