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History of Islam
Beliefs and practices

Oneness of God
Profession of Faith
Prayer · Fasting
Pilgrimage · Charity

Major figures

Muhammad · Ali · Abu Bakr
Companions of Muhammad
Household of Muhammad · Prophets of Islam

Texts & law

Qur'an · Hadith · Sharia
Biographies of Muhammad

Branches of Islam

Sunni · Shi'a · Sufi

Sociopolitical aspects

Art · Architecture
Cities · Calendar
Science · Philosophy
Religious leaders
Women in Islam
Political Islam · Jihad

See also

Vocabulary of Islam
Index of articles on Islam

(Arabic: الإسلام al-islām) "the submission to God" is a monotheistic faith, one of the Abrahamic religions and the world's second-largest religion.



In Arabic, Islām derives from the three-letter root S-L-M reflecting the meaning "to be in peaceful submission; to surrender; to obey; peace". Islām is a verbal abstract to this root, literally "submission/obedience" (and implied is the understanding, submission to God). Islām is described as a dīn, meaning "way of life" and/or "religion." Etymologically, it is derived from the same root as, for example, Salām meaning "peace" (also a common salutation). The word Muslim is also derived from the same root as Islām, and as an agentive noun describes "one who surrenders" or "submits" to God.


Followers of Islam, known as Muslims, believe that God (or, in Arabic, Allāh; also in Aramaic Alaha) revealed his direct word for mankind to Muhammad (c. 570632) and other prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims assert that the main written record of revelation to humankind is the Qur'an, which they believe to be flawless, immutable, and the final revelation of God to humanity. Muslims believe that parts of the Gospels, Torah and Jewish prophetic books (though originally divine in their nature) have been forgotten, misinterpreted, incorrectly edited by humans, or distorted by their followers and thus their original message has been corrupted over time. With that perspective, Muslims view the Qur'an as a corrective of Jewish and Christian scriptures, and a final revelation.

Muslims hold that Islam is essentially the same belief as that of all the messengers sent by God to mankind since Adam, with the Qur'ān (the one definitive text of the Muslim faith) codifying the final revelation of God. Islamic texts depict Judaism and Christianity as derivations of the teachings of the prophet Abraham and thus acknowledges their Abrahamic roots, whilst the Qur'an calls their followers People of the Book. Islam has two primary branches of belief, based largely on a historical disagreement over the succession of authority after Muhammad's death; these are known as Sunni and Shi'ite. The basis of Islamic belief is found in the shahādatān ("two testimonies"): lā ilāhā illā-llāhu; muhammadur-rasūlu-llāhi — "There is no god worthy of worship but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of God." In order to become a Muslim, one needs to recite and believe in these statements. Sunnis further regard this as one of the five pillars of Islam.

A view of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site in Islam
A view of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a holy site in Islam

Six articles of belief

There are six basic beliefs shared by all Muslims:

  1. Belief in God, the one and only one worthy of all worship.
  2. Belief in all the Prophets (nabi) and Messengers (rusul) sent by God.
  3. Belief in the Books (kutub) sent by God (including the Qur'an).
  4. Belief in the Angels (mala'ika).
  5. Belief in the Day of Judgement (qiyama) and in the Resurrection (life after death).
  6. Belief in Destiny (Fate) (qadar). (Note that this does not mean one is pre-determined to act or live a certain life. God has given the free will to do and make decisions).

The Muslim creed in English:

"I believe in God; and in His Angels; and in His Scriptures; and in His Messengers; and in The Final Day; and in Fate, that Good and Evil are from God, and Resurrection after death be Truth.
"I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship but God; and I testify that Muhammad is His Messenger."

The tenets of Islam

The two largest subgroups of the Muslims are the Sunni and the Shi'a. Sunni Muslim make up roughly 85% of the Muslim world. Sunni Islam's most fundamental tenets are referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam2, while Shia Islam has a slightly different terminology, encompassing five core beliefs, the Roots of Religion and ten core practices, the Branches of Religion. All Muslims agree on the following statements, which Sunnis term the Five Pillars of Islam, and Shia would consider two of the Roots of Religion and four of the Branches of Religion

The Pilgrimage (Hajj) to Kaaba, Masjid al Haram, Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam
The Pilgrimage (Hajj) to Kaaba, Masjid al Haram, Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam
  • Shahadah: The Testimony that there is none worthy of worship except God and that Muhammad is his messenger.
  • Salah: Establishing of the five daily Prayers (salah).
  • Zakat: The Giving of Zakaah (charity), which is one fortieth (2.5%) of the net worth of savings kept for more than a year, with few exemptions, for every Muslim whose wealth exceeds the nisab, and 10% or 20% of the produce from agriculture. This money or produce is distributed among the poor and indigents.
  • Sawm: Fasting from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan.
  • Hajj: The Pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca during the month of Dhul Hijjah, which is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it.

