Islam originated with the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (ca. 570-632 CE). A radically monotheistic faith that, like Judaism and Christianity, traces its origins back to Abraham, Islam spread rapidly across the Arabian Peninsula and into Asia, Africa, and Europe in the decades following Muhammad’s death. Islamic law is known as sharia and is based on the teachings of the Qur'an and the sunnah (the sayings and actions of Muhammad). Five main schools of legal interpretation have emerged on this shared foundation, as have a variety of philosophies and spiritual practices, most notably Sufism. The major division within Islam, between majority Sunni and the minority Shi'a, can be traced to the power struggles for leadership of the Muslim community (ummah) after Muhammad's death. The majority tradition in Iran and Iraq today, Shi'ism is characterized by more hierarchical clerical structures and traditionally weaker ties with the state.
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