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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

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How did Islam originate?

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam originated in the Middle East. It was not a totally new monotheistic religion that sprang up in isolation. Belief in one God, monotheism, had been flourishing for many centuries. Knowledge of Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism had been brought to Mecca in Arabia by foreign caravan trade as well as through the travels and contacts of Meccan traders throughout the Middle East. Moreover, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Jewish tribes lived in Arabia.

In the sixth century, Mecca was emerging as a new commercial center with vast new wealth but also with a growing division between rich and poor, challenging the traditional system of Arab tribal values and social security. This was the social environment in which the Prophet Muhammad preached the message of the Quran, which formed the basis for the religion we know as Islam, calling all to return to the worship of the one true God and a socially just society.

Muslims believe that God sent revelations first to Moses (as found in the Hebrew scriptures, the Torah), then to Jesus (the Gospels), and finally to Muhammad (through the Islamic scripture, the Quran). Muhammad is not considered the founder of the new religion of Islam. Like the biblical prophets who came before him, he was a religious reformer. Muhammad said that he did not bring a new message from a new God but called people back to the one true God and to a way of life they had forgotten or deviated from.

Because it is not a new revelation, the Quran contains many references to stories and figures in the Old and New Testaments, including Adam and Eve, Abraham and Moses, David and Solomon, and Jesus and Mary. Islam and worship of Allah—the Arabic word for God, meaning literally “the God”—was a return in the midst of a polytheistic society to the forgotten past, to the faith of the first monotheist, Abraham.

To Muhammad, most of his contemporaries in Mecca, with its tribal polytheism, lived in ignorance of the one true God and His will as revealed to the prophets Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The revelations Muhammad received led him to believe that Jews and Christians over time had distorted God's original message to Moses and later to Jesus. Thus Muslims saw the Torah and the Gospels as a combination of original revelation and later human additions, such as the elevation of Jesus from a prophet to the Son of God.

The revelations Muhammad received were calls to religious and social reform. They emphasized social justice (concern for the rights of women, widows, and orphans), corrected distortions to God's revelations in Judaism and Christianity, and warned that many had strayed from the message of God and the prophets. They called upon all to return to what the Quran refers to as the straight path of Islam or the path of God, revealed one final time to Muhammad, the last or “seal” of the prophets.

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