Islam emerged in the beginning of the 7th century CE in the Arabian Penninsula in modern Saudi Arabia. It was in this region that Prophet Muhammad laid the foundation of Islam but also a new civilization that expanded to the entire Near East within two centuries of the death of Prophet.
The rise of Islam had a huge impact on West Asia, Europe and Central Asia and changed the course of the history of the World Islam is believed to be one of the youngest, great world religions.
Islam is an Arabic work which means “surrender” or “submission”. The followers of this religion are called as Muslims.
Prophet and his Teachings
When Islam first emerged in Arabia, there was hardly any indication that within 150 years it would dominate the entire Middle East, northern Africa and Spain.
The early spread of Islam was directly related to the revelations and work of Prophet Muhammad.
Life of Prophet Muhammad
The information about the early life of Prophet Muhammad is quite sketchy. Most of the Muslim sources dealing with his career have been written more than one and a half century after the actual event.
However, our information related to the life of Muhammad is more abundant in comparison with the founders of other religions. These sources comprise the holy Quran which is considered as God’s revelations through Gabriel (the angel) to Muhammad and which is the ultimate source of Muslim religious belief.
Another important source of Prophet’s life and his teachings is hadis or hadith. It deals mainly with the ritual, moral and other religious aspects of the Muslims. The other sources are based on oral traditions and written accounts such as the biography of Muhammad written by IbnIshaq. Which was later on revised byIbnHisham.
There is a consensus that the Prophet Muhammad was born in 570 CE in Mecca. His birth was considered auspicious by many because a terrible epidemic which was ravaging Arabia suddenly ended.
Muhammad belonged to the prominent clan Banu Hashim of the Quraysh tribe. Besides being prominent traders, the Hashim tribe had also been the caretaker of the holy well called Zamzam at Mecca.
However, the Hashimshad lost their prominence in the caravan trade by the time Prophet Muhammad was born. Muhammad’s father Abdullah, died before his birth. He also lost his mother in in his childhood. He was brought up by his grandfather and later by his uncle Abu Talib, who was fairly well-to-do merchant.
Due to poverty Muhammad could not receive any formal education but he was trained to look after sheep and camels. As a youth he spent most of his time in travelling with the caravans into southern Arabia and Syria.
Muhammad was known to many for his sincerity and honesty. They called him ‘Amin’. Muslim sources suggest that when Muhammad grew up he found employment with a wealthy widow-merchant named Khadija who traded with Syria and Palestine. Muhammad assisted her with her enterprise.
Later, at the age of 25 Muhammad married Khadija who was much older and had two sons (who died early) and had many daughters among whom Fatima became popular. She was married to Ali. Fatima became the mother of two muchrevered sons, Hasan and Hussain.
From his early youth Muhammad was of religious bent and practiced meditation. He pondered much on the religious life of his fellowmen. During his travels he had met many Jews and the Christians whose monotheistic ideas had deep influence on him. He spent most of his time in religious meditations. Occasionally, he would visitMount Hira, near Mecca, for meditation and fasting.
Many a times he felt into trance and uttered words which came to be recorded by his early disciples. Later they constituted a part of Quran. As per the sources, it was during one his meditational exercises in 610 CE at Mount Hira that Muhammad (at the age of 40)had a spiritual experience in the form of a series of God’s revelations which became the basis of his religious mission.
He realized that he was the chief messenger, or Prophet, of the Supreme being-Allah and therefore had the great mission to fulfil. These revelations showed him the vision of a great and just God (Allah) who would give reward or punishment to an individual on the basis of their good or bad deeds on the day of the judgment (last day of an individual human being on this earth).
The thoughts of desirability of the charity and piety and the fear of pride in human power, attachment to worldly things,neglect of the poor and alms giving became the operational features of these revelations. These revelations forms the Quran, the religious book of the Muslims.
Initially, it was Khadija who believed in Muhammad’s Prophethood, but later from 613 CE onwards Muhammad had started preaching a small group of his followers in Mecca who had accepted his religious ideas. They came to be known as Muslim (plural Muslimun), i.e. those who had submitted (to Allah).
