Early History of Islam

It was founded in 622 CE by Mohammed the Prophet (circa 570 to 632 CE) in Medina. It is the youngest of the world's great religions. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. An alternate spelling that is occasionally used is "Moslim"; it is not recommended because it is often pronounced "mawzlem": which sounds like an Arabic word for "oppressor". Some Western writers in the past have referred to Islam as "Mohammedism"; this is deeply offensive to many Muslims, as its usage can lead to the concept that Mohammed the Prophet was in some way divine.

Little is known about Muhammad's childhood. He was orphaned at the age of 6 and brought up by his uncle. As a child, he worked as a shepherd. He was taken on a caravan to Syria by his uncle at the age of 9 (or perhaps 12). Later, as a youth, he was employed as a camel driver on the trade routes between Syria and Arabia. Muhammad later managed caravans on behalf of merchants. He met people of different religious beliefs on his travels, and was able to observe and learn about Judaism, Christianity and the indigenous Pagan religions.

After marriage, he was able to spend more time in meditation. At the age of 40, (610 CE), he was visited in Mecca by the angel Gabriel. He developed the conviction that he had been ordained a Prophet and given the task of converting his countrymen from their pagan, polytheistic beliefs and what he regarded as moral decadence, idolatry, hedonism and materialism.

He met considerable opposition to his teachings. In 622 CE he moved north to Medina due to increasing persecution. The trek is known as the hegira . Here he was disappointed by the rejection of his message by the Jews. Through military activity and political negotiation, Mohammed became the most powerful leader in Arabia, and Islam was firmly established in the area.

By 750 CE, Islam had expanded to China, India, along the Southern shore of the Mediterranean and into Spain. By 1550 they had reached Vienna. Wars resulted, expelling Muslims from Spain and Europe. Since their trading routes were mostly over land, they did not an develop extensive sea trade (as for example the English and Spaniards). As a result, the old world occupation of North America was left to Christians.

Believers are currently concentrated from the West coast of Africa to the Philippines. In Africa, in particular, they are increasing in numbers, largely at the expense of Christianity.

Totaling approximately 1 billion believers, they form the second largest religion in the world. The number of Muslims in North America is in dispute: estimates range from under 3 million to over 6 million. The main cause of the disagreement appears to be over how many Muslim immigrants have converted to Christianity. Statistics Canada reports that 253,260 Canadians identified themselves as Muslims (0.9% of the total population) during the 1991 census. Those figures are believed to be an under-estimate; Islam is growing in numbers.

Sacred Texts

There are two texts:

Muslim Beliefs and Practices

Muslims follow a lunar calendar which started with the hegira, a 300 mile trek in 622 CE when Mohammed relocated from Mecca to Medina.

A Muslim's duties as described in the Five Pillars of Islam are:

  1. to recite at least once during their lifetime the shahadah (the creed: "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet"). Most repeat it at least daily.
  2. to perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day. This is recited while orienting one's body towards Mecca. It is done in the morning, at noon, midafternoon, after sunset and just before sleeping.
  3. to donate regularly to charity through zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy as the individual believer feels moved.
  4. to fast during the month of Ramadan [began 1995-FEB-2, 1995 (Year 1415); begins 1996-JAN-22 (Year 1416) and 1997-JAN-10 (Year 1417)]. This is believed to be the month that Mohammed received the Qu'ran from Allah.
  5. if economically and physically, to make at least one hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca

Jihad (struggle) is probably the most misunderstood religious word in existence. It often mentioned on Western TV and radio during news about the Middle East, where it is implied to be a synonym of "holy war" - a call to fight against non-Muslims in the defense of Islam.

The vast majority of Muslims of Muslims have an entirely different definition of Jihad. It is seen as a personal, internal struggle with one's self. The goal may be achievement in a profession, self-purification, the conquering of primitive instincts or the attainment of some other noble goal.

Common beliefs:

Originally, in Islamic countries, there was no separation between religious and civil law, between Islam and the state. Turkey and some other countries have become secular states during this century. This is a controversial move in Islamic circles.

Islamic Sects

There are four different schools of jurisprudence within Islam. Much blood has been spilt over disputes between them. The main schools are:

There are three other groups which originated within Islam:

Visit for an impressive home page maintained by the Caltich Muslim Student Association (MSA). It includes essays on Islam and many links to other Islamic WWW sites.

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