The Shia include the following, though some of these beliefs are also considered accurate in Sunni Islam as well:

  • Adl: The justice of God.
  • Qiyamat: The Day of Resurrection.

and four of what the Shia call the Branches of Religion:

  • Amr-bil-Ma'ruf: Enjoining what is good.
  • Nahi-anil-Munkar: Forbidding what is evil.
  • Al Jihad fi sabil Allah: Striving to seek God's approval.
  • Khums: Paying the tax on profit.

while two "branches", and one "root", are specifically Shia:

  • Imamah: Leadership. The belief in the divinely appointed and guided imamah of Ali and some of his descendants.
  • Tawalla: To love the Ahl al-Bayt and their followers.
  • Tabarra: To hate the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt.


Main article: Allah

The fundamental concept in Islam is the oneness of God (tawhid). This monotheism is absolute, not relative or pluralistic in any sense of the word. God is described in Sura al-Ikhlas, (chapter 112) as follows: Say "He is God, the one and only. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute the Self-Sufficient master. He begetteth not, nor is he begotten. And there is none like unto Him." (Yusuf A. Ali).

In Arabic, God is called Allāh. The word is etymologically connected to ʾilah "deity", ultimately from Proto-Semitic *ʾilâh-, and indirectly related to Hebrew Ēl. Allāh is also the word used by Christian and Jewish Arabs, translating ho theos of the New Testament and LXX; it predates Muhammad and in its origin does not specify a "God" different from the one worshipped by Judaism and Christianity, the monotheistic religions to which Muhammad's teaching stood in contrast.

The name "Allah" shows no plural or gender, unlike the word "God" that may take plural sense "Gods" and feminine form "Godesses". In Islam "Allah" Almighty as Quran says : '"(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves, and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things)".(42:11)' The implicit usage of the definite article in Allah linguistically indicates the divine unity. Muslims believe that the God they worship is the same as the Judeo-Christian God, i.e., the God of Abraham. However, Muslims reject the Christian theology concerning the trinity of God (the doctrine of the Trinity which regards Jesus as the eternal Son of God), seeing it as akin to polytheism. Quoting from the Qur'an, sura An-Nisa 171: "O People of the Scripture! Do not exaggerate in your religion nor utter aught concerning Allah save the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, and His word which He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not "three". Cease! (it is) better for you! Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from His transcendent majesty that he should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as its defender."

No Muslim visual images or depictions of God exist because such artistic depictions may lead to idolatry and are thus prohibited. A similar position in Christian theology is termed Iconoclasm. Moreover, most Muslims believe that God is incorporeal, rendering any two or three dimensional depictions impossible. Instead, Muslims describe God by the many divine attributes mentioned in the Qur'an. All but one Surah (chapter) of the Qur'an begins with the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful". These are consequently the most important divine attributes in the sense that Muslims repeat them most frequently during their ritual prayers (called salah in Arabic, and in India, Pakistan and Turkey called "namaaz" (a Persian word)).

The Qur'an

Main article: Qur'an

The Qur'an is the sacred book of Islam. It has also been called, in English, "the Koran" and "the Quran". Qur'an is the currently preferred English transliteration of the Arabic original (قرآن); it means “recitation”. Although it is referred to as a "book", when a Muslim refers to the Qur'an, they are referring to the actual text, the words, rather than the printed work itself.

Muslims believe that the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel on numerous occasions between the years 610 and Muhammad's death in 632. In addition to memorizing his revelations, his followers are said to have written them down on parchments, stones, and other media, so that the entire Qur'an was written down during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims hold that the Qur'an available today is the same as that revealed to Prophet Muhammad and by him to his followers, who memorized his words. Scholars accept that the version of the Qur'an used today was first compiled in writing by the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, sometime between 650 and 656. He sent copies of his version to the various provinces of the new Muslim empire, and directed that all variant copies be destroyed. However, some skeptics doubt the recorded oral traditions (hadith) on which the account is based and will say only that the Qur'an must have been compiled before 750.

