56. Do most Arab Americans belong to the same religion?
Most Arab Americans are Christian, though this varies by region. In many communities, Muslim and Christian Arabs live side by side with each other and with non-Arab religious communities. Most Arab countries are predominantly Muslim.

57. Is Islam mostly an Arab religion, then?
No. Only about 12 percent of Muslims worldwide are Arabs. There are more Muslims in Indonesia, for example, than in all Arab countries combined. Large populations of Muslims also live in India, Iran, other parts of East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Islam has a strong Arab flavor, though, as the religion's holiest places are in the Middle East, and the Quran was originally written in Arabic.

58. What is the Quran?
The Quran is the holy book for Muslims, who believe it contains the word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad. The Quran has many passages that are similar to those in the Bible, which Muslims also regard as a holy book. The Quran has been translated into many languages, including English, and is available on the Web. Quran is Associated Press style. Other spellings are Qur'an and Koran. Variations come from transliterating Arabic into English.

59. What is the difference between Islam and Muslim?
Islam is the religion, and a Muslim is a follower of the religion. It is like the difference between Christianity and Christian. The adjective form is Islamic.

60. What are the five pillars of Islam?
The five pillars are minimum sacred obligations for followers who are able to observe them. They are: belief in the shehada, the statement that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet"; salat, or prayer five times a day; zakat, the sharing of alms with the poor; fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

61. What is Ramadan?
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a month of fasting whose end is marked with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. During this month of self-discipline and purification, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex from before sunrise until sundown. At night, however, they may feast. The Islamic calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and has 354 days, so Ramadan does not always occur at the same time of year according to the 365-day civil calendar.

62. What is the proper greeting during Ramadan?
You may say, "Ramadan Mubarrak." You could also say, "Salaam," which means "peace" and is useful at any time. If you are planning to meet with Muslims during Ramadan, be aware that they may be fasting and a meal-time meeting may be awkward.

63. Must Arabs make a journey to Mecca?
This relates to Muslims, not all Arabs. Learn to keep that distinction in mind. Muslims who are financially and physically able to do so are expected to make the journey at least once in their lifetime.

64. What does hajj mean?
Al hajj refers to the pilgrimage to Mecca by millions of Muslims once each year. It is a milestone event in a Muslim's life. A man who makes the trip is recognized with the title hajji, which means pilgrim. For women, the title is hajjah.

65. What is the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims?
Historically, these are the two main branches of Islam, and their distinction has to do with the successor of the prophet Muhammad. Sunnis believe his successors were elected religious leaders; Shi'a believe that the prophet appointed Ali ibn Abi Taleb. The answer is much more complicated than this, though, because there are other differences and new ones have arisen over the years. There also are separate groups and movements within each branch. In the United States, Muslim unity often overshadows the divisions. Most Muslims worldwide and in the United States are Sunni, though Shi'as dominate in some communities. Most Muslims in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and the non-Arab country of Iran are Shi'a.

66. Are there restrictions on entering a mosque?
One generally must enter without shoes. Look for a sign from your host, or for a place to leave your shoes. Women should dress modestly and may be asked to cover their heads. Men should wear long pants and shirts. Men and women generally pray in different areas.

67. Is it OK to take pictures there?
Each mosque has its own rules. Ask in advance and do not assume it will be OK to photograph at will. Be prepared to make some accommodations if certain angles or parts of the mosque are off limits.

68. Who is an imam?
The leader of prayer at a mosque. He might also be called a sheik. One of an imam's responsibilities is to give sermons on Friday, the holiest day of the typical Islamic week. In many American mosques, the imam is also the administrator. To journalists, an imam can be an important community leader and a good source of information about local Muslims.

69. What are important Islamic holidays?
The most important Muslim observance each year is Ramadan. Muslims also celebrate Eid al-Adha on the last day of the hajj -- the pilgrimage to Mecca -- and Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan. Depending on the makeup of your area, these are worthy of consideration as news events. There are other holidays, as well, but do not assume that a holiday or practice observed at one mosque is observed by all.

70. Where is the headquarters for Islam?
Islam does not have the same kind of hierarchy as some other religions. There is no top official or ruling board for Islam. Muslim mosques, or masjids, and associations are independent. Muslims are not required to be members of a mosque.

71. Why do some Arab men decline to shake hands with women?
Some Muslim men, for religious reasons, avoid physical contact with women other than close relatives. This is not true for all Muslims and exceptions are made to help women who are injured, crossing the street, etc.

72. Is the Nation of Islam related to Islam?
This African American religious group is closely related to Islam, but evolved in the 20th Century with some different practices than those followed by most Muslims. Most African-American Muslims in the United States are not part of the Nation of Islam.

73. What is Eastern rite or Eastern Orthodox?
Be careful. These are designations for Christian churches that share some similarities, but that have different histories. Eastern rite churches are part of the Catholic church with roots in the Middle East and include Maronites, Melkites and Chaldeans. Eastern Orthodox churches, which are independent from Vatican authority, include the Syrian and Coptic churches.

74. Who are Coptics?
The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian and Coptic was the native language of Egypt before Arabic prevailed. Today, the word refers to Coptic Christians. Although linguistically and culturally classified as Arabs, many consider themselves to be ethnically distinct from other Egyptians.

75. What does Allah mean?
Allah means God. The same word is used by Arabic-speaking Christians, Muslims and Jews. When translating Arabic expressions, translate all the words, for consistency. The translation of "Allahu Akbar," for example, would be "God is great," not "Allah is great."

76. Why do Muslims face east when they pray?
They are facing Kaaba (the House of God) at Mecca, the holiest of the three cities of Islam. Muslims in other countries face different directions, depending on where they are in relation to Mecca.

77. What are the other two holy cities?
Medina in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem.


Contents :: Overview :: Origins :: Language :: Demographics :: Family :: Customs

Religion :: Politics :: Terminology :: Stereotypes :: Coverage :: Resources :: Credits


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