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The word islam, meaning "submission," refers to the perfect peace Muslims believe comes from total submission to God (Allah). This religion is embraced by one of every five people living in the world today. Most of the world’s Muslims live in central and southeastern Asia with Indonesia being the most populous Islamic country. Like Jews and Christians, Muslims trace their roots back to the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. However, the religion itself was established by an Arabian prophet named Muhammad ("highly praised"), born in 571 C.E. into the Quraysh tribe, one of the leading clans of Mecca.

In 622, Muhammad, fleeing for his life, moved from Mecca to the city of Yathrib, 200 miles north, which was later renamed al-Medina ("the city"). For Muslims, this event, al Hijra ("the migration"), is the turning point of all history, the first year in the Muslim calendar. In 630, Mecca itself fell to the Muslims. Muhammad died there two years later but was buried in Medina, the town which first received him as a prophet.

In 610 (on the 27th day of the lunar month of Ramadan, also known as laylat al-qadr - "the Night of Power") when Muhammad was forty and still living in Mecca, he was visited by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) who began dictating to him al-Qur'an (from an Arabic verb meaning to read or recite), a process that continued until shortly before his death. The Qur'an is arranged into 114 suras ("chapters"). The suras are divided into two groups: those revealed for the most part earlier in Mecca and the later ones revealed in Medina. The Meccan verses, according to some Muslims, tend to be more universal in nature while those revealed in Medina tend to be more particular to the needs, questions, and problems of that first Muslim community (which was composed of Jews and pagans as well as Muslims) and tend therefore to be more legalistic in tone and content.

Pillars of Islam

There are five fundamental requirements or "pillars of faith" that all who profess to be Muslims must observe:

1. Belief in the shahada, or creed, of Islam: "There is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." Embedded in this pillar is the Muslim belief that Muhammad, unlike Jesus, was completely human. Islam is vehemently iconoclastic and anti-idolatrous. Shirk ("idolatry") is considered blasphemous.

2. Prayer, as-salah, five times daily in Arabic and while facing Mecca. Muslims regard Arabic as the holiest of languages. It is the language of the Qur'an, regarded as God's final revelation to humankind. The Qur'an (s.2:117) says that Arabic is the language God used to create the world.

3. Payment of the az-zakat, or charity tax (2 ½ %).

4. Fasting, as-saum, during the lunar month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.

5. Pilgrimage, al-Hajj, to Mecca, for all who are physically and financially able.



As-Salah ("Prayer")

Al-azan, "call to prayer" (chanted by al-mu’azin, "the prayer caller"):

Ahl-LAH-hoo AHK-bahr-God is Great.

Ashadoo AL-la ee-LA-ha IL-la-ahl-LAH-I witness that there is no god but God.

Ashadoo AN-nah Muhammadan Rasoolulah- I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

Hi AH-lah ahs-sah-LAH-Come to prayer!

Hi AH-lah al-fah-LAH- Come to prosperity!

Ahl-LAH-hoo AHK-bahr- God is great.

La ee-LAH-ha IL-la-ahl-LAH-There is no God but God.

(all phrases are repeated once except the last two)

Prayer is required five times daily:

fajr - dawn

zuhr - noon

‘asr - afternoon

maghreb - sunset

iss-hah - night

The Muslim faces al-qibla, "the direction" (of Mecca) to pray. During prayer, ritual prostrations, sujood, are performed. These prostrations are also called ir-raka'at ("the bowings"). If possible, and especially at noon prayers on Friday, the Muslim holy day, prayer is performed in al-masjeed, "the place of prostration", or, mosque, as we know it. In Egyptian colloquial Arabic, the mosque may be known simply as ig-gamma, "the gathering place." Prayers may be led by an imam ("prayer leader," literally, "one who stands in front"), and on Friday a khutba ("sermon") will be preached by the sheikh (roughly "reverend"), also called less formally, al-khateeb ("the preacher"). Muslims are required to pray in Arabic, which they regard as a sacred tongue: the language God used to create the world (see Qur'an, s.2:117).

Features of the typical mosque include the prayer niche (mihrab ) in the wall facing Mecca; the minbar, or pulpit; and the minaret ("place of the beacon light"), the tower from which the mu’azin chants the call to prayer.

Sura I, Fatiha, or, "the Opening"

This is the most important prayer in Is lam. Recited some seventeen times daily (most often repeatedly during the five regular prayer times, but also when marriage engagements and business deals are contracted), it is among the most powerfully lyrical chapters in the Qu’ran.

1. bismillah ir-rahman,ir-raheem.                      In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.                  

2. ilhamdoolilah reb el-‘alameen,                      Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds;               

3. irrahman-raheem,                                          The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;                                                

4. Malek yom id-deen,                                         Master of the Day of Judgment                                                        

5. ih-yaka n’aboodoo wuh ih-yaka nest’a-een    Thee do we worship, and Thine aid do we seek.                                   ,

6. iddeen-il-siraht il-mustaqeem,                          Show us the straight way,                                                                 

7. siraht aletheena anaamta aleihim                    The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace,                

     gheir il-maghdoobi aleihim                              Those whose (portion)Is not wrath,                                                        

     wuh lah il-dohleen.                                            And who go not astray.                                                                        


A. Yusef Ali, The Holy Quran (Brentwood, Maryland, 1983).


al-Talbiyah ("the compliance")

This is the text of the chant pilgrims recite throughout the pilgrimage to Mecca:

Labayaka, Allahumma, Labayaka,                             "Here I am, O God, at thy command,

Labayaka, Allahumma, Labayaka!                               here I am!

Lasharik lika, Labayaka!                                             Thou art without associates, here I am!

Inna al-hamda,                                                          Thine are praise,

wuh an-nimaata,                                                         and grace,

wuh lika al-mulk.                                                        and dominion.

Lasharik lika,                                                             You have no associates,

Labayaka!                                                                  Here I am!

Glossary of Islamic Terms and Concepts

Qur'an (Arabic script and Recitation)

Qur'an by Chapter

Index to the Qur'an

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IslamiCity Prayer Times and Qibla Direction locator

See also:  Shia and Sufism;  also BBC page on The Hajj.

For a concise argument in support of Islam as a force for goodness, peace, tolerance, and moderation backed up by references to the Qur'an see Jordanian King Abdullah's "Amman Message" of 2004.

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Last Revised: September 12, 2008