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Unformatted text preview: C hapter 12 Islam: There Is No God but Allah As is the case with any of the founders of the world s religions, a biography of the life of Muhammad is difFcult to write because of competing interpretations of his life from differing worldviews. The sources that speak of the life of Muhammad are evaluated and emphasized differently by these worldviews, so that the biography is not a simple matter of arranging universally accepted facts. A record of his life must take into account the Muslim understanding which may not be agreed upon by other religions in their understanding of Muhammad. Similarly, the secular rational-empiricist approach derived from the positivism of the 19 th century must be taken into account although its claims to neutrality and freedom from its assumptions should not be blindly accepted. The positivist s approach assumes that only currently observable and repeatable causal forces can be used to explain the past, therefore rejecting any appeals to the non- physical or to scripture. The sources for the life of Muhammad include the Quran (i.e., the Muslim Holy book) itself, as well as sayings of Muhammad (the Hadith) and traditions about Muhammad (the Sunna). There are also early histories written about Muhammad and his followers, and about the battles that shaped the early Islamic community in the Middle East. Western scholarship, beginning in the 18 th century, emphasizes written records over oral traditions, and so discounts some of the above sources. Although the positivist scholars attempted to avoid the polemical arguments of earlier religious authors, they also discounted many of the events held as accurate by Islamic authors who relied on oral tradition. These historians tend to take as important socio-economic issues rather than beliefs because they view the former as easier to measure and because of their own assumptions about the nature of humans. One way to avoid some of these problems is to study the generally agreed upon events in Muhammad s life (while noting some differences in opinion), and then place him inside the theistic tradition within which he consciously places himself. Muhammad was born in 570 AD in Mecca (the center of religious worship at that time along the trade route in the Arabian Peninsula) and belonged to an inFuential tribe (the Quraysh) that was in charge of the religious center of worship (the Ka bah). His father died before his birth, and his mother sent him to live with Bedouin tribesmen (a common practice thought to instill a sense of virtue and freedom, as well as an acquaintance with a rhetorical style of Arabic used by the Bedouin). Muhammad s mother died when he was six years old, and after that age he was raised by his uncle....
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