The following article ran as part of a seven-part series by Jon Sawyer and Tim Townsend, originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch December 4-11, 2005.
Q: What do Muslims believe?
A: The faith that Muslims practice is called Islam, which means "submission to God." Muslims believe in one God, which, translated into anglicized Arabic, is Allah. One of the five pillars of Islam is the Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger. The other four pillars are prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage.
Q: Who was Muhammad?
A: Muhammad, also known as the Prophet, was born in Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia, around 570 A.D. Muslims believe Muhammad was God's final prophet, sent to provide God's word to man through the Quran. Muslims do not consider Muhammad a god and do not worship or pray to him, though his life is considered the model by which all men should live.
Q: What is the Quran?
A: Muslims believe the Holy Quran is the literal word of God, revealed to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel over 23 years, beginning when Muhammad was 40. While the Quran is the main source of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, Muslims also regard the hadith, or the sayings and doings of the Prophet and his followers, as a guide to the sunna, or Muslim way of life.
Q: What does Islam say about Christians and Jews?
A: Because all three religions are descended from Abraham, Islam teaches that Christians and Jews are "people of the book," and that many of the central figures in Christianity and Judaism — Adam, Moses, Jesus — were prophets who simply preceded Muhammad.
Q: What is the hajj?
A: The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is an obligation — once in a lifetime — for Muslims who are financially and physically able. About 2 million Muslims from around the world descend on Saudi Arabia in the 12th month of the lunar calendar. (This year, the hajj will begin sometime around New Year's.) Pilgrims all wear simple white coverings to eliminate class distinctions.