Major World Religions Islam and Muslim Belief Part 1

About the major world religion Islam, some of the history, varieties, beliefs and meanings behind the Muslim religious tradition.


The word "Islam" means "submission" (i.e., to the will of God) in Arabic, and the followers of Islam are known as Muslims or Moslems (from the Arabic for "those who submit").

Mohammed (c. 570-632), prophet and founder of Islam, was born in Mecca (located in Saudi Arabia), where he passed his youth as a shepherd and trader. At 24 he married his employer, Khadija, a rich widow 15 years older than he was. He was a well-to-do merchant of 40 when he had a vision in which the archangel Gabriel revealed to him he had been selected to be the prophet and teacher of the worship of one god, Allah; at the time his people worshiped idols and animistic spirits. Other revelations followed, which were later set down in the Qur'an (Koran), the sacred book of Islam. Preaching the new faith, Mohammed began to gather followers, but at the same time he aroused hostility in Mecca, where an ancient black stone called the Kaaba was worshiped. In 622, to escape a plot to murder him, Mohammed fled to Yathrib (now called Medina). The Islamic era is dated from the year of his flight, called the "hegira."

In 630 Mohammed led his followers against Mecca, which surrendered to him; battles and treaties with other cities and tribes made him supreme in Arabia.

Mohammed preached a holy war against nonbelievers and his followers made it a reality. Within 100 years after the prophet's death, Egypt and Syria were Muslim countries and the faith had penetrated as far as Algeria and Tunis. Over the centuries the teachings of Islam have spread far and wide and today it is the leading religion in more than 20 countries. At present a religious revival is taking place in the Middle East. The victory of Israel over the Arab forces in 1967 was taken by many Muslims as a punishment from Allah for their failure to heed his prophets, and large numbers turned back to the Orthodox religion in their trouble. Arab victories in the 1973 war led them to believe they had won back Allah's favor.

Muslims express their belief in one god in the official confession of faith, the Shahada: "La ilaha illa Allah, wa Muhammadun rasulu Allu" ("There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger"). All-powerful and gracious, Allah rewards the good and punishes the sinful.

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