The name Mohammad, also spelled Muhammad and Mohammed, means "the much praised one".(1) Islam means "submission" and Moslem means "submissive one". Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. It is the newest version of the message sent from god through his prophets Moses and Jesus among others. It gives it's followers a purpose for life on earth and promotes harmony for all mankind. It teaches that there is only one god and that through faith and good deeds it's followers will go to a heaven or paradise in the afterlife. I think the most important part of this religion is the fact that it is monotheistic. That is that it stresses that there is only one god. This promotes a sense of equality for all mankind in that god is the only one above us and the only one to be praised and that we are all the same or equal in his eyes. To examine the origin of Islam we must get to know the prophet of Islam, Mohammad ibn-Abdullah.
Mohammad was born in Mecca in about 570 A.D.(2) at a time when the Near East had become a battle field of struggles between the Roman and the Persian Empires, between Western civilization and Eastern Civilization and between the Church of the East (Nestorian) and Christian Churches.(3) He was born a member of the Quraish tribe. His father died just a few months before he was born leaving he and his mother a small house, five camels and a few goats. His mother, Amina, was often sick and could not properly care for her son sent him to live with foster parents in the highlands at the age of two.
When Mohammad was five he had the first of many visions that he was to experience over his lifetime. He was walking in a field and suddenly fell down and started to shout and convulse on the ground. He had a vision or delusion that two men wearing white were cutting open his stomach and stirring up the insides. A boy that had been walking with him ran for help. When help arrived they found him standing up and pale. When they asked him what had happened he said that two angel had come down from the heavens and cut open his belly looking for something. He didn't know what it was that they were looking for. Mohammad's foster parents, fearing that he was possessed by the devil, took him back to Mecca to see his mother and tell her about the vision but his mother told them not to worry and that she had been expecting such things to take place. She told them not to pay attention to future attacks or visions. I guess that this was not reassuring enough to Mohammad's foster parents because Mohammad stayed in Mecca with his mother for the next year until she died on the way back from a visit to her relatives. Mohammad was now six years old and an orphan.
So now Mohammad is six years old. He never new his late father, his mother had just passed away and his foster parents didn't want him. What was he going to do?.. He went to live with his grandfather Abdul Muttalib. Abdul was a merchant and a warrior. His grandfather taught Mohammad the rituals and ceremonies involved in worshiping the moon god. Mohammad lived with his Grandfather for two years. When Mohammad was nine his grandfather died and he went to live with his uncle.
Mohammuds uncle was Abu Talib. Abu was a merchant who traveled all over the desert in caravans trading his wares. When Mohammad was about ten years old he began traveling with Abu in the caravans. His uncle would hire him out as a guard and a camel driver. Legend says that when Mohammad was about twelve he met a monk in Syria who praised Mohammad as "Gods messenger"(4) and told his uncle that Mohammad would grow to be a great man. From a young age he enjoyed having chalenging conversations with priests and monks and other holy men. For the next 13 years or so Mohammad traveled all over the desert from Yemen to Damascus and Bostra. Over these years Mohammad earned the reputation of being a fair and honest trader and a skilled camel driver.
When Mohammad was twenty five years old he married a women who had been widowed twice before. She had a small fortune from her previous marriages. Her name was Khadija and she also happened to be fifteen years older than Mohammad. Mohammad's decision to marry the widow Khadija was an instrumental turning point in his life. If he had not married Khadija who knows how long he would have continued to work as a trader and camel driver but with her riches he was able to stop his daily work and concentrate on meditation, prayer and the development of his new faith.(5)
Bye the age of thirty five his wife had given him six children, four girls and two boys. The two boys died as children and he would always regret that he had no male children to carry his name. During Mohammad's life up to this point he had always been troubled by the corruption and injustice that he had seen and experienced in his home town of Mecca and throughout his journeys around the dessert. He saw the property of widow and orphans taken away. He saw traders that cheated their customers with scales and weights that were "fixed". He saw men burry new born female children and fathers that would kill their children during famines. He saw drunkenness and gambling and saw what it did to the pagan people of his country or was it what being a pagan did to them? It was from these experiences that he later condemned all malpractices and prohibited drinking and gambling.(6) He was troubled by the pagan practice of idol worship, many gods and nature spirits were worshiped in his country. Mecca was a commercial and religious center. Pilgrims would come from all over to worship the Meccan Kaaba ("cube") which was a shrine that contained a black rock that was most probably a piece of a meteorite which was thought to come from the home of the gods.(7) Mohammad refused to worship these gods and idols. One reason was because he liked the god that was worshiped by the Jewish and Christian merchants that he had met on his long caravans and who often passed through Mecca. Secondly, because he was convinced that this very god had spoken to him.
