Chapter 10 Section 1
The religion of Islam, whose followers are called Muslims, emerged in the Arabian Peninsula. This region of southwestern Asia is mostly desert, yet it was home to many Arab tribes in the A.D. 500s. Nomadic herders called Bedouins (bed oo inz) moved through the desert to reach seasonal pasturelands for their camels, goats, and sheep. Competition for water and grazing land often led to warfare. Bedouins also traded with settled Arab tribes in oasis towns and protected the caravan trading routes.
Muhammad Becomes a Prophet
Muhammad was born in the oasis town of Mecca around A.D. 570. Mecca was a bustling market town at the crossroads of several caravan routes. It was also a thriving pilgrimage center. Many Arabs came to pray at the Kaaba, an ancient temple that housed statues of pagan gods and goddesses. The pilgrims helped make Mecca’s merchants wealthy. All weapons had to be laid down near the temple, making Mecca a safe and peaceful place to do business.
Arabia’s deserts and trade centers shaped Muhammad’s early life. In his youth, he worked as a shepherd among the Bedouins. Later, he led caravans across the desert and became a successful merchant. When he was about 25, Muhammad married Khadija (ka dee jah), a wealthy widow who ran a prosperous caravan business. Muhammad became known for his honesty in business and was a devoted husband and father.
Muhammad Becomes God’s Messenger
Muhammad was troubled by the moral ills of Meccan society, especially greed. He often went to a cave in the hills near Mecca to meditate. According to Muslim belief, when he was about 40 years old he heard the voice of the angel Gabriel calling him to be the messenger of God. Muhammad was terrified and puzzled. How could he, an illiterate merchant, become the messenger of God? Khadija encouraged him to accept the call. She became the first convert to the faith called Islam, from the Arabic word that means “to submit to God.” Muhammad devoted his life to spreading Islam. He urged Arabs to give up their worship of pagan gods and submit to the one true God. In Arabic, the word for God is Allah.
The Hijra: A Turning Point
At first, few people listened to Muhammad’s teachings. His rejection of traditional Arab gods angered Mecca’s merchants, who feared that neglect of their idols would disrupt the pilgrim trade. In 622, faced with the threat of murder, Muhammad and his followers left Mecca for Yathrib, a journey known as the hijra (hih jy ruh). Later, Yathrib was renamed Medina, or “city of the Prophet,” and 622 became the first year of the Muslim calendar.
The hijra was a turning point for Islam. In Medina, Muslim converts welcomed Muhammad and agreed to follow his teachings. They became a community of Muslims, or umma. Loyalty to the umma was based on Islam instead of old family rivalries. Muhammad created rules that governed and united Muslims and brought peace among the clans of Medina. As his reputation grew, thousands of Arabs adopted Islam. Meanwhile, Meccan leaders grew more hostile toward the Muslims. After Muslims attacked several caravans, the Meccans prepared for war.
After fighting battles with the Meccans, Muhammad triumphantly returned to Mecca in 630. He destroyed the idols in the Kaaba, the temple he believed that Abraham had built to worship the one true God. He rededicated the Kaaba to Allah, and it became the most holy place in Islam. For the next two years, Muhammad worked to unite the Arabs under Islam. Muhammad died in 632, but the faith that he proclaimed continued to spread. Today, Islam is one of the world’s major religions.
Teachings of Islam
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is monotheistic, based on belief in one God. The Quran (koo rahn), the sacred text of Islam, teaches that God is all-powerful and compassionate. It also states that people are responsible for their own actions. Islam does not require priests to mediate between the people and God. Muslims believe that God had sent other prophets, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but that Muhammad was the last and greatest prophet.
mediate—(mee dee ayt) v. to act as a go-between
Muslims Study the Quran
To Muslims, the Quran contains the sacred word of God as revealed to Muhammad. It is the final authority on all matters discussed in the text. The Quran teaches about God’s will and provides a guide to life. Its ethical standards emphasize honesty, generosity, and social justice. It sets harsh penalties for crimes such as stealing or murder. According to the Quran, each individual will stand before God on the final judgment day to face either eternal punishment in hell or eternal bliss in paradise.
