AN03a_ An Age of Exchange and Encounter- The Muslim World (Ch.10)
Timeline: 6th – 13th C.
FQ: How do the foundational beliefs of Islam compare with Judaeo-Christian antecedents?
Islam shares a great deal with the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Unlike Judaism, however, Islam shares with Christianity (and Buddhism) a ‘global’ quality. Generally speaking, these faiths have transcended the borders and culture of the originating society. There is a global following since birth ‘into the faith’ is not a requirement. Many cultures have adopted and adapted the faith as a consequence. It is with these and other qualities that Islam becomes a major unifying tool, politically and culturally, for Muhammad and the peoples of the Arabian peninsula.
A. Islam: Arabic word meaning “To surrender your will to God”.
B. Allah: Arabic word meaning “God”.
C. Muslim*: Arabic word meaning “One who surrenders his will to God”. [Therefore, according to Islamic tradition, Abraham, Jesus, Moses, etc. were Muslim.]
D. Jihad: Arabic word meaning “ Struggle” or “Striving”. (1)
E. Qur-an: Arabic for “Recite”. A book containing the words of Allah as conveyed to Muhammad via angels including the archangel Gabriel. Revealed over a period of 22 years (610 – 632). Given as a ‘grace’ to humanity. Offers guidance on living in accordance with the will of Allah. It was orally transmitted and written in Arabic and thus cannot be ‘translated’ into other languages, but it could be interpreted/transliterated into other languages.(2) The Qur-an is ‘word for word’ the commands & teachings of Allah. Therefore, there is no higher authoritative source on Earth that can be ‘appealed’ to by humanity.
F. Hadith: The Hadith is a compilation of the words of The Prophet. It aids Muslims in their Jihad to live in accordance with Allah’s will.
G.Sunna(h): Is an account of Muhammad’s conduct during his life as The Prophet. The Prophet is ‘the ideal’ and by studying and emulating his behavior Muslims hope to get closer to Allah’s will.
A. 570 – 632 (3)
B. Bedouins dominate the Arabian Peninsula with the presence of prosperous commercial cities along the coast. Two of these cities are Mecca and Yachrib (now known as ‘Madinah’ which means ‘The City’).
C. Mecca: The holiest city in Islam. Holds the Ka’aba (Arabic Language => ‘Cube’), which was a pagan shrine at the time of the Prophet. Abraham and Ishmael built the structure as the first shrine dedicated to Allah. Like many urban centers, many faiths were represented within Mecca. in addition to paganism, there existed in this city the followers of Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and tribal faiths of the Bedouins
D. Byzantine Empire: A powerful, Christian, empire lies just North of Mecca. Contact between these two entities existed in the areas of trade, political/ military, scholarship, and cultural.
III. The Prophet: Muhammad
A. Born and lived as a merchant in the city of Mecca.
B. Muhammad was orphaned at a young age and placed in the care of his uncle.(4) He married an older widow (Hadisha) and fathered four daughters. She became a partner for Muhammad in all aspects of his life. The qualities of The Prophet included being: Good-natured, an honest merchant, and dedicated to family.(5)
C. 610: The Prophet began receiving the words (revelation) of Allah from angels including the archangel Jibril (Gabriel).
D. 622: Established authorities and residents of Mecca did not accept the verses. Resistance against The Prophet and his early followers grew and lead to active persecution. Possible reasons for the conflict could include the dominance among Meccans of polytheistic faiths and idol worship. Another reason could be that many Meccans were profiting from pagan and non-pagan pilgrimages to the Ka’aba. The Prophet decides to move the fledgling Muslim community (6) when he was invited to Yachrib to help settle disputes among the city’s feuding factions.
E. 622 – 630: Muhammad gains respect, becomes a leader, and leads an army to conquer the Meccans.
F. The last and greatest prophet of Allah (Abraham being the Patriarch). There will be no new messengers after The Prophet Muhammad.
G. Did not write any text (illiterate). All texts were compiled by ‘companions’ or later students of The Prophet.
H. Sources on life of The Prophet include biographies written during the 7th – 9th C.
IV. Spread of Islam
Islam spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa from 632 – 750. This is why the faith is prominent in the region today. Other regions the faith reached still have a strong Muslim presence today, e.g. Central Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia, Africa, and the islands of the East Asian Pacific.
V. The Islamic World View
A. Unified Diversity: All Muslim are unified within one belief centered around Allah. How each of approximately one billion Muslim achieve this ideal is diverse. An example would be the requirement to dress modestly => Veiling of women is not an interpretation of ‘Modesty’ shared by all Muslim societies.
B. Scholarship: A waste of time to study the nature of Allah or to determine exactly His will. To attempt to explain why certain events occurred (Ex: issuance of the Qur-an to the Prophet Muhammad) by focusing on earthly matters (Ex: political persecution) is inappropriate since the presence of revelation is at Allah’s discretion only. If He thought it necessary, it would be done. All other areas of learning are open for study, and encouraged.