The religion itself was denoted by the term Islam, which means submission, derived from the same root as the world Muslim. Khadija, Abu Bakr and Ali were the earliest followers of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet started preaching the principles of his new faith to the Meccans. But since majority of the people of Mecca practiced a polytheistic religion, there was strong opposition to the strict monotheistic ideology of Prophet Muhammad.
Even the members of the Quraysh tribe opposed his preaching and ridiculed the concept of the last Day of Judgment (qiyama) and resurrection, and they also called him as kabin or fortuneteller.Thus, the general attitude of the Meccans remained hostile.
The priests of the temple of Kaaba were alarmed and they opposed the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. However, he continued to preach the tenets of Islam with the support of his clan, Khadija and Abu Talib. But the unfortunate death of both Khadija and Abu Talib in 619 CE made it difficult for him to preach in Mecca. His followers too were subjected to social and economic boycott.
According to Ira M.Lapidus, the new religion threatened to dissolve the old order of the society and to create a new one. Thus, confronted with this kind of ostracism and gradual loss of support from the Hashim clan, Prophet Muhammad decided to move to Medina(Yathrib)in 622 CE.
Muhammad’s retreat to Medina with a group of 75 followers (muhajirun) is considered as the most important year for Islam and it was called Hijrah or Hejira (Emigration). It is the beginning of the Islamic calendar and was determined to be July 16, 622 CE. It is considered as the beginning of the Islamic era to commemorate Muhammad’s emigration from Mecca to Medina.
It was in Medina the Prophet Muhammad could get warm reception to his new faith. He gathered a large number of disciples. His supporters in Medina were known as ansar (helpers). His fame and that of his new faith began to spread rapidly all over Arabia. By the end of his life he had laid the foundations of a political structure in Medina based on Islam.
He was no longer just a religious leader, but the head of an emerging state centered on Medina. He started laying down the rules for governance. His followers constituted the army. He entered into alliances with the neighboring tribes.
Many tribes embraced the new faith thereby becoming part of the Muslim religious community known as ummah.Income for running the state came from the raids.One-fifth of the booty went directly to the Prophet. Additionally, regular voluntary contributions were levied on the tribes which accepted Muhammad’s leadership. This gradually developed into a tax known as zakat which was extracted from all the Muslims of the state.
Now the Prophet was in a position to wage a war against the Quraysh of Mecca. A major victory for the forces of early Islam was the battle of Badr in 624 CE where the Prophet defeated a large Meccan army. This victory not only dented the supremacy of the Meccans but also enhanced Muhammad’s prestige in the entire Arabia.
The successful raids against the Quraysh trading caravans disrupted the Meccan trade. However, he faced some reverses at the hands of Meccan forces in 625 CE at Uhud and in 627 CE at Ditch. As a result, a truce was reached with the Meccans and the Muslims were allowed to perform pilgrimage at Mecca for three days but the Meccans refused to recognize Muhammad as their Prophet.
Muhammad attacked Mecca in 630 CE and forced the Meccan leaders to surrender the city. The citizens of Mecca embraced Islam en masse.
Ira M.Lapidus opines that the victory over Mecca was also the culmination of the tribal policy of Muhammad as by the end of his life, he was able to create a large-scale Arabian federation of oases and tribes.
Thus, he provided a solution to the destructive anarchy in Arabia. Along with this, all the idols and other objects of worship at Kaaba in Mecca were removed. The Islamic symbol which was located in Kaaba was a black stone which was traditionally associated with Abraham.
Abraham was considered as the common ancestor of all the Arabs. Kaaba was declared as the holiest shrine of Islam. Mecca became the focal point of the most sacred pilgrimage (hajj) of the Muslims.
Prophet Muhammad passed away in 632 CE. He sowed the seeds of a new religion called Islam in Arabia, and in the course of time it became one of the great religions of the world.
Teachings of Prophet Muhammad
Not all of the early teachings of Prophet Muhammad were new. Modern scholars believe that there are many similarities between the Quran and the principles of Judaism and Christianity.
Similarity with Christianity has been found in the last Day of Judgment which was also preached by Syrian monks and missionaries at the fairs of Arabia. Whereas similarity with Judaism have been found in such characteristics as strict monotheism, belief in written revelations and the concept of a chosen messenger.
