How the Koran was born
"Al Salam Alley Koum... Alah Ho Akbaar"
Muhammad, (A.D. 570?-632), was
a prophet whose life and teachings form the basis of the Islamic religion.
The name Muhammad means Praised One.
Muslims believe Muhammad was the last messenger of God.
They believe he completed the sacred teachings of such earlier prophets
as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims
respect Muhammad but do not worship him.
Muhammad was one of the most influential men of all
time. He felt himself called to be
God's prophet. This belief gave him
the strength to bring about many changes in Arabia.
When Muhammad began to preach in the 600's, Arabia was a wild, lawless
land. The fierce tribes of the
deserts fought continual bloody wars.
In Mecca, a city in southwestern Arabia, there was much suffering among the poor. Most of the people worshiped many gods, and prayed to idols and spirits.
Muhammad brought a new message to his people from God. He taught that there is only one God, and that this God requires people to make Islam (submission) to Him. Muhammad replaced the old loyalty to tribes with a new tie of equality and allegiance among all Muslims. He also preached against the injustice of the wealthy classes in Mecca, and tried to help the poor.
During his lifetime, Muhammad led his
people to unite in a great religious movement.
Within a hundred years after his death, Muslims carried the teachings of
Muhammad into other parts of the Middle East, into northern Africa, Europe, and
Asia. Today, there are Muslim
communities throughout the world.
Muhammad was born in Mecca. His
father died before his birth, and his mother died when he was a child.
His grandfather, and later Abu Talib, his uncle, became his
guardians. For a time, Muhammad
lived with a desert tribe. He
learned to tend sheep and camels. According
to tradition, he joined his uncle on caravan journeys through Arabia to Syria.
He probably attended assemblies and fairs in Mecca, where he may have
heard people of different faiths express their ideas.
At the age of 25, Muhammad entered the service of Khadija,
a wealthy widow of about 40. He
later married her. They had two
sons and four daughters. The sons
died young. One daughter, Fatima,
married Ali, son of Abu Talib. Many
Muslims trace their descent from Muhammad through this couple.
His religious life:
The most sacred shrine in Mecca was the Kaaba.
It had a black stone, believed to be especially sacred, in one corner.
When Muhammad was 35, a flood damaged the Kaaba.
Because of his moral excellence, Muhammad was chosen to set the sacred
stone back into place. Later, when
Muhammad was meditating alone in a cave on Mount Hira, a vision appeared
to him. Muslims believe the vision
was of the angel Gabriel, who called Muhammad to serve as a prophet and proclaim
God's message to his people.
At first, Muhammad doubted that his vision had come
from God. But his wife Khadija
reassured him. She became his first
disciple. For a time, no more
revelations came, and Muhammad grew discouraged.
Then Gabriel came again, and told him, "Arise and warn, magnify thy
Lord ... wait patiently for Him." At
first, Muhammad may have told only relatives and friends of the revelations.
But soon he began to preach publicly.
Most people who heard him ridiculed him, but some believed.
Abu Bakr, a rich merchant, became a disciple.
Omar (Umar Ibn al-Khattab in Arabic), a Meccan leader, persecuted
Muhammad at first, but later accepted him as a prophet.
Muhammad continued to preach in Mecca until several calamities took
place. First, both Khadija and Abu
Talib died. Also the people of
Mecca began to hate Muhammad for his claims and his attacks on their way of
life. Finally, in A.D. 622,
Muhammad fled north to the nearby city of Medina, then called Yathrib.
His immigration to Medina is called the Hegira.
It is considered so important that the Muslim calendar begins with the
year of the Hegira. The people of
Medina welcomed Muhammad. His
preaching and statesmanship soon won most of them as followers.
His teachings: Muhammad was now the head of both a religion and a community, and he made his message law. He abolished idol worship and the killing of unwanted baby girls. He limited polygyny (marriage to more than one wife at a time) and restricted divorce. He reformed inheritance laws, regulated slavery, and helped the poor. He also banned war and violence except for self-defense and for the cause of Islam.
Muhammad seems to have expected Jews and Christians
to accept him as a prophet. At
first he was friendly toward them. He
chose Jerusalem as the direction to be faced in prayer, similar to the Jewish
practice. He also set aside Friday
as a Muslim day of congregational prayer, perhaps because the Jews began their
Sabbath preparations then. But the
Jews of Medina conspired against him with his enemies in Mecca.
