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The word "Islam" is derived from the same root as the words salaam (peace) and silm (the condition of peace). Islam means to abandon oneself in peace. A Muslim, consequently, is one who in peace gives or surrenders himself or herself to God. Islam means accepting the faith freely-heart, mind, and soul. Surrendering to Islam, as a result, means giving oneself to belief without reservation, accepting the tenets of faith, and following both the letter and the spirit of the Qur`an`s prescriptions.

IslamAbraham, also called "The Patriarch," is the most important of the early prophets to the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. He founded, in what is now Mecca, the first temple in the world for the worship of a single god. He was also the father of lsma`il (Ishmael) and Ishaq (Isaac). The descendants of Isaac ultimately formed what became the Hebrew tribes. The tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, the descendants of Isma`il, were the first people to become Muslims.

Until the 7th century the entire area of the Arabian Peninsula bordered on the west by the Red Sea, on the east by the Arabian Gulf, on the south by the Indian Ocean and on the north by the Fertile Crescent (now Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, portions of Palestine and Jordan) was inhabited for the most part by nomadic tribes. There were three Jewish tribes in Yathrib near Madina and others in Yemen. There were also a few Christians in the north and west of the Peninsula and in Yemen. Most of the inhabitants, however, were pagans. Muhammad was known to meditate in the solitude of the desert. He frequently visited a cave called Hira just outside Mecca. During one of his meditations-he was 40 years old at the time-he received the first of his revelations from God. The Qur`an identifies the bearer of the message as the angel Gabriel, who commanded the Prophet Muhammad to read. When Muhammad responded that he didn`t know how, Gabriel replied, "Read in the name of your Lord Who created man from a clot of blood..." In this way Muhammad became the bearer of the divine message.

In Islam there can be no confusion or doubt that Muhammad was a man, and only a man, chosen by the Creator to fulfill a divine mission as a prophet. Muhammad`s mission was literally to "read" what Allah had ordered and ordained, nothing more. The Prophet received his revelations from God, sometimes in solitude sometimes in the presence of others. Words flowed from his mouth in a way that others described as inspired. This was Muhammad`s wahy (divine inspiration or revelation). Muslims believe that the Qur`an is the Word of Allah expressed through the revelations to the Prophet.

Among the Arab tribes, the most powerful and noble was the Quraysh, into which Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah ibn `Abd al-Muttalib was born on Monday at dawn on the 12th of Rabi` Awal (the year 571 in the common era calendar). That year was known as the year of the Elephant-the year the Abyssinians invaded Mecca to destroy the Ka`ba. The year received its name from the fact that the army of the Abyssinians was supported by elephants!

IslamAccording to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad is a direct descendent of Ishma`el, the son of Abraham. Muhammad`s mission was presaged by the deliverance of his father, `Abd Allah, after he had been chosen for sacrifice. The story is this. `Abd Allah had nine brothers, but he was the favorite son. His father `Abd al-Muttalib was in charge of the well of the pilgrims. When the water of the well, Zamzam, dried up, he was at a loss as to what to do. He was advised to make offerings to the gods of one of his sons. Muhammad`s father was chosen by lot. Reluctant to carry out the act, `Abd Allah`s father beseeched the pagan priests to spare his favorite son. They suggested that camels be offered in his stead. It took one hundred camels to satisfy the gods. The well filled again, and the life of `Abd Allah was spared. This recalls the saying of the Prophet: "I am the son of the sacrificed..."

After his birth, as was the custom of the Arabs, Muhammad was given to a wet nurse, a nomad named Halimah as-Sa`diyah, to learn the ways of the desert early on in life. She recounted the following story about the Prophet.Islam When the boy was four years old, two men dressed in white came, took the child, and removed something black from his chest. This story is often used to interpret Surah 94, Verses 13, of the Qur`an, which reads: "Have we not Expanded thee thy breast?, And removed from thee thy burden, the which did gall Thy back?" At the age six, Muhammad lost his mother, Aminah of the clan of az-Zuhrah. `Abd al-Muttalib cared for him until the age of eight. His uncle, Abu Talib raised him, and taught him caravan trade after the death of his grandfather. Over the years Muhammad earned the name al-Amin-the honest-for his rare qualities of character.

The history of the Prophet, his deeds and sayings, were at first memorized by his companions and passed on as oral record. The historian Ishaq ibn Yasar (ca. 768) first comprehensively recorded them. Later the deeds and sayings of the Prophet, the circumstances surrounding their occurrence, and the evidence of those who first witnessed and reported them to others were recorded by a number of scholars. The most authoritative is al-Bukhari. His text is still relied upon today.
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