Photographer : bLooPhynix
A Muslim, by literal translation, is ‘one who submits to the will of God’. Muslims, those who follow the teachings of Islam, make up 21% of the world population (about 1.3 billion people). Such a big following makes Islam the world’s second largest religion, after Christianity.
Muslims live on every continent on earth (except Antarctica, of course). Many non-Muslims believe that all Muslims live in the Middle East, but Arabs actually make up only 18% of the entire Muslim population.
There are 213 million Muslims living in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on Earth. Muslims make up about 1.5% of the Australian population.
In the Beginning…
Muslims believe that Islam began as a religion in 622 CE, when the Prophet Muhammad was given a revelation by the angel Jibril (Gabriel in English). The revelation took place in Mecca, a city located in present-day Saudi Arabia. Today Mecca is the religious centre of Islam, and its holiest city.
What’s Islam all about, anyway?
The word ‘Islam’ means ‘peace’, or more literally, ‘submission to God’, so many of its teachings are centred on this idea. The will of God, or Allah, is final and supreme, and humans must not interfere.
This idea is reflected in the prohibition of suicide and missionary work. Humans cannot take their own lives because life and death are at the mercy of Allah. Muslims are also forbidden from recruiting others to their religion, because becoming a Muslim is also the will of Allah.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last and greatest of all of Allah’s prophets. They acknowledge that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus of Nazareth were also prophets of Allah, but Muhammad’s teachings are ultimate.
Muhammad was not only a prophet. Soon after he began preaching Islam, he became the head of an empire, called the Caliphate
. This is why there is very little separation of religion and government in Middle Eastern Islamic countries.
Muslims predominately follow the teachings written in two holy texts: the Qur’an
and the Hadith
. The Qur’an is believed to be the words of Allah as revealed to Muhammad through the angel Jibril. The Hadith is a collection of sayings by Muhammad. The sayings are seen as an example of how to live a good and fulfilling life through Allah.
The Five Pillars
At the core of Islam are the five pillars of faith—five acts that Muslims are, in theory, required to perform. However, as is true in many religions, there are some people who practise these more strictly than others. The five pillars are:
- Shahadah: a statement of belief that a Muslim must recite at least once in his or her life. Most Muslims recite it at least once daily.
- Salat: daily prayers that Muslims are required to recite. Everyday, Muslims face Mecca five times a day to pray—once at sunrise, noon, before sunset, at sunset and before bed.
- Zakat: to give to charity.
- Ramadan: the holy month of Islam in which it is believed that Muhammad received his first revelation. Muslims must fast during this month.
- Hajj: a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city of Islam. Muslims are only required to perform the hajj once, and only if they are physically and financially able.
Just like many other religions, Islam has different schools of teaching.
About 90% of Muslims are Sunni
. Sunni Muslims are the most “mainstream” of the sects. Many of these Muslims live in secular societies throughout the world.
The remaining 10% of Muslims are Shi’ites
. These Muslims split with the mainstream over who should be Muhammad’s successor of the Caliphate. They follow a much stricter and more literal interpretation of the Qur’an.
Both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims can practice Sufism
. Sufism is a mystic Islamic tradition that seeks inner knowledge of Allah through meditation and dance. Many in the Middle East consider Sufism to be a separate sect, but in other regions of the world, it is simple seen as another approach to prayer.
What you thought you knew about Islam
Many non-Muslims have misconceptions about Islam. So, for the record:
- The Qur’an does not condone violence.
- Under Islam, suicide (and suicide bombing, for that matter) is forbidden.
- The Qur’an does not condone the oppression of women.
But maybe the term most misunderstood by non-Muslims is jihad
. Jihad means ‘stuggle’, not ‘holy war’, as many non-Muslims believe. Lesser jihad
is the struggle to defend Islam from aggressive non-Muslims. What is more important to most Muslims, though, is the greater jihad. Greater jihad
is the inner struggle between good and evil that each Muslim must face.
How do I know this?
Adherents.com, Major religions ranked by size
Akhter, Javeed. Does Islam Promote Violence? Quoting the Qur’an witout Context
CIA, The World Factbook: Australia
ReligiousTolerance.org, Introduction to Islam
TheModernReligion.com, Myths about Islam http://www.themodernreligion.com/basic/islam_myths.htm
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Islam by Country