Foundation History of Islam
In 570 AD - Saudi Arabia, Mecca was a hub of a deep polytheistic society. The center of Mecca was the Ka’aba, a temple of sorts with a god for every day of the year. Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib was born into this culture. But he was not of that culture. The influence of Christianity had reached Saudi Arabia at that time, so monotheism was not new to the area, just not as prominent. But Muhammad, he questioned why people worshiped idols, objects made up and created by man’s hands.
He went and meditated in ‘The cave of Hera’ and in 610 AD he received his first revelation. He began fighting idolatry in the city till in 622 AD he was forced to flee to Medina where he began to grow with followers. Eight years later in 630 AD, he went back to Mecca, went to the Ka’aba, and destroyed all 365 idols and began gaining power through the power of the sword. After his death in 632 AD, Islam spread by the point of the sword from 632 AD to 656 AD. Islam, at it’s peak, had control of all the Middle East, Northern Africa, and into Europe through Portugal and Spain as well as through Turkey and the Peloponnesian peninsula.
After his death, the next four Caliph’s (religious leaders) were Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman, and Ali. Muhammad did not have any living sons, so leadership went to, as the Sunni’s proclaim, election. But the Shiites believe that it should remain in the family of Muhammad. Ali, the fourth Caliph, was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad and the Shiites claim as the first Imam.
The foundation of Islam comes from a two-fold point (in the practical view). One, it was a reaction against polytheism and pagan idolatry. Two, it was to give the Arabian people a Divine prophet. In the word of a friend, Muhammad saw that the Jews had God send them a message through the Torah, and the Christians had a message through Jesus. Muhammad’s question was, why do we not have a message? And he gave a message. Islam has strong roots in the Judeo-Christian culture. It is unique, but it is rooted from the same paradigm.
Westerners, myself included, have a tendency to focus on the violent upheaval that was the emergence of Islam. By the point of the sword. The same mind-set in Christians brought about the Crusades and the Inquisition as well as much pain in the emergence of colonialism later on. But we see violence as natural in Islam, while Christ preached ‘love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you’. Would Muslims see Islam as a violent religion? Before you argue for bias, ask this as well. Would Muslims see Christianity as a violent religion?!
After Muhammad died, the religion split into Sunni’s, Shiites, and other smaller branches. Today there are more distinctions that could be made. A common split is made between Cultural Muslims, Devoted Muslims, and Radical Muslims. Cultural Muslims, as in any religion, are non-practicing, self-labeled Muslims. They are Muslims only by heredity or tradition. Devoted Muslims are practicing Muslims and Western Culture has defined Radical Muslims as those Muslims who have declared Jihad (Holy War) on the west and see the murder of non-believers as service to Allah.