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Answers to Quiz for Non-Muslims: "Who are the Muslims?"

Did you enjoy taking our quiz? The following are explanations of the quiz answers (if you haven't taken the quiz yet, click here to take it):

1. The number of Muslims: According to, there are 1.3 billion practicing Muslims (followers of Islam) in the world. Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion, and demographers predict that it will be the most widely practiced religion by the mid-21st century.

2. The most populous Muslim countries and communities are:

  • Indonesia, 170 million
  • Pakistan, 136 million
  • Bangladesh, 106 million
  • India, 103 million
  • Turkey, 62 million
  • Iran, 60 million
  • Egypt, 53 million
  • Nigeria, 47 million
  • China, 37 million

(Source: Ash, Russell. The Top 10 of Everything, DK Publishing, Inc.: New York (1997), pg. 160-161. China statistic: CIA World Factbook 1998.)

Note that only one of the countries on the list, Egypt, is an Arab country. In regards to China, reliable statistics are difficult to obtain from this communist nation, and the actual number of Muslims in China may be as high as 11%, or 120 million.

3. Allah is the Arabic name for God, the All-Powerful and All-Knowing Supreme Being and Creator of all that exists. Muslims believe that this is the name that God chose for Himself. It may have a common origin with the Hebrew "El" or Elohim, and the Aramaic Eloh. Arab Christians and Arabic-speaking Jews also use the word "Allah" for God. Many English-speaking Muslims prefer to say "Allah" rather than "God" because of the feeling that the word "God" is not exclusive. For example, it is used, with only a change in capitalization, to refer to "pagan gods," or may be used as an adjective, as in "a godly person." "Allah," on the other hand, has no plural or derivatives of any kind.

4. The central belief in Islam: All beliefs and practices in Islam center around the concept of Tawheed, or the Oneness of Allah. Tawheed is a comprehensive concept which encompasses the following principles:

  • The Oneness of Worship: to single out Allah alone for all worship and not to worship anything along with Him, whether it be a Prophet, a pious person, a tree or stone, the sun, or other than these, such as money or one's desires. Allah says: "And your Lord is one Lord, there is none who has the right to be worshipped but He, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful" (Qur'an 2:163).
  • The Oneness of Allah's Names and Attributes: to believe in all the names and attributes that Allah has ascribed to Himself in the Qur'an (such as "The Creator" or "The First"), and not to ascribe those attributes to any of the creation. Similarly, not to ascribe any quality to Allah that He has not ascribed to Himself.
  • The Oneness of Lordship: Allah alone caused all things to exist when there was nothing; He sustains and maintains creation without any need of it; and He is the sole Lord of the universe and its inhabitants without any challenge to His sovereignty. Since God is the only real power in existence, it is He who gave all things the power to move and change. Nothing happens in creation except what He allows.

5. Who wrote the Qur'an? No one "wrote" the Qur'an. Muslims believe the Qur'an is the literal word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (who was illiterate) over the course of his lifetime. Sometimes the angel Gabriel brought the revelation, and sometimes it was revealed directly from heaven. It would be impressed upon his memory; thereafter he would recite and teach it to his scribes and companions, who would write it down and commit it to memory. There is only one version of the Qur'an. The Qur'an is composed in a rhythmic, melodious fashion and it is recited in a singing or chanting voice during prayer, and on many other occasions. Today it is the most memorized book in the world. Because Muhammad was the final Prophet - the Qur'an calls him the "seal of the Prophets" - the Qur'an is the final revelation of God to humankind, intended to be followed until Judgement Day.

The Qur'an tells the stories of the Prophets and peoples who came before; it speaks directly and personally to the Jews and Christians and to the pagan Arabs; it explains the nature of God and man's obligations to Him; it tells of the Unseen matters such as angels, jinn, Heaven, Hell and the Day of Judgement; and it legislates for humanity in every field, including inheritance, dietary laws, criminal punishments, taxation and economic policy. One of its names is Al-Furqan, the criterion, as it used to judge the truth or falsehood of all previous texts, such as the Torah and the Bible.

