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Also known as Mohammedanism; youngest of the three monotheistic religions of our time. Islam was founded by Mohammed, son of Abdallah, a camel driver of Mecca, Arabia. He was born in 571 C.E. and died in 632. Islam’s holy book, the Koran, which is in its entirety the work of the founder, is based to a large extent on the Old and New Testaments, whose contents must have been transmitted to the illiterate Mohammed in oral form colored by the interpretations of the rabbinic commentators and the Church Fathers. Though it incorporates elements of both Judaism and Christianity, accepting both Moses and Jesus as prophets, the faith of Mohammed is closer to Judaism than to Christianity. It insists that there is only one God and rejects the idea of a son of God or a Trinity. It allows no sculptured figures or painted pictures to appear in its houses of worship. It forbids its communicants from eating pork or drinking liquor. It subscribes to the doctrines of life after death, a day of judgment, reward and punishment, and paradise and hell. Mohammed is, according to Islam, the last and greatest of all prophets and his Koran, which deviates in a number of places from the data of the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures, is the correct version of the Word of God.

Today, some 800 million Muslims live in a belt of countries extending in a continuous line from Morocco in the west to Indonesia in the east. Their five fundamental duties are to declare that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet; to recite the five daily prayers; to give alms; to fast during the month of Ramadan (during the periods of daylight only); and to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during a lifetime.

Islam is divided into sects, the two most important being the Sunnites, or traditionalists, and the Shi’ites, the more mystically inclined followers of the Caliph Ali. It is theoretically tolerant of Jews and Christians, but in practice Moslem states treat non-Muslims as second-class citizens.

The position of Jews has been more favorable under Islam than under Christian rule. During the Middle Ages, when the Muslim civilization peaked, there was often close cultural collaboration between Jewish and Muslim scientists and thinkers. At the courts of such enlightened Muslim princes as Abdurrahman of Spain in the 10th century, Saladin the Great of Egypt in the 12th century, and Suleiman and Selim of Turkey in the 16th century, gifted Jews were influential and eminent. This situation, however, was neither universal nor permanent, proven by the fact that Maimonides was compelled by the fanatical Almohades to leave his native city when he refused to renounce Judaism in favor of Islam.

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