Islam


The founder of the religion of Islam was Muhammad and his full name is Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah ibn 'Abd al-Muttal-ib ibn Hashim. He was born in Mecca in 570 AD. With his uncle he made trading journeys to Syria, and around 595 AD, on such a journey, he was in charge of the merchandise of a rich women, Khadijah of the clan of Asad. Muhammad so impressed her that she offered marriage, even though she is said to have been about 40. She bore Muhammad at least two sons, who died young, and four daughters, of whom the best known was Fatimah, the wife of Muhammad's cousin 'Ali, who is regarded as Muhammad's divinely ordained successor by the Shi'ah branch of Islam. Until after Khadijah's death in 619 AD, Muhammad took no other wife. The marriage was a turning point in Muhammad's life. By Arab custom, minors did not inherit, and therefore Muhammad had no share in the property of his father or grandfather; but by his marriage he obtained sufficient capital to engage in mercantile activity on a scale commensurate with the abilities.

Muhammad appears to have been of a reflective turn of mind and is said to have adopted the habit of occasionally spending nights in a hill cave near Mecca. The poverty and misfortunes of his early life doubtless made him aware of tensions in Meccan society. Mecca, inhabited by the tribe of Quraysh (Koreish), to which the Hashim clan belonged, was a mercantile center formed around a sanctuary, the Ka'bah, which assured the safety of those who came to buy and sell at the fairs. In the later 6th century there was extensive trade by camel caravan between Yemen and Syria (Gaza and Damascus), bringing goods from India and Ethiopia to the Mediterranean; and the great merchants of Mecca had obtained monopoly control of this trade. Mecca was thus prosperous, but most of the wealth was in a few hands. Tribal solidarity was breaking up; merchants pursued individual interests and disregarded their traditional duties to the unfortunate. About 610 AD, as he reflected on the such matters, Muhammad had a vision of a majestic being (later identified with the angel Gabriel) and heard a voice saying to him, "You are the Messenger of God." This marked the beginning of his career as messenger (or apostle) of God (rasul Allah), or prophet (nabi). From this time, at frequent intervals until his death, he received "revelations" - that is verbal messages that he believed came directly from God. Sometimes these were kept in memory by Muhammad and his followers, and sometimes they were written down.

Muhammad is said to have been perturbed after the vision and first revelation but to have been reassured by his wife, Khadijah. In his later experiences of receiving messages there was normally no vision. Occasionally there were physical concomitants, such as perspiring on a cold day, and these gave rise to the suggestion, now agreed to be unwarranted, that he was an epileptic. Sometimes he heard a noise like a bell but apparently never a voice. The essence of such an experience was that he found a verbal message in his heart-that is, in his conscious mind. With the help of Khadijah's Christian cousin Waraqah, he came to interpret these messages as in general identical with those sent by God through other prophets or messengers to Jews, Christians, and others and to believe that by the first great vision and by the receipt of the messages he was commissioned to communicate them to his fellow citizens and other Arabs. The proclamation of the messages must have been accompanied by explanation and exposition in his own words.

The people of Mecca at the time nominally worshipped many gods, but few believed that man was dependent on supernatural powers. The merchants thought most things could be accomplished by wealth and by human planning. Some men regarded Allah as a "high god" who stood above lesser deities. (Allah, the Arabic word for God, is used by Christian Arabs as well as Muslims.) The earliest passages of the Qur'an revealed to Muhammad emphasize the goodness and power of God as seen in nature and in the prosperity of the Meccans and call on the latter to grateful and to worship the Lord of the Ka'bah, who is thus identified with God. As a sanction, men are warned that they will appear before God on the Last Day to the judged according to their deeds and assigned to heaven or hell. The new religion was eventually called Islam - i.e., "submission [to God]" -and its adherents were called Muslims -i.e. "those submitting [to God]"-though the Qur'an speaks of them primarily as "the believers."

The Jewish groups had refused to acknowledge Muhammad as prophet, and he changed his general policy in important respects. One was his "break with the Jews", instead of making concessions to the Jews in the hope of gaining recognition of his prophet hood, he asserted the specifically Arabian character of the Islamic religion. Hitherto the Muslims had faced Jerusalem in prayer, but a revelation now bade them face Mecca. Perhaps because of this change some Muslims of Medina were readier to support Muhammad.

As we have seen thus far, the Christian and Biblical influence on Muhammad's life is quite clear. However, at this point we can see a departure. In Islam, certain facts are taken from the Bible, but are changed without any evidence. For example that Ishmael is the true son of Abraham, while the bibliographical evidence of the Bible clearly shows otherwise. Then when we come to important foundational doctrines like Salvation, Islam like Hinduism has syncretised salvation by faith from Christianity, but Muslims have continued their worship of the stone at Ka'bah. This is similar to the sivalinka worship in Hinduism.

The Arabian character of Islam is quite evident today, and when Muhammad bade Muslims to face Medina instead of Jerusalem, they were readier to support him. The Arabs are essentially descendants of Ishmael and for centuries they had strong resentment against the descendants of Isaac, God's covenant son of Abraham. In Muhammad and his preaching, his followers saw the opportunity to promote themselves. However, Islam is based on a wrong foundation since the bibliographical evidence clearly shows that Isaac is God's covenant son of Abraham.

However, the true way to inherit the promise to Abraham is shown in the Bible

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)

After Muhammad's death, and especially after the battle of Yamamah (633 AD), in which a great number of those who knew the Qur'an by heart had fallen, fear arose that the knowledge of Qur'an might disappear. So it was decided to collect the revelations from all available written sources and, as Muslim tradition has it, "from the hearts (i.e., memories) of people." A companion of the Muhammad, Zayd ibn Thabit, is said to have copied on sheets whatever he could find and to have handed it over to the caliph 'Umar. After 'Umar's death the collection was left in the care of his daughter Hafsah. Other copies of the Qur'an appear to have been written later, and different versions were used in different parts of the Muslim empire. So that there would be no doubt about the correct reading of the Qur'an, the caliph 'Uthman (644-656 AD) is reported to have commissioned Zayd ibn Thabit and some other learned men to revise the Qur'an using the "sheets" of Hafsah, comparing them with whatever material was at hand, and consulting those who knew the Qur'an by heart. It was decided that in case of doubt about the pronunciation, the dialect of Quraysh, Muhammad's tribe, was to be given preference. Thus an authoritative text of the Qur'an (now known as the 'Uthmanic recension) was established.

Historical background extracted from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1982.


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