An Introduction to Islam

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To observant Muslims, ritual prayer is as natural as sleeping or eating. Islam is not just one component of its believers' lives, a set of beliefs remembered on special occasions. Rather, for the devout, it is a way of life. Its tenets and rules permeate almost everything, often including politics and government.
In a world swayed by misunderstanding of cultural differences, Islam and its adherents often are stereotyped and caricatured, branded with the violent or sexist image of a small minority of zealots. In reality, Islam is no better characterized by acts of Middle Eastern terrorists, for example, than is Christianity by acts of Northern Ireland's terrorists.
Islam is an ancient religion with profound …show more content…

Although Islam has taken root in cultures as diverse as those of Egypt, China and the United States, in each region acquires local customs not mandated by the religion -- such as women wearing veils -- Islamic scholars say Muslims everywhere share a core of basic principles, the so-called "five pillars" of the faith.
The first pillar is the profession of faith or, in Arabic, the shahadah. The Council on Islamic Education, an American organization comprising historians and academicians, calls this the central theme of Islam because many Muslims repeat it, in Arabic, several times a day to remind themselves of God's central position in their lives.
The second pillar is ritual worship, or salah. Muslims are required to pray formally five times a day -- at dawn, midday, afternoon, evening and night. At each time, a man summons believers to prayer by calling from atop the mosque's tower, or minaret, or by using loudspeakers. Those out of earshot simply rely on a watch.
Muslims may pray alone or in a group as long as they face the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad's birthplace and the holiest city of Islam. It is common in many predominantly Islamic countries to see Muslims performing the salah wherever they happen to be at the appropriate time. After repeating the prescribed prayer, Muslims may add personal prayers.
Similar to some Christian prayers, the salah

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