Islam: A Brief History
No god but God, The origins, evolution and future of Islam is a book which is not only judiciously written but at the same time the author of this brilliantly researched book didn’t shied away from calling ‘A spade a spade’. That’s the USP of this literature on Islam.
Although, you’ve to be patient while reading this particular book. Because, it will take sometime for you to digest all the information and facts related to the world’s second most followed religion.
Karl Marx once said that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’. It doesn’t matter that you are practicing your religion or not, but one thing is sure that you can’t escape or ignore the effects of religion on your life, isn’t it.
So, what comes to your mind when you hear, see or read the term, Islam. The answer of this question is too simple and at the same time it’s too complicated. Because, it depends on how you perceive things around yourself.
For someone Islam is the world’s second most followed religion. For another one Islam is the religion which some fanatics use (Used) to fulfill their heinous agendas.
So, in a nutshell you can interpret the meaning of Islam in ‘n’ number of ways. But, here I’ll try to simplify in a layman’s words about the world’s most misunderstood religion.
What is Islam?
Islam literally means ‘Submission’. Islam is the world’s second most followed religion. It was founded by Prophet Muhammad in the deserts of seventh century Arabia.
And those people who surrender themselves in front of God (here Allah) are known as the Muslims.
Other than this Muslims also have to follow the five pillars of Islam which were constituted by the Prophet Muhammad in the city of Medina.
Islam is part of the Abrahamic faiths. The other two religions in this family tree are Judaism and Christianity.
Although, you’ll find lots of similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but it’s an irony that these three faiths are in a conflict with each other.
What are the Five Pillars Of Islam?
These are the following five Pillars Of Islam which a muslim has to follow in his or her lifetime.
Salat, or the Ritual Prayer (Namaz), Zakat, or Paying of alms, Sawm ( Rozah ) or Fast, Hajj, or Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina and lastly the Shahadah, or Profession of faith.
Origins of Islam:-
The geographical location of a place is very important when it comes to tracing the history of a religion.
The two regions that gave birth to majority of the world’s religions are the East (here India) and the Middle East (Arabian peninsula).
In the former region, religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and many other smaller sects were born.
In the latter region, religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam were born.
And Islam was born in 7th century in the deserts of Hijaz (Arabia). It was revealed by Angel Gabriel to a man by the name of Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Abd al-muttalib, The Prophet and according to Muslims the last messenger of God on Earth.
Although, the religion which was revealed to Muhammad is based on the concept of a single God (Allah), who is not only omnipotent but also omnipresent.
But, the place where Muhammad was born, Mecca, was believed in multiple gods. The forefathers of Prophet Muhammad and his companions were polytheists.
And the story of Islam is incomplete without knowing the life and times of the man who within a few decades changed the course of world with his revelation.
Prophet Muhammad and the encounter that would change the world :-
Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 CE to Abdallah and Amina. His father died before he was born. And he also lost his mother when he was only six years old.
Muhammad was from the mighty tribe of Quraysh, and he was from the clan of Banu Hashim.
Muhammad was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib, Father of Ali.
Muhammad worked as a carvan trader for his uncle. In fact, throughout the region he was renowned for his honesty and integrity.
But, Prophet was from a society which was tribal. And an eye for an eye was the law of the land.
In fact, Muhammad’s economic prospect was so low that when he asked the hand of his uncle’s daughter, Umm Hani, she rejected him outrightly for a financially stable suitor.
But, a forty year old widow and a wealthy merchant by the name of Khadija saw something in Muhammad. And she sent him the proposal for marriage. Prophet accepted the proposal and later on they married.
At the time of his marriage, prophet Muhammad was only twenty-five years old. And his wife was fifteen years older than him.
But, one most important thing which we need to understand that we cannot judge any historical personality according to our modern ethical standards.
Marrying Khadija raised the economic prospects of Muhammad. And in a tribal society status do matter a lot.
And as we’ve discussed earlier that Muhammad was from a region where polytheists and polytheism were the norm.
