“Islam” is commonly used as the name of a religion whose followers are referred to as Muslims. In Arabic, however, the word islām literally means “submission (to God)” so that muslim refers to “one who submits (to God).” Another cognate of the word Islam is the Arabic word for peace, salām.
Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam emerged in the Middle East, but is now truly a world religion. There are more than one billion Muslims across the globe: from Bosnia to Zanzibar and the United States to China. Given its long history and its rich geographical and cultural diversity, any single portrait of Islam would necessarily be incomplete. The diversity of Islam is a part of and a testament to its strength: its message has proven viable and adaptable across the boundaries of time and culture.
Fundamental to Islamic belief is the concept of one God, who, throughout history, has sent many prophets and messengers to peoples of every culture and nation so that they may guide them to live in accordance with God’s will. According to the vast majority of Muslims, God’s final prophet and messenger was Muhammad, and God’s final revelation was the Quran, regarded as the verbatim word of God. Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, communities of faithful Muslims have responded to God’s word, interpreting the teachings of Islam in each new century and within many cultural contexts.
Sayyida Roqiya Niasse, daughter of the West African Sufi leader Ibrahim Niasse, Joseph Hill, 2009, Flickr Creative Commons.