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Click here to purchase a printed copy of this bookChapter 2: A Brief History of Islam

by Charles Welty

he growth of Islam represents one of the greatest challenges facing the Christian church as it enters the 21st century. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslims make up the largest religious immigrant group coming into the United States and, as a group, the number of adherents to Islam are expected to surpass the followers of Judaism in North America within ten years. Islam will then be the second largest religion next to Christianity in America. Muslims and their faith in Islam are no longer foreigners. Muslims are here in America; they run businesses in our neighborhoods; their children are in our schools.

To meet the challenge of Islam, we Christians will have to face the fact that we are, in general, woefully unprepared to face that challenge. Islam is a mystery to most of us. Everything about Islam is an enigma. Even the language of the Qur’an,[1] Arabic, is a symbol of the incomprehension most of us feel toward Islam and its Muslim adherents.

An Aggressive Religion

Islam is an aggressive religion. One of the twentieth century’s more prolific English language Muslim apologists and commentators, A. Yusuf Ali, says “Before or after Mohammed’s life on this earth, all who bowed to God’s Will were Muslims, and their religion is Islam.”[2] Islam is also, as we shall see, an eclectic religion that is unitarian in the true sense of the word, seeking to embrace Jews and Christians, as well as Arabs. In his notes to Sura 43, Ali goes on to say:

In verses 26-28 an appeal is made to the pagan Arabs, that Islam is their own religion, the religion of Abraham their ancestor; in verses 46-54, an appeal is made to the Jews that Islam is the same religion as was taught by Moses, and that they should not allow their leaders to make fools of them; in verses 57-65 an appeal is made to the Christians that Islam is the same religion as was taught by Jesus, and that they should give up their sectarian attitude and follow the universal religion, which shows the Straight Way.[3]

Islam, then, through the teachings of its holy book, the Qur’an, redefines traditional Judeo-Christian terms, events, and historical personages to fit its own particular views and presuppositions.

Pre-History of Islam

Long before Mohammed arrived on the scene, Arabia’s history of paganism and polytheism was in decline. In Mecca, the Arabs worshiped Allah as the supreme Semitic God, but their monotheism was corrupted by worship of a number of female deities, including Al-Lat, Al-Uzzah, and Al-Manat, whom they regarded as the daughters of Allah, and who represented the Sun, Venus, and Fortune.[4] Dermenghem comments on the state of idolatry in Mecca at the time:

The Ka’bah, a cubical structure exposed to the sky, with the sacred Black Stone in a corner, stood in the middle of a large open square, where there was also another sacred stone, the maqam of Abraham, and the sacred well of Zamzam. Idols of unhewn or rudely sculptured stone surrounded the temple, a­round which was per­formed the essential rite of tawaf, a seven-fold circumambulation in a counter-clock­wise direction. The pilgrimage was completed by visits to other holy sites…[5]

In addition to its polytheistic communities, Arabia included a number of Jews and Christians. Yathrib, Khaibar, and the northern oases were home to a prosperous and influential Jewish community. Christians in Mecca included Abyssinian slaves, artisans, Syrian business men, and a number of famous Arabian poets.[6] By the seventh century, a number of Arab teachers (known as hanifs), apparently impressed by the monotheism of the Jewish and Christian religions, were already rejecting idolatry for a somewhat “ascetic” religion of their own.[7] Although comparatively few in number, the hanifs undoubtedly influenced Mohammed; one hanif by the name of Waraqah was the cousin of Mohammed’s wife, Khadija[8] It was into this scene—ripe for a change—that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was born.

Mohammed

Mohammed was born in Mecca sometime around the year 570. His name was either given to him at birth or is a nickname which means the Praised One.[9] He was also known for a time as Abu’l-Qasim, a title of honor which means “the Father of al-Qasim.”[10] Mohammed’s father, Abdullah bin Abdul-Muttalib, of the tribe of Quraysh, died a few months before Mohammed was born. His mother, Aminah, died in 576 when Mohammed was a child. His paternal grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib, of the clan of Hashim, who had the privilege of distributing water from the sacred well of Zamzam to local pilgrims, gave the young child to a wet nurse by the name of Halimah, a Bedouin woman of the tribe of Banu Sa’d. Mohammed spent his early years with her and a foster brother in the mountain areas near Ta’if as a shepherd boy.[11]

