Before we begin our examination of Islam and its burgeoning worldwide influence, we need to have some understanding of Muhammad's call to prophethood and the subsequent origin and growth of Islam. it is not possible to investigate the Muslims' truth claims simply by looking at the Qur'an (pronounced Kor-an) and the teachings of Islam. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, much if not most of the Qur'an is unintelligible without an understanding of the background against which the surahs (chapters) were delivered. The Qur'an, unlike the Bible, has very little historical background within its pages. Therefore, to really understand the Qur'an one must know Islam's early history.
In the second place, a great deal of Islam's apologetic rests on various historical events connected with its origin and growth. Hence, in order to know why they believe what they believe we must first of all know Islam's "roots."
Muhammad was born in Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) around AD 570 and was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib, a traveling merchant. Muhammad often accompanied his uncle on caravans to Syria and possibly to other locations as well. Little more is known with certainty about Muhammad's childhood. At age 25, he married a rich 40-year-old widow named Khadijah.3 Muhammad's marriage to the wealthy widow "gave him rank among the notables of Mecca"4 and, as the years passed by, allowed him more and more time to devote to spiritual matters. He began to retire regularly to Mt. Hira, a solitary place where he could pray and meditate. One night, during the month of Ramadan (a sacred month for the pagans which was also made sacred for Muslims), Muhammad was on Mt. Hira praying when he heard a voice which commanded him to "proclaim" or to "read."5 Later he heard the voice again speak, saying, "Thou art the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel."6 This was the beginning of Muhammad's ministry: at this point he realized his calling and prophetic mission.
The early message of Muhammad was that there is only one God, and that a judgment was coming upon the people of Mecca if they refused to turn away from their idolatry and polytheism. Also included in his preaching was a catalog of some of their other sins, such as female infanticide.7
A slowly-growing but intense persecution began after Muhammad's public preaching commenced. The locals were antagonistic to his message because Mecca was the main religious center throughout the Arabian peninsula. Their only substantial source of income was the many pilgrims who would come from all over to worship the multitude of idols in the Ka'aba.8
John B. Noss, in his widely-used textbook Man's Religions, summarizes the feelings of the people in Mecca at the time:
Unimpressed though they were at first, his hearers, especially those of the Quraysh tribe, at last became seriously disturbed. They did not object so much to Muhammad's insistence that there is but one God and he (Muhammad) was God's prophet—that might be laughed off—but they stiffened with hostility at his forthright denunciation of the worship of their idols. He could talk all he liked about his belief in the resurrection of the dead, but when he condemned the religion of Mecca and the worship of the Ka'bah idols as leading to perdition, their ancient traditions (and the revenues of the Ka'bah) were thereby threatened.9
Things remained like this for several more years. In spite of increasing persecution and danger, the indefatigable Muhammad continued his preaching in Mecca, albeit with only a few people becoming Muslims. It was at this time that some residents of Yathrib, a city a little over 100 miles north of Mecca, invited Muhammad to come and live in their city. He agreed to do so and began to make plans to leave.10
Hostile elements of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca became aware of what was happening. They decided that Muhammad would be much more dangerous as the leader of a neighboring city than he had been in Mecca, so they planned to kill him.
Alerted to the situation, Muhammad and Abu-Bakr (one of his earliest followers, who became his first successor or "Caliph") fled and hid in a cave of Mt. Thaur, located only three miles from the city. They remained there for three nights while the Meccans fruitlessly searched for them.11 After this they continued their journey to Yathrib, using "unfrequented paths" until after many days they reached their destination safely.12
This flight is called the Hijrah, which literally means "emigration." Muhammad began this flight on June 16, AD 622. The Muslims date their calendar from the Hijrah, just as the Christian world dates its calendar from the birth of Jesus. So, in the Muslim world "…AD 622 is 1 Anno Hegirae (AH)."13 Yathrib was later called "Madinat al-Rasul," literally "the city of the Prophet," and is the modern city Medina.14
Over the next eight years the Meccans waged an intermittent war with Muhammad and his growing group of followers. Finally, in AD 630 Muhammad marched on Mecca with a force of 10,000 men and entered the city almost unopposed. Only 28 Meccans and two Muslims were killed in the fighting. Muhammad magnanimously declared a general amnesty for the entire city, with just a few exceptions.15 He then proceeded to the Ka'aba and destroyed all of the idols one by one. The inhabitants of Mecca swore allegiance to the prophet and for the first time the "Muslim call to prayer" was heard in the "holy city."16 Two years later, in June of AD 632, the tenth year of the Hijrah, Muhammad died at his home in Yathrib.