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The Arabic word for "submission" to the will of the God (Allah), Islam is the name of the religion that originated in Arabia during the 7th century AD through the Prophet Mohammad. Followers of Islam are known as Muslims, and their religion embraces every aspect of life. They believe that individuals, societies and governments should all be obedient to the will of God as it is set forth in the Koran, which they regard as the word of God revealed to his Messenger, Mohammad. Although Islam is a Semitic religion akin to Judaism and Christianity, it had a profound appeal to the Persian mind and soul and soon after its rise became the dominant religion of the country. It has a revealed law, the Tiara's, which governs the life of the believers, and it contains a set of spiritual teaching that later became known as Sufism. Islam does not distinguish between the religious and the secular. Rather, it takes the whole of man's life into account and tries to give meaning to all of his actions. It is essentially a religion of surrender to the Divine Will as this Will is expressed concretely in the Koran And it is a religion based on intelligence which, if correctly used can come to understand the unity which embraces all things.
Islam is essentially divided into two branches, the Sunni and the Shiite, the first group comprising the great majority .The difference between the two arose historically over the question of who should have succeeded the Prophet of Islam upon his death. But more profoundly, the two branches are two different orthodox interpretations of the religion, both of which extend back to the beginning of Islam.
Shiism itself has several divisions, the most important being the Ismailis who believe Seven Imams (or spiritual successors of the Prophet) and the Twelve-Imam Shiite. In its history Persia has been dominated ~t various times by all these forms of Islam. But most important of all during the past few centuries has been the Twelve-Imam Shiism, which since the Safavid period has been the official religion of Persia and remains so today.
The Shiite believe that after the Prophet Muhammad, his real heir both temporal and spiritual was Ali, his cousin, who in Islamic history became not the first but the fourth caliph. The Shiite, therefore, always had a mistrust of the caliphate and felt that only descendants of Ali, the Imams, had the right to the caliphate, not the Umayyads - and other caliphs who were not from his progeny. The Twelve-Imam Shiite as a result withdrew from political life until the Safavid period, when they became dominant in Persia.

The distinguishing feature of Shiism is the Imam (literally meaning "he behind whom one stands in prayers") who stands as the intermediary between man and God. The prophetic light passed from Muhammad to Ali, the first Imam, and from him to the second, third, and other Imams until the twelfth, called the Mahdi, who according to Shiite belief is alive but in occultation. He nevertheless invisibly directs the affairs of this world and will one day appear to re- establish justice on earth. The role of the Imams, each of whom is a link in the chain of the prophetic light and stands as intermediary between man and God, is of great importance in the daily life of the Persians. In fact the religious life of Persia cannot be understood without an appreciation of the profound imprint which  Shiite Islam has left upon the soul of its people.
Over the centuries various figures have claimed to be the Mahdi and have started religious movements which have usually returned to the bosom of Islam. An exception to this case is the Babi and later Bahai movements in the nineteenth century, which first began as a movement within Shiism but later broke away from it completely. Bahaism is thus no longer a form of Islam and in fact the more it has moved away from Persia the more it has rejected Persian modes of thought and adopted a European humanism foreign to the Islamic and Persian religious perspectives.
Despite these movements, however, the religion of the vast majority of Persians is Islam, especially Shiite Islam, into whose mould the 1ife of the Persians has become completely integrated. The Persian calendar is dominated by the important religious events of Islam, although the Persian New Year, which occurs at the beginning of the spring, dates back to pre- Islamic times. The Islamic month of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, is observed throughout the country and from the I9th to the 21 st of that month there is a special period of mourning for the death of Ali, the first Shiite Imam. The Persians have a very special reverence for Ali, and Shiism itself may be considered as the "Islam of Ali". Likewise, during the month of Moharram, they mourn the tragic death of Ali's son Hussain, who was killed in Karbala. This event left such a deep impression upon the Shiite and especially the Persians that its annual commemoration is a high point of the religious calendar. The major religious events of Islam, such as those mentioned above, as well as such festivities as that at the end of Ramadan or during the month of pilgrimage to Mecca, have thus become integrated into the daily life of the Persians. The state religion of Iran is Ja 'fari Faith of the Twelve Imams.
According to official 1986 statistics, about 98.5% of the population is Muslim, most of whom belong to Shiite Sect. Other Islamic sects are Hanafi, Shafe'i, Maleki, Hanbali, and Zeidi, all of which are respected and enjoy perfect freedom. The Zoroastrian, Armenian, Jewish, Assyrian, and Chaldean religious minorities have their own religious organizations. The Koran teaches that God is one and has no partners. He is the Creator of all things, and holds absolute power over them. All persons should commit themselves to a life of grateful and praise of Resurrection they will be judged. Those who have obeyed God's commandments will dwell forever in paradise, but those who have sinned against God and not repented will be condemned eternally to the fires of hell. Since the beginning of creation God has sent prophets, including Moses and Jesus, to provide the guidance necessary for the attainment of eternal reward, a succession culminating in the revelation to Mohammad of the perfect word of God. There are five essential religious duties known as the "Pillars of Islam":

 (1) The Shahada (profession offaith) is the sincere recitation of the two-fold creed: 'There is no god but God' and 'Mohammad is the Messenger of God'. (2) The Salat (formal prayer) must be performed at fixed hours five times a day while facing towards the holy city of Mecca. (3) Alms-giving through the payment of Zakat ('purification') is regarded primarily as an act of worship, and is the duty of sharing one's wealth out of gratitude of God's favor, according to the uses laid down in the Koran. (4) There is a duty to fast (Saum) during the month of Ramadan. (5) The Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca is to be performed if at all possible at least once during one's lifetime. Shari is the sacred law of Islam, and applies to all aspects of lite, not just religious practices. It describes the Islam way of life, and prescribes the way for a Muslim to fulfill the commands of God and reach heaven. There is an annual cycle of festivals, including Hijra, the beginning of Islamic year, and Ramadan, the month during which Muslims fast during the hours of daylight.
There are two basic groups within Islam. Sunni Muslims are in the majority, and they recognize the first four caliphs as Mohammad's legitimate successors. The Shiites comprise the largest minority group, and regard the imam as the principal religious authority. There are a number of sub-sects, including the Ismailis (one group of which, the Nizaris, regard the Agha Khan as their imam), and the Wahhabis, an apparently reform movement begun in the 18th century. There are over one billion Muslims throughout the world.