Islam is an Arabic word that means “surrender to God.” Believers in Islam are called Muslims, or “those who surrender.” Muslims adhere to the teaching of Mohammad, who Muslims believe was the last of a series of holy prophets that included Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. About 1.8 billion people practice Islam.
Mohammad lived about 600CEin what we now call Saudi Arabia. Mohammad was a merchant by trade, but often he visited a cave to think. According to Islamic tradition, an angel began to appear in the cave. The angel presented Mohammad with a series of messages. When Mohammad told people about the messages, he became well-known in his area. Eventually, Mohammad’s followers collected the messages and gathered them into a book known as the Quran. The Quran is the holy book of Islam. The Quran has been translated into many languages, but many Muslims believe that the only authentic version of the Quran is written in Arabic. The Arabic language spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa as Islam grew beyond the Arabian peninsula. Often non-Arab Muslims will learn Arabic as a second language.
The Islamic house of worship is a mosque. Muslims gather in mosques on Friday afternoons for prayers. An Imam often leads the prayers. An Imam is an Islamic cleric.
The two primary branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia. The branches formed after Mohammad’s death over a disagreement regarding who should become caliph – the leader of the faith. 85% of Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. The Shia comprise the majority of the population of Iran, southern Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan and include a substantial minority of the population in several Muslim nations.