Despite its huge following around the world and the growing Muslim communities in the United States, Islam is foreign to most Americans who are familiar with Christianity or Judaism. Because most Americans know little or nothing about Islam, they have many misconceptions about Muslim beliefs and rituals. The negative image many people in the United States and Europe have of Islam and the Muslim world has a long history. Many have judged Islam without making an effort to consider this religious tradition on its own terms, without bothering to become acquainted with its teaching and the ways in which Muslims practice their faith.
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a monotheistic religion, based on the belief in one God.. This religion was proclaimed by the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia, in the 7th century A.D. The term Islam virtually means "surrender". Within Islam the believer (called a Muslim) use the Arabic word for God, Allah, to refer to the creator of the world and of all life within it. Allah is viewed as the sole God----creator, sustained, and restorer of the world. The will of Allah, to which man must submit, is made known through the sacred scriptures, the Qur'an (Koran). Allah revealed the Qur'an to his messenger, Muhammad. According to Islamic beliefs, Muhammad is the last of a series of prophets (including Adam, Noah, Jesus, and others). Muhammad's message concurrently perfect and do away with the "revelations" attributed to earlier prophets.
From the very beginning of Islam, Muhammad had indoctrinated a sense of brotherhood and a bond of faith among his followers. The Prophet Muhammad fled to Medina in AD 622, it was during this time that his preaching was accepted and the community-state of Islam emerged. During this early period, Islam acquired its characteristics as a religion uniting in itself both the spiritual and temporal aspects of life. Islam also seeks to regulate not only the individual's relationship to God (through his conscience) but human relationship in a social setting as well. Thus, there is not only an Islamic religious institution but also an Islamic law, state, and other institutions governing society.
During the earliest decades after the death of the Prophet, certain basic features of the religio-social organizations of Islam were singled out. The features are to serve as anchoring points of the community's life and fashioning as the "Pillars of Islam." There are five pillars. To these five, the Khawarij sect added a sixth pillar, the jihad, which, however, was not accepted by the general community. Jihad means "holy war" or "holy struggle". The first pillar is the profession of faith which states, "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the prophet of God." The profession must be recited at least once in one's lifetime, aloud, correctly, and purposively, with an understanding of its meaning and with a covenant from the heart. The second pillar consists of five daily congregational prayers, which may, however be offered individually if one is unable to go to the mosque. The first prayer is performed in the morning before sunrise. The second prayer is performed just after noon, the third in the later afternoon, the fourth immediately after sunset, and the fifth before retiring to bed. However, only three prayers are mentioned in the Qur'an: morning, evening, and middle prayer in the afternoon. In strict doctrine, the five daily prayers cannot be waived even for the sick, who may pray in bed and, if necessary lying down.
The third pillar is the obligatory tax called zakat which means " purification." Zakat indicts that such a payment makes the rest of one's wealth religiously and legally pure. In today's society the payment of zakat has become a matter of voluntary charity dependent on individual conscience.
The fourth pillar of the faith is fasting during the month of Ramadan (ninth month of the Muslim lunar...