Mohammed, then, was raised first by his grandfather. When Mohammed was eight years old, ‘Abd al-Muttalib died. He was then brought up by his uncle, Abu Talib. As a young man, Mohammed traveled the trade routes by camel caravan between Mecca and what is now Syria. At the age of 25, Mohammed met Khadija, a rich widow who was fifteen years older than he. Mohammed began to conduct her trade caravans and soon entered service as her steward. He married her in 595. It was a happy marriage which resulted in three sons (who died at an early age) and four daughters. The youngest daughter, Fatimah, was the only child who bore any descendants to Mohammed. He also adopted at least one child, Zaid ibn Harithah, who had been enslaved in a desert raid. Khadija died after 24 years of marriage in 619.

The Call of the “Prophet”

According to Muslim tradition, in the month of Ramadan in the year 610, while in prayer and meditation in a cave, Mohammed was visited by the Angel Gabriel. In a “vision” not unlike that of Joseph Smith, the founder of the early 19th century Mormon cult, the angelic visitor came to Mohammed while he was in a trance. Gabriel is alleged to have said, “Recite!”[12] Emile Dermenghem relates Muslim tradition on the call of Mohammed:

According to the tradition and to the biographies it was a night in the last third of Ramadan, in a grotto on Mount Hira, when there took place the infusion of the uncreated Word into the relative world, the “coming down” of the Book into the heart of the Prophet (the Night of Destiny, the Blessed Night of the Qur’an). While he was sleeping, a mysterious being, holding in his hand a roll of material covered with signs, ordered him to read (or recite, or chant). “I do not know how to read,” said Mohammed. “Read,” the angel repeated again twice, winding the material round the neck of the sleeper.[13]

Gabriel allegedly replied, “Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created man from clots of blood.” Upon awakening, Mohammed is reported to have left the cave only to see another vision.

He left the cave… and suddenly he heard himself called and greeted by the name of Messenger of Allah. He looked up and saw an enormous man standing on the horizon. Dazzled, Mohammed turned and once again saw the angel. From every part of the heaven the angel would stand and gaze at him in silence.[14]

Mohammed returned home to his wife and told her all that had happened. Khadija encouraged him to heed the “call” and the founding of Islam began.

Mohammed’s Claim

Mohammed never claimed to perform miracles, healings, or other divine actions. He claimed to be a “warner” sent by God, a messenger sent forth to “confirm” previous Old Testament and New Testament scriptures.

This Qur’an is not such as can be produced by other than God; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it and a fuller explanation of the Book—wherein there is no doubt—from the Lord of the world.[15]

It must be noted, however, that right from the beginning of the so-called “revelations,” Mohammed’s angelic visitor not only failed to “confirm” the scriptures, but instead contradicted Old Testament teachings that man was originally created from “the dust of the earth” and not from “clots of blood.” As noted in Chapter 3 (“Basic Islamic Fallacies and Inconsistencies”) and elsewhere in this work, the contradictions between the Bible and the Qur’an were only just beginning. 

Main Events in the Life of Mohammed

570

Birth of Mohammed.

575

Death of Aminah, Mohammed’s mother.

595

Marriage to Khadija.

c. 610

Beginning of “Call.”

615

Flight of followers to Ethiopia.

619

Death of Khadija.

620

Mohammed’s “Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem.

622

The Hijra of Mohammed and his followers to Medina and the beginning of the Muslim Era.

624

Battle of Badr: the Quraysh defeated by the Muslims.

625

Battle of Uhud: the Muslims defeated.

626

The Jewish tribe of al-Nadhir expelled.

627

“The War of the Ditch”—the Maccan’s expedition against the Muslims in Medina. The attackers were driven off.

628

The Treaty of Hudaybiyya: truce with the Quraysh, who recognize Mohammed’s right to proselytize without hindrance.

629

Mohammed sends letters and messengers to the Kings of Persia, Yemen and Ethiopia and the Emperor Heraclius, inviting them to accept Islam.

630

Truce broken by the Quraysh. Mecca taken by Mohammed, the entire population converted and the Ka’bah established as the religious center of Islam.

631

The “Year of Embassies”—Islam ac­cepted by the Arabian tribes.

632

Mohammed’s Farewell Pilgrimage to Mecca.

632

Death of Mohammed (three months after return to Mecca).

