The “Focus on Early History of Islam (A Refreshing Look at the Sirah)” uniquely views the birth of Islam and its expansion placing more emphasis on issues relevant to Christianity and Judaism. The extent of common ground among the three monotheistic religions is far more than what is commonly known. This commonality is crucial to the fraternity and peace of the entire human race. Contrary to the popular understanding of Muslim’s intolerance to Christians and Jews, known to Muslims as People of the Book, the Islamic culture holds a special status for Christians and Jews.

Muslims believe that People of the Book, who are like them, believe in the unity of God, the Day of Reckoning, and do righteously, are favored and rewarded by Allah.

This belief establishes the base for cooperation and fraternity by the Muslims towards the Judeo-Christian as well as members of other faiths.

Confirming this understanding, Allah says:

{Lo! those who believe (in that which is revealed unto you, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans whoever believe in Allah and the Last Day and does right surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.} (2:62)

Prevalent in the passage is Islam’s universality and acceptance of the good work of all people. Much more prevalent is Islam’s acceptance and respect of the believing Christians and Jews.

As we will see later, Prophet Muhammad sought out the help of the Christian monarch of Abyssinia to protect his followers from the tortures and execution of the Pagans, and made an alliance with the eleven Jewish tribes to protect the city of Madinah from the attacks of the disbelievers.

Another remarkable fact of the extent of close relation Muslims believe towards other believers is shown in the next verse:

{Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob. And the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered.} (42:13)

Thus, a strong common ground exists between Muslims and the People of the Book. This can be construed as a bond for peace among the followers of the three religions. In fact, Quran considers the People of the Book “witness” along with God Himself against those who disbelieved in Muhammad’s Prophethood. (13:43)

Furthermore, as a sign of peace and intimate relation, Islam admits Christian and Jewish ladies into the Muslim family by sanctioning marriage with them. The intimacy and love that Allah made between a Muslim husband and a Muslim wife can be no less when it is made between a Christian wife and a Muslim husband. Eating the foods of the People of the Book is yet another indication in the bond for peace making: (30:21; 5:5)

Allah Commands Building Good Relationships with the People of the Book

Contrary to expectation, Muslims are commanded with compassion in calling the People of the Book for better relationship. This is illustrated in the next verses:

{Say: O people of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than God. If then they turn back, say: Bear witness that we (at least) are Muslims (bowing to God’s Will).} (3:64)

The above verse is indeed a noble one. In reference to the opening of the verses, the great Quranic interpreter Al-Fakhr Al-Razi stated: “The name “Ahl al-Kitab,” People of the Book is one of the best names, and bestows integrity and perfection on its subjects (Christians and Jews), because they are worthy of carrying the Words of Allah. The carriers of the Books of Allah deserve to be honored and be loved.

The origin of the word “ta’alau,” from the root word “ta’ala,” meaning come or draw closer is calling someone to come from low to high. The word ta’ala is often uttered with kindness, and compassion.

When a mother says “ta’ala” to her child, the call also implies kindness and cuddliness. In this connotation, Allah commands the Muslims to call upon the Jews and Christians to join them. What is more outstanding about these verses is that if the People of the Book did not accept the call to the common between us and them, which is to worship only Allah alone, the Muslims response is not to get violent or use force, but to simply state: “Bear witness that we are bowing to Allah’s Will (Muslims).” When it comes to building relationships with all people, Allah commands:

{O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know and deal with each other in kindness (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God (is he who is) the most righteous of you, and God is Knower, Aware.} (49:13)

{And when you judge between people that you judge with justice.} (4:58)

However, when it comes to the Christians and Jews, Allah is more specific for commanding the Muslims for extra care, He says:

{And dispute not with People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong and injury.} (29:46)

Allah also said in Surah:

{Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of your religion and do not expel you from your homes-from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed Allah loves those who act justly.} (60: 8)

After this understanding of some Islamic fundaments about the Muslims’ relation with the People of the Book, one may question whether is it the religion that is the cause of animosity between Muslims and Christians or is it greed, hoarding the wealth of others and personal agendas of the radicals, half believers and hypocrites.

The Origin of Islam

Muslims believe that Islam is not a new religion. Islam started with the creation of Prophet Adam. The form of Islam at the time of the first human creation, however, was not the same as it is today.

Then and subsequently, Islam was partially revealed to various prophets, addressing the current needs for guidance. The people of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus are few of the nations that were related in the Holy Quran.

