CHAPTER 4: The Origins of Islam

The roots of Islam are as deep and old as the creation of Adam. The literal Arabic meaning of Islam is derived from the verb “Salam” which means free from defects, open and concealed. The Arabs say a Salam animal which indicates healthy and beautiful looking animal. When an Arab says Salam to a person he/she indicates pledge to expect what is good from me rather than any visible or hidden mischief. Another related derivative of the word islam is “Sellem” which means literally an escalator. The Arabs use this word “Sellem” to reflect ascension to higher places. Old Arabs equated higher places with security from other’s mischief, better and wider scope for sight. By extension they equated higher place with those who have Higher character and of course peace. Therefore it is now possible to understand what Salam on you” peace be upon you” means and why paradise is called the dwelling of Salam.

Let us know make other important clarifications. Islam is the religion and Muslims are those who opt to follow the religion of Islam. The word religion has many potential meaning in the English literature and it includes those who rely on allegiance with God.

In the Qu’ran, religion is described in two related but well defined meanings. The first is “Mellah” which is the noun for the verb “dictate’. So it means what God has dictated on the human being. The dictum is for the human being to pleasantly accept the supremacy of God as the only source for guidance and full power. As such All prophets share the same Mellah .

The other related word for religion is “Deen”. It means what you owe and owed to. The Arabs used the word Deen to describe therefore the personal character of dealing with others. In a religious context the word deen indicates how we translate the dictum “Mellah” ordinates by God into personal behavior “Deen”. Note that “Deen of Islam’ can be summarized then to the open expression of purity from defect in character. A full Muslim is then expected to meet the highest of high standards of good qualities to fulfill this description

Central to the Islamic belief system is the understanding that God is not exclusive to a particular nation or race. God is ruler of all and is your God as well as mine. Similarly, the one religion of our Creator has been sent to us in successive stages throughout human history. In the Qur’an we are told:

And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their seed (or from Adam’s loin his offspring) and made them testify as to themselves (saying): ‘Am I not your Lord?’  They said: ‘Yes! We testify,’ lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘Verily, we have been unaware of this’.

(The Heights, Surah 7; 172)

According to religious scholars, each descendent of Adam has an individual existence, for we are all bound by a special covenant which acknowledges that God is our sole Creator, Cherisher and Sustainer; therefore, we accept God’s religion as our path to success. Again, we can turn to the Qur’an for explanation:

Truly, We did offer Al-Amanah (trust, moral responsibility, or honesty in all the duties which Allah has ordained) to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it (i.e. afraid of Allah’s torment). But man bore it. Verily, he was unjust (to himself) and ignorant (of its results).

So that Allah will punish the hypocrites, men and women, and the men and women who are Al-Mushrikun (polytheists, idolaters, pagans, disbelievers, in the Oneness of Allah, and His Messenger Muhammad).  And Allah will pardon (accept the repentance of) the true believers of the Islamic Monotheism, men and women. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

(The Confederates, Surah 33; 72 and 73)

Scholars have defined the trust offered to us by God as the commands and prohibitions revealed through Prophets as a way to salvation. The foregoing verses illustrate how little humanity knew of the responsibilities involved in accepting this amanah, or position of trust. This passage also indicates that God showed mercy in conferring such a high destiny on humans, provided they could successfully defeat the forces of corruption. The differentiating quality God gave us, however, is that we are able to choose between good and evil. The implications are clear: if we justly carry out the divine amanah, then we are God’s true vicegerents or stewards on earth. But if we do not choose well, we will face punishment for breaching that sacred trust.

As a sign of mercy and wisdom God sent many Prophets to remind and teach us of our covenant to our Creator. Their messages are in essence the same whether given by Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad (peace and prayer be upon all of them), for all of the Prophets form one brotherhood; their religion is one and they all served the one true God.

As we learn in the Qur’an:

And verily this your religion (of Islamic Monotheism) is one religion, and I am your Lord, so keep your duty to Me.

(The Believers, Surah 23; 52)

The Prophets, or Messengers, spoke God’s word to lead people into the light, not by any power of their own or by the merits of those who heard them. They were sent to correct the worn-out systems of their ancestors and to lead contemporary people to the path freshly revealed by God. Their mission was clear – to treasure the truth of the oneness of God as the source of all goodness and to teach God’s commands for success in this life and the hereafter. The divine message then, now, and forever, is the same: “Mercy (will be given) to those who willingly accept God’s commands and just punishment (will be given) to those who willfully rebel against submission to God.”