There are also numerous traditions, and many conflicting academic theories, as to the provenance of the verses later assembled into the Qur'an (This is covered in greater detail in the article on the Qur'an). Most Muslims accept the account recorded in several hadith, which state that Abu Bakr, the first caliph, ordered Zayd ibn Thabit to collect and record all the authentic verses of the Qur'an, as preserved in written form or oral tradition. Zayd's written collection, privately treasured by Muhammad's widow Hafsa bint Umar, was used by Uthman and is the basis of today's Qur'an.

Uthman's version organized the suras roughly in order of length, with the longest suras at the start of the Qur'an and the shortest ones at the end. More conservative views state that the order of most suras was divinely set. Later scholars have struggled to put the suras in chronological order, and among Muslim commentators at least there is a rough consensus as to which suras were revealed in Mecca and which at Medina. Some suras (eg surat Iqra) are thought to have been revealed in parts at separate times.

Because the Qur'an was first written (date uncertain) in the Hijazi, Mashq, Ma'il, and Kufic scripts, which write consonants only and do not supply the vowels, and because there were differing oral traditions of recitation, as non-native Arabic speakers converted to Islam, there was some disagreement as to the exact reading of many verses. Eventually, scripts were developed that used diacritical markings (known as points) to indicate vowels. For hundreds of years after Uthman's recension, Muslim scholars argued as to the correct pointing and reading of Uthman's unpointed official text, (the rasm). Eventually, most commentators accepted seven variant readings (qira'at) of the Qur'an as canonical, while agreeing that the differences are minor and do not affect the meaning of the text.

The form of the Qur'an most used today is the Al-Azhar text of 1923, prepared by a committee at the prestigious Cairo university of Al-Azhar.

The Qur'an early became a focus of Muslim devotion and eventually a subject of theological controversy among skeptics. In the 8th century, the Mu'tazilis claimed that the Qur'an was created in time and was not eternal. Their opponents, of various schools, claimed that the Qur'an was eternal and perfect, existing in heaven before it was revealed to Muhammad. The Ashari theology (which ultimately became predominant) held that the Qur'an was uncreated.

Most Muslims regard paper copies of the Qur'an with extreme veneration, wrapping them in a clean cloth, keeping them on a high shelf, and washing as for prayers before reading the Qur'an. Old Qur'ans are not destroyed as wastepaper, but burned or deposited in Qur'an graveyards.

Almost every Muslim has memorized some portion of Qur'an in the original language. Those who have memorized the entire Qur'an are known as hafiz. This is not a rare achievement; it is believed that there are millions of hafiz today including many children.

From the beginning of the faith, most Muslims believed that the Qur'an was perfect only as revealed in Arabic. Translations were the result of human effort and human fallibility, as well as lacking the inspired poetry believers find in the Qur'an. Translations are therefore only commentaries on the Qur'an, or "translations of its meaning", not the Qur'an itself. Many modern, printed versions of the Qur'an feature the Arabic text on one page, and a vernacular translation on the facing page.


Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina. The mosque also has a tomb of prophet Muhammad and the first two caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab. The tombs were originally outside the mosque but were enclosed during later expansions.
Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina. The mosque also has a tomb of prophet Muhammad and the first two caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab. The tombs were originally outside the mosque but were enclosed during later expansions.
Main article: Prophets of Islam

The Qur'an speaks of God appointing two classes of message bearing servants: messengers (rasul in Arabic), and prophets (nabi in Arabic and Hebrew). One must have the message (rasul:namely messages that come from Allah) in order to be considered a messenger (rasul:messenger and message are from the same root word). In general, prophets are the more elevated rank, but Muslims consider all prophets and messengers equal. All prophets are said to have spoken with divine authority; and those who have been given a major revelation or message are called prophets.

Notable messengers include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses (Musa), Jesus (Isa), and Muhammad, all belonging to a succession of men guided by God. Islam commands that a believer accept most of the Judeo-Christian prophets, making no distinction between their message. In the Qur'an, 25 specific prophets are mentioned.