Mohammad spent much of his time alone in the dessert in meditation. On this one night his life would change forever. This night would come to be known as the "Night of Power". Mohammad was now forty years old and he had been meditating in a cave on Mount Hira for six months. Tired, he went to sleep for the night. That night a storm came into the dessert over the cave where Mohammad was sleeping. This was going to be Mohammad's first great revelation. He was sleeping or in a trance when he heard a voice that said "Read!". Mohammad answered that he could not read. He had never learned to read as a boy or up to this point in his life. Twice more for a total of three times the voice commanded Mohammad to read. Mohammad again answered that he could not read and finally asked, "What can I read?" The Voice boomed:
"read in the name of your Lord, the Creator, Who created man from a clot of blood! Read! Your Lord is most merciful, For he has taught men by the pen And revealed the mysteries to them!"(8)
Then he was given a scroll that he opened and read. When he awoke in the morning he remembered the words that were written on the scroll even though he had never been able to read before. The words said "as though written upon his heart". Mohammad was terrified. He ran out of the cave into the morning desert. He thought that he might be possessed. He remembered the vision that he had as a child and still didn't know what that meant. He even thought about killing himself. Then he heard a voice that seemed to come from all directions at once. It said "O Mohammad! You are Allah's messenger, and I am Gabriel!" He looked up and saw an angel in the sky. He tried to turn away but he saw the angel wherever he looked. Finally the angel disappeared and he ran back to Mecca to tell his wife what had happened. He was now the prophet of Islam.
After telling the whole story to his wife Khadija she assured him that he was not going mad and that all was well. They later came to rejoice in the message from the angel and she became one of his first followers. Mohammad would return to the dessert time and time again for meetings with the angel Gabriel. He began preaching and started to attract a few supporters. Mecca was not happy with Mohammad message or his growing number of followers. Many people came to Mecca for pagan religious reasons and if Mohammad's message took hold these pilgrimages would end meaning a loss of money coming into the city. Mohammad's wife died in 619. The persecution that he and his followers had to endure in Mecca was becoming unbearable. So, in 622 Mohammad and his band of followers moved north to the city of Medina. They were met in Medina by 200 deciples. This journey came to be known as the Hijrah which means "the breaking of bonds". Hijrah is used to mark the first year of the Muslim calander. 1997 A.D. (the year of our Lord) is the Islamic year 1417 A.H. (year of Hijrah). Mohammad became Medina's Religious and Civil Leader. He led the Moslem people into war raiding trading caravans and eventually taking over his home City of Mecca in 630, the very city that had persecuted him so much in the past. Mohammad's show of power impressed Arabs everywhere and soon North and South Arabia sent representatives to Mecca. They all Supported Mohammad and his new religion of Islam. Arabia was united under Mohammad and Islam.
Mohammad's Islamic teachings developed over the years through trips to the dessert where he would meditate, have visions and go into trances and communicate with the angel Gabriel. Mohammad would tell his followers what he had seen and heard and they would memorize or write down his messages on such things as animal bones, leather and parchment paper. In about the year 632 Mohammad announced to his people that he had perfected the new religion, "...I have completed by blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam for your religion,"(9) This was a message that he said he had received from god. He died the same year about three months after this announcement. About 15 years after his death all of these memorized and written teachings were compiled and re-written into the Islamic holy book called the Quran or Koran. By 100 years after the death of Mohammad Islam had spread west to Spain and east to India. From India Islam spread south to Malaya, Indonesia and the southern Philippines and even made it up north to South Western China by way of central Asia. Of course Today Islam has spread throughout the world.
