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The following overview of Islam was written by Religion Transcends writer Jackie Walker for the Fall 2007 issue of Relate magazine. Relate’s mission is to inspire teen girls to pursue their dreams with confidence and to teach them to be an example for others in their speech, life, love, faith and purity. Religion overviews may have Christian overtones to make the content relatable for the Christian teen audience.


Allah. Al Qaeda. Koran. For many of us, these words only entered our vocabulary after September 11, 2001. Many Americans knew little of Islam before acts of terrorism prompted us to take a second look at this major world religion. Unfortunately, a large, diverse religion has become associated, for many, with terrorism and acts of violence. But the world’s second largest religion is just that – diverse. And a majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims do not support violence in the name of Islam. So what unites all Muslims? Just what do Muslims believe?


Islam is a monotheistic religion, meaning they believe in just one God (translated as “Allah” in Arabic). Like Christians and Jews, Muslims (followers of Islam) believe themselves to be descended from the Abraham of the Old Testament. While Jews and Christians are descended from Abraham and his wife Sarah, Muslims are descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar.


Who was Muhammad?

Muhammad was born in 570 A.D. in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In the year 610, Muhammad was meditating in a cave when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Soon after, Muhammad began to recite words said to come straight from God, which were then recorded in a book called the Koran. As a messenger of the words of God, Muhammad is considered a prophet. But not everyone saw him as such back then. Debates over his leadership role led authorities to deny Muhammad and his followers access to Mecca; they were forced to flee to nearby Medina in 622. Eight years and several battles later, they triumphantly returned, taking over Mecca and abolishing all idols worshipped there.


What do Muslims believe?

Like Christians, Muslims believe in angels, heaven, hell, and the Day of Judgment. However, Muslims consider Jesus to be another prophet or messenger like Muhammad. So while Christians believe in the need for Jesus’ saving grace to go to Heaven, Muslims believe they must save themselves through good deeds.


Islam rests on five pillars that define members of the faith:

  1. The shahadah: a statement that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is His messenger.
  2. Prayer: Muslims are taught to pray multiple times during the day and regularly gather on Fridays for prayer and worship.
  3. Charitable giving: Muslims are obligated to give money to the poor.
  4. Ritual fasting: This includes the fast of Ramadan, when Muslims remember the night Muhammad received visions from God.
  5. Hajj: It is the duty of a Muslim to take a pilgrimage to Mecca at some point during their lifetime.

Muslims also place an emphasis on modesty. This is why you will often see Muslim women wearing a veil covering their hair and sometimes their faces. Though some people interpret the veil as a way to make women inferior, many Muslim women choose to wear the veil as a sign of their modesty.


What’s the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’ite?

The two largest divisions in Islam, between Sunnis and Shi’ites, began at the death of Muhammad. Muhammad never picked a successor. One group of people, today called Sunnis, believed someone should be elected to become the political leader of Islam. Another group, today called Shi’ites, believed leadership should be hereditary – meaning the political and religious leader would be a descendant of Muhammad. Today, Sunnis make up 85 percent of the Muslim population, while Shi’ites Muslims make up the other 15 percent.


Is Islam a violent religion?

The short answer? No. It is true that the Koran includes discussions of jihad, translated as “putting effort.” A jihad can be a struggle within oneself to become a better person, or a jihad can be a holy war against those who threaten Islam.   However, the Koran and Muslims do not support unjust violence.


But just as in Christianity, some extreme members of the faith have taken holy words and twisted them to justify acts of violence. And for the most part, the violence seems to come from political groups (like Al Qaeda and other Islamic governments), not religious groups. Osama bin Laden developed a hatred of American politics and culture. He used religious language and verses from the Koran to justify his terrorist actions against the United States. A majority of Muslims do not support such acts of terrorism but consider themselves a peaceful people with a deep love and respect for God. Muslims can trace their history back to the same roots as Jews and Christians, and the Koran commands Muslims to be tolerant of these religions.


To learn more about Islam and Muslim relations with members of other religions, check out John Esposito’s book, What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam.


