Religion founded in seventh-century Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad, who said Allah (God), through the Angel Gabriel, revealed the Quran to him between 610 and 632, the year of his death. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. They worship in a mosque, and their weekly holy day is Friday. Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.
After Muhammad’s death, Islam split into two distinct branches — Sunni and Shiite — in an argument over who would succeed him. Sunnis make up an estimated 85 percent of all Muslims. Shiites are the majority in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, while Sunnis are the majority in other Islamic countries. In Sunni and Shiite Islam, there are various madhhabs, or schools of thought, and other theological traditions.
There is no central religious authority, so theological and legal interpretations can vary from region to region, country to country and even mosque to mosque.
Capitalize all Islamic titles when used before a name and lowercase otherwise. Use the title and name on first reference and only the person’s last name after that.
Shiites and Sunnis use a few of the same religious titles but differ on others. Shiites have a more-defined hierarchy than Sunnis. For example, Sunnis call people who lead congregational prayers imams, while Shiites almost exclusively reserve imam to refer to any of the 12 descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who Shiites believe were his rightful successors. Sheikh, on the other hand, is used in both communities, but can be used either as term of respect — to address older men, for example — or for a formally trained scholar. Among Sufi Muslims, sheikh holds a more exclusive status that is reserved for highly trained scholars and heads of Sufi orders.
Among Shiites, mullahs are lower-level clergy who generally have only rudimentary religious education. A hujjat al-Islam is more learned than a mullah but does not have the authority to issue legal rulings. Mujtahids and faqihs are jurists with the authority to issue rulings. A higher-level mujtahid is a marja, the most educated of whom are called ayatollahs.
In addition to imam and sheikh, Sunni titles include mufti and grand mufti, which indicate a higher status usually conferred by an institution. Grand muftis are usually the top religious scholar in a country.
Because the Quran is in Arabic, it is a common misconception that all Arabs are Muslim and all Muslims are Arab; neither is true.