One of the reasons that Islam caught on in Arabia and elsewhere is that it offered the promise of an afterlife unlike many of the pagan religions that it replaced. Also, Islam was simple and didn't require allot of the elaborate rituals or priests as did the Christian and the Jewish faith.
The Creed of Islam is constituted of five basic beliefs. They are 1. The belief in god- This is Islams fundamental belief. One god with no equal who created the earth. 2. The belief in angels- Angels are considered the messengers of god, Gabriel being the greatest and the one who spoke to Mohammad himself. Every person is believed to be assigned two angels. One for recording good deeds and one for recording bad deeds. 3. The belief in the prophets- Mohammad is considered to be the greatest of the prophets. Other prophets include but are not limited to Moses, Noah, Adam and Jesus. 4. The belief in the holy books- The Quran or Koran is considered to be the holiest of the books. It is supposed to be the final revelation to man. Islam believes that it was written in heaven in Arabic and then passed down to Mohammad orally via the angel Gabriel. 5. Belief in the day of judgment- The day when the lists that each persons angels have been keeping are tabulated and god makes the decision of weather each person will spend eternity in heaven or hell.
The Five Pillars of Islam are the five basic practices and they are 1. Creed- The five basic beliefs and practices. 2. Prayer- Muslims must pray to Allah (god) five times a day. Congregations should be held on Fridays lead by a local chief. 3. Alms Giving- Muslims should give one fortieth or 2 1/2% of their annual income to their faith. 4. Fasting- The ninth month of the Islamic lunar year is called Ramadan. Every day during Ramadan Muslims must fast from morning until dusk. Certain people are excused from fasting such as pregnant women and children. 5. Pilgrimage As long as it is within their means financially, Muslims must make a trip to Mecca once in their lives.(10)
Today it is estimated that over 800 million people practice Islam. It is dominant in the Middle East, North and east Africa, Central Asia and Indonesia. What made Islam so popular and catch on so well? Perhaps it was the fact that it shared so much with Christianity and Judaism. The belief in Adam as being the first man, the same one god, the same prophets such as Jesus and Moses, angels, heaven and hell. It doesn't share the same message of love as in Christianity however it does lay down a set of rules and responsibilities creating a high moral standard. Before writing this paper the only thing I knew about Islam was that there was a religion called Islam and that it's followers were called Muslims. Now I know that these words in themselves have very important meanings. By no means is this a complete works on Islam and it wasn't meant to be. But I hope that you may have learned a thing or two and possibly have a better understanding of this religion.
Lamsa, George. The Short Koran. New York, Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1949
Payne, Robert. The History of Islam. New York, Dorset Press, 1987
Murphey, Rhoads. A History of Asia. New York, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1992
Gabriele, Francesco. The Arabs. New York, Hawthorn Books Inc., 1963
Bullock, Alan. World History. New York, Doubleday & Company Inc., 1962
The Internet, http://www.sim.org/islam
(1) Francesco Gabrieli, The Arabs, New York, Hawthorn Books Inc., 1963, p. 26
(2) The Internet, http://www.sim.org/islam
(3) George M. Lamsa, The Short Koran, New York, Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1949, p. 14
(4) Robert Payne, The History of Islam, New York, Dorset Press, 1987, p. 12
(5) Alan Bullock, World History, New York, Doubleday & Company Inc., 1962, p. 101
(6) George M. Lamsa, The Short Koran, New York, Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, p. 10
(8) Robert Payne, The History of Islam, New York, Dorset Press, 1987, p. 16
(9) The Internet, http://www.sim.org/islam
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