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The Middle East

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The Middle East

Module 1

Written Assignment 1

Essay Questions

1. What is Muhammad's importance in the Muslim tradition? How do Islamic perceptions of him compare to those of the West?

The belief in Islam was developed after Muhammad was called to be a messenger of God. After the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in 610 C.E., he spent the next twenty-two years receiving divine revelations from God. Like his prophetic predecessors, Muhammad used these divine messages to re-establish a religion and a religious "nation" or umma, based on the beliefs that his people had forgotten or deviated from. He went against the leaders of Mecca and their pagan ways to bring back a monotheistic religion that only honored and recognized the one true God. After the death of Abu Talib, Muhammad's uncle and protector, he was invited to mediate the differences between the tribes of Yathrib, an oasis city about 200 miles north of Mecca. This journey, known as the hijrah in Arabic, marks the introduction of Islam to humankind through the Prophet Muhammad, and is the first year of the Muslim calendar. Followers of Muhammad who believed in Islam were called Muslims, meaning "those who submit to the will of God." Both the Jews and Arabs of Yathrib welcomed Muhammad and his followers. The city was about to erupt in civil war, and the people looked to Muhammad to unite them. They renamed Yathrib Madinaht unNabit, which means "City of the Prophet." Yathrib was then called Madinah (Medina) and Muhammad remained in Medina to lead the new Islamic community there. After being invited by the people of Medina to lead their city, Muhammad began to establish an Islamic community with unique customs. Finally in AD. 630, Muhammad, with an army of 10,000, captured Mecca. An important part of Muhammad's capture of Mecca was his rededication of the Kaaba to the worship of One God. The holy shrine, a stone structure in the form of a 40 by 35 by 50-foot cube, traditionally housed Arab idols, as well as a fragment of a polished black stone. Muhammad destroyed the idols and other pagan relics and rededicated the shrine to God. The Kaaba then became the new religious center for all Muslims. In March 632, Muhammad led the hajj, or greater pilgrimage to Mecca, commonly called "the pilgrimage of farewell," for it was his last. During the years of his prophet-hood, Muhammad received revelations from God, which were recorded by his companions and compiled into a book called the Quran. Every detail of his actions were carefully noted and imitated by his disciples. The rites and ceremonies that he had endorsed by his example and presence became standard Muslim practice. On his return to Medina, he fell ill and requested Abu Bakr to lead the prayers in his place. On June 8, 632, he died in the house of A'isha, one of his wives. When the Prophet died, his companions, who desired to maintain the community, recorded his own personal words and deeds into a separate book called the Sunna. The guiding rules and principles for Muslims are based on the Quran and the Sunna (which describes how the Prophet lived his own life in accordance with the Quran). The most basic of these rules is summarized in the Five Pillars of Faith. The instructions behind these five duties came from the Quran, but it is in the Sunna that the examples and detailed explanations of these can be found. Another important concept in Islam is jihad or "struggle", which is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam.

There is quite a difference in the perceptions of Muhammad in the Islamic world and the Western world. The Islamic world's perception is that Muhammad was a great reformer and mediator, and the Muslims tend to mythify him. While the Western world's perception is quite different. In the West, Muhammad is viewed as a villain who used his prophecies to his own advantage and changed them to meet his own agenda. The biggest factors that cause controversy are Muhammad's handling of the Jews, and the number of marriages that he had throughout his life. In his early days Muhammad had looked to the Jews and Christians as allies whose faith had much in common with Islam. But when the Jews did not embrace his teachings because they contradicted the teachings of the Bible, Muhammad at first cast them out and then finally massacred them. The thing that must be pointed out is that Muhammad's motivation for this was clearly political rather than racial or theological. As far as the eleven marriages that he had after the death of his first wife, Muhammad is seen as abusing the use of a special dispensation from God in exceeding the limit of four wives imposed by the Quran.

2. Define umma and sharia. Explain their relation to one another and their fundamental importance in Islamic society.

The word Umma is commonly referred to as the Islamic community, or the worldwide Muslim community. Another definition of the word Umma is a political, social, and spiritual community of Muslims. (A Concise History of the Middle East, Seventh Edition, Arthur Goldschmidt Jr.) The Umma was originally



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