While Muhammad was living with his wife Khadija, he often went to a cave outside Makkah called Hira, where he would reflect and pray. During one night in 610CE, when Muhammad was 40, he was in a cave on Mount Hira. God revealed himself to Muhammad. This was called the night of power, and it relates in Surah 95 of the Qur’an, which is entitled The Blood Clot.
When Muhammad returned home, Khadija became his first believer. Then his cousin Ali, a freed slave called Zayd, and one of his closest friends, Abu Bakr, all became followers. There started one of the great religions of the world.
Muhammad had a strong belief that there was only one God, the creator. He believed that all humans should be equal in their relationship with this creator. This undermined the tribes of Makkah who, especially the Quarish, rose up against Muhammad and his followers. All through his life, Muhammad fought to establish Islam, to gather followers, and to create a substantial political force.
In the 22 years after the first revelation, until Muhammad died in 632CE, God delivered the Qu’ran to Muhammad, his messenger. By the time that God had finished revealing the Qu’ran, Muhammad had moved to Madinah. Hence we get Makkan and Medinan verses. The Makkan verses are usually shorter, more judgemental, and are found towards the end of the Qu’ran.
After the second revelation, the night journey, Muhammad migrated to Yathrib, 40 miles north of Makkah, to settle disputes with the pilgrims from that town. He went there with family and followers in 622CE. When he arrived, he built a house, which was later to become the first mosque. He then renamed the town Madinah. This is where the central community was established.
After Muhammad died, no one knew if he had named a successor. Usually, it would pass to his eldest son. In the end the leader was chosen by the Muslim community as a person of great personal integrity. This is the belief of the Sunni branch of Islam, who did not want a government, but they wanted to rely on an authoritative ruler. The Shi’a branch believes that the early history was biased against Ali, Muhammad’s cousin. When Ali did become the leader, those who believed Ali to be the true successor formed the separate ‘Party of Ali’. The Shi’a branch wanted a leader from the family of Muhammad.
Islam was greatly diversified by the achievements of the first four caliph successors to Muhammad. Here is who they are and what they achieved in their rule:
* Abu Bakr (632-634 CE) He and his armies conquered Arab tribes, and they went as far as the Byzantine Empire’s borders. Abu Bakr had more than a personal belief of Islam and he had a belief of political ideology.
* Umar (634-644 CE) He continued after Abu Bakr and captured Jerusalem and North Africa.
* Uthman (644-656 CE) After Ali turned down the caliphate, Uthman was chosen and he expanded the empire through North Africa and Eastwards to India and China.
* Ali (656-661 CE) He made Mu’awiya co-caliph, a disastrous move. Two parties were formed, one supporting Ali, the other supporting Mu’awiya.
Islam today is the second largest religion in the world and it is growing fast. It is significant in the modern politics. It also contributes to art, music, architecture and philosophy. The religion has grown to have over 2 billion followers. However recently Islamophobia has stepped in. Islam has been treated very cruelly by the western media in the last few years. However Islam means to surrender, or submit, and it is linked closely to another Arabic word meaning peace. Indeed a Muslim is ‘one who surrenders’.
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