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Essay/Term paper: History of islam

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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When Charles Martel defeated the Muslims in Spain and stopped their advance into greater Europe (Ahmed 67)0, he most likely did not know just how much of an effect his victory had on the history of not only Europe, but of the known world. The fact that Islam may have overtaken the rest of the world had it not been for that crucial battle attests to the strength of this relatively new religion. If the strength of the religion is dependent upon those who start it, then it is important to analyze the life of the one key character in history who began it all. That key character is Muhammad, the man that is known as the first and last true prophet of Islam.
Muhammad, the great prophet and founder of Islam, was born in 570 AD, and was soon an orphan without parents. He was raised by a family of modest means and was forced to work to support himself at an early age. He worked with a travelling caravan as a driver and at the age of twenty-five, married his employer, a woman by the name of Khadija, by which he had four daughters and no sons.
In Mecca, the Ka'ba had long been a pagan pilgrimage site. A black stone, which had fallen to the earth, was kept in the cube that also held 360 idols representing different gods and prophets, one for each degree of the earth. The environment in which Muhammad was raised was a polytheistic society that had a strong emphasis on religion but not religious purity. This clear lack of religious dedication upset Muhammad greatly, and he began to speak out against the practice of idolatry. By this time Muhammad had gained a large following. By the age of forty, Muhammad began to receive visits from the angel Gabriel, who recited God's word to him at irregular intervals. These recitations, known as the Qur'an, were compiled by Muhammad's followers around 650 or 651. The basic message Muhammad received was that of submission.
The very word Islam means "surrender" or "submission". The submission is to the will of Allah, the one and only true God. Muslims are those who have submitted themselves. The basic theme of Islam is very simple and clear: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah (Denny 67-70). Islam teaches that there is one God, the creator and sustainer of the universe. Muhammad taught his followers that this God, Allah, is compassionate and just. Further, he taught them that because He is compassionate, He calls all people to believe in Him and worship Him. Because He is also just, on the Last Day He will judge every person according to his deeds. On the Last Day, all the dead will be resurrected and either rewarded with heaven or punished with hell. On the last day, or judgment day, the same holds true in Muhammad's Islamic teachings as does in modern day Christian beliefs, the dead will be resurrected and either rewarded with heaven or punished with hell.
When Muhammad and his followers began to speak out against the pagan and immoral practices in Mecca and began teaching the above doctrine, they threatened the trade brought in by the pilgrims, which enraged the local merchants. Under serious persecution, Muhammad and his followers fled to the town of Medina, 240miles north of Mecca, in 622. This event has become known as the Hegira and marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
While in Medina, Muhammad and his men trained not only in religious aspects, but also trained to be mighty warriors. They attacked caravans going to and from Mecca for supplies and new recruits. They gathered more support as the years went on and became a powerful force ready for battle. In630, that battle came. Muhammad and his men attacked and seized Mecca in 630 and destroyed all of the 360 idols within the Ka'ba, with the exception of the sacred stone, which is still a revered Muslim artifact. It was during the Medina years that the basics of the Islamic beliefs came into focus.
Firstly, all followers were to be fair and just in all that they did, including business actions. They were also expected to be completely loyal to the Muslim community of which they were a part, as well as to Muslims around the world. They were to abstain from pork and alcohol at all times. Men were allowed to have up to four wives, providing they loved and treated each one equally. Usually they only took more than one wife only if there were a reason such as infertility, lack of sexual desire on her part, or if her husband died in a war and there was no one to care for her. Women, on the other hand, were not allowed the right to polygamy, and could only show their faces to their husbands. Whereas men could divorce on demand, women had to prove wrongdoing before an elder on the part of the husband (Mayer 93).
Muslims were expected to wash and pray toward Mecca five times daily (Esposito 86). Muslims were to contribute to the poor and needy as they may one day be in need themselves. Also, during the month of Ramadan, followers of Islam were to fast during daylight hours. They could eat during nighttime hours, however, and this holy month was followed by a feast for all who stayed true to the fast of the previous month. Another interesting requirement, which completes the Pillars of Faith, as they are, requires all followers to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime. While in Mecca, Muslims reenact many scenes from the life of Muhammad, such as the long walk from the Ka'ba to a mountain, where they stand in the blistering sun before Allah for hours on end. They also walk around the Ka'ba, which has been closed since Muhammad purged the idols, seven times, kissing the sacred stone at each pass. The pilgrimage is known as the hajj, and all those who make the hajj add "Haji" to the end of their names to signify they have fulfilled this important Pillar.
The winning of Mecca by force shows an interesting historical fact. Throughout history Christianity has usually tried to convert individuals. Islam began to spread their message by violently taking over area governments and getting rid of any opposition to Muslim conversion. They invaded Spain in 711 and probably could have made a big change in the history of the Judeo-Christian practices in Western Europe under the rule of the Catholic Church if they had not been defeated in Gaul .
Because Muhammad had no son's, when he died in 632, several caliphs took over control. These caliphs were men such as Abu Bakr, Muhammad's second-in-command from the time of Medina. However this leadership did not last long. After the assassination of Ali, leadership broke down into three groups. The first of these three groups were the Kharijites. They wanted to limit Islam to only the most serious observers of the Pillars of Faith. Next were the Sunnis. The Sunnis followed tradition to determine the new caliph. Finally there were the Shiites, probably the most radical, who follow the descendants of Alias the caliph. The Shiites are known in the present as those have hijacked airplanes and destroyed buildings, as well as being those that publicly torture themselves annually to demonstrate their sadness for the lost control of the Islamic religion.
The revelations that Muhammad received were collected into a new book, the Koran, directing his followers what to believe and how to live. Many Muslims believed that all of what Muhammad said and did was spiritually given or inspired by Allah. Because of this belief, many reports of the things that he did and his sayings were collected. At first these were just remembered and spread by word of mouth. Later they were put down in writing, to basically be an additional guide for believers, along with the Koran.
The Koran is very much similar to Christian traditions (Braswell 51). Muhammad felt that Christianity had moved away from belief in God's message as it was written in their Scriptures. God had sent many prophets, among them were men like Abraham, who is considered the founder of the faith for Islam, as he is also for Christianity. The Koran, using sources in the older Christian Scriptures and later traditions, tells many of the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Aaron, David, Solomon, Jesus, and others. All these men are said in Christianity to have been true prophets whose messages were basically ignored by Christians for many years. The fact that these prophets had very little success was repeated in many of Muhammad's own experiences, while he preached the oneness of God to the Arabs in Mecca. The main point of his message was that he was the last in the series of prophets, the last person that would reveal the divine truth.
Muhammad changed the religious world a great deal with a his only twenty-two years of leadership and service. He is considered the last and greatest prophet of God by more than a few Muslim believers, and it has been predicted that by the year 2000, one-fourth of the world's by then six billion people will call themselves Muslims (Braswell 207).
Works Cited
Ahmed, Akbar S. From Samarkand to Stornoway Living Islam. Great Britain: BBC Books, 1994

Braswell, George W., Jr, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power. United States of America: Broadman & Holman, 1996

Denny, Frederick Mathewson. An Introduction to Islam. New Jersey: Macmillan, 1985

Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998

Mayer, Ann Elizabeth. Islam Tradition and Politics Human Rights. Colorado: Westview Press, 1995


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