|Twelver - Ithna-Ashari|
|Sevener - Ismaili|
|Fiver - Zaydi|
|Kharijite / Ibadite|
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.
Mohammad was born in the year 570 AD in the city of Mecca in southwestern Arabia. Muhammad’s career includes militant preaching, battles with unbelievers, severe decisions and judgments, and the founding of a new religious community. Muslims believe he was a messenger of Allah. They believe Allah told Muhammad about how people should live. They also believe Muhammad wrote what Allah told him in a book called the Koran. Mecca remained his home until AD 622, when he and his followers were forced to leave for the city of Medina, 300 kilometers to the north [the Hijrah].
After the Hijrah, a break was made with Jewish (and Christian) practice when, following a divine revelation on the matter, Muhammad changed the geographical focus of Muslim ritual from the holy sites in Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah in Mecca. Although he later gained control of Mecca, Muhammad continued to live in Medina until his death in AD 632. The prophetic mission of Muhammad led to the foundation of Islam as a religion, and it simultaneously gave rise to a new state that grew rapidly under Muhammad’s successors, the caliphs.
Mohammedan (also Muhammadan, Mahommedan, Mahomedan or Mahometan) is an archaic Western term for a follower of Muhammad, analogous to terms such as Buddhist, Christian or Confucian. The term has fallen out of common usage as some Muslims object to the term, finding it offensive as it implies a devotion to Muhammad the person, thereby detracting from the unity of Allah.
There are an estimated 1.5 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, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, China, and Ethiopia. Of these, only Egypt is an Arab country, and despite the stereotypes, only 200 million of the world's Muslims - about one in eight or the total - are Arabs.
The internal consolidation of Islam in Arabia was, strange to say, brought about by its diffusion abroad. The holy war against the border countries which Mahomet had already inaugurated, was the best means for making the new religion popular among the Arabs, for opportunity was at the same time afforded for gaining rich booty. The movement was organized by Islam, but the masses were induced to join it by quite other than religious motives. Nor was this by any means the first occasion on which the Arabian cauldron had overflowed; once and again in former times emigrant swarms of Bedouins had settled on the borders of the wilderness.
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 Muhammad 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.
Dietary laws are one area where the Moslem religion is very restrictive. Both Sunnis and Shiites also adhere to halal laws regarding food. Briefly, any meat consumed by a Moslem must come from an animal slaughtered by another Moslem in a prescribed way, or it is considered impure, haram. This ritual involves asking God for forgiveness for taking the life of the animal. Furthermore, pork and alcohol are especially haram and should never be consumed.
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 [Allah], and Muhammad 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 Azan (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 Muhammad'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 summertime 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. Muhammad instituted this requirement, modifying pre-Islamic custom, to emphasize sites associated with God and Abraham (Ibrahim), founder of monotheism and father of the Arabs through his son 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 Muhammad: there is one God, who is a unitary divine being in contrast to the trinitarian belief of Christians; Muhammad, the last of a line of prophets beginning with Abraham and including Moses and Jesus, 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.
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