Islam is a monotheistic religion founded in Saudi Arabia in 622 CE by the Prophet Muhammad. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was tending his flock when the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) appeared to him and delivered a message from God. With these revelations, Muhammad became the last prophet, succeeding other religious figures from Judaism and Christianity: Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), and Isa (Jesus).
The Five Pillars of Islam define the actions that all Muslims are expected to follow. The Pillars concern personal devotion, such as declaring their faith, praying, and fasting. They also reflect broader Muslim society, such as charitable giving and performing the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Muhammad’s birthplace of Mecca. Muslims believe that leading a good life pleases God, and that each person’s deeds determine their fate in the afterlife.
The most sacred text in Islam is the Qur’an, which contains the word of God as revealed to Muhammad. The Qur’an forms the basis of Islamic law, but there are many commentaries that develop how the Qur’an should be applied. Also important are biographies of Muhammad and other religious figures, as well a collection of Muhammad’s sayings and practices known as the Hadith.
Muslims congregate and worship in mosques, led by an imam. In Shi’a Islam, an imam is not only a spiritual leader, but thought to be ordained by God to lead in all aspects of life. Religious scholars are also esteemed, such as honorary allamahs and state-appointed Grand Muftis.
Sunni – Sunni Islam is the largest religious denomination in the world, though it does not have a formal structure or leadership. Followers emphasize the habits and teachings of Muhammad as the guide for a moral life.
Shi’a – Followers of this branch split with Sunnis after the death of Muhammad in 632 CE. Shiites believe that only the Caliph Ali was the rightful successor to Muhammad, leading to the development of separate rituals and interpretation of Islamic law.
Ahmaddiya – This Sunni offshoot was founded by Mirza Ghulum Ahmad in Pakistan during the 19th century CE. Its adherents believe he was the Mahdi, or “Guided One,” that will bring about the end of the world. In addition to South Asia, Ahmaddiya congregations are in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
Ibadi – This branch of Islam is practiced almost exclusively in Oman. It dates back to the fracturing of Islam after the death of Muhammad.
Colors are used to represent beliefs, traditions, and concepts in many religious traditions. The color green is associated with Islam because it is believed to have been the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite color. It is said he wore a green cloak and turban, and his teachings reference the color. The Qur’an states that green will be worn by the inhabitants of paradise.
White was chosen as the exhibit’s background color because it is meaningful to each of the five religions. In Islam, white symbolizes purity, cleanliness, harmony, and universal peace. White clothing is usually worn during Friday prayer and when performing the scared rites of pilgrimage. White cloth is used to wrap the body of a deceased Muslim.