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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Islam - Muhammad

The founder of Islam is the prophet Muhammad. His full name is Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim. Alternate spellings of Muhammad are: Mohammed, or Muhammed. He was born June 8, 570 CE (Common Era) in the city of Mecca in what is today Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic faith is so associated with the name Mohammad that I remember as a kid we were taught that people belonging to this faith group were referred to more frequently as Mohammadans than Muslims or Islamists. Only weeks before his birth, Mohammad’s father died, followed a few years later by his mother’s death. Mohammad was subsequently raised by his grandfather, and then his uncle who trained him to become a businessman and a tradesman.

As is often the case with religious leaders and founders, very little is known about their childhood. It is said that while conducting business for his uncle, the young man, Mohammad, would exemplify the highest standards of integrity to the degree that he earned a nickname of El-Amin, meaning, “The one you can trust.”

During one of his business trips, he met a wealthy widow by the name of Khadija. Knowing of his reputation, she hired him to conduct her business affairs. By this time in his early twenties, he had become such an adroit businessman that he was able to earn a significant profit for her business ventures. The two grew close and eventually she proposed to him. When they were married he was about twenty-five, and she was nearly forty. They had six children together, two boys and four girls. Neither of the boys survived infancy.

With all of Mohammad’s prosperity, along with his stature in the burgeoning city of Mecca, he was not satisfied with life as it was. The rampant materialism, greed, and local idol worship which he experienced living in Mecca weighed heavily on him. In the year 610 during a personal retreat in a mountain cave outside of the city, he was engaged in fasting and prayer. He was supposedly visited by an overpowering presence. He was so overcome by this experience that he would not speak of it for several years. One version of what took place goes like this: “During the month of Ramadan, Mohammad received his first revelation from the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel said to Muhammad: ‘Iqraa,’ meaning ‘read’ or ‘recite.’ He replied, ‘I cannot read.’ Gabriel embraced Muhammad and after releasing him repeated: ‘Iqraa.’ Muhammad's answer was the same as before. Gabriel repeated the embrace, asking Muhammad to repeat after him and said: ‘Recite in the name of your Lord who created! He created man from that which clings. Recite; and thy Lord is most Bountiful, He who has taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not.’"

Thus began the formation of what would become the Muslim faith. This was also the impetus for the development of the Qur’an (Koran), the Muslim holy book. As the story goes, the Archangel Gabriel visited Mohammad routinely over the next twenty-five years. On each occasion Mohammad was instructed to write down the words given by Gabriel. This became the Holy Koran. During this time, Mohammad also wrote down his own thoughts and musings, developing a significant amount of material. “The Prophet's sayings and actions are recorded separately in collections known as Hadith. Muslims believe that Muhammad was a messenger of Allah (Arabic for The One and Only God) and [the] last of the prophets sent by Allah to guide man to the right path.”

The outcome of this experience would place Mohammad at a crisis point in his life: Would he continue as a now wealthy businessman, or would he follow a path outlined by Allah? Put another way, “Would he accept the mantle of ‘Prophet,’ and thereby lead this fledgling religion into the future, or simply continue on in life as he had always done?”

As history has borne out, he accepted the role as the Last Prophet of God, following the succession of the all the prophets, starting with Adam. “The Prophet's mission was to restore the worship of the One True God, the creator and sustainer of the universe.”

“Muhammad is the model of Qur'anic behavior for Muslims. They mention his name by adding "peace be upon him," a phrase used with the name of all the prophets. Muslims try to follow the Qur'an and the Prophet's example in every detail.”

One of Mohammad’s sayings reveals quite a bit about him, but poses a serious question as to where Islam is heading in our world today. He said, “Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms, and prayers? Making peace between one another: enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots.”

Mohammad died in 632 after being poisoned by a Jewish woman. What began as a religion comprised of some family members and a few friends grew to several hundred thousand by the time of his death. Today Islam is growing at a rate of 70,000 converts a day.

Next week we will consider the “Militant Mohammad.”

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