A Religion Profile from International Students, Inc.
Islam: An Overview
hand-picked its own deity and came to Mecca each year to
pay homage to its god.
Number of Adherents
The adherents of Islam number more than 1.2 billion, or
between 19 and 22 percent of the world’s population. Islam is the second largest religion in the world and is growing at
about 2.9 percent per year, faster than the total world
It was the custom of those who were spiritually minded to
retreat to a place of solitude once a year. Muhammad
observed this practice for several years in a cave in Mount
Hira. It the year 610, at age 40, Muhammad reportedly
received his first revelation from the angel Gabriel, the
beginning of a series of revelations that were eventually
compiled into Islam’s sacred scripture, the Qur’an, which means “recitations.”
Islam Among the Nations
Muslims (followers of Islam) are spread primarily over the
areas of North Africa, the Middle East, south-central Asia,
Muhammad is said to have doubted the origin of these new
revelations at first. He thought perhaps he had been possessed by jinn, or demons. His wife, Khadijah, however, reassured
him and encouraged him to teach that which had been
revealed to him.
No more than 20 percent of Muslims live in the Arabic-speaking world. The four nations with the largest number of Muslims are all outside the Middle East:
Muhammad’s religion started slowly, but as he began to
preach more publicly, the leaders of his own tribe pressured him to keep quiet about his message of strict monotheism.
They viewed it as a threat to their polytheistic religion—and their livelihood, since they benefited economically from pilgrimages to the Ka’bah. Muhammad, however, refused to stop. As a result, persecution increased against the followers of this new religion until around 100 Muslim families were
forced to flee to a city named Yathrib (now called Medina),
about 225 miles north of Mecca. Muhammad followed them
shortly thereafter, fleeing to Mecca in 622. Muslims now look to the year of his flight to Yathrib as the beginning of the Muslim calendar. This event is known as Hijrah (also spelled Hegira), meaning “a series of migrations.”
Indonesia—182,570,000, 88 percent of population
Pakistan—134,480,000, 97 percent
Bangladesh—114,080,000, 85 percent
India—over 100 million, 12 percent
Approximately one-fifth of the more than 500,000 international students studying in the U.S. come from Islamic countries. Most of these countries have a minimal number of
Christians in their populations. Moreover, their governments have either closed the countries’ borders to missionaries or have made evangelism illegal, or both.
The Founding of Islam
In A.D. 570, Muhammad was born into the Arabian Quraysh
tribe, an influential tribe because it controlled the city of Mecca. Mecca was important economically because it served
as a convenient resting place for trading caravans. It was also important religiously because the Ka’bah was located there.
After several successful sieges and military victories against Mecca, and after making treaties with the Quraysh tribe,
Muhammad and his army took control of Mecca in 630
without a struggle. Upon entering the city, he personally
destroyed the idols in the Ka’bah. Within a year of Mecca’s submission to Muhammad, he was able to unify all the tribes
of the Arabian peninsula under the religion of Islam.
The Ka’bah was a cubical structure that, at the time of
Muhammad, contained 360 deities. Each Arabian tribe had
On June 8, 632, Muhammad died.
The major beliefs of Islam include the following:
The Sects of Islam
• God—The central doctrine of Islam is that God is one and that no partner is to be associated with him. To associate a partner with God is to commit the sin of ishrak (also
spelled shirk), or blasphemy, for which the Qur’an offers
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