Mainstream Muslims regard Muhammad as the 'Last Messenger' (due to not fully understanding that role as opposed to prophethood) or the 'Seal of the Prophets'(which is substantiated in the Qur'an) based on the canon. The Qur'an states that a messenger (warner) has been appointed for every town. However, there have been a number of sects whose leaders have proclaimed themselves the successors of Muhammad, perfecting and extending Islam, or, whose devotees have made such claims for their leaders. However, most Muslims remain unaffected by those claims and simply regard those said groups to be deviant from Islam.

Islamic eschatology

Main article: Islamic eschatology

Islamic eschatology is concerned with the Qiyamah (end of the world) and the final judgement of humanity. Like Christianity and some sects of modern Judaism, Islam teaches the bodily resurrection of the dead, the fulfillment of a divine plan for creation, and the immortality of the human soul; the righteous are rewarded with the pleasures of Jannah (Paradise), while the unrighteous are punished in Jahannam (a fiery Hell, from the Hebrew ge-hinnom or "valley of Hinnom"; usually rendered in English as Gehenna). A significant fraction of the Qur'an deals with these beliefs, with many hadith elaborating on the themes and details.

Other beliefs

Other beliefs include the existence of Angels, the Jinns (a species of beings not composed of solid matter, but 'fire') and the existence of magic (the practice of which is strictly forbidden).


Religious authority

There is no official authority who decides whether a person is accepted into, or dismissed from, the community of believers, known as the Ummah ("family" or "nation"). Islam is open to all, regardless of race, age, gender, or previous beliefs. It is enough to believe in the central beliefs of Islam. This is formally done by reciting the shahada, the statement of belief of Islam, without which a person cannot be classed a Muslim. It is enough to believe and say that one is a Muslim, and behave in a manner befitting a Muslim to be accepted into the community of Islam.

Islamic law

Main article: Sharia

The Sharia is Islamic Law, preserved through Islamic scholarship. The Qur'an is the foremost source of Islamic jurisprudence; the second is the Sunnah (the practices of the Prophet, as narrated in reports of his life). The Sunnah is not itself a text like the Qur'an, but is extracted by analysis of the Hadith (Arabic for "report") texts, which contain narrations of the Prophet's sayings, deeds, and actions of his companions he approved.

Islamic law covers all aspects of life, from the broad topics of governance and foreign relations all the way down to issues of daily living. Islamic law at the level of governance and social justice only applies where the government is Islamic.

According to Islam, the Sharia is divinely revealed. It is understood as protecting five things: faith, life, knowledge, lineage, and wealth. However, it is by no means a rigid system of laws. There are different schools of thoughts and movements within Islam that allow for flexibility. Moreover, Islam is a diverse religion as many cultures have embraced it.

Variances in belief

Main article: Apostasy in Islam

Orthodox Islamic communities, like other religious communities, often exclude apostates and blasphemers from the community of believers.

Islamic calendar

Main article: Islamic calendar

Islam dates from the Hijra, or migration from Mecca to Medina. This is year 1, AH (Anno Hegira) - which corresponds to 622 AD or 622 CE, depending on the notation preferred (see Common era). It is a lunar calendar, but differs from other such calendars (e.g. the Celtic calendar) in that it omits intercalary months, being synchronized only with lunations, but not with the solar year, resulting in years of either 354 or 355 days. This omission was introduced by Muhammad because the right to announce intercalary months had led to political power struggles. Therefore Islamic dates cannot be converted to the usual CE/AD dates simply by adding 622 years. Islamic holy days fall on fixed dates of the lunar calendar, which means that they occur in different seasons in different years in the Gregorian calendar.

Schools (branches)

There are a number of Islamic religious denominations, each of which has significant theological and legal differences from each other. The major branches are Sunni and Shi'a, with Sufism considered as a mystical inflection of Islam .

The Sunni (from Arab: as-Sunnah, habit or tradition) are the largest group in Islam (80-85% of all Muslims are Sunni). Sunnis believe that Muhammad was as a prophet, a perfect human being, and that they must imitate the words and acts of Muhammad as accurately as possible. Because of this reason, the Hadith in which those words and acts are described are the main pillar of Sunni doctrine. Sunnis believe that ijtihaad, or interpretation of Qur'an and Hadith is closed since 800 years. Sunnis recognize four legal traditions (madhhabs): Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi, and Hanbali. All four accept the validity of the others and Muslims choose any one that he/she finds agreeable to his/her ideas. There are also several orthodox theological or philosophical traditions (kalam).

