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Understanding Islam

Islam is the world's fastest growing religion. So maybe it's time you found out what it's REALLY about.

Submitted 3/16/2006 By rachelhiggi Views 39971 Comments 18 Updated 12/21/2006

Photographer : bLooPhynix

The basics

A Muslim, by literal translation, is ‘one who submits to the will of God’. Muslims, those who follow the teachings of Islam, make up 21% of the world population (about 1.3 billion people). Such a big following makes Islam the world’s second largest religion, after Christianity.

Muslims live on every continent on earth (except Antarctica, of course). Many non-Muslims believe that all Muslims live in the Middle East, but Arabs actually make up only 18% of the entire Muslim population.

There are 213 million Muslims living in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country on Earth. Muslims make up about 1.5% of the Australian population.

In the Beginning…

Muslims believe that Islam began as a religion in 622 CE, when the Prophet Muhammad was given a revelation by the angel Jibril (Gabriel in English). The revelation took place in Mecca, a city located in present-day Saudi Arabia. Today Mecca is the religious centre of Islam, and its holiest city.

What’s Islam all about, anyway?

The word ‘Islam’ means ‘peace’, or more literally, ‘submission to God’, so many of its teachings are centred on this idea. The will of God, or Allah, is final and supreme, and humans must not interfere.

This idea is reflected in the prohibition of suicide and missionary work. Humans cannot take their own lives because life and death are at the mercy of Allah. Muslims are also forbidden from recruiting others to their religion, because becoming a Muslim is also the will of Allah.

Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last and greatest of all of Allah’s prophets. They acknowledge that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus of Nazareth were also prophets of Allah, but Muhammad’s teachings are ultimate.

Muhammad was not only a prophet. Soon after he began preaching Islam, he became the head of an empire, called the Caliphate. This is why there is very little separation of religion and government in Middle Eastern Islamic countries.

Holy texts

Muslims predominately follow the teachings written in two holy texts: the Qur’an and the Hadith. The Qur’an is believed to be the words of Allah as revealed to Muhammad through the angel Jibril. The Hadith is a collection of sayings by Muhammad. The sayings are seen as an example of how to live a good and fulfilling life through Allah.

The Five Pillars

At the core of Islam are the five pillars of faith—five acts that Muslims are, in theory, required to perform. However, as is true in many religions, there are some people who practise these more strictly than others. The five pillars are:

  1. Shahadah: a statement of belief that a Muslim must recite at least once in his or her life. Most Muslims recite it at least once daily.
  2. Salat: daily prayers that Muslims are required to recite. Everyday, Muslims face Mecca five times a day to pray—once at sunrise, noon, before sunset, at sunset and before bed.
  3. Zakat: to give to charity.
  4. Ramadan: the holy month of Islam in which it is believed that Muhammad received his first revelation. Muslims must fast during this month.
  5. Hajj: a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city of Islam. Muslims are only required to perform the hajj once, and only if they are physically and financially able.


Just like many other religions, Islam has different schools of teaching.

About 90% of Muslims are Sunni. Sunni Muslims are the most “mainstream” of the sects. Many of these Muslims live in secular societies throughout the world.

The remaining 10% of Muslims are Shi’ites. These Muslims split with the mainstream over who should be Muhammad’s successor of the Caliphate. They follow a much stricter and more literal interpretation of the Qur’an.

Both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims can practice Sufism. Sufism is a mystic Islamic tradition that seeks inner knowledge of Allah through meditation and dance. Many in the Middle East consider Sufism to be a separate sect, but in other regions of the world, it is simple seen as another approach to prayer.

What you thought you knew about Islam

Many non-Muslims have misconceptions about Islam. So, for the record:
  • The Qur’an does not condone violence.
  • Under Islam, suicide (and suicide bombing, for that matter) is forbidden.
  • The Qur’an does not condone the oppression of women.

But maybe the term most misunderstood by non-Muslims is jihad. Jihad means ‘stuggle’, not ‘holy war’, as many non-Muslims believe. Lesser jihad is the struggle to defend Islam from aggressive non-Muslims. What is more important to most Muslims, though, is the greater jihad. Greater jihad is the inner struggle between good and evil that each Muslim must face.

How do I know this?, Major religions ranked by size,

Akhter, Javeed. Does Islam Promote Violence? Quoting the Qur’an witout Context,

CIA, The World Factbook: Australia,, Introduction to Islam,, Myths about Islam

Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Islam by Country,

Discuss Now

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Cam3liA 15-Jan-2009

Hi.. i'm quite new here and i would like to say nice work rachelhiggi for submitting in this issue. I'm Muslim myself and go to a public school and everything and I also wear a headscarf and its also nice to see people are now being more aware of what Islam is really about, which is not terrorism. Its true, some people look at me as if i'm oppressed or we're forced to wear the headscarf, I actually chose to wear it and I'm happy with my choice. Despite the fact that the headscarf is obligatory if you don't want to wear it know one is forcing you. Just letting you guys know out there, hopefully i'm not offending or hurting anyone out there.

One more thing.. not getting angry at anybody or anything but the Chapter 9 and Verse 73 in Qur'an does say those words but its not a verse which states to act violently. It's recommended to look at the circumstances of the verse and why it is revealed. Same as the Chapter 9 Verse 123 in the Qur'an, this verse is ordering the believers to fight when conflict is inevitable and to defend oneself.
Islam is a religion of peace and condemns violence. I'm sure all religions also convey that message too.
Just stating my thought and opinions.. once again sorry if i'm being too opinionated or if i've offended anyone.. i don't mean to, this comment is just to inform.
Keep smilin' :).. PEACE OUT! :)



Fuller 05-Jun-2008

Ah, pluralism. Nice and cosy and warm, isn't it? Unfortunately, the claim in this article that the Qu'ran does not condone violence is, in much the same way as the Bible, patently false.

'Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigurously with them. Hell shall be their home; an evil fate.'
Qu'ran, Chapter 9 Verse 73.
'Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous.'
Qu'ran, Chapter 9 Verse 123.

I raise this not to attack anyones beliefs, but simply to correct one of the factual errors in this article. I trust you will acknowledge this correction.



Derya 12-Jan-2008

I completely agree with chodess :) Well said!



Shelleyw 08-Oct-2007

Waleed Aly

According to Waleed Aly we've become a world of radical misunderstandings. And as muslim born and raised in the West he would know. Waleed is a lecturer in POlitics at Monash University and the author of People Like Us - How arrogance is dividing Islam and the West. The book explores the paradox of how much Islam and west talk ABOUT each other but not TO each other. And as Alice Brennan found out, the also attempts to dispell some of What Aly see's as myths about Islam... Like for example...that all Muslims agree with Bin Laden....

Have a listen here



Shelleyw 10-Sep-2007

Muslim Leaders : Nes Mojaled
We have a secret here at Hack. When we hear about a group of Young Leaders we run for the hills. Usually they are media trained into total blandness and seem a little out of touch with our listeners. But we found a group that is refreshingly different. 20 young muslim Australians were sponsored by La Trobe Uni to develop their leadership skills. You'll be hearing from three of them this week.

Have a listen to this story from Hack about how young muslims are always being told they have to get more involved in Australian culture. But for the people in the La Trobe University leadership program there is no separation. They see themselves as Australians participating in our way of life not living outside it. This is high school teacher Inaz Janif speaking to Michael Atkin
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