The Five Tenets of Islam

There are five basic tenets of faith in Islam. The first and foremost is “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His messenger.” Others include the observance of prayer, the payment of the alms-tax, pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during the Muslim’s lifetime, and the fast during the month of Ramadan.

Sects in Islam

Sects and divisions within Islam are derived primarily from questions of civil law, religious ritual, and public law.

Sunnis

The majority of Muslims are Sunnis, meaning they follow the “sunnah,” which follows a traditional respect for the Prophet, his companions, the first four “rightly guided” caliphs (theocratic rulers), and the immediate ruling Successors. Dermenghem comments:

To the Qur’an and the sunnah may be added [roots] to make the rules more specific[:] the ijma or consensus of the scholars, the ra’y or personal interpretation of a sound scholar, qiyas or analogical reasoning, and istihsan or istislah, the consideration of public welfare. The Sunnis are divided into four rites or legal schools… which only differ in the relative importance which they attach to each of these roots (ijma, etc.), and in some details of ritual and of law.[16]

The importance of the respect for the line of succession of the first caliphs cannot be understated. It marks the distinction between the Sunnis and the Shi’ite and Kharjite sects.

Shi’ites

The Shi’ites oppose the first three succeeding caliphs. Most detested is ‘Umar, who is regarded as having usurped the rights of ‘Ali and his eleven direct successors. The twelfth and last imam is alleged to have disappeared, remains today in hiding, and will return at the Last Day. For the Shi’ites, to know the imam of the age or to have faith in the hidden imam assures a man of salvation[17]—hence the fanatical allegiance of Shi’ite Muslims to certain of their ayatollahs or holy men. The teachings of the so-called “Twelver Shi’ites” became the official religion of Persia in the 16th century. Persia is now modern day Iran.

One interesting Shi’ite sect, known as the Druz, claims to descend directly from Fatimah, Mohammed’s daughter. Hakim, one of the Fatimid caliphs, ultimately proclaimed himself God. After his mysterious disappearance, Hakim’s disciples founded in the Hauran area of Syria the community of the Druzes. In a manner somewhat reminiscent of an Islamic equivalent of the Second Coming of Christ, they await Hakim’s return to this day.

Kharjites

At the opposite end from the Shi’ites are the Kharjites. No longer guided by an imam, they formed a community in Mzab which is today guided by scholars. The Kharjites believe that succession belongs to any man of upright character, and pure faith, even to a slave. They do not believe in justification apart from works. Kharjites accept only a literal interpretation of the Qur’an. They believe that one who commits a capital sin ceases to be a believer and hold that their scholars have the right to excommunicate the sinner from the faith.

Islam Around the World

Islam is now the religion of over two billion people. As a religion, it is state-supported and protected in a number of countries (especially in the Middle East); in the early 1990’s, King Fahd of Saudia Arabia built a massive printing plant that continues to subsidize the printing of nearly 30 million copies of the Qur’an each year.

Islam is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout America. Hundreds of “Islamic centers” have spring up all across the country. These centers are actually the equivalent of Christian churches or Jewish synagogues. Members who attend the centers, many of whom are converted from main-stream Christian churches or who are proselytized from among the American public, are immersed in Islamic teaching; Arabic, the original language of the Qur’an, is taught at many of these centers. Muslim “imams” or “holy men” (the equivalent of Christian ministers and teachers) have even offered prayers at the start of legislative sessions in a number of states. Efforts have even been made to allow Muslim prayers at the start of legislative sessions of Congress.


[1]Or, Koran.

[2]Ali: Note 824 at Sura 3:111.

[3]Ali: Note 4664 at Sura 43:64.

[4]Dawood, N. J. The Koran. New York: Penguin Books, 1974, p. 9.

[5]Emile Dermenghem, Mohammed and the Islamic Tradition, Woodstock, New York: the Overlook Press, 1981, p. 9.

[6]Dermenghem, p. 10.

[7]Dawood, p. 9.

[8]Dermenghem, p. 10.

[9]Dermenghem, p. 7.

[10]Dermenghem, p. 7.

[11]Dermenghem, p. 14.

[12]Hence the book’s title, The Qur’an, which means “The Recital.”

[13]Dermenghem, p. 17.

[14]Dermenghem, p. 18.

[15]Sura 10:37.

[16]Dermenghem, p. 66.

[17]Dermenghem, p. 67.


Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Appendix

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