Prophets are human beings singled out by God for their absolute obedience and willing surrender, so it is not surprising to find in the Islamic tradition that all Prophets are considered Muslims.  As we have seen, Islam is universal and claims to date from Adam.

Nothing is said to you (O Muhammad, PBUH) except what was said to the messenger before you. Verily, your Lord is the Possessor of Forgiveness, and (also) the Possessor of Painful Punishment.

(They are Explained in Detail, Surah 41; 43)

Elsewhere in the Qur’an, we are told:

He (Allah) has ordained for you the same religion (Islamic Monotheism) which he ordained for Nuh (Noah), and that which We have revealed to you (O Muhammad, PBUH) and that which we ordained for Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus), saying you should establish religion (i.e. do what it orders you to do practically), and make no divisions in it (i.e. various sects in religion). Intolerable for the Mushrikun is that (Islamic Monotheism) to which you (O Muhammad) call them. Allah chooses for Himself Whom He Wills, and guides unto Himself (those) who turn to him in repentance and in obedience.

(The Consultation, Surah 42; 13)

Faith is not a matter for dispute. In fact, the formation of sects is against the very principal of Islamic religion. In divine wisdom, God planned to revive and rejuvenate the message of religion through different Prophets, the last of whom was Muhammad (PBUH). Since the Qur’an is God’s final revealed message, it is made clear that the purity of its text is under divine protection.

Verily, We, it is Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qur’an) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption).

(The Rocky Tract, Surah 15; 9)

God insured that the universal principles governing our lives are all present in the Qur’an, which stands as an everlasting miracle for those who wish to study religion.

The difference between Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the preceding Messengers is that he was given the final scriptural teachings for humanity to follow in attaining a state of complete surrender to God.

The Prophets before Islam received teachings that are considered the nucleus of Islamic belief. Prophet Abraham and his elder son Ishmael reestablished the Ka’aba and rituals of worship in the holy city of Makkah (Mecca in modern naming). Abraham and Ishmael foresaw that corruption and backsliding would happen among God’s people, so they prayed for a new Prophet of their own to teach the people scripture and wisdom. As the Qur’an declares, people were urged to attain a state of submission (i.e. be in Islam) before they died.

And when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the House, (praying): ‘Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! You, only You, are the Hearer, the Knower.

Our Lord!  And make us submissive unto You and of our seed a nation submissive unto You, and show us our rites, and relent toward us. Lo!  You, only You, are the Relenting, the Merciful.

Our Lord! And raise up in their midst a Messenger from among them who shall recite unto them Your revelations, and shall instruct them in the Scripture and in wisdom and shall make them pure.  Lo!  You, only You, are the Mighty, the Wise.’

And who forsakes the religion of Abraham save him who befools himself?  Surely We chose him in the world, and lo!  In the Hereafter he is among the righteous ones. When his Lord said unto him: ‘Surrender!’ He said: ‘I have surrendered to God of the Worlds.’

The same did Abraham enjoin upon his sons, and also Jacob, (saying): ‘O my sons! Lo! Allah has chosen for you the (true) religion; therefore die not, save as men who have surrendered (unto Him).’ Or were you witnesses when death came to Jacob, when he said unto his sons: ‘What will you worship after me?’   They said: ‘We shall worship your God, the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, One God, and unto Him we have surrendered’.”

(The Cow, Surah 2; 127-133)

The inspiration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is therefore not without precedent in other scriptures. In the reflections of the Torah, Moses says, “God thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren – like unto me.” (Buet, XVIII, 15)  And in the New Testament Gospel of St. John, a future Prophet is alluded to as “the comforter” (John 14: 16). In this context, the Greek word paraclete is interpreted by some as referring to the Holy Spirit of Christian theology, while others understand it as periclyte, or the Greek name Ahmed, which is equivalent to Muhammad.

The role of the Prophet of Islam regarding the people of the book (Christians and Jews) is well illustrated in the Qur’an.  Additionally Muhammad (PBUH) said, “I am (the answer to) the prayer of my father Abraham and the glad tiding mentioned by Jesus.”

He also said:

Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Isa (Jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary). The Prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who descended from the progeny of Prophet Ishmael, is in fact the response of God to Abraham and Ishmael’s supplications. The mission of Muhammad to humanity is illustrated frequently throughout the Qur’an in phrases such as: “Say, O you all mankind, I am the messenger of Allah to all of you.”

