Introduction to World Religions by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Life of Muhammad and Islamic History
[still under construction]
The Arabian Peninsula before Muhammad:
Muslims maintain that Islam was not newly "founded" by Muhammad only in the 7th Century CE, but rather has existed since the beginning of time, being the one and only true religion revealed by God to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all true prophets throughout human history.
Most people living in the Arabian Peninsula before and during Muhammad's lifetime were polytheists (worshipping more than one god) and/or animists (worshipping various spirits), although there were also some communities of Jews and Christians.
The Life of the Prophet Muhammad (usually spelled Mohammed in older English texts):
ca. 570 CE - Birth in Makka/Mecca, a merchant city and religious center in the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula (modern Saudi Arabia).
Like most Arabs, he is considered a descendant of Ishmael (Isma'il in Arabic), the eldest son of Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic).
His father, 'Abd Allah, a nobleman of the Quraysh tribe, dies a few months before Muhammad is born.
His mother, Aminah, also dies while Muhammad is still young, about 6 years old; thus he becomes an orphan
He is raised by his uncle, Abu Talib, and lives and works for some time as a shepherd among the Bedouin tribes.
As he grows, Muhammad gains a reputation for honesty, sincerity, and generosity, earning the nickname al-Amin ("the trustworthy one").
He is apparently disturbed by the decadence, injustices, and polytheistic practices of Arab society of his time.
As he grows older, he frequently meditates, esp. in the Cave of Hira' near the top of Jabal al Nur ("Mountain of Light") outside of Makka.
In 595 he marries a widow named Khadijah, a successful merchant, with whom he has two sons and four daughters.
610 CE - First Revelation; Muhammad hears God tell him to "recite" (see Qur'an 96:1-5)
He shares his revelation with his wife, other family members, and close friends.
After about a year, he begins receiving further revelations, which continue until his death.
Soon he begins preaching publicly in Makka, esp. stressing social justice, equality, and monotheism.
A small group of followers gather around him, but they are persecuted by other Makkans;
In 615 some of his followers flee to Ethiopia, where they find refuge with a Christian emperor.
In 619 both his wife Khadija and his uncle Abu Talib die, leaving him with little support or protection within his clan.
Muhammad's "Night Journey" to Jerusalem (and from there to the seventh heaven) is believed to have occurred in 620 CE.
622 CE - Hijrah ("flight" or "migration") from Makka to Madinah = Year 1 on the Islamic Calendar
Muhammad moves with his family and followers to the city of Yathrib, later renamed Madinah/Medina ("city of the prophet"), about 260 miles north of Makka.
Muhammad builds up a religious city-state in Madinah based on Islamic principles; the first mosque is built and many Islamic customs are established there.
He continues preaching, hoping to convert all polytheistic Arabians, as well and Jews and Christians, to the message of Islam.
He continues receiving revelations, which are "recited" to his followers, memorized, and written down.
Several battles ensue between Muhammad's followers (the early Muslims) and their opponents (either neighboring Jews or the polytheistic Makkans):
624: Battle of Badr - Muslims defeat the Quraysh (members of Muhammad's own tribe)
625: Battle of Uhud - Muslims are defeated
626: Muslims defeat the Jewish tribe of al-Nadir
627: "War of the Ditch" - Makkans attack Muslims in Madinah, but are repelled
628: Treaty of Hudaybiyya - truce with the Quraysh, who recognize Muhammad's right to preach & proselytize
629: Jews of Khaybar are slaughtered; Muhammad sends messengers and letters to the Kings of Persia, Yemen, and Ethiopia, asking them to accept Islam
630: Truce is broken by the Quraysh; Muhammad's forces take Makka
630 CE - Conquest of Makka; conversion of all Makkans to Islam; establishment of the Ka'bah as the center of Muslim worship
Muhammad's forces enter Makka peacefully, not exacting vengeance on the defeated enemies.
The whole population of the city converts to Islam and accepts Muhammad's leadership.
Muhammad removes all idols from the Ka'bah and rededicates it to the worship of Allah/God alone.
In 631, "The Year of Embassies," many other Arabian tribes accept Islam.
In early 632, Muhammad makes his last visit or pilgrimage from Madinah to Makka.
632 CE - Death in Madinah, on June 8, at about age 63
By the time of Muhammad's death, much of Arabia has already embraced Islam.
Within a century, Islam spreads North to Palestine, West through Northern Africa to Spain, and East through Persia to India and China.
[ 800's CE - Compilation of various collections of "Hadith" - teachings, sayings, and actions of the prophet Muhammad]
Important early collectors include Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (817-875), Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (810-870), etc.
Highlights of Islamic History:
After Muhammad's Death - Power struggles over the leadership of the young Muslim community began almost immediately after Muhammad died; Sunni Muslims believe that the Muslims were lead by the "four rightly-guided Caliphs" (lit. "successors"), while Shi'a Muslims believe that 'Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, should have become the leader immediately (and thus consider him the first legitimate Imam):
Abu Bakr "al-Siddiq" (b. ca. 570; ruled 632-634) - one of Muhammad's first followers and companions; father-in-law of 'Aisha, Muhammad's favorite wife at the time of his death.
Elected by the Muslim community to lead them after the prophet's death, despite the rival claims of 'Ali.
'Umar ibn al-Khattab (b. 592; ruled 634-644) -
Established major Islamic political institutions and greatly expanded the geographical extent of Muslim control.
'Uthman ibn Arran (b. ?; ruled 644-656) - married successively to two of Muhammad's daughters.
Oversaw the official compilation of the Qur'an (in the arrangement still used today) and the destruction of any alternate versions.
'Ali (b. ca. 596; ruled 656-661) - Muhammad's cousin (son of Abu Talib) & son-in-law (husband of daughter Fatima)
As Muhammad's closest male relative still living, 'Ali expected to assume the leadership of the young Muslim community in 632, but was passed over several times; he was finally elected in 656, but by then, he was unable to quell divisions and exert full control over the expanding Muslim empire.
'Ali was assassinated in 661 by one of the Khawarij ("seceders"); his "martyrdom" is one of the most important commemorations for Shi'a Muslims, who still venerate his tomb in Najaf (modern Iraq).
'Ali's elder son Hasan tried to compromise with the Ummayads (see below), but his younger son Hussayn led a revolt in 680, and was killed in battle on the field of Karbala; his tomb in Karbala (modern Iraq) is still one of the holiest shrines for Shi'i Muslims.
Thus, while the majority Sunni Muslims consider 'Ali the fourth Caliph, the minority Shi'i Muslims consider him the first Imam (their preferred title for the rightful leaders of the Muslim community in the first several centuries).
Later Muslim Empires:
Ummayad Dynasty - ruled the rapidly expanding Islamic Empire from Damascus, Syria, 661-750.
named after Ummaya ibn 'Abd Shams, the grandfather of Mu'awiya, commander of Muslim troops in Syria who took power after 'Ali's death.
related descendants later also ruled in Cordoba, Spain, from 756 to 1031.
Abbasid Dynasty - overthrew the Ummayads in 750 and moved the Islamic capital to Baghdad, from where they ruled until 1258.
over time, several rival regional powers arose in certain areas, including the Fatimids, Seljuks, Mamluks, etc.
Ottoman Dynasty - ruled the Ottoman Empire (later a.k.a. Turkish Empire) from 1281 to 1923, with capital at Istanbul for much of that time
other Muslim empires at times controlled areas further East, such as the Mughals in India and the Safavids in Iran.