Muhammed and Islam Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein Much of the information in this lecture is taken from The Religions of Man by Huston Smith. The correct name of the third Abrahamic religion is Islam. It is sometimes referred to in the West as Muhammedanism, but as Smith says, to so refer to it is like calling Christianity "St. Paulism." The name Islam comes from the Arabic word "salam," meaning "peace," but with a secondary meaning of "surrender." An adherent of Islam is a Muslim, or "one who has surrendered." Islam is the second fastest growing religion in the United States because, as demonstrated in the film "Malcolm X," it has given African Americans a focus, a set of rules for living, and a means of pulling together with pride and purpose. Islam is the third Abrahamic religion, so anyone who is associated with either of the other two should know about it. The God of Abraham supposedly dictated a trilogy of bestsellers. The first was The Old Testament; the second was The New Testament; the third was the Koran (qur’an means "recitation"). According to Muslims, Islam did not begin in the sixth century with the inspired writing of Muhammed, but it began "In the beginning," just as Judaism and Christianity did, with God’s creation, except in Islam, God is referred to as "Allah" (pronounced ah-LAH). Smith says the word Allah is formed by joining the definite article al (meaning "the") with Illah  (meaning "God"). Allah means "the God," not "a god," but the only God there is, for there is only one. Allah created the world, and after it he created the first man, Adam. The descendants of Adam led to Noah and his son Shem, from whom the word "Semite" comes. Both Jews and Arabs consider themselves Semites. Back when we talked about Abraham and Sarai/Sarah, I mentioned that because Sarai/Sarah had no son, she told Abraham to lie with her handmaid Hagar. Hagar bore a son named Ishmael, after whose birth Sarah became pregnant and bore a son named Isaac. So Hagar and Ishmael were banished from the tribe. This is the point where the Koran and Old Testament accounts differ. According to the Koran, Ishmael went to Mecca. His descendants, growing up in Arabia, are Muslims; the descendants of Isaac, who grew up in Palestine and environs, are Jews. Following the line from Ishmael in Arabia, we eventually reach Muhammed in the sixth century AD, and he is called the "Seal of the Prophets," meaning that while there were many true prophets before him (of whom Moses and Jesus would be considered two), there will be no prophets after him. Life in the Arabian desert was barbaric, and the Arabs of Muhammed’s day were given to fighting, gaming, drunkenness, orgies, etc., and were greatly in need of a deliverer. Furthermore, the people of the Arab nations were without a book of sacred writings they could call their own, and particularly in need of one that spoke to their cultural identity. Muhammed was born into the leading tribe of Mecca, the Koreish, c. AD 571. He came to called Muhammed, or "highly praised," a name that since has been given to more male children than any other in the world. Early losses of his father, mother, and grandfather forced him to go to work for his uncle as a shepherd when he was only nine years old. Nevertheless, he is said to have had a heart filled with light, and over time he acquired the titles of "the True," "the Upright," and "the Trustworthy One." When he reached maturity, he entered the caravan business, and at the age of 25, he went into the service of a widow by the name of Khadija, 15 years older than he, whom he nevertheless ultimately became close friends with and finally married. The match was happy, and Khadija was his total supporter in everything he did. After his marriage, Muhammed spent 15 years in preparation for a ministry he was really not expecting to have to serve. Because he was appalled by the activities of the Arabs of his time, he spent much time by himself, away from people, on a barren rock outside Mecca known as Mt. Hira. (At this point in the story we can get ready for another account of "ego death.") Among the polytheistic gods of the local pantheon was Allah, the one Muhammed came to believe was the only God, the creator, sustainer, and determiner of man’s fate ("kismet"). One night on Mt. Hira as he lay in contemplation meditating on Allah, he heard a voice commanding him to cry. He resisted, and the voice came again, commanding him to cry. Again he resisted, and the voice came yet a third time, commanding him to cry. "What shall I cry?" he asked, and the voice replied: Cry—in the name of thy Lord! Who created man from blood coagulated. Cry! Thy Lord is wondrous kind Who by the pen has taught mankind Things they knew not (being blind). (Sura 96:1-4) (Smith’s translation) After the voice stopped speaking, Muhammed roused from his trance and raced home terrified to Khadija, where he threw himself at her feet, buried his head in her lap, and said he had either been called to become a prophet or had just gone mad. Khadija soothed him and assured him he wasn’t mad, so surely he would become a prophet of his people. From this point on, he began to receive regular revelations, and he formulated his transmissions from God for the next 23 years. Ultimately Muhammed did formulate the rallying cry that was to call together his people and extend their power throughout the limits of the known world: La ilaha illa Allah! There is no God but Allah! According to Smith, in an age where supernaturalism was claimed on every side, Muhammed refused to acknowledge himself a miracle-worker, saying instead, "God has not sent me to work wonders; He has sent me to preach to you. My Lord be praised!" Over and over, he insisted he was only God’s messenger. The only miracle he claimed was the Koran, which he referred to as his "standing miracle." The reaction to his message was at first explosively hostile, for the following three reasons: Its monotheism threatened the lucrative trade of 360 local shrines; Its moral teachings called for an end to the licentiousness that was so widespread; and Its social content threatened an unjust economic order. As a consequence of the resistance he met on all sides, at the end of three years, Muhammed had converted only 40 people to his new faith. But they were as heroic in following their beliefs as were the early Christians, and persecution only made them stronger. And slowly the numbers grew, until by the end of a decade several hundred families were proclaiming him God’s messenger. At this point the Meccan nobility decided to silence the troublemaker and were on the verge of eliminating him when a delegation from Yathrib, a city 200 miles north of Mecca, came seeking him to be their leader. He agreed, and in spite of attempts on the part of Meccan leaders to stop him, in AD 622, he and about a hundred families went to Yathrib, which changed its name to Medinat un-Nabi, the "city of the prophet," shortened finally to Medina. The migration is known as the Hijrah or Hegira, meaning "flight." There he became a statesman, judge, general, and teacher. For the remaining ten years of his life he was the center of all activity in Medina, bringing together the five conflicting tribes of the city, two of which were Jewish, into a unified whole. Ultimately he united all of Arabia under his control. After his death Arabia continued to unite and conquer other territories, and by the time a century had passed, his countrymen had conquered Armenia, Persia, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Spain, and part of France. As Smith observes, "But for their defeat by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, the entire Western world might today be Muslim." Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily