Islam is a monotheistic religion, meaning those who practice the faith believe in one primary deity. The Islamic deity is called Allah and those who practice believe that life's purpose is to serve and please Allah. Those who practice Islam are known as Muslims.

Muslims obtain all teachings from the Quran, which is believed by Muslims to be the verbatim word of Allah. The Quran provides all commandments and teachings necessary to practice the faith, including obligatory acts of worship and laws that must be followed. Some Islam sects also follow the Hadith, which is a record of Muhammad's deeds.

Muslims are found in almost every country around the world, making Islam the second-largest religion in the world. It is also one of the fastest growing religions. A quarter of Muslims live in South Asia with an additional 20 percent living in the Middle East. Indonesia and Africa also have a relatively large population of Muslims.

Islamic Denominations

Sunni Islam

There are several denominations of the Islam religion, but the largest two are Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sunni Islam is practiced by 75 percent to 90 percent of Muslims worldwide. Those who practice Sunni Islam are known as Ahl as-Sunnah. Sunnis believe that no successor was appointed by Muhammad and therefore must be elected by the Muslim community. Any righteous person may be elected as a caliph, or successor, as long as he follows the Quran and Hadith.

The primary sources for all matters are the Quran and the Hadith. However, Sunnis believe in four schools of thought that may be followed in order to discern proper action for matters not covered in the Quran or Hadith. These schools of thought include the Hanafi, the Hanbali, the Maliki and the Shafi'i. Sunnis can choose from any of the schools of thought as all are viewed as valid.

Shia Islam

The second largest Islamic sect is the Shia. Approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of Muslims follow the Shia teachings. Unlike the Sunnis, Shia believe that Muhammad himself appointed Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib, as successor. The first three caliphs of the Sunni sect, Abu Bakr, Uthman ibn al-Affan and Umar ibn al-Khattab, are seen as false caliphs.

Several subgroups exist among the Shia, including the Twelvers, the Zaidis and the Ismailis. The Twelvers and Ismailis disagreed on the seventh Imam, with Twelvers believing that Jafar al-Sadiq's successor was his son Musa al-Kazim while Ismailis believe the successor was Jafar al-Saquid's other son Ismail ibn Jafar. Zaydis believed the fifth Imam was Jafar al-Sadiq's uncle Zayd ibn Ali. The Shia branches often refer to the other Shia branches as extremists.

Additional Sects

In addition to the Shia and Sunnis, several minor Islam sects exist. The Sufism sect focuses on direct, personal and spiritual experiences of Allah. Ahmadiyya followers practice an Islamic reform movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Quranists reject the teachings of the Hadith. In addition, the Nation of Islam, Five-Percent Nation, Moorish scientists, Mahdavia, Yazdanism and Ibadi also make up a small minority of Islam sects. Finally, there are non-denominational Muslims who do not affiliate with any particular sect.

Six Fundamentals of Belief

Six articles of faith are fundamental to the practice of the Islam religion. Most Muslims believe in Allah and the angels. In addition, many believe that the Quran is the infallible and verbatim word of Allah. Muslims believe in the prophets of Allah. Finally, Muslims believe in judgment day, resurrection of the body and predestination.

Belief in Allah

The most central tenet of the Islamic faith is the concept of tawhid, or a firm belief in monotheism. Monotheism refers to a single central deity. In the Islamic religion, that deity is called Allah. To Muslims, the concept of Allah is so big and beyond comprehension that Allah cannot be visualized. Muslims also reject the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity, likening the worship of God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit to polytheism.

The Islamic faith teaches that Allah created all things by his own command. The relationship between Allah and followers is close, personal and reciprocal. Muslims believe that Allah is a personal god able to respond to all in need.

According to the Islamic tradition, the sole purpose for one's existence is to serve Allah. Serving Allah can happen through worship, prayer, following the commandments set forth in the Quran and serving others.

Muslims believe in the doctrine referred to as the 99 Names of God. The precept of this belief is that Allah is so big and inconceivable that no one word or phrase can fully describe him. Each name refers to a characteristic of Allah, including The Exceedingly Compassionate, The Exceedingly Merciful, The Believer, The Controller, The Bestower, The Provider and The Creator.

Belief in the Angels

Muslims believe in malak, or angels that act as messengers from Allah. Angels do not have free will and follow God with total and unfailing obedience. They are able to communicate Allah's revelations, recording the personal actions of living beings, and taking the soul of a person upon death. They can also issue tests to believers, including curing significant illnesses and granting wealth.

According to Islamic tradition, angels are made of light. While angels cannot be seen in their traditional form, they may take on the appearance of humans at times. There is no hierarchy, and all angels perform similar duties. Because all angels also have unfailing obedience to Allah, there are no fallen angels or Satan in the Islamic faith. However, there is a form of Hell, called Jahannam, which is guarded by 19 angels who have the duty to torment sinful individuals following death.

Belief in the Revelations of the Quran


A fundamental Islamic believe is that the Quran contains the verbatim word of Allah, as well as all of Allah's teachings and revelations. The Quran is believed by Muslims to be the final revelation of Allah, while Muslims believe the Torah and Gospels to be distorted and incorrect.

The Quran contains 114 chapters, known as suras. These suras have 6,236 verses called ayat. Muslims believe that the words contained in those verses were revealed in their entirety to Muhammad through the angel Jibril. The revelations began when Muhammad was 40 and continued for 23 years until Muhammad's death.

Some Muslims have memorized the full Quran and are known as hafiz. Most other Muslims recite the Quran while praying during Ramadan.

While many believe that the Quran cannot be translated accurately into any language outside of the original Arabic, there are Asian, European and African translations. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have written translations of the Quran. However, many debates continue over whether these translations are permitted and valid for use in prayer.

Belief in Allah's Prophets

The belief in the anbiya, or Prophets of Allah, is central to the Islamic faith. Prophets are believed to be humans chosen by Allah to be messengers. Unlike angels, prophets are not divine. Some of the prophets are believed to be Abraham, Noah, Adam, Moses and Jesus. The final prophet was Muhammad. Muhammad was sent to finalize and announce the word of Allah. Muhammad's actions were recorded in the Hadith rather than the Quran as the Quran is viewed as the word of Allah. The Hadith is used as a guide on Muhammad's actions and deeds, which should be emulated by Muslims.

Belief in Judgement Day and the Resurrection

Similar to Christianity, the Islamic religion teaches about the existence of a judgement day and of the Resurrection of the body upon death. The Day of Resurrection is known as the Yawm al-Qiyamah in Arabic. This day is predetermined by Allah but is not known by any man. Muslims believe that on the day of the Yawm al-Qiyamah, all people will be judged on both good and bad deeds done throughout their lifetime. Those deeds that are bad, including dishonesty, witchcraft, murder, stealing from orphans and retreating from battle, are punishable by torture in Jahannam unless the individual has repented. Good deeds, such as committed prayer, acts of charity and compassion toward the poor and animals, can result in entrance into the paradise of Jannah.

Belief in Predestination

The belief in predestination is known as al-quada wal-qadar in Arabic and means that Allah knows and controls everything that happens in the world. All of the world's good and evil is known by Allah and is permitted to happen. While man is given free will to choose between good and evil, Allah knows what choice will be made. Even though the choice is known by Allah ahead of time, because man has chosen a particular action, he is responsible for the consequences of that action.

In accordance with the concept of al-qada wal-qadar, everything that is predestined is recorded by Allah in the al-Lawh al-Mahfuz, which is also known as the “preserved tablet.” Nothing is permitted to happen in the world that has not already been recorded according to the Muslim tradition.

Five Pillars of Islam

In the Islamic faith, there are five practices that all believers are obligated to follow as a sign of faithfulness and commitment. These practices are called the Pillars of Islam. The Pillars include reciting the Shahadah, saying daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, making a pilgrimage to Mecca and alms-giving. These acts are based on teachings for the Quran and both the Sunni and Shia follow the Five Pillars.

Reciting the Shahadah

In the Islam faith, every believer and convert must recite the Shahadah under oath. This creed is recited as part of the process to convert to the faith. The conversion requires three recitations of the Shahadah in the presence of an Imaam and witnesses. In addition, all believers recite the Shahadah during daily prayers. This creed forms the very foundation of the faith and without a firm believe in the words of the Shahadah, one cannot properly practice the faith. The text of the Shahadah is “'ašhadu 'al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa 'ašhadu 'anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh.” The English translation of this creed is “I testify there are no deities other than God alone and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”

Several conditions must be present before the recitation of the Shahadah is valid. One must have a knowledge of what the Shahadah means with perfect knowledge and without doubt. The recitation must be sincere, truthful and be recited with love and happiness for the Shahadah. The reciter must accept the text of the Shahadah and commit to the requirements of the faith.

The second half of the Shahadah has several criteria as well. First, the reciter must believe in Muhammad and his teachings, commit to obey those teachings and avoid forbidden practices and behaviors. Muslims must seek to follow Muhammad and his teachings without causing harm to others.

Daily Prayers

Muslims must say daily ritual prayers, also known as the Salat. The Salat is recited five times a day in the Arabic language. Prior to saying the Salat, Muslims must perform ablution, or wudu. While the various Islamic traditions have slightly different rituals for the wudu, common features involve the practitioner washing his or her face once, washing both arms and elbows once, washing both feet up to the ankles and washing a part of the head. This ritual purification also typically involves offering prayers. The wudu is intended to purify the individual and prepare him or her for daily prayers.

In order for the Salat to be valid, the worshiper must be facing the Qibla, or the direction toward the Kaaba in Mecca. Men must be covered from the abdomen to the knees. Women must cover their entire bodies except for the face and hands. Clothes, one's body and the prayer area must be clean. In most cases, Salat should be performed in front of a sutra, which is a small screen or barrier between the person praying and anyone walking by.

The prayers are required for all practicing Muslims, with the exception of children under age 10, pregnant and breastfeeding women, those with disabilities, women who are menstruating, and those who are frail, elderly or gravely ill. Women who are menstruating or losing blood following childbirth, as well as any person who is losing blood, are forbidden from praying the Salat until bleeding has ceased.

Fasting during Ramadan

During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims are obligated to fast from dawn to dusk each day. This fasting is known as sawm. While obligatory during Ramadan, sawm can also be performed throughout the year. Sawm is designed to allow Muslims to express gratitude to Allah, think of those less fortunate and atone for sins.

During fasting, eating food, drinking or engaging in sexual intercourse is forbidden from dawn to dusk. In addition, Muslims must not use swear words, argue, fight or have lustful thoughts. Engaging in any of these behaviors renders the fast invalid.

If one accidentally breaks the fast, the individual must immediately begin fasting again for the remainder of the day. If the fast is purposefully broken by consuming food, drinking or engaging in sexual intercourse, there is a series of consequences that must be fulfilled if the fast was required as part of Ramadan. There are no consequences for breaking a voluntary fast. The consequences for breaking a required fast are as follows:

  • Free a slave
  • If it is not possible, one should fast for two consecutive lunar months.
  • If freeing a slave or fasting for two months is not possible, the individual is required to feed or clothe 60 less fortunate people.

Muslims are permitted to consume two meals a day during their fast: The suhoor and the ilfar. The suhoor is a predawn meal consumed before dawn and morning prayers. Ilfar is consumed after sunset. The ilfar begins with dates and water before Muslims pray the Salat-ul-Maghrib and continues with a full meal following the recitation of prayers.

Those who are sick, traveling or nursing an infant are exempt from fasting, but the missed fasts must be made up before the next month of Ramadan. The elderly, diabetics and pregnant women are exempt from fasting and are required to pay a fidyah instead. Those unable to fast can provide a meal for an individual in poverty for each day of the fast that was missed. Menstruating women are not permitted to fast while bleeding. However, once the bleeding has stopped, fasting can continue. Any days missed due to menstruation must be made up before the next month of Ramadan.

Pilgrimage to Mecca


Jajj is the Arabic term for the required pilgrimage every able-bodied Muslim must make to the city of Mecca. This trip must be made during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah and must be made at least once during one's lifetime.