6. Sources of Islamic law: The principal sources of the Shari'ah are the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The Shari'ah contains the rules by which the Muslim world is governed (or should govern itself) and forms the basis for relations between man and God, between individuals (whether Muslim or non-Muslim) as well as between man and creation. The Shari'ah contains the rules by which a Muslim society is organized and governed, and it provides the means to resolve conflicts among individuals and between the individual and the state. All Muslims agree that the Qur'an is the basis of the Shari'ah and that its specific provisions are to be scrupulously observed. The Sunnah is a complementary source to the Qur'an and consists of the sayings of the Prophet and accounts of his deeds. The Sunnah helps to explain the Qur'an, but it may not be interpreted or applied in any way that is inconsistent with the Qur'an.

Though there are other sources of law - i.e., ijmaa', (consensus), qiyaas, (analogy), and ijtihad, (progressive reasoning by analogy) - the Qur'an is the first and foremost source, followed by the Sunnah. Other sources of law and rules of interpretation of the Qur'an and the Sunnah follow in accordance with a generally accepted jurisprudential scheme. The Shari'ah is therefore a highly advanced and developed methodology, developed over the course of one and a half millennia, which cannot be easily manipulated to justify one position or another. Rather, it is a universal code of law that can apply to all cultures and all times.

7. When was Muhammad born? Muhammad, whose full name was Muhammad ibn Abdullah, was born in Makkah in the year 570 CE. He was a member of a noble Arab family, a direct descendant of Abraham through Ishmael. The Arabs of his time had mostly forgotten the teachings of Abraham and were idol-worshippers. Muhammad, who from his childhood distanced himself from the decadence and idol-worship of his people, earned his living as a trader and was known by his people as Al-Amin (the trustworthy one). When Muhammad (peace be upon him) reached the age of 40, the angel Gabriel came to him with revelations that established his prophethood. Muhammad (pbuh) was first ordered to instruct his immediate family in Islam, including his beloved wife Khadija, but eventually God commanded him to begin delivering the message to all of humankind.

Over the course of 23 years, in the face of powerful resistance, he communicated the message of Allah to his people and to the surrounding empires, finally succeeding by the end of his lifetime in uniting all of Arabia under Islam. By explaining and living the teachings of the Qur'an, he set an example for how each person should lead his or her life. This is especially valuable since Muhammad (pbuh) was the last Messenger of God. In the year 632, the year of his death, the Prophet delivered his famous last sermon.

8. How do Muslims feel about Jesus (peace be upon him)? Muslims respect and revere Jesus (pbuh) as a Prophet and Messenger of God, and await his second coming. They consider him one of the greatest of God's messengers to mankind. The Qur'an confirms his virgin birth (a chapter of the Qur'an is entitled `Mary'), and Mary is considered by Muslims to be the purest woman in creation.

The Qur'an describes the creation of Jesus (pbuh) as follows:

"Behold! The Angel said, `God has chosen you, and purified you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary, God gives you glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, honored in this world and the Hereafter, and one that shall speak to the people from his cradle and in maturity, and shall be of the righteous.' She said: `O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me?' He said: `Even so; God creates what He wills. When He decrees a thing, He but says to it, "Be!" and it is." (Qur'an, 3:42-7)

The Qur'an also describes many of Jesus' miracles, and his adherence to the Law of Moses. Muslims do NOT believe that Jesus (pbuh) was God or the son of God.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "Whoever believes there is no god but God, alone without partner, that Muhammad is His messenger, that Jesus is the servant and messenger of God, His word breathed into Mary and a spirit emanating from Him, and that Paradise and Hell are true, shall be received by God into Heaven."

9. How do Muslims regard Jews and Christians? Muslims, as a matter of creed, respect Jews and Christians as "People of the Scripture," meaning people whose religions originate with true Prophets and divinely revealed texts, even if those texts have been corrupted or lost. Islam is a fiercely monotheistic religion, and Muslims regard the Jews and Christians as essentially monotheistic peoples. The Qur'an says, "…You will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: 'We are Christians.' That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud." (5:82)

At the same time the Qur'an appeals to the Christians to give up the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity:

"O people of the Scripture! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: 'Three (trinity)!' Cease! It is better for you. For Allah is One God, Glory be to Him, (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as a Disposer of affairs."

