A religion practised in the area of modern day Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq. Unrelated/tangentially related to Islam – there are some shared features, but those are largely the result of cultural inertia; Old Ways die hard, even if they’re in direct conflict with religious beliefs.
So, actual features of the belief system. They’re a fairly standard Monotheistic religion in the broadest strokes: Follow the list of commandments given by the One True Prophet, get into heaven. Don’t follow them, get tossed into hell. All those heathen unbelievers, because they obviously don’t follow the appropriate rites and rules, will also go straight to hell. Although, hey, at least they consider non-members to have souls.
The most visible and distinctive feature of the religion is the central role tattoos play in their religious expression – Canvases believe that humans were created as, well…canvases. As such, they take it as divine mandate to inscribe their life histories(with emphasis on spiritual matters) on their hides. Stemming directly from this, their holy-men(and women – it’s a very equal opportunity religion) are equal parts Priest, graphic designer, and tattoo artist.
Tattooing traditionally starts on the left half of the face, and covers the body in a more-or-less clockwise fashion throughout life. There’s various layers of symbolism in what gets tattooed where, when, and how that I’m not going to detail. The basic end result is that, while they do technically have their history written on their skin, you tend to need a PhD in Theology to parse anything more than basic details.
Errata, errata… As mentioned above, they’re actually a highly gender integrated society – the official line is “Men and Women were created to compliment each other in all things. It is Sinful to frustrate His workings by dividing into halves what should be one house.” As it’s currently parsed by religious scholars, this means that there are no jobs barred to one due to gender, and in fact they tend to aggressively pursue a gender balance in most professions; men and women each bring different and valuable insights into any given task.
Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and roses; they’ve got very strict and puritanical laws concerning sexual mores, and they’re vicious about enforcing them. They’re also a (virtually)Humans-Only group. More on this later, but suffice it to say that the “Do non-humans have souls?” issue is a matter of much debate amongst the religious elite.
Hrm… they have dietary laws largely lifted from Islam, almost all of which are considered non-canonical by professional scholars, but persist anyhow due to cultural inertia.
Politically: They lack a central authority; when people refer to the Canvases as a political entity, what they’re actually talking about is a group of very loosely affiliated Emirs and chieftains who are, more often then not, at war with each other.