Topics discussed in this essay:
|Origin of Islam|
|About Muhammad (pbuh)|
The name of this religion, Islam, is derived from the Arabic word "salam," which is often interpreted as meaning "peace." However "submission" would be a better translation. A Muslim is a follower of Islam. "Muslim" is an Arabic word that refers to a person who submits themselves to the will of God. Many Muslims are offended by the phrases "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim terrorist," which have been observed so often in the media; they are viewed as oxymorons.
Most religious historians view Islam as having been founded in 622 CE by Muhammad the Prophet (peace be upon him).* He lived from about 570 to 632 CE). The religion started in Mecca, when the angel Jibril (a.k.a. Jibreel; Gabriel in English) read the first revelation to Muhammad (pbuh). (Mohammed and Muhammed (pbuh) are alternative spellings for his name.) Islam is the youngest of the world's very large religions -- those with over 300 million members -- which include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
* Muslims traditionally acknowledge respect for Muhammad, Jesus and other prophets (peace be upon them) by adding this phrase or an abbreviation "(pbuh)" after their names.
However, many if not most of the followers of Islam believe that:
|Islam existed before Muhammad (pbuh) was born,|
|The origins of Islam date back to the creation of the world, and|
|Muhammad (pbuh) was the last and by far the greatest of a series of Prophets.|
Followers of Islam are called Muslims. "Allah" is an Arabic word which means "the One True God." An alternative spelling for "Muslim" that is occasionally used is "Moslim"; it is not recommended because it is often pronounced "mawzlem": which sounds like an Arabic word for "oppressor". Some Western writers in the past have referred to Islam as "Mohammedism"; this is deeply offensive to many Muslims, as its usage can lead some to the concept that Muhammad the Prophet (pbuh) was in some way divine.
About Muhammad (pbuh) :
Unlike other great religious leaders, like the Buddha, Moses, and Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ), Muhammad was born relatively recently, in the late 6th century CE, about the year 570. Omid Safi, assistant professor of religion and philosophy at Colgate University, commented that Muhammad was probably the first religious leader to rise up in the full glare of history. 6
Many unusual events have been recorded about Muhammad's (pbuh) birth and childhood:
|His mother said "When he was born, there was a light that issued out of my pudendum and lit the places of Syria."|
|Also at the time of his birth, "...fourteen galleries of Kisra's palace cracked and rolled down, the Magians' sacred fire died down and some churches on Lake Sawa sank down and collapsed."|
|His foster family had many experiences of amazingly good luck while he was in their care.|
|As a young child, the angel Jibril visited the boy, ripped his chest open, removed his heart, extracted a blood clot from it, and returned him to normalcy. 4|
While still young, he was sent into the desert to be raised by a foster family. This was a common practice at the time. He was orphaned at the age of 6 and brought up by his uncle. As a child, he worked as a shepherd. He was taken on a caravan to Syria by his uncle at the age of 9 (or perhaps 12). Later, as a youth, he was employed as a camel driver on the trade routes between Syria and Arabia. Muhammad (pbuh) later managed caravans on behalf of merchants. He met people of different religious beliefs on his travels, and was able to observe and learn about Judaism, Christianity and the indigenous Pagan religions.
After marriage, he was able to spend more time in meditation. At the age of 40, (610 CE), he was visited in Mecca by the angel Gabriel. He developed the conviction that he had been ordained a Prophet and given the task of converting his countrymen from their pagan, polytheistic beliefs and what he regarded as moral decadence, idolatry, hedonism and materialism.
He met considerable opposition to his teachings. In 622 CE he moved north to Medina due to increasing persecution. The trek is known as the hegira. Here he was disappointed by the rejection of his message by the Jews. Through religious discussion, persuasion, military activity and political negotiation, Muhammad (pbuh) became the most powerful leader in Arabia, and Islam was firmly established throughout the area.
By 750 CE, Islam had invaded China, India, along the Southern shore of the Mediterranean and into Spain. By 1550 they had besieged Vienna. Wars resulted, expelling Muslims from Spain and Europe. Since their trading routes were mostly over land, they did not an develop extensive sea trade (as for example the English and Spaniards). As a result, the old world occupation of North America was left to Christians.
Believers are currently concentrated from the West coast of Africa to the Philippines. In Africa, in particular, they are increasing in numbers, largely at the expense of Christianity.
Many do not look upon Islam as a new religion. They feel that it is in reality the faith taught by the ancient Prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus (Peace be upon them). Muhammad's (pbuh) role as the last of the Prophets was to formalize and clarify the faith and to purify it by removing foreign ideas that had been added in error.