During the Hajj, males should be dressed in two sheets of unhemmed cloth called an Ihram. Women must wear a hijab to cover all of the body except for the hands and face. No pilgrim is permitted to shave, wear perfume, engage in sexual acts, clip nails, get married, carry weapons or wear boots while wearing an Ihram. These requirements are designed to demonstrate equality of all pilgrims regardless of social status or wealth.

Upon arriving in Mecca, pilgrims dress in Ihram clothing and then head toward the town of Mina. Once the Kaaba is reached, all pilgrims perform the first Tawaf by walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Kaaba. The pilgrims either kiss the Black Stone or point toward it with the right hand during each circle. At the end of the circuit, the pilgrim must recite the words “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik, La Shareek Laka, Labbaik. Innal Hamdah, Wan Nematah, Laka wal Mulk, La Shareek Laka” which means, “Here I am at Thy service O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Thy service and Thou hast no partners. Thine alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Thine alone is The Sovereignty. Thou hast no partners.” At the end of the seven circles, two Rakaat prayers are offered at the Muqaam Ibrahim, or Place of Abraham.

Following the ritual at Kaaba and the Rakat prayers, pilgrims must run or walk seven times between Safa and Marwah to reenact the wife of Abraham's search for water for her son Ishmael. Pilgrims also drink from the Zamzam Well, which is the same well revealed to Abraham's wife by an angel. Following this ritual, pilgrims are permitted to return to a tent for the night.

The next morning, all pilgrims head to Mina to spend the night in Mina praying. The following day, pilgrims go to Mt. Arafat for a vigil, prayer and recitation of the Quran. It is required that all pilgrims remain on Mount Arafat until sunset. After sunset, they may leave for Muzdalifah where they can sleep on the ground. The next day, pebbles must be gathered for the Ramy al-Jamarat. Once the pilgrims have returned to Mina, the stones are thrown during the Ramy al-Jamarat to symbolize defying the devil.

Following the Ramy al-Jamarat, animals are slaughtered by the pilgrims or by a butcher who slaughters an animal in the name of a pilgrim. The meat from the slaughtering is given to poverty-stricken individuals around the world.

The next day, pilgrims return to Mecca to walk around the Kaaba again before heading back to Mina where seven more pebbles are thrown. The pilgrims then return to Mecca for farewell rituals. The pilgrimage is then ended, although some choose to visit Muhammad's tomb.


Zakat is the Arabic term for alms-giving. This obligatory act requires tithing a fixed portion of wealth to help the poor, needy, imprisoned, stranded or in debt. The required amount of the zakat for monetary wealth is 2.5 percent. Metals, minerals, crops and livestock have a zakat rate of between 2.5 percent and 20 percent.

In addition to the obligatory zakat, Muslims can give voluntarily. This form of alms-giving is called the sadaqah and involves giving out of love, generosity and compassion. There is no set amount for a sadaqah but Muslims believe that giving voluntarily can help extinguish sin and please Allah.

Laws of Islam

Muhammad's life and teachings make up the Islamic jurisprudence. These sets of laws are obligatory for all Muslims. The laws are found in the Quran and cover nearly all areas of life, from economic and political areas to etiquette and hygiene. Some of the laws, such as theft, robbery, illegal sexual intercourse, alcohol consumption and blasphemy may be punishable through the Islamic legal system. Some of these punishments include stoning, crucifixion, amputation and flogging. With the exception of flogging and stoning, these forms of punishments are no longer used. Flogging and stoning are still written into the code of law, but are rarely ever used.


Muslim etiquette laws cover most social norms and standards. Clothing requirements for men and women are covered under the etiquette laws. In addition, etiquette laws cover standards for greeting others, including women and children. All young are instructed to offer greetings to the elderly and small groups should greet larger groups. In order to enter a residence, permission must be asked for three times. There is also a large emphasis placed on peacemaking and shaking hands in order to heal quarrels and prevent arguments and harm to others.


Islamic jurisprudence states that marriage is both a legal and social contract between men and women. Marriage is designed to be permanent but can be dissolved under certain conditions. Interfaith marriages are permitted if the male is Muslim and the female belongs to the Jewish, Christian or Sabian faith. The woman is not required to convert to the Islam religion but must have an understanding of her own faith and faithfully practice that faith.