Find news and holiday information related to Islam on


Copyright 2009, Religion Transcends.

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8 Responses to “What Is Islam?”

  • [...] this suggestion. If you are not a Muslim, consider taking a moment in the next couple of weeks to learn about the Muslim faith — at least to understand what Muslims believe, in support of our shared [...]

  • Antionio General:

    Short answer is “yes”. Go to the East and see that. There is no such thing as “radical” Muslim only a Muslim that truly practices Islam. Muslims talk all about peace and forgiveness but don’t tell you the whole truth about the concept of abrogation, “nasikh” meaning that newer revelations canceled out older ones. The last revelation given to Mohammed was to kill all non-believers, Chapter 9 (note that the Quran is not in order but from longest to shortest). Plus what happened after Mohammed past away? His successors invaded Europe, Africa, as well as the Persian and Roman Empire. Obviously they were carrying on the orders given to Mohammed. Don’t forget that Islam teaches that one of the the ways to become Islam is to “believe in the Last Days”. What happens during the Last Days? According to Mohammed’s revelation, the last days won’t start unless they kill all Jews and non-believers. The race is on. Oh by the ways, Mohammed’s final sermon before he died was in Mt. Sirat was an order to kill all non-believers. Unfortunately many Westerners are uneducated about the truth behind Islam. These peaceful Muslims aren’t practicing authentic Islam because they are either ignorant as their practices are inconsistent with the teachings of a Quranic professor and what we call terrorist from the East. They are either ignorant of the Sunnah and Quran or they are practicing “taquiyya” which is to lie to non-believers to either lure them in to their faith or to prevent any suspicion. Westerners PLEASE EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT ISLAM because it is the future. ISLAM is growing faster than you know it. Muslims won’t even tell you that Mohammed as well as his friends thought he was possessed when he encountered the so-called Gabriel. He was even to the point of depression and suicide. Satan also possessed him when he claimed polytheistic goddesses of the Quraysh tribe could be used as intercessors to Allah. The greatest condemnation in Islam. Last but not least, according to the Quran, Allah is the master deceiver (Surah 3:54, 7:99. 27-50). So why should we believe in some prophet who get’s possessed by Satan, a God who deceives, and a religion to submit to this?

  • Jack:

    I genuinely enjoyed reading through your blog content, and I’ve included you to my Yahoo RSS.

  • Gerald:

    I have read that the Mr.Muhammad believes in beating women, having multiple sexual partners, including a 9 year old child. He also believes in insects speaking and that stars are like missles. Not to mention that adam was very tall. Not to mention the 72 virgins. I would never judge, however, Islam seems a bit perverse.

  • McManus:

    “A good muslim is the one who is not serious aout (sic) Islam.”

    Just like a good Christian is one who is not serious about the rules put forth in the Bible. :P I’m sure some atheist has already pointed out the contradictions in the rules provided by the Bible, so I won’t bother.

    Both Clifton and Rijo missed the most important part of this article:

    “For the most part, the violence seems to come from political groups (like Al Qaeda and other Islamic governments), not religious groups.”

    Religious difference is not a cause of violence, and religions aren’t themselves inherently violent. BUT, political differences often create manifest divisions along religious lines.

    Put another way, religious difference becomes a focus of violence when religion becomes a political tool.

    Christianity is less of a “cause” of violence today because it is less active politically than it used to be.

  • Rijo:

    Struggles aganist oneself manifests in killing people of other faiths,as they pollute this world with their ideologies and way of life.
    Hadith, the words and deeds of prohet Muhammad, is replete with such examples. This cannot be attributed to particular time of history, but prescribes it as way of life for Muslims.
    There are even chapters titled “Excellence of killing an infidel”
    Muslims by and large not violent. But reading the Quran makes one violent. A good muslim is the one who is not serious aout Islam.It is a perverted religion.

  • Clifton E Gremillion:

    How do you explain the fact that your so-called prophet Muhammad was a pedophile?

    How do you explain the lack of equal rights for females to drive cars, wear western clothing, be educated as men?

    How do you explain “honor killings” when a father kills his daughter because she marries outside her faith?

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