Shi'a Muslims, the second-largest sect, differ from the Sunni in rejecting the authority of the first three caliphs. They honor different traditions (hadith) and have their own legal traditions. Shi'a scholars have a larger authority than Sunni scholars and have room for ijtihad or interpretation. The Imams play a central role in Shi'a doctrine. The Shi'a consist of one major school of thought known as the Ithna Ashariyya or the "Twelvers", and a few minor schools of thought, as the "Seveners" or the "Fivers" referring to the number of infallible leaders they recognise after the death of Muhammad. The term Shi'a is usually taken to be synonymous with the Ithna Ashariyya/Twelvers. Most Shi'a live in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. A minority group (about 15 million) of Shi'a known as Ismaili are led by the Aga Khan and are found mainly on the Indian sub-continent.

Wahhabis, as they are known by non-Wahhabis, are a smaller, more recent Sunni group. They prefer to be called Salafis. Wahhabism is a movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab in the 18th century in what is present-day Saudi Arabia. They classify themselves as Sunni and some claim to follow the Hanbali legal tradition. The major trend, however is the abolition of these 'schools of thoughts' (legal traditions), and the following of a more literalist interperation. Some even regard other Sunni as heretics. They are recognized as the official religion of Saudi Arabia and have had a great deal of influence on the Islamic world due to Saudi control of Mecca and Medina, the Islamic holy places, and due to Saudi funding for mosques and schools in other countries.

Sunni and Shi'a have often clashed. Some Sunni believe that Shi'a are heretics while other Sunni recognize Shi'a as fellow Muslims. According to Shaikh Mahmood Shaltoot, head of the al-Azhar University in the middle part of the 20th Century, "the Ja'fari school of thought, which is also known as "al-Shi'a al- Imamiyyah al-Ithna Ashariyyah" (i.e., The Twelver Imami Shi'ites) is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought". Al-Azhar later distanced itself from this position.

Another sect which dates back to the early days of Islam is that of the Kharijites. The only surviving branch of the Kharijites are the Ibadhi Muslims. Ibadhism, like the extinct Mu'tazila school of thought, emphasizes rationality and tolerance. Ibadi's are the least sectarian of all Muslims. Most Ibadhi Muslims live in Oman.

Another trend in modern Islam is that which is sometimes called progressive. Followers may be called Ijtihadists. They may be either Sunni or Shi'ite, and generally favour the development of personal interpretations of Qur'an and Hadith. See: Liberal Islam

One very small Muslim group, based primarily in the United States, follows the teachings of Rashad Khalifa and calls itself the "Submitters". They reject hadith and fiqh, and say that they follow the Qur'an alone. There is also an even smaller group of Qur'an-alone Muslims who claim to represent the authentic teachings of Rashad Khalifa and seem to have split from the Submitters. Most Muslims of both the Sunni and the Shia sects consider this group to be heretical.

Sufism is a spiritual practice followed by both Sunni and Shi'a. Sufis generally feel that following Islamic law is only the first step on the path to perfect submission; they focus on the internal aspects of Islam, such as perfecting one's faith and fighting one's own ego. Most Sufi orders, or tariqa, can be classified as either Sunni or Shi'a. There are also some very large groups or sects of Sufism that are not easily categorised as either Sunni or Shi'a, such as the Bektashi. Sufis are found throughout the Islamic world, from Senegal to Indonesia.

Religions based on Islam

The following groups consider themselves to be Muslims, but are not considered Islamic by the majority of Muslims or Muslim authorities:

The following consider themselves Muslims but acceptance by the larger Muslim community varies:

The following religions are said by some to have evolved or borrowed from Islam, in almost all cases influenced by traditional beliefs in the regions where they emerged, but consider themselves independent religions with distinct laws and institutions:

The claim of the adherents of the Bahá'í Faith that it represents an independent religion was upheld by the Muslim ecclesiastical courts in Egypt during the 1920's. As of January 1926, their final ruling on the matter of the origins of the Bahá'í Faith and its relationship to Islam was that the Bahá'í Faith was neither a sect of Islam, nor a religion based on Islam, but a clearly-defined, independently-founded faith. This seen as a considerate act on part of the ecclesiastical court and in favour of followers of Bahá'í Faith since the majority of Muslims would regard a religion based on Islam as a heresy.