C. Judgment: The Qur-an is for all people. Judgment on you will be dependent on how well you adhered to Allah’s will as expressed in the Qur-an (there is no appeal). You will be held accountable for your actions since the Qur-an was given to all people for guidance.
D. People of The Book (The ‘Book’ is the “Kitab”): Includes, among others, Jews and Christians. Guaranteed a special place in Islamic society due to their relationship with Allah.
E. Revelation: Prior revelation as interpreted and practiced by the followers of Judaism and Christianity was ‘corrupted’. Muhammad’s revelation was a correction and not a newly introduced faith.
VI. Challenges to the Faith
1. This is one area involving Islam that presents a set of challenges for the teacher that is not encountered in other topics. Another area of difficulty is the textbook. Many school texts have varying degrees of ambiguity on these issues (and outright errors in others). Therefore, it is incumbent on a responsible teacher to ensure that understanding is achieved by presenting accurate facts and explanations. Jihad is a case in point. The textbook, as did the text I used as a high school student in the 1970’s, translates ‘Jihad’ as Holy War. Every scholar and practitioner of the faith that I have consulted has explained to me that the ‘holy war’ interpretation is narrow at best and completely erroneous at worst. Every devout Muslim ‘struggles’ to remain on the path Allah commands. As humans, they must ‘strive’ to their best ability to adhere to His laws. It is this understanding of Jihad that is dominant and common in the faith. Jihad occurs on a personal and communal level. The personal level is dominant since it is part of our daily routine. Should a large number of Muslim find that adhering to Allah’s Will becomes increasingly difficult due to the acts of a person or nation, then they could ‘strive’ or ‘struggle’ to remain on the Straight Way. This could now manifest into a communal Jihad that at its extremes may be warfare or other physical conflict. However, it could also be a strike, protests, boycott, and other manner of civil/ national protest. Obviously, communal Jihads of the kind I mentioned would cease when the ‘obstacle’ blocking the Straight Way is removed and the affected Muslim can return to a life in accord with the will of Allah. The personal Jihad, however, would continue throughout life. No one should be mislead into thinking that the acts of politically/ economically powerful people who use Jihad (and other religious terms) for their purposes are representative of the faith and its followers. They are no more representative of the Islamic faith as Pope Urban II and the participants of the Inquisition are of Catholicism or Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin are of their respective nations.
2. Prohibition against changing the words of Allah. To a Muslim, no human has the ability to be Allah’s editor.
3. 570 – 632: Please note here that the dates are given with consideration to Western reckoning methods. Islamic calendrical calculations are lunar in nature. Therefore, there are 12 full moons in one lunar/ Islamic year. No correction is applied to synchronize the calendar with the seasons/ sun. Therefore, a holy day could fall within the Summer season one year and several years later fall within the Fall season. This period spans the life of The Prophet.
4. His family/ clan was called Hashem. The clan has received a great deal of prestige since because of this. Thus, for example, the King of Jordan and Saudi Arabia are of this clan. Jordan actually includes the ancient kingdom of the Hashemites.
5. Muhammad is the model of righteous living for all Muslim (refer to the Hindu concept of ‘The Ideal’ or “Guru” found in the lesson notes on Hinduism.). The Hadith is the compilation of words spoken by The Prophet other than the Quranic verse which is attributed to Allah only.
6. Hijra: 622 in Western reckoning and 1 AH in the Islamic calendar. ‘Hijra’ is Arabic for ‘Journey’.
7. These and other ethical rules in the Qur-an are ‘qualified’ or change under certain circumstances. Therefore, the ill, pregnant, elderly or young children are not expected to fast. Clearly, there are over-arching principles within the Qur-an that ‘qualify’ all references to righteous/ ethical behavior. Why the variation? An underlying foundational belief, for example, in all the great monotheistic faiths is that human life is sacred (refer to *The Dignity of Man* concept). This is one of the principles elevated to preeminence by the Hebrews. Therefore, anything that could possibly harm body and/ or soul must be avoided. Someone, for instance, who can’t perform the pilgrimage to Mecca because it would create economic hardship, would not be viewed as ‘unfaithful’ and would expect to still receive Allah’s mercy and love.
Here, as in any academic attempt to study beliefs and practices of peoples, the sources include scholarly work as well as philosophical/ religious texts. Presentation of any philosophical/ religious text is to facilitate study, acquire appreciation, and enliven discussion of the traditions that produced them. In no form, content or intent, are the materials presented to ‘teach’ and/ or ‘proselytize’ any belief system. No particular denomination, if applicable, is chosen over another. The basic tenets of the philosophy or faith as presented here are meant to transcend any deviations that currently separate the denominations.