The pagan Arabs used to worship the Ka’ba, The Cube. The pagan Arabs during the pilgrimage season gathered around the Ka’ba and they believed (Still believe) that this sanctuary was founded by Adam, The First Man.
In fact, there were around 360 idols housed in and around the Ka’ba, representing every god recognised in the Arabian peninsula.
And the Quraysh controlled the Ka’ba. The pilgrimage activities not only generated the revenue but it also gave the Quraysh a status symbol. Since, they were the ones who were controlling everything around the Ka’ba.
And Muhammad saw the exploitation happening in and around the Ka’ba in the name of God.
One night in 610 CE, Muhammad was meditating on the cave of Mt. Hira, and suddenly he felt something so strong that he thought he would die anytime. The embrace of that spirit was surreal for him. And that spirit commanded him to “Recite”.
Muhammad was so much in pain that he asked that what should he recite. And finally words came from his mouth.
Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created humanity from a clot of blood. Recite, for your Lord is the most generous one who has taught by the pen; Taught humanity that which it did not know.
In fact, the word Qur’an, literally means “The Recitation”.
One more important point that the Quran, the divine revelations Muhammad received during a span of 23-years in Mecca and Medina.
And the first person who believed in the Prophethood of Muhammad was Khadija. In fact, she was the first muslim woman who converted to Islam.
The second person who accepted Islam was the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, Ali.
The will of God prevailed:-
Although, Muhammad received the enlightenment but it doesn’t mean that the rest of his tribe and the mighty Quraysh accepted his egalitarian message.
In fact, his message of justice, piety and social justice threatened the socio-economic status of the Quraysh.
In the starting they ignored Muhammad and his few companions. But, later on they realised the gravity of the situation and decided to assassinate Muhammad.
Prophet Muhammad received the news that the Quraysh were planning to kill him. So, he along with his companion, Abu Bakr, fled to Yathrib (Medina)
In fact, the flight from Mecca to Medina is known as the Hijra, or the migration.
Yathrib was a conglomeration of several villages where Jews and Arabs used to live together. Muhammad was invited by the two arab tribes as a hakam, or the arbiter, to solve their dispute. And he was no ordinary arbiter,his name and fame had already reached before him.
It was in Medina (The City of Prophet) where the first muslim community were constituted. It was in Medina where he formed an ideal society which to this date the Muslim countries around the world tried (or trying) to emulate.
The notion of an ideal ‘Islamic State’ came from the city of Medina.
It was in Medina where the first mosque was built. And it was in Medina where the messenger of God breathe his last.
To establish his message the Prophet had fought several battles with the Quraysh. The battle of Badr, battle of uhud, battle of trenches and few skirmishes and only after that he subdued the mighty Quraysh tribe he went to Mecca where he demolished all the idols there and cleansed the house of God. And the only person who was allowed to assist the prophet in cleansing the Ka’ba was Ali.
The schism in Islam:-
As during his lifetime Prophet Muhammad never declared his successor. So, after his death the Ummah (or the Muslim community) was in a state of confusion. Because, they didn’t know what to do.
But after consulting amongst themselves, Abu Bakr, was selected as the successor to Prophet and with that he became the first Caliph (The successor to Muhammad and the temporal leader of the Muslim community) of Islam.
But the Selection of Abu Bakr as the Caliph didn’t go well the clan of Banu Hashim and supporters of Ali. They thought that Ali should be given the position of Caliph instead of anyone else. But, somehow these dissenting voices were ignored.
In fact, when Abu Bakr was taking the oath of allegiance from the Ummah, Ali was silently cleaning and buring the body of Muhammad in Medina.
Although, because of the sake of the Prophet’s message, Ali accepted Abu Bakr as the Caliph. And gave him his oath of allegiance.
But, the faction was already formed in Medina. Although, at that time it was a political faction known as Shi’atu Ali, ‘The Party Of Ali’, The Shiah.
The party of Ali was nothing more than a political faction that maintained the right of Muhammad’s clan to rule the community in Muhammad’s stead.
After sometime Abu Bakr announced without consulting anyone that Umar would be his successor and the second Caliph. Again, Ali was denied the position of Caliph.
