Seeing as it's Ramadan, I thought I'd summarize the 5 core things that practicing muslims believe in &/or do. There's certainly more to being muslim than these 5 things & a person could consider themselves muslim without practicing all of these, but these are the essential tenets. Disclaimer-I'm not a religious scholar.
  1. Shahada - Faith
    This is the declaration of faith. It's the first thing a person says in order to convert to Islam. 'There is no God but Allah (the Arabic word for God) and Muhammad (pbuh) is the messenger of God'. This covers a few things - a) You believe in a supreme being b) You assign no equals to God. Basically, you're a monotheist. c) You acknowledge Muhammad as the last in a long line of holy men including Abraham, Moses and Jesus who brought God consciousness & historical social reform to their people.
  2. Salat - Obligatory Ritual Prayer (separate from dua which is your spontaneous talking to God type of prayer). It's basically compulsory for you to take a calming break on a tough day, to appreciate your good fortune on a great day, to think about being accountable to an ultimate Benevolent Judge for your actions/words etc...
    The 5 daily prayers take place at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening & night. You might have seen people standing & prostrating on TV. You must face the Kaabah in Mecca (muslims do not worship a black box -see above). This means that at any point of the day, there are muslims in virtually every part of the world praying & literally making waves, & they're almost like atoms around a nucleus. High school physics was not my strong point but hopefully you get my drift & see some layers of symbolism.
  3. Zakat - Charity
    Obligatory charitable giving for all muslims who are able to do so. 2.5% of your accumulated annual wealth for the poor and needy. If you are not wealthy, then good deeds are an equally strong currency.This pillar is all about eliminating inequality and bettering your community.
  4. Sawm - Fasting during the month of Ramadan
    Ritual fasting between sunrise and sunset. You ingest nada for part of the day. A challenge but very doable. See CNN's list on Ramadan - What is Ramadan? Ramadan is an almost surreal month of spiritual detox & recharging. It's like NaNoWriMo for being a better person and for being grateful for your blessings. You focus less on worldly matters and more on inner peace. A lot of Zakat is distributed during Ramadan.
  5. Hajj - Pilgrimage to Mecca and Madinah
    Hajj is compulsory at least once in your life if you can afford it. Travelling to the holy cities where Islam was born is a meditative retreat and fosters a global sense of community amongst muslims of every race & class & from different corners of the globe. They gather & live out the Quranic verse: 'We...made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honour each other'. Everyone wears similar clothing so there's no hierarchy. The experience as a whole was an epiphany for Malcolm X.
  6. So basically, if you're crazy enough to believe in God and/or you believe in an egalitarian society and being a good person, you have a lot in common with many many many many muslims.