10. What does Islam say about terrorism? Terrorism is contrary to all Islamic principles of justice, compassion and decency. The very root of the world Islam is salama, which means peace and submission (to God). Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. However, this is a last resort, and Islam lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. Terrorism, killing civilians or waging unjust wars are heinous crimes in Islam.

11. Some Islamic moral principles: Islam exhorts its followers to prayer, charity, fasting in Ramadhan, pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in a lifetime, and to live lives of righteousness, brotherhood and compassion. Like all the Abrahamic religions, Islamic prohibits murder, theft, adultery and fornication, and lying. In addition, Islam condemns racism and injustice in all forms and places great emphasis on the brotherhood and sisterhood of all believers.

12. Women in Islam: Islam considers women to be intellectual and spiritual people deserving of dignity and respect. Islam rejects doctrines such as blaming Eve for the fall from Paradise; the impurity of women; and original sin. Further, Islam granted women many rights that were not recognized in the rest of the world until very recently, such as the right to own property, to inherit, and to divorce. Islam considers raising a family to be an admirable and important goal for both men and women, but this does not mean that women must remain at home. Women may determine their own destinies, whether through higher education or through work. Islam does expect both men and women to dress modestly. For women this means covering everything except the face and hands in public.

This is not to say that oppression of women does not occur. It is a problem in some places, just as sexual exploitation of women is a problem in the Western world. However, it is a result of cultural traditions that often pre-date Islam. The solution is Islamic education and general education, so that people can learn the rights of women in Islam, and can see potential of women to elevate and improve the society.

13. Number of Muslims in the U.S.: There are estimated to be between seven and twelve million Muslims in America. Ten million would therefore be a fair estimate. The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a comprehensive study of mosques in America this year. Titled "The Mosque in America: A National Portrait," The report found that South Asians, African-Americans and Arab-Americans are the most dominant ethnic groups in American mosques. Thirty-three percent of members are of South Asian origin (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.), 30 percent are African-American, and 25 percent are from the Arab world. Converts make up nearly 30 percent of mosque participants.

14. First Muslims in the Americas: Much evidence exists that Muslims first visited the Americas in the 12th century, and continued exploring with regularity through the 1500's. Many scholars have written in depth on this subject, including Barry Fell in his work Saga America, German historian Alexander Von Wuthenau (author of Unexpected Faces in Ancient America), Ivan Van Sertima (They Came Before Columbus), De Lacy O'Leary and others.

The early Muslim explorers accessed the interior of the continent by using the Mississippi River. The traces of their early presence may be found in the architecture and calligraphy of towns such as St. Augustine, Florida (America's oldest town), in the names of islands such as Islamadora, and in the customs of the American Indians. Muslim explorations of the Americas took place in 1178, 1310 (a series of voyages from Mali), 1312 (African Muslims from Mandinga), 1513, and 1539. Christopher Columbus is believed to have had a Moorish (Muslim) navigator on his first journey.

The first Muslim slaves arrived in America in 1530. More than 30 percent of the 10 million slaves who were uprooted from their homes and brought to America were Muslims. Incredibly, a few of these slaves managed to preserve their Islamic identities and pass on their religion to modern-day communities.

A wave of Muslim immigration began in 1893 when Muslim immigrants from the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, etc.) arrived in North America. These early immigrants were mainly Turks, Kurds, Albanians, and Arabs, and were leaving behind political turmoil and a crop blight that was sweeping the Arab world. Another wave came in the 1930's when the U.S. government ended a temporary moratorium on immigration. From the 1960's on, Muslim immigration continued in large numbers. These later immigrants tended to be students and professionals, rather than farmers or laborers.

15. What do Muslims want? Like everyone else, Muslims in America want to contribute politically, economically and socially, and to build happy and safe lives for themselves and those around them. Muslims can be found in all walks of life and occupations: doctors, engineers, firefighters, teachers, autoworkers, shopkeepers and social activists. Muslims tend to be family-oriented and have strong moral principles, and at the same time they have deep concern for the poor and for racial equality. For these reasons they tend to vote Republican in political elections, while in matters of social policy they would be considered liberal. Ultimately, Muslims in the United States want to do their part towards building a just and peaceful society for all, while influencing American foreign policy to be more fair and just in the Middle East and around the Muslim world.

Copyright Wael Abdelgawad 2001 for May be reprinted with permission. Email:

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