With such a long and interwoven history, the religion of Islam is clearly not a transient spiritual phenomenon, nor is it a cult that developed within a religious or societal vacuum.  Its revelation did not emerge in response to any human social or political ideologies.

Human societies change through time.  Some societies will lose faith, backslide and derail. Thus God mercifully sent many Prophets, depending on the needs of the time, in order to guide people back to the right path. In this context, Islam can be seen as an attribute of every individual who opts to believe and follow divine wisdom. Our tendency to become distracted and ignore the teachings of God has led many to go astray and ultimately lose confidence in themselves, resulting in the loss of ideals, ethics, and social values, and in disengagement from social and religious institutions. All that we require for spiritual, emotional and material success was consolidated in its final form as the religion of Islam.

God also says:

Lo! We have inspired you as We have inspired Noah and the Prophets after him. We also inspired Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and We imparted unto David the Psalms; and messengers We have mentioned unto you before and messengers We have not mentioned unto you; and Allah spoke directly unto Moses; Messengers of good cheer and of warning, in order that humankind might have no argument against Allah after the messengers. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise.

(The Women, Surah 4; 163-165)

The Qur’an also outlines how Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent to reestablish Islamic monotheism:

Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are) with them.  He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear.  Then those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him: they are successful.

Say (Muhammad): ‘O mankind! Lo! I am the Messenger of Allah to you all – (the Messenger of) Him unto whom belongs the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. There is no God save Him. He quickens (gives life) and He gives death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, who believes in Allah and in His words and follow him that you may be led aright.

(The Heights, Surah 7; 157-158)

There is special significance in the description of Prophet Muhammad as “unlettered,” meaning he was not well versed in formal schooling; yet he was full of wisdom.  This was an advantage, since all organized human knowledge tends to become crystallized around the bias or tone of various schools of thought. The highest teacher of Islam had to be free of any biased ideologies, just as a clean slate is needed in order to write a perfectly unbiased and bold message on it. Thus one can better understand why God declared that religion was perfected for us in the revelation of Islam through Prophet Muhammad. This logic and merciful favor is seen in the following Qur’an passage:

If anyone is looking for a religion other than Islam, then let it be known that it will not be accepted from him; and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.

(The Family of Imran, Surah 3; 85)

Elsewhere, Muhammad (PBUH) described the chain of previously revealed monotheistic religions as a building, of which Islam is the last brick. Religions before Islam were sent to correct certain behaviors. Those very same principles do exist in Islam, in addition to more disciplinary rules that finalize the message of God. Thus Prophet Muhammad said:

My example and the example of the other Prophets is that of a man who has built a house completely and excellently except for a place of one brick. When the people entered the house, they wondered at its beauty and said ‘But for the place of this brick (how splendid the house will be)!’

Another reason to send Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with the message of Islam was to correct some of the divine rules that had become misunderstood with the passage of time.  In this respect, it is wonderful to read in the Qur’an that God revealed this holy book and is its keeper, unlike any previous scriptures. This is why any human attempt to make changes in it is doomed to failure. So the Islamic tradition can be seen as a natural progression of divine revelations that were sent before Muhammad (PBUH) and then fully completed in the Qur’an. The fact that it remains to this day in its original classical Arabic language everywhere in the world (with many vernacular interpretations to assist its study by non-Arabic speakers) attests to the validity of the Qur’an as the final divine revelation of religion.

In Islam, it is natural to believe that everyone can become a Muslim (i.e., live in peaceful submission to God).  Since Islam is the last revelation of God to humanity, it is natural that this religion provides guidance for all aspects of our lives. Additionally, the word Islam is a qualitative term: it does not describe its followers empirically by place, time, or race.  A Muslim is a person who embraces Islam, through freely submitting his or her will to God.

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Al-Aqsa Mosque or al-Masjid al-Aqṣā ,"the Farthest Mosque", is the third holiest site in Islam and is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The site on which the silver domed mosque sits, along with the Dome of the Rock,. Muslims believe that Muhammad was transported from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa during the Night Journey. Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad led prayers towards this site until the seventeenth month after the emigration, when God directed him to turn towards the Kaaba. The mosque was originally a small prayer house built by the Rashidun caliph Umar, but was rebuilt and expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son al-Walid in 705 CE. After an earthquake in 746, the mosque was completely destroyed and rebuilt by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur in 754.Another earthquake destroyed most of al-Aqsa in 1033, but two years later the Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir built another mosque which has stood to the present-day. Today, the Old City is under Israeli control, but the mosque remains under the administration of the Jordanian/Palestinian-led Islamic waqf.


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