There are over 2 billion Muslim people throughout the world. The United States has a Muslim population of 8 million, while almost 56 million Muslims stay in Europe.
Muslims believe in the concept that Allah created human beings from a drop of blood and that he has blessed them with superior intelligence amongst living beings. They believe that the sole purpose of their life is to serve Allah and obey the teachings of the Holy Qur’an.
Muslims, believe that human beings should pray and do good things so as to please Allah and in turn he will reward them by calling them to his paradise called Jannah after their deaths. Likewise, sinners will be sent to Jahannam or hell after their deaths. Although, This is common with all the religions of the world.
Muslims believe that the soul never dies and that it gets transferred into a newborn body after death. They believe that on the Judgement Day (Yawm ad-Dīn), Allah will decide the fate of humanity and human beings will be divided between the paradise and the hell based on their good/bad behavior.
Places of Islamic Pilgrimage and Worship
The Muslims consider the Ka’ba mosque as the most sacred places of worship. It was built by Prophet Abraham around a Black stone, which they believe to have existed since the time of Adam and Eve. According to the Five Pillars of Islam, every Muslim is supposed to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his lifetime. This pilgrimage is called the Hajj. The Ka’ba is believed to be the “House of Allah” and is covered with a black fabric with gold embroidery. They go around the Ka’ba seven times and also touch the Black stone each time. There is a well near the Ka’ba called Zam Zam. The Muslims drink the holy water of this well and also bring some water along with them while returning from Mecca.
Medina (Madinat Rasul Allah)
This the second holiest place of pilgrimage for Muslims, as the mosque of Prophet Muhammad (Masjid al-Nawabi) is situated here. Mecca is also known Madinat Rasul Allah or the “City of the Prophet of Allah.” Prophet Muhammad fled from the city of Mecca after he was driven out from there. He then he settled in Medina and strived to spread the Islam all over the world. The mosque of the Prophet is built on the site of his home and is also the place where the prophet was buried after his death.
This is the third most sacred city of pilgrimage which is considered to be the original Qi’bla or direction of prayer before Mecca. Muslims believe that Muhammad amazingly travelled to Jerusalem in one night and went to the heaven from here. The Dome of Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque are the most important places of worship in Jerusalem.
This town in Iraq is well-regarded for the tomb of Husain Bin-Ali who was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. On the day of Ashura, the Shia sect of Muslims visits Karbala. Ashura is the day of mourning the martydrom of Husain, who was killed Yazid I a tyrant ruler. Many elderly people come to Karbala and prefer to die there as they feel that dying here will lead them to paradise and not hell. The other important place of pilgrimage in Karbala is “Al-Makhayam” a place where Husain’s camp was located and where he and his followers attained martyrdom. There are over a 100 mosques in Karbala.
This Iraqi town is known for the tomb of Ali Abi Talib or Imam Ali. The Sh’ia Muslims consider him to be the founder of their sect. Although, some Muslims believe that he was buried in Mazar-e-Shareif in Afganistan, Najaf still is an important site of pilgrimage for Muslims.
There are hundreds of Islamic pilgrimage centers across the world but the above five are the most important of them all.
How do Muslims pray?
The Muslims pray five times a day. Upon hearing a loud call from the Mosque, the Muslims proceed to the mosque to offer prayers (Salaat /Namaz). They then wash their feet, hands and ritual of cleaning before prayers is called as Wudu. If they are not able to attend the prayers in the Mosque, then they pray while facing to the direction of Mecca. Once they enter the Mosque, they hear an Iqamah – this is an announcement that the salaat/namaz is about to begin shortly. They offer the prayers while performing these actions step by step – Standing, Bowing, Prostrating, Sitting and standing back again. There are total 11 actions that Muslims perform during Salaat and you can see the picture here
Islamic Books and Religious Texts
The Holy Qur’an is of course the most important of all the Islamic religious texts. Apart from the Qur’an, the other texts that are considered important by the Muslims are as follows:
The Sunna: In Arabic language the word Sunna means “a clear or well-known path”. It tells Muslims about whatever Prophet Muhammad has said, whatever he did, the things and practices that he condemned etc. It is in in the form of sayings by Prophet Muhammad.
Sirat-Rasul: Is the biography of Prophet Muhammad.
The Hadith: The hadith literature is basically a report on lessons, actions, and sayings by Prophet Muhammad. The Hadith is also a collection of oral stories from people who were present during the life of Prophet Muhammad and after his death as well.
The Islamic Calendar
The Muslim calendar also called as the Hijri calendar is based on the lunar phases. It consists of 12 months with either 354 or 355 days per year. The first year of the Hijri calendar started in AD 622, this was the year that Prophet Muhammad shifted from Mecca to Medina and his travel/emigration is called as Hijra and that is why the Muslims call their calendar as Hijri calendar.
The major festivals of the Muslims are as follows:
Al-Hijra – The Islamic New Year: This marks the beginning of New Year of the Muslims. It is celebrated on the first day of Muharram i.e. the year when Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina.
Ramadan: This is a holy month of fasting for Muslims and the ninth month of the Hijri calendar. It is also considered as the month in which the Holy Qur’an was sent down from the heaven.
Eid-Al-Fitr / Ramadan Eid: This is the last day of fasting and also the last day of the month of Ramadan. This festival is also celebrated in the first three days preceding month of Shawwal. This is the biggest festivals of Muslims.
Eid-Al-Adha: This is a festival of sacrifice during which the Muslims offer a sacrifice of a goat. This sacrifice is a symbolic expression of Prophet Abraham who offered his first and his only son to Allah, as he commanded Abraham to do so. This also marks the end of Hajj pilgrimage of the Muslims.
This is not actually a “celebration” but a condolence to mark the martyrdom of Husain who was killed in Karbala by the evil forces of Yazdi I. This falls on the 10th day of the first month (Muharram) of Hijri calendar.
The Crescent and the Star
You must have seen this symbol on the flags of Islamic nations like Pakistan and Turkey? This Islamic symbol came to existence during the Ottoman Empire and is often seen in white color and a green background. It stands for everything that is Islamic. To see the picture of this symbol click here
The Name “Allah”
Many Muslims decorate the name Allah and treat it as a holy symbol in their homes, shops and offices etc. You can see the picture here.
Different Sects of Islam
The Sh’ia Muslims: The Sh’ia’s are people who accepted the closest relative of Prophet Muhammad – Ali as his true successor and leader of Islam. They also believe that the 12 Imams (clergies) who succeeded the Prophet were pious people who were chosen by Allah. There are around 120 Sh’ia Muslims in the world, today.
The Sunni Muslims: Unlike the Sh’ias who accepted Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad as the head of Islam, The Sunni’s are people who accepted Abu Bakr, a great leader as their head, after the death of Muhammad. The Sunni’s derive their name from Sunnah, since they follow the traditions and customs of the Prophet. There are around 940 million Sunnis in the world.
The above two sects are the major sects of Islam. The other two sects are the Sufi and the Ahmediya’s.
The Importance of Fasting in Islam
According to the Holy Qu’ran, fasting is important for self-purification and Muslims that fast during the month of Ramadan will be rewarded by Allah. They believe that there is a door called ar-Rayyan in the paradise (Jahannah) and only the Muslims who have fasted during their lifetimes will be called by Allah to enter through this door. He will close the door for those Muslims who did not fast and those who have committed sins. So fasting is considered very important in Islam.