The Rise of Islam: The Life of Muhammad
This paper is a short Biography of the Life of the prophet Muhammad. This short paper will help you to develop a better understanding of the prophet Muhammad.
Table of Contents
Muhammad and Islam’s Beginning.
Young Adult Life and Marriage.
Muhammad’s Call by The Angel Gabriel
The Flight From Mecca (" The Hijra").
Differences Between Jesus and Muhammad’s Life and Teachings.
Islam’s Impact on Christianity.
This paper will explore "the emerging of a new religion which has some similarities to Judaism and Christianity, but also some vast differences." If we can understand the beginning conditions, events, and personalities involved in the founding and growth of the Islamic Religion during the 7th and 8th centuries, we will arrive at a better understanding of some of the unsettling events and hatred in the 21st century.
There are three main monotheistic religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Most Christians would agree that Christianity has a strong connection with Judaism. Many Christians though do not understand how many of the ideas and foundation of Islam were the result of the interaction of Islam’s founder, Muhammad, with Jews, Christians, and other belief systems. Islam cannot be understood apart from its founder, Muhammad, who is view as the last and greatest Prophet (Shehadeh 2004, 274).
Muhammad and Islam’s Beginning
Muhammad had a difficult life as a child. He was born into the tribe of Quraysh about A.D. 570 in the city of Mecca, which is part of the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad’s father died before he was born. His mother, Amina took care of him till he was six years old. She died when he was six, leaving him to grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib. After his dad and mother had died, his grandfather also died when he was eight years old. The history books do not say much about this impact on his future life, but having his three closest family members die while he was so young had to have had a negative impact on his life.
Muhammad lived with his Uncle, Abu Talib after his grandfather’s death. While his mother and fathers family were a rich family for the time, his Uncle’s family was much poorer. As a result Muhammad had to earn a living through being a shepherd and a trader.
When Muhammad was 12 years he went on a trip with his uncle’s caravan to Syria and met a Syrian Monk who stated that Muhammad was the final prophet who had been prophesied in the Scriptures. This same Monk (named Buhaira) stated that the uncle should hide Muhammad because the Jews would kill him if they realized who he was.
Young Adult Life and Marriage
Muhammad married Khadija when he was 25 years old. She was fifteen years older than him. There is general agreement that it was a positive and generally happy marriage. Being married to a relatively rich wife also met that Muhammad had more time for fasting and seeking spiritual things. Khadija and Muhammad had six children (2 boys and 4 girls). Both boys died while infants.
During this time in Muhammad’s life he gradually became unhappy with the paganism and idol worship in his city, Mecca (Geisler and Saleeb 2002, p.70). Each year he would spend time in prayer and worship away from others, often some said including the whole month of Ramadan. It was during one of these times that Muhammad was a lone and received his first revelation.
Muhammad’s Call by The Angel Gabriel
Muhammad received what he believed was a call from God through the Angel Gabriel when he was 40 years old (A.D. 610). Many agree that Muhammad believed at first that this experience with Gabriel and the new revelations were the result of his being demon possessed (Possessed by a "jinn" or evil spirit). Muhammad appears to have had many doubts at first that these revelations were from God. Many think that he struggled with this being a demon (or evil spirit) in the beginning. His wife, Khadija, reassured him and helped him to believe the revelations were from God.
Muhammad went about three years before receiving another revelation. During these three year period without revelations, Muhammad felt like God had left him and he even thought about killing himself through suicide.
Muhammad Begins His Ministry
Muhammad began sharing his revelations to his immediate family and only then began sharing them publically with others. There are some resemblances to when Jesus began his public ministry here: those who followed both Jesus and Muhammad initially were poor and not the leaders of the society (In the future though this would change when Muhammad assumed political power in Medina). In the same way that the leaders of the Jewish society rejected Jesus and His teachings, the leaders of Muhammad’s society became hostile to his teachings. Some believe this hostility had more to do with financial concerns and not doctrinal concerns: they made money from the shrines and relics that brought people to the city of Mecca -(Geisler and Saleeb 2002, p. 73).
Muhammad’s wife and uncle both died in A.D. 619. Muhammad had been protected by his influential uncle and with his death he did not have the protection he once did. As the years went by, Muhammad slowely developed a larger group of followers.
The Flight Fr
om Mecca (" The Hijra")
Finally the persecution became too great for Muhammad and his followers. Muhammad and about 150 of his followers decided to flee from Mecca in A.D. 622. The leaders of Mecca tried unsuccessfully to have him killed. The group found a new city, Medina, in which his beliefs were more accepted. Many in Medina already had some Monotheistic beliefs (perhaps from Christian and especially Jewish influence).
