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This lesson discusses Islam from a historical and religious standpoint, tracing its origin in the 7th century Middle East to the present day, while introducing its main divisions and sects.

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Welcome to this tutorial on Islam. Islam was founded by Muhammad in the sixth century. Muhammad is known in Islam as the "Seal of the Prophets," that is, the last prophet and the completion of all the work of the previous prophets.

Muslims believe that Muhammad didn't really found Islam, but rather he restored the faith that Abraham and Moses practiced. The Qur'an is the holy book of Islam and is God's revelation to Muhammad. Islam means "submission," and it's derived from another word that means "peace," so that we could say that Islam means "the peace that comes from submitting to the will of God."

The word for God in the Qur'an is Allah, which just means "God." Muslims believe that Allah is not an aspect of God, not an emanation of God, not a person of God, but simply God. This is just a generic word for God. Muslims believe that there's no reason for our descriptions of God to get any more complicated than that, and they do anything other than this as being idolatrous. So we just want to simply keep it at Allah and not complicate matters like with the Christian Trinity.

So Islam is an Abrahamic faith. Islam traces its lineage back to Abraham. It is a monotheistic faith. Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are important in Islam, but they are considered to be prophets. So Jesus is not considered to be divine but is considered to be a human being and a prophet. Muhammad also is just considered to be a human being, who is God's messenger and is the last prophet, but is still a human being.

There are two main groups within Islam, Sunni and Shia. You'll find different numbers, but maybe around 75% of Muslims are Sunni and around 20% are Shia. But you will find other numbers, maybe 90% and 10%. There's a little bit of wiggle room in there that we can make for Sufism. Sufism is not a sect, really, but is mystical Islam. So the numbers will differ a little bit.

The controversy has to do with who would be the successor to the prophet after his death, and theological differences began to manifest themselves as well. These Sunni followed Abu Barker who was a more charismatic leader, and the Shia followed Ali. So the Shia are the partisans of Ali. Shia Islam, the clerics take on a divinity of their own and are regarded as more authoritative than in Sunni Islam.

Let's take a look at the Shahada, the confession of faith. Muslims affirm two things in their confession of faith-- there is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God. So every Muslim takes this profession of faith publicly.

There are five pillars of Islam. First, the confession of faith, which is called the Shahada. Next, prayer five times a day facing Mecca. Next, giving to the needy. This was specified at 2.4%, which might not sound like very much, but that 2.5% percent was going directly to the needy, not for maintenance of masjids or anything like that. Not for maintenance of the mosque, but just going to the needy.

Next, fasting during the month of Ramadan. This commemorates the revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad. And finally, pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim should try to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. There are exceptions. If your health is failing, or if you don't have the money to go, then you are given an exception.

The Qur'an or the Koran-- there's different systems of transliteration-- is the holy book of Islam. The Qur'an is only considered the Qur'an when it is written in Arabic. Koranic Arabic is considered the standard for what Arabic should sound like for Arabic style. And if you see a copy of the Qur'an, if it is translated into another language, it will normally say an interpretation of the holy Qur'an.

So the Qur'an itself is only the Qur'an in Arabic. And the sound of it is supposed to be holy. So it matters that it is chanted or sung in Arabic, and the sound of it itself is holy. The Qur'an is considered a final and perfect revelation, so there's no need for any further prophets. There's no need for any more holy books. The Qur'an is done.

And Muslims believe that in the first five caliphates, the successors to the prophet are called the rightly guided caliphs. And they believe that from that time onward-- one of the caliph's name was Uthman, who was responsible for compiling the Qur'an-- that from the time of Uthman onwards, no alterations have been made to the Qur'an, that every single word of it has remained the same. And that Uthmanic Qur'an is final, imperfect and complete, and there will never be a need for another holy book.

Just to recap, we said that Islam was founded in the seventh century by Muhammad, who is regarded by Muslims as the last prophet, the "seal of the prophets." We said that the Qur'an is the holy book of Islam, and that it's considered the final word of God. We said that God is referred to by Muslims as Allah and that Allah is not just a manifestation of God but is God and God's self.

We said that Islam is an Abrahamic faith, that is, it traces its lineage back to Abraham, just like Judaism and Christianity. And we said that in Islam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are considered to be prophets and, that is, human beings just like Muhammad is.

We said that Muslims fall into two groups, Sunni and Shia, and that the dispute between the two groups arose over the successor to the prophet. We also said that there are five pillars of Islam-- alms giving, prayer, confession of faith, pilgrimage and fasting during Ramadan.

Terms to Know

Identifying Abraham as a founding descendant, as e.g. in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.


A religion founded in the present-day Middle East by Muhammad, whom Muslims regard as God's last and greatest prophet.

Koran, Qur’an

The principal holy book of Islam, given to Muhammad as a perfect revelation from God (Allah).


One chosen by God to speak and/or teach on his behalf.