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>From CBC News — There Are 1.3 billion Muslims In The World

>The following comes from CNCNEWS and is very enlightening regarding the goals, history, current news, and aspirations of a God fearinng people.

Islam FAQ: The will of God
CBC News Online | January 12, 2006

Indian Muslims pray to mark the end of the month of Ramadan with the holy Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr at Jamia Masjid, Old Delhi’s main mosque in India (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Islam is very clear about the place of God in human affairs: everywhere. Humanity’s appropriate relationship to God is in the meaning of the word itself – Islam is an Arabic word that translates as “submission” or “surrender,” while Muslim means one who submits to God’s will.

Muslims know God’s will as it was revealed to the prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel in the form of communications and visions. The Koran (or Qur’an) is the holy book that records His words, and the centrepiece of the Islamic religion and way of life, socially, morally and culturally.

Who was Muhammad and when did he live?

The prophet Muhammad was born about 570 in Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia. As a trader, he travelled throughout the region and encountered both Christians and Jews, becoming familiar with their traditions. Islam recognizes many Biblical figures as prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Jesus. None of them, however, delivered the completed word of God. That fell to Muhammad and the Koran.

At 40 Muhammad received his first vision of the archangel Gabriel, who brought the word of God. He told Muhammad to go and preach monotheism, the word of the one true God (in Arabic, Allah). This vision and future communications from the angel were recorded later to form the Koran. Muhammad died in 632.

Were Muhammad and his message well received?

Though he proclaimed himself as God’s messenger, Muhammad convinced few people at first. By 622, however, a dozen years after his first vision, he had enough followers that the Meccans were nervous about him and plotted his death.

In the memorable event known as the Hejira (“departure” or “flight”), Muhammad and some of his followers fled to the city he renamed Medina (City of the Prophet). The Muslim calendar begins the year of the Hejira.

In Medina he established a community based on the commonality of Islam rather than on the old affiliations of tribe or family. The common bonds were monotheism, shared practice and elevated regard for the poor. By the time of Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam’s influence had spread through conversion as well as through conquest. Mecca had been captured from Arab pagans and was the centre of Islam. The recorded sayings and deeds of Muhammad during his life, called Hadith, is a continuing source of moral and religious guidance to Muslims.

What are The Five Pillars of Islam?

The core practices of Islam are known as The Five Pillars. They are:

  • Profession of Faith. A Muslim must believe “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger” and must say so aloud.
  • Daily prayer. A Muslim prays five times daily facing Mecca, with others if possible. The prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. On Friday there is a special noon prayer service.
  • Zakat. Zakat was originally a tax on possessions with the proceeds going mostly to aid the poor (though the money might be spent for a few other purposes including ransoming captives of war). The word now refers more to almsgiving.
  • Fasting. The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. It was during Ramadan that the Koran was revealed. It is one of the Pillars of Islam that Muslims fast from daybreak to sunset for the entire month of Ramadan. The prohibition includes drinking and smoking as well as eating.
  • Hajj (pilgrimage). At least once in a lifetime every Muslim is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, as long as the expense is not prohibitive.

How many Muslims are there in the world?

At about 1.3 billion followers, Islam is the second most populous religion in the world. There are 50 per cent more Christians, but only about one per cent as many Jews.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference has 57 members including both nations we associate with Islam – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq – and many we don’t think much about at all – Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Turkmenistan – or at least didn’t until recently. There are 15 countries in which Muslims make up almost 100 per cent of the population.

Besides the few million living in the U.S. and the hundreds of thousands in Canada, Muslims populate most of a wide swathe of land across North Africa through the Middle East and into Asia. Indonesia, with over 170 million Muslims, is the nation with the highest population of Muslims. Though difficult to establish with certainty, even the population of China may be about 10 per cent.

What are jihad and fatwa?

Jihad is “holy war” or “holy struggle.” It is a Muslim’s duty to resort to war when necessary in the defence of the faith. In modern Islam, the fighting is largely personal, including the obligations to fight temptation by purifying one’s own spirit, and to support what is morally correct. War with other nations is only permissible when the faith is in danger, and only in self-defence.

A fatwa is an opinion delivered by a scholar versed in Koran and Hadith on a difficult problem of law. The word came into western consciousness when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran called for the “execution” of author Salman Rushdie for writing a novel some Muslims took as blasphemous.
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