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Islam is the predominant religion in the Middle East and is the second-largest religion in the world. Not limited to the Middle East, it has approximately 1.4 billion members, 80% of which are non-Arabs. It is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Its adherents are called "Muslims" (also spelled Moslem), historically "Musselman", "Muhammedans", or even simply "Turks" in Europe and North America. In Arabic, a Muslim is "one who submits to God" (Allah).

Muslims, like Jews and Christians, are monotheistic and trace their roots to Abraham. However, they receive their instruction from the Qur'an (also spelled Koran). Islam's beginnings can be traced back to the 7th century under the leadership of Muhammad and his followers. Islam is largely based on pre-existing Arabian paganism, Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian influences. [1] [2] The vast majority of Muslims also consider haddith literature, the traditional teachings and sayings of Muhammad, as secondary religious scripture.

An universalizing (evangelizing) religion, it spread throughout the world by military conquest and Muslim missionaries. The moral and legal code of Islam is called Sharia law, which has received widespread criticism for its anachronistic and unjust laws and barbaric punishments.


Five pillars of Islam

There are five principles that are generally considered mandatory practices by Muslims:

  • This is only one god Allah. Muhammad is his (greatest and final) messenger/prophet.
  • Prayer five times a day, facing in the direction of Mecca.
  • Tithing, including 2.5% of capital assets.
  • Fasting and holiness during the holy month of Ramadan.
  • Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once, if possible.


The main sects with Islam are Sunni (~80% of Muslims) and Shai (10-20%). There are several minority branches outside mainstream Islam, including:

Other movements within Islam:


"We have to acknowledge that Islam has doctrines like jihād and martyrdom and death to apostates which are central to the faith in which they aren't in other faiths"

Sam Harris [3]

Sharia law

Main Article: Sharia law

Sharia law is based upon a literal interpretation of the Qur'an and the hadith; being extrapolated upon where required by Fiqh - which is Islamic jurisprudence. The extrapolations may vary depending on the sect and the school of thought followed by different scholars, however the core laws of Sharia remain the same across the different schools of fiqh and the sects. Sharia law is widely criticised for containing unjust laws and mandating cruel punishments.


Islamic fundamentalism is fairly strong in middle-eastern regions, one result being the oppression of women. Spurred by, though unlikely exclusively due to, inflammatory passages of the Qur'an, there have been instances of terrorism in the name of Islam, including suicide bombings, beheadings and public stonings.[4][5]

Moderate Muslims are more prevalent in Europe, but despite this there are still extremists in Europe who a large part of the time push to silence criticism of their religion and of Muhammed rather than addressing the criticisms. Islam is often called a "religion of peace" but the Qur'an contains many violent quotations.[6]

Controversial practices

There are some traditional Islamic practices that are not clearly or explicitly specified in Sharia law but are still characteristic of Islam.

Islam has traditionally encouraged women to wear head coverings, such as a Hijab. Young girls are excluded from this practice. Sharia law states that people should dress modestly but is unclear as that what is required for modesty. [7]

More fundamentalist interpretations of Islam practice gender segregation for non-relatives.


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. CNN, Harris: Islam is "mother lode" of bad ideas, 13 Oct 2014
  6. Just a few of many violent quotes from the Qur'an
  7. [3]

See also

External links



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