Muhammad angrily drove them from the city and organized a purely Muslim
society. To symbolize the
independence of the new religion, he ordered Muslims to face Mecca, instead of
Jerusalem, when praying.
The people of Mecca went to war against Muhammad and his followers. They attacked Medina several times but were always driven back. In 630, Muhammad entered Mecca in triumph. He offered pardon to the people there, most of whom accepted him as the Prophet of God. He destroyed the pagan idols in the Kaaba, prayed there, and made it a mosque (house of worship). Muhammad died two years later in Medina. His tomb is in the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.
Medina, is a city in western Saudi Arabia.
It lies on a fertile plain about 270 miles (434 kilometers) north of
Mecca. Medina and Mecca are the
holiest cities in Islam, the Muslim religion, and only Muslims may enter them.
The Holy Mosque of the Islamic prophet Muhammad is located in Medina.
This mosque holds Muhammad's tomb. Islam
requires every Muslim to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca if possible.
Most pilgrims who visit Mecca also go to Medina.
Farmers grow fruits and vegetables in the area
around Medina. Agriculture and
money spent by pilgrims form the basis of Medina's economy.
The city is the home of the Islamic University.
Medina has kept much of its traditional appearance.
As Medina has grown, however, the walls of the old city have disappeared.
New suburbs have grown up, and wealthy residents live in these areas.
No one knows when Medina was founded.
It was originally called Yathrib, and farmers settled there before
200 B.C. Medina received its present name, which means town or city, about A.D.
600. Muhammad and his disciples
found safety in Medina after they were forced to flee from Mecca in 622.
Medina became the center of the Muslim community, but its political
importance fell as the Islamic empire grew.
Koran, pronounced kaw RAHN or pronounced koh RAHN, is the sacred book of the Muslims. It is also spelled Qur'an. Muslims believe the angel Gabriel revealed the book to the Prophet Muhammad. The name Koran means a recitation or something to be recited, presumably in worship.
Muslims believe the Angel Gabriel revealed the Koran to Muhammad a little at a time. The revelations began about A.D. 610 and continued until Muhammad's death in 632. Islamic tradition does not specify whether many of the ayas (verses) and suras (chapters) were written down during Muhammad's lifetime or after his death. Muhammad's followers, who wrote down the revelations, collected them into the book that is now known as the Koran. The standard text of the Koran was formed during the reign of Caliph Uthman, who ruled from 644 to 656. Muslims consider the Koran to be the words of God Himself, and in no sense the composition of Muhammad. They believe that the earthly book, bound between covers, is a copy of an eternal book that is kept in heaven.
The Koran consists of verses grouped into 114 chapters. The chapters vary in length from a few lines to over 200 verses. Much of the Koran is written in rhymed Arabic prose. Muslims believe that the rich, forceful language of the text is humanly unmatchable, and a miracle that confirms Muhammad's prophet hood.
central teaching of the Koran is that there is only one God.
The word for God in Arabic is Allah.
Allah is the creator of the universe and requires Islam (submission) to
Himself. Allah, in His mercy, sent
the Koran as a guide for humanity.
Another important teaching concerns the prophets
who have been God's messengers to different peoples.
The Koran mentions the prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and many others.
It describes Muhammad as the last of the prophets.
The Koran speaks of a day of judgment when people
shall stand before God to account for their lives.
It contains many specific teachings designed to regulate Muslim daily
life. It requires daily prayers,
and stresses charity and brotherly love among Muslims.
The Koran teaches that one should be humble in spirit, temperate, brave,
The influence of the Koran is great.
It is one of the most widely read books in the world.
Its teachings formed the basis of the great Islamic civilization of the
past, and it guides and inspires millions of Muslims.
The Koran is the final authority in matters of faith and practice for all
Muslims. It is also the highest
authority for Islamic law.
The Koran has been taught orally and is memorized,
at least in part, by virtually all Muslims.
Thus, even illiterate Muslims possess and prize the text.
The reverence for the holy book is so great that many Muslims learn the
entire work by heart. The art of
properly reciting the Koran has been preserved and passed on through the
centuries, and has been enhanced by the modern technology of audio cassette
For hundreds of years, Muslims refused to translate the Koran into other languages. They thought they should preserve the words of God in their original form. But in the early 1900's, Muslims began to translate the Koran into Eastern and Western languages.
