Mideast is home to many Muslims WAR IN THE GULF

February 21, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Staff writer

Islam is the religion of 924 million people worldwide. About 95 percent of the followers of Islam, known as "Muslims," live in Africa and Asia. There are about 6 million Muslims in the United States.

The Middle East, the site of the Persian Gulf war, is the birthplace of Islam. The religion was founded there, on the Arabian peninsula, in the early seventh century by an Arab merchant named Mohammed. He believed he was directed by God to reform the ways of the people of Mecca, who worshiped various idols. Mohammed set out to teach that there is only one God. The Arabic word "Islam," in fact, means submission to the supreme, all-powerful being, called "Allah" by Muslims.

Since the time of Mohammed, Muslims have split into different groups, or sects. The two largest sects are the "Sunnis," which includes about 85 percent of all Muslims, and the "Shiites," the dominant religious group in Iran.

Islam is considered one of the three great Western religions, along with Judaism and Christianity. The three faiths are similar in that their followers worship one God and share many of the same prophets, such as Abraham.

Like Christians, Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, the son of the Virgin Mary, who ascended into heaven and will return to Earth. However, Muslims don't believe that Jesus was crucified or that he is the son of God. They also feel that Jews and Christians have strayed from the teachings of God contained in the holy books of Judaism and Christianity.

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