Some see Sikhism as a syncretic mix of Hinduism and Islam. However, its history lies in the social strife between local Hindu and Muslim communities, during which Sikhs were seen as the "sword arm" of Hinduism. The philosophical basis of the Sikhs is deeply-rooted in Hindu metaphysics and certain philosophical practices. Sikhism also rejects image-worship and believes in one God, just like the Bhakti reform movement in Hinduism and also like Islam does.

The following religions might have been said to have evolved from Islam, but are not considered part of Islam, and no longer exist:

Islam and other religions

Main article: Islam and other religions

The Qur'an contains both injunctions to respect other religions, and to fight and subdue unbelievers. Some Muslims have respected Jews and Christians as fellow "peoples of the book" (monotheists following Abrahamic religions), while others have reviled them as having abandoned monotheism and corrupted their scriptures. At different times and places, Islamic communities have been both intolerant and tolerant. Support can be found in the Qur'an for both attitudes.

The classical Islamic solution was a limited tolerance - Jews and Christians were to be allowed to privately practice their faith and follow their own family law. They were called Dhimmis, and they had fewer legal rights and obligations than Muslims.

The classic Islamic state was often more tolerant than many other states of the time, which insisted on complete comformity to a state religion. The record of contemporary Muslim-majority states is mixed. Some are generally regarded as tolerant, while others have been accused of intolerance and human rights violations. See the main article, Islam and other religions, for further discussion.


Main article: History of Islam

Islamic history begins in Arabia in the 7th century with the emergence of the prophet Muhammad. Within a century of his death, an Islamic state stretched from the Atlantic ocean in the west to central Asia in the east, which however was soon torn by civil wars (fitnas). After this, there would always be rival dynasties claiming the caliphate, or leadership of the Muslim world, and many Islamic states or empires offering only token obedience to an increasingly powerless caliph.

Nonetheless, the later empires of the Abbasid caliphs and the Seljuk Turk were among the largest and most powerful in the world. After the disastrous defeat of the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, Christian Europe launched a series of Crusades and for a time captured Jerusalem. Saladin however restored unity and defeated the Shiite Fatimids.

From the 14th to the 17th centuries one of the most important Muslim territories was the Mali Empire, whose capital was Timbuktu.

In the 18th century there were three great Muslim empires: the Ottoman in Turkey, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean; the Safavid in Iran; and the Mogul in India. By the 19th century, these realms had fallen under the sway of European political and economic power. Following WWI, the remnants of the Ottoman empire were parcelled out as European protectorates or spheres of influence. Islam and Islamic political power have revived in the 20th century. However, the relationship between the West and the Islamic world remains uneasy.

Contemporary Islam

Countries with Muslim populations over 10% of total (source - CIA World Factbook, 2004). The darker green represents a Sunni majority and the light green represents a Shiamajority.
Countries with Muslim populations over 10% of total (source - CIA World Factbook, 2004). The darker green represents a Sunni majority and the light green represents a Shiamajority.

Although the most prominent movement in Islam in recent times has been fundamentalist Islamism, there are a number of liberal movements within Islam which seek alternative ways to align the Islamic faith with contemporary questions.

Early shariah had a much more flexible character than is currently associated with Islamic jurisprudence, and many modern Muslim scholars believe that it should be renewed, and the classical jurists should lose their special status. This would require formulating a new fiqh suitable for the modern world, e.g. as proposed by advocates of the Islamization of knowledge, and would deal with the modern context. One vehicle proposed for such a change has been the revival of the principle of ijtihad, or independent reasoning by a qualified Islamic scholar, which has lain dormant for centuries.

This movement does not aim to challenge the fundamentals of Islam; rather, it seeks to clear away misinterpretations and to free the way for the renewal of the previous status of the Islamic world as a center of modern thought and freedom. See Modern Islamic philosophy for more on this subject.

The claim that only "liberalisation" of the Islamic Shariah law can lead to distinguishing between tradition and true Islam is countered by many Muslims with the argument that any meaningful "fundamentalism" will, by definition, reject non-Islamic cultural inventions - by, for instance, acknowledging and implementing Muhammad's insistence that women have God-given rights that no human being may legally infringe upon. Proponents of modern Islamic philosophy sometimes respond to this by arguing that, as a practical matter, "fundamentalism" in popular discourse about Islam may actually refer, not to core precepts of the faith, but to various systems of cultural traditionalism.

The demographics of Islam today

Main articles: Islam by country, Demographics of Islam

Based on the percentages published in the 2005 CIA World Factbook ("World"), Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. According to the World Network of Religious Futurists, the U.S. Center for World Mission, and the controversial Samuel Huntington, Islam is growing faster numerically than any of the other major world religions. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance estimate that it is growing at about 2.9% annually, as opposed to 2.3% per year global population growth. This is attributed either to the higher birth rates in many Islamic countries (six out of the top-ten countries in the world with the highest birth rates have a Muslim majority [1]) and/or high rates of conversion to Islam.

Commonly cited estimates of the Muslim population today range between 900 million and 1.4 billion people (cf.; estimates of Islam by country based on US State Department figures yield a total of 1.48 billion, while the Muslim delegation at the United Nations quoted 1.2 billion as the global muslim population in Sept 2005.

Only 18% of Muslims live in the Arab world; 20% are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, about 30% in the Indian subcontinental region of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and the world's largest single Muslim community (within the bounds of one nation) is in Indonesia. There are also significant Muslim populations in China, Europe, Central Asia, and Russia.

Austria was the first European country to recognise Islam as an official religion, while France has the highest Muslim population of any nation in Europe, with up to 6 million Muslims (10% of the population[2]). Albania is said to have the highest proportion of Muslims as part of its population in Europe (70%), although this figure is only an estimate (see Islam in Albania). The number of Muslims in North America is variously estimated as anywhere from 1.8 to 7 million.

Symbols of Islam

Green is commonly used when representing Islam. It is much used in decorating mosques, tombs, and various religious objects. Some say this is because green was the favorite color of Muhammad and that he wore a green cloak and turban. Others say that it symbolizes vegetation. Some say that after Muhammad, only the caliphs were allowed to wear green turbans. In the Qur'an, 18:31, it is said that the inhabitants of paradise will wear green garments of fine silk.

The reference to the Qur'an is verifiable; it is not clear if the other traditions are reliable or mere folklore. However, the association between Islam and the color green is firmly established now, whatever its origins may have been.

  • The color green is absent from medieval European coats of arms as during the Crusades, green was the colour used by their Islamic opponents.
  • In the palace of Topkapi, in Istanbul, there is a room with relics of Muhammad. One of the relics, kept locked in a chest, is said to have been Muhammad's banner, under which he went to war. Some say that this banner is green with golden embroidery, others say that it is black and others think there is no banner in the chest at all.

In early accounts of Muslim warfare, there are references to flags or battle standards of various colors: black, white, red, and greenish-black. Later Islamic dynasties adopted flags of different colors:

These four colors, white, black, green and red, dominate the flags of Arab states. See [3] and [4].

The crescent and star are often said to be Islamic symbols, but flag historiansCitation needed say that they were the insignia of the Ottoman empire, not of Islam as a whole.

See Also

List of Islamic and Muslim-related topics


  1. Shi'a muslims do not believe in absolute predestination (Qadar), since they consider it incompatible with Divine Justice. Neither do they believe in absolute free will since that contradicts God's Omniscience and Omnipotence. Rather they believe in "a way between the two ways" (amr bayn al‑'amrayn) believing in free will, but within the boundaries set for it by God and exercised with His permission.
  2. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad group claims, as did a few long-extinct early medieval Kharijite sects, that Jihad is the "sixth pillar of Islam." Some Ismaili groups consider "Allegiance to the Imam" to be the so-called sixth pillar of Islam. For more information, see the article entitled Sixth pillar of Islam.


  • Encyclopedia of Islam
  • The Koran Interpreted: a translation by A. J. Arberry, ISBN 0684825074
  • Islam, by Fazlur Rahman, University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (1979). ISBN 0226702812
  • The Islamism Debate, Martin Kramer, University Press, 1997
  • Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, Charles Kurzman, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0195116224
  • Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism Omid Safi, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, 2003. ISBN 1-85168-316-X
  • The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, Bassam Tibi, Univ. of California Press, 1998

External links


Islam and the arts, sciences, & philosophy

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