The Islamic Tradition

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University of Toronto St. George
Andre Maintenay

The Islamic Tradition Arabia Before Islam When Muhammad was born (570) Arabias most glorious times were over. Central Arabia, primitive religion still maintained many tribal sanctuaries. Many polytheistic religions existed. Many characterize this time as a state of jahiliyya. Caves and stones regarded as sacred and filled with Baraka (blessing and power). Center of the stone cult was Mecca. (Black stone in southeastern corner of the Kaba goal of annual pilgrimages.) Arabic language highly developed at this early time. In ancient Arabic poetry, Christian motifs appear. Many contacts with Christians and Jews some speculate this are would have become a Christian country, had Muhammad not come along. Jahiliyya th Has been described as cornerstone on which Qutbs (Islamic Philosopher of 20 century) most radical thinking rests. Defined as Age of Ignorance. Taken to refer to the Arabian society of the century prior to Muhammads mission. barbarism Form Jahiliyya appears 4 times in Quran, never in the sense of ignorance however. Also: Every such conduct which goes against Islamic culture, morality, and the Islamic way of thinking and behaving. Many believe we are still currently in a state of Jahiliyya. They believe a society is either Jahiliyya or Islamic cannot be both. The Life of Muhammad (570-632 CE) Muhammad born ~570 in Mecca as member of the Hashim clan of the Quraish. Muhammad devoted himself to Trade. Muhammad married Khadija, and did not marry any other women as long as Khadija lived. (she died when Muhammad was ~50) After Khadijas death, he had several wives. Muhammad liked to meditate in a cave in Mt.Hira. Around the age of 40, Muhammad was overcome by visions and voices. 1 proclamations preached by Muhammad were regarding the nearing day of Judgment Meccan merchants did not take Muhammads message seriously. Gods unity was to remain the heart of Islam.. Muhammad saw himself as a messenger to the Arabs: sent to warn them, as no prophet had been sent to them since Abraham. Hostility of Meccans increased. Therefore, a group of the new Muslims immigrated to Abyssinia, a Christian country. Muhammad convinced he was preaching the same truth that Jews and Christians had been teaching and practicing. His faith in Abraham who, through Ishmael, is the ancestor of the Arabs and is believed to have founded the central sanctuary in Mecca, the Kaba. Kaba: Cubeshaped monument in Mecca containing a sacred black stone. All Muslim prayer faces the direction of the Kaba. Muhammad stayed in Medina until his death in 632. The revelations that came upon Muhammad during the last decade of his life are stylistically quite different from the earlier ones. The First Muslim Community (Umma) Muhammads migration (Hijra) to Medina in 622 CE marked the beginning of community life under Islam. This date (622) also marked the beginning of the dating system used throughout the Muslim world In Medina, Muhammad established the first Islamic commonwealth: a truly theocratic state, headed by a prophet believed to be of divine inheritance. While in Medina, Muhammad successfully united 2 rival tribes (Aws + Khazraj). While in Medina, he also created the Medina Constitution. o This regulated relations with Jews and Christians o Invented Shura: Islamic participatory decision making. o Clarified what it means to be a Muslim and what a Muslim community is. In the Quran the people of Medina are called Ansar (helpers) because they were the 1 supporters and protectors of Islam and the Prophet. The Conversion of Mecca Battle of Badr. Muhammads Strategy: o Quiet persuasion. o Battles and warfare. o 2 Goals: (1) To create, establish and protect the Muslim Umma; (2) To return to Mecca. The Caliphate had a worldly as well as a religious dimension from the beginning. As a successor of the Prophet, the caliph was a religious leader. At the same time, he was also the chief or administrative head of the community, as well as the amir or commander of the Muslims in times of war and peace. Prophets and Messengers According to the Quran and Islamic tradition, God operates through prophets and messengers who convey Gods will in revealed scriptures and through prophets and messengers. The Quran Quran = Recitation. Believed to be the unadulterated word of God. (not words of a prophet) The primordial Koran, which exists in heaven on a wellpreserved tablet, manifested itself in this book which only the purified are permitted to touch and to recite. Text in Quran contains solutions for all problems of the world but there are unknown divine mysteries hidden in the sequence of its verses and in the arrangements of its letters. One difficulty for nonMuslim reader: order of the text is not chronological. Sacred texts were put together in the days of the caliph the chapters (suras) were arranged in the descending length. 114 suras in total they have brief titles which are not originally part of the original sura. Each single verse of the Quran is called ayat sign or miracle. Teaches that man is superior to all spirits and angels, for God breathed into Adam from His breath Mans first sin, induced by eating a certain grain, was not contagious contrary to Christian doctrine of original sin. Teaches that human beings are good by nature and change due to the influence of their environment. Muslims desire was to recite the Quran as beautifully as possible, and the art of tilawat, the proper musical recitation, developed into a high art. Quran is primarily a book of religious and moral principles and exhortations, and it not a legal document. Most important legal enactment and general reforms of the Quran have been about women and slavery Quran improved the status of the woman in several directions by the most basic is the fact that the woman was given a fullfledged personality. The woman has been granted the same rights over man as man has over his wife, except that man, bring the earning partner, is a degree higher. Unlimited polygamy was strictly regulated and the number of wives was limited to 4. The Quran accepts the institution of slavery on the legal plane but at same time every legal and moral effort was made to free the slaves and to create a milieu where slavery ought to disappear. Quran also tells the Muslim that if a slave wants to purchase their freedom, they must allow him to do so During lifetime of Mohammad the Quran had been committed to memory by many people and recited in prayers. Some evidence in earliest generation of Islam that people were opposed to any interpretations of the Quran.
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