Quick Facts

Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. Religion estimated followers:
  • Christianity 1.9 billion
  • Islam 1.3 billion
  • Hinduism 900 million

  • There are two main branches of Islam:
  • Sunni 83%
  • Shi'ite 16%
  • Other 1%

  • Largest Muslim populations (in millions) by Country
    Number of Muslims:
  • Indonesia 170.3
  • Pakistan 136
  • Bangladesh 106
  • India 103
  • Turkey 62.4
  • Iran 60.7
  • Egypt 53.7
  • Nigeria 47.7
  • China 37.1

  • FIVE PILLARS OF FAITH: Followers of Islam share a core of basic beliefs on which they base their daily lives.

    Profession of faith ("shahadah," in Arabic) - "There is no deity but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger." Followers repeat this phrase several times a day to remind themselves of God's central position in their lives.

    Ritual worship ("salah") - Muslims are required to pray formally five time a day-at dawn, midday, afternoon, evening and night.

    Almsgiving ("zakah") - Muslims pay a specified amount of money, typically 2.5 percent of their accumulated wealth each year, to assist the poor and sick.

    Fasting ("sawn") - During the monthlong Ramadan, Muslims are to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activities from dawn to sunset.

    Pilgrimage to Mecca ("hajj") - Islam requires every believer to make at least one visit to Mecca in their lifetime if means are available. More on the Hajj...

    More on the Five Pillars...


    Circa 610: Prompted by what he says are divine revelations, the Prophet Muhammad begins espousing a new version of pure monotheism in pagan Mecca, a town located in what is now Saudi Arabia.

    Circa 622: Muhammad migrates to Medina and establishes an Islamic community. The Muslim calendar begins.

    Circa 632: Death of Muhammad.

    632-661: Islamic rule extends to North Africa, Persia (Iran), Jerusalem, Damascus and Central Asia.

    732: Muslim advance into Europe is halted in France by Christian armies.

    750-925: Islam's "Golden Age." Under a unified empire, Islamic legal, religious and political thought flowers.

    1096: European Christians launch the first Crusade to take the Holy Land from Muslims.

    1099: Crusaders conquer Jerusalem.

    1258: Mongols conquer the Islamic center of Baghdad.

    1291: Islamic forces defeat the last Crusader stronghold in Palestine.

    1453: Constantinople (now Istanbul) becomes a Muslim city when it is conquered by the Ottoman Turks.

    1492: With fall of Grenada, Muslim rule ends in Spain.

    1683: Muslim Turks, controlling much of southeastern Europe, attack Vienna.

    1798: The French, under Napoleon, invade Egypt.

    1832: French forces occupy Algeria.

    1920: European colonial governments control ex-Ottoman lands of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan.

    1932: Saudi Arabia established.

    1947: Muslim state of Pakistan established.

    1948: Israel established. First Arab-Israeli war.

    1967: Second Arab-Israeli war.

    1973: Third Arab-Israeli war.

    1979: Islamic government established in Iran. Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.

    1989: Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan. Islamic rebel forces overthrow the Communist government.

    1990: Iraq invades Kuwait.

    1991: Muslim-dominated former Soviet republics in Central Asia gain independence. U.S.-led forces push Iraq from Kuwait.


    Allah: 1. The foremost name for the supreme being according to Islamic belief. 2. A term applied to God generally by Arabic-speaking peoples, be they Muslims, Jews, or Christians. More...

    Islam: Religion preached by the Prophet Muhammad. It means "surrender" or "submission to the will of God."

    jihad: ji-had'; best known of many words formed from Arab. root j-h-d; "struggle" or "effort"

    In Islam, struggle "in the path of God" or to "make God's cause succeed" (Qur'an 9:40). In the Qur'an, jihad is connected with the imperative to command good and forbid evil (3:104, 110), especially with reference to the struggle of believers against persecution and idolatry. More...

    mosque: mosk; from Arab. masjid, "place of ritual prostration"

    A site of assembly and worship for Muslims. More...

    Muhammad: moo-ham'mad; Arab., "praised one," ca. 570-632

    The founder of Islam. Muhammad was born in the Arabian city of Mecca. His prophetic career started when he was about forty years old when he experienced his first revelation. After an initial period in which only his family knew of his religious experiences, he started a public career in Mecca as a prophet and reformer. He moved from Mecca to Medina in 622. The record of Muhammad's life and prophetic activity is found only partly in the Qur'an, which Muslims hold to be the Word of God. More...

    Muslim: moos'lim; Arab., "one who submits"

    One who submits to the will of Allah (God). As distinct from the term mumin, which refers to one who holds the Islamic faith, Muslim denotes one who submits to the will of Allah and to the practice of Islam in daily life. More...

    Quran (or Koran): The foundational document in the organization of Muslim societies. In its very language the Qur'an has acted as a centrifugal social force throughout the Muslim world. Quranic words and phrases have penetrated the languages of Muslim peoples worldwide, while memorization of the Qur'an, even by non-Arabic-speaking Muslims, has fostered a sense of linguistic fraternity among the whole Muslim community. More...

    Shia: shee'uh; Arab., "a separate or distinct party of men who follow or conform with one another, [though] not all of them agreeing together"; applied to one or many, male or female, without variation

    A large group of different Muslim schools of thought that believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, through a specific designation by Muhammad, inherited political and religious authority immediately following the Prophet's death in 632. Shia refused to acknowledge and regard as legitimate the first three caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, whom the Shia considered usurpers of the leadership that rightfully belonged to Ali and his descendants. More...

    Sufism: Term generally applied to mystical currents in Islam. The word is derived from suf (Arab., "wool"), pointing to the woolen frocks of Middle Eastern ascetics; an etymologically incorrect derivation is from either safa ("purity") or from the Greek sophos ("wise"). There are numberless definitions of Sufism, which is like a mighty tree in which sometimes strange birds have built their nests; perhaps Rumi expresses it best: What is Sufism? To feel joy in the heart at the time of grief. More...

    Sunni: soon'nee; Arab., "custom [of the Prophet Muhammad]" One of two major branches of Islam, a Sunni majority (approximately 85 percent) and a Shii minority (15 percent). This division occurred over the question of succession: Who was to lead the community after the death of Muhammad? The result was the institutions of the Sunni caliphate and the Shii Imamate. More...

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