There are several important restrictions on marriage in the Islamic traditions. While polygamy is permitted as long as the first wife gives permission, the practice of polyandry is forbidden. Marriage cannot happen until both parties reach the age of puberty. Same-sex marriage is not permitted.

Prior to the marriage, the groom must give a gift of money, a house or a viable business directly to the bride for her own use. The two parties then develop a legally binding contract and if any part of the contract is broken, divorce is permissible. Because marriage requires the signing of a contract, both parties must be of a high enough maturity level to understand the contract.


According to Islamic sexuality jurisprudence, sexual intercourse is only allowed within a marriage. Extramarital and premarital intercourse is strictly forbidden. In addition, same-sex intercourse is not permitted.

Within a marriage, intercourse can happen at any time except periods of fasting and during a woman's menstruation. Intimate touching and being close to the spouse is permitted and encouraged during these times. No sexual encounter may include illicit means or anal sex as well.


Personal hygiene is one of the most important areas of law for Muslims. During ritual prayer, personal cleanliness is extremely important. Shoes are removed upon entering a home or mosque. In addition, no urine is permitted to be on the body during prayer, a law that typically requires males to be circumcised. While using the toilet, many Muslims pray for forgiveness. Following use of the toilet, Muslims are encouraged to wash with water to keep the body purified. In addition, menstruating women are forbidden from prayer and fasting and may not engage in sexual intercourse as well.

Islamic hygiene laws also include dietary restrictions. Lawful foods are called halal and unlawful foods are haram. Unlawful foods include the meat of swine, blood products, meat from animals that die of natural causes and meat slaughtered as part of any religious ritual not tied to Allah. In addition, alcohol is strictly forbidden. All lawful meats must be labelled as halal, indicating that it has met strict slaughtering and processing standards.


Islamic economic laws include all financial matters including trading, distributing wealth to the poor and the zakat. The economic laws differentiate between public property, state property and private property. Public property includes all natural resources that can be used by all people. State property includes those natural resources and property that can't be privatized but isn't accessible to all citizens. This includes unoccupied land and unclaimed land. Private property includes any land, possessions and wealth that are legally obtained and are owned by one person or a small group of people. Muslims are encouraged not to hoard private property and if private property causes harm to others, the property can become state property.

History of the Faith

The written history of the Islamic faith dates back to the year 610 CE, although technically, Islamic history begins with the creation of the earth and man by Allah. Muslims have enjoyed a long history although Muslim people have also faced persecution and hardship. In recent times, terrorism by Muslim extremists has resulted in the increased persecution of peaceful Muslims.

Muhammad and Islam's Beginnings

The history of the Islamic religion began in the year 610 CE when the final prophet, Muhammad, began receiving revelations at age 40 that he believed were from Allah. Muhammad claimed that the revelations were delivered by the archangel Jibril, who is also known as Gabriel in the Christian tradition. For 22 years, Muhammad received these revelations and recorded them in a document now known as the Quran.

Prior to Muhammad preaching about his revelations, the majority of people in his city were practicing polytheism. While some converted to Islam upon hearing Muhammad's teachings, Muhammad and his followers were heavily persecuted. After 12 years of persecution, Muhammad left for the city of Medina. This migration formed the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Here, Muhammad was able to form the Constitution of Medina, which brought together Muslims, Christians, Jewish and pagans. Medina became a sacred place where violence and weapons were strictly prohibited.

Within 10 years of entering Medina, Muhammad had earned the trust of many followers. This allowed him to return to his home city of Mecca and conquer it. He was able to remain here until his death in 632.

Civil War and the Caliphate

Following Muhammad's death, there began to be great discord among Muslims. Abu Bakr, who was a friend of Muhammad, was named the first caliph. However, the Sunnis and Shias disagreed on whether Abu Bakr was truly named as the successor by Muhammad. Only two years later, Abu Bakr died and Umar ibn al-Khattab became the successor. The next successors, according to some Islamic traditions, included Uthman ibn al-Affan, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Hasan ibn Ali. These original caliphs helped to expand Muslim rule into both the Persian and Byzantine empires.

