Islam

Islam is a monotheistic religion and follows a text which its followers believe to be the verbatim word of God. Their holy script, the Qur'an, was finished in 632 CE (The same as AD, the 'Common Era' is an alternative to Anno Domini or "year of our lord" era) after 40 years of writing by Islam's "last prophet of God" Muhammad.
 
Followers of Islam are called Muslims. The third oldest religion (behind Judaism and Christianity) tracing its origins to Abraham, Islam is currently the 2nd-largest religion in the world. It has 1.7 billion followers, about 23% of the global population. [1]
 
Islams dictates that the purpose of existence is to worship God. It presents God (in Arabic, "Allah") as personal, responding whenever a person in need calls.
Similar to Christianity, Muslims believe in Judgment upon death and an eventual day of Judgment across Earth. Muslims believe that humans will be judged according to their good and bad deeds and consigned to heaven or hell. There are some sins that are specified in the Qur'an as condemning to hell, such as non-belief in God, dishonesty, and unlawful intercourse. But the Qur'an also states that God will forgive those who repent according to his will, and will reward heaven to those who perform good deeds, such as prayer, charity, and compassion toward animals. [2]
 
Muslims believe there is a one true faith that was revealed by prophets such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and lastly Muhammad. Some of the staple belief frameworks in the Qur'an are the Five Pillars of Islam and Islamic law, which governs a wide scope of society and individual life.
 
The Five Pillars of Islam:
  1. Testimony - The foundation for all other beliefs in Islam, to convert to Islam, one is required to recite the creed " ašhadu 'al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa 'ašhadu 'anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh", or "I testify that there is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God." [3]
  2. Prayer - Muslims must perform 5 prayers a day to focus their mind on God with gratitude and worship. There is some flexibility in how these prayers are recited, though they mostly consists of verses from the Qur'an. The prayers are performed with the chest pointed toward the Kaaba (Cube) in the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Prayers can be performed anywhere, including Mosques, which are the community centers and prayer-houses (like churches) of Islam.
  3. Alms-giving - Considered a religious obligation, non-poor Muslims must give 2.5% of their capital per year for "bringing hearts together, freeing captives, for those in debt or bonded labor. and for the (stranded) traveler." Known as Zakat, this collective monetary contribution is estimated at about 15 times global humanitarian aid contributions per year. [4]
  4. Fasting - During Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn until dusk and focus on their dependence on God, atonement for their sins, and the needy.
  5. Pilgrimage - Known as the Hajj, this pilgrimage to the city of Mecca is done in the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. Every Muslim physically and monetarily capable must make the pilgrimage once in their lifetime.
 
The Law of Islam is long and complex, and more can be read about it here.
Wikipedia has a very thorough and organized breakdown of Islam's Schools and Branches.
 
To fully understand Islam, one must understand the life of its prophet Muhammad and the history coming from his writings. Check out the resources we've gathered below to learn more.

Links

Islam-guide: a brief illustrated guide to understand Islam.
Islam Web: a site designed for non-muslims to understand Islam, especially to clarify the distortions of the media.
Quranful: Interactive Qur'an
Quran Index: Another Interactive Qur'an
Islam Q&A: Look at questions asked by people around the world to authorities in Islam. You can even ask questions yourself!
Islam Today: A primary Islamic news source
Muslim Matters: A well-made site with discussion, articles, and discourse on Muslim traditions and societal happenings.
Al-Islam: Browse through a massive and well-organized collection of Muslim literature, articles, and more.

Books

The primary Holy Text of Islam

A 150-page, very efficient account of how the Quran was put together and what it contains.

Another by the same author as a Very Short Introduction. This one focuses more on understanding the life of Muhammad.

An account by an academic of Islam of the lesser-followed, mystical approach to Islam.


Designed for acquainting modern English-speaking Muslims with their prophet.

Well-organized verses and themes from the Qur'an. Great bathroom book for learning about Islam.


Videos

PBS - Islam: Empire of Faith: a whopping 2hr 40min documentary by PBS on Islam. It's definitely worth a watch, if not the least for world knowledge.
Inside Islam: a National Geographic documentary on Islam ~1hr 30min
Islam - The Untold Story: "1400 years ago, armies of nomads swarmed out of the Arabian desert and conquered half the world." A documentary exploring history and some controversies of Islam. 1hr 10min
Hamza Yusuf - Introduction to Islam: a 3hr 10min recorded lecture covering apologetics and belief. Takes some warming up to but very educational.
How the Bible Led Me to Islam: a very interesting story of conversion from Christianity to Islam in our world that often pits these two religions as opposites. ~1hr 20min
Media and Islam: War or Peace?: a lecture by Dr. Zakir Naik, produced by the Islamic Research Foundation discussing openly this ever-present image of Islam in the Western world. While many of his views are controversial, he states that "Jihad" is the most misunderstood word about Islam to both Muslims and non-muslims. Instead of 'holy war' it means 'to strive and struggle against ones own evils" 22 parts, ~10 min each.
Islam and Politics: Crash Course World History: modern history lesson on Islam and modern politics. Awesomely dense. Incredibly well-done visuals. ~13 min

References:
  1. "Christianity 2015: Religious Diversity and Personal Contact" (PDF). gordonconwell.edu. January 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-29
  2. What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam:Second Edition: Second Edition By John L. Esposito Page 130
  3. N Mohammad (1985), The doctrine of jihad: An introduction, Journal of Law and Religion, 3(2): 381-397
  4. Qurʼan, Surat al-Tawbah 9:60 "Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect (Zakat) and for bringing hearts together and for freeing captives and for those in debt (orbonded labour) and for the cause of Allah and for the (stranded) traveller - an obligation (imposed) by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise."