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Cultures Around the World: Nepal, Syria, Portugal, and America

Islam (Syria)
The word 'Islam' actually means something along the lines of 'surrender, complete submission, and to make peace'. It's considered the fundamental duty of a Muslim (a word that means 'one who surrenders to G-d') to obey Allah in every possible way. It's no coincidence that the word Islam is close to the Arabic word 'Salaam' which means peace. Muslims believe that true peace can only be gotten by complete submission and obedience to G-d.

The founder of Islam, Muhammad, is very similar to Jesus and how Orthodox Jews think of Moses. Muhammad was believed to have one day gotten a call from Allah to convert all the people to a monotheistic religion with social and economic justice and a final judgment day for all. Muhammad preached his beliefs for 13 years. He had a small band of followers. His real break-through was when the city of Medina made him their ruler. After ruling for several years, Muhammad decided to wage war on Mecca, the holy city. Medina won, and Mecca was converted. Over the two years, Islam swept over Arabia, taking any cities that resisted converting by force. In the Middle East, Islam is still the major religion.

The Islamic concept of Jihad is most commonly interpreted with 'holy war'. It is often associated with the forced mass conversion to Islam hundreds of years ago. Some groups argue that Jihad literally means "effort" but that is a little known meaning. Jihad is generally known as violence in the name of Allah.

One of the most important aspect of Islam is the Five Pillars. These are the obligations required of every Muslim. They are similar to Judaism's Ten Commandments. They are:

Shedadah- saying the prayer "there is none worthy of worship except G-d and Muhammad is the messenger of G-d" every morning. This is the most important pillar.
Salat- praying five times a day.
Zakat- giving charity to those in need.
Sawm- fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Hajj- the pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city.

The different sects of Islam are: Sunni, Shi'ite, Sufi, Kahrijite, Wahabi, Ismaili, Zaidi, Fatimid, Nizari, Alawi, Druze, and Baha'i. At first, the difference between sects was merely political. Slowly it evolved so that now each sect has a different theological perspective also. The two biggest sects are Sunni and Shi'ite. Everywhere except Iran, the Sunnis vastly outnumber the Shi'ites. After them come the Sufis and the Wahabis.

Sunnis are considered 'orthodox' Muslims. They follow all the traditional beliefs and actions to the letter. Generally, a Sunnis relationship with Allah is direct. They do not have any use for rabbis or priests.

Mosques are not denominational like churches or temples. A Muslim of any sect can pray in a mosque of every sect.