what is islamIslam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith.

The Arabic word 'Islam' simply means 'submission', and derives from a word meaning 'peace'. In a religious context it means complete submission to the will of God. 'Mohammedanism' is thus a misnomer because it suggests that Muslims worship Muhammad rather than God. 'Allah' is the Arabic name for God, which is used by Arab Muslims and Christians alike.

What are the fundamentals of Islam?
Belief in one God, Prayer, Alms, Fasting, and Pilgrimage form the foundation of faith for  every Muslim.

1. Shahada
There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger.  This declaration of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula which all the faithful  pronounce. In Arabic, the first part is la ilaha illa Llah - 'there is no god except God'; ilaha  (god) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God - wealth,  power, and the like. Then comes illa Llah: 'except God', the source of all Creation. The  second part of the Shahada is Muhammadun rasulu'Llah: 'Muhammad is the messenger  of God.' A message of guidance has come through a man like ourselves.

2. Salah salah
Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which are  performed five times a day, and are a direct link between  the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority  in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned  person who knows the Quran, chosen by the congregation.  These five prayers contain verses from the Quran, and are  said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal  supplication can be offered in one's own language.

Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and  nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day.  Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a  Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities.  Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life.

3. Zakah
One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that  wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakat means both 'purification'  and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need,  and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves  the payment each year of two and a half percent of one's capital.

A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so  preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it has a  wider meaning. The Prophet said 'even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.

' The Prophet said: 'Charity is a necessity for every Muslim. ' He was asked: 'What if a person  has nothing?' The Prophet replied: 'He should work with his own hands for his benefit and  then give something out of such earnings in charity.' The Companions asked: 'What if he  is not able to work?' The Prophet said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The  Companions further asked 'What if he cannot do even that?' The Prophet said 'He should  urge others to do good.' The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet  said 'He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.'

4. Sawm
Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from first light until sundown,  abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a  journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and  make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do  this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to fast (and  to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier.

Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method  of self purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a  fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in  one's spiritual life.

5. Hajj What is Hajj
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah - the Hajj - is an obligation  only for those who are physically and financially able to  perform it. Nevertheless, about two million people go to  Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing  a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet  one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors,  the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic  year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall  sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear  special clothes: simple garments which strip away  distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.

The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Ka'ba seven times,  and going seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during  her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafa and join  in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last  Judgment.

In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia  provides millions of people with water, modern transport, and the most up-to-date health  facilities.

The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with  prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid  al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of the  Muslim calendar.