Tag Archives: Caliph

Very Basic Introduction to Islam

Information/terms to assist you with the reading (I created this brief summary for my NRM students who needed some supplemental background information regarding why many American NRMs were invoking terms sacred to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and what these concepts signified for the older “mother” traditions.)

A. Quick Introduction to Islam: Islam (the root word) means “submission” or “surrender”. Islam requires surrender to the one god, Allah, the god of Abraham. Muslims are those who submit to Allah and follow His prophets .Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of God’s prophets, the seal of the prophets.

Not all Muslims are Arab, not all Arabs are Muslims, Muslims live all over the world.  Muhammad, according to Islam, came to re-establish the monotheism of Abraham. Muhammad, although greatly revered, is just the messenger … he is human, not divine, he is the instrument through which the word of God… the Qur’an came to earth. Muslims believe that Allah (Arabic name for the one creator God) sent revelations (in Arabic) to Muhammad, just as Allah had sent previous messages. These revelations are referred to as The Qur’an (also spelled Koran) and it is thought to be the literal voice of Allah speaking to mankind. The Qur’an contains references to important individuals in other Abrahamic religious traditions… such as Moses, Abraham, Jesus, and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The Prophet Muhammad (570-632 c.e.) was born in Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia). He was born into a powerful tribe in that area called the Quraysh. Mecca was a site of pilgrimage for many tribes around Mecca, the tribes would come to Mecca to worship their idols in the Kaaba, a large rectangular building believed by many Muslims to have been built by Abraham. Mecca was a powerful and wealthy trading center due to its religious significance. Muhammad accompanied his uncle on trade routes and became a well-respected merchant and caravan driver. His nickname was al-amin (the trustworthy). He worked for a wealthy widow who later became his 1st wife, Khadijah. Muhammad was a monotheist, he often spent time on spiritual retreat on Mt. Hira. During one of these retreats, when Muhammad was 40 years old, he has a vision of the angel Gabriel (Jibril, in Arabic). Gabriel tells Muhammad that he has been chosen by Allah to be a prophet to his people. This is the beginning of the transmission of the revelations of the holy Qur’an in Islam. These revelations come to Muhammad over 22-23 years until the time of his death.

Muhammad begins telling close friends and relatives about the revelations. He builds up a small group of believers around him. Muhammad preached monotheism… and as his small group of believers grew… the more the Quraysh, the large tribe of tribes, worried that if this monotheism spread the less the surrounding tribes will come to Mecca to worship idols in the kaaba. In 619 c.e. , Muhammad’s wife, Khadijah, and the uncle who had raised him and protected him from the wrath of the Quraysh, Abu Talib, both died (this year is known as the “year of sorrows”). Muhammad and his followers faced intimidation, rejection, and out right assault from powerful Meccans that saw Muhammad and his followers as threats to polytheism in Mecca and the money that came from the various pilgrims visiting the Kaaba to worship their tribal gods. Muhammad and his community receive an invite to a small own called Yathrib… he decides to leave Mecca due to the hostility his followers faced.

The hijrah (emmigration) from Mecca to Yathrib (later called Medina which means “city of the Prophet) takes place in 622 c. e. and this marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. In 630 c. e., Muhammad and the Muslims of Yathrib retake Mecca. Muhammad “cleanses” the Kaaba of idols and rededicates the Kaaba. Two years later (632 c.e.) Muhammad dies in Medina and the ummah (community of Muslims) elect Abu Bakr as the new community leader, according to Sunni Muslims (roughly 80% of the Muslim population). Abu Bakr becomes the first rightly-guided Caliph (leader of the Muslim community). The Shia (the other 20% of the Muslim community) believe that Muhammad had previously endorsed Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, before his death.

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Filed under Lectures (Academic Study of Religion), Lectures (Islam), Lectures (New Religious Movements)