The Origin of Islam

Essential Question

How did Islam begin? How is it connected to Judaism and Christianity?

Introduction to Islam

Islam-Fast Facts

  • Islam is partially based on the Judeo-Christian religions.

  • Holy Book is the Qur'an

  • It is the second-largest religion in the world

  • It is the fastest-growing religion in the world

The Origin of Islam

Over 570 years after the beginnings of Christianity, a man named Muhammad brought a different religion to the people of Arabia. Historians don't know much about Muhammad. What they do know comes from Islamic religious writings.

Muhammad's Early Life

Muhammad was born into an important family in Mecca around 5 70. Muhammad's early life was not easy. His father, a merchant, died before he was born; and his mother died later when he was six. With his parents gone, Muhammad was first raised by his grandfather and later by his uncle. When he was a child, he traveled with his uncle's caravans, visiting places such as Syria and Jerusalem. Once he was grown, he managed a caravan business owned by a wealthy widow named Khadijah (ka-DEE-jah). Eventually, at age 25, Muhammad married Khadijah. The caravan trade made Mecca a rich city. But most of the wealth belonged to just a few people.

Concerned about the changing values in Mecca, Muhammad often went by himself to the hills outside the city to pray and meditate. One day, when he was about 40 years old, Muhammad went to meditate in a cave. Then, according to Islamic teachings, something happened that changed his life forever. An angel appeared and spoke to Muhammad, telling him to "Recite! Recite!" Confused at first, Muhammad asked what he should recite. The angel answered:

11 Recite in the name of your Lord who created,

created man from clots of blood!

Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One,

Who by the pen taught man what he did

not know. 11

- From The Koran, translated by N.J. Dawood 60 CHAPTER 3.

Muslims believe that God had spoken to Muhammad through the angel and had made him a prophet, a person who tells of messages from God. At first, Muhammad was afraid and didn't tell anyone except his wife about the voice in the cave. A few years later, in 613, Muhammad began to tell other people about the messages. The messages Muhammad received form the basis of the religion called Islam. The word Islam means "to submit to God." A follower of Islam is called a Muslim. Muslims believe that Muhammad continued receiving messages from God for the rest of his life. These messages were collected in the Qur'an (kuh-RAN), the holy book of Islam.

Muhammad's Teachings

Not all of Muhammad's early teachings were new. In fact, some were much like the teachings of Judaism and Christianity. But Muhammad's teachings challenged and upset the people of Arabia. These teachings brought changes to many aspects of life in Arabia.

Muhammad taught that there was only one God, Allah, which means "the God" in Arabic. In that way, Islam is like Judaism and Christianity. It is a monotheistic religion, a religion based on a belief in one God. Although people of all three religions believe in one God, their beliefs about God are not all the same.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims also recognize many of the same holy people. Muhammad taught that prophets such as Abraham and Moses had lived in earlier times. Unlike Christians, Muslims do not believe Jesus was the son of God, but they do believe in many stories about his life. Muhammad told stories about these prophets similar to the stories in the Torah and the Christian Bible. Muhammad respected Jews and Christians as "people of the Book" because their holy books taught many of the same ideas that Muhammad taught.

Some of Muhammad's teachings would have seemed familiar to Jews and Christians, but they were new to most Arabs. For example, most people in Arabia were polytheistic, meaning they believed and worshipped many different gods and goddesses at shrines. A shrine is a place at which people worship a saint or a god. A very important shrine, the Kaaba (KAH-buh), was in Mecca. People traveled there every year on a pilgrimage.

Several of Muhammad's teachings upset many Arabs. First, they didn't like being told to stop worshipping their gods and goddesses. Second, Muhammad's new religion seemed like a threat to wealthy people and Mecca's powerful merchant leaders thought they would lose business if people didn't worship their gods at the Kaaba. Another of Muhammad's teachings that worried Mecca's wealthy merchants was that Muhammad said that everyone who believed in Allah would become part of a community in which rich and poor would be equal. But the merchants wanted to be richer and more powerful than the poor people, not equal to them. Muhammad also taught that people should give money to help the poor. However, many wealthy merchants didn't want to help the poor. Instead, they wanted to keep all of their money. Because many of the people in Mecca didn't want to hear what Muhammad had to say, they rejected his teachings.

Islam Spreads in Arabia

At first, Muhammad did not have many followers. Mecca's merchants refused to believe in a single God and rejected the idea of equality. Slowly, more people began to listen to Muhammad's ideas. But as Islam began to influence people, the rulers of Mecca became more and more worried. They began to threaten Muhammad and his small group of followers with violence. They even planned to kill Muhammad. As a result, Muhammad had to look for support outside of Mecca.

A group of people from a city north of Mecca invited Muhammad to live in their city. As the threats from Mecca's leaders got worse, Muhammad accepted the invitation. In 622 he and many of his followers, including his daughter Fatimah, left Mecca and went to the city of Medina (muh-DEE-nuh).

Named after Muhammad, Medina means "the Prophet's city" in Arabic, the language of the Arabs. Muhammad's departure from Mecca became known in Muslim history as the hegira (hi-JY-ruh), or journey.

From Medina to the Rest of Arabia Muhammad's arrival in Medina holds an important place in Islamic history. The year of the hegira, 622, became so important to the development of Islam that Muslims made it the first year in the Islamic calendar. There he became both a spiritual and a political leader. His house became the first mosque (MAHSK), or building for Muslim prayer.

According to Islamic belief, in Medina Muhammad reported new revelations about rules for Muslim government, society, and worship. For example, God told Muhammad that Muslims should face Mecca when they pray. Before, Muslims faced Jerusalem as Christians and Jews did. Muslims recognized the importance of Mecca as the home of the Kaaba. They believe the Kaaba is a house of worship that Abraham built and dedicated to the worship of one God.

As the Muslim community in Medina grew stronger, other Arab tribes in the region began to accept Islam. However, conflict with the Meccans increased. In 630, after several years of fighting, the people of Mecca gave in. They welcomed Muhammad back to the city and accepted Islam as their religion.

In Mecca Muhammad and his followers destroyed the statues of the gods and goddesses in the Kaaba. Soon most of the Arabian tribes accepted Muhammad as their spiritual leader and became Muslims. Muhammad died in 632 at his home in Medina. Although he didn't live long after Mecca became Muslim, the religion he taught would soon spread to lands far beyond Arabia.

Discussion Questions

  • Who is Muhammad?

  • How did Islam begin?

  • How is Islam connected to Judaism and Christianity?

Activity 2: How did Islam begin?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Enrichment Activities

NEWSELA: Who is Allah? Understanding God in Islam

NEWSELA: Issue Overview: Sunni-Shiite divide

NEWSELA: Famous Speeches: President George W. Bush's "Islam is Peace”