Discover more information on the subject of Islam, the world’s fastest-growing religion as of 2017 according to the Pew Research Center, second only to Christianity in the number of followers. Along with Christianity and Judaism, Islam is one of the three primary monotheistic faiths, meaning its adherents believe that there is only one God, known as Allah. There are two main branches of Islam: Sunnism and Shi’ism. Followers of Islam are known as Muslims. Also, early in Islamic history, Sufism emerged. It is a part of Islam and is often referred to as Islamic mysticism. Adherents are called Sufi.
Islam began as a religion in the seventh century CE in the area of the Arabian Peninsula. There, the man who would become known as the Prophet Muhammad claimed to have received revelation from Allah via the angel Gabriel. He first began to share these teachings in the city of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Muhammad’s teachings became the foundation of Islam, which focuses on submission to Allah (Islam meaning “submission” in Arabic).
The Prophet Muhammad’s teachings are organized according to what is known as the Five Pillars, a set of practices every believer must follow: shahada (faith), salah (prayer), zakat (charity), sawm (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage). Muhammad’s teachings are collected in the holy scriptures of Islam known as the Qur’an, also spelled as Quran or Koran.
Although initially persecuted, Muhammad’s followers spread Islam throughout the region and beyond via military conquest under the Islamic principle of jihad, or struggle against the enemies of Islam. Islam became the dominant religion in lands governed by the caliph (the chief religious and civil ruler who is recognized as the successor to Muhammad) throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and into Europe and Asia, including Central Asia and South Asia. Historically, the caliphate ceased to exist with the fall of Baghdad to the invading Mongols in 1258, although the rulers of the Ottoman Empire claimed to be caliphs until Turkish leader Kemal Atatürk brought the practice to an end in 1924. Even so, Islam is the dominant religion of more than fifty countries in the twenty-first-century contemporary world.