The Religion of Islam

Explore the roots, expansion, and influence of Islam, a major world religion. Learn about Prophet Muhammad's life, the beginnings of Islam, the Caliphate, and its spread worldwide. Delve into its five pillars and universal principles that continue to guide Muslims today. Dive deeper into this rich and enduring faith. Discover more about Islam's global impact.

The reli­gion of Islam, found­ed by Prophet Muham­mad in the 7th cen­tu­ry, has grown to be a major world reli­gion. It was ini­tial­ly car­ried by Arabs through­out the Mid­dle East and has since gained fol­low­ers glob­al­ly, notably in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Unit­ed States. Today, the adher­ents of Islam, known as Mus­lims, span across con­ti­nents, cul­tures, and eth­nic groups, cre­at­ing a tru­ly glob­al com­mu­ni­ty.

The Meaning of Islam

The term Islam, in Ara­bic, means a com­mit­ment made to God with­out reser­va­tions. The term car­ries weight­i­er impli­ca­tions than its com­mon trans­la­tions like “sub­mis­sion,” “sur­ren­der,” or “res­ig­na­tion” may sug­gest. Islam sig­ni­fies a deep-root­ed faith, obe­di­ence, and trust in Allah, the one and only God. In the Qur’an, Islam is referred to as “the reli­gion of Abra­ham,” empha­siz­ing the con­ti­nu­ity of monothe­is­tic faith from the patri­arch Abra­ham to the fol­low­ers of Islam today.

The Life of Muhammad and the Beginning of Islam

Muham­mad, born in 570 in Makkah, began receiv­ing divine rev­e­la­tions around 610 that con­vinced him of his role as God’s mes­sen­ger. He preached monothe­ism in poly­the­is­tic Mec­ca, lead­ing to con­flict and even­tu­al emi­gra­tion to Med­i­na in 622, a migra­tion known as the Hijrah, mark­ing the begin­ning of the Islam­ic lunar cal­en­dar.

Muham­mad’s accep­tance as a reli­gious and mil­i­tary leader in Med­i­na led to Islam’s spread through­out the region. By the time of his death in 632, Islam had won the alle­giance of most Arab tribes.

The Expansion of Islam and the Caliphate

After Muham­mad’s death, the caliphate was estab­lished, with the Prophet’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, as the first Caliph. The expan­sion of the Caliphate under sub­se­quent caliphs, Umar and Uth­man, led to the spread of Islam across the Ara­bi­an penin­su­la, North Africa, and parts of Asia. This peri­od also marked the divi­sion of the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty into Sun­ni and Shi­ite sects, a divide that per­sists to this day.

The Continued Spread and Influence of Islam

From the 7th to the 10th cen­turies, Islam spread fur­ther, reach­ing the north­west of Africa, cross­ing the Strait of Gibral­tar into Spain, and reach­ing the east into India, effec­tive­ly bor­der­ing Chi­na. In the 750s, the Abbasids end­ed Umayyad rule and moved the Caliphate’s cap­i­tal to Bagh­dad, ush­er­ing in a Gold­en Age of Islam­ic learn­ing and philo­soph­i­cal thought.

Islam found its way into South­east Asia in the 13th cen­tu­ry, where it grad­u­al­ly spread through­out the Indone­sian arch­i­pel­ago. Today, Indone­sia and Malaysia have the largest pop­u­la­tion of Mus­lims in the world. Sim­i­lar­ly, Islam found roots in West Africa through trade, roy­al courts, and the spread of Sufi orders from the 10th to the 16th cen­turies.

The Five Pillars of Islam: Faith and Practice

The five pil­lars of Islam are the basic duties of a Mus­lim: sha­ha­da (pro­fes­sion of faith), salat (rit­u­al prayer five times a day), zakat (alms­giv­ing), sawm (fast­ing dur­ing Ramadan), and hajj (pil­grim­age to Mec­ca). These pil­lars rep­re­sent the uni­ty of faith and action in Islam, show­ing how indi­vid­ual com­mit­ment to God is com­bined with a sense of com­mu­ni­ty and care for the less for­tu­nate.

The Universality of Islam

Islam is an inclu­sivist reli­gion, acknowl­edg­ing that God has sent mes­sen­gers to all peo­ples and rec­og­niz­ing a spe­cial link between Mus­lims, Jews, and Chris­tians as descen­dants of Abra­ham. The Qur’an men­tions numer­ous “Mus­lims before Muham­mad,” includ­ing Abra­ham, Solomon, and the dis­ci­ples of Jesus, sug­gest­ing that the essence of Islam—submission to the one God—has always been a part of human reli­gious his­to­ry.

Islam Today

As of the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry, the world Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion is esti­mat­ed to be between 750 mil­lion and 1.2 bil­lion, mak­ing Islam one of the largest reli­gions in the world. Despite the vari­a­tions in prac­tice and inter­pre­ta­tion across cul­tures and soci­eties, the core prin­ci­ples of faith, obe­di­ence, and trust in Allah remain con­stant.

Today, Islam con­tin­ues to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in many regions of the world, influ­enc­ing social norms, legal sys­tems, and cul­tur­al prac­tices. Its rich his­to­ry and endur­ing tenets con­tin­ue to guide the lives of Mus­lims world­wide.