Thus, Muslims are spiritually inspired by the stories and teachings of Prophet Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Josef, Moses and Jesus. In the view of the late Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro, all people are brothers and sisters and had been receiving the one message of submission. When people got more sophisticated, so did the religion. He further said:

“The similitude of Torah, Bible and Quran is like elementary, secondary and graduate schools. Graduation from one school to the next higher one is only normal and natural.” Thus, Christianity and Judaism in their original forms, to a Muslim, are no different than Islam:

{Say: “We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another.} (3:84)

The teachings of Prophets Muhammad, Moses and Jesus as well as other prophets, to a Muslim, are equal inspirations.

The Prophets of God: Source of Inspiration

The Quran speaks about the stories and experiences of many prophets of God throughout the Quran. Selected prophets and selected verses are represented here to familiarize the reader of the extent of how Muslims regard the prophets of God. 

Prophet Abraham

Several stories in different chapters of the Quran speak about Prophet Abraham.

{And who forsaketh the religion of Abraham save him who befooleth himself? Verily, We chose him in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he is among the righteous.} (2:130)

{But We had already given the people of Abraham the Book and Wisdom and conferred upon them a great kingdom.} (4:54)

Prophet Moses, Jesus and the Disciples

{And Moses said: O my people! If you have believed in Allah then put trust in Him, if you have indeed surrendered (unto Him)!} (10:84)

{But when Jesus became conscious of their disbelief, he cried: Who will be my helpers in the cause of Allah? The Disciples said: We are Allah’s helpers. We believe in Allah, and bear thou witness that we are Muslims (submitting to Him).} (3:52)

{And God will teach him (Jesus) the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel, and (appoint him) an Apostle to the Children of Israel.} (3:48-9)

Prophet Jacob

With respect to Prophet Jacob and his sons, Allah said:

{Or were you present 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 and Ishmael and Isaac, One God, and unto Him we have surrendered.} (2:133)

This passage clearly identifies and establishes the unity and continuity of all religions and the relevance of Islam to all people.

Prophet Yusuf (Joseph)

The supplication of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) is related in Surah Yusuf. It says:

{O my Lord! Thou hast given me (something) of sovereignty and hast taught me (something) of the interpretation of events, Creator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art my Protector in the world and the Hereafter. Make me to die submissive (unto Thee), and join me to the righteous.} (12: 101)

Prophet Solomon with Queen Balqees

The story of Prophet Solomon with Queen Balqees is related in the Quran:

{It was said unto her: Enter the hall. And when she saw it she deemed it a pool and bared her legs. (Solomon) said: Lo! it is a hall, made smooth, of glass. She said: My Lord! Lo! I have wronged myself, and I (aslamtu) submit in Islam with Solomon unto Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.} (27: 44)

Prophet Noah and His People

As far as Prophet Noah responding to his people’s rejection and saying:

{But if you turn back, (consider): No reward have I asked of you. My wage is the concern of Allah only, and I am commanded to be of those who (aslama) surrender (unto Him).} (10:72)

Prophet Muhammad

Finally we see Islam in its complete form revealed to Prophet Muhammad as seen in the following verse:

{Say (O Muhammad): Shall I take for my protector any other than Allah the Maker (Originator) of the heavens and the earth? And He is that feedeth but is not fed. Say: ‘Nay! but I am commanded to be the first of those who (aslama) surrender to Allah (in Islam) And be not thou (O Muhammad) of the idolaters.’} (6:14)

Was the Spread of Islam the Result of Force?

Understanding certain principles of Islam enable the reader to judge the events that took place during the time of Prophet Muhammad and beyond.

The size of the Islamic Empire during the rule of Caliph Haroon Al-Rashid extended from China and the Indonesian Islands in the east to North Africa, Spain and France in the west and much of that in between.

This unexpected fast spread, which still puzzles many contemporary historians, would not be so surprising when one discovers Islam’s social, political and moral principles. These principles were and still are the elements that enabled Islam to flourish in the past and in our modern days.

The birth of Islam in the early 600 CE was indeed a world of social, political and intellectual reforms that swiped the Arabian Peninsula and much of the old world. The Holy Quran and the guidance of Prophet Muhammad are the fountains of this intellectual and social reform. Studying the old world history, one clearly sees the drastic change of world status in those aspects.

The event of Islam and the coming of Prophet Muhammad uplifted the human race from the disgrace of worshipping stones and self interest into worshipping the Creator of the universe; from exploiting slaves, orphans, women and the weak into the justice of equality, resuscitation and freedom; from vice and corruption to order and law; from tyrannical political systems to pluralistic democracy-like systems; from insecurity to safety and freedom.