The Islamic sects fought in civil wars due to the extreme discord over the succession of the caliphs. The Sunnis agreed with the previous succession while the Shias believed that Ali ibn Abi Talib was the only rightful successor to Muhammad.

Abbasid Era

The period between 750 and 1258 was known as the Abbasid Era or the Islamic Golden Age. It was during this time that public hospitals were established, physicians earned diplomas and licensing and the modern scientific method was developed. The Muslim institution known as the University of Al-Karaouine was founded in 859 and became the world's first degree-granting university. Islamic knowledge and influence was rapidly increasing and spreading.

Early Modern History

After the Islamic Golden Age, the Islam religion had spread into Africa, central Asia and the Malay Archipelago. It had now entered Europe and China as well. However, by the 1800s, Muslim influence sharply decreased. In the 18th century, a revival movement was led by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Saudi Arabia. This revolution included destroying any shrines that were deemed idolatrous. This also resulted in the destruction of shrines to Muhammad in Mecca and Medina.

Modern History

After 1924, the Islamic faith entered the Americas through immigration of servants and workers. Today, Muslims can be found in many countries on all of the inhabited continents. While intense persecution has happened in areas like Cambodia, the Islam faith continues to grow and spread rapidly around the world. In North America, however, recent terrorist attacks linked to Muslim extremists have resulted in the persecution of even peaceful non-extremist Muslims.

Notable Members of the Faith

While many in North America may recognize the name of Osama bin Laden and Dhokhar Tsarnaev, several notable Muslim faithful follow the Islamic teachings of peace and non-harm. The following are notable followers of the Islamic faith.

  • Jawed Karim, co-founder of YouTube
  • Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy
  • Stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle
  • Rappers Busta Rhymes and Akon
  • Well known television doctor Dr. Mehmet Oz
  • Rima Fakih, Miss USA 2010
  • Congressman Keith Ellison
  • Civil rights activist Malcolm X
  • Designer of the Sears Tower, Fazlur Khan
  • Boxer Muhammad Ali
  • Basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Carolina Panthers linebacker Abdul Hodge
  • Journalist Stephen Schwartz

Critiques of the Islam Religion

Because many religions exist around the world, there are critiques and opponents of every form of religion. The Islamic faith has not escaped criticism. Any of the Five Pillars of Faith and Six Fundamental Beliefs are open for criticism. Early criticism came from Christians who considered Islamic teachings about Jesus and Muhammad to be heresy. Some critics also question whether Muhammad actually lived an upstanding moral life that is outlined in the Hadith. In addition, the legitimacy and accuracy of the Quran is also questioned by those outside the Islamic faith.

Many outside of the faith also criticize the treatment of women, including the requirement to be fully covered outside of the home. Many countries and even some states in the United States of America have issued laws regarding wearing headdresses as part of government-issued identification cards due to the inability to create a recognizable photograph on the license, passport, citizenship document or government identification.

Human rights activists and supporters of same-sex marriage have criticized the Islamic teachings on same-sex marriage. Supporters of marriage rights for same-sex couples claim that the teachings discriminate against homosexual Muslims who wish to enter into marriage. These critiques are not unique to the Islamic faith, however, as Christian and Jewish teachings on same-sex marriage have also been critiqued.

Today, Islam has received criticism because of radical extremists who perform acts of terrorism around the world while naming Islam and Allah as their motivation. These acts have led to restrictions on practicing the Islamic faith as well as persecution of Muslims. Some critics have also called for additional security measures for Muslims who are passing through airport security or attempting to obtain a driver's license or government-issued identification.

There have been many responses to the criticism of the Islamic faith. William Montgomery Watt, author of Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman, stated that there may be moral relativism involved and Muhammad's lifestyle should be judged by the standards of the time he lived in instead of the standards of today's western society. Critics of anti-Muslim bigotry and hate speech claim that every religion has the potential for radical extremists and it has not been limited to those who claim to perform violence in the name of Allah and the Islamic faith. Some Islamic supporters, both practicing Muslims and non-Muslims have termed extreme criticism against the Islamic religion as Islamophobia.

Islam | Religion

QR Code
QR Code islam (generated for current page)