Understanding Islam

Reis overlooking the Dome of the Rock

(Dana) Four weeks in the Middle East does NOT make me an expert in Islam. But based on my education in Egypt, Jordan and Israel, I encourage all Americans to try to understand the basics of Islam. To quote our Jordanian guide Hassan, “yes, there are some traditions that Americans may not agree with, but much of them come from ancient history, and beneath it all is a fundamental admonition to be good people.”

Many D-S students will know the basics: one god, Allah, prophet Mohammed, holy book Koran, pray in mosques. We tried to get deeper, especially once we heard someone refer to “converting” from Sunni to Shi’a. So I tried to start understanding the differences between these two branches of Islam. Sincere apologies if I inadvertently get any of the following wrong, but I felt it important to share what I wrote down.


  • The “traditional” or “well-trodden path”
  • 80-90% of Muslims (approx 900MM); almost all Muslim countries are majority Sunni
  • Caliph, or successor, of Mohammed was Abu Bakr
  • Caliph can be any qualified ruler chosen by the people
  • Only Allah is holy
  • 5 pillars of Islam (Allah and prophet Mohammed, 5-times/day prayer, 10% of annual profits to a charity, fasting on Ramadan, Hajj)
  • The Koran plus the Hadith and interpretations provide guidance
  • Four religious “schools” (or interpretations) of Muslim Law drive legal decisions
  • Prayer is done in mosques with crossed hands and forehead directly on the floor


  • The “partisans”
  • 10-20% of Muslims; minority in all countries except Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain. Note, Saddam Hussein was a fairly moderate Sunni in a Shi’a dominated country which affected a great deal of his policies
  • Overall, more conservative
  • Started by Mohammed’s daughter Fatima in honor of her husband (and Mohammed’s cousin) Ali and their slain son Hussein
  • Ali was the rightful successor of Mohammed
  • Caliph can only be a descendent of Mohammed
  • Allah is God, but 12 Imams are also holy
  • 7 pillars — same five as Sunni plus always be ready for a holy war/Jihad to protect Islam from the infidels and infidels must pay a tax of 10% of their income to the kingdom
  • The Koran is 100% complete and only it should provide guidance
  • Prayer is done with hands at side with forehead on a rock made from mud and the spilled blood of Hussein

I hope to continue learning, Insha’Allah (God willing)

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One Response to “Understanding Islam”

  1. the cahrity part is 2.5% of annual profit according to the islamic year (lunar year)
    also prayer consits of several steps what you have listed is 1 or 2 of he steps 🙂

    Hope You are enjoying your trip!!