Overview of Islam
Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, with over 1 billion followers. It is a monotheistic faith founded by a man named Muhammad in 7th-century Saudi Arabia.
According to Muslim belief, the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad, a camel driver, in a mountain cave and delivered a message from the one true God. The Prophet Muhammad dedicated the remainder of his life to spreading a message of monotheism in a polytheistic world. His life's work is recorded in the Qur'an, the sacred text of Islam.
In 622 AD, the Prophet fled north to the city of Medina to escape growing persecution. This event is celebrated by Muslims as the hijira ("flight") and marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar (622 AD = 1 AH).
Eight years later, Muhammad returned to Mecca with an army and defeated it easily. By Muhammad's death, 50 years later, the entire Arabian Peninsula had come under Muslim control.
The word "Islam" means "submission," reflecting the religion's central tenet of submitting to the will of God. Islamic practices center on the Five Pillars of Islam: confession of faith, daily prayer, fasting during Ramadan, pilgrimage and charity.
The sacred text of Islam, the Qur'an, was written in Arabic within 30 years of Muhammad's death. Muslims believe it contains the literal word of God as gradually revealed to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel over the course of 20 years. Also important is the tradition of the sayings and actions of the Prophet and his Companions, collected in the hadith.
Islam and the West have had a rocky relationship for centuries, and in recent years the tension has only seemed to escalate. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine is religiously charged, Western involvement in Middle Eastern affairs is resented, and various hijackers, suicide bombers and terrorists base their actions on their Muslim faith.
Many Muslims, however, have denounced this radical minority as violating both true Islam and the true meaning of jihad, and Islam continues to be the fastest-growing religion in the world.