Who is Muhammad?
Muhammad was born in Makkah in the year 570 CE. Muhammad was the son of 'Abdullah, a noble from the tribe of the Quraysh. Muhammad's father died before Muhammad's birth, and his mother, Aminah died shortly afterwards. Muhammad was raised by his grandfather, Abdul Mutalib and after the grandfather's death by his uncle, Abu Talib.
As he grew up, Muhammad became known for his truthfulness and honesty, earning the title of al Amin, the trustworthy one. Muhammad was frequently called upon to arbitrate disputes and counsel his fellow Makkans.
Muhammad was of a contemplative nature, and had long detested the decadence of his society. It became his habit to meditate from time to time in the Cave of Hira' near the summit of Jabal al Nur, the 'Mountain of Light' near Makkah. At the age of 40, while engaged in a meditative retreat, Muhammad received his first revelation from God through the Archangel Gabriel. This revelation, which continued for twenty-three years, is known as the Qur'an.
Muhammad began to recite the words he heard from Gabriel and to preach the truth which God had revealed to him. The people of Makkah were steeped in their ways of ignorance and opposed Muhammad and his small group of followers in every way. These early Muslims suffered bitter persecution. In the year 622 CE, God gave the Muslim community the command to emigrate. This event, the hijrah or migration, in which they left Makkah for the city of Madinah, some 260 miles to the North, marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Madinah provided Muhammad and the Muslims the safe and nurturing haven in which the Muslim community grew. After several years, the Prophet and his followers returned to Makkah, where they forgave their enemies and dedicated the Ka'bah to the worship of the One God. Before the Prophet died at the age of 63, the greater part of Arabia was Muslim, and within a century of his death, Islam had spread to Spain in the west and as far east as China.
Why is Islam often misunderstood?
Islam is frequently misunderstood and may even seem exotic in some parts of today's world. Perhaps this is because religion no longer dominates everyday life in Western society; whereas, for Muslims, Islam is life. Muslims make no artificial division between the secular and the sacred.
For quite some time Islam was thought of as some "Eastern" religion, but with the increasing number of Muslims living in the West, Islam is gradually being perceived as a global faith. Muslims are not thought of as strangers with unusual practices, but are being welcomed as part of the mosaic of life in the West. In many cases, Islam is not just viewed as an acceptable religion, but as a desired way of living.
What does Islam say about war?
Like Christianity, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. It lays down strict rules of combat that include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good people were not prepared to risk their lives in a righteous cause.
One reads in the Qur'an:
"Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you,
"And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God.
"If they seek peace, then you seek peace.
War is therefore the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. The often misunderstood and overused term jihad literally means "struggle" and not "holy war" (a term not found anywhere in the Qur'an). Jihad, as an Islamic concept, can be on a personal level--inner struggle against evil within oneself; struggle for decency and goodness on the social level; and struggle on the battlefield, if and when necessary.
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