Africa, Spain, India, and Syria:
They transmitted much of the classical knowledge of the ancient world,
and built such magnificent structures as the Alhambra in Spain and the Taj Mahal
in India. For a discussion of
Muslim achievements and their influence, see MUSLIMS.
The teachings of Islam
The companions of Muhammad preserved the
revelations that came to Muhammad by memorizing them or writing them down.
Muslim scholars believe Muhammad approved these teachings.
Later, the materials were combined to form the holy book of the Muslims.
It is called the Koran, from the Arabic word meaning recitation.
The caliph Uthman, who ruled from 644 to 656, ordered the first
official edition of the Koran. He
sent a copy of the edition to the chief mosque in each of the capital cities of
the Muslim provinces. Muslims
consider the Koran the words of God Himself, spoken to Muhammad by an angel.
Parts of the Koran resemble the Bible,
the Apocrypha, and the Talmud.
The Koran contains many stories about the prophets that appear in the Old
Testament. The Koran also has
stories about Jesus, whom it calls the Word of God.
God and humanity:
The Koran teaches the absolute unity and power of God, the creator of the
whole universe. It also teaches
that God is just and merciful, and wishes people to repent and purify themselves
so that they can attain Paradise after death.
Therefore, God sends prophets with sacred books to teach people their
duty to God and humanity. The
Muslims believe Muhammad was the last of the prophets.
Jesus and the Old Testament prophets were among his predecessors.
The Koran forbids the representation of human and
animal figures, so orthodox Islamic art rarely pictures living beings.
The Koran also denounces usury, games of chance, and the consumption of
pork and alcohol.
Ethics and morals:
The Koran, like the Bible, forbids lying, stealing, adultery, and murder.
Punishment for some offenses, such as theft or adultery, can be severe.
But the Koran softened the ancient law of "an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth" by permitting the payment of "blood money" and
by urging forgiveness. The Koran
permits slavery under certain conditions, but urges that slaves be freed.
It permits a man to have as many as four wives under certain conditions.
Virtue and justice:
The Koran teaches honor for parents, kindness to slaves, protection for
orphans and widows, and charity to the poor.
It teaches the virtues of faith in God, kindness, honesty, industry,
honor, courage, and generosity. It
condemns mistrust, impatience, and cruelty.
Heads of families must treat household members kindly and fairly.
A wife has rights against her husband to protect her from abuse.
It teaches that a person should not refuse requests for help even if they
seem unnecessary. God judges the
dishonest petitioner and rewards the giver in this and the next world.
Life and death:
Islam teaches that life on earth is a period of testing and preparation
for the life to come. The angels in
heaven record a person's good and bad deeds.
People should therefore try their best to be good and help others, and
then trust in God's justice and mercy for their reward.
Death is the gate to eternal life. Muslims
believe in a last, or judgment, day when everyone will receive the record of his
or her deeds on earth. The record
book is placed in the right hand of the good, who then go to heaven.
It is placed in the left hand of the wicked, who go to hell.
The sorrows and tortures of hell resemble those described in the Bible.
The Muslim heaven is a garden with flowing streams, luscious fruits,
richly covered couches, and beautiful maidens.
Customs and ceremonies
A Muslim's chief duties can be summarized in the Five Pillars of Faith.
They are (1) profession of the unity of God and the prophet-hood of
Muhammad, (2) prayer, (3) almsgiving, (4) fasting, and (5) pilgrimage.
Prayer, or Salat:
Muslims pray five times daily: at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, in the
evening, and at nightfall. A crier,
or muezzin (pronounced myoo EZ in), announces prayer time from the minaret
(mosque tower). Muslims
ceremonially wash their faces, hands, and feet just before prayer.
On Friday, Muslims are expected to attend noon prayers at a mosque.
The prayer leader faces Mecca. The
men stand behind him, and the women stand behind the men.
Prayers consist of reciting passages from the Koran and other phrases of
praise to God. They include such
movements as bowing from the hips and kneeling with the face to the ground.
Friday prayers are preceded by a sermon.
Almsgiving may be required or free will.
Required almsgiving is called Zakat and the free will type is
called Sadaqah. Zakat is
like the tithe mentioned in the Bible (see TITHE).
Muslims must give 21/2 percent of their wealth each year as a trust fund
for the needy. Islam does not limit
free will charity, except that Muslims cannot deprive their own families of
their fixed legal inheritance by giving all their wealth to charity.
Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim year, is the holy month of
fasting. Muslims may not eat or
drink from dawn to sunset. Travelers,
the sick, nursing mothers, and soldiers on the march are exempt, but must make
up the days missed. Muslims
joyfully celebrate the end of the long fast in the three-day Festival of the
Breaking of the Fast (Little Bairam).
Pilgrimage, or the Hajj, to Mecca is
commanded by the Koran. All able
Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage at least once.
Many ceremonies are required during the pilgrimage.
The most important ceremonies include walking seven times around the
Kaaba and kissing the sacred Black Stone in its wall.
Most Muslims include a visit to the Mosque of Muhammad in Medina.
The pilgrimage is concluded with the Festival of Sacrifice, when the
Muslims sacrifice a sheep, goat, or camel, and usually give the meat to the
poor. This is the Muslims' Great
Festival, while Little Bairam is the Lesser Festival.
Muslims celebrate both of these festivals by visiting, wearing new
clothes, and by exchanging gifts.
Celebrations of many kinds take place throughout
the Muslim world. Public holidays
include Muhammad's birthday, which is widely celebrated.
Members of the Shiah sect of Islam, called Shiites (pronounced SHEE eyets),
have some additional festivals and ceremonies.
The most important ceremony observes mourning for the death of Husain, a
grandson of Muhammad, in 661. Shiites
also celebrate the birthday of Fatima, Muhammad's daughter.
Private ceremonies in a Muslim's life occur at
birth, circumcision, and weddings. The
event that Muslims take most pride in is a child's memorizing of the entire
Koran. Then the child's family
holds a party for the student and the teacher, and both receive gifts.
The structure of Islam
The mosque, or Muslim place of worship, is
the most important building for Muslims. Mosque
comes from the Arabic masjid, which means a place of kneeling.
A typical mosque has a mihrab (niche) that points to Mecca.
It also contains a pulpit for the preacher and a lectern for the Koran.
Most mosques have at least one minaret from which the muezzin chants the
call to prayer. A court and a water
fountain are generally provided for the ceremonial washing before prayer.
The mosque is often decorated with colorful arabesques and Koranic
Many mosques have a religious elementary school
where young scholars learn to read and memorize the Koran.
Some mosques, especially in Muslim countries, also have a madrasah
(religious college) where students may complete their religious education.
Madrasah graduates, sometimes called mullahs, may teach in a mosque
school or a madrasah, or they may preach in a mosque.
The Imam, or leader, is the chief officer in
the mosque. The Imam's main duty is
to lead the people in prayer. The
Prophet Muhammad led prayers in his mosque in Medina and in the mosque
surrounding the Kaaba in Mecca. The
caliphs led the people in all religious and political matters, so they were the
chief Imams. On special occasions,
a distinguished visitor or religious teacher may lead the public prayers.
Islam does not have an organized priesthood.
Any virtuous and able Muslim can lead prayers in most mosques.
However, it is usually the Imam, a person chosen for piety or
scholarship, who handles the services of the mosque.
Like all religions, Islam has its sects.
In the 600's, the Muslim world split into two great divisions, Sunni
and Shiah. Most Muslims are
Sunnites. They believe that Muslim
leadership after the death of Muhammad passed to caliphs elected from Muhammad's
tribe. The Shiites believe that
leadership was restricted to descendants of Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law.
Shiites form the largest minority. Members
of this Islamic group live scattered throughout Asia and Africa and, more
recently, in Europe and America.
There have also been a number of smaller sects.
In the early years, a group called the Kharijites broke away from
the Muslim community and formed a more puritanical and democratic sect.
The Kharijites have disappeared as an active group.
Another prominent sect, the Wahhabis, or Ikhwan, also form
a puritanical group. They are
dominant in Saudi Arabia. The Baha'i
faith grew out of the Shiite group.
Aga Khan IV is the 49th Imam of the Ismaili
Khoja Muslims, a sect that has been in existence almost from the beginning
of Islam. Members of this Islamic
group, numbering about 10 million, live scattered throughout Asia, Africa,
Europe, and North America.
Until recently, Islam had no organized missionary movement. But today al-Azhar University of Cairo, the intellectual center of Islam, trains students for missionary work. Several Islamic sects, especially the Ahmadiyya of Pakistan, work as missionaries throughout Europe, America, Asia, and Africa.
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