Islam, in Arabic, means “submission. ” Islam teaches submission to God, or “Allah” in Arabic. Before Islam began and revolutionized the Arab world, Arabia was a tribal, desert environment with no single political organization or faith. The majority of its inhabitants were pastoral nomads organized by tribe and clan, who fought with one another for access to precious resources such as water, herds, and land. Before the advent of Islam, most Arabs worshipped a variety of male and female deities. Only a minority, who were neither Christians nor Jews, were monotheists.
Between the 600 and 700 centuries Islam emerged and became a major turning point in world history. Before Muslims inhabited the Middle East, it was dominated by the Sassanian and Byzantine empires. The Byzantine Empire was centered in Constantinople and controlled the lands of the eastern Mediterranean. The Sassanian Empire was centered at Ctesiphon and ruled over the Tigris-Euphrasian valleys. According to Conwell and Livingston, the two states had hostility towards one another because one was Christian with a Greco-Roman culture, and the other Zoroastrian with Peso-Mesopotamian traditions.
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Between A. D 603 and 629 these empires fought many wars and were left vulnerable to an approaching storm in the desert . The tribes inhabiting the desert lacked many sources of water that would allow for bigger cities and civilizations. One city Mecca flourished as a trading center in the seventh century, but the region generally lacked the governmental institutions and the powerful emperors that supported emergence of major religions1. Arabia during this time was still religiously polytheistic, worshipping many Gods and Deities.
The city of Mecca housed the Ka’ aba, which was a rectangular building, that was home to the sacred tokens of the Meccan and surrounding clans. Mecca was also a central trade and pilgrimage point in the area, which brought enormous economic benefits to the controlling Quraysh tribes. The Prophet Muhammad was born in 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca1. He was orphaned at a young age, and his uncle ended up raising him. He later worked mostly as a merchant, employed by a wealthy widow named Khadija.
He married Khadija at age 25 and had four children with her. Muhammad was supposedly not happy with his life in Mecca, and he retreated to a cave in the surrounding mountains for meditation and reflection. According to Spodek, in 610, when he was forty years old, his reflections were interrupted by the voice of the angel Gabriel, who instructed him to recite the name of the Lord who created “Man a blood-clot. ” During the next twenty years Islamic theology believes that God continued to reveal his messages to Muhammad through Gabriel1.
After these events, Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that “God is One”, that complete “surrender” to Him is the only way acceptable to God2. He also preached that he himself was a prophet and messenger of God, in the same vein as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus and other prophets in Islam. Muhammad had a few followers early on, but was met with hostility from some tribes of Mecca. He was treated harshly and so were his followers.
To escape persecution Muhammad and his followers migrated to Medina in the year 622 CE. This was called the “Hijra,” and it marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar1. Muhammad slowly gained more followers to his teachings. The first were members of his immediate family and friends, who became known as “Companions of the Prophet. 3” Gradually Muhammad persuaded the Medina Arabs to accept his religion, and he organized a theocratic position based on his teachings3. From his base in Medina, Muhammad organized multiple attacks on the Mecca caravans. He managed to unite the conflicting tribes, and after eight years of fighting with the Meccan tribes, his followers, who by then had grown to ten thousand, conquered Mecca. After completing the pilgrimage rituals, Muhammad delivered a famous speech known as the Farewell Speech. In this sermon, Muhammad advised his followers not to follow certain pre-Islamic customs such as adding intercalary months to align the lunar calendar with the solar calendar2. Before the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, He called on his followers to perform certain rituals known as the Five Pillars of Islam.
These rituals provided the believers with a solid doctrine to follow. They fasted and prayed together, journeyed to Mecca, and assumed responsibility for their less fortunate believers3. After the death of Muhammad in 632 his teachings were written down, and soon became the sacred scripture of Islam known as the Koran. Within a century, Muslims marched through the entire peninsula, building an imposing empire, which today has about half a billion followers spread throughout the world.