What Is Islam, and Who Are Muslims?
Islam is a religion and Muslims are its members. Islam is the second largest religion in the
world, and there are over 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide. Many Arabs are Muslims, but 88
percent of the Muslim population resides outside the Arab World, throughout Asia, Africa,
Europe, the Americas, and Oceania. Muslims are very ethnically diverse and do not belong to a
particular race, culture, region, or nationality. Indonesia is home to the greatest number of
Muslims, almost 200 million.
In the United States, where it is illegal to ask questions about religion on the Census, the
number of Muslims living in the US is not easy to determine. Estimates range from a
conservative two million
to as many as 7 million. Regardless of the exact population of Muslims
in the US, the Muslim population is growing.
Muslims believe that Allah sent many prophets, including Adam, Moses (Musa), Abraham
(Ibrahim), and Jesus ('Isa). For Muslims, Muhammad is the last of the prophets and is the
person to whom God revealed his final message. Muhammed lived during the 7th century. He is
not worshipped by Muslims, but held in very high esteem. The Qur'an is the message that was
spoken to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. It was memorized by Muhammed and
written down during his lifetime; not one word has been changed since. Islam recognizes the
preceding religious histories of Jews and Christians, referring to them as Ahl al-Kitab, People of
The Muslim faith has five pillars:
is the profession of faith: "There is none worthy of worship except God and
Muhammad is the messenger of God";
are the prayers that are performed five times per day by all Muslims over the age of 10.
Prayers are required before sunrise, and at noon, midday, sundown, and night. Prayers are
preceded by a ritual ablution,
, washing face, neck, arms and ankles. The practice of
praying includes the recitation of Qur'anic verses and prostration toward Mecca;
or charitable giving, is compulsory for all devout Muslims and is expected to amount to
about 2.5 percent of one's wealth every year;
is religious fasting from food, drink, and sexual activity from dawn until dusk and is
followed during the month of Ramadan, the 9th month of the lunar calendar. Fasting is
practiced to obtain physical and spiritual purity;
is a pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a goal of every Muslim if physically and economically
able, at least once during his or her lifetime.
During Ramadan, Muslims will eat a light meal before dawn,