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rise of Islam began with the Prophet Muhammad, who was born in about 570 in the city of Mecca, in central western Arabia. From about the age of forty until shortly before his death in 632 Muhammad received frequent revelations from Allah delivered through the angel Gabriel. These were written down into 114 chapters or suras and collected together a generation after the death of Muhammad. The revelations are collectively known as the Qur'an, the sacred book of Islam.

A second source of authority for Muslims is the Hadith (which literally means "statement") . The Hadith consists of a collection of sayings and deeds of the Prophet and his companions which were transmitted by a chain of authorities and written down between the ninth and eleventh centuries. (Individual sayings or traditions of the prophet and his companions are also known as hadith.) The example set by the Prophet as recorded in the Hadith is known as the Sunnah, a term that literally means "w ell-trodden path". The Sunnah provides the normative basis upon which Muslims conduct their lives.

The main sectarian division in Islam is between the Sunni and Shi'a traditions. Sunni and Shi'a share the same prophetic revelatory event described in the Qur'an and the Sunnah: they each accept as fundamental Allah's unity and the mission and mes sage of Muhammad. The division between the two traditions derives from the question of who is authorised to rule over the community of Muslims (Ummah). For the Sunni, authority to rule was originally in the hands of the community , which appointed a caliph (vice-regent/president) to rule on its behalf. They recognise the first four caliphs as Muhammad's legitimate successors.

The Shi'a, however, placed authority solely in the hands of the fourth caliph, Ali, who was also the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, and his descendants. Shi'ism has developed its own system of law and theology; its own clergy; festivals and places of pilgrimage; and a special religious ethos characterised by a fervour to suffer for the cause.

In spite of the division between Sunni and Shi'a, Islam has avoided the extensive fractural divisions that have occurred in some other major world religions. There have of course been various

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