And The Prophet Mohammed*
Michener wrote long ago about this “misunderstood” religion. Westerners were usually unfamiliar with Islam for it was a faith not widely practiced in our hometowns and cities some 50 years ago when this talented author made his observations. Islam was rarely even taught in the schools or universities. But, the same could have been said about Hinduism, even Buddhism, as well as a host of other beliefs.
World travelers today can truly take in the uniqueness of cultures and countries if they understand the root of many of the traditions and mores they experience during their journey. A basic knowledge of the tenets of Islam will enrich your journey while exploring this part of the world. And we should not fail to recognize that recent events have reinforced the need for people of all faiths and nations to gain respect for and knowledge of the beliefs of others.
In the western Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, 570 A.D., Mohammed was born into a Quraysh (also spelled Kuraish) family, then the most influential tribe in the region. Mohammed was orphaned by the age of seven and lived with relatives, tending their sheep, and traveling with them by caravan north across the vast deserts to Syria. In his mid-twenties, he married the affluent widow Chadjilla (also spelled Khadija) much his senior, who bore him four girls who survived and two sons who did not.
At that time, citizens of Mecca were passionate followers of what has been called the “pagan Arab spiritual life.” Equally fervent were those who sought enlightenment through the Hanyfs or people who respected the words of Abraham, as well as other theologies including Christianity, Judaism, and Persian dogma.
The Voice of God
At the age of 40, in 610 A.D., Mohammed regularly retreated to the cool, dark recesses of a small cave. While lost in the quiet of deep meditation, he experienced a great revelation and heard what he later believed to be the voice of God coming to him through the archangel Gabriel. Over time, having experienced many such revelations, Mohammed became convinced that he had been chosen by God to be the sole Arab prophet of true religion, for others before him had failed God in this task.
Mohammed feared ridicule if he shared his visions with others. Therefore, he remained silent for three long years despite his wife’s urgings to come forth with this message. When Mohammed did speak out, few embraced his preaching for his words enraged those pagans whose prosperity was deeply entrenched in Mecca at that time.
Fearing for His Life
So infuriated were Mohammed’s critics that the Prophet feared for his life, and felt it was necessary to flee from Mecca on June 15, 622 A.D. This date is pivotal in the Moslem world for it represents Mohammed’s flight to freedom… his escape to Yathrib some 200 miles north. Once there, he was free to preach the word of God. Therefore, this escape to safety, or hijrah, signifies the true beginning of Islam as well as the start of the Muslim calendar.
The citizens of Yathrib enthusiastically embraced Mohammed and renamed their city Medinat An-Nabi, the City of the Prophet. Today, it is known as Medina.
Mohammed preached in and lived out his life in Medina, Islam’s second holiest city after Mecca (which his 10,000 soldiers conquered in 630 A.D.). At that time, Mohammed marched into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, unceremoniously stripped it of all pagan idols, and decreed it a holy site.
At Mohammed’s time of death in Medina in 630 A.D., his influence was felt throughout Arabia. Yet, despite these strong inroads, Mohammed was unsuccessful in converting large numbers of Jews and Christians as he had hoped.
Understanding the Five Pillars of Faith
The word “Allah” is Arabic for “God.” And Allah’s words, as recited to Mohammed, are recorded in Islam’s holy book, The Koran (or Qu’ran). Spelled out in The Koran are the Five Pillars of Islam, which follow.
Shahadah is the acceptance of the Islamic faith and its tenet that “there is no God but God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God.”
Salat is the commitment to pray five times daily. Before prayers, Muslims must cleanse themselves in a ritualistic purification. Sand is to be used if water is unavailable. While praying, the faithful turn toward Mecca (identified by the mosque’s mihrab), assume the three postures of prayer, which indicate complete submission to God, and recite the Fatina, which praises God. Prayers are led by the imam, or religious leader.
Zakat is the giving of alms to those in need.
Sawm (also sanm) is the ritualistic fasting required of all Muslims including the complete abstinence of all “intake” from sunup to sundown during the holy month of Ramadan.
The hajj (or hadj) is the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at an exact date stated by The Koran. It is the finest hour in a Muslim’s life. During this prescribed time, millions of hajji travel to Mecca from around the world to walk seven times around the holy Kaaba Stone (“Abraham’s Altar”) before kissing this black monolith. Believers who are too poor to make this journey to Mecca may fulfill this obligation by substituting a holy mosque closer to home.
The Prophet Mohammed’s* inspiring words pierce the city’s din five times each day. They echo across the broad reaches of the world from one nation to another, including a huge expanse of Asia and Africa (with heavy concentration in Northern Africa), in the Middle East and Indonesia, throughout Pakistan and Malaysia, even Europe and America. When muezzins call believers to prayer from atop the mosques’ slender minarets these faithful dutifully gather to whisper the teachings of their beloved Prophet. May our beliefs share a commonality, and our differences be respected.