We continue our brief historical survey of Islam. Again, much material is
taken from a Books on Tape offering by Professor Mark Berkson of Hamline
University and information from law student Adam El-Halim.
Who was the founder of Islam?
Mohammed was born in 570 in Mecca. In his 20s, he began to work in the
caravans for a widow. Supposedly illiterate, he soon became known for
excellent judgment and skills with people. He married the widow when he
was 25 and she was 40. They had sons, who died in infancy: and a daughter
who would become an important leader of his movement.
Mohammed had a monogamous marriage for 24 years until his wife’s death.
He was a contemplative man, frequently spending time in meditation in caves
around Mecca. One day in 610, when he was 40, his life– and that of the
world — changed.
He had a visitor, understood to be the angel Gabriel. Asked to recite, he
replied that he could not because he was unschooled. Miraculously, learned
words began to pour out of him. This was the beginning of the continuing
revelation which eventually became the Koran. Its content would be revealed
to him over the next 22 years with adherents believing that the Koran was
God’s way of speaking through his prophet.
He began to deliver these revelations to the larger community around
Mecca. Soon, he met with opposition – his ideas were thought novel, and
they often challenged the prevailing tribal culture.
Mohammed was an orphan, raised by a prominent uncle who acted as his
protector. Mohammed was boycotted and threatened with death or expulsion.
Persecuted, he had a profound spiritual experience – his “night journey”
from Mecca to Jerusalem. According to tradition, he traveled on a flying
steed; he met earlier prophets, prayed with them, and ascended into the
heavens where he encountered God. During this encounter, he was given much
wisdom. Today, some believers see this as a literal physical journey;
others view it as a spiritual voyage.
Mohammed’s reputation for integrity and fairness grew. A number of nearby
tribes invited him to settle a dispute. He saw it as an ideal opportunity
to escape his difficulties in Mecca. He and a growing number of followers
moved to what would eventually become Medina. The journey took place in 622,
and it is from this moment that the Islamic calendar — based on the lunar
cycle – measures time.
At Medina, he led what many regard as the “golden age of Islam.” The new
community looked to him as both prophet and leader.
The community grew – but there was conflict. In a series of battles
between his followers and the tribes still following the old religion of
many deities, his followers were vastly outnumbered but prevailed
In 630, Mohammed and 10,000 followers bloodlessly captured Mecca. The Koran
speaks of Mohammed’s tactical use of the land as a pivotal reason for
In a solemn moment after his triumphal entry, Mohammed smashed the old idols
and rededicated the holy spot to God.
He died in 632, at about the age of 68; by his death, nearly all of Arabia
MORE NEXT TIME