Birth of Islam

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Birth of Islam

In the late sixth century, there were sophisticated civilisations existing in parts of the Middle East – Egypt, Iran and Iraq. Mecca was a bit of a backwater, located on the Arabian Peninsula, it was a trading centre on an important caravan route. Mecca at the time had no significant architecture, written literature or royal heritage. The people living there were organised into a confederation of desert tribes. It was into this environment that Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him -PBUH) was born in 570 AD. He was a member of the Hashim clan of the ruling Quraysh tribe in Mecca. When his parents died early, he went to live with his cousin Ali where his uncle, Ali’s father raised him.

At around 40, Mohammed (PBUH) had a spiritual crisis and went on retreat to a cave at Mt Hira outside Mecca to search for enlightenment. Here the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and revealed the revelation from Allah (God). He returned to Mecca and started to recite the revelation known as the Qu’ran. His wife, his cousin Ali and many close friends were converted to Islam which means submission (to Allah).  The religion spread, and was seen as the last of the Abrahamic religions after Judaism and Christianity. Mohammed (PBUH) was viewed as the end of a long list of Judeo-Christian prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus.  Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a monotheistic religion.





Mohammed (PBUH) died in 632 without naming a successor. Rather than choose Ali, his cousin, a council of his followers named his friend and father-in-law, Abu Bakr as his successor or caliph to be the spiritual and political leader of the umma or Muslim community. Another companion, Umar, succeeded Abu Bakr, though Umar was murdered in 644 and was then succeeded by a third companion called Uthman. Uthman was executed in 656, and finally Mohammed’s cousin Ali became the fourth caliph. In 661, Ali was murdered by a splinter group of Muslims. This fracturing following succession had a very significant impact on the future of Islam and lead to the development of two Islamic groups.

Sunnis – They account of about 90% of the Muslim population. The name Sunni originated from Sunna, or tradition of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Sunnis believe in the authority of the first four caliphs, and to a lesser degree of subsequent caliphs

Shiites – Only about 10% of the world’s Muslims are Shiite. This group doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of the first three caliphs, but rather believes Ali is the legitimate Heir to the Prophet. As a result, Shiites reject Sunni doctrine and follow the teachings of a number of spiritual leaders, called imams, descending from Ali. Shiites live primarily in Iran and Iraq, with smaller groups in Lebanon, Pakistan and India.