MUHAMMAD (570?-632). "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah." This is the fundamental statement of faith in Islam, and it declares that Muhammad is the founder of one of the world's major religions. He was also the founder of a state by his unification of Arabia. Within decades after his death his followers sent out armies that conquered the whole Middle East, North Africa, and Spain. This vast territory was unified, at least temporarily, in an Islamic empire (see Caliphate). Eventually the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, too, fell to Islam (see Ottoman Empire). The religion Muhammad founded became one of the most potent cultural forces in the world, and it plays a decisive role in the politics of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.

MECCA, Saudi Arabia. The most holy city of Islam, Mecca is the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad (see Muhammad). Devout Muslims throughout the world turn toward Mecca in prayer five times each day. Every Muslim hopes to make a hajj, or pilgrimage, to its shrine at least once. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter its gates. It is the capital of Makkah Administrative District. 
The city is located in the sandy, narrow valley of the Wadi (seasonal river) Ibrahim, 45 miles (72 kilometers) inland from the Red Sea port of Jiddah. Surrounded by the Sirat Mountains, Mecca is situated at an elevation of 909 feet (277 meters). Although the dry climate has high temperatures and low rainfall, the city is subject to seasonal flash floods. (see map)

Medina, Saudi Arabia, holy city in central Hejaz, 110 mi (180 km) e. of Red Sea; much visited by Muslim pilgrims; pop. 50,000 

KORAN. "We have revealed the Koran in the Arabic tongue that you may grasp its meaning. It is a transcript of Our eternal book, sublime, and full of wisdom." The speaker was Allah (God), and the one who received the message was Muhammad, Allah's chosen prophet to the Arab peoples. The message is contained in the holy book of Islam, the Koran. The word "Koran" means "recitation"; and the followers of Islam, Muslims, believe that God revealed the contents of the Koran to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel in order that the Prophet could recite it to the Arabs (see Islam). 
The Koran was revealed to Muhammad in Arabic so he could provide the Arabs with a holy book in their own language, comparable to the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity (see Bible). For Muslims, the Koran is the revealed, eternal, and infallible word of God. It is an ultimate authority in all religious, social, and legal issues. It is also considered the finest example of classical Arabic prose.

In Arabia the Bedouins camp near towns or oases during the hot summer months and then move into the desert after the rainy season. They have no fixed pattern of migration as do the Kazakhs, but each group has its established territory.

ASIA MINOR. One of the great crossroads of ancient civilization is a broad peninsula that lies between the Black and Mediterranean seas. Called Asia Minor (Lesser Asia) by the Romans, the land is the Asian part of modern Turkey. It lies across the Aegean Sea to the east of Greece and is usually known by its Greek name Anatolia. 
Asia Minor juts westward from Asia to within half a mile (800 meters) of Europe at the divided city of Istanbul, where a suspension bridge over the strait of Bosporus links the two continents. Asia Minor is also bordered by the Sea of Marmara on the northwest. The area of the peninsula is about 292,000 square miles (756,000 square kilometers).

ISLAM/MUSLIM. From the Atlantic Ocean across North Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Central Asia to the Pacific Ocean, the world's predominantly Muslim nations form a long, continuous band. (Muslims are those who practice the religion of Islam.) Within this band lie the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Persian Gulf states, Oman, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The largest minority populations of Muslims are found in India and in Nigeria. Altogether there are about 750 million Muslims around the world, though there are no precise statistics. Some estimates range as high as 1 billion.

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Last modified: March 01, 2011