Islam is not just a religion, it is a culture or way of life for those who ascribe to it. There are many misconceptions about Islam -- especially in light of the the hyperbole and rhetoric surrounding the conflicts in the middle east.
Islam means 'submission to God', or just 'Submission'. It is a monotheistic faith that has evolved from the same roots as Christianity and Judaism. Islam shares the Old Testament with both of those religions, but separated from them with the revelations of Mohammad, whom they believe to be God's (Allah's) last prophet. The written revelation of that prophesy is the Quran. Muslims (followers of Islam) believe that Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are all prophets.
They see Christianity and Judaism as derivations of the teachings of these prophets, and as such are considered true believers, or People of the Book. Unlike the other two religions, Islam has not had a reformation (ie, liberalization) of their belief system, although that is the goal of many sects within Islam.
The basis of Islam is found in the statement "There is no God but God; Mohammed is his prophet" This is one of the six basic beliefs shared by all muslims, regardless of their sect.
- Belief in Allah, the one and only god worthy of worship. This is the God of Abraham, the god of the old testament, and the god of Christianity and Judaism.
- Belief in the Angels
- Belief in the books sent by god (the Old Testament and the Quran
- Belief in all the prophets and messengers sent by god (Adam, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, etc)
- Belief in the day of Judgment and the resurrection
- Belief in Fate.
Nearly everyone has heard of the five pillars of Islam, which are shared by all muslims. However, the Shia sect of islam believes that there are many other strictures to be followed and the five pillars are only the most important of them.
- The testimony that there is one God and Mohammad is his prophet.
- The act of praying five times a day in the proscribed manner
- The act of giving (zakaah), charity to the poor.
- Fasting from dawn to dusk in Ramadan
- The pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca, which is mandatory once during the lifetime of each muslim.
Sects of Islam
THere are three major sects of Islam -- Shia, Sunni, and Sufi. Sunnis are the largest sect, and the Sufi are often considered a small sub-sect of the others.
Sunnis are broken into four schools, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi and Hanbali. Each school differs on minor issues, although they all believe the same pillars of Islam and six statements of belief.