The Islamic faith traces its roots to sixth-century Arabia and the revelations of the Prophet Muhammad. It has grown to be the world's second-largest religion, with more than one billion followers (Muslims).
Islam is very clear about the place of God in human affairs: He is everywhere.
Humanity's appropriate relationship to God — or Allah, in Arabic — is in the meaning of the word itself. Islam is an Arabic word that translates as "submission." Muslim means "one who submits to God's will."
It is a monotheistic religion, but Muslims believe that God sent several prophets to deliver divine guidance. In that regard, Abraham, Moses and Jesus are all regarded as prophets.
However, Muslims know God's will as it was revealed to the final Prophet, Muhammad.
Muhammad was born about 570 in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia. At 40, Muhammad received his first vision of the archangel Gabriel, who brought the word of God.
(After saying Muhammad's name, Muslims often say "Peace be upon him" as a measure of respect.)
In Muslim tradition, Muhammad was told to go and preach monotheism, the word of the one true God.
This vision and future communications from the angel were recorded later to form the Koran (or Qur'an). This holy book serves as the centrepiece of the Islamic religion and way of life, socially, morally and culturally.
The Islamic faith grew rapidly after the death of Muhammad and throughout the proceeding centuries. The Ottoman Empire, spanning at its peak from North Africa to Turkey, was based on Islamic beliefs and traditions.
Today, Islam is practised throughout the world, with large concentrations in Asia (892 million) and Africa (350 million).
The recorded sayings and deeds of Muhammad during his life, called Hadith, is a continuing source of moral and religious guidance to Muslims.
The core practises of Islam are known as the Five Pillars. They are:
- Profession of faith: A Muslim must believe "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger" and must say so aloud.
- Daily prayer: A Muslim prays five times daily facing Mecca, with others if possible. The prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. On Friday there is a special noon prayer service.
- Zakat: Zakat was originally a tax on possessions with the proceeds going mostly to aid the poor (though the money might be spent for a few other purposes including ransoming captives of war). The word now refers more to almsgiving.
- Fasting: Also known as sawm, this is abstaining from food. Occurs throughout the year, and particularly during the Ramadan period.
- hajj (pilgrimage): At least once in a lifetime every Muslim is supposed to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, as long as the expense is not prohibitive. Read more.
Rituals and customs
Muslims worship at a mosque, outside of which often stands a minaret or tower. From here, the muezzin can sound the call to prayer five times daily.
These prayers need not take place inside the mosque and are said directly to God, not through an intermediary. An imam leads the prayers.
Seats are not used inside the mosque. Barefoot, the male faithful stand behind the imam and follow the imam's movements.
Islamic law calls for women to pray separately from men, either in the rows behind or in another room.
Muslim custom calls for modest dress, especially in the mosque. Loose clothes are to be worn that don't show the shape of the body.
For women, this may include a head covering, or hijab. The niqab covers a woman's whole head, except for the eyes.
Most Muslims belong to one of two major variations: Sunni or Shia, the result of a schism in the faith after the death of Muhammad.
The break between the two faiths was sparked less by faith and more about political differences in the seventh century regarding leadership after the Prophet's death.
Despite many differences of opinion and practice that have evolved over the centuries, both Sunni and Shia Muslims share many common beliefs about Islam.
Ramadan: The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. It was during Ramadan that the Koran was revealed. Muslims fast from daybreak to sunset for the entire month of Ramadan. They are prohibited from drinking and smoking as well as eating during those hours.
Eid ul Fatr: This celebration marks the end of Ramadan.
Hajj: The annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
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My first name, Gurjung, connects two ideas — gur is the beginning of the word guru, and jung means conflict or struggle. So, put together, Gurjung is the conflict/struggle of life with the Gurus' teachings to guide.
In that moment, I got to see a glimpse of the godness of God — absolutely huge, mysteriously holding all of reality, powerfully sovereign over all things, providentially moving and loving it all.
To be a Canadian Hindu to me means to take nothing as absolute truth. Dharma, the social good, is necessarily dynamic and adapts to suit every society.
The rich history of Judaism is a compelling story. I wonder how we survived both internal strife and external threats. The story of Joseph is an example of the former and the Holocaust the latter.
Because the Dharma is so pervasive and eternal, it covers all situations. There is nothing on the news, in society, or in science that could ever bring doubt to my beliefs.
We were raised in the depths of the reserve by an Ojibwa father and a white mother. Sometimes that Sunday ritual of self-understanding and spiritual exposure meant going to a place called "the Lodge" almost right after church.
Our Radio Reports
"By reading the descriptions of different religions, it appears the intent of 'religion' is to better ourselves, give answers and, most importantly, find peace within. If that really is the case, then can believing in a god do us any harm?" — Chris, Saskatchewan
"One thing I hope for is that people keep asking God their hardest questions." — Geoff Rousseau