Friday, July 21, 2017
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Early Islam

At its height, the empire founded by the leaders of Islam spread as far as Spain to the west and as far as northeastern India to the east. The story of that empire begins in the Arabian town of Mecca—a bustling center of trade for camel caravans crossing the desert from Asia to Europe.

Sometime around a.d. 570, Muhammad  was bom in Mecca, a town on the western coast of Arabia. At the time, no one could know that he would lead the people of Arabia in a new religion.

Muhammad’s Youth

At the age of six, Muhammad became an orphan. He went to live with his uncle, who was a merchant. Muhammad worked for his uncle in the busy marketplaces of Mecca. He loaded and unloaded cara­vans, watered camels, and ran errands.

When Muhammad was in his early twenties, a wealthy widow named Khadya  hired him to run her business. Khadya needed Muhammad’s help because women in Arabia were not allowed to trade in the marketplace. Eventually Khadya and Muhammad were married.

The Idea of One God While traveling for Khadya’s business, Muhammad met Jewish and Christian merchants who spoke about their lives and beliefs. When Muhammad learned that these people believed in only one God, he must have been very puzzled. In Arabia, people be­lieved in many different gods who were said to live as spirits in trees and rocks. In fact, one of the holiest shrines to these spirits was in Mecca. It was called the Kaaba . The Kaaba contained a sacred black stone. Arabs traveled hun­dreds of miles to visit this holy place.

Muhammad in the Desert Over the years, Muhammad grew to be a thought­ful and gentle person. Because of this, he won great respect from the people of Mecca. They called him Muhammad al Amin, “the trustworthy one.”

Muhammad’s marriage to Khadya changed his life in many ways. Muham­mad was now a wealthy man. He no longer had to work hard to make a living. As a result, he spent more and more of his time camping alone in the hills outside Mecca. There, in the still and quiet des­ert, he could think clearly and deeply. He thought about the meaning of life and death.

Muhammad continued his trips to the desert for many years. On one journey, he had an experience that changed his life. According to Muhammad, while he was resting in a cave, an angel appeared to him. The angel told Muhammad that there was but one God, who had created the earth.

Three years later, according to Mu­hammad, the angel appeared again. This time the angel said that Muhammad was to be a prophet. A prophet is a messen­ger sent by God.

Spreading a New Religion

Around 610, Muhammad began telling the people of Mecca about the angel’s messages. He taught that there was but one God—the same God worshiped by the Jews and Christians. Muhammad also preached that God had created all people as equals.

The Arabic word for God is Allah. Mu­hammad urged his followers to obey the will of Allah. The religion he taught was called Islam. In Arabic, Islam means “to submit, or give in, to the will of God.” People who follow Islam are known as Muslims, which means “the faithful.” The Followers of Islam Muham­mad’s followers believed that Moses and Jesus were prophets sent by God. They also believed that Muhammad was the last and most important prophet. For this reason, they recorded Muhammad’s prayers and teachings in a holy book known as the Koran. Today Muslims study the Koran because they believe it contains the true word of God as it was told to Muhammad by the angel.

Not everyone in Mecca chose to follow Muhammad. Powerful merchants in Mecca feared the new religion. Their wealth depended on the hundreds of trav­elers who visited Mecca to worship the spirit gods at the Kaaba.

Muhammad’s Flight from Mecca At first, Muhammad’s enemies tried to per­suade people to ignore the new religion. When this did not work, they decided to take action. One night a group of men broke into Muhammad’s home. They had come to murder him, but they did not suc­ceed. Muhammad had learned of their plan and fled from the city with a few of his followers.

Muhammad’s departure from Mecca in 622 is known as the Hegira. Muslims saw the Hegira as the beginning of a new age. They chose that year to be the year 1 of their new calendar. In much the same way, the Christian calendar starts around the time of Jesus’ birth.

From Mecca, Muhammad traveled north to the village of Yathrib. The vil­lage soon became the center of Islam. Muslims renamed the village Medina. There more and more people listened to the prophet’s teachings. Many Arabs ac­cepted the new faith.

Islam after Muhammad

The prophet Muhammad died in 632, just two years after defeating the leaders of Mecca. His death was a great shock to many Muslims. To them, he was almost a god. Muhammad’s close Mend, Abu Bakr , however, reminded the faithful that Muhammad had been a man, not a god. “O people,” he announced, “if anyone worships Muhammad, know that Muhammad is dead. But if anyone worships God, know that God is alive and does not die.”

Muslim leaders now chose Abu Bakr as their caliph, or leader. The caliph’s chief duty was to carry out Muhammad’s teachings. In fact, caliph is the Arabic word for “one who follows the prophet.”

Islam united the many groups of people in the Arabian Peninsula. All the groups now followed the teachings of Islam and ac­cepted the caliph as their leader.

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