Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. Many people do not fully understand the faith, and many more persecute Muslims out of this fear of the unknown. However, considering that Islam is the world's fastest growing religion, it is vital to have an understanding of the faith's beliefs and practices. Here is just a quick intro to this extremely broad religion.
Islam began under the leadership of the Arabian merchant Muhammad. Muhammad claimed that he had direct revelation from God (Allah) and that Allah gave him the fundamental teachings for the universe. Muhammad compiled these lessons into the Qu'ran- the Holy text of Islam which is said to be directly written by God.
One of the most important teachings that Muhammad brought from God was the belief in monotheism, the belief in one, singular God. Specifically, Muhammad preached the word of the God of Abraham: an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect God. This is in direct opposition to the majority of 7th-century Arabian clans which (with the exception of several small Jewish clans) were polytheists.
After the death of Muhammad, Islam split into two distinct branches. The biggest reason that Islam split into 2 distinct branches is due to a disagreement in the leadership of Islam. After the death of Muhammad, there was disagreement about who should take over as political and spiritual leader of Islam. Sunnis hold the belief that Muhammad designated no successor, so it was right to elect a new leader. However, Shi'is believe that Muhammad designated his son-in-law to be his successor, and thus his lineage is the heir to the religious authority of Islam.
Muslims practice what is called the Five Pillars of Islam- the 5 Holy teachings of the Qu'ran. Two of these pillars are the Hajj and the Zakat.
The Hajj is the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca that each Muslim is expected to undergo once in his/her life if possible. The Hajj includes traveling to Mecca and imitating events from the life of Abraham, including walking around the Ka'ba- the first house of worship built by Adam and Eve.
The Third Pillar of Islam is the Zakat: the requirement of almsgiving to the poor. Muslims are required to tithe a certain percentage of their yearly income to the poor and give a certain percentage of other assets to the poor. The only rules are that it cannot be given to family or to investment funds, and the charities are arranged by religious committee