Islam is an Arabic word that means “surrender to God.” Believers in Islam are called Muslims, or “those who surrender." Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of a series of holy prophets that included Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. A prophet is a holy messenger. Christians believe that Jesus is God, while Muslims believe Allah is the only God and that Muhammad was his messenger. Allah is an Arabic term that means "the God" (al-El).
Muhammad lived about 600 years after Jesus in what we now call Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe that Muhammad was visited in a cave by an angel. Muhammad repeated the words of the angel to others who learned them by heart. Eventually, Mohammad`s followers collected these messages and gathered them into a book known as the Quran. The Quran is the holy book of Islam. It has been translated into many languages, but many Muslims believe that the only true version of the Quran is written in Arabic. This is why Arabic spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Often Muslims will learn Arabic as a second language, as a Jew would learn Hebrew.
The Islamic house of worship is a mosque. Unlike Jews and Christians, Muslims do not have a holy day, but many Muslims gather in mosques on Friday afternoon for prayers. Muhammad taught that believers should pray five times every day. Faithful Muslims will stop whatever they are doing and bow down to pray.
Mecca is a holy city to Muslims because it is the site of the Kaaba, a small shrine that Muslims believe to be the most sacred spot on earth. Muslims orient themselves toward the Kaaba during their daily prayers. Every Muslim who makes the pilgrimage to Mecca walks around the Kaaba seven times. Islamic tradition states that the stone was originally white, but it had become black by absorbing the sins of the millions of pilgrims who have kissed and touched it.
Ramadan is a sacred month to Muslims, and faithful Muslims fast between dawn and dusk during Ramadan. To fast means to abstain from eating. Ramadan is sacred because it is the month in which the Quran was revealed to Muhammad. Muslims use a lunar calendar, so Ramadan falls at different times each year. Ramadan will begin september 12, 2007. There are more than one billion Muslims, but only five million live in the United States. Nations with large Muslim populations include Indonesia (180 million), Pakistan (125 million), Bangladesh (109 million), India (84 million), Iran (66 million), Egypt (60 million), Turkey (60 million), Nigeria (52 million), Algeria (29 million), Morocco (29 million), Ethiopia (24 million), Sudan (22 million), Afghanistan (22 million), Iraq (20 million) and Saudi Arabia (19 million). Russia also has a large Muslim population, but estimates on its size vary.
Icons of Islam
The crescent, star, and the color green are symbols often associated with Islam. The star represents knowledge and light, and the crescent represents progress. You will find these symbols on the flags of many Muslim nations.
Islamic art includes calligraphy, or decorative penmanship, but no images of people. The Quran forbids recreating any living thing because no one should copy what Allah has made. This is why you will not find a picture of Muhammad in Islamic literature.