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Inanimate things, plants and animals, even the angels, are all muslims to God by nature or
instinct. Only human islam is an islam of choice. Human beings may voluntarily accept or
willfully reject faith, but on the Day of Judgment they will face the consequences of their choice.
They can expect to be rewarded for their faith or punished for their rejection of it
Most Muslims are born into Muslim families. But it is also possible to become a Muslim simply
by repeating before 2 Muslim witnesses the shahadah, or profession of faith: I bear witness that
there is no god except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Jewish and Christians existed in Arabia long before the emergency of Islam in the 7 century.
The city of Mecca, where Muhammad was born, was dominated mainly by one tribe, the
Quraysh, but it was open to a broad range of cultural and religious influences, including Jewish
and Christian moral and devotional ideas. The majority of the society, however, was polytheistic,
and many of the images of the gods and goddesses they worshipped were housed in an ancient
structure called the Kaba, believed to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael.
Muhammad was born into the Quraysh tribe around the year 570. His father died before his birth
and his mother died a few years later. He thus grew up an orphan and was cared for first by his
paternal grandfather, and then, after his grandfathers death, by his uncle Abu Talib. Little is
known about Muhammads youth. He worked as a merchant for a rich widow, Khadijah, whom
he married in his mid-twenties. Muhamad is described in the early biographical sources as a
contemplative, honest, and mild-mannered young man. Once a year, during the month of
Ramadan, Muhammad spent days in seclusion in a cave on Mount Hira, a short distance from
Mecca. Tradition reports that it was during one of those retreats he received the call to
prophethood and the first revelation of the Quran.
As Muhammad was sitting one night in the solitude of his treat, an angellater identified as
Gabrielappeared. Taking hold of him and pressing him hard, the angel commanded Recite [or
read]! Muhammad answered, I cannot read. Shivering with fear and apprehension,
Muhammad ran home and asked the people of his household to cover him.
Yet the angel returned to him often, saying, O Muhammad, I am Gabriel, and you are the
Messenger of God. Khadijah consoled and encouraged him, and eventually took him to her
cousin, a learned Christian named Waraqah. Waraqah confirmed Muhammad in his mission,
declaring him to be a Prophet sent by God with a sacred law like that of Moses.
Muhammads message was not only religious but also moral and social. He instructed the
Meccans to give alms, to care for the orphaned, to feed the hungry, to assist the oppressed and
destitute, and to offer hospitality to the way-farer. He also warned of impending doom on the day
of the last judgment. The first to accept the new faith were the Prophets wife Khadijah, his
cousin and son-in-law, his slave Zaydwhom he later freed and adoptedand his faithful
companion Abu Bakr. Similar to the first followers of Jesus, Muhammad and his followers were
often vilified. Around 615, one group of Muslims without tribal protection faced such severe persecution from
the Polytheistic Meccans that the Prophet advised them to migrate across the Red Sea to the
Christian country of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), where they were well received. And in 619 the
Prophet himself was left without support or protection when his wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu
Talib both died within the space of barely 2 months. It was soon after these losses that he
experienced what came to be known as the miraj or night journey, travelling from Mecca to
Jerusalem in the course of one night and then ascending to heaven. There he met some of the
earlier prophets and was granted an audience with God. For Muslims, these miraculous events
confirmed that the Prophet still had the support of God. Even so, it would be another 3 years
before the prophet was able to find a place for the Muslims to establish their own community,
free of persecution they suffered in Mecca.
Finally, in 622, an invitation was offered by the city of Yathrib, about 400 km north of Mecca.
The migration (hijrah) to Yathrib, which thereafter came to be known as the city of the
Prophet or Medina, marked the beginning of community life under Islam, and thus of Islamic
history. In Medina Muhammad established the first Islamic commonwealth: a truly theocratic
state, headed by a prophet whose rule was believed to follow the dictates of a divine scripture.
Medina was an oasis city with an agricultural economy. Its social structure was far more
heterogeneous than Meccas, for its population included a substantial Jewish community as well
as 2 feuding Arab tribes, whose old rivalries had kept the city in a continuous state of civil strife.
Muhammad was successful in welding these disparate elements into a cohesive social unit. In a
brief constitutional document known as the covenant of Medina, he stipulated that all the people
of the city should form a single Muslim commonwealth. The covenant granted the Jews full
religious freedom and equality with the Muslims, on condition that they support the state and
refrain from entering into any alliance against it, whether with the Quraysh or with any other
But the Medinan Jews rejected both Muhammads claim to be a prophet and the Qurans claim
to be a sacred book. The resulting tension between the 2 communities is reflected in the Qurans
treatment of the Jews (Take not the Jews and Christians for friends). Increasingly, Islam began
to distinguish itself from Judaism, so that within 2 years of the Prophets arrival in Medina, the
fast of Ramadan took precedence over the fast of Yom Kippur.
The Muslims who had fled Mecca for Medina had left all their goods and property behind.
Without the means to support themselves in their new home, they began raiding Meccan
caravans returning from Syria. In 624, when the Meccans sent an army of roughly a thousand
men to Medina, they were met at the well of Badr by a 300-man detachment of Muslims. Though
poorly equipped and far outnumbered, the Muslims were highly motivated, and they inflicted a
crushing defeat on the Meccans. Thus the Battle of Badr remains one of the most memorable
events in Muslim history.
To avenge their defeat, however, the Meccans met the Muslims the following year by Mount
Uhud, not far from Medina, and this time they prevailed. Following the Battle of Uhud, mthe
Jews of Medina were expelled from the city on the grounds that they had formed alliances with
the Meccans against the Muslims. The real reason for the decision, however, may have been to
free the Muslim state of external influences at a critical stage in its development.The Muslims were growing in strength. Meanwhile, they continued to raid the caravans of the
Quraysh, and before long they received word that the Meccans were planning to attack Medina
itself. On the advice of Salman the Persian, a former slave, the Prophet had a trench dug around
the exposed parts of the city, to prevent the Meccan cavalry from entering. Thus when the
Quraysh, along with the large coalition of other tribes, tried to invade in Medina in 627, the city
was able to withstand the attack. The Battle of the Trench marked a tipping point in relations
between the Muslims and the Meccans, and in 628 the latter were impelled to seek a truce
2 years later, when the Quraysh breached the truce, the Prophet set out for Mecca at the head of a
large army. But there was no need to fight. When the Muslims arrived, the Meccans surrendered
to them and accepted Islam en masse. Whenever an individual or tribe accepted Islam, all
hostilities were to cease and enemies were to become brothers in faith. Therefore the Prophet
granted amnesty all in the city. Muhamad took no credit for the conquet of Mecca, attributing the
victory solely to God. He returned to Medina and died there 2 years later, in 632, after making a
farewell pilgrimate to Mecca and its sacred shrine, the Kaba.
Muhammad was always known as rasul Allah (The Messenger of God) rather than as a ruler or
military leader. But he was all of these. He waged war and made peace. He laid the foundations
of a community that was based on Islamic principles. Within 80 years the Muslims would
administer the largest empire the world had ever known, stretching from the southern borders of
France through North Africa and the Middle East into India and Central Asi