Islam is the fastest growing religion, and the second largest religion in the world. It is a unique religion in that it incorporates a lot of Christian and Judaist values in a new way and with fresh concepts. It is also the newest major religion, and has courted a lot of controversy—like most other major religions. Though Islam is in the news every day for its connection with war and immigration, most non-Islamic people do not know much about how this religion was formed. To allow people to understand more about Islam, its origins and development will be delved into.
The story of Islam begins with its main prophet, Muhammad. He was born around 570 AD in Saudi Arabia, Mecca, into a powerful tribe called the Quraish. This tribe was known for its trading power along routes outside Mecca. So, Muhammad naturally picked up the job of being a merchant along these trade routes—supposedly protected by a multitude of gods. One of these business trips became a romantic one, as he met Khadija. She was a wealthy widow that traded with Muhammad, and later they decided to marry (The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History).
Around the time Muhammad became forty years of age, it is said that he started to have visions and heard voices. According to The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, “Searching for clarity, he would sometimes meditate at Mount Hira, near Mecca. On one of these occasions, the Archangel Gabriel (Jibra’il in Arabic) appeared to him and instructed him to recite “in the name of [your] lord.” This was the first of many revelations that became the basis of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam” (The Prophet Muhammad and the Origins of Islam). Why these revelations were especially important was that they discussed a monotheistic god rather than polytheism, which was popular in Saudi Arabia at the time.
It was not easy for Muhammad to accept these revelations, though. It is said that only with the encouragement of his wife that he accepted the concepts and responsibility given to him. In 613, Muhammad began to preach these principles and idea of a monotheistic God in Mecca (History.com). This was to the consternation of merchants, however. The merchants believed that the pagan gods guided their trading business, and that Muhammad was trying to take people away from their gods’ favor. Muhammad was looked down upon because of his preaching, but the influence of his uncle Abu Talib and his wife protected him from harm (The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History).
However, by 622, his wife and uncle had died. Muhammad now had amassed a significant following, and was forced to emigrate with his group outside of Mecca due to ostracism. Muhammad chose Medina to be the followings’ sanctuary, and he continued to teach others about his almighty God and new religious practices that were accompanied by new revelations. At the same time, the merchants from Mecca continued to attack this community, and eventually battles started to be waged between these two factions. Eventually, Muhammad’s followers were victorious against the Quraish through a combination of lasting warfare and diplomacy, and returned to Mecca in control. This meant that all the idols of pagan gods were disposed of, and the idea of one all-powerful god prevailed (The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History).
Having gained control of Mecca, Muhammad continued to preach the principles of Islam, and to receive divine commandments. One of these revelations during this time is the most famous vision of Muhammad. According to The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, “One night, while the Prophet was sleeping, the Archangel Gabriel came and led him on a journey. Mounted on the heavenly steed Buraq, Muhammad traveled from the Ka’ba in Mecca to the “Farthest Mosque,” which Muslims believe to be the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. There he prayed with other prophets such as Moses, Abraham, and Jesus, and ascended to the skies, where he was led by Gabriel through Paradise and Hell, and finally came face to face with God” (The Prophet Muhammad and the Origins of Islam). From this vision, Muhammad gained new insight into what God wanted from him, and began to preach new concepts, such as praying five times a day. But, it was not soon after this vision that Muhammad died in 632. After the prophet’s death, Muslims created two factions based on who would be the rightful successor of Muhammad—but that is a story for another day.
Islam began when a merchant named Muhammad heard voices and saw visions, supposedly from the angel Gabriel. He preached about a monotheistic god despite living in a polytheistic society, and was challenged and attacked. Eventually this led to physical and philosophical battles, which was eventually won by Muhammad and his followers. Muhammad died with a great number of followers, a vast control of the area around Saudi Arabia as a political figure, and a new pathway for future generations to live their lives.
The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Prophet Muhammad and the Origins of Islam,
History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/topics/religion/islam.