"Quite unlike the Meccans, Muhammad was well received in Medina. Medina was different from Mecca on several accounts. From a religious perspective the residents of Medina were more inclined toward monotheism, due to the strong cultural influence of several well-established Jewish tribes in the area. It is also reported in Islamic tradition that the natives of Medina had heard from the Jews that a prophet was soon to appear in the region. The Medina’s, therefore, were eager to accept Muhammad as the prophet who was to come and claim him for their own."
Diplomacy and Power
Muhammad became more powerful politically as time went by in Medina. He was able to use this political power to bring about what he desired. Eventually he helped to write a new constitution for the city of Medina. Muhammad was the final authority in civil problems, God’s prophet according to this new constitution (Geisler and Saleeb 2002, p. 76).
Muhammad tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Jewish clans in the city to follow him. He attempted to make consessions to their beliefs, but they finally rejected his revelations. After his rejection, he changed several aspects of his teachings: such as praying toward Mecca instead of Jerusalem, and the time of the yearly fast. It is interesting that Muslims believe the Quran is from God, yet many do not see or admit that Muhammad changed his teachings at times to fit his audience. Jesus taught one truth and did not change his teachings to win over those watching and listening.
Ethical Dilemas and Issues
During this time Muhammad began to participate in activities that Christians would find unethical and immoral. The first example is the raids he conducted encouraged:
"But the majority of them soon became involved, with Muhammad’s sanction, in raiding the commercial Meccan caravans. The prophet himself led three such raids in the first year. Doubtless the purpose of these attacks was not only to obtain financial reward, but also to impress the Meccans with the growing power of the Muslim force" (Geisler and Saleeb 2002, p.79).
During this time period Muhammad received revelations that it was ok to fight if they were wronged. Incentives also were given to give further reasons for followers to fight. After one particularly bloody robbery and fight against hundreds of defenders sent from Mecca, Muhammad’s prestige increased. As a result he began to exterminate those in Medina who had resisted him. Eventually two of the Jewish clans in the city of Medina were expelled. The last clan though was mercilessly attacked, the men killed, and the women and children sold into slavery.
"In A.D. 625, in the Battle of Uhud 3,000 Quraiza Jews marched against 1,000 of Muhammad’s men. These Meccan Jews defeated the Muslims. Just a year later, however, Muhammad expelled the Jewish tribe from Medina. In 627, the Meccans surrounded Medina in an attempt to rid themselves of Muhammad’s growing threat. This time Muhammad soundly defeated them and instead of expelling the Jews, slaughtered all of them. Trenches were dug and all the male captives were beheaded, four or five at a time and their bodies were thrown into the trenches. Women and children were sold into slavery" (CAJ Vol. 3, 2004).
I cannot image Jesus ordering innocent people to be beheaded for no good reason. Muhammad may have started out trying to just teach others his "revelations" but by this point seems to have allowed his quest for power and domination to control everything else.
"A complete change now came over Mohammed. The dreamer became a red-handed soldier. "The sword," he cried, "is the key of heaven and hell." And by the sword his religion was forced upon others. Tribe after tribe was subdued. The cruelty of Mohammedan soldiers became a byword. His army gave the captives their choice of either instant death or acceptance of Mohammedanism. Needless to say, almost all of them became his followers" (Metzger 1936, p.325).
Mecca is Conquered
After many smaller battles off and on for several years, Mecca finally was conquered by Muhammad in A.D. 630. He immediately destroyed the idols in the city and gave pardons to the leaders of the Mecca. With Mecca being conquered it did not take long for many of the smaller cities and tribes in the Arabian Peninsula to also give their loyalty to Muhammad.
Muhammad died in June 632 at the age of 63 years of age.
Differences Between Jesus and Muhammad’s Life and Teachings
Muhammad had many differences between himself and Jesus.
- In the Islamic believe system there is no concept of atonement for sins. Salvation is dependent entirely on doing Allah’s will (… if more good than bad things are done…then a person MIGHT be allowed into heaven).
- There is also a distinct lack of love displayed towards other. If we were to compare Jesus with Muhammad’s life we would see that both modeled what their followers were to become. Jesus modeled love and forgiveness towards others. Muhammad modeled intolerance and cruelty towards those that disagreed with him. "There is a second and closely related reason for the tendency towards the use of force and violence within Islam: the model of the Prophet. It is difficult to exaggerate the influence of Muhammad’s life on Muslims" (Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 2004, p. 46).
- Jesus did not insist on maintaining his power or privilege. Muhammad assassinated and murdered those whom he felt might threaten his powerbase in Medina.
