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The World of Islam

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By Don Belt Photographs by Steve McCurry

Earth’s fastest growing religion, with six million followers in the U.S. alone, reveals striking diversity.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Borne aloft five times a day, from Shanghai to Chicago, Jakarta to Timbuktu, the music of Islam’s call to prayer stirs the soul of devout Muslims everywhere. Whether cast from metal loudspeakers over teeming city streets or lifted as the murmured song of camel drivers kneeling in the sand, it begins with the same Arabic phrase Muslims have used for nearly 1,400 years, Islam’s melodic paean to the Creator.

Allah . . . u akbar,” the faithful sing out.

Allahhhhh . . . u akbar!—God is great!”

Some 1.3 billion human beings—one person in five—heed Islam’s call in the modern world, embracing the religion at a rate that makes it the fastest growing on Earth, with 80 percent of believers now outside the Arab world. For these people Islam is an intimate personal connection to the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians, a source of strength and hope in a troubled world.

The term itself, Islam, is an Arabic word meaning “submission to God,” with its etymological roots firmly planted in salam, or peace. That may come as a surprise to many non-Muslims, whose perceptions of the faith have been skewed by terrorists, many from the Middle East, whose unspeakable acts in the name of Islam have been condemned by leaders everywhere.

“Peace is the essence of Islam,” says Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, brother of the late King Hussein and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Prince El Hassan helps lead the World Conference on Religion and Peace and spends much of his energy building bridges of understanding between the Muslim world and the West. “Respecting the sanctity of life is the cornerstone of our faith,” he says, “and of all great faiths.”

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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In Focus: World of Islam
VIDEO Author Don Belt sheds light on Islam and those devoted to it. Click Here.

AUDIO (recommended for low-speed connections)
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Online Extra
Learn about Muslims in America and the challenges they face in the aftermath of September 11.

How can Muslims and non-Muslims work together to separate Islam from the terrorist attacks of September 11? Voice your opinion.

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

The word mosque derives from the Arabic masjid, which means a place to prostrate oneself. There are no formal requirements to build a mosque, and the Koran gives no details about a special ceremony for consecration. After the Prophet Muhammad’s death, his place of prayer in Medina (a spacious courtyard surrounded by clay walls) served as a model for the structure of mosques. Mosques must be oriented so the direction of prayer is facing Mecca. The minaret became a defining feature early in Islam’s history, and it was from this tower that the call to prayer was offered. Today many such calls are made over loudspeakers. As the world of Islam grew, much of the time simple structures were built. The distinct look of a domed mosque wasn’t developed until the 14th century, during the Ottoman Empire. While Islamic law forbids the taking over of churches or temples to be transformed into mosques, this did happen—perhaps most famously with the Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

—Michelle R. Harris

Islam & the Global Muslim eCommunity
Want to stay in touch with the Islamic world? Islamicity has everything from current events and information on social outreach programs, to Islamic commentaries and activities for kids. There are even links to sites where you can hear the Koran recited.

This site gives you access to online interfaith dialogue groups as well as general information about Islam, how it is practiced in the U.S., and reactions to the September 11 attacks.

The Council on American Islamic Relations
The home page of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a nonprofit group that seeks to increase awareness and understanding of Islam and Muslim Americans, is a good place to check out current news and media coverage concerning Islam.

The Holy Quran
On this site you can search different translations of the Koran by passage.


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