There are approximately 1.8 billion practising Muslims in the world making it the second largest religion in the world.  It is a monotheistic faith founded by Muhammad, a camel driver, in 7th-centurySaudi Arabia.

According to Muslim belief, the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in a mountain cave and delivered a message from the “one true God”. He dedicated the remainder of his life to spreading a message of monotheism in a polytheistic world and his life’s work is recorded in the Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam.

In 622 AD, the Prophet fled north to the city of Medinato escape growing persecution. This event is celebrated by Muslims as the hijira (“flight”) and marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar (622 AD = 1 AH). Eight years later, Muhammad returned to Mecca with an army and defeated it. By his death, 50 years later, the entireArabian Peninsula had come under Muslim control.

The word “Islam” means “submission,” reflecting the religion’s central tenet of submitting to the will of God. Islamic practices centre on the Five Pillars of Islam: confession of faith, daily prayer, fasting during Ramadan, pilgrimage and charity.

The sacred text of Islam, the Qur’an, was written in Arabic within 30 years of Muhammad’s death. Muslims believe it contains the literal word of God as gradually revealed to him by the Angel Gabriel over the course of 20 years. Also important is the tradition of the sayings and actions of the Prophet and his Companions, collected in the “Hadith”.

The largest and best known branches of Islam are Sunni and Shi’ite but smaller groups include Sufis (although some Sufis regard their practice of Sufism as pan-denominational or non-denominational), Druze, the United States-based Nation of Islam (previously known as “Black Muslims”) and Ahmadiyya. As is true with all major religions, there are adherents within Islam who consider some of or all of the other branches not part of their religion but these classifications are based on historical lineage and self-identification.

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