Islam is the world’s second largest and fastest growing religion. It has over 1 billion followers. Today Muslims, the people who follow Islam, live in every country of the world. Although Islam began in Arabia, more than half of the world’s Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. About one fourth of all Muslims live in the Middle East and several million live in the United States.


Principles of Islam

Muslims believe in only one god, which they call Allah. Prophets are people who God chose to speak for him. They believe in many prophets including Abraham, Moses and even Jesus Christ, but they do not think that he is the son of God. Muhammad was the last and most perfect of Allah’s prophets. He received messages from him and brought them to the people .

The holy book of Islam is the Qur’an or Koran. It is the word of Allah as he told it to Muhammad. Muslims believe that God created the universe. They also believe that all children are born without sin and that all people can lead themselves to salvation once God has chosen the way for them.

Allah always wants to forgive people who have committed sins. Muslims believe that on the Last Day, when the world comes to an end each person will be rewarded with heaven or punished with hell.


Daily Life, Practises

Muslims are expected to live according to Islamic law, which is called Sharia, or “God’s Way”. They are not allowed to steal, lie, commit adultery, gamble, eat pork or drink alcohol. The Qur’an also tells men and women to dress modestly. In some countries a woman must cover her head or face. Men mostly have a beard because Mohammad also had one.

The status of women is not the same in all Islamic states. Some countries limit the rights of women; in others men and women are equal. They have a right to vote, to get a good education and to have jobs. Islam also teaches other things like respect for parents, helping the poor, faith in God, kindness, honesty and hard work.



Five Pillars of Islam


Every Muslim is expected to perform five duties.

Faith is the most important. Only a person who believes in Allah and his prophet Muhammad can be called a true Muslim.

The second duty is prayer. Muslims must pray five times a day – at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and before going to bed. When Muslims say these prayers they face the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. When they say verses from the Qu’ran they bow, kneel and touch the ground with their foreheads. On the Islamic holy day, Friday, Muslims go to a mosque to pray and listen to a sermon. From the tower, called minaret, a muezzin traditionally calls worshippers to come.

Almsgiving is a way of helping the poor. Muslims have to pay a tax called zakat to the community once each year. This money is used to help poorer Muslims, but sometimes it is used to finance holy wars , build facilities for travellers or welfare organisations and build schools . When Muslims do this they purify their wealth

Every Muslim must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Because Muslims have a lunar calendar, Ramadan takes place at different times of the year. During this month Muslims must fast from dawn to sunset. In the evening they may eat a meal and drink something. Sick, injured and very old people do not have to fast. At the end of the month Muslims break their fasting with a celebration called Id al-Fitr.

The Qur’an says that Muslims must go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives if they are strong enough and can afford it. On this Hajj, they visit the Kaaba , a holy shrine in the centre of a huge mosque. Men must wear plain white robes and women must wear a long white gown and a headscarf. Pilgrims walk around the Kaaba seven times while praying. It is believed that at Mecca the prophet Abraham sacrificed his son to God. The Hajj takes place on the first few days of the twelfth month of the Islamic year and brings together Muslims from all over the world.


Pilgrim in front of the holy Mosque in Mecca

Holy Mosque in Mecca


Divisions of Islam

After the death of Muhammad in 632 believers argued on who should lead them. This led to the break-up of Islam into two major branches.

Most Muslims are Sunnites. They are known as conservatives, follow the sayings of Mohammad, are tolerant and have a wide range of views. The smaller group of Muslims are Shiites. Most of them live in Iran and Iraq. The main idea of this branch is that the truths of the Qur’an are shown by the Imam who is the leader of the Islamic community.



The history of Islam starts with the birth of Mohammad in 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca. When he was 40 years old his life changed. The archangel Gabriel appeared to him one night. He told him to spread the word of God. For more than 20 years the angel appeared to him and gave him God’s word.

Several years after the first appearance of the archangel, Mohammad began to preach to the people of Mecca. He talked about equality and charity; he spoke against money and profits. Mohammad preached that there was only one god, which was unusual at that time because many Arabs believed in more than one god. A lot of people including rich ones threatened him so he left Mecca in 622 and went to Medina .

Mohammad persuaded many people to practice Islam. By the time he died in 632 most Arabs were united under this new religion.


During the 7th and 8th centuries the Muslim empire extended from the western Mediterranean to central Asia. Even parts of Spain were ruled by the Muslims for 700 years. Holy wars called jihads were fought to convert people to Islam.

At about 1000 A.D. the Turks began to rise to an Islamic power. They came from Central Asia, defeated the Byzantine Empire and even took control of Jerusalem. In the following two centuries the Christians tried to take back the Holy Land in a series of wars called the Crusades.

In the 1200s another group of Turks called the Ottomans began a Muslim empire that ruled over the Middle East, Northern Africa and Southeast Asia until the 20th century.


Impact of Islam

By 800 Islam’s influence had become greater than that of any other empire in history. Arabic script was used in many countries. The Arabs invented algebra and they combined architecture and art to build beautiful mosques.