In fact, some were much like the teachings of Judaism and Christianity. Muhammad’s teachings challenged and upset the people of Arabia. It changed many aspects of the life of Arabians.
Declaration of Faith (Shahda)
Mohammed preached that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet.The belief that “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God” (la ilahilla Allah, Muhammadurrasul Allah) is central to Islam. This recital of the creed is called kalma. This phrase in Arabic calligraphy is often appears in architecture and a range of objects, including the Quran.
One becomes a Muslim by reciting this phrase with conviction. God reveals his desires to man by means of his prophets and Mohammed declared that he was the last prophet. He condemned idol worship.
He asked his followers to totally submit themselves to the Almighty and all merciful God Allah without whose blessings no one can enter the paradise after one’s death. Those who do not believe in Him would suffer in hell. All those who believe in Him and obey His will should live like brothers. All are equal in the eyes of God.
Daily Prayers (Salat)
Muhammad preached that every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day: at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and bed-time. The five daily prayers of salat are:
Morning (Fajr): This prayer is supposed be offered in the morning before sunrise. It is forbidden to pray during the time of rising sun, because that may give the appearance of sun worship.
Midday (Zuhr): The time for this prayer is early afternoon, starting with the decline of the sun to mid-afternoon.
Afternoon (Asr):This Prayer is offered in the late afternoon but no later than half an hour before sunset.
Sunset (Maghrib): The time for this prayer is shortly after sunset. It must not be said while the sun is setting.
Nighttime (Isa):This prayer should be offered after nightfall when it is dark. It can be said up to midnight.
Prayer includes a recitation of the opening chapter (sura) of the Quran, and is sometimes performed on a small rug or mat used expressly for this purpose. Muslims can pray anywhere individually or together in a mosque, where a leader in prayer (imam) guides the congregation.
The faithful pray by bowing many times while standing and then kneeling and touching the ground or prayer mat with their foreheads. Men gather in the mosque near midday on Friday to pray and to listen to a sermon,khutba;women are welcome but not obliged to participate. After the prayer, a sermon focuses on a passage from the Quran, followed by prayers by the imam and a discussion of a specific religious topic.
According to the Islamic law, Muslims contribute a fixed proportion of their income for the upkeep of the poor, destitute, travelers in need, for those fighting in the way of Allah, for those serving in the way of Islam, for slaves to buy freedom and for benevolent works.
The practice of this virtue is known as zakat. Zakat literally means “purification”; it purifies the giver and what is given.
Many rulers and rich Muslims build mosques, drinking fountains, hospitals, schools, and other institutions both as a religious duty and to secure the blessings associated with charity.
During the holy month of Ramadanall healthy adult Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk. To fast is to abstain from food, drink, smoking and conjugal relations from dawn to sunset.
A Muslim can purify himself spiritually and physically, elevate his soul and obtain nearness to the Almighty.
However, chronically sick,elderly, pregnant and menstruating women are temporarily exempted from fasting. They may make up for fasting by feeding the poor. Through this temporary deprivation, they renew their awareness of and gratitude for everything God has provided in their lives—including the holy Quran, which was first revealed to the Prophet during this month.
During the lunar month of Ramadan they share the hunger and thirst of the needy as a reminder of the religious duty to help those underprivileged.
All Muslim whose health and finances permit are required to make pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca (in present-day Saudi Arabia) at least once in their lifetime. The pilgrimage is known as hajj. The Kaaba, a cubical structure covered in black embroidered hangings, is at the center of the Haram Mosque in Mecca.
Muslims believe that it is the house Abraham built for God, and face in its direction (qibla) when they pray. Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, believers from all over the world have gathered around the Kaaba in Mecca on the eighth and twelfth days of the final month of the Islamic calendar.
The Hajj serves as a striking reminder of the unity of God and it accentuates the brotherhood and equality of human beings, as well as the importance of man’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of his Creator.
The above mentioned five teachings are known as five pillars of Islam. They constitute the basic requirements of Islamic practice and are accepted by Muslims all over the world, irrespective of ethnic, regional or sectarian differences.
The chief message of Islam is monotheism. Muslims believe that there is only one God who created the universe and everything within it.
