Afghans follow Islam, the country’s official religion. Sunni Muslims constitute over 80% of the population, and Shi'ite Muslims, including some Ismailis, make up about most of the remainder. One of the main distinctions between Sunni and Shi’ite faiths is that Shi’ites follow a religious leader called an imam, who is regarded as Mohammed’s successor and an intermediary between Allah and the faithful.
Islam forms a strong bond among Afghanistan’s diverse tribes and peoples and has helped strengthen Afghans’ resolve against foreign domination, particularly during the Soviet invasion. Islam was founded by the prophet Mohammed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 610 AD. Mohammed claimed to be the last in a long line of prophets that includes Moses, Abraham and Jesus. His teachings and revelations were compiled into the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an or Koran, while his other sayings and teachings were recorded by those who knew him and are known in Afghanistan as the hadis (tradition). In addition to defining religious rites, Islam dictates a moral and legal code for most areas of life.
All Muslims practise the five pillars of Islam: professing the faith, which says that Allah is the one God and Mohammed his prophet; offering daily prayers; providing taxes for the upkeep of the poor and religious scholars; fasting during the month of Ramadan; and making the hajj (pilgrimage) to the holy city of Mecca once in a lifetime, if possible. The Muslim place of worship is the mosque. Men congregate in the mosque particularly on Friday, the Muslim holy day; women are discouraged but not prevented from joining men at prayers. Muslim women also traditionally cover their heads with scarves.