One of the world’s popular religions, with an estimated 1. 57 billion followers, second to that of Christianity, Islam is also one of the oldest religions. The rise and spread of Islam was started around the early seventh century, C. E. , and was founded by the Arab prophet Muhammad. The roots of Islam are that of both Judaic and Christian traditions but there were some changes made. The main change was there were divine revelations proclaimed by Muhammad, who was seen as more than just a religious teacher. He had envisioned the community of believers as a tight-knit movement who were dedicated to propagating the true faith of the religion.
His successors aided in the success of the founding by fashioning the religion into a mighty force politically and socially. More than a century after Muhammad’s death in 623, an Islamic empire was expanding to the point of reaching Spain in the west and Iran in the east. Following such massive expansion, in the tenth century, the empire divided into independent states and commonwealths. The main cause was because much like early Christianity, tensions were high among both the political rulers and the religious authorities.
But despite these tensions, the powerful inspiration of Muhammad’s teaching and the radical ideals of early Islam managed to keep things together. There was a strong sense of community among the followers that had transcended both ethical and political boundaries. When Islam began, it was based on Muhammad’s early teachings. To understand his teachings, one must take a look at his life, which helped bring about his own interpretation of the way things were and what they meant. Muhammad’s life began in a once prominent clan whose fortunes they accumulated were in decline.
As a young man, he worked for a woman as a caravaner. The woman, whose name was Khadija, was a wealthy widow who Muhammad married when he twenty-five. After his marriage, he attempted to live an honest life that was gained by a moral livelihood and strong morals. However, his fellow Meccans made it hard for him to keep such an honest life because there was much arrogance and greed among them all, which deeply troubled Muhammad. Change came about though when he reached close to forty, when he started having visions of one, true God, who was named Allah.
Allah was a God who did not cater to the wishes of the worldly worshippers much like the pagan gods of Muhammad’s fellow countrymen. Instead, Allah was a god who imposed an uncompromising moral law among his worshippers, meaning they had to follow what was what he declared religious law. Allah also held a deep sense of what was considered sin, much like the early God in early Christianity. Similar also to that of early Judaism, through incorporation by Muhammad, Allah’s beginning worshippers began believing that there was merely one true god.
They also were told of a sense of personal mission that was given to prophets and these personal missions were typically ones that were to warn the world against anything that would be viewed as sin. Regular ritual prayer was included as a regimen and was intended to instill rightful thought and conduct among the people. This resulted in Muhammad’s message being shaped by both the economic and social conflicts of his day and the long history that is known as Islam. Muhammad had to start officially preaching the words of Allah publicly around 613.
Originally, he only spoke of his visions to only a very small group of confidants, but that all changed when he had to preach a larger group brought on a revelation. This revelation had instructed Muhammad to “rise and warn” and it came about as a result of an egalitarian vision. This vision meant that all were equal in the eyes of Allah and it directly challenged the loyalties of tribes and clan leaders. Similar to that of Jesus Christ in the early days of Christianity, Muhammad’s preachings favored the lower class, the poor, and the property-less.
This resulted in Muhammad becoming a pariah among the upper and more affluent classes and clans, resulting in the persecution of Muhammad and his followers. They were forced to seek out sanctuary in Medina, a small oasis town close to where they were from originally. This move, which happened in 622, became a “hijra”, meaning “migration” in Arabic. This was marked down as subsequently the beginning of the Muslim calendar year. While in Medina, Muhammad earned a reputation of holiness and fairness, with the vision of a united community of people bound by a single faith.
This reputation elevated him to the high status of leadership. There was conflict however, especially given that Medina’s population was largely Jewish, and there was rejection of Muhammad’s prophethood and his alliance with Meccan enemies. There was suppression of Jewish and Christian faiths and while being backed by the clan leaders of Medina, Muhammad had the leading Jewish citizens executed or exiled. Following such movements, Muhammad then lead his followers against Mecca, which could be known as the first holy war long before the Crusades during the Middle Ages.
In 630, Mecca surrendered to Muhammad and idols of their pagan gods were destroyed in the Ka’ba and in place of the pagan idols went the holiest shrine in all of Islam. Muhammad didn’t live for very longer following what could be considered a victory for Islam. While preparing for an invasion of Syria in 632, Muhammad fell to illness and died in Medina. At the time of his death, a new political order was founded on the basis of universal religion and the faith in the oneness of God.
Such a political order was transcended clan, ethnic, and civic identities. After his death, Muhammad’s revelations were written down in Arabic in the Qur’an so they could be remembered and preached. The bases of these revelations are known as the “five pillars of faith” and the revelations were completions of earlier ones set down by both the Christian Gospels and the Jewish Torah. But despite that one, almost, similarity, there are more principles that set Islam apart from the earlier monotheistic of its competing religions, Judaism and Christianity.