Islam: A Historical, Practical and Doctrinal Overview
By Adnan Husain
Dept. of History and Middle Eastern Studies, New York Univ.
The Origins of Islam: the Early Years in Mecca
From the perspective of modern scholarship in the western academy, the
religion of Islam began around 610 C. E., when Muhammad received the first,
startling revelations of the Qur an from the angel Gabriel on Mount Hira: Recite:
In the Name of thy Lord who created, created Man of a blood-clot.
the Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the Pen, taught Man that which he
Although Muslims recognize the first revelation of the Qur an as
marking the advent of a new religious dispensation in human history, they would
suggest that Islam, which means submission or surrender, remains a primordial
condition of a spiritual attitude towards God, named Allah, and a corresponding
For Muslims, this message has been expressed in the Creator s
communication with humanity since the time of Adam to the present.
In this way,
Islam appeared as a fulfillment and completion of the recognized, earlier
monotheistic religions of the Middle East, Judaism and Christianity.
introducing Islam as a historically occurring religious tradition, it is nonetheless
important and useful to acknowledge this perspective in the self-understanding of
Orphaned at an early age, Muhammad worked in the lucrative commercial
trade network of Mecca, an important city in the Arabian Peninsula.
was enabled by his marriage to a wealthy widow, Khadija.
He developed a
reputation as an upright, honest man, earning the honorific al-Amin or the
However, Muhammad gradually grew disillusioned with life in
Mecca, especially because of the pagan polytheism, which was the dominant
religion, and with the social inequality and oppression of the society.
He began to
withdraw for periods of retreat to neighboring hills outside Mecca to fast and
reflect, seeking answers to fundamental questions.
Visions appeared to him on
his meditative walks.
They culminated with the dramatic appearance of Gabriel
exhorting him to recite and be guided by the higher truths of Allah s existence.
These revelations were to continue for some twenty-three years.
Initially, Muhammad shared his revelations and the message given to him
only with his wife and a few friends and associates.
Together, this small group
formed a religious circle dedicated to ritual prayer, piety, and ethical nobility.
After a couple of years, Muhammad received a verse commanding him to rise
and warn his society of the dangers of neglecting to worship Allah exclusively,
of ignoring the day of reckoning for ones deeds, of oppressing the weak, and of
pursuing excessive individual gain.
Muhammad began to spread this message
publicly, thus challenging the social and religious order of Mecca; at first, the