Islam [Arabic: surrender] is the religion of Muslims, based on the text of the Koran (or Qur’an).
Islam contains 5 pillars of fundamental belief and practice:
- Ash-Shahada – the belief in only one God.
- Salat – daily prayer, with body facing Mecca, taking place at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nighttime.
- Sawm – fasting that is obligatory at puberty and also during the 9th month of the Islamic year (Ramadan)¹, believed to be the period when the Koran was written. Eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn to sunset during Ramadan. Contrary to the popular belief that fasting is undertaken to empathize with the less fortunate, scholars note that rich and poor, alike, undergo this fast.
- Zakat – giving alms to the less fortunate, the amount being 2.5% of one’s total income.
- Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are obliged to take at least once in a lifetime, providing they have the economic means to do so. Hajj ideally is taken on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic year.
In addition to Hajj, Umrah is a so-called “lesser” pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims can make any time throughout the year. These are not compulsory but recommended.
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Woman in Hijab is reading Koran in mosque during Ramadan
The Sunni branch of Islam is comprised of about 85% of contemporary Muslims and is often regarded as the orthodox form of this religion.
The Shi’ite branch, mostly in Iran, Persia and partly in Iraq, represent about 10% of today’s Muslims.
Historically speaking, the Shi’ites and Sunnis split over a disagreement about the legitimacy of Mohammad’s successors (Caliphs)—not entirely unlike the Protestant refusal to recognize the authority of the Catholic Papacy.
The mystically based, unorthodox branch of Sufism arose partly as a reaction to the beliefs and standardized practices of orthodox Islam. In response, aspects of orthodox Islam have been critical of Sufism, especially in regard to the Sufi belief that a person can be “one” with God. This dynamic, again, calls to mind the Christian, especially the early Christian Church’s opposition to various gnostic movements.²
¹ Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, so its precise date changes every year.
² For an animated discussion on this topic, see Bart D. Ehrman, “Lost Christianities.”