What is Islam and what do Muslims believe?

Question:  "What is Islam and what do Muslims believe?"

Answer:  The religion of Islam was begun early in the 7th century by a man named Muhammad who claimed to have been visited by the angel Gabriel. During these angelic visitations, which continued for about 23 years until Muhammad's death, the angel Gabriel revealed to Muhammad the words of God (which is Allah in Arabic) in Arabic. These dictated revelations comprise what is collectively known as the Qur'an, Islam's holy book. Muslims, the followers of Islam, believe the Qur'an to be the preexistent and perfect word of Allah. Further, there is no such thing as an English, or any other language, version of the Qur'an. These are simply translations of the meaning of the Qur'an, which only exists in Arabic.

The key beliefs of Islam are that Allah is the only true God that exists, and that Muhammed was Allah's prophet. In fact, by simply stating this is a person considered to have converted to Islam. Islam itself means "surrender" or "submission." Because Allah is the only true God, the religion that worships Allah must naturally submit to him only, thus "Islam." Islam purports to be the one true religion, of which all other religions have derived themselves from or been created in a mockery of (including Judaism and Christianity).

Muslims, followers of Islam, base their lives on the Five Pillars: 1) The testimony of faith: "There is no true god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God;" 2) Prayer: five prayers must be performed every day; 3) Giving: one must give to the needy, as all comes from Allah; 4) Fasting: besides occasional fasting, all Muslims must fast during the celebration of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar); and 5) Hajj: the pilgrimage to Makkah (performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar). These five tenets make the framework of obedience for Muslims, and are taken very seriously and literally. A Muslim's entrance into Paradise hinges upon obedience to these tenets.

In relation to Christianity, Islam is obviously different in many important areas. Islam is monotheistic as Christianity is, but Islam rejects the concept of the Trinity. Islam accepts certain portions of the Bible, such as the Law and the Gospels, but rejects the majority of it as slanderous and uninspired. Islam believes that Jesus was a prophet of God created just as Adam was--from the dust of the earth—though born of a virgin, but was not actually crucified, nor does Islam believe that Jesus is God (only Allah is God). Islam teaches that the Qur'an is the final authority of Allah, and is the last revelation from Allah given to man. Although the Qur'an is the main holy book, the sunnah is considered the second source of religious instruction for Muslims. The sunnah was written by Muhammad's companions of what Muhammad said, did, or approved of. And lastly, for this list at least, Islam believes that Paradise is gained through good works and obedience to the Qur'an.