Islam today

In the early 1900s a new version of Islam arose in the United States. The group were known as the Black Muslims. The main idea was that all people who were not white should create one nation. Its best known leader was Malcolm X, a radical Muslim. By the middle of the 1980s its power faded and many of its members joined other Muslim groups

Economically , Muslims countries are very different. Some are very rich, like the oil-producing countries of the Middle East; others like Bangladesh belong to the poorest in the world.

In the last few decades Islam has become one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

Many Muslims see western influence as something bad and in some countries they have fought against changes. In Iran a revolution in 1979 brought religious leaders to power. In other countries, like Turkey, religion and the state are separated. However, Islam has had and still has a strong influence on the government as well as on the everyday lives of people.


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  • A.D. = anno Domini = after the birth of Christ
  • according to =as someone says
  • adultery = sex between someone who is married and someone who is not their wife or husband
  • afford = to have enough money to pay for something
  • almsgiving = a religious ceremony in which you give money to the poor
  • although =while
  • appear = to show yourself
  • appearance =something new starts to exist
  • archangel = one of the most important angels in religion
  • argue = to have different opinions
  • arise - arose = appear, come up
  • beard = hair that grows around a man’s chin and cheek
  • believer = someone who believes in a religion
  • billion = one thousand million
  • bow = to bend the top of your body forward to show respect
  • branch = part, section
  • break-up =split up, divide
  • Byzantine empire = the Greek speaking Roman empire of the Middle Ages
  • celebration =a party
  • century = a hundred years
  • charity = giving money and goods to poor people who need them
  • choose - chose =decide
  • combine = to put together
  • commit = to do, carry out
  • community = society and the people in it
  • convert = when someone changes their religion
  • cover = to put something over your face
  • create = make , found
  • create = make
  • Crusades = eight wars led by European kings in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries to get control of the Holy Land from the Muslims
  • dawn = when the sun rises in the morning
  • decade = a period of ten years
  • defeat = to win against
  • division = the splitting up of
  • dress modestly = here: to cover most of your body with clothes
  • duty = something that you must do because your religion wants you to
  • economical =about business, money, trade etc..
  • empire = a group of countries that are ruled by one government or king
  • equal = the same
  • equality = everyone is the same
  • expect = you are to do what others think is right
  • extend = to go from one place to another
  • face = to look towards
  • facility = rooms or buildings that are used for something
  • fade = to go away slowly
  • faith = believe in
  • fast = to eat little or no food
  • follower = someone who helps and believes in a leader
  • forehead = the part of your face above your eyes and below your hair
  • forgive =to stop being angry with someone if they have done something wrong
  • gamble =to risk money on the outcome of a game or a race
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • gown = a long dress that a woman wears
  • headscarf = a piece of cloth that women wear on their heads
  • honesty =to be true, not to lie
  • however =but
  • huge = very big
  • impact =the effect or influence on something
  • including =part of a larger group
  • influence =effect
  • injured = hurt
  • invent = to make or create something new
  • join = to become a member of
  • kindness =to show someone that you care about them
  • law = a system of rules that a country has
  • limit =control, regulate
  • lunar = about the moon
  • Mediterranean = the region between Europe and Africa
  • message = spoken or written information that you give other people
  • mosque = building in which Muslims pray to God
  • most populous =with the biggest population
  • muezzin = a man who calls Muslims to prayer from a mosque
  • perform = to act, to do
  • persuade =to try to make someone do something
  • pilgrimage = a trip to a holy place for religious reasons
  • pillar = a very important part of a system or religion
  • plain = simple
  • population = the people who live in a country
  • pork = the meat of a pig
  • practise = to follow the rules of a religion
  • prayer = words that you say to God
  • preach = to talk about religious things in public places and in front of many people
  • principles =moral rules; what you think is right or wrong
  • profit = to make or earn a lot of money
  • punish = to make someone suffer because they have done something wrong
  • purify =to remove something that is bad
  • radical = against what other people think or believe
  • range =here: many
  • receive = get
  • respect =to admire someone
  • reward = to give someone something because they have done something good
  • rights = things that you are officially allowed to do
  • rise = come up
  • robe =a long piece of clothing, like a dress that you wear for special events
  • rule = govern
  • sacrifice = to kill a person and offer him or her to God
  • salvation = to save a person from evil
  • saying = the words; what someone famous said
  • script = the letters that a language uses
  • separate =divide, split up
  • series = many
  • sermon =a speech that is part of a church ceremony in which you talk about moral values
  • several = many
  • shrine = an object in a place that people go to and pray
  • sin = something that you do that is against God’s will
  • spread =to move from one place to another
  • steal = to take something that belongs to someone else
  • take back = to fight to get back land that you once owned
  • tax = money that you must pay to the government
  • threaten = to say that you will harm somebody
  • touch =to feel with your hands
  • true = real
  • truth =true facts about something
  • united = join together
  • universe = all space, the stars and the planets
  • unusual = not normal, not popular
  • verses = lines that are in a religious book like the Bible or the Qur’an
  • version = here: type, kind
  • view = opinion
  • vote = to chose a person in an election
  • wealth = the money that a person has
  • welfare organisation = organisation that gives help to poor people or those who have problems
  • wide = big
  • worshipper = a person who goes to a mosque or church and prays