A short primer on Islam
From London's Daily Telegraph:
1 The five pillars of Islam.
First: "There is no god but God. Mohammed is the messenger of God." Allah is the Arabic word for God. He is absolutely one, eternal, the Creator and Ruler. He is the Merciful. Ninety-nine names of God are to be found in the Koran.
Second: Prayer five times a day, at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall.
Third: Almsgiving (zakat).
Fourth: The fast of Ramadan. During this month no food or drink are taken during daylight hours.
Fifth: The pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj.
2 Sunni Islam. About 90 per cent of Muslims. There is no ruling hierarchy. Learned men, the ulama, decide on the right way to behave. Relations with God are strictly unmediated - imams and saints are not seen as intercessors. Two thirds of Muslims in Britain are Sunnis from the Indian subcontinent.
3 Shi'ite Islam. About eight per cent of Muslims. Iran is dominated by Shi'ism. Since the killing of Hussein, the grandson of Mohammed, in 680, at the battle of Karbala (in present-day Iraq), the Shi'ites have lived a largely persecuted existence, and they see Hussein's death as part of a salvific penitential response to sin. They await the return of the Twelfth Imam in succession to Mohammed, who is expected as the Mahdi at the end of time to bring peace and healing to the world.
4 The Koran. This holy book was dictated by Mohammed. It is believed to be the uncreated word of God. So it may not be amended, and is studied in the original Arabic; translations are held to be paraphrases. The book in which it is written is treated with respect.
5 Mohammed (570-632). The last prophet sent by God. Some Muslims say "peace be upon him" after his name or write "pbuh" or "saaw", the initials for Arabic words meaning the same. Mohammed is a human being; worship is of God alone.
6 Sharia. "God has not revealed himself and his nature, but rather his law," it is said. The Arabic for this law is sharia. It derives from the Koran and the customs (sunnah) of the prophet Mohammed, as recorded in records of his behaviour, known as hadith. Early consensus on the law was known as ijma.
There are four strands of Sunni Islam loyal to the four schools of law, named after the figures credited with founding them: the Hanafis, the Hanbalis, the Malikis and the Shafi'is.
A set of punishments of great severity are known as hadud (singular hadd). These include stoning or lashing for unlawful sexual intercourse, lashing for drinking alcohol, and cutting off hands for theft. In practice these are not always imposed.
7 Mosques. These are places where the community pray. Those who enter should be ritually pure. There are no priests in Islam. A senior leads prayers. The people face the direction of Mecca. The imam, the cleric who leads prayers, delivers a sermon, at least on Fridays. This is the day for public worship, but work is not prohibited.
8 Mecca. The city where Mohammed was born. During the hajj, pilgrims walk round the Kabah, the cubic building rebuilt by Abraham, with a black stone built into one wall. The Kabah is covered with a black cloth out of reverence.
9 The hijab. A woman's enveloping dress. In Mohammed's time the word referred to the tent-divider behind which women would sit when men were present. The intention is modesty.
10 Jihad. The Arabic for struggle, its primary meaning is the interior struggle to do good and avoid evil. It also refers to war against enemies of Islam. Conditions for its use include authorisation by the leading Muslim scholar in a state. Noncombatants, women and children are not to be killed. The terrorism we see now has been devised by political followers of radical Islam whose religion derives from the Wahhabi puritans of Saudi Arabia.