- Jesus taught us not to steal from others. Muhammad not only condoned but participated in the robbery, and even murder of others for no other reason than to take what belonged to them.
- Jesus taught us to value other people, even those who are different. Muhammad taught that non-Muslims were more like cattle than human beings. "In other words, Umayr murdered a woman who dissented. She was murdered in her bed in the middle of the night while nursing an infant. The prophet approved of the murder, suggesting that no one would really care ("no two goats will butt together about her") (Baptist Bible College and Seminary 2002, p. 8).
- Jesus taught things that often got him into trouble with the local religious leaders. Muhammad early on taught things that appeased other religious leaders, but later taught things opposed to what he formally taught. Muhammad seems to have been rejected by other religious leaders, especially the Jews. Instead of forgiving them, or moving on to evangelize others, he had them killed. Christians evangelize (through the power of the Spirit) through sharing ideas, our hearts, and the Christian message of atonement. Muhammad might do that, but in the end "evangelism" comes at the tip of a sword: become a follower of Allah, or die as an infidel.
"The process of one revelation superseding another is known as abrogation. An abrogated revelation can consist of a single verse, multiple verses, or an entire Sura. Having abrogated
verses adds to the difficulty of interpreting the Qur’an. Also, since the Qur’an is not written in chronological or eve
n logical order from Sura to Sura, or even within a Sura, it takes great skill and knowledge of Shari’ah to properly interpret what the Qur’an is really saying. This is one reason why learned clergy are so powerful in Muslim countries.
The Suras that Muhammad received in Mecca had many verses that were complimentary of and conciliatory towards Christians and Jews. But then as Muhammad realized he was not being accepted by the majority of Christians and Jews, and in some cases he was being mocked, his later Suras became hostile to non-Muslims." (CAJ 2004, p. 108)
Muhammad unquestionable has had a very significant impact on history and his followers. Muhammad was worshiped and highly revered ever since his death. Muslims do not consider him to be divine, but Allah’s highest prophet. After Muhammad’s death, Muslims would take the beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes that Muhammad modeled for them and attempt to force them upon the surrounding tribes and nations.
Islam’s Impact on Christianity
Islam would challenge Christian thought, their lands, and religious freedom for the next 100 years after Muhammad’s death.
Over the next century Islam would conquer through the sword. Many were given the choice to convert, be killed, or in some cases pay tribute. Within the first decade after Muhammad’s death, the first Mosque was built in Jerusalem (Cairnes 1993, p. 167).
"Competition between the two faiths was present from the very beginning. Within a decade of the death of Muḥammad (in a.d. 632), the Prophet of Islam, Muslim armies had conquered a huge part of the ancient Christian heartland, including Palestine, Syria, and Egypt. For centuries, Islam and Christianity were the faiths of competing, expansionistic power blocs, each of which saw military success as a sign of divine favor. Therefore, in spite of intensive cultural exchanges, the prevalent attitude was one of hostility. Muslim armies conquered North Africa and Spain, and by 711 they had crossed into France. . . "(Fahlbusch and Bromiley 2003, p. 759).
Many of the church leaders during the 6th and especially 7th centuries did not perceive the threat of Islam. They did not realize what was at stake until in some cases it was too late. "While the fact of the rapid Islamic conquest of so much of the historical heartland of the Christian movement posed a theological problem to the church of the seventh and eighth centuries, resulting in much soul-searching and finger-pointing at → sins and → heresies that might have provoked God’s wrath, Christian thinkers were slow to grasp Islam itself as a challenge to Christian thought. Thus the church father → John of Damascus (d. ca. 750) was able to classify Islam as merely a recent Christian heresy" (N. Geisler 1999, p. 368).
There used to be a strong church in North Africa during the first several hundred years of the Church. Islam and other factors have eliminated the Church in Northern Africa until Islam has totally supplanted the Christian religion in that area.
Muhammad was the driving force behind the Islamic religion. He went from believing that what he was shown might be from an evil spirit, to killing and murdering innocent people just so that he could take their goods and increase his own power.
There are a few similarities: both Christianity and Islam believe in One God. What each religion believes about that God are entirely different. The Christian holds to a loving, merciful God who has taught us to love and care for others. Mohammad’s view of God was one that is unyielding, and shows compassion only on those who convert to Islam. Both religions show the end results of following their Leaders example. Jesus showed in word and deed that all people are important to him. He talked with the Samaritan women at the well for example. Muhammad showed by his example that anyone who was not a Muslim was second class and could be killed or robbed with "Allah’s" blessing.
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Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam : The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002), 76.
a.d.anno Domini, in the year of [our] Lord
ca.circa, about, approximately
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