Therefore, we must devote our true and pure love only to this one God. Since only God can truly harm us, then we should only fear God and not fear anyone or anything else more than we fear God.
Belief in the Angels
The Muslims believe that God created angels just like He created human beings. However, humans were given free will, whereas angels are always obedient to the will of God.
Angels perform the tasks given to them by God. For example, the angel Gabriel is responsible for communicating the revelations from God to the Prophets and Messengers.
Belief in the Prophets and Messengers
Muslims believe that God created humans and that He wanted us to lead a good life. He does not want us to be misguided or to live miserable lives. Therefore, God will hold every human being answerable for every action they have done in their life.
God has sent Prophets and Messengers in order to teach humanity and to guide us. These Prophets and Messengers are human beings.
They had the role of receiving guidance and revelations from God through the angel Gabriel and to spread the message among the rest of people.
Belief in the Holy Books
The Muslims believe that God revealed certain messages to guide humanity and to teach them right from wrong. These messages were meant to guide people to worship God only, and not their idols.
Another purpose of these messages was to help humans establish a set of laws that would enable them to curtail injustice and evil actions and to make them live happy and fruitful lives.
These messages are known as the Holy Books. These include the Quran (given to Muhammad), the Torah (given to Moses), the Gospel (given to Jesus), the Psalms (given to David), and the Scrolls (given to Abraham).
Muslims are of the opinion that these earlier scriptures were divinely revealed in their original form, but that only the Quran remains as it was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Belief in the Day of Judgment
The Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgment, humans will be judged for their actions in this life for each of their actions in this life no matter how small.
Since God is the most just, He will not allow someone who lived their entire life stealing, cheating and hurting others to escape without getting punishment. Those who followed God’s guidance will be rewarded with paradise while those who rejected God’s guidance will be punished with hell.
Belief in Predestination
This article of faith addresses the question of God’s will. It can be expressed as the belief that everything is governed by divine decree, namely that whatever happens in one’s life is preordained, and that believers should respond to the good or bad that befalls them with thankfulness or patience.
This concept does not negate the concept of “free will;” since humans do not have prior knowledge of God’s decree, they do have freedom of choice.
The Muslims believe that everything is governed by divine decree. Whatever happens in one’s life is preordained. This does not imply that God controls us. Humans were given free will and they have full control over their actions. However, God knows all events that have occurred in the past or will take place in the future.
It is believed that if God wanted to stop something from happening or force something to happen, he is certainly able to do so. Therefore, everything takes place because God has allowed it.
The above mentioned six beliefs are those that are commonly held by Muslims, as laid out in the Quran and Hadith. These are known as the Six Articles of Faith in Islam.
Theories Pertaining to the Rise of Islam: Historiography
The rise of Islam has been a topic of debate among the historians. There are basically three theories as discussed below:-
Meccan Trade Hypothesis
W.M Watt proposed the Meccan Trade Hypothesis. He saw the emergence of new religion as a result of deeper socio-economic changes and tried to find the reasons for its wide acceptance among Arab tribes within a short span of time.
He examines the nature of Arabian society while explaining the rise of Islam. He argues that the rise of Islam was due to the transformation which was taking shape as a result of trade and adoption of sedentary way of life by some tribes in the region.
The expansion of Meccan commerce brought in prosperity to some tribes engaged in trade due to which the society became inequitable. It eroded traditional ties and introduced tensions in the society leading to tribal conflicts.
The wealth from trade or earnings from pilgrims brought into Mecca did not benefit everyone uniformly. The rise of Mecca as a center of expanding international trade network caused a number of problems: increased social stratification, greater social inequalities, and greater dependence of poorer classes on wealthier ones. This led to conflict at various levels. This was not confined to the Meccan based tribes but also among those tribes who were engaged in the network of trade. The Quraysh tribe had no mechanism to cope with this new situation.
According to Watt, Muhammad’s attempt to bring about unity under a new faith was an answer to this new emerging social differentiation and Islam provided a foundation for state formation in Arabia. In this situation, Prophet Muhammad intended to dissolve the tribal units altogether and form single community.
The movement laid stress on social justice and rejected all forms of hierarchical class differentiation in the Arab society. The rise of Prophet Mohammad and the success of his teachings are interpreted as solutions he provided to the contemporary social problems.
