YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsMuslims


April 06, 1993

Muslim is an Arabic word meaning "one who submits (to God)"

Islam is Arabic for "submission"


Islam is the name of the religion preached by the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th Century.

He began preaching in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, about AD 610. In 622, under the threat of murder, he fled to Medina, an event known as the Hegira. Muslims date their lunar calendar from this point.

The prophet and his followers later returned to convert Mecca to Islam and established their mosque there. They launched a vast expansion that eventually reached throughout the Middle East, North Africa and into Western Europe.

After Mohammed's death, Abu Bakr was selected caliph, or successor, and continued to expand the Muslim empire. The spread into Western Europe was stopped only with the Muslims' defeat by Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers, also called the Battle of Tours, in 732.

Companions of Mohammed preserved his teachings and later compiled them into the Islamic holy book, the Koran, from the Arabic word meaning "recitations." Muslims consider the Koran to be God's revelations to Mohammed.


* Five Pillars of Islam.

These are key duties required of observant Muslims.

Shahadah . Affirming there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.

Salah . Praying five times each day.

Zakah . Giving alms.

Sawm . Fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Hajj . Making a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once in a lifetime.

* God and humanity

The Koran teaches the absolute unity and power of God, the creator of the universe.

God is just and merciful and wishes people to repent and purify themselves so that they can attain paradise after death. God sent prophets with sacred books to teach the people their duties.

Muslims believe that Mohammed was the last of the prophets. Jesus and the Old Testament prophets were his predecessors.

* Ethics and morals

The Koran forbids lying, stealing, adultery and murder. Punishment is based on the Old Testament law of retaliation, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

The Koran denounces usury, games of chance, and the consumption of pork and alcohol.

* Life and death

Life on Earth is a period of testing and preparation for the life to come. The angels in Heaven record the deeds of a person's life. On judgment day, people will depend on the mercy of God to reward them for living properly--or be condemned to Hell.

The sorrows and tortures of Hell resemble those described in the Bible. The Muslim Heaven is a garden with flowing streams, luscious fruits and richly covered couches.

* Customs and ceremonies

The most important are the Five Pillars, outlined above.

There are many public and private celebrations during the Muslim year marking the birth of Mohammed and other important people.

In personal life, ceremonies mark birth, circumcision, weddings and a child's memorizing of the entire Koran.

* Family life

Marriage is encouraged. The Koran permits a man to have up to four wives, providing justice be done among co-wives. But monogamy has remained the standard practice.

Marriage is accomplished through a contract with the bride, acceptance of a dowry and her consent to the marriage. It is legal for a Muslim man to marry a Christian woman, but it is not legal for a Muslim woman to marry outside her faith.

Divorce is discouraged. However, a marriage can be terminated by repudiation by the husband, mutual consent by both parties or a judicial ruling upon the request of the wife.

* Government and law

Islam draws no distinction between the religious and the temporal aspects of life. Thus the Muslim state is by definition religious. The canonical law of Islam, known as Sharia, is based on the Koran, the example of the Prophet Mohammed and elaboration by scholars.


Despite the hope for a unified and consolidated community, as taught by Mohammed, serious differences arose within the Muslim community after the prophet's death.

The most significant split occurred after the death of the fourth caliph (successor) Ali ibn Abi Talib, a son-in-law of Mohammed. The split over the line of succession grew out of a political question of leadership. Complex theological differences developed over time. Here are some of the major branches:

* Sunni

The full name is ahl as-sunnah wa-I-ijma , "the people of the Sunnah (the custom of the prophet) and the consensus."

The Sunni represent the largest branch, accounting for 85% to 90% of the world's Muslims.

Often known as the "orthodox," they recognize the first four caliphs but attribute no special religious or political distinction to the descendants of Mohammed's son-in-law Ali.

* Shiites

Meaning partisan , the term comes from shi'at or "the party of Ali."

Shiites make up roughly 10% of the Muslim world.

The Shiites believe Ali ibn Abi Talib had a divine right to the caliphate, or spiritual leadership, which he passed on to descendants known as imams.

Los Angeles Times Articles