A Brief History
On December 11, 629, the Prophet of Allah and founder of the Muslim religion, Muhammad, led an army of 10,000 converts to Islam into Mecca and conquered the city with minimal casualties.
As often takes place today when adherents to one religion take over an area previously shared by other faiths, critics of Islam allege that the Muslims destroyed all traces of Arabian, Jewish, and Christian statuary, paintings, and other objects of non-Islamic religious significance, although some accounts claim Muhammad spared depictions of Jesus and Mary. Many modern Muslims dispute these claims altogether, arguing that there is no real evidence to suggest that the Prophet Muhammad ever attacked a church or synagogue. These twenty-first century Muslims acknowledge that he did destroy pagan idols stored inside the Kaaba, but because the Christians and Jews were seen as “The People of the Book,” they were somewhat natural allies, even if he did come into conflict with Jewish tribes, but other than a battle with the Byzantines, he never had any substantial fight against Christians.
The land we now know as Saudi Arabia, or the Arabian Peninsula, was peopled by followers of a variety of religions at this time. Jews were common inhabitants of Arabia and had an on again, off again, tradition of competition and conflict with followers of Arabian traditional religion and later with Muslims. (Initially, Muhammad was surprisingly tolerant of Jews.)
Muhammad had been born in Mecca in c. 570, and around 610 began receiving revelations from God (Allah) during periods of meditation. Around 613, Muhammad began his religious mission, preaching the news of his revelations and informing people that he was the Prophet of God. Muhammad gained only a moderate amount of followers and was forced to leave Mecca for Medina, where he continued his formation of Islam. Later, he returned in triumph to Mecca after defeating Meccan forces in various battles along the way.
By the time Muhammad died of ordinary illness in 632, the vast majority of Arabia had converted to Islam. During the 23 years of revelations Muhammad had experienced and until after his death, the Quran, holy book of Islam, had been passed along in an oral tradition, with devout followers memorizing the text in its entirety. After Muhammad’s death and the death of some of those people who had memorized the holy words, the First Caliph, Abu Bakr, decided to get the entire text written down to preserve the word of Muhammad and Allah. A group of scribes then transcribed the Quran. Other accounts of how the Quran got to be transcribed and by whom, also exist, with some variation in wording and chronology.
Muhammad is unusual as a religious leader in that he was a warrior and conqueror, as well as someone sometimes criticized for having been a slave holder and someone who almost assuredly had personally killed people in battle, as well as ordering many executions. According to some sources, one of his 13 wives, Aisha, became betrothed to Muhammad while she was only 6 or 7 years old (the age varies depending on the source), and the marriage was allegedly consummated when the girl was only 9! (Though supposedly already pubescent.) The Quran also describes Muhammad as handing out slave girls as spoils of war to his officers.
Today, although unfortunately, in many parts of the world (not just the Middle East) people of the Islamic faith are in conflict with people of other (or no) faiths, there are nevertheless around 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, an enormous legacy of the mission of Muhammad. Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think was Muhammad’s greatest accomplishment? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For counterpoint views to the generally reported information contained here, see: http://www.muhammadfactcheck.org/
For more information, please see…
Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. HarperOne, 1993.
Burleigh, F. W. It’s All About Muhammad: A Biography of the World’s Most Notorious Prophet. Zenga Books, 2014.
Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. Inner Traditions, 2006.
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