Some other scholars such as Maxime Rodinson, Marshal G.S. Hodgson, have accepted and further elaborated Watt’s Meccan Trade hypothesis.
Some historians, such as Patricia Crone, has seriously questioned the validity of Watt’s Meccan trade hypothesis in the context of rise of Islam. She has forwarded an alternative view in her Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam.
Crone asserted that the Mecca traded mostly in goods of mass consumption rather than in luxury goods. While Watt argued that Mecca was the transit point in the long-distance trade between India, Africa and Mediterranean, Patricia Crone on the other hand asserted that trade was essentially in commodities of small value and was incapable of generating much wealth.
The surplus produced by the mercantile economy was not enough to create wide disparities in the society. She also argues that the Quranic traditions also do not prove the increasing awareness of such social inequalities or distress in the Arabian society.
Further, she asserts that the tribal order had not broken away and the traditional way of life was still intact and the society functioned very well.
Crone points out that Watt’s theory fails to explain the fact that it was in Medina and not in Mecca that Muhammad’s teachings were widely accepted and so the problems to which Muhammad is supposed to have provided the solution was that of Medina.
The Meccans were initially opposed to Islam since they preferred a traditional way of life. Crone suggests many reasons for Arabs to accept Islam. One of the reasons was that the Arabs were not rigid in their loyalty towards their Gods and changed their loyalty according to their practical requirements. Moreover, it was around one God that the Arabs were to be grouped together and all the ancestral deities that endorsed current divisions were declared as false.
Apart from this, raids and plunder were a useful way of augmenting their scanty resources. The new faith appealed to them as it helped to legitimize the conquest. The tribes were offered with the program of state formation through the formation of umma and the initiation of jihad.
Thus Patricia Crone suggests early Islam as ‘nativist movement’. The nativism of the Arabs was denoted by deep attachment to the Arabian way of life in opposition to the penetration of foreign dominance or influence.The foreign influences was represented by the Byzantine and Persian attempts to dominate the Arabian territory.
Crone further argues that a nativist movement occurs where there is no political organization and it invariably takes a religious form. Nevertheless, Crone agrees with Watt’s view that the process of settling down which was occurring in some parts of Arabia had necessitated the growth of some political structures at the expense of tribal ties.
In 2015, historian Fred Donner conducted an extensive survey of the revisionist works being done on the subject of origin of Islam. The appearance of these first revisionist works completely invigorated the study of early Islam.
He indicated that another dimension was added with Peter Brown’s epoch-making book The World of Late Antiquity in 1971. He combinedmany fields of study that hadpreviously been largely separate.
His integration of early Islamic history in the context of Late Antiquity broadened the viewpoint of historians on early Islam.
According to Donner, there is renewed interest in documentary evidence for this period, studies of the seals and coins of the early Islamic and of the Byzantine and Persian empires and papyrology. In 1980s and especially the first decade of the 21st century numerous scholars began working actively in Arabic papyrology.
There were outstanding developments in the study of the archaeology of the early Islamic period. However,a number of archaeological explorations in the 1970s were conducted along broader lines, especially in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen. This work has aided in amending serious misconceptions about the historical evolution of the Levant, especially, during the early Islamic period. For example, it was earlier thought that the rise of Islam coincided with a general collapse of prosperity.
However, Donald Whitcomb, Alan Walmsley, and others believed that many areas in the Levant continued to flourish during the 7th and 8thcenturies. According to Peter Pentz, the rise of Islam, rather than being seen as an episode of violent destruction and discontinuity was an ‘invisible conquest’ because at most sites in the Levant the transition from Byzantine to Islamic rule was so gradual that it was unnoticeable.
The origin of Islam came to be seen in the light of new works and the new evidence, and novel interpretations of long known literary evidence, resulted in the appearance of many new efforts to reconstruct ‘what actually happened’ on the eve of the origin of Islam.
A lot of revisionist writings emerged which were away from the traditional paradigm. Many new theories were proposed in these writings. A few of them claim that Islam was merely another form of Christianity; while some even questioned the presence of Prophet Muhammad. However, all these are not supported by enough research and seem mere speculations.