Muslims believe that the Quran is the direct, unchangeable word of God. Because the meaning and poetic beauty of the Quran reside in its original language, all Muslims, including converts to Islam, learn Arabic. This shared language has helped unite Muslims from many regions throughout the world.
Muslims Follow Duties
All observant Muslims perform five basic duties, known as the Five Pillars of Islam. The first is to make a declaration of faith. The second is to pray five times daily. After a ritual washing, Muslims face the holy city of Mecca to pray. Although Muslims may pray anywhere, they often gather in houses of worship called masjids or mosques. A mosque official called a muezzin (myoo ez in) calls the faithful to prayer.
The third pillar is to give charity to the poor. The fourth is to fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan—the month in which Muhammad received his first revelations from God. The fifth pillar is to make the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Pilgrims participate in ceremonies commemorating the actions of Muhammad, Abraham, and Abraham’s family. Their simple attire symbolizes the abandonment of the material world for the sake of God.
Another duty is jihad, or struggle in God’s service. Jihad is usually a personal duty for Muslims, who focus on overcoming immorality within themselves. At other times, jihad may be interpreted as a holy war to defend Islam and the Muslim community, much like the Crusades to defend Christianity. However, just holy war may be declared only by the community, not by an individual Muslim or small group.
“People of the Book”
Muslims, Jews, and Christians worship the same God. The Quran teaches that Islam is God’s final and complete revelation, while Hebrew scriptures and the Christian Bible contain portions of earlier revelations. Muslims consider Jews and Christians to be “People of the Book,” spiritually superior to polytheistic idol worshipers. Although there have been exceptions, the People of the Book have historically enjoyed religious freedom in many Muslim societies.
Islam: A Way of Life
Islam is both a religion and a way of life. Its teachings shape the lives of Muslims around the world. Islamic law governs daily life, and Muslim traditions determine ethical behavior and influence family relations.
Islamic Law CourtIn this Persian painting, a man and woman seek a decision before a judge. What does this picture suggest about the rights of Muslim women?
Sharia—Islamic System of Law
Over time, Muslim scholars developed the Sharia, a body of law that includes interpretation of the Quran, examples of behavior from Muhammad’s life, and Muslim traditions. Similar to Jewish law, the Sharia regulates moral conduct, family life, business practices, government, and other aspects of individual and community life. It does not separate religion from criminal or civil law, but applies religious principles to all legal situations. Just as the Quran unifies Muslim beliefs, the Sharia unites Muslims under a common legal framework.
Impact of Islam on Women
Before Islam, the position of women in Arab society varied. In some communities, women were active in religion, trade, or politics. As in most societies at that time, however, most women had limited rights. Arab women could not inherit property and had to obey a male guardian. Among a few tribes, unwanted daughters were sometimes killed at birth.
Islam extended rights and protection to women by affirming the spiritual equality of all Muslims. The Quran teaches that “Whoever does right, whether male or female, and is a believer, all such will enter the Garden.” The Quran prohibited the killing of daughters, granted women an inheritance, and allowed women to reject a marriage offer. Islam also encouraged education for men and women so that all Muslims could study the Quran.
affirm—(uh furm) v. to judge as valid
Although spiritually equal under Islam, men and women had different roles and rights. For example, women inherited less than men and had a more difficult time getting a divorce. As Islam spread, Muslims adopted practices of conquered peoples. For example, the practices of veiling upper-class women and secluding them in a separate part of the home were Persian customs. The Quran says that women should dress modestly, which has been interpreted in multiple ways. Still, women’s lives varied according to region and class. In rural areas, peasant women often needed to work and did not wear a veil, but took care to dress modestly.