Slaves and masters became equal before the law. Education was no longer for the privileged. Only under the leadership of Islam slaves, women and the poor were able to find dignity and become an integral part of the political and social processes. Many servants, slaves and women, such as Bilal, the Ethiopian, Abu Hurayrah, Salman the Persian, Aisha, ranked in history among the saints, leaders of communities, and are today inspiration figures for all generations of Muslims.

It was not war that opened up the hearts of people who lived in this vast land; it was human being core values of Islam that conquered the hearts of these people. The following are few topics of the Islamic values that helped shape the old world. 

1. Equality of Gender

Islam revolutionized the status of woman from being a second-class citizen and as a commodity for profit into a respected and equal partner to man in status, duties and rewards.

Islam did not stop at the equality level, but further gave women special honor for their role of motherhood education, physical protection and unburdened them from financial responsibility of the family. Before Islam, the status of women was extremely undermined. Widowed and divorced women were not permitted to remarry. Daughters were buried alive at birth. Pride and fear of disgrace intruded this criminal attitude toward female babies. In the following verse, one cannot mistake that women are equal partners to men.

{For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.} (33:35)

Prophet Muhammad teaches that:

“Women are the partners of men.” (Abu Dawud, 236)

He also said:

“Heaven is beneath the feet of mothers.” (An Nasa’i, 3106)

Taking care of mothers and listening to their advices is one way to attain Heaven. Furthermore, we find that one of the longest chapters in the Quran is named al Nisa’ (women). The usage of this name by the Quran is a way to remind the believers to always honor, treat well and respect women.

This type of equality and special status given to women in the early world cultures, which was laced with denial of women’s rights and human values, was in part the cause of the wide acceptance of Islam by many nations of the world.

For more on the reform of the status of woman, see our posted article: “The Reform of Womanhood Status Begins with Islam.”

2. Haven of Social Justice

Social injustice is against God’s will. Discrimination in color, origin, religion or nationality is considered an act of evil in Islam.

{O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might come to know and cherish one another (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honorable of you in the sight of God are the most righteous.} (49:13)

Justice is on top of every agenda in Islam. Islam does not only call for justice, but it seeks something warmer and more human, (ihsan). Ihsan is the doing of good over and above justice. Actions such as returning good for ill and forgive for infliction of harm, are acts of faith that Islam inspires its followers to embrace, as seen in the following verse.

{God commands justice, the doing of good beyond justice (ihsan), and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all harmful deeds, injustice and rebellion.} (16:90)

3. Promotion of Intellect and Observation

Intellect and observation are the grounds of every flourishing civilization. Thousands of verses of the noble Quran are stimulus for expanding the mind through observation, study of nature and contemplation.

The first word revealed to Prophet Muhammad was “read”. This word helps open the eyes of the believers for examination and study in all fields of matter and knowledge. Furthermore, one comes across hundreds of verses in the Quran with inquisitive style enticing people to enlarge their scope to think, calculate and come up with better ways to improve the quality of life. Here are some examples:

{Are the blind equal with those who see? Or is the depth of the darkness equal with the light?} (6:50)

{Say: go through the earth and see what has been the end of those guilty of sin.} (27:69)

{Say: travel through the earth and see how God did originate creation.} (29:20)

{Say: wonder in the heavens and earth for the signs of God.} (10:101)

{It is He Who gives life and death, and to Him is due the alteration of night and day: Will you not then understand.} (23:80)

The direct result of this inquisitive approach widens the horizon of exploration and the expansion of thinking and vision. This open observation phenomenon led to the making of the Golden Age and was the cradle to the scientific and academic revolution that led to the Renaissance.

4. Purity and Clarity

Human nature easily identifies with things that it likes and sets itself apart from things that it does not like. Flowers and dead corpse are an example. It is common for people to enjoy seeing flowers and smelling their fragrance, while the opposite is true for seeing or smelling corpses. This fact was and still is a major factor in the fast spread of Islam.

The logic and rational fabric of the makeup of Islam, such as the unity of God, people and the universe, promotion of ethics, economic growth, establishing law and order, are contributors to its appeal and acceptance.

Furthermore, the Quran’s original words have not been improvised or contaminated by the imperfection of people rewriting their scriptures. It is an integral part of Muslim’s faith to insure that the script of the Quran could not be rewritten by man or changed in any way or form.

Since God is the Creator of mankind, He is best fit to know the needs of His creation. The clarity and purity of the Quran makes it possible for a perfect harmony between the Quran, its principles and fundaments and people. This harmony played a major role in the spread and expansion of Islam.

To be continued…

By Faysal Burhan