Just as pre-Vatican II Catholicism embraced Latin (for tradition, uniformity, and so all could relate and worship together anywhere, anytime), Islam embraces Arabic. Turks recently experimented by doing the call to prayer in Turkish, but they switched back to the traditional Arabic.
The Quran teaches that Abraham was a good submitter (to the will of God). The word for submitter is "Muslim" — derived from Islam ("submit") with a Mu- ("one who"). So a Muslim is, literally, "one who submits."
Like Christians come in two basic varieties (Protestants and Catholics), Muslims come in two sects. After Muhammad died in A.D. 632, his followers argued over who should succeed him in leading his Islamic faith and state, causing Islam to splinter into two rival factions. Today Shias (a.k.a. "Shiites," less than 15 percent of all Muslims) are concentrated in Iran and Iraq, while Sunnis dominate the rest of the Islamic world (including Turkey and Morocco).
Wherever I travel, having just a basic grasp of the dominant local religion makes the people and traditions I encounter more meaningful and enjoyable. Exploring Muslim countries leaves me with memories of the charming conviviality of neighborhoods spilling into the streets. Like Christmas is a fun time to enjoy the people energy of a Christian culture, Ramadan is a particularly vibrant time to be in Islam. My visits to places like Turkey, Morocco, and Iran have shown me how travel takes the fear out of foreign ways.
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You are reading "Islam in a Pistachio Shell, Part 3: Rituals and Origins", an entry posted on 15 January 2010 by Rick Steves.