After Umar, a man by the name of Uthman became the Caliph. Although, Uthman was brutally murdered in his bed chamber by his fellow Muslims. But, his reign was remembered for the collection and the canonization of Quran.
In Muhammad’s lifetime, the Quran was never collected in a single volume. Whenever a verse was revealed to Prophet it was memorized by the new class of scholars, called the Qurra, or Quran readers.
In fact, Ali became the Caliph after so much of struggle. But, while praying in a mosque in Kufa (In Iraq) he was assassinated. And his death sealed the schism in Islam. The Sunni, or The Orthodox, and Shiah, The followers of Ali.
Although, the death of Ali divided the Islam into two sects. But, what happened at Karbala (In Iraq) in 680 CE was the final nail in the coffin of a united Islam which was envisioned by the Prophet.
You might be thinking that what happened at Karbala. Hasan and Husayn were the sons of Ali and the grandsons of Prophet Muhammad.
After the death of Ali, The Shiah told Hasan to claim the position of Caliph. But, he made a pact with Mu’awiyah, the fifth Caliph. It served both well. But, Hasan was poisoned. And Mu’awiyah not only broke away with the pact which he made with Hasan but what he did was unfathomable.
Mu’awiyah, from the Ummayyad Clan transformed the Caliphate into a monarchy.
He announced like other king would do that his son, Yazid-1 would succeed him.
And it was the Army of Yazid-1 who at Karbala mercilessly killed the family members of Ali and Fatima (Daughter of Prophet Muhammad).
The solders of Yazid’s army beheaded Husan ibn Ali and presented it to Yazid-1 in a gold tray as a trophy.
They humiliated Husayn’s sister, Zainab. It was the memories of Karbala that transformed the Shia’s into a completely different sect of Islam.
Even today, during the time of Muharram the people of the Shia community commemorate the sacrifices which Husan ibn Ali and his family members made at Karbala.
Even in Sunni Islam, Mu’awiyah and Yazid-1 were reviled. Because what they did was unforgettable.
Amongst the first four Caliphs of Islam three were assassinated. Umar had been stabbed to death by his slave. Uthman was brutally killed while he was reading the Quran. And Ali was killed while he was praying.
In Sunni, or The Orthodox Islam, Abu Bakr and his immediate successors, The First four Calips, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali are collective referred to as the ‘Rashidun’ – The ‘Rightly Guided Ones’.
Although, Sunni and Shia are the two main sects of Islam. But, there is also a mystical sect of Islam known as the ‘Sufism’.
A person can only describe Sufism but it can’t define Sufism. And most importantly love is the foundation of Sufism.
Although, fourteen hundred years has passed since the formation of Islam. But, like every other religion Islam is also facing several issues within it.
The most important issue which the Muslims face is related to the interpretation of the Qur’an.
According to the traditionalists, The Quran is uncreated and it’s eternal with the God. This is the view which majority of the Muslims follows worldwide. In simple way, memorize Quran and the verses mentioned in it without understanding the message which they trying to convey.
According to the Rationalists, The Quran is created and anyone can interpret it according to its own conscience. This view is followed by miniscule of people. And those who follow this view are popularly known as the ‘Reformers’.
But, as we all are aware that the so-called Ulama (Islamic Clerics) has hijacked the Islam. And what we are seeing worldwide is the Islam of Ulama not of Prophet.
The people of the Muslim community needs to understand that only the Qur’an is the word of God. And there is a not a single verse in it which said that the Muslims have to follow ulama or anyone else.
Use your own conscience and start reading it by looking at the present context. Taking guidance from a learned person is different thing and not using your own brain is altogether different.
As Guru Nanak once said:-
Owing to ignorance of the rope the rope appears to be a snake; owing to ignorance of the Self the transient state arises of the individualized, limited, phenomenal aspect of the Self.
I’ll conclude with these lines of Imam Ali:-
‘There is no wealth like knowledge, no poverty like ignorance.’
I hope you like this, Thanks for Reading, Jai Hind.
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