Quick facts: Islam

By: Anne Wallace

The word Islam in Arabic translates “to submit” and the word Muslim translates to “one who submits.” This simple translation gives key insights to the purpose and central doctrine of Islam, to submit oneself fully to Allah, which is just the Arabic word for God. There are two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shiite, but both follow the same central beliefs. The division comes from a dispute over who was the proper successor (or Caliph) after the death of the Prophet Muhammed.

Muhammed was born in 570 A.D. in Mecca, and began receiving his prophetic revelations, which now compose the Islamic book of scripture, the Qur’an, in 610 A.D. when he was visited by the Angel Gabriel. The Qur’an is divided into two parts: the revelations the prophet received in Mecca and the revelations he received after migrating to Medina in 622 A.D. to escape religious persecution.

Islam is based mostly upon five pillars. The first is Shahada, which means testimony. In order to become a Muslim, one must recite in Arabic “There is no god but God, and Muhammed is the messenger of God.” The second pillar is Salat, which means prayer. Muslims will often say ritual prayers five times a day, and men will attend a prayer service on Fridays at the local mosque. The third pillar is Zakat, which means charity. Muslims believe firmly in sharing their wealth and helping the poor. The fourth pillar is Sawm, which is fasting. Muslims participate in Ramadan, which involves fasting from sunrise until sunset in order to experience a heightened sense of spirituality and closeness to God. The last pillar of Islam is Hajj, which means pilgrimage.

Muslims who are financially and physically capable will visit Mecca, the Holy Land, during their lifetime in remembrance and honor of the journey that the Prophet Muhammed made in 622 A.D. They will also visit sacred sites in the Holy Land, such as the Kaaba, and participate in holy rituals such as casting stones at a column that represents Satan.

Many misunderstand “Jihad,” what is sometimes called the sixth pillar of Islam, to mean holy war. Jihad simply means the struggle. It is meant to depict the individual fight against sin and temptation to choose righteously and follow God